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Watching a street preacher in Norwich

On Friday I was in Norwich and I watched a street preacher speaking to a small group of supporters while everyone else gave them a wide berth. I stopped, leaned against a wall and listened. I heard lots about Jesus being my saviour. I heard that I, along with those scurrying by, could be saved if they accepted Jesus, then they could be sure of going to heaven. He was also clear that if I didn’t accept this I would sadly go to hell.

He was speaking and people were ignoring him. Even those with him looked bored. I even saw one women realise that she looked bored and force a smile on her face. She tried but it wasn’t very convincing. I admired the man for speaking out, but not for much more. He was speaking to himself and perhaps to his followers but there was nothing to engage those who were scurrying on. He said a lot about ‘sin’ – but no one knew what he meant. He spoke a lot about his concerns and absolutely nothing about the concerns of the people he was trying to reach. He had done his duty and proclaimed the Gospel, but no one heard the Good News. 

I left Norwich sad but thoughtful. Is the Good News boring? How can I invite people into the Kingdom of God? How can I explain the Kingdom in ways that people will understand? As I pondered these questions I read Matthew 25; in particular I read the story of the sheep and the goats and their judgement. Then I read it again and I realised that the story of the sheep and the goats is told to those who are not Jesus’ followers. This is not so much about being a Christian than it is about the values in God’s kingdom.

I read Matthew 25 and found that the Kingdom of God calls for people, all people, to be good and generous and caring – whether or not they know Jesus. The values of this kingdom are about feeding the hungry, and caring for those in need, especially the strangers who are not like me. There is a lot of complicated theology here but in among it all this passage says that Jesus is ruling now. His rule is not yet fully seen and felt but he is already ruling as King of this world and all its people. Jesus also makes it clear that he is so much a part of me and all his people that whatever anyone does to me, or any one of his people, is done to Jesus personally.

As I read I also noticed that this passage is also about justice. Justice where those who help in any way those who work for God will not be forgotten. Equally,justice where those who are indifferent to the suffering of God’s workers will not be overlooked either. This must speak more to my persecuted brothers and sisters than it does to me. I am not so likely to call out for justice for the one who beats me up or takes away my job, simply because I’m a Christian. If I had seen friends and family die for their faith I would call out to Christ the King for justice. I would also call out for justice for those who had sheltered or cared for me at real personal risk to themselves.

Pondering this I came to the conclusion that this passage from Matthew 25 is largely about the justice of God. Now that is a message for all people. People want real justice they just don’t tend to trust those who claim to offer it. Politicians are seen as corrupt and self-serving. Judges seem out of touch and too many laws don’t seem to chime with a common sense of justice. Sadly, religious people like me aren’t always seen as people to trust with justice either. We certainly don’t have the greatest track record fighting for justice for the abused child.

However the fact remains that people want justice. The papers and the news are full of calls for justice – people clearly want justice even if this so often sinks into the mire of vengeance – so perhaps that man in Norwich would have been more successful if he had addressed peoples real concerns about justice – immigration, low wages for many – huge wages for others, jobs, hope for children, justice in the home. Just about everyone that I have met cares about justice and hates injustice. This passage says that Christ the King cares too. People want to know that those who care are rewarded and those that hurt others get their just reward too.

I said earlier that I left Norwich sad but thoughtful. I was pondering how to invite people into the Kingdom of God in ways that they could hear – ways to explain the Kingdom that people will understand. What a place to start – What better place to start to talk about Jesus than to talk about his justice – that is one place that I can offer Good News for the concerns that people actually have. I know that there is so much more to God, there is so much more to the Good News, but perhaps that can come later…

– once the conversation has started…

Without a Trace

I am not teaching this Sunday so I don’t have my normal blog post but I do want to share a resource from Scripture Union that I have found very helpful – WordLive (https://www.wordlive.org/). I have copied the entry for Friday 14th November here but I normally listen to the podcast version which is available from the same page. I spend so much time teaching that it is good to receive from someone else, it is also so uplifting to have human voices giving that teaching each day.

This offering is entitled “Without a Trace“.

God oversees nations and details in equal measure. Bring both to him before you read further…

Bible passage: Jeremiah 51:33–64

 

  This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says:
“The Daughter of Babylon is like a threshing floor
at the time it is trampled;
the time to harvest her will soon come.”

“Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon has devoured us,
he has thrown us into confusion,
he has made us an empty jar.
Like a serpent he has swallowed us
and filled his stomach with our delicacies,
and then has spewed us out.

May the violence done to our flesh be upon Babylon,”
say the inhabitants of Zion.
“May our blood be on those who live in Babylonia,”
says Jerusalem.

Therefore, this is what the LORD says:
“See, I will defend your cause
and avenge you;
I will dry up her sea
and make her springs dry.

Babylon will be a heap of ruins,
a haunt of jackals,
an object of horror and scorn,
a place where no one lives.

Her people all roar like young lions,
they growl like lion cubs.

But while they are aroused,
I will set out a feast for them
and make them drunk,
so that they shout with laughter—
then sleep forever and not awake,”
declares the LORD.

“I will bring them down
like lambs to the slaughter,
like rams and goats.

“How Sheshach will be captured,
the boast of the whole earth seized!
What a horror Babylon will be
among the nations!

The sea will rise over Babylon;
its roaring waves will cover her.

Her towns will be desolate,
a dry and desert land,
a land where no one lives,
through which no man travels.

I will punish Bel in Babylon
and make him spew out what he has swallowed.
The nations will no longer stream to him.
And the wall of Babylon will fall.

“Come out of her, my people!
Run for your lives!
Run from the fierce anger of the LORD.

Do not lose heart or be afraid
when rumors are heard in the land;
one rumor comes this year, another the next,
rumors of violence in the land
and of ruler against ruler.

For the time will surely come
when I will punish the idols of Babylon;
her whole land will be disgraced
and her slain will all lie fallen within her.

Then heaven and earth and all that is in them
will shout for joy over Babylon,
for out of the north
destroyers will attack her,”
declares the LORD.

“Babylon must fall because of Israel’s slain,
just as the slain in all the earth
have fallen because of Babylon.

You who have escaped the sword,
leave and do not linger!
Remember the LORD in a distant land,
and think on Jerusalem.”

“We are disgraced,
for we have been insulted
and shame covers our faces,
because foreigners have entered
the holy places of the LORD’s house.”

“But days are coming,” declares the LORD,
“when I will punish her idols,
and throughout her land
the wounded will groan.

Even if Babylon reaches the sky
and fortifies her lofty stronghold,
I will send destroyers against her,”
declares the LORD.

“The sound of a cry comes from Babylon,
the sound of great destruction
from the land of the Babylonians.

The LORD will destroy Babylon;
he will silence her noisy din.
Waves of enemies will rage like great waters;
the roar of their voices will resound.

A destroyer will come against Babylon;
her warriors will be captured,
and their bows will be broken.
For the LORD is a God of retribution;
he will repay in full.

I will make her officials and wise men drunk,
her governors, officers and warriors as well;
they will sleep forever and not awake,”
declares the King, whose name is the LORD Almighty.

This is what the LORD Almighty says:
“Babylon’s thick wall will be leveled
and her high gates set on fire;
the peoples exhaust themselves for nothing,
the nations’ labor is only fuel for the flames.”

This is the message Jeremiah gave to the staff officer Seraiah son of Neriah, the son of Mahseiah, when he went to Babylon with Zedekiah king of Judah in the fourth year of his reign. Jeremiah had written on a scroll about all the disasters that would come upon Babylon—all that had been recorded concerning Babylon. He said to Seraiah, “When you get to Babylon, see that you read all these words aloud. Then say, ‘O LORD, you have said you will destroy this place, so that neither man nor animal will live in it; it will be desolate forever.’ When you finish reading this scroll, tie a stone to it and throw it into the Euphrates. Then say, ‘So will Babylon sink to rise no more because of the disaster I will bring upon her. And her people will fall.’ “
The words of Jeremiah end here.

New International Version (NIV) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

Explore the Bible

 

Righteous judgement

Up to this point, Jeremiah’s prophecies have been directed towards God’s people. Today’s passage comes as part of a section in which God is revealing his righteous judgement against the surrounding nations.

Babylon with all its power was a pawn in God’s hand (v 49) but this did not mean that God excused the sin and idolatry of Nebuchadnezzar and his people (v 52). God will never overlook or pretend not to see sin.

A time of reckoning

Babylon’s idolatry was so abhorrent to God that he would destroy the city (vs 54,55,62,64), making it a desolate place for ever. The acts of war against Israel had not gone under the Lord’s radar; there would be a time of reckoning (v 49). In the midst of God’s wrath, there was hope for his people. God would avenge them (v 36) as they ran from his punishment of the Babylonians (vs 45–48).

The Jews had frequently been tempted either to ally themselves to the strongest surrounding nations rather than trust in God, or strike back against Babylon rather than wait for God’s judgement. How might this passage reassure us today when so much is wrong in the world?

Respond

 

‘Praise be to the Lord, to God our Saviour, who daily bears our burdens. Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death’ (Psalm 68:19,20).

James Davies

Deeper Bible study

 

Jeremiah’s dire warnings of the demise of Egypt came true 20 years after the Jews settled there. Nebuchadnezzar invaded Egypt in 568 bc. History is silent about the fate of the Jews, but the Babylonians made no distinctions and all were caught up in the destruction. As Jeremiah predicted, remnants would survive as refugees (Jeremiah 44:28). Some no doubt eventually returned to Egypt. Many would be released when Babylon fell to Persia, some returning to rebuild Jerusalem. Scripture sees this as fulfilling Jeremiah’s prophesies of restoration (Ezra 1:1–5). Others remained scattered throughout the Babylonian Empire. Many more were resettled throughout the subsequent Greek Empire and extensively dispersed when the Romans sacked Jerusalem in ad 70.

Jeremiah’s graphic tirade against Israel’s ancient enemies in chapters 46–49 makes hard reading. Commentators disagree about the historical placement of these prophesies, but their literary placement suggests that the editor of the material gathered all prophesies dealing with foreign nations into one place at the end. They culminate in the longer prophetic utterances against Babylon, the last of which we read today.

Some people find difficulty reconciling Jeremiah’s picture of Babylon as God’s agent in history (eg Jeremiah 6:1,2,22) with his equally strong condemnations, but this thinking is to presume that we are privy to the mind of God. Hidden away in Jeremiah’s long diatribe is the clue: ‘We would have healed Babylon, but she cannot be healed’ (Jeremiah 51:9). Babylon was briefly God’s chosen instrument but this did not excuse the people from the ultimate requirement that they seek God. We know they had clear opportunities (Daniel 3:28,29), but in the end they did not take them and they too came under God’s judgement.

John Harris

For the Armistice: Some very personal messages of remembrance……

kungfupreacherman:

Some very moving thoughts this Remembrance Sunday…

Originally posted on No more wriggling out of writing ......:

labelsHave you forgotten yet?…
Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you’ll never forget’ -(Siegfried Sassoon)

At the launch of my book Shell Shocked Britain: The First World War’s legacy for Britain’s mental health  on the 22nd October 2014, I offered people the opportunity to take a red luggage label, a pen and write a simple message on it, tying it to the life-sized white wooden tree installations in the event space at Foyles in Bristol. I waffled on a bit about saying something about the evening, about the book, about the nibbles etc, but I also suggested people might want to offer up the names of someone they hold in their heart, as an informal act of remembrance.

I have to say, when I looked through them after the event, I was really moved at the names and comments people had taken the…

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Whether you believe or not I dare you to be a peacemaker

I’ve been thinking about war and violence and particularly about the tools of war and violence. As I pondered I realised that I grew up with knives. I was out and about in the woods and hills of Yorkshire, and a knife was a tool for all sorts of things from sharpening sticks to skinning rabbits. A knife was a tool, not a weapon – I even had one on my belt as part of my Scout uniform.

Then I learned to shoot, first airguns, then a rifle, then a shotgun. Again these were fun, but they were tools, not toys. Perhaps this attitude to these deadly weapons comes from my scout leaders, perhaps it comes from my father. My father was PTA sergeant; he wouldn’t say much about guns, or knives, except to say that if you are ready to point them at someone, you had better be ready to kill them. A gun, a knife, any weapon is not for show. A serious lesson for which I am very grateful.

But that said I still played commandos with toy guns and knives, but this was always different. They were toys and it never entered my head to play games with my friends with a real knife or a real gun.

As a young child I had already learned the simple lesson of cause and effect – that weapons used on people do terrible things: that weapons kill. I want the same for all children today. I want them to know that war, even wars that aren’t called wars, are brutal.

This is one of the good things that has come out of the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. With all of the media coverage it is hard to turn on the tv without seeing something about the horrors of that conflict – for soldiers, and for those suffering at home. I am not sure I agree with spending so much time remembering the start of a war but I can’t deny that so many children and young adults have been reminded of the seriousness of war – That there is misery and fear and mutilation, as well as death for innocent men, women, children and babies, as well as for soldiers.

I know that young people from our High School go to the First World War battlefields each year, and are never quite the same again. A real lesson has been learned. I know that I still remember my own trip to those battlefields when I was barely into my teens. They remain a haunting reminder of what war can be.

War is horror, not glory. That is why Jesus tells us, “Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called children of God” (Matthew 5.9). So today I commit myself again to working for peace: To working for peace here between my neighbours, and to supporting those working for peace between countries.

There may come a time again when the only right thing is to go to war. But I pray that soldiers are the last resort, and only that.

As you and I remember the bravery and sacrifice of so many who have fought for the freedoms of this country, in two world wars, and in more recent wars; that as we remember and honour their sacrifice, I ask all of you to do all that you can to work for peace. If you share my faith, then work for peace knowing that it is the call of Jesus spoken to you. If you don’t share my faith in God, then still work for peace for the good of all in this country, indeed for the good of all.

Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called the children of God. Whether you believe or not I dare you to be a peacemaker – someone who makes this world a better place.

Méchant Loup

kungfupreacherman:

A cautionary tale…

Originally posted on Zen and the art of tightrope walking:

Méchant Loup

The wolf-whistle cut across the cool evening air, shrill and insistent but the girl in red did not respond. Instead, her pace picked up as her shiny red shoes clattered along the path.

From a dozen yards away, the man in the wolf costume bristled with indignation as his bid to gain her attention failed. The heels of the shoes were too high for her to walk fast enough to get out of sight quickly, and the height of them made her wobble in a way he found most appealing. Glancing at her retreating figure he watched as her long legs in fishnet stockings tried to stride, but the combination of short, tight skirt and those absurd high heels meant she could not take more than short steps. The percussive sound of the heels on the concrete path was music to his ears(the real ones under the furry…

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Second hand dress and halo for sale – any offers?

What is a saint? Well, if you walked round most English churches you would get the clear impression that a saint is a man or woman, wearing a dress with halo accessory. Now, I’ve tried being a saint but I just can’t manage it. I’ve looked at the pictures but I just can’t take the funny looks and ‘nudge, nudge, wink, wink’ every time I try and go shopping in a brightly coloured dress. And the halo, well! You just can’t buy them anywhere, so I made one out of silver foil and a coat hanger. I was really proud of it but it just made people laugh and my wife Viv won’t let me leave the house with it any more.

So if a saint isn’t someone in a dress and halo, then what is a saint? I’ve tried looking at stained glass windows so perhaps I’ll do better looking to the Bible. I look to the Bible and read things like, “To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” (RSV). That’s from the opening of Paul’s letter to the Romans. There are lots of other verses like this were I find ‘saint’ used to mean ‘one of God’s people’. So a saint is you and a saint is me.

That led me to wonder, ‘How can I tell if someone is a saint?’ Well I can’t. I don’t know for certain who is and who isn’t one of God’s people. But I do know what to look out for. I look to the Bible again and I find descriptions of what God’s people should be like. I read passages like 1 Corinthians 12, and I realise that a saint is likely to be be loving and forgiving. I read passages like Matthew 5.1-12 and I find a long list of character traits. I find that God’s people may be poor in spirit, sad and mourning, or meek. A saint may also hungry for what is right, but merciful and pure in heart. A saint my be a peacemaker but despite being blessed by God, a saint can expect to be persecuted for standing up for what is true and right and good.

I look at that list and I see a saint as an ordinary person who is likely to suffer like everyone else. So as a saint I am not going to be spared the loss and pain of mourning for the death of people close to me. I could be poor and persecuted. But more than anything a saint is a wonderfully noble figure: A warrior for good. Someone who stands up for justice with mercy, someone who cares about the poor, has, or seeks to have, pure motives; a persecuted peacemaker. I like that picture, it is noble and heroic but I’m not sure that it’s me.

I strive for this picture of a saint but sometimes I’m a coward and don’t speak up when I should. Then I turn to the Bible again and I read, “I am sure that nothing can separate us from God’s love—not life or death, not angels or spirits, not the present or the future, and not powers above or powers below. Nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord!” Romans 8.38-39 CEV. What a relief!

I am a saint after all. I may not be a good saint but that does not separate me from God. I am not a good saint but I am still a saint. So with new confidence I ditch the bright dress and home made halo; I turn to the Spirit and ask for strength and wisdom. I open myself to Jesus and let the Spirit make me more like him and I am amazed that he makes me more loving, and more forgiving. I find that with the Spirit acting in me, I am more likely to stand up for what is right before I have time to think about being brave or cowardly – sometimes the Spirit speaks out, my head is above the trench and I no longer have a choice.

I am a saint. Not a good saint, but perhaps an improving one. Oh and I have I have a bright dress and a slightly battered halo for sale – any offers?

Expecting God?

Not long ago I went to a Jace Everett concert. He was on his UK tour and I was excited to finally get to see and hear him live. I went to that concert with real expectation of loving the music and having a great time. I was a little disappointed with the support acts but not by Jace Everett himself. He was even better live that he was on any of his albums – the music was brilliant but even better he was a great entertainer too. He involved the whole audience – we got involved and together made the concert even better.

Last week I went to see Graham Kendrick and again I had real expectations of that evening. I was expecting great music and Spirit filled worship. I had great expectations and again I was not disappointed. Again Graham involved everyone there and as we joined him in worship we were lifted high in the Spirit. Graham Kendrick wasn’t just giving we were all giving into a common act of celebration and praise.

In both cases I could have sat there and listened politely to the music, perhaps giving a restrained clap every now and again. But if I had then both of those evenings would have been pretty dull. In both cases the music would have been good but I believe that in both cases it was better for me and all of the others joining in. That is the magic of live music. That is the difference between listening or singing, and truly worshipping God.

It is normal to have expectations and hopes when I go to places, it’s normal. But is it normal for worship, normal worship, Sunday by Sunday? Whether I am leading or in the congregation do I always go expecting to encounter God? Do I expect to join the worship of the angels in heaven? Do I expect that my joy and tears will be echoed in heaven? Do I expect my presence in church to make any difference at all? Do I expect to give of myself every time?

I would love to say, ‘yes’ to all of those questions, all of the time. I know that I should go expectant but sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I’m dry. Sometimes I go because I feel that I should; when I really just want another hour in bed.

Sometimes this happens and I go without expectations. Sometimes I go and I keep myself to myself (perhaps when on holiday). Then there is the real danger that I will go home as flat as I went. I’ve found that when I don’t go to worship expecting to meet Christ, then I’m more likely to do just that – not meet Christ. Sometimes Christ reaches through my reluctance and touches me anyway. But often when I don’t go expecting to meet with Jesus, I miss him somehow, perhaps he slipped out before I got the chance to speak with him.

That’s why I always try to go to worship expecting God to speak, expecting the Spirit to flow, expecting to meet with Jesus. Then I have my eyes and ears and heart open to God’s voice and I can then receive from him. I also find that when I go expecting God, I go ready to contribute to the worship. Whether I’m leading or not I go ready to join in with the prayers, to be there in the sermon, and I also have the chance of being really open to receive Christ in the bread and the wine.

I’ve found that like going to a concert, worship isn’t a passive activity. When I join with everyone – then together we really join our hearts and minds and spirit’s together with the Spirit. In worship I am taken up with my brothers and sisters right into the heart of God. Through Christ I say that my prayer and worship bring me into the ‘Holy of Holies’ before the throne of heaven, into the presence of the living God. I say it and believe it. I have faith, but I still need more faith to fully claim that reality.

I remember the prayer in Mark 9:24 and I pray to Jesus, “I do believe, help me to overcome my unbelief”.

I know that Christ is coming. I need to expect him now- then I will have the faith to expect Jesus’ return and be ready to welcome him without fear.

I pray that I can come expectant to worship: Live an expectant life: Expect Christ to come.

I pray, Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus.

Amen. Come Lord Jesus.

Oi God, all this harvest of yours – little help!?

‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few’ (Luke 10.2).

Now there’s a thought ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few’. That was certainly true for my apple trees this year. There were so many apples that we couldn’t eat, cook or freeze them all. Everyone seemed to have too many so we couldn’t even give them away! In desperation I discovered stewed apple in porridge for breakfast – I’ve not had porridge for breakfast since I was a kid but I couldn’t stand seeing so many apples go to waste and I’ve found I like it.

But back to, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few’ (Luke 10.2).

‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few’. I totally agree. This is such a famous verse and the emphasis is nearly always on ‘the workers are few’. So much so that it has become a bit of a moan and a whinge. I’ve used it myself, many times, and always because I could really do with more help. Of course that assumes that because I need more help then it must be God’s priority too. But there’s something missing here. A key point – the other part of the verse in fact – but why let that get in the way of a good whine!

But when I’ve stopped feeling sorry for myself I can step back and see a little better. From a little distance I can see that the harvest is plentiful. That’s the key; I have to see and really know that the harvest is plentiful. Do I really think that? I know I want it to be true but is it? With that thought I stopped and thought and prayed a little. The picture I got back from the Spirit was indeed of a massive, bumper harvest – a harvest with enough for all and plenty to spare. A harvest like my apple crop – completely over the top. I need to remember that. I need to see God’s amazing harvest in my mind’s eye – then I can claim that verse – then and only then have I any right to call to God, ‘Oi God, all this harvest of yours – little help!?’

Then I need to get back on with the picking and all the rest. That’s the next danger. The great harvest is seen, the call for help has gone out, but then I am tempted to sit back on my but and wait for the other workers. That’s not the way. I’ve been employed by my Lord to work now. So I need to get on with the work now. Then when the others arrive I’ll have help. But how will me being unfaithful help? – it won’t. So I need to give myself a kick up the but, get up and get working.

Once I start I love it. But it’s so easy to forget and sit and moan and whinge and whine about so much harvest and so few workers. I need to remember that it’s not my harvest; it’s God’s harvest. I call for workers then my job is to get on with the work. The harvest will be gathered. All will be well. Perhaps that’s the secret – if all of us see the harvest and start work, we’ll look up and see the fields full of workers!

‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few’ – Faith in the harvest first, then start work and the rest will fall into place. Amen.

The Tale of a Snail

kungfupreacherman:

A wonderful lesson from a snail…

Originally posted on Zen and the art of tightrope walking:

The Tale of a Snail

I like snails. Perhaps that makes me odd. Well, odder.

We used to have a giant African land snail that my brother gave my daughter as a birthday present; when fully grown, she (yes, I know, they’re hermaphrodites) had a shell about as big as my fist and her body was a good twelve inches when fully extended. Once you got past the ‘otherness’ of such a being, she was quite beautiful and strangely responsive. She would turn her antennae towards you if you called her name, and she had her likes and dislikes. Everything was slowed down, though, so I wonder what she actually heard.

Even garden snails appeal to me. There is a beauty and a perfection about their design that pleases me.

So when I saw one trundling across a path a week or two back, I was concerned for it. I…

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Lord grant me chastity…, but not yet!

I know people who are wary about becoming a Christian because they think that there’ll be too much to give up. It makes me think of the famous prayer of a teenage St. Augustine (of Hippo), “Lord grant me chastity…, but not yet!” The prudishness that I linked to Christians was certainly something that put me off. I wanted to enjoy life and Christianity seemed to make a virtue out of being miserable.

It’s strange but what I’ve actually found is that I’m happier and more fulfilled than I ever was before. I enjoy life more too. Like before, I can enjoy the fun bits of life like parties and bikes, but unlike before I have some form of inner contentment even in the bad times. With the Spirit the good times are better and I can be really happy with far less than I needed before. I don’t have to chase happiness. I don’t have to be a slave to happiness. There really is freedom in Christ.

I can start to understand Paul saying that he considers everything that made him special rubbish compared to the joy of knowing Jesus (Philippines 3.7-11). That’s quite something from Paul. Paul was well educated and well off. He was well thought of too. He was probably a young Pharisee who was going places. Perhaps he would have been a Jewish teacher as famous as his teacher Gamaliel. He had a bright worldly future… before he met Jesus on that road to Damascus. Then he threw it all away, joined that strange radical sect that he had been trying to stamp out. He lost it all and had to be smuggled out of Damascus over the walls or he would have lost his life too.

Most of us don’t have so much to lose. Most of us can be a Christian and be respectable. I can be a Christian and have a good job, a family, a home. I can have parties and friends. Indeed Christ doesn’t insist that I give up anything. No, Christ accepts me and loves me. That said, I may find that I give up something prompted by the Holy Spirit. It may be that I take on something new all because of the Spirit.
God won’t insist on me, or anyone, giving anything up to be a Christian, He certainly accepted me as I was (quite a mess). But then I started to get to know Jesus, the Spirit started to work in me, showing me a new and wonderful world; then I wanted to change. I wanted to be the best person I could be. I wanted that not because I was being told to but because I could see and feel that it was the best way forward for me.

I married the woman who is my best friend. Before I knew Jesus I was too busy trying to taste the entire menu ever to see the riches of a single woman right in front of me.

When it comes to jobs, I’ve been a clerk for a city council, a chemist for a big chemical company, a student, a minister, a consultant working for national governments and the European Commission, and I’m now a minister again. Each has been fulfilling. Each could easily have been my lot for life, and happily so. But each has just been a step along the road with Jesus.

My life has changed. Not by force but through the Spirit opening my eyes to the truth of the choices around me. With the Holy Spirit opening my eyes I could see, feel and choose clearly, for the first time I truly could have the Free Will needed to make good choices for myself. I realise that I only became free to make choices after the Jesus set me free; only after the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to see and feel clearly.

Christianity is not about giving things up. Christianity is about receiving God, and everything else comes along too.

Come, taste and see that the Lord is Good (Psalm 34.8)!

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