Sunday, 11 September 2016

Found dead in Hoe Street

Found dead in Hoe Street 

A man was found dead in Hoe Street
A little plastic cup  by his  feet 
Murdered by two brutal thugs
Bludgeoned and stabbed by Poverty and Drugs 

Unemployed and homeless 
He sat daily at his post, outside the  bank
Downward he sank
Serving Heroin, his master, 
Not knowing his life would end in disaster 

Were there any witnesses to this heinous crime?
A person depleted daily by loneliness and grime. 
Will these criminals be brought to book, 
For the many precious lives they took? 

What's being done to stop their evil scheme? 
Or is that a fruitless dream?

Zecharia 4 : 10 
Who despises the day of small things?  

Lau Tzu, the founder of Tauism is supposed to have given us the saying: The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. 

We all have to start somewhere. Sometimes when confronted with a massive task it is really hard to get going.  It seems too overwhelming.  Actually the wise thing to do is to do something,  even if that thing seems like the proverbial drop in a bucket.

Do you need to save £100 for something?  Put those pennies into a jar. open a savings account even if it is a theoretical account  whereby you allocate it on a savings  budget. It might seem a silly thing to do when you consider how much needs to be saved, but you have made a start.

Also don't let people mock you and belittle you. Paul said to Timothy to not let people look down on you because you are young. - but set an example in speech, in life, in faith and in purity (1 Tim 4:12 ) . I other words he was saying Don't let anyone tell you that you are too young to do the job God has called you to do.

Saul - was surprised that he should be chosen as King because in his understanding he came from a small insignificant family of the tribe if Benjamin - the  smallest of the tribes of Israel.

"The Lord is with you mighty warrior. " the angel said to Gideon who was threshing the wheat in the winepress because he feared the Amelikites would steal it all.  "

Gideon said to the angel of the Lord "How can I save Israel? My tribe is the weakest in Manasseh and I am the least in my family.  "

When God sent Samuel to anoint one of Jesse, Bethlehemite's sons Jesse lined up the older sons but David the youngest was not there. Jesse didn't think he was important enough.  Even Samuel thought it might be Eliab but God said to Samuel "Do not consider his appearance or his height. Man looks at the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart. I am It was  "little David  who was anointed that  day (1 Samuel 16:7)  In the very next chapter we read of his confrontation with the giant of Gath,  Goliath the Philistine. Small "insignificant " David defeated the Giant, not  by his cleverness,  though he was clever and drew to a certain extent on his experience as a shepherd,  choosing to use that with which he was familiar rather than the the mighty sword of King Saul  and the armour which did not fit. But the key to David's victory was the source of his confidence. He said to Goliath : "You come against me with spear and sword and javelin,  but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty. ... I'll strike you down and cut off your head. " As we know,  that is what happened (1 Samuel 17 : 45 ).

I could go on to present many such examples: Esther,  Joseph,  Jeremiah.  Moses, most of the disciples, Mary the mother of Jesus.

Do you feel insignificant or unimportant - I say to you that there are no unimportant people in God's eyes. Samuel was just a young boy when God called him.  Paul put it this way- ii" When I am weak  He (God) is strong.

If you think that you do not have anything worth contributing to a bigger cause, know that that small gesture might make the world of difference to someone.

Be encouraged.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

P U L S E

So I have been thinking about this poem for a few  days.  

The nightclub attacked in Orlando is called Pulse Nightclub 

I have written this to honour people affected by the attack.  

Pulse 
Beating hearts 
Excitement 
Beating fast 

Music Throbbing 
Lights Strobing 
Bodies moving

BANG  BANG BANG 
What's going on? 
Pulse quickens --
Place to hide?
I shivered 
Quick SMS -- Under attack !
I  cried 

BANG 
Pulse slows 
Pain enfolds
Vision fades 
Music goes
Blood flows 
Pulse stops

Sirens Blaring  
Flashlights searching 
Corpses limp.
People Sobbing 
Sobbing 

BANG
Why?

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Salt ànd Light: an acrostic essay. Part II

Realising that the blog entry was becoming unwieldy, I decided to break it into parts, here is Part Two.




LIGHT

Jesus said, You are the light of the world. A light in a hill cannot be hidden. To be honest, I have not decided on what each of these letters will represent so this is a voyage of discovery, as much for me, as it is for you.

Love - The core of our faith is LOVE.

It all starts with God’s love for us. Love is such a big concept that there are many words that are used. I am focussing on the big one - the God love - Greek Word - agapé. For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten son, that all who believe in Him, should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16) For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39) But God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8) Those are just three scriptures of many that state the inescapable truth that God loves You. There simply are no caveats to that statement. God loves you. NO EXCEPTIONS. I know there are many sceptics, who question the very existence of God, let alone God’s love for us. Suffering, injustice, terrorism, natural disasters, religious abuse, and people understandably question how a Loving God can allow it. I cannot explain, but all I will say that speaking personally, I know God loves me, and I believe Him when He says He loves everyone. How do we respond to God’s love. We love God. I know we are commanded to love God. To me that is the easy bit, in comparison to the second bit, to love those who God loves: that’s it - everyone, even those hard to love people.

Love must be expressed primarily in practical ways. If that practical element is missing, we can justifiably question whether the love expressed is genuine.


Browsing Facebook the other day I came across one of those irritating posts of someone holding a written board asking people to like it. This particular one made me very cross : It was a photo of a little girl, and the sign said, "Daddy said that if I get (a certain number of) likes, he will stop drinking. " I realise that many of these things are made to pull at the heart-strings, but this was ridiculous. i did not like or react electronically, but I did wonder what kind of person would do that to their child. Surely, if he was ernest he would simply stop drinking, and so I question the love that Father would have for his daughter, assuming it is true.


There are many interesting Scriptures that describe what true love looks like. There was Jesus example that demonstrated on the night before he was crucified. He washed the disciples' feet, and then there were parables. The Good Samaritan parable was told to answer the question: who is my neighbour. The parable of the Sheep and the goats.




Some might get the impression, that we  show kindness to those  who àre for one reason or another, "the least" , i.e. brought low through circumstances out of their control, have been overtaken by poverty, perhaps homeless, perhaps starving, or brought low through illness, or imprisonment, that we do this through some reluctant sense of duty, for fear of the consequences of not doing it. I dare say, that that might be the case for some people, but I wonder if you can call that love?

I must say, I find it hard to think of these people in such abject situations as "the least" . I am sure that Jesus did not wish us to look down on these people, as if we were some how better than they, as if we were "higher up the tree" than they are,  In his saying "inasmuch as you did it for the least of these brothers and sisters, you did it for me" , Jesus was saying when you look at these "down-and-outs" you are looking at me, because they are no less important to me, than you are.  It is not only about what we do for people in bad situations, but the attitude of heart with which we do it. In our giving, in our sharing, do we build up the person we are helping, or are our so called acts of charity, done to to further humiliate and debase the recipient.

Do we dish up the scraps, and plonk them on a plate, or into a plastic bag? Or do we set a place at the dining room table, and invite them to join us. Do we throw the coins onto the pavement so the beggar has to scrabble around to pick them up?  How is our hospitality when it comes to people who are in difficult circumstances. It really does not matter how it is that a man or woman, and increasingly in this time, children, find themselves in bad situations, it does not matter, whose fault it is, but it was not what Jesus was saying. He did not say feed the hungry, if it is not their fault that they are hungry. They are out brothers and sisters - it does not matter if they share our beliefs about God and Jesus, they are still family.

Politics is divided into socialist 'left wing' and conservative 'right wing'. The right wing, which often claims to be the 'godly group' will often blame the poor for their predicament, and claim that the affluent are materially rewarded for their diligence.  The characterise the poorer people as scroungers and undeserving.  The socialists, or to a more extreme extent, the communists famously have revolted against religion and faith altogether, and they, being more concerned with this life, seek equality on every level, for every individual (although even where the leaders refer to themselves as comrade, their homes are more plush than most) but the general principle of socialist society is one that seeks to share resources equally.  I do not think either side has it right. The yawning gap between the wealthiest few and the poorest many is a disgrace. On the other hand, it is fair that the harder we work, the greater should be our reward. It is finding that middle ground that is the challenge. Interestingly, countries like USSR and Eastern Block Countries like Poland, which supposedly were all about equality, did not result in a happy society. There was a lot of dissatisfaction with that model. People were constrained to certain behaviours, and ways of speaking through strict laws and harsh punishment if you broke those laws. Many of the freedoms that we take for granted in the West, were and are denied the citizens of communist countries, and even though they claimed to be democratic, often the elections were complete farces, where no real choice was offered to the people. If we bought into the propaganda, it was a perfect world where everyone shared.

However the supposed shangrila of Western democracies show a less wonderful situation, when we allow ourselves to look away from the ostentation of the cities and the plushness of the huge country estates, and see the people who fall through the cracks.  Yes, we have all sorts of freedoms in the West. We can say what we like about our political leaders and criticise them in ways that would not be çountenanced in more restrictive societies, but even though society is more free in that sense, freedoms are often curtailed through lack of resources.

What it comes down to is that inequality is a reality that we have to accept, but as Christians we should have a  different way of valuing people, that is not as better or worse, but as a fellow human, worthy of dignity and love.

Brother (Sister) let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you.
Pray that I might have the grace to let you be my servant too.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Salt and Light: An Acrostic essay

Some time ago I heard an excellent teaching on Jesus preaching about Salt and Light- it sparked an idea on my my mind and that was to write an acrostic essay based on the words Salt and Light. 

This blog is going to be growing!

Here is the first instalment


Salt and Light


Matthew 5:13-16

Right after Jesus’ opening words from the Sermon on the Mount known as the Beatitudes, Jesus makes two statements about who we, His disciples are…

He says we are salt of the earth and light of the world.
I am sure there is some deeper significant of why he uses the words earth  in relation to salt and world in relation to light, but for the moment, I would like to just talk about the salt and the light.

What I want to do with this exercise is make an acrostic essay using the words Salt and Light as the basis, but before I get into the acrostic, I would like to make a little observation in relation to both salt and light that I find very interesting.

Sitting here, in a pub as I write this piece, having just enjoyed a very pleasant traditional English breakfast, and a mug of filter coffee, I realised something about light. You could say the light came on!

I am able to see what I am writing because the pub is well lit. Lights are not the first thing that strike the eye as you enter the pub, indeed you may arrive and leave the pub without noticing them at all, but if for whatever reason the lights went out, everybody would be aware and wonder what had happened. We take lights for granted.

Likewise, how often do we eat a meal without necessarily even knowing how much salt is in the food we are eating? Nine times out of ten, we are completely unaware that the salt is even in the food. Now too much salt is not good for a person, and so people do tend to be more aware of salt content, but it is not something that we actually notice. However, I think that if salt was missing from foods, in which we might expect it to be present, I think we would notice that the food tastes different, and we may not enjoy the salt-less food quite as much.

So what do we make of this in the light of the biblical passage? We may feel at times that the part we play, as Christians is not important and nobody may notice us, or what we are doing, behind the scenes. We may not be one of those who strike the eye when people enter the room. We may feel a bit frustrated by this “invisibility” – and feel under- or even unappreciated. However, as the purpose of the light is for people to see what is around them, and not for them to see the light, we may not be noticed, but by our presence, we might help people to see Jesus. Likewise, people may not necessarily notice us in a ministry role, but we bring a flavour that were we not present, would not be there. It is a flavour of love, and acceptance.

Salt


Strong

Have you ever had someone say to you “Be strong”? How do you respond to that? What do they mean by saying, “Be strong?” Well perhaps you have had some really devastating news, or sad news? Maybe a loved one has passed away, or something drastic has happened which is going to impact your life in a very bad way. People meaning to be kind and offer some kind of comfort might come up to you and say, “Be strong”. I think what some people mean is that you should not be overcome by your emotions. You should not cry, and you certainly should put a brave face on it. I would be tempted to say to such a person, “That is easy for you to say!” I really don’t think it is the best thing to say to a person in those circumstances. Perhaps, if you are about to say that to someone, you should ask yourself why that person should be strong? If you cannot think of a good reason, then perhaps, think again about what you are about to say.

Another context where people are encouraged to be strong is where they are being treated unfairly, or even bullied, and people are always very keen to offer advice about what they should do when they are being badly treated. They will say to the person, “Be strong. Don’t let this person get away with it.” They might even encourage the person to retaliate, especially if it is a child who’s being bullied. They will be told, “Don’t back down – hit the bully back. Retaliation and revenge are viewed as being strong.  Again, I think that this is not good advice, especially in the context of bullying. My personal view is that a child (and adults in certain cases) needs to be shielded from bullies and the bullying behaviour should be confronted and addressed by the relevant authorities in any given scenario.

Strength is a quality people have. This pertains to physical strength as well as mental and emotional strength, and like in other areas, people are not equally strong or weak. People are as strong as they are at any given moment and they cannot muster up strength that they do not have. It is true, that some people do not know their own strength, and sometimes, given particular situations, people display strength that they were not aware that they had. For instance, when you see a loved one, particularly a child is in immediate danger you may run faster, or lift something much heavier than you thought you could. In an emergency situation, you can concentrate your thoughts and cope in a situation, and just KNOW what to do, and when it is over, you think, where did that come from? I would suggest that that strength was within you, you just never needed to call on it before. However, ordinarily, we have a certain amount of strength, and we can push ourselves to that limit, but we exceed that limit at our peril.

It is true, that with guidance, we can build up our strength, through wise training and sensible living. Nobody who intends to run a marathon, would simply get up on the day of the marathon and start running. They would start many moths before with a daily training programme. So, if you want to be strong, are you putting in the effort to build up your strength? Are you eating the healthy food and cutting out or at least cutting down on the less healthy stuff? This is true on a spiritual level too.

Joshua 1:8 says “Be strong and courageous because you will inherit the land  I (the Lord) swore to their forefathers to give them”

I think the key to the “Be strong” lies in the “be courageous.” Why would someone say, “be courageous” or “be brave” – because there is something that may represent a threat – and the natural response threat is fear.  Sometimes something LOOKS LIKE a threat, and will provoke fear in us, but isn’t. If you see something scary, your instinct may be to run away, and sometimes, running away is the right thing to do. But not always. One really scary thing is failure – a lot of people, most in fact are afraid of failure. And that fear can be paralysing.

Maybe Joshua was afraid he might fail. What are you finding scary right now? When running away is not the right answer, we have to face our fear. For that we need to be brave.

But why did God not just say to Joshua “Be brave because you will lead these people,,,?” I think the point is that having been brave and decided that this thing is worth doing, we need to muster all our strength, and put in our maximum effort. If I need to push a car, I cannot push it with one finger. I would not manage to budge the car at all with one finger, but if I use both hands and really give it a good shove, I can push the car. So, being brave is a good first step, but we must also, put in a maximum effort – because the task that God has for us is not, a walk in the park.

Physical strength is not only about how much we can lift up or how fast we can run, but for how long we can keep going. That is a call for endurance. It takes stamina – the ability to sustain prolonged physical and mental effort.

Another thing to remember about “being strong” is no-one is strong all the time, but we can take heart, because the Bible tells us that when we are weak, then God is strong in us.

Access


John 14:6 says: Jesus answered him (Thomas) “I am the way the truth, and the life. No-one comes to the Father, except through me.”

The word Access – simply means “a way in” or “a way to” – why did I choose this word Access, for the A of Salt? Because, I believe that the fact that we have access to God through Jesus Christ is a unique feature of our Christian lives.  

Hebrews 10:19-23
Therefore brothers since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, opened for us through the curtain, that is His body, and since we have a great priest over the House of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.

A number of the versions use the word “boldness” where the NIV uses “confidence”. Confidence or boldness is a form of courage. WE have this courage, not based on our own abilities or merit. We don’t have an entitlement mindset that says, God accepts me because I am a good person, because that would not be true – we have this confidence or courage to enter the throne room of God based entirely on what Jesus did for us by being crucified and rising again.

The text in Hebrews refers to the Temple and the Most Holy Place was where the Ark of the Covenant was to be found, and that was where the presence of God was said to be – not that God literally stayed in the temple, because He didn’t – we cannot contain God in any way, but symbolically, the Ark of the Covenant represented the presence of God. However in the Jewish religion, it was only on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur that the High Priest would enter the Most Holy Place and offer a sacrifice for the nation. When Jesus was crucified the curtain that separated the most holy place from the other parts of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Jesus’ death, it says, in this text, opened up a way for us, to have that Access to the Father. We became priests of God, with the ability to enter and worship God.

We talk about the priesthood of all believers, meaning that we all enjoy this access to that most Holy Place that was once the exclusive domain of the High Priest. Jesus is our High Priest, and we can minister in the Courts of God, because Jesus opened up the WAY for us. We are encouraged to draw near, and approach God’s throne of Grace regularly and often, not just once a year. We enter for ourselves, and like the priests of old, we enter for one another.

I found a hymn that speaks to this access so well, it is a John S B Monsell hymn, “O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.” And verses 3 & 4 are just so meaningful:

Fear not to enter His courts in the slenderness
Of the poor wealth thou wouldst reckon as thine
Truth in its beauty and love in its tenderness:
These are the offerings to lay on His shrine

These, though we bring them in trembling and fearfulness
He will accept for the name that is dear;
Mornings of joy give for evenings of tearfulness
Trust for our trembling, and hope for our fear.

The hymn says, that even if you feel poor and unworthy, you should not let that get in the way of your entering His courts – that you have access, not just to the outer courts, but the very throne room of God – you can enter and you do not need to be fearful.

Verse 2 says:
Low at His feet lay thy burdens of carefulness
High on His heart He will bear it for thee
Comfort thy sorrows and Answer thy prayerfulness
Guiding thy steps as may best for thee be.

So we can enter and we should enter. And we can approach the thrown of grace, because Jesus our advocate has already spoken for us. So we bring all our burdens to God and He will bear them “High on His heart.”

Life


John 14:6 says: Jesus answered him (Thomas) “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No-one comes to the Father, except through me.”

John 10: 10 Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have LIFE , and have it to the full.

John 11:25-26 Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the LIFE. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?
“Yes Lord,” she (Martha) told him. “I believe you are the Christ, the Son of God who has come into the world.”

John 3:16 (Jesus said) “God so loved the World that He gave His one and only Son, that whosoever believes in Him, shall not Perish but have eternal LIFE.”

John 4:13-14 Jesus answered “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him as spring of water welling up to eternal LIFE”

John 5:24 (Jesus said) “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my words and believes in Him who sent me has eternal LIFE and will not be condemned; he has cross over from death to LIFE”

John 6:35-40 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of LIFE. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of Him who sent me. And this is the will of Him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that He has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal; LIFE and I will raise him up at the last day.

I wonder what you get from that selection of speeches – they are all from John’s Gospel, and they all refer to LIFE – that is us possessing real life, if we BELIEVE in God.

I wonder what you understand by the phrase “believe in God – what does that mean in practical terms. Does it merely acknowledge that God exists? I do not think that is enough – James wrote that even the demons believe in God, and tremble – yes, lots of people believe that God exists, but what is implied here is something more profound – it is about having faith in God.  

Truth

John 14:6 says: Jesus answered him (Thomas) “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No-one comes to the Father, except through me.”

The purpose of this acrostic of Salt and light - was to present important aspects of our Christian lives in a memorable way. Excuse me for stating the obvious, but it is only worth following something if you believe it to be TRUE. Truth is an essential to living. While 100% certainty is not easy to obtain, and Faith implies belief, even when we have not got cast-iron evidence, nevertheless, we always hope that we know the truth.

Let us take a closer look at the dialogue between Jesus and Thomas in John 14


14 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God[a]; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know[b] my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Jesus says, "If it were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? " I other words, Jesus is emphasising that what he is saying is true. 
Jesus also said, in a different context - "Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” - He was talking about those of us who are His disciples - when we follow Jesus, we will know the Truth. 
What is truth? Truth is venerated in most religions, and even humanism, would say that TRUTH is an important, or even an essential element of their beliefs - and they sincerely believe there is no God and so speak out against those of us who preach that God does exist. Well Either God exists, or He doesn't, Jesus was either God, or a mere person, that is for each of us to decide on for ourselves. 
While, as Christians, we believe that Jesus is the ultimate truth, but to a certain extent, we as his followers need to be truth too - and we do that by being true to ourselves - living authentically. 
This may sound like a self-evident statement, but sadly, i think that unfortunately not every person professing Christian beliefs is living authentically. I think many put on an appearance of being a Christian, they are good at "playing the role" of a Christian, but there is a blockage and they are not consistent in their Christian faith. 
Jesus said "Let your Yes be yes, and your no be no - anything else is evil.
What he meant is that we should mean what we say, and say what we mean. We should not need to makke oaths of truth, because we should be characterised by truth telling. 
It is important that we LIVE the truth, that is not try and represent ourselves as better than we are.
We live in a culture that requires us to conform to societal expectations, rather than be our unique selves. This sulture of conforming is not God's way. It is possible that in a very religious society, they squash individuality for the sake of "holy living" and so they force people to conform to a certain dress-code, a certain way of speaking. They require us to read certain books and not look at other books - they have strict regulations that govern every aspect of life. This, I believe is as harmful as the irreligious society which pressures young people into certain ways of dressing and behaving, forcing young people to experiment with illegal substances, and certain sexual behaviours, in order to be accepted by the "cool crowd" - But we read in Romans 12:2
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world. Do not try and blend into your surroundings, but be ready to stand out and actually be different. This will not win you friends - if anything it will probably make you very unpopular indeed. It is interesting, that despite what people say, being truthful can also make you very unpopular. If you do not fit in - if you rock the boat and challenge the societal norms - you may find that people will do anything they can to shut you up. They may mock your individuality - and call you "weird". They may actually believe you to be insane.  When you do not "toe the party line" - and challenge the wrongdoers. When you insist on doing justice, people might mock you. But if you know what is right and do not do it - for whatever reason, then you are sinning, the Bible tells us. 
Now, I am not saying that you will never make mistakes - and occasionally the crowd does get it right, and so everything we do we should evaluate, but don't just do it because others are doing it - and likewise, don't do it, because it is a way of rebelling, but do it because you know it is the right thing to do. 
In Church history we read about the "Non-conformists" - Churches that did not go by the Church of England's book of Common prayer - a requirement of law in 1662. Whether the society is religious or secular, we as individuals need to resist the pressure to be squeezed into its mold, and be ready to stand out and be different, if being different means being right. 
We talk about a "moral compass" - that internal understanding of whether a thing is right or wrong. I believe most people have a moral compass, a conscience that tells them what is right or wrong. Many people choose to defy that moral compass - but it is there all the same. There are some people whose moral compass is defective and these people may be regarded as psychopathic. They have no problem hurting or killing another person, and might even enjoy it. They cannot really understand why it is that people disapprove of their actions. They are very self-centred. But fortunately there are relatively few of these people, and most people would rather do the right thing. 
One aspect of being authentic is being honest about who you are as a person - including in regard to your sexuality and gender identity. If you are anything other than the "usual" heterosexual, you will be expected to conform by playing the role of the heterosexual or at least not being gay, lesbian or bisexual. And certainly you would be expected to conform to the stereotypes of your gender, or the assumed gender. Notwithstanding certain verses in the Bible, that I believe are misunderstood and often quoted inappropriately and out of context, I believe that we should live honestly in accordance with our natural sexual orientation and gender identity - knowing that NO-ONE absolutely fits into the packaging labeled "man/boy" or woman/girl" just as we do not fit into any other cultural straight-jacket that would expect us to act in a certain way, or dress in a certain way because we are male or female, because we come from a certain area, because we are a certain race, because we are of a certain socio-economic stratum. 
Being true to yourself may not be the easiest thing - still, people are persecuted when they do not choose to conform. Being a Non-conformist can certainly land you in jail, or make you vulnerable to attack by people who are threatened by your non-conforming - with God's help, we may need to endure the flack, and continue to be true. 
Most societies are getting better at coping with diversity, and in many countries, homosexuality is no longer regarded as criminal, though it still is in too many countries. 
Being willing to stand out from the crowd, takes courage. We need God's help. We need to refuse to conform. 
I am reminded of the Children's song "Dare to be a Daniel"
  1. Standing by a purpose true,
    Heeding God’s command,
    Honor them, the faithful few!
    All hail to Daniel’s band!
    • Refrain:
      Dare to be a Daniel,
      Dare to stand alone!
      Dare to have a purpose firm!
      Dare to make it known.
  2. Many mighty men are lost,
    Daring not to stand,
    Who for God had been a host
    By joining Daniel’s band.
  3. Many giants, great and tall,
    Stalking through the land,
    Headlong to the earth would fall,
    If met by Daniel’s band.
  4. Hold the Gospel banner high!
    On to vict’ry grand!
    Satan and his hosts defy,
    And shout for Daniel’s band.

Daniel remained faithful to His God, and maintained His daily practice of prayer three times a day, even though this greatly irritated the other Royal advisers who deliberately set Daniel up -by getting the emperor, Nebuchadnezzar to pass a law making it illegal to pray to any god, only himself. Daniel did not stop his praying, and he didn't even pray secretly - he would not be cowered by this new law. He continued in His regular practice of prayer. Yes he took a risk, and he was thrown to the lions, but God sent the the Angel of the Lord into that Den to be with Daniel and to protect him, and the lions did not touch a hair on his head. When after one night, the king saw that the lions had not eaten Daniel, e allowed him to come out, and the evil advisers were thrown to the lions who now hastily ate them. 
Dare to be a Daniel - dare to stand alone. 
Being a follower of Christ may be a lonely experience at times. Certainly does not make you top of the pops, and you can be expect to be mocked - but with courage and trust, you can stay true to yourself, and more importantly, to your God.
I am going to end this blog entry here and start a new one for the second part. Once I am finished, I will place a link to part two here.


Thursday, 14 January 2016

Identity

The word of the moment is IDENTITY.

What is your identity? Different people will answer this in different ways.

On Sunday, Vanessa preached about the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist and her first point resonated with me which was what We share in Jjesus Christ's Identity. That does not we are christs or equal to God, as Jesus is, but that, like Jeses we have the identity of being beloved of God. 

A number of years ago, I came across a book by the Christian writer, Neil. T. Anderson and at the back of the book was a document WHO I am in Christ It said that in Christ, I am accepted, I am secure and I am significant. All of these things are rooted in the overarching reality that we are beloved of God. (Our 

For someone who has struggled with self-belief, i.e. I have struggled to believe in myself, the idea that God accepts me was hard to take on board. And although on an intellectual basis, I knew that God loves me, I think at a deeper spiritual level, I didn't REALLY believe that. You see I was too steeped in the cultural notion that we have to DO something to deserve to be loved and I did not see any positive qualities in myself. The good news is that we cannot deserve God's love. For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him, should not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16) All I need to do to be accepted by God, is to accept Jesus, and he has loved us from the very beginning.. 

One of the things that I struggled with was, as I saw it at the time, my "same-sex attraction". I viewed this with about as much relish as I might have viewed cancer, in fact I probably would have preferred cancer. I hated myself for being attracted to other males, as my understanding at that time, was that this is a shameful thing. I viewed my sexual orientation, not as a natural aspect of my life, but a sin and a temptation to be avoided. The thing is, it was not only about who I felt attracted to, but who I was, and my self--expression. Because my Christian world-view said that because I am a man, I had to be a certain way. And so that view was not just about avoiding the temptation of being in the relationship with a man, but working out how I could be an acceptable man. And feeling almost doomed to fail at it. 

To cut a long story short, God freed me from my burden, not by removing my sexual orientation, but by helping me understand at the very base level that I am His child, and NOTHING can separate me from His love. 
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 8 v 38 -39]

It finally dawned on me after 25 years of struggle that there is nothing in all creation, including my sexuality that would separate me from this basic identity in Christ - I am beloved of God. 

On Monday, the sad news that David Bowie had passed away was reported. There was a very moving Pause for Thought given on Monday or Tuesday about how David Bowie was a very individual person who lived to BE DIFFERENT and not conform to the expectations of others. The irony was that those who idolised David, sought to be like him. I wish that I had taken a leaf out of David Bowie's book, and just been myself.

Romans 12:2 says it like this: Do not allow this world to mold you in its own image. Instead, be transformed from the inside out by renewing your mind.  The way I understand this now is different to how I understood it when I was a zealous young evangelical. Then, if I was asked what this verse means, I would have said it means that we should not be listening to worldly advice but only think about what the Bible says. Now I would suggest that I should not let anybody SQUEEZE me into their mould, it was not made for me but I should be changed by the way I think about myself. (Renewing my mind). 

Yesterday, Ade preaching about the calling of the boy Samuel, shared how many people are claiming to have known David Bowie. It is as if they wanted to boost their own image by being associated with the star. Many of us, ache for acceptance and want people to know who we are. There is a hunger for fame. When I was a teenager, one of my favorite TV shows was Fame, a series about a performing arts school in New York City, where young people were desperate to become, well famous. Today we have varity of talent shows on TV, like X-Factor with people desperate to convince us that they are the next big name in show business. Our competitive natures drive us to big ourselves up, because if other people like us, then maybe we can like ourselves. One way people think they can be famous is being associated with famous people. We want to count famous people among our personal friends. Of course many such boasts are exaggerations, you might say you know David Bowie, or Barack Obama, etc, but they did not know you, and it is quite possible that you might have walked passed them in the street or in a context that you were not expecting to see them, and walked right passed them. The recent film, Royal Night Out is based on the fact that the British public who loved the royal family passionately didn't really know the royal family and did not recognise the princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret outside of the context of royal occasions. Most certainly, we may claim to know Mr. or Ms. Famous, but does he or she know you? But we also say we know God, but do we really know God? Or is it only an intellectual notion of God? One difference of course is that Mr. Or Miss Famous may not know us, but regardless of our knowledge of God, God knows and God loves us. He knows us intimately. He knows the good stuff, even if you don't, He knows the bad stuff, even if you don't. And He loves us all the same. But because of His love for us, He wants us to know him better. 

Often our identity is rooted in what we do, or in what we have. These things can 
be lost. And when they are lost, we lose our sense of self. I was reading a devotional and the writer was saying that much of his identity was rooted in his work as a pastor. When circumstances meant that he lost that, he was left feeling bereft, but He was forced to draw near to God. We have to get away from the crowds, and spend time BEING in God's presence. We need to be still. Stop the talking. Stop the doing. Turn off the radio, the TV, the computer, the smartphone, shut up and just BE. And listen, and hearbGod talking to us. We might not be used to hearing God. We might only have heard God talk to us through others, or through reading the Bible, and those are not bad things, but God wants a relationship with Him. Only hearing God through reading the Bible, is like hearing David Bowie through listening to his music on the radio.

If we are asked for our identity, our first response is to say our name. My name is John. And being called by our name is important to us. When I was little, my doctor who was a very good doctor, had one irritating tendency of calling me Jonathan instead of John. I don't know why he did that but I didn't like it. Sadly, that doctor passed away, and another doctor took over the practice and I think I told the new doctor that my name was in fact John and not Jonathan. Being called by the right name, is important to people. Big institutions depersonalise people by assigning a number to them. How many numbers are attached to you? But God doesn't regard us as a unit amongst a multiplicity of units. He knows your name, your individuality. But we don't have one name. My "Christian name" is John, I was named after someone. That fact is significant. In my case I was named after my Dad's Grandad. I have a second name, which was my Mum's Grandad. Not everybody is named after family members or someone specific - sometimes it is just because the parent likes the name. Then of course there is a family name or surname. This name links us to our first community, our family. And of course our family name has a history too. It might be the name of a place, or a profession, or it might be a colour. I have friends whose surnames are White, Black and Green. You have official names, and you may also have a nickname. Sometimes nicknames are shortening r lengthening of our our names or surnames, So as a little boy I was often called Johnny. Other times it is an adaption of our name - or it might be because of some physical attribute - Lofty if you are tall. Etc. Well nick names will link us and identify us with another type of community, our friends. We also may have as part of our identity, the school we attend, where we live, our job, our social class, the sports team we like to support, especially in UK. Different teams have names for their supporters, Gooners, for Arsenal F.C., Hammers, for West Ham supporters, The Canaries, for Norwich. Football team loyalty is very serious thing. It is a community thing. It's a sense of belonging. Team supporters will invest in team paraphernalia. It could be a item of clothing, or keyring, or flag with the team crest. Another thing that people identify closely with, is their religion and place of worship. So amongst Christians, although their common bond is Jesus, there are many different denominations, with different credal statements, and sadly, though all Christian denominations claim to love the same God, each one views itself as doing a slightly better job at it than everyone else, and thus infighting and even wars have started. The same can be said of other religions too.

Our need to belong and to be included, has its roots in our need for acceptance, and thus the deliberate refusal to accept a person and deliberate exclusion has been a weapon of bullies for centuries. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people have been victimised by exclusion from families, to religious communities who brand them as "sinners" and evildoers, and even nations which kill and imprison LGBT people.

Each of us has an identity, it is at its core, our basic humanity, that we are, I believe, beloved of God, but beyond that, it is comprised of many different aspects which both make us part of a group that we crave to belong to, and make us unique and individual. The belonging helps us feel accepted, and that is important. Our love for others should mean that we are willing to help them feel included and involved and not let others push people out because they don't fit in. Sometimes our love for an individual means we have to patient and tolerate that which would normally irritate us. For instance, if you belong to a drama group, and there is a member of that group who has a learning disability. Our love for that person is to ensure that they have some part to play in the production, even if they don't do it quite as well as you would want them to. Being inclusive means ensuring that our Churches have well kept access ramps and toilets that a wheelchair user can access discretely. Inclusivity means ensuring that the T-loop is working effectively on the sound system so that people with hearing impairment can hear what is being said, etc.

But our identities also point to things that make us unique. And inclusivity recognises diversity and values individuality, and says, God made you different to me and each one of us, has a special part to play in the overall scheme of things, 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 speak about the variety of different giftings in the Church. Our uniqueness gives us significance and that is an important aspect of our identity in Christ. Because God loves us We are being created differently. This is why STEREOTYPES are so damaging. They, limit us based on inaccurate generalisation.
  • Boys are like this, girls are like that...
  • Africans are ... Europeans are. .. Asians are...
  • Christians are..., Muslims are... Atheists are...
No, all of those things might be true of some people in that group, but often are inaccurate, and often results in a great deal of hurt. Accept a persons uniqueness, and respect how they choose to define themselves, by not contradicting that self definition, even if you thought of them differently. That is humility. So if a person says they are a boy, even though you have always thought of them as a girl, they are not wrong you are. Or if they say, actually they are agender, (having NO gender,) and want to be known as they, then accept their decision.

Respecting a person's individuality helps them accept themselves, and thus help them know that they are loved.

If you want to be an effective witness for Christ, allowing a person to feel comfortable, that they can belong to your community, that you see bthem as "belonging to the family" while at the same time recognising their uniqueness and valuing their uniqueness and celebrating it, will mean that they will want stick around.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Gideon Glimpses God


I have been meditating of late on GLIMPSES OF GOD in the Bible -because that is the title of the series of sermons Vanessa our rector has started preaching at St. Mary's.  


I have to confess I am rushing ahead and looking at some glimpses that Vanessa hasn't preached on.

This evening I have been thinking about  Gideon's glimpse.  Wow, I just feel so empowered by this. So, brace yourself

Midianites were troubling Israelites stealing all their crops and livestock.  Intimidating them day in day out.

So it was that our hero enters the scene. Where is this hero? Hiding away in a hole, quietly thrashing the wheat he'd managed to gather from the fields and being understandably  as inconspicuous as he could be so as not to arouse the interest of  Midianites who would then steal what little food he had left. He was not expecting any visitors. God doesn’t always wait for an invitation.

Enter the Lord in the manifestation of "The Angel of the LORD." And He sits down under The Oak Tree. He looks into the hole, speaks to Gideon.

"The Lord is with you, Mighty Warrior"

Can't really blame Gideon, he's rather sceptical.

His response is incredulity : Really? If God's with us, how come things are so bad. He is still at this point standing in the winepress.

Gideon's perspective on current affairs of his time was that if God was on the scene things could not be this bad. So he concludes, wrongly of course, that God had forsaken them.

When we cannot see the wood for the trees and everything seems to be going wrong, it would be easy to believe that God has left us.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Ironically,  although Gideon did not realise it at that moment, the Lord was right there.

I wonder how Gideon saw himself? I don't think he would have seen as a leader, as a warrior and as brave.

HOW DO YOU SEE YOURSELF?  Is it positive and uplifting or do you see yourself as a failure.

The Lord is with you, Mighty Warrior, Go in strength and save Israel from Midian's hand. Am I not sending you.

Gideon said I'm a nobody. I'm the youngest my family. My clan is the smallest in the tribe. The tribe (it was in face a half-tribe )was the smallest in the land. And Israel was a small nation.

We sometimes think that in order to win against a big foe we have to be bigger but the clue comes in the words
"I will be with you."

I AM is with you. God is with you.

Gideon thought that God had gone but the reverse was true. God was sending Gideon, despite his own perceived weakness to take on the very ones he was hiding from.

I am reminded that God uses these words  "The Lord is with you" when he has an important job for people to do.

To Joshua: "As I was with Moses so I will be with you." and Be brave, be bold for the Lord your God is with you. Joshua had to take on Moses's role. (Joshua 1:5)
To Mary, mother of Jesus: Rejoice, highly favoured one. The Lord is with You. Mary would be the Mother to Jesus. (Luke 1:28)
To US: Jesus said,  All authority is given to me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit teaching them to observe all things that I commanded you.and I will be with you, even to the end of the age. (Matt. 28:19-20)

So the big truth to take away from Gideon's glimpse is not something said "once upon a time in a land far away but an eternal truth: God is with us ALWAYS  and will never leave us ever.

The second point of this manifestation  is that Gideon, like Joshua, Mary, and many others, God has a purpose for Gideon's life. It was not to hide away in a hole, secretly thrashing the wheat. No God was sending Gideon to lead an army to deal with those pesky Midianites.

God has a purpose for each of us. God sees us as brave and successful
Jesus sent His disciples to make more disciples.

He sends us too. He is not only omnipresent like oxygen that hangs in the atmosphere, but God is with us, watching and engaged, even if we like a little  baby playing with a toy,  totally oblivious of his or her parent who is looking on., but every so often the baby looks up and sees a familiar face smiling back.

A good parent would never abandon his or her baby or entrust the baby into the care of a stranger.  God will never abandon us.

The girl or boy who is learning g to ride a bicycle for the first time may be concentrating on the road ahead and not aware that the parent has a hand on the bike to keep it steady and upright.

We might not be aware how God is helping us but He always is.

When we have confidence that God is with us, we can be brave and strong and true and fill the world with love our whole lives through.