Saturday, 27 December 2014

Liberal Life & My Vision For 2015


I love living in a liberal society I really do, but I'm becoming increasingly concerned about it as well.

By liberal I mean loose and tolerant. It's wonderful to live in a culture that has so few taboos and even the ones it does have are there to try and preserve the spirit of liberalism and acceptance. Wonderful, but also a bit unnerving especially since things move so fast nowadays.



Who knows what popular culture will be prizing and demonising in 50 years time.

It seems that even the most open-minded of people could well find themselves on the 'wrong side of history' if they refuse to keep pace with the flow of ideas and the shifting of values.

Four times. Four times this year I've heard in varying formats the idea that for some people paedophilia is a normal perversion, a birth defect like say diabetes (as one expert suggested in a recent documentary). The underlying point being made in each setting was that since this is a real struggle for some, the rest of us really ought to work harder to understand and empathises with them. Recent findings suggest that paedophilia is the result of a person's hardware and therefore not something that can be helped. I don't recall hearing this idea once in any year prior to this one and so each time it's stood out to me:

  • Once in an article in the Telegraph reporting on a study done by Cambridge University.
  • Once as a storyline in a recent BBC Drama
  • Once in a documentary on Channel 4
  • Once in police statement in a recent news article

Now to try and speculate where these recent discoveries and new found sympathy for paedophiles is heading would only sound like apocalyptic scaremongering, so I won't even try. Besides one would hope we can trust the pooled wisdom of society to keep our children safe. One would hope.

But it still concerns me, and not for the reasons some might think.

In the past few decades there has been a healthy amount of balance and correction brought to some of our extremes. Alienated minorities in society are being given a voice, being shown to be fully human and thus fully deserving of dignity and respect. All of these moves have been good things in my opinion and worthwhile and valuable redresses to our social consciences. Therefore it isn't the 'discoveries' that some of these studies into paedophilia have concluded that's the problem for me. Of course paedophiles are human beings and not monsters, of course they're sexually perverse and deserving of help and sympathy. That's not the problem.

What worries me is that more and more as a society we seem to be drawing our conclusions about what 'ought' to be done and how people 'ought' to be treated by looking at what 'is'. What I mean is because some people are... addicted to food, image obsessed, unable to settle down, free spirited etc. we really should allow them to just be like that, we ought to. We ought to provide NHS gastric bands for the gluttonous, cosmetic surgery for the... or be more tolerant and approving of the unfaithful or work-shy. We ought to because that's what life is.

Those are oughts being dictated by an is, and it's worrying because it's no way to make policies or change laws or play with our social conscience. Yes people have been treated badly, ostracised, alienated and abused because of their difference but no that doesn't mean we should swing the other way either.

A friend of mine who's an expert in philosophy points out that the whole 'is-ought' thing is a logical fallacy (an error in our reasoning). It's clear that when our 'is' determines our 'oughts' we can end up in a lot of hot water. It's a case of the tail wagging the proverbial dog.

Now, going further (and again avoiding scaremongering) why this concerns me is because as a society we appear to have lost a clear larger storyline into which we believe our lives all fit and find their meaning. We are adrift from meaning. Add to that an observation that we have become less and less community or society minded and you see why I might be a littler worried. More and more what motivates us is, Me and My comfort. We are being encouraged to embrace our individualism and selfish ambition, encouraged to search for Self-actualisation and Self-fulfilment. Personal happiness is now allowed to lead and motivate us. So we find ourselves not caring what a new piece of legislation may do as long as I can still get the pay rise I deserve for the hard work I've put in at my job. Or we care less and less how the passing of a new law might change things for my kids as long as I can still go on holiday next year with my friends, as long as I can upgrade my standard of living or maintain it.

When I say that we've lost our bigger storyline for living that's perhaps not entirely true. It is instead that we've traded a common, all-in-this-together for the common good, or for God's glory or for human development narrative for a narrow me and mine storyline. We've always had this built into our hardwire it's just that now we've been given permission to promote it and not be so coy about the whole thing. We've been given permission to do so by what our wider culture celebrates. We've been given permission to dream of being famous rather than virtuous or successful rather than helpful. Our attention is allowed to shift from a wide-angled image of history to a narrow and individual one.

So... Britain wants out of Europe, Scotland out of Britain and Cornwall out of England. Independence is prized over Togetherness and My short term happiness over Our long term aim.

That's why for all its beauty and generosity, liberal life gives me cause for concern. If our mantra is 'anything goes' then it can be assumed that in time anything will. We're less concerned with how something might affect us just as long as it doesn't unsettle me.

(now I appreciate that all this reflects a very cynical view of human nature, but I speak my own experience of my own personal selfishness. I may, of course, be wrong to project that onto everyone else but something tells me that I'm not too far off...)

As 2014 draws to a close I'm going to make it my aim to seek my meaning and purpose for living in the larger storyline of what God has created me and called me to do and be:
I am a husband, a father, a son, brother and friend. I am a member of God's family the church, a pastor in it and a part of God's great storyline of redeeming and restoring planet earth, something that occurs when we prize his Son above Our/My ambition.
I have been called to die to myself daily to serve and honour my wife with my life and to bring the power and activity of God to bear on the stuff of my life. And this calling is something I am unable to do on my own...

Thursday, 25 December 2014

What Jesus Means To Me

It's Christmas time! But what's all the fuss about? This is a short blog on who Jesus is and what he means to me.

If you've ever wondered why a baby in a manger means so much to so many people here's something I read recently that will help. You see although the Bible doesn't have too much to say about the Christmas card scene of oxen and donkeys, swaddling cloths and inn keepers it does wax lyrical about the identity and implications of just who the baby in the crib is:
Jesus Christ, God's perfect Son, is the Beloved of the Father, the Song of the angels, the Logic of creation, the great Mystery of godliness, the bottomless Spring of life, comfort and joy. We were made to find our satisfaction, our heart's rest, in him. 
We can get distracted by so many things and not just at Christmas time as well. We in the church as much as those outside take only fleeting glimpses at Jesus before 'graduating' onto something else:
It's not just our self-focus, though; we naturally gravitate, it seems, towards anything but Jesus - and Christians almost as much as anyone. Whether it's the 'Christian worldview', 'grace', 'the Bible' or 'the gospel'; as if they were things in themselves that could save us. Even 'the cross' can get abstracted form Jesus, as if the wood had some power of its own. Other things, wonderful things, vital concepts, beautiful discoveries, they so easily edge Jesus aside. Precious theological concepts meant to describe him and his work get treated as things in their own right. He becomes just another brick in the wall. But the centre, the cornerstone, the jewel in the crown of Christianity is not an idea, a system or a thing; it is not even 'the gospel' as such. It is Jesus Christ.
Beautiful! Jesus is all in all. Jesus makes me burst with delight. Not some religious ideas or some ancient philosophies but Jesus, the person, my friend and saviour. I find it so strange (from an objective point of view) that such fierce and strong emotions could be felt simply by reading the words above off a page. Yet it isn't the words that excite me but the truth they bear witness to. Jesus is my saviour, my Lord, my God yes - but he is so much more. He is the life in my veins, the song of my heart, the delight of my soul. His goodness to me satisfies like nothing else, his richness, his kindness, his mercy, his happiness shared, his compassion, his leadership, his teaching and even his rebuke, everything about him fills and enriches every part of me. I cannot comprehend not least explain the richness and the strength of such feelings. It may be fuelled in part by a good cup of coffee or some favourable circumstances but I know that it is much richer and more substantial than that.

One author in light of all this, wrote to a friend with this advice:
Learn much of the Lord Jesus. For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ. He is altogether lovely. such infinite majesty, and yet such meekness and grace, and all for sinners, even the chief. Live much in the smiles of God. Bask in his beams. Feel his all-seeing eye settled on you in love and repose in his almighty arms... Let your soul be filled with a heart-ravishing sense of the sweetness and excellency of Christ and all that is in him.
Jesus is all in all. The greatest influencer and driver of history, the world's true king and the rescuer come to redeem us from our sin.

I love Jesus and Christmas gives me the clarity of perspective enough to see it and boldness I need to say it.

Happy Christmas!!

Monday, 22 December 2014

God the Father: Grace & Truth

Devotional reflections on the Father from John's gospel

Scripture

This morning's full reading can be found here
'and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.'
John 1:14 
Observation

To begin with, let's ask a couple of questions about this verse: What is glory and whose glory have we seen? 

Glory; it's a hard word to properly define and explain. It's a word that's similar to majesty except less inseparable from royalty, and it's shinier in appearance. The dictionary uses words like resplendent, honour, praiseworthy to describe it. It could also be simplified to mean 'value' or 'worth' and in this sense John (the writer of this gospel) is saying, 'we have seen his value.' or 'we have seen how worthy he is'.

But whose value or worth is John talking about? We can't just assume we know the answer to this.

The answer John provides is 'glory as of the only son from the Father', and what I find so fascinating here is the way that it reads - only son from the Father - it sounds like a title or name. Jesus is (take a deep breath) the 'only-son-from-the-Father', rather like how many of my friends from Africa have names that actually mean something, like my friend Msizi, who's name (Msisiwhethu) means 'God is my helper'.

Jesus is the one who isn't just called 'The-Only-Son-From-The-Father', he actually lives up to it. He is the only one whose entire life and being can claim to be like that of the Father's enough that it can be said of him that 'he's the true son'. Based purely on Jesus' character, behaviour and life God the Father could say (and does) 'you're a true son'.

Understanding this is important, and understanding it means that whatever we can say about Jesus' character we can say about his Father. Jesus has always been 'Son', therefore it is true that God has also always been 'Father'. God is a creator and a ruler, but before he was those things (before he made anything or ruled over anything) he was still Father.

Finally it can also be said that since Jesus is 'full of grace and truth' the Father is also, or more accurately - the reason the Son is FULL (bursting to overflowing) of grace and truth, is precisely because the Father is.
This is our God and as one author puts it: 'there is no God behind Jesus' back.'

Application:

Sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking that the Son is different in character to the Father; that the Son is approachable and the Father austere, that the Son is full of grace and the Father lacking in it.

This is not the case and we must adjust our thinking about the Father if we're to know him as he really is, rather than as we've come to think he is by taking our lead from the poor imitations of him we are surrounded by.

If this is a problem for you why not use today's prayer to begin a 'decluttering' of wrong ideas about the Father:

Prayer

Thank you Father that you are FULL of grace and truth. Help me to 'get my head around that'. Help me to know you as you actually are, not as I've been conditioned to think you are. Help me to see how you manage to hold both grace and truth in tension and aren't soft or lacking in either of them. Help me as well to behave like you toward others and show them the kind of grace and kindness as well as truth that you have shown me.  

Friday, 28 November 2014

An Original Idea

I want to share an insight that I came across recently to do with the origin of religious belief. 
I'll keep it fairly brief. 

The ancient world was a world full of gods. Every nation/tribe had their own god and it seems like there was a god for almost everything. There were Gods of agriculture (Artemis), of fertility (Isis), of beauty (Aphrodite), war (Mars), for pregnancy (Bes), of the ocean (Poseidon), of households, you name it. The big ones are well known to us, gods like Nike the god of victory, but many are not.

More like temperamental supermen/women (or X-Men) than supreme beings these gods were powerful, but moody with quite troubled histories. They were as likely to change as the English weather and notoriously difficult to please, Jupiter was notably hard to placate. Fanciful and mythological stories abounded about those gods and where they came from. Take, for example, the story of Cybele & Attis: Cybele, so it goes, fell in love with the (supernatural) shepherd man Attis. Atiis (regrettably) cheated on her by having sex with a Nymph (as you do), and what happened next reads like a late night episode of TOWIE. Cybele got jealous and afflicted Attis with insanity who, in a mad frenzy, castrated himself (owch), lay down under a pine tree and died of blood loss. Cybele then regretted what she'd done and raised him back to life to serve as her companion forever.

Gods were the physical representation of deep seated societal/personal needs and their idols were the objects people focused their petitioning toward. The gods represented whatever it was the people needed; safety, victory, health, happiness, and although we don't (in the secular west) bow down to physical statues we do still desire the same things the Ancients did. We may not burn incense to Artemis or bulls to Isis but we still sacrifice all sorts of things in pursuit of a a desire. We pursue wealth or success, sometimes at the expense of family or health and people are known to make themselves ill for the sake of a Ferrari or a weekend break in Florence. We may not bow down to Aphrodite the goddess of beauty but we do sometimes spend hours in front of the mirror pursuing the exact same thing our ancestors did. We're not too dissimilar from them.

this next bit is what fascinates me

Iraq. The first human cities and centres of civilisation began in ancient Iraq (known then as Sumer, later, Babylon). It was from here that humanity spread and when it did people took their gods with them. The Egyptian gods, for example, are simply rebranded and slightly reinvented versions of the gods from Ancient Sumer (Iraq). The Greeks took their gods from Egypt restyled them and made them cool, and the Romans (as we know) took theirs from Greece. So, the goddess Cybele (mentioned above) was already popular in Rome before traders from the East brought her to the city, only in Rome she was known as Magna Mater (the Great Mother). Same gods, same aim, different place and time.

In nearly all the world Polytheism (belief in many gods) was the only form of theism (or religion) available.

In Nearly all the world.

There was another god available, but he was a god vastly unlike any of the others. Whereas the gods of the nations were fickle, argumentative and immoral this god was, well pure. He didn't fight the other gods, he didn't lie, he could be relied upon and he loved human beings unconditionally.The stories about this god were placed in space and time and they were told in historical rather than mythological terms. This god was different from the others. Not only did this god claim to have created everything but he claimed also to be in charge of everything as well, actively involved in his creation. This god was insistent as well that he was the only god in the world and even went so far as to say that the 'other gods were not gods at all.' This god claimed to be God. 

The uniqueness of this god cannot be overstated. In a world full of gods the Jewish people had an original idea, a concept of a god so utterly different from anyone else around them. It wasn't until Zoroaster in the 6th Century BCE that anyone else even claimed to have such an idea (and even then it could be argued that Zoroaster stole many of his ideas from the Jews). 

I find this fascinating. In a world where polytheism was the only religious option on the menu Abram's family (again from ancient Iraq) not only invented monotheism, but they managed to stick doggedly to it despite all the pressure against them. When all around them were insisting that Asherah or Baal could be trusted, they kept to their conviction that there was and is only one God (albeit not without many slides into idolatry). 

Do you see how strange this is? 

This would be like insisting that Nokias were the only true mobile phone in the world and that all the other 'phones in the world weren't even 'phones at all. All the world may be Apple, but you don't buy into any of it. Bizarre. 

I'm not, by inference, now going to insist that since this god was original in his day that he therefore must also be right. All I'm saying is that it's well, interesting and maybe just a little bit intriguing as well. Seeing this makes me want to investigate more about this god, where he came from and how on earth the Jews came up with the idea in the first place...


____________________________________________________________________
Much of the information and ideas in this blog comes from Rodney Stark's 'The Triumph of Christianity' and Tim Keller's 'Counterfeit Gods'.

Monday, 3 November 2014

The Knights Temporal: 4 Years On

4 Years ago today was my dad's funeral. For the past few years on this day I like to post a few memories and reflections about him and our life together. The previous posts can be found here.


Remembering:

Recently I've been remembering our games of chess together. My dad was good at chess since he was a good strategist, able to think several moves ahead. My dad rarely made any mistakes and he took great pleasure in reminding me often that chess is a game unlike any other, 'it's the only game in the world' he'd say 'where luck counts for nothing.' Which suited him to say since he won all the time.

He was right though, chess matches aren't decided by luck.

As a game, chess has sort of followed me around. Dad taught me to play when I was young and, to make him proud, I represented the local Cub Scouts in a regional tournament (I lost my opening game - pride should never be encouraged!). At Uni my housemates were keen players and after I moved to Eastbourne I found myself running lunchtime chess clubs at primary schools. Now aged 31 and living in Seaford my opposite neighbour loves the game and so we spend many an evening abdicating from parental responsibilities to do battle over the black and white. I'm still not very good, too prone to rash decision making. I  can still hear my dad reprimanding me after each careless move 'Think!' he'd say 'Think!'. I try - but then thinking has never really been my thing.

Some of my most precious memories are of playing chess with my dad over the internet. We'd each sit there with our boards in front of us and Skype one another, mirroring the moves on our respective boards. The last game we played together was in hospital on a phone app I'd downloaded. The last game we ever played, I won - at least that's my story and I'm sticking to it!

Before he died my dad made me a chess set.

On what was our last Christmas together he presented us kids each with a special and personal gift. Stuart and Becky both received a picture of some significant shared memory and I was presented with a handmade chess set, two Roman armies made from moulds one set white, the other red. Honestly it's the best gift I've ever received and it was a moving and special moment in the life of our family. I used the set in a talk I gave at church a couple of years ago, proudly displaying the pieces to make a point about finding God in difficulty.

A few weeks ago my boys were playing with the chess set when one of the pieces fell out of their hands and broke on the kitchen floor. The head of a Roman infantry solider, a pawn, rolled helplessly across the kitchen tiles. I felt bad. I felt like I hadn't shown proper care to a family heirloom. I felt as though I ought to apologise to my dad. I thought seriously about giving a child up for adoption.

Reflecting:

Chess can teach us a lot of lessons. I read recently about a man who teaches inner city kids life lessons by challenging them to games: 'you rushed and made a mistake.... you reacted in anger... you didn't think far enough ahead... you didn't protect the pieces most important to you...'

Apart from learning to keep the pieces up higher & out of kiddie reach, I learnt something significant that day. I learnt that superglue fixes things just fine and I learnt that what my dad had given me that Christmas was much more than a Roman chess set. He made for me a memento of our relationship and a reminder of our time together. Just as a wedding ring is an expression of a reality far more significant so with these chess pieces. By breaking one of the hallowed dad-carved pieces it stopped me placing the significance in the wrong place. What matters isn't the physical pieces themselves but the reality they represent. What is important isn't that I preserve those specific pieces but that I preserve the memory and carry on sharing the enjoyment of the game with my kids just as dad had done with me. By breaking a piece my son had actually freed the whole set up, enabling us to enjoy it together without it becoming a boxed up toy that's only good for stirring up feelings of nostalgia.

Riley and I played our first game of chess together on the set my dad made for me and he's been asking me ever since to play some more. 


All of life is temporal whether it's the physical tokens we accrue or the personal experiences we live through.

It's really only a question of prioritising our temporal things

What matters more to me is not that the chess set gets passed from me to my son and then in turn to his, but rather that my sons learn to play the game and share in the joy my dad and I experienced together. That way our lives aren't filled with a nostalgia that longs for the past but with experiences that build on the occasions and memories of the past. The past ought not be a sacred shrine, and so by refusing to get stuck in the land of yesterday we actually stay true to the spirit of those experiences we enjoyed so much. With any fond memory we can sometimes be so scared of losing it that we bury it, but doing this only limits its value to us. We reinforce a moment's significance and worth by wearing it out and allowing it to change into something that bears all the marks of present reality. Carpets are meant to carry stains that tell a story and sofas are supposed to get worn through.

This year as I look back on my dad's death and open up old wounds my Big Idea is that wearing something out, rather than storing it away, is a better way of showing it the honour it's due.  

A worn out teddy bear with new stitching, a ripped arm and an eye missing is clearly a lot more loved than one that's been kept in a box. It may not be worth as much on eBay, but who'd ever sell something that valuable anyway?

Miss you dad. 

x
Riley's First Ever Game of Chess from Jez Field on Vimeo.

Monday, 25 August 2014

5 things I've learnt since becoming a Dad

I know I've only been doing this dad thing for 4 years so I'm not pretending to know much about it, but here's some things I've learnt in these 4 years. 

1. Pants Matter

I don't know why but they do. Some of the biggest outbursts in recent months have been to do with Riley's pants. Apparently having boring pants is not only possible, but terrible. Every few months we have to make trips to buy new pants - just to preserve the peace. For a while it was pirate pants, then it was Spiderman pants and now it's superheroes. Valuable lesson #1 don't settle for boring pants. You never know when your friends might ask you what pants you're wearing and if at that moment your pants have only got stripes on them, you're going to feel a fool!

2. I Want To Be A Kids TV Presenter

I'll be honest, I feel a slight twinge of jealousy every time a new presenter is introduced on CBeebies. I want to be Andy Day of Andy's Wild/Dinosaur Adventures fame. 

It just looks like such a fun job to have and they seem like such a fun group of people to belong to. The CBeebies team are awesome and I want to be part of them. Milkshake (the C5 alternative) is a different matter all together, don't get me started. They make me want to be a kids TV presenter but for entirely different reasons, they're all just so... bad, and the production so amateur (sorry). 

3. My Past Matters

To them as a source of fascination, and to me as a model to copy.

Riley loves it when Amy or I talk about what we did 'when we were little'. His eyes light up like he's discovering treasure. In time, I'm sure that'll wear off but for now it's fun and I feel like a celebrity.

Secondly my past matters as providing a source of advice on how I parent and a list of ideas for what games we play/trips we go on. Being aware of this is useful. It means I can be more intentional about mining my memory for wisdom and ideas, but it also means I'm a little more humble about my task of parenting. I recognise that the reason that I think this way of disciplining is right and that way of instructing is wrong may just be because that's what my parents did. It doesn't make it right or wrong it just makes it familiar. In parenting I've learnt that my upbringing makes a good servant but a bad master. Learn from it, take the good bits from it, but don't let it rule the way you do it. I am not my parents, and my kids aren't me. Amy and I both draw upon our different sources for advice and wisdom but must forge our own path up the mountain.

4. Society DeValues Dads

I didn't notice this before I had kids, but I think it's true. I knew that dads were significant to the way a child turned out and I knew about the negative impact that absent fathers have on children but I didn't see all of the different ways that dads are devalued. In our kids TV shows Dads are often clumsy, forgetful and irresponsible, and in adult TV shows they're often absent, violent or cruel. Watching (with Amy you understand) a recent episode of One Born Every Minute one of the midwives commented that: the best dads, are mums - as if that therefore legitimised same-sex parenting. I've also observed that many a mum thinks nothing of making sarcastic comments about dad and his latest moment of parenting incompetency, often with him present and in the room. This is sad. 

Ok, so I often take twice as long as Amy to make the sandwiches, or get them dressed, or get them in the car... or a lot of things for that matter. Ok so I often dress them badly and go out without the necessary supplies, and ok so I like to goof about and wrestle with them but still, dads matter. Maybe we can't do dad-jokes & dad-dancing and still expect respect but still I know that I'm having a positive impact on the way my boys turn out, the way our home runs and the way Amy flourishes as a mum. Besides that studies have shown a direct correlation between fatherlessness and poverty, obesity, alcoholism, incarceration and crime (I'm sure there's also a correlation between motherlessness and those things but I don't think their value is ever called into question or undermined like a dads is). 

1 in 3 children in the UK are being raised without a dad at home and I don't think our cultural attitude is helping the situation. We can't change the way men & dads are presented in the media but we can ensure that we don't devalue them in the conversations and communities/churches we're part of. 

The truth is that we do often need more help in becoming good dads than mums do. It doesn't seem to come as naturally to us, and we're not often endowed with as much natural wisdom or plain common sense ;) as them. But the sarcasm and jokes and public belittling isn't helping us get better either. Joking about someone's incompetency doesn't help them get better, it only reinforces what they're not.  

5. Life Sparkles

I tried to find a less flouncy and camp way of saying it but couldn't - it's true. 

Having kids means that I appreciate the wonder and beauty and potential adventure in all the things around me. A wooden spoon becomes a sword again, the rocks in the garden become mountains for intrepid explorers to climb and the dining table becomes a den to hide under. Visiting places with kids is chaotic for sure but it's also exciting. I love being able to appreciate everything again because I'm seeing it through their eyes. It's as though I'm seeing much of life for the first time. The rain, the sea, the woods, the mud - all take on a new magic and fascination. 

I'm reminded of Chesterton's comment about fairy tales. He argues for the value of them to remind us of the everyday magic in life that we've become too familiar with to see. The reason, he says, that in fairy tales the rivers flow with wine is to remind us that they flow with water. Having children has the same effect on life. I'd forgotten how fascinating nature was and how magical life is.

6. Whilst writing this blog I've neglected my kids

Riley's starting hitting Zach, Amy's had to do the breakfast battles on her own and now the toys are being thrown around the room - I think I should put the computer down and engage in the room :)
Maybe that explains no. 4!

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Am I Going To Hell?

A friend asked me that question today in the changing rooms after a game of squash. When I say he asked me that question it's perhaps more accurate to say that he challenged me with that question. It wasn't a soul searching 'I'm really worried' but more of a 'do you see how ridiculous your worldview is?' sort of challenge. It came in the middle of a 'conversation' (read 'attempt to discredit my faith') about eternity, morality and God.

He started it Miss. Promise.

The blunt and abrupt framing of the question caught me off guard. I struggled since I didn't know what the 'right' answer to give was. 'Right' because I was torn between a blunt, but potentially misunderstood, 'yes' and a wishy-washy 'God is love and life is long and who really knows anyway...'. The danger of simply answering 'yes' is that he would hear my answer to be '...because you're a wicked sinner and I'm a holy moralist who goes to church. I'm a good person and your a bad person.'. That is not the answer I'd want him to hear, nor is it even close to the truth about the Bible's teaching on hell and the afterlife. That's the risk we run in any conversation when we don't first qualify the terms we're discussing.

In those moments as a Christian, I rarely know what the 'right' thing to say is. Conversations move so quickly. Before I know it, arguments and counter arguments from both sides have come flailing out of our mouths, so much so that I rarely have time to think, pause, reflect and say something wise or just, well thoughtful. I always drive home afterwards running the conversation through over and over again, and then I always draw a line under it all by coming to the conclusion - if God can speak through donkeys he can maybe use me. And so I pray.

Jesus' disciple Peter writes to a church in the New Testament and tells them to 'always be prepared to give a reason for the hope you have, and do so with all gentleness and respect.'

Be prepared, & answer with all love and respect. That's it. That defines what the 'right' thing to say is in any conversation. That's Peter's way of defining a 'win' for us. Winning isn't about convincing someone else or shouting them down so that they go home feeling stupid. 'Winning' in conversations with anyone over something you disagree about has more to do with the way you say what you say than it does the arguments you use. That is all. Answer the person and not the question, love the person more than the fray.

As to the question we began with. It's a fascinating and emotionally charged question that it deserves another blog post...

Sunday, 10 August 2014

An Epistle From Timothy to Paul

Months before his death the Apostle Paul, wrote a letter to his friend and apprentice Timothy. The letter appears in our New Testaments as 2 Timothy and is a tender, warmhearted letter written in much affection. As a younger leader I identify with the Timothy of this letter. I have been privileged to have had several 'Pauls' in my life ranging from older men in their 60s & 70s to those only a few years older than me. These people have inputted into my life and trained me, not to work a job but to live a life of faith that honours Jesus. I appreciate and value all of the older men who have set an example for me by faithfully loving their wives, raising their children and passionately declaring the good news of Jesus. I have learnt to pray, to give, to preach and to serve from such men, and I will go on learning from them for many years to come. Some I've known personally while others have influenced me from afar. Men like Rob Milliken, Richard James, Tom Shaw, Andy Chev, Graham Marsh, Andrew Wilson, Dave Dean, Chris Ashurst, Andy Thorpe, Steve Blaber & John Kettle. Others like Terry Virgo, Dave Holden, Joel Virgo, Tim Keller, John Piper, PJ Smyth, Andy Stanley & Mark Driscoll.

Yesterday was a sad day. I read of a controversy and request-for-resignation of a well known and personally influential Christian leader. I don't know the ins and outs of the story and I don't know how accurate a lot of the allegations are. What I do know is that it hit me quite hard. It felt as though a 'Paul' to this 'Timothy' had been disqualified and discredited. It wounded me and marred much of the positive impression he has made on my life. 

Recognising the influence that mentors can have in our lives I wanted to write a letter, an epistle if you will, to all of the 'Pauls' out there, from this Timothy. 

To all of my spiritual fathers in the faith:
Timothy, a slave of Jesus, to Paul my mentor and Father in the faith. 
I am first a Christian and I know that chiefly I am to look to Jesus as my master, example and friend. It's not appropriate or fair of me to elevate you or anyone like you to the status of messiah in my life. For the times I have done this, I am sorry. I appreciate that you are also a fallen, sinful and fallible man like myself and I will daily extend to you all of the grace and forgiveness that I would want extended to myself. We are, both of us, 'beggars who've found bread' and as such we are equally in need of food and sustenance from God. 
That being said you are also my example in the Lord and the one I choose to imitate, just as you imitate Christ. You are my father in God and as such have made an indelible imprint on my character and conduct. You have encouraged me to pursue Jesus throughout the heartaches and confusions of life and you have provided for me answers I needed when I needed them. Thank you.
I have laid down all of my hopes and dreams to pursue Jesus and have done so at your bidding and with your input and motivation. You have been a guiding voice and have challenged me to make the big sacrifice and to throw my life away on Christ. For all this I am genuinely grateful. Grateful but also sobered by the recent news of another's disqualification from service. 
You wrote to me once telling me to: 'Follow the pattern of the words you have heard from me...' telling me to 'Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ.'. You admonished me to do my best to present myself to God as one approved, 'a worker who has no need to be ashamed...' and you urged me to 'Flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace... having nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies, that you know breed quarrels.' 
Now, in light of the recent news about our brother, I would urge you to heed your own advice to me.
Your faithful perseverance and enduring to the end, means more to me than you know. Your example to me over the 15 years I've followed Jesus has been exemplary but I would urge you not to discredit your witness and ruin your legacy. 
It matters to me that you do whatever it takes to preserve the passionate gospel witness you've set for me. Go on more holidays if you need to, have sabbaticals if it helps, reduce your leadership responsibility if you must - just please don't disqualify yourself. What you preached to me from the pulpit and from across the dinner table counts more than you know. I may not have always taken your advice but I have always been moulded by your fire for God. 
I'm not expecting you to be perfect, I know you're not. I'm not burdening you by asking you even to 'have it all together', I'm just asking that you guard your life and conduct. Our enemy hates you. He hates you and he wants to see your life's work discredited. The more you've walked with Christ and faithfully used your leadership gift, you have become a bigger and bigger target for Satan. The weaknesses in your character, he sees and your vulnerabilities he knows all about. That untamed tongue and that stubborn spirit, he's well aware of. Don't give him the pleasure of catching you unawares. Know yourself, know your weaknesses and know the all-sufficiency of Jesus to meet you in your time of need. 
Just because you've heard and given most of the sermons in the book doesn't mean you're done. It doesn't mean you can stop immersing yourself in prayer, it doesn't mean you can cope fine now without a devotion to Jesus. 
Just because you've attended and led every prayer meeting available over many years of ministry doesn't mean you can stop praying.
Just because you've reengineered community groups/life groups/home groups/mission groups... doesn't now mean you can do without community. 
It's easy to become skeptical and jaded in ministry, especially after many years where perhaps your expectations haven't been met. The things you hoped for in your twenties you may still be hoping for in your 50s or 60s; maybe your heart feels a little sick with all those hope deferrals. Jesus is the medicine to cure that sickness. You told me once that he was and I found it to be true. 
Don't become so worldly wise that you graduate off of your knees and onto your feet again.
Don't get disillusioned with Jesus, it's everything else that's the illusion not him. 
Don't allow success to rob you of faith and don't allow material comfort to soften you and seduce you into passivity. It was your fire and determination that got you that success, and it was your sacrificial giving that made it possible for God to entrust you with such comfort. 
In your older age I imagine that the desire to be liked by the world and understood by the community grows stronger. The temptation to keep quiet and be liked gets stronger I'm sure. Remember this - the world hated Jesus, it will hate you. Don't do whatever it takes to gain a seat on the cool kids' table.
I need you, we the church need you. You might not think that it does, but it does.
Your life has become a tree that we seek shade under, you have become an oak of righteousness, a planting of the Lord. 
I am praying for you that you will fight the good fight of faith all the way to the end. I want for you to transition well, retire well and die well, and I know that needs all the prayer and support in the world. I'll do whatever I can to help just please, for heaven's sake, don't discredit yourself and break my heart. 
Yours with all affection and gratitude,
Timothy 


Tuesday, 17 June 2014

A Promise To All

There is an attitude in the mind of the Christian that needs to be dealt with. It's an 'us' and 'them' that divides the church into two groups - the clergy and the laity/the professionals and the amateurs (or producers and consumers!). 

It isn't a healthy or biblical way to think and not 'killing it' disables us from living an effective Christian life and it robs the church of its power. 

Jesus said 'my sheep hear my voice and they follow me'. All of us in the same camp/category, all of us 'sheep'.

In John 15, speaking to his disciples, he said:
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 
Every Christian is a disciple and every disciple is called to 'abide' in Jesus. Abiding (some translations use the word remain) is an ongoing and conscious relating to Jesus, fellowshipping with him and drawing from him as your life source everyday. 

The promise we're given is that as we do this, we will bear much fruit and not only a high quantity of fruit but quality fruit - fruit that will last. Here, from the mouth of Jesus, is a statement affirming that we have all been called ('taken hold of' by Christ) in order that we would all produce good fruit - fruit being Christian character and behaviour that results in the kingdom of God being more fully present on earth.

Every disciple of Jesus is a fruit-bearing disciple. There is no favouritism in God's family, all of us occupy the position of branch in the vine, all of us need to remain attached to the vine if we're to do what we want to do and have been commissioned by Jesus to do.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Signs of Life

                                                                                                                green shoots 

This past week I've had two encouraging moments as a missionary that I wanted to share. 

I love Jesus and I love his church, and I really want to help make it easier for non-churched, non-Jesus loving people to fall in love them as well. For a long time in church we have been committed to the vision of 'every member ministry' (priesthood of all believers) but what I want churchfolk to see and be reminded of is that we also believe just as passionately in 'every member missionary' - as in Jesus' words in Acts 1 '...you will be my witnesses'.

For a while now we've stressed the words that come immediately before that statement of Jesus' 'when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be my witnesses.' but not part about being witnesses. The trouble is that by doing so we have inadvertently created a 'wait until you experience a rushing-of-power-and-boldness-upon-you, and then go and be my witnesses' mentality. That may be a little unfair, but it may not be. A lot of them time it's meant that we remain immobilised believing that there's another experience to be had before we're fully trained to be effective witnesses. 

Here's the two stories I've been encouraged by:

1) Community engagement. 

I moved to Seaford 18 months ago and have slowly been trying to get to know unchurched people. I've attended sports clubs, I run a pub quiz at my local and I've befriended my neighbours, even establishing a regular chess night with one of them (I know, I'm wild). But recently I've leafleted the area I live in (with the help of one of my unchurched neighbours) and invited the area to join us each Sunday afternoon for volleyball and family games on the rec. I did it as a neighbour, not a as a christian, and not as a church leader. 

Last Sunday we had our first gathering and it went really well. Plenty of people came out (around 40) for games. It was great to see the field buzzing with life. All we did was befriend and play sport but it was brilliant - I loved it. I spoke to more non-believers in an afternoon than I had done in a month and several of them thanked me for putting it on, they appreciated the chance to meet people. 

I'm a missionary, so that's what I think I should do. I care about the place I live, the people I live around and I pray - how can I gain a footing into their lives to befriend them, share life with them and where possible share Jesus with them.

A few days after that Amy was with one of our neighbours who came. The lady was very open about church (she brought it up), saying that she'd really like to come along some time... I was encouraged to hear that.

2) Prophetic engagement.

This is fresh. Yesterday on training with some gap year students we walked into town with the express purpose of finding people to pray and share Jesus with. This isn't my natural sphere of mission and I was nervous, I was hanging back as we walked in and I was ever so slightly hoping that no one would notice if I slipped off into a coffee shop. 

Before going in to town I asked God to give me some ideas of who I should be looking for. I wrote down 'man with black baseball cap reversed, limp, hedge and wire fence' along with another more random clue. I walked through the town looking for someone who matched that description but didn't find anyone. Ever so slightly disappointed and if I'm honest, more than a little relieved, we headed home. Walking back we passed a skatepark. Having stopped there the group leader gave the invitation 'why doesn't someone preach a mini sermon to the skaters and then we'll chat to them?' No one volunteered. Some bright spark then announced 'Jez will do it!' to which I promptly replied 'no I won't... but I'll go and speak them.'

I sat down with a group of skaters, told them I was a Christian and offered to pray for any sicknesses. No one was sick so instead we just had a conversation about faith, and their reasons for not having any. After a while I said to the guy I was speaking to 'are you sure you don't have anything I can pray for?' and he told me he had a bad knee, a problem he'd had all his life. It was then that it dawned on me. He had a black baseball cap turned backwards, a bad leg (limp?), and when I looked up saw that he was sitting in front of a hedge with a wire fence behind it. Not a little encouraged I prayed for him and then I told him about the 'clues' I'd written down before coming out. He and the whole group with him reacted with huge surprise and plenty of 'no way!'s. They reacted like something off a magic show on TV, I felt like David Blaine. 'And for my next trick...'

I then told him that 'if nothing else, know this - God loves you and knows your name, he cares about you.'

We left the park with him saying 'if this works (my prayer), I'm going to come find you...' 

Maybe he will, or maybe he'll just give God another chance, or perhaps visit a local church for the first time.

God loves people and is looking for followers who'll love them too. These two stories are green shoots of encouragement for me and I hope they encourage you too. Tom Wright gave some good advice on what being a missionary looks like in a video I saw recently. He told us to: 
"Soak yourself in the scriptures much more than you're doing... soak yourself in prayer and listen hard to the cries of pain that are coming, whether from your neighbours or from people living on the other side of the world."
Love God, love people and live like a missionary whether in your home, your place of work, your school or your sports club. Every member of Jesus' church is a witness to the resurrection and a missionary sent into the world, not just the specialists.


Friday, 6 June 2014

The Material World Vs Elfland


Beware the dehumanising materialism of men like Richard Dawkins. That is all.

Yesterday there was a flurry of activity again as he 'came out' against... fairy tales. Yes Richard is now trying to topple beanstalks and rescue fair maidens from dragons. Articles with tag lines like 'reading fairy stories to children is harmful, says Richard Dawkins' flooded social medias. Well it just happened that this morning I came to the next chapter in a book I'm reading that explores the value of fairy stories. The chapter is entitled 'The Ethics of Elfland' and it appears in 'Orthodoxy' by G K Chesterton, an influential writer and thinker in the early part of the 20th Century.

The reason Dawkins has a problem with fairy stories is ultimately because of a belief on his part about what makes us fundamentally human. For him fairy stories and tales of the supernatural are a throw back to an era in human history when we were less evolved and advanced. For him we need to throw off all and any belief in supernatural activity if we are ever going to fully mature as a species.

Here's a few quotes from the chapter:
On the power of fairy stories to teach us valuable lessons more effectively than anything else can
There is the chivalrous lesson of 'Jack the Giant Killer'; that giants should be killed because they are gigantic. It is a manly mutiny against pride as such. For the rebel is older than all kingdoms, and the Jacobin has more tradition than the Jacobite. There is the lesson of 'Cinderella', which is the same as that of the Magnificat-exaltavit humiles. There is the great lesson of 'Beauty & the Beast'; that a thing must be loved before it is loveable. There is the terrible allegory of the 'Sleeping Beauty', which tells how the human creature was blessed with all birthday gifts, yet cursed with death; and how death also may perhaps be softened to a sleep. But I am not concerned with any of the seperate statues of elfland, but with the whole spirit of its law, which I learnt before I could speak, and shall retain when I cannot write. I am concerned with a certain way of looking at life, which was created in me by the fairy tales, but has since been meekly ratified by the mere facts.
He then goes on to say
As I put my head over the hedge of the elves and began to take notice of the natural world, I observed an extraordinary thing. I observed that learned men in spectacles were talking of the actual things that happened - dawn and death and so on - as if they were rational and inevitable. They talked as if the fact that trees bear fruit were just as necessary as the fact that two and one trees make three. But it is not.
Chesterton's point is that there is no required link between what we see and why we see it. Scientists may call it the 'law' of gravity but used in that sense it is no more a law than the 'law' that 'blowing the horn brings down the ogre's castle'. It is simply that we (just as the witch) has seen the one follow the other so many times we can 'count on it'. But that is exactly his point again. We cannot 'count' on it we can only 'bet' on it.

on laws of science
If there is a law that pick-pockets shall go to prison, it implies that there is an imaginable mental connection between the idea of prison and the idea of picking pockets. And we know what the idea is. We can say why we take liberty from a man who takes liberties. But we cannot say why an egg can turn into a chicken any more than we can say why a bear could turn into a fairy prince. As ideas, the egg and the chicken are further off each other than the bear and the prince; for no egg in itself suggests a chicken, whereas some princes do suggest bears.
...it is not a necessity for though we can count on it happening practically, we have no right to say that it must always happen.... we do not count on it, we bet on it.
For me this next bit is where it starts to really hit home as I think he explains more adequately the human condition than a strict materialist reading of things ever could.
A forlorn lover might be unable to dissociate the moon from lost love; so the materialist is unable to dissociate the moon from the tide. In both cases there is no connection, except that one has seen them together. A sentimentalist might shed tears at the smell of apple-blossom, because, by a dark accoiation of his own, it reminded him of his boyhood. So the materialist professor (though he conceals his tears) is yet a sentimentalist, because, by a dark association of his own, apple-blossoms remind him of apples. But the cool rationalist from fairyland does not see why, in the abstract, the apple tree should not grow crimson tulips; it sometimes does in his country
and this is bang on
Just as we all like love tales because there is an instinct of sex, we all like astonishing tales because they touch the nerve of the ancient instinct of astonishment. This is proved by the fact that when we are very young children we do not need fairy tales: we only need tales. Mere life is interesting enough. A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door. Boys like romantic tales; but babies like realistic tales - because they find them romantic...
...nursery tales say that apples were golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they were green. They make rivers run with wine only to makes us remember, for one wile moment, that they run with water.
So take away fairy stories and you won't kill the imagination and astonishment of children or even the belief in super-nature or transcendence. You will however squash our humanity into something that looks more like a machine than a man. A good friend of mine recently spoke on this and pointed out that were you to reduce a human being down only to his scientific components and elements you could buy him in a shop for a matter of pounds. Yet we know, instinctively we do, that human beings are worth far more than that.

To understand our 'worth' we need something more akin to a fairy story than a science book.

I think that one reply article I saw summed it up with the headline: Reading books by Richard Dawkins is harmful for adults.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

The Unreported War

In many parts of the world Christianity is being violently and systematically eradicated, and so few of the stories make it into our headlines. Below are some quotes and statistics about it.

As I come across articles or information about the persecution of Christians I intend to publish it here. If it interests you at all, please pop back from time to time. It is my hope that this acts both as a way of documenting & raising awareness, about what has been described in The Spectator as the greatest war never reported on, that is the war of anti-Christian persecution raging in many parts of the globe.

It was brought to my attention when I read a 99p ebook from Amazon entitled The Silence of Our Friends. I have typed up several stand out quotes and key ideas from the book here in case anyone's interested in a summary. This began a series of 'eye opening' discoveries about something that receives so little media coverage.

To start with, here's a quote from the afore mentioned article:
According to the International Society for Human Rights, a secular observatory based in Frankfurt, Germany, 80 per cent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed at Christians. Statistically speaking, that makes Christians by far the most persecuted religious body on the planet. 
It also mentions the statistic that Christians face persecution in 139 (nearly three quarters) of the world's countries.

On Monday 2nd June The Times ran a column (on page 26 in the opinions section) in which it mentioned the following statistic:
Despite Britain's Christian heritage we are now one of the least religious countries on earth. Our secular consciences are pricked when we read about the horror of a woman being shackled during childbirth on death row in Sudan, but we are less alive to the global reality that ours is an age of growing attacks on fundamental religious freedoms.  
The writer is referring to the ongoing story of Meriam Ibrahim. Religious freedom ought to bother us whether we're religious or not. Canada's government recently created an 'office for religious freedom' because, it said 'religious freedom is the canary in the coal mine for other freedoms. When it goes, other freedoms are sure to follow.'

The Open Doors charity provides a map and list of the 27 countries where Christians face 'severe persecution':


The mosts severe being North Korea where an estimated 50,000 Christians have been sent to labour camps for failing to renounce their faith.

The Times column continues:
A century ago a quarter of the Middle East's population was Christian. Now, after the Iraq, Afghanistan and Syrian wars and after extremist Islamic groups gained power during the Arab Spring, only 10 per cent is. 
From Ed West's The Silence of Our Friends:
Since the removal of Saddam life for Christians in Iraq has become considerably worse with one church leader describing it as 'a Calvary'. At least 71 churches have been bombed since the invasion including 44 assaults in Baghdad and 19 in Mosul as well as attacked on two convents a monastery and a Christian orphanage. In Jan. '08 nine churches were bombed. Up to 1000 Christians have been murdered because of their faith, including 17 priests and one bishop.
And a story to conclude this morning's updates with:

Adam Udai 3 Yr old victim of massacre
The worst single atrocity took place on October 31, 2010, when gunmen attacked the Syriac Catholic cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad at the end of Mass, killing 56 worshippers. The five-hour ordeal began when terrorists wearing suicide belts came through a hole they'd blown in the door, chanting 'God is great'. Um Raed, who lost two of her sons, one a priest, told Sunday Times journalists Hala Jaber and Christine Toomey that she saw 27-year-old Fr Wasim Sabieh pleading with the terrorists to stop: 'They shot him through the moutg, then again in the chest, shouting 'we've killed an infidel'.' She then turned around and saw her own son stumbling on the altar, gasping 'God, to theee I commend my soul'. She said: 'I saw his blood spill across the floor. I feel to my knees and started rubbing my hand through his blood. they shot me too. They shot my hand in my son's blood." the terrorists then shot her other son, who was with his wife and child. Among the congregation was three-year-old Adam Udai, who had begged one of the terrorists to 'please stop' and was summarily murdered.
The above incident was reported here on the BBC News website: www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east

To be continued...

Monday, 2 June 2014

Aliens & Strangers

Do you remember the film the Flight of the Navigator? In it a young boy discovers a space craft in the woods, goes for a flight in it and upon returning learns that he's been missing for a long time. Years have gone by and his family have all but given him up as dead. His once family home is now owned by another family and everyone he knew has aged considerably and built their lives without him in it. Imagine returning from a trip to discover that everything you knew and loved had changed, that you no longer belonged to that place. You no longer fit in and are very aware of the fact.

Increasingly I feel like that. 

I don't understand the society I live in and so few people seem alarmed by the same things I am. Now I don't pretend to understand politics, I don't really get how our system of government works - perhaps someone could help me here? - but today I saw a newspaper headline that only confirmed for me all the more that, I don't belong here. 

Two weeks ago we went to the polls to vote for who we want to represent us in Europe. There's been a lot of fuss over the European elections for sometime. From what I can make out, it seems we (the British public) feel strongly because we've (the British leaders) given away power to an unelected president who signs off on laws that we in England have so little say about. Ok, I think I understand why that bit's important. The trouble is that from what I've seen the laws that have been made are largely to do with trading and meat packaging (less worth all the stress?). Actually I think the main reason people feel so strongly about the European elections is because of immigration, right? A lot of people feel very strongly about how many (more accurately 'how few') people from other countries should be allowed into ours. Control our borders, keep Britain British etc. 

A lot of strong feeling and a national vote. 

What I don't understand and what upsets me so much is that I read in the papers today (actually only one ran it/thought it a newsworthy item) that midwives have now been given greater powers when it comes to aborting unwanted pregnancies. The abortion laws have been loosened and only one paper ran it as a story. That upsets me. It upsets me that it's happened and it upsets me that we, the people don't ever get to vote or express our opinion via the polls on something as evocative an issue as abortion. In the States the voters could tell you which party is pro life/choice and they often form their voting mind around issues like that and gun control - matters of life and death. 

Every year in the UK 200 000 babies are never given the chance at life. I know this is a minefield of an issue to raise but I'll raise it all the same. It has been made easier, as of today, because of the new policy, to take the life of an unwanted baby. 

What I am also upset about and perplexed by is how the redefinition of marriage took place so swiftly, again without any chance for us to vote or speak out. There were lobby groups for sure, but by then the government were convinced this was a 'Lincoln Moment' akin to abolishing slavery, that lobbyists stood little chance. Ever since humanity had marriage it was always heterosexual, monogamous and lifelong and it was the centre for family life for procreation and a force for good in society. It got redefined for all subsequent generations (and lost its real definition) without us ever going to the polls. 

As a country we're concerned to make sure we vote to 'keep them out' but we're never given the chance to vote about matters that really matter, and that upsets me. I read recently this article here about a Christian baker in the States who is being forced (legally) to bake a cake in celebration of a same sex wedding and I wonder how long it'll be until we have stories like it of our own. It bothers me because I believe the Canadians are right that 'religious freedom is the canary in the coal-mine of other freedoms' as detailed here

I'm not into gay-bashing, of course I'm not and I'm not into heaping guilt on people who've had abortions, of course I'm not - but I would like a say about the really important issues in society.

I haven't paid too much attention to the goings on in the world and I admit that has been wrong, especially as a Christian. Now that I have, I'm saddened by what I see. A country that resembles less and less of its heritage and history. A country of increasingly independent minded, proud, morally liberal and easily placated by entertainment people (I speak as one with the poison in his own veins). 

It's as though I've returned home only to realise that this really isn't my home. 

By following Jesus and accepting him as the true leader (or Aragon like 'Returned King') I'm aware that I've separated myself from the world around me, become something of an anomaly (or 'religious freak' for the less guarded). I know that this makes me less liked and less understood by the people who write the news and teach our children. I know all this and I know that my Christian forbears and contemporaries have lost their lives because of such a difference (and I'm thankful I'm not threatened with that in this country!). I know. I'm just upset. 

I feel a burden to learn more, to listen more and to try and understand how we got here. 

I'm serious. Articles, links and lessons on how our country is governed and why would be gratefully read and received. 

Rant over :)


Thursday, 29 May 2014

Poetic Justice - the game

Played a fun (albeit hard) game tonight: Poetic Justice

Example:
Clue - wilting flower : _ _ _ _ _ _ / _ _ _ _ _
Ans - floppy poppy

Here's a round for fun: answers below

1) Rainforest blunder - 6 / 6
2) Crooked Gentleman - 4 / 4
3) Lovesick Cat - 7 / 6
4) Drop in the cat population - 6 / 7
5) Changeable gherkin - 6 / 6
6) Discard road plan - 5 / 3
7) elector's transport - 6 / 6
8) saturate hardwood tree - 4 / 3
9) naked challenge - 4 / 4
10) appointment with destiny - 4 / 4
11) broad newly-wed - 4 / 5
12) unusual knack - 4 / 5
13) immobile lorry - 5 / 5
14) fresh adhesive - 3 / 4
15) inn food - 3 / 3
16) elegant food - 4 / 4
17) bedtime snack 5 / 4
18) liberated hive dweller - 4 / 3
19) obese rodent - 3 / 3
20) pull small carpet - 3 / 3













Answers
1) jungle bungle
2) bent gent
3) smitten kitten
4) feline decline
5) fickle pickle
6) scrap map
7) voter's motors
8) soak oak
9) bare dare
10) fate date
11) wide bride
12) rare flair
13) stuck truck
14) new glue
15) pub grub
16) posh nosh
17) night bite
18) free bee
19) fat rat
20) tug rug


Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Free, to choose


Toddler reins, they're a beautiful thing. Especially when you've got a strong-willed toddler at one end and a busy road nearby. As I walked my dog, sorry son, to the park recently I made sure he didn't walk too close to the road. Then, as we got close to the park I thought to myself 'what the heck, I'm faster than he is, let's see what he does...' I let go of the reins and said toddler was free. I saw a look of recognition flash across his face as he realised he was free. He began to walk away from me, (what had I done?!) and then, just as he was about to break into a full on sprint and make a mad dash for a life beyond the tyrannical regime of dad. Just as he was about to make full use of his freedom, he stopped. He turned, walked back to me and held out his hand inviting me to hold it. He had the option of freedom without rules, freedom to do whatever he pleased - and it pleased him to walk next to me, to hold my hand. 

I can't tell you how much my heart leapt with delight. 

'He loves me' it screamed 'he LOVES me! He had the whole world to choose from, and yet he chose me.' I've made it, I've arrived - I'm a successful dad. I created another person (albeit with some help from Amy), raised him (again, a little help here) but now having come 'of age' he has recognised my value to him. 'I must have this parenting thing all figured out,' I thought 'maybe I should write a book about it, hold conferences or run courses on it: how to give your child freedom to choose and be the object of their choice.' I'm accepted by my son and it feels great! Maybe it was because he knew that fun at the park without dad wouldn't be much fun at all, or maybe it was because he knows that experiences shared are experiences fully experienced. 

Maybe he just needed someone to stop him falling over. No, it can't be that.

I know I'm overreacting just a little bit (out of character I know), and I know I've got a few years to go yet until he's fully free (just a few) but being an object of choice rather than being an unchosen ruler, is surely one of the long term goals of parenting. When your children are free to choose, and choose to use their freedom to be with you, you know you've done well. When your children free as they are still come home, still call (albeit not as often as you'd like), still enjoy your company and still choose to choose you, I imagine is a great moment for any parent of grown up kids.

An insight into Christianity: 

As I walked with Zach a voice inside me also said, 'this is how the gospel works.'

As a Christian, the Bible teaches me that I have been set free for freedom (Gal 5:1) and that everything is now permissible for me (1 Cor 6:12) since I don't have to live morally upright in order to be right with God (Ro 6:14). Jesus is the fully-faithful-to-God One and I'm living before God, hidden in him (Gal 2:20, Col 3:3). So, I'm free as Zach was free, to go off and do as I please, to please myself on the things of this world. I'm free to live independent of rules and restraints, regulations and commands. I'm free to choose. That is Christianity.

For people outside of the faith however, experience tells me this isn't their understanding of Christianity. They have been sold a caricature of Christianity that looks markedly different from what I've just described. For many people God is more like the toddler reigns that restricts our freedom than he is the loving Father who permits it. That simply isn't true. 

In the Bible's message of Jesus we're finally free, free indeed (John 8:36). But now, as a freedman I've learnt that the most exciting, satisfying and fully human way to live is to take hold of the hand of God and to walk with him through life. My life lived in relationship and friendship with him is rich and full. I don't get to avoid pain and difficulty. I don't get all of my confusion resolved, doubts dissolved and frustrations worked out but I do get to share everything with the one who rules everything. I live with the one who loves me, leads me and who enables me to make it through this life with my eyes fully open. I don't have to hide from the world or escape from reality, instead I get to hold his hand and engage with him in every step of the journey.

God has revealed himself as Father and now I, as a privileged Under-father to the Chief Father get to appreciate how his fatherly affection works towards us. If he experiences anything like the same emotions I do (and I can deduce from the New Testament that he does), then I can gain valuable insights into how he feels towards us simply by walking my son to the park and experiencing the delight of being the one he chooses to walk with.

That is how we bring pleasure to our Father's heart. That is how we make full use of our freedom. 

You're free, to choose. 

Choose Life himself.