Saturday, 5 August 2017

Prejudice and Pride

History is littered with examples of people groups and individuals attempting and sometimes for a time succeeding, in stamping their views and ways upon others. In my view it is all too often the case in modern society that pressure groups for minorities gain favour for their cause, often against prejudice or at least perceived prejudice, from larger groups. Having done so, they or their promoters, in turn can become the victims of being prejudiced against other groups. Perhaps its power, perhaps its the way folks are. There is no doubt in my mind that when we favour one, another will be put down.

A good example is the recent attempts to promote the LBGTQ+ agenda in organisations that should be focused elsewhere which lead me to wonder if in their attempts to seek popularity with one minority the National Trust have in fact marginalised those who disagree with them in this and so have become prejudiced against other minorities. Is this inclusion? The fact is that if we identify with one thing we are often in the place of identifying against another. I don't suppose that the National Trust is going to have a Christian promotion theme in its properties or a Muslim one because these are religious and possibly because a good number of adherents to those faiths would not support the trusts view on their current campaign. Equality and inclusion have truly gone out of the window it seems.

In society today it seems that to oppose anything or to have a differing view on anything automatically brings the accusation of being phobic. We are not allowed to have differing opinions from the popular or promoted minority opinions in our culture.

But then it is nothing new, Jesus was accused by the culture police of his day of being against what they considered correct and more especially because he made it clear that in the Kingdom of God, some will be excluded by what they do or refuse to believe. Interpreting scripture is often an inexact thing as we will bring to it our own views, prejudices, fears and likes. We can't really avoid it. Christians will differ in views, it has been that way since the church began. However agreeing to differ without vilifying is something we who believe in Jesus might do better to model. The recent Church of England synods show what happens when minorities pressure folks and others who should speak but seem afraid to.

The church should not, must not succumb to cultural pressures that would then cause it to vilify any who disagree with that view. Jesus also told his disciples that they would be persecuted for standing firm on what they believe he taught.

Mat 5:11  "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
Mat 5:12  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Joh 15:20  Remember what I told you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.
Joh 15:21  They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me.

For myself I will continue to wrestle with scripture as best I can and seek God's leading in that. I will stand firm on the convictions I have through that. I will face as well as I can those who are prejudiced against my views. I will attempt to love all, make all welcome while encouraging all to understand  that sin is real, it breaks our relationship with God and we cannot deny it no matter how hard we try. I will disagree with some and agree with others, in the end God will be the judge, not me, not the culture police or the politically correct brigade.

Will I be seen as prejudiced in my views? Of course I will because others will disagree with them. But I will hold my head up in pride that God has chosen me among many others to preach and teach his word and help bring his Kingdom more fully into our world.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Identity?

Recently I have been reading a book in my quiet times which has got me thinking again about identity, our identity, my identity.

The writer suggests that historically identity could be measured by a persons place in society, which often would be with fixed boundaries and little social mobility. Or could be measured by their service to their community and the honour given to them for this by their community. This can be seen in the heroic stories of Arthur and some of the Saxon heroic tales.

As this has changed, it seems identity may well now be based on what we give ourselves as we seek to determine who we are, what we are about. Much of Western society has a focus of breaking away from community and finding ourselves, doing what we want, regardless of any opposition. Crossing social boundaries, which is good, and crossing moral boundaries, sometimes even crossing ethical boundaries in the reaching for an objective. But then if a person believes they have no boundaries, then there are no rules, as Elsa sings in "Frozen", since rules are more often set by community.

Another writer, Zygmunt Bauman looking at identity a few years ago, suggested that as we journey on that path, our identity changes, it is liquid. Which affects the desire to commit or belong for anything other than a temporary period.

As a child of the "post modern" era as some refer to it, I recognise these traits, raised and taught to strive for the best for myself, that I would be what I made of myself and that it would be purely by my own merits that I would find an identity, a place. Of course the forward projection of this attitude can be a person who is a workaholic, driven, paranoid about perfection, and in many cases uncaring or unaware of their impact on others as they strive for their objectives. Often such a person is successful in the worlds eyes.

So where are my meanderings going?

Well, it seems to me, there are good and bad in both ways of seeking identity. A totally liquid situation will lead to little satisfaction and the need to go on striving and seeking which sometimes leads to psychiatric issues, stress and breakdown. A totally fossilised means of identity holds back and represses.

The Bible shows me that I have an identity with God, through Jesus. This identity does not require me to strive to achieve it or find it, it does not require me to earn it because it accepts me imperfections and all, it has already been given in advance if I want to accept it.

When I accepted that identity I found that it neither represses nor gives total freedom. Why? well in Christ I am adopted as a child of God, forgiven for what I get wrong but also not needing to work at earning God's love. His love has been freely given, to set me free from the need to do that. But in accepting it, I also accept that belonging, for that is what accepting this has meant to me, means that there are guidelines that God has set in scripture. These are not about removing freedom as many suggest but it is more like playing a sport, these have rules of play to give the freedom within boundaries that enable us to enjoy taking part.

My need to strive to achieve transformed into a desire to serve God in any way that God wanted me to. My identity in him does not change because of anything I did or do for him, it is secure. He could love me no more or no less than he does, having given everything for me already. But I have the freedom to act, to make my mind up about things, hopefully guided by God through scripture and the Holy Spirit. I get things wrong but am not condemned, but there may be consequences.

Where-ever you are in your journey of identity, pause and consider, God loves you as you are. In our church we encourage folks in our community to join us in looking at this through Alpha courses. There might be one near you, you might want to look for yourselves. Why? Because you are free to chose and you deserve to know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

Monday, 26 June 2017

A Transforming Faith

In a world with so many things competing for our attention and time, it can seem that faith in Christ, church attendance, spending time growing in that faith, is just one among those competing things.

After all isn't going on Sundays or when-ever it is we meet once a week with our church enough? Isn't it enough to go when we can, when other events, activities and invitations haven't taken priority? And then I hear things like, it doesn't seem to make any difference to my life this faith thing.

Do we really need all of this discipleship, bible study, meeting for prayer and support?

Jesus did not preach and teach a faith that is a tack on to the many other competing things that we could be attracted to spend time on. As one person said to me recently, "it is not an insurance policy" to which we pay our dues. Nor is it, in my opinion, about duty, the sense that we must do all these things and more or we can't wear the badge and be fully signed up.

However with teachings such as ...

Daily take up you cross and follow me ...

Jesus made it fairly clear that following him was going need that faith to take priority in our lives and would take each of us some personal sacrifice. Now before we all start thinking oh no! Am I doing enough? Its not about that at all. Its about a faith that transforms our lives, that grows within us and can continue to grow within us, and affects every aspect of our lives, if we will let it.

The more important question for each of us as we consider following Jesus or try to follow him is perhaps - "What am I prepared to invest in that faith journey? In other words what priority will I give to that journey of discipleship to enable me to grow in faith and to see the fruit of that faith grow, in my life?

What priority will we give to regular attendance at church with others?
What priority will we give to joining a home / life / study group to learn more of Jesus, share with others?
What priority will we give to prayer and personal bible study / reading?

Will they override clubs and activities, or will they take 2nd or 3rd or even lower priority to our jobs, hobbies, social lives? These are not bad things in themselves, but they become almost "gods" in our lives when they take priority over our faith.

Isaiah, a prophet of old told the people of Israel to be careful of making the things they make with their hands, "gods", the things that distracted them from the one God. Perhaps a warning to us today, not to have a luke-warm faith.

For many of the early disciples it meant giving up pretty well everything to follow Jesus, his mission became their overriding priority. Is our desire to grow in faith and so be transformed by that faith, our overriding life priority? If we will it will transform our lives and all that we are involved with.

Let me encourage you, for me investing time in these things and continuing to make them priorities in my life has effected a transformation in me that I and many others would not have thought possible. I have seen that same transformation in many others, who also have and continue to make this a priority in their lives.

I think the writer of the book of Hebrews knew all of this, ending this part with "Our God is a consuming fire". Someone who had, I think, experienced the transforming power of faith in Christ.

Heb 12:26  At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, "Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens."
Heb 12:27  The words "once more" indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.
Heb 12:28  Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe,
Heb 12:29  for our "God is a consuming fire."

Do you need to review your priorities so that faith in Jesus might become that consuming fire that transforms your life as it has some many others?

Thursday, 18 May 2017

The Sound of Silence

I haven't had time to blog for a couple of months, what with Easter, baptisms, dedications, a wedding and a couple of funerals, the time has zoomed past. Oh and then there was preparing for a Sabbatical. For those not versed in these things, every seventh year, as a Baptist minister, I can take a period, of up to 3 months, when I have no pastoral duties with the church in which I serve. But preparing for it takes some doing, handing over things ensuring that at least some of the things I cover routinely, will be done while I am taking this break.

So ...

Growing up, the song the sound of silence was one I quite liked, perhaps because of my busy mind. Not that I find comfort in darkness or associate with all of the lyrics, but the idea of a still and tranquil mind appealed to me, focusing on one thing at a time or even a place of stillness.

Over time I have learned that my mind can often be processing a number of things at once and it seldom truly switches off. As a software designer, I could wake in the night with a solution to a problem that I had been working on. Its one of the reasons that I spend time walking and not talking to others while doing it, it helps me let things go and be a little more detached at times.

Anyway the thought of 3 months with no pastoral work was, I admit, a little daunting. To start this period I went off to a priory that I have used over the last 6 years. No laptop or pad, no emails, phone on only in the evening ...

One of the brothers, after a chat to guide me on my time out, suggested that to still my busy mind I should try two days of silence. Regular times of 20-25 mins of sitting in silence, between which I should walk, enjoy the priory gardens, have a coffee or whatever, but no Bible reading after the start of the day or prayer as such, and after dinner, doing something to relax.

You can imagine, if you are busy minded like me, that this was no easy thing, each time I sat in silence my thoughts raced around, no matter how hard I tried to put them aside, after a few moments back they would come. However I stuck at it and the brother was not surprised at the end of the first day that I felt I had achieved nothing. Day 2 I persisted, its one of my traits that I will stick at things to see them through, Half way through the afternoon, and 5 periods of silence later, I decided to go for a walk in the countryside - over fields, beside a river, using my binoculars to watch some birds, looking at the crops growing in the fields and the colours of the leaves on the different trees. Sitting down when I got back, it dawned on me that for two hours I had not been thinking of anything - no church stuff, no family stuff, just quiet and enjoying what I was seeing, hearing, experiencing - the sound of silence!

Later when I met with the brother, he listened and then smiled and suggested that this is the effect of the times of sitting in silence and that it makes a difference to the things we do in a day and how we do them.

The times of silence played out in stilling my restless, purposeful mind and helped me find a place of quiet, peace and silence. Socrates is quoted as saying "Beware the barrenness of a busy life". Perhaps he had a point, am I a little too busy getting things done?

While I cannot spend every day like that, I aim to start each day alongside my bible reading and prayer, with a time of silence and maybe find time later in the day to do the same.

Rest, peace, silence are hard for many of us to find. Yet it may be in the silence and the restfulness that follows, that we can find a peace in any situation, maybe that's what Jesus meant when he talks of a peace that passes understanding. A peace that the world cannot give, a peace that any of us can find through that place of quiet or silence. A peace that helps us hear more clearly once the busy, noisy mind is quietened.

Philippians 4:7

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.


Thursday, 16 March 2017

Quick changes

Recently I have been preparing for Easter and especial for a special service on Palm Sunday. It led me to thinking about how fickle humans beings can be.

New media starts are born in the bright lights and trumpets of showbiz, only to fade just as quickly as people turn their gaze to a new icon or role model promoted by the most recent films or TV shows. The game seems to be to try to keep in the public eye if you want to remain famous - maybe there is something to that old expression - all publicity is good publicity!

The same happens with books or fashion or cars or ... well with almost anything.

Jesus arrived at Jerusalem at the start of a large feast, Passover, he arrived with his entourage - his disciples, he arrived to crowds, crowds wanting to see what the "messiah", the teacher, the miracle man, was going to do. Surely all their hopes of future of greatness for their nation, hopes of freedom from a distant ruling power, were to be brought to be by this Jesus?


A few days later, those people in Jerusalem, manipulated (maybe) by the powers to be, were screaming for his death. A fickle lot, in my opinion. Their focus moved from heralding a messiah who would make them great, to pouring out their venom on him.

Even Jesus' own close disciples didn't stick with him, when push came to shove.

So what about those of us who believe in him today? I wonder what would cause any or each of us to falter as they did? Where would our line be? If we are honest, we probably don't know. We may well claim that it could never happen. But then I am sure those who buckled in the early days of Christianity when faced with the arena or a cross, thought they would withstand anything for Jesus.

We may all falter at some point. But, and there is a huge but, Jesus didn't count his disciples' failings, he empowered them and sent them off to start and continue his mission to save humanity. For me the thing is that Jesus calls us knowing that we are human, knowing that at times we will fail, knowing that we will get distracted. He loves us anyway and that's the thing.