Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Love is something more

Well since its Valentines day today and loads of people are busy trying to make sure that they don't forget their special person, I thought I would share a little bit of how Nicola, my wife , and I do things.

I think there is only one Valentines day in the last 40 years when I gave her a card and she does not get cross thinking I have forgotten. She knows I love her and I know she loves me. A card once a year really doesn't do it for us. In fact we agreed that over priced flowers and such once a year really are not what its about. Don't misunderstand me, for many its a lovely thing to do, for me it doesn't hit the spot and the same is true for Nicola.

Love, for me, is something that grows and grows with the experiencing and the experiencing and sharing happens every day. The million things that we do for each other and the unexpected bunch of flowers, chocolates, dinner at a restaurant all add to that as well as having clean and ironed clothes every day, good food and someone who really gets me. A while ago we did a marriage course (we had been married around 30 years then) and I discovered that we were different ,I like to be told she loves me, I like to hug etc., Nicola likes things done (washing up, clearing up and unexpected things planned). So I won't be buying roses today, giving the biggest card with the most romantic message in it. Instead we will carry on as always, showing love to each other in the many ways we do every day.

Now you might ask, what's that to do with faith?

Well, our relationship with Jesus can be a bit like a Valentines experience, popping into to church very occasionally (Christmas, Easter) or an occasional moment to sit and pray, possibly when something in beyond us or a quick peek at the bible.

God in his words to us, reminds us not to miss out on getting together to worship and pray. We are told that together as his church we find the strength to handle things, and God, who fortunately won't get cross because we didn't have time, will wait patiently for us to find time.

God is all about relationship, our relationship with him through Christ. Just as are relationship with our partners, boy or girl friends do not develop if we only rely on one day a year to express them, so too our relationship with God will not develop if we leave it the odd occasion to find time.

Enjoy valentines day, with the gifts you give and receive, but make sure you go on showing that person every day that you love them, in many different ways. Love grows with the experiencing.

Monday, 12 December 2016

A Thought for Christmas

Joh 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Joh 3:17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
Joh 3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.

The birth of Jesus on that first Christmas, was the ultimate act of God who loves humanity. If we put it in the context of ourselves …

Who would put their only child into a place of extreme vulnerability and danger, if they could avoid it? Who of us would be prepared to let that child die to offer peace, reconciliation and eternal life to a humanity that in most parts was not going to be interested and did not care? I think none of us.

But God's love for humanity is so awe inspiring in its magnitude, so beautiful and rich in its expressions, so wonderful and amazing. Consider what he has created for us to enjoy, the entire universe and everything in it, it is difficult to understand such love. We can try to reduce it to what we know – comparing it to human love, which, while it can be good, giving and generous, is often fragile, self focused and broken. We can reduce it to a love for something like food or a car or a film. Nothing near the same as God's love for us.

Through that vulnerable child, born to Mary, God poured out his love for us. Drenched us in its perfume and wonder. A love that has no boundaries, a love that cannot be measured in any way that we know of. A love that forgives and restores, a love that breaks down barriers, a love that makes an end of hostility and violence, a love that calls all to the greatest wonder of all – God.

John tried to express it in his first letter -

1Jn 4:9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.
1Jn 4:10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

All who accept that love from God, become God's children, love beyond measure is our blessing. But such love cannot, should not, must not be contained within us alone. It is poured out to us so that we might share it. So that the meaning and importance of that first Christmas would bring to life each and every person as we share God's love with them.

Because God, so loves humanity, he has, through Jesus, made it possible for anyone to know him and to be set free from the cost of sin. Those of us who know that can show it to others. Paul tells us in Romans 5 that God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. We have been given the tools to do the job ...

Perhaps the most beautiful way in which we can show God's love this Christmas is to express it to someone who has no experience of it. The way in which we do that will depend upon the person and their experience of love and what their needs are. But a simple way is to tell them, show them that they are loved. Go and tell the good news to all people that God loves them.

(spend a moment reflecting on who God may be asking you to show that love to)

1Jn 3:1 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Who are we?

Identity is still an important thing to most people - what we belong to, which groups we are a part of, how we identify with those groups and people.

For some its a uniform, for example medical professionals, care staff, military folks and some ministers. For others its the language they use, the things that they wear or the music that they listen to.The list goes on, but you get the picture I hope.

I recall my first week at university in the mid 1970's, everyone on freshers week delighting in the ability to leave school uniform behind (most at that time in sixth form colleges had uniforms). Yet the first thing most did was go to the students union and buy a complete set of denims, a sort of freshers uniform. I wasn't big on denim so tended to favour the military trench coat and flared trousers.

To some extend the church has been, in my opinion, rather too busy trying to merge with culture, and become in parts, almost invisible, attempting to be more acceptable, less different. That too is an identity thing, who are we in Christ and what are we called to be? How are we called to behave and what does that mean to the identity that we carry with us and live out in our lives?

Peter when asked at the trial of Jesus if he knew him, if he identified with him, denied it from fear of reprisal. I wonder if that is one of the reasons we can tend to be timid about who we are as Christians and want to blend with the landscape, and yes I know that can be tricky as we have different views on many things across churches.

I wonder if you were asked by a friend,  colleague, a school or university friend or even by someone in a social setting, who are you? Would we answer, I am a Christian? I am sure some would say "yes, I would answer like that", but I am equally sure that for many Christians such an answer would be far too out there to reply with. In part, like Peter, I guess there is fear of how others will react to us, but also I wonder if it has more to do with who we are in Christ and how secure we are in that, how we identify as Christians and how we want others to see us.

Jesus asks us to be salt and light - to me that seems like he means us to be noticed, for others to know who we are and for them to be affected by who are are. That says to me that our identity should be obvious to others by the things we do, how we act and what we say. Our identity in Christ is one of total commitment and trying not to be embarrassed about how others view Christians but instead showing folks that we are going to make a difference and we are going to promote Christ in the way our lives are lived. I am happy with my identity as a Christian and am happy to tell anyone who asks, I aim to be salt and light wherever I am and in whatever I am doing in the hope that it might help some search for Christ for themselves. How about you?

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Old and New

We are all familiar I expect with the popular story of Aladdin and his lamp. A supposedly old lamp that looks a bit battered becomes one of Aladdins' prized possessions, after his false uncle tried to trap him. His wife falls for a ploy of the false Uncle to exchange new lamps for old, she thinks to please Aladdin with a brand new lamp. The problem was that the old lamp had far more value to Aladdin than any new lamp, as it was the source of his wealth,

Its a common problem in any group that some want to hang on to the old because it can seem safe and understandable and is what they have invested in. Others hanker after something new and want to ditch the old rapidly and forget it.

Jesus in his teaching tells of not putting new wine into an old wine skin, which all of his listeners would have known was daft since new wine would burst an old, already stretched, wine skin. He had not come to simply patch up or refill the old religious traditions. However he also had not come to throw away the God's law.

And just to make things more complex, Jesus also tells us that a grain of wheat must fall to the ground and die so that it can in time germinate and produce a great increase of seeds. The old seed must die to produce the new. They are not separate but interconnected, The new could not exist without the old.

New can be dazzling and attractive and tick the boxes for us, but the old often has value which we may not fully understood. The seed carries the DNA of the plant that it will "die" to become, the new in effect is a product of the old, without the old it would not exist. Understanding that connection is perhaps crucial when we look at changes in church life.

Change in church life is a fact and is constant, the pressures around us to adapt, to include, to infuse to produce new ways to do things, are immense. The difficult part is discerning what of the old to let go of and what to keep, what to let "die" so that something new can germinate from it. Even more difficult is letting go of something that we have nurtured and put huge effort into only to have to watch it fade and go. But it is sometimes the only way that the new can take shape and grow and blossom and produce a new crop, a new harvest.

Managing such change is also a skill, not too fast, not too slow, carrying at least the majority with the changes and handling the disappointments, concerns and resistance of others.

One person told me after I have been Pastor of the church for around 4 years, "you don't seem to have changed much in your time here". I smiled to myself as I reflected on all that had changed, slowly, gently and hopefully helpful to our faith journeys as a church. In the changes some things had had to go and others grew from them, Most of the changes have worked well but some changes we have got wrong and have needed to adjust. Often in getting it wrong we can learn and so improve.

The old is important if we are to better understand how to handle change, the new is important as we discern God's direction for the church we serve. Embracing both is an art.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Justice mitigated with love

We live at a time when culture can tend to dictate trends and attitudes. The church continually struggles with what that means to long held and theologically wrestled with views of scripture and how Christians should live it out in their daily lives. We struggle with what scripture says and what society says when they don't seem to add up together.

Is it so different a time, I wonder, from what we read of in the Bible? Take the Hebrews who in the desert soon reverted to the cultural norm of worshiping animal shaped gods when Moses was up on the mountain, a practice they had learned from years in Egypt, I suspect. The Israelite's struggled continually with God's call on their lives to be set apart, to be Holy and righteous and to keep his commands. They struggled with the religions and cultures around them and ended up caving in and adopting those ways, demoting God. As result God's judgement on them was played out in separation; the prophets talk in terms of unfaithfulness and divorce (take a look at Hosea for example).

God, as the Bible tells us is, among other characteristics, a God who is just and his works perfect. However we read the Bible, that message comes through in the New and Old Testaments. Justice suggests judgement which at times is pretty hard for us to stomach. The rebellions in the desert of the Hebrews resulted in swift responses and at times only Moses intercession seems to have averted total disaster for them. God's justice was visited on King David for his blatant abuse of power in claiming another's wife and having the husband killed. We don't like a God who punishes and corrects and yet its a part of who God is, a God who judges our actions and is just and Holy.

And us, what about us today? The Bible tells us that Jesus came to save humanity from the price of sin, the things we do that offend against God's ways, that rightly and justly deserve the penalty. In Jesus' words if we don't turn from sin and turn to God we will die.

So what about culture and cultural pressure for Christians to adopt new ideas or change their theological positions? We are inevitably and, in my opinion rightly, slow to change, if we change at all in some situations. Scripture must be wrestled with and not simply looked at with a new cultural agenda or lens or with a view to a quick fix, after all that would be, as Paul puts it, like being blown here and there by every wind of teaching ... Through the centuries the Church has had to wrestle with change in its understanding and often for good reason, but not everything can be changed, some things are in God's word to us for good reason even if we don't like them or if they challenge our views.

Gods justice is mitigated with love, love that knows no bounds, love that pays the price, love that offered a sacrifice to end all sacrifices, Jesus, in our place. God's just punishment for our sin, paid in full so that we might be set free, in Christ.

However I look at scripture I see love and justice going together, God is creating with his people a holy priesthood, a royal nation, modeled on his ways, not ours, our template? Jesus Christ. Living with cultural pressures to change means that what is acceptable to some will not be to others and there is a need for the church not to move with every wind and pressure, but to seek faithfully to know God's heart on each issue - after all Jesus told us that he was sending, and I believe he has, the Holy Spirit to lead us in all truth.