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Thy Kingdom Come

I have been sharing Thy Kingdom Come posts on the church Facebook page but didn’t think to post it here! So I’m starting with today – Better late than never…

 

Monday, 29th May – #Pledge2Pray #Offer

The Rt. Rev. Griselda Delgado del Carpio
Bishop of Cuba

‘God loves a cheerful giver.’
Let us offer our whole selves and work for the purposes of God.

(Two Videos Below)

A short video from Bishop Griselda: https://vimeo.com/218623586

A short Thy Kingdom Come video: https://vimeo.com/217821068

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My stupidity, it never seems to end!

I’ve been looking back over this blog and one post really spoke to me. It wasn’t a post about deep spiritual truths. It was a post about my stupidity! You see, I can be so stupid at times. Quite a lot of the time in fact. So much so that I’ve had to make friends with my stupidity. It’s with me so much that there is no point in us being enemies.

I’ve found a wonderful quote: “The probability of someone watching you is directly proportional to the stupidity of your actions.” I found it along with an amusing a picture of a cat with its head stuck in a tube of biscuits.

 

The cat certainly looks ridiculous. I don’t know whether the saying is true but it is certainly true that you remember every time someone sees you doing something stupid. Indeed, reflecting on my life, I’ve been so stupid I must be under constant surveillance!

I still shiver when I remember making my school friends laugh at an impression of one of our teachers. He had a hunchback and I was doing a Quasimodo impression that had them all collapsing in laughter. Then they all went quiet, but it took me a while to notice. When I did notice the silence, I realised that someone was behind me. There was that horrible prickly feeling down my back. I knew from the horror in my friends’ eyes that my teacher was standing there at my back. I still feel the horror and the shame. That day it certainly felt like, “The probability of someone watching you is directly proportional to the stupidity of your actions.” I only wish I had being stealing biscuits like that cat.

After finding the cat picture, I looked online at t-shirts and found one with the logo, “Quick, Jesus is coming. Look busy!” That same school boy humour that had got me into so much trouble all those years ago, crept back and made me giggle.

Then I thought about the real Jesus and the phrase that became his catch-phrase, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.” That phrase is repeated in the gospels but I was drawn to the version from Matthew 4.17. But when I looked it up in two translations pretty true to the Greek, I found that more accurately the phrase should be, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Wherever Jesus is, then the kingdom of heaven must be close, in fact it is probably already there. So the call for me to change my ways so that God can transform me, is even more urgent than I thought. It is as though I am still aping about and playing the fool, not noticing that everyone has gone quiet. This time though, it isn’t my crippled teacher standing behind me; no, this time it’s Jesus himself. I can feel the prickles down my neck already. I can feel the shame. Thankfully, Jesus is used to this stupid, little brother of his. He is far more forgiving than I deserve and so loving that I have no words adequate to describe my awe of him.

So, I am going to do what I can allow the Spirit to make me more loving and forgiving and generous and kind and all the rest. I am going to do it now because the kingdom is near. I’m going to do my best now, because sometime I’m going to have to turn around and face Jesus. It would hurt so much to see disappointment in those eyes of love. But, some day, turn around I must. What will I see? What indeed? If I ever get the guts to find out, you’ll be the first to know!

Ofsted is coming – Look busy!

Ofsted! That is a word to strike fear into the heart of any teacher or school governor.

Ofsted! I can feel a cold shiver of dread go down my spine right now.

I am a governor for two church schools and both are about due for an Ofsted inspection. I know that it is coming, but I don’t know when. Will it be next week? Will it be before Christmas? Will it be next year? I don’t know, no one here knows. Only Ofsted know, and they are not telling.

I’m waiting on tenter-hooks, along with my fellow governors, the head teachers and school staff. We’re waiting for a phone call one morning saying that an inspector will arrive first thing the next day.

What can we do? Panic? Well that’s certainly a real temptation. What we can do, what we are doing is what we always do: We are making absolutely sure that we have the best possible school, at all times. We can work hard to all children in our care get the very best start that we can give them, academically, morally and spiritually. Then we should have nothing to fear!

I don’t like to compare Jesus with Ofsted, but there are real similarities between the coming of Ofsted and Jesus’ return.

I know that Ofsted will come, but I don’t know when. I know for certain that Jesus will return but again I have no idea when. I also know that when that day comes, I won’t get a phone call the day before, or even an hour before. No, Jesus will just appear. Ofsted keep you waiting until they are ready to visit. Jesus is the same. He is waiting for the Father to reveal the time. But Ofsted come every few years and Jesus has been due back for the last two thousand years. Like the thought of an Ofsted inspector, the though of the judgement of Jesus instantly fills me with fear. All that God has done in me instantly vanish from my mind. I only remember my many faults and failings. That fear leads me to a frantic panic to get ready.

Jesus may be taking his time but I know he will return, and it could be in my lifetime; it could be tomorrow, or anytime. So how can I get ready? That again is very similar to getting ready for Ofsted. Firstly, I need to stop my pointless panicking. Like getting ready for Ofsted I must focus on my life; I must make sure that my life is the very best it can be.

Then the Spirit breaks in. In all my fear and panic I’d been blocking him out. I hear the Spirit speak gently, I hear, and my headless chicken act begins to stop. The Spirit speaks and I hear that if I’m living as God wants me to live I should have nothing to fear. I hear that and, amazingly, a little of my fear steps aside. I can still feel it near by, but for now at least, I can think again.

The Spirit speaks and I find that part of me is looking forward to Jesus’ return. I remember that when that day comes I will finally meet Jesus, face to face. As the Spirit gets to work I realise that when that day comes I don’t mind being nervous and excited. I pray that there won’t be fear to spoil that big day,… I look up and some of my fear seems to have slipped away.

My mind is clearing now and I realise that unlike the shrinking budgets of my schools, I will have all the wealth of God to help me to be ready. I have God’s son on my side. I have the Holy Spirit in me, working away with me to help me to be more loving, more generous, more kind and self-controlled: In short helping me to be more like Jesus: A little more fear slips away.

There is though one particular difference between the return of Ofsted and the return of Jesus: the person doing the inspection. As I wait for Ofsted I’m concerned about who they will send. Will it be someone cold, and only interested in their tick-boxes; or will it be someone who will listen and understand our school? But as I wait for Jesus, well, I’m waiting for the one I love. There really is no comparison. I am waiting for the Lord of all things, but who is Love itself, merciful and forgiving. The one who as he was tortured to death, prayed, “Father forgive!”

I now really start to feel my fear retreat. I am his, not because of my effort but because of his love for me. I know Jesus and I know that I can trust him. Now I want to work even harder to get ready for his return. Not because I am afraid. No, his love is driving out my fear of punishment. I am not working out of fear. I am working to be more like the one I love. I feel my fear slink away some more.

These thoughts of Jesus’ return have been a good reminder to me not to let my faith slip. But no, I need to forget about that, focus on Jesus, and let the Spirit get on with the work of getting me ready to meet him!

My fear is now nowhere to be seen. My faith is far from perfect so I know my fear will return. But for now, I enjoy the peace of the Spirit, and look forward to Jesus welcoming me home.

Preaching the Gospel – But does anyone hear the Good News?

A few years ago I wrote about watching a street preacher shouting out to people while everyone 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. He had a few supporters who stood with him, but even they 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.

Now three years on I still think we too often preach the Gospel, but no one hears the Good News. I have developed a hobby. I look at the posters outside of churches and try to guess who they are speaking to. Very often the language is so Christian that it can be only speaking to other Christians. I’ve done it myself. I’ve put up posters with Bible passages that mean so much to me. Then every time I see the poster I feel good, and assume that others will feel the same. But so often no one but a fellow Christian will have a clue what they mean, or even be interested enough to find out. Now, that might be fine. It would be fine if the poster was in church or on my wall. Then it is clearly there to encourage my fellow Christians. But what if the poster is on the main noticeboard outside? Am I still happy to  only speak to Christians, or am I really hoping that my poster will tell passers-by something of the wonder of God? 

Then I wondered if all of this is just too hard. Should I just accept that 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 again the story of the sheep and the goats from Matthew 25. I read I realised that the story of the sheep and the goats is not just told to those who are Jesus’ followers. This story, like most of Jesus’ stories was for everyone, whether they were his followers or not. Again like so many of Jesus’ stories this is not so much about being a Christian than it is about the values in God’s kingdom; values linked to the everyday concerns of his listeners.

So what are the cares of people today? I read the news and I read of people working all hours but still not making ends meet. Of wages not increasing for most people for over a decade. With prices rising that means that many are earning less than ten years ago. The following headline from a national UK paper says it so well, “Britain’s divided decade: the rich are 64% richer than before the recession, while the poor are 57% poorer.” That is an issue that calls out for fairness and justice. In Matthew 25, Jesus says, “Whenever, you did the right thing for those around you, you did it for me. Whenever, you didn’t do the right thing for those around you, you didn’t do it for me.” (my paraphrase). So Jesus cares for all people. Jesus calls his followers to care too. Perhaps then our posters should say what we Christians are doing to practically and politically in the cause of justice or housing or poverty or families? At least these are less likely to be ignored.

Jesus message that we can enjoy wealth but are crushed when our love of money when comes to rule us; that is Good News for those with wealth. It opens a door to the rich as well as to the poor.

Three years on I am still pondering how to invite people into the Kingdom of God in ways that they can hear – ways to explain the Kingdom that make sense, whether or not you already have faith. Perhaps I could do worse that talk about Jesus’ love of 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…

Taizé, war and the longing for peace

When I was a kid I used to love war films; still do. There is excitement, adventure and danger. I used to play at being soldier, or play cowboys and Indians; anything to give me the excuse to pretend to fight. I loved toy guns and knives, and tanks and war planes. Anything to do with war and I loved it. Every day after school I would mow down my friends with a machine gun, or be shot by them. Then we’d get up again, or argue that we weren’t dead, they’d missed – maybe even have a different sort of fight – Then we’d go home for tea and it would all start again the next day.

I remember the fun of diving behind hedges, and crawling on my belly through gardens. I remember watching war films or westerns with my Granddad on wet Saturday’s. There’s a glamour to war games and war films. No one is really killed. You can see your favourite action hero again in the next film. Indeed, most modern action heroes go through impossible things and survive with barely a scratch.

If only war were like that. But in real war people are shot and killed … and they don’t get up again. Soldiers are maimed and scarred, mentally as well as physically. Civilians, including little children are killed too, just for being in the wrong place. War is messy and brutal, but we don’t really like to hear that.

On Friday I was with two young people who were visiting our high school from Taizé, a community in the South of France. The community was set up by someone returning home after the Second World War. He had seen the horror that came when people were divided. He had seen the power of hate. He particularly wanted to help young people avoid the mistakes that led to that war. So Taizé was started and now well over 100,000 young people between 15 and 29 come to that remote part of France every year. They join in with the community, live together, learn from one another, and find peace. The hope is that the peace that they find can then spread as they return home. I’m hoping that a group of young people from this town will join me and many others, and go to Taizé next summer. This is one practical thing that I can do to work for peace.

I want to work for peace because war is a brutal thing, and it does brutal things to the minds of those who take part. In real war, real people die, and that could be you or the mate next to you, and that must do something to you, it would me, especially over time.

So war may be necessary or just, but it is still bloody and brutal; it is something so different from my young boy’s dream of excitement and adventure. In the face of the horror of war I need to find some hope, and I have found it in shovel loads in a Bible reading from Revelation 21. In verses 3 and 4 I read, “I heard a loud voice shout from the throne:

God’s home is now with his people. He will live with them, and they will be his own. Yes, God will make his home among his people. He will wipe all tears from their eyes, and there will be no more death, suffering, crying, or pain. These things of the past are gone forever.”

So, I know that God is here with me right now. He is also out there on the battlefield. He is in the front line base, and out with the patrol.

God is here with us in this world. A world that we keep messing up. A world made beautiful that we seem determined to litter with corpses. We may do so much that is a million miles from the love of God, but still God sticks with us. That gives me hope.

 

I want to work to see more of that hope becoming a reality here and now, and to see it complete in heaven. I thank God for places like Taizé and I pray to God “Please, wipe away every tear from our eyes, heal the pain and mourning. Lord Jesus, show us a better way!”

A Lazy Wind and a Simple Walk

The weather’s been changing; getting colder. The ‘lazy wind’ has started blowing up; the wind that blows right through you, because it’s too lazy to go around. Then I think, “I’d like some snow for Christmas”. Then I wonder about all those that don’t have a warm cosy house like mine. I wonder what the winter will bring. I wonder what is to come, but I can’t do much about it.

I think of the cold of winter and I think of all that will be in need. I think of the homeless, and remember to support Shelter and Emmaus at Ditchingham. I remember the birds, and check the bird seed stores and fat ball bucket. I think of those going without and remember to put a little more aside for Foodbank. I do these simple things, knowing that there is so much more that could be done. There are so many other good causes. Indeed, if you went through a similar checklist you would have a different list, you might include the air ambulance, a hospice or a cancer charity. You might include an overseas charity like Christian Aid or Oxfam. There are so many good causes that the ones that pull your heart strings are probably absent from my very short list here.

I suppose the point is to care, and to act on that care.

As I sit in the warmth with frost on the window, I know I’ll feel a sense of well-being. I don’t feel guilty about those who have less. I feel a need to share at least something of the good that I have been given, not out of guilt, but out of a desire for more and more people to be able to share that sense of well-being. For me this is an expression of my faith. It also comes out of a sense of justice. The sense of justice for all, that comes from the Bible, where Jesus says that rejecting the poor, hungry, the thirsty, and those in need is rejecting him (see Matthew 25:31-46). A sense of justice, with the mercy to want do something about this justice: The mercy to care.

For me it is all summed up in some words from before Jesus:

What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God’ (Micah 6:8, NIV).

Those simple words are words that I can understand, and live by. They aren’t too religious. They aren’t too complicated. I know the call for justice. I know the need for mercy. I know also that the only way I can do both is by humbly walking with my God.

The Elephant in the Room

Looking to the week to come, I’m drawn to two great Christian events. I’m drawn to the Feast of All Saints. The day when we celebrate the great heroes of the faith. This year I’ve moved the celebration of All Saints to a Sunday and a joint service for all of my 7 churches. That way it shouldn’t just be lost in a quiet mid-week service, attended by half a dozen people.

So there I was, thinking about All Saints, when my mind wandered to the day after, to All Souls. That day we’ve invited the bereaved to come to church to remember their loved ones. To light a candle and thank God for them. I hope and pray they will also leave with some comfort and a strengthened hope in the power of Jesus over death.

So there I was, thinking about All Saints and All Souls. I was reflecting and smiling and, if I’m honest, I was feeling very pleased with myself and my churches. Then it struck me. Then I realised that there was an elephant in the room and the elephant had a name: It was an elephant named “Halloween”.

“Halloween”: A word that seems to bring fear and loathing into the hearts of so many Christians. I can remember the reaction to Halloween at my theological college. The world would be having parties and children would be collecting sweets. The college would be huddled away in our chapel, praying fervently against evil and jumping at every creak and squeak.

Those days in college were very earnest. They did build a sense of us few against the world. I wonder though whether or not my college got it right. I wonder whether in all the scurrying fear Satan alone was being glorified. I’ve probably alarmed some people now, so let me explain.

Firstly, I have no doubt that evil is real. Spiritual evil as well as the evil acts that people do. I also know without a doubt that evil can be personal and intelligent; not just a vague force in the world. Evil is real, the Devil is real, Jesus tells us so, and most Christians come to know this first hand at some point or other.

Evil is real, but evil has also been defeated by Jesus on the cross. When faced with Jesus, evil flees. The Bible says, “Surrender to God! Resist the devil, and he will run from you.” (James 4:7)

Also, “Children, you belong to God, and you have defeated these enemies. God’s Spirit is in you and is more powerful than the one that is in the world.” (1 John 4.4).

With such strong teaching in the Bible, why should I, or any of Jesus followers, run around in fear at Halloween? After all, the word “Halloween” just means “All Hallows’ Eve”, or “All Saints’ Eve”. What most people seem to have forgotten is that All Saints’ Eve is the start of the celebration of All Saints. It is not the shadowy evil time before the celebration. The Church knew what it was doing when it put the feast of All Saints on 1st November. It was deliberately claiming a pagan time when the spirits were thought to appear. It was not running away in fear. It was not huddling in a corner. The Church was claiming those verses of the Bible with complete confidence, and having a party.

I put it to the children in one of my churches, that they could dress up, but not to copy evil, and not to be afraid of evil. No, they could dress up to taunt and laugh at all that is evil. They could do that because they know that Jesus is stronger that any evil. They know that his Spirit is in them. They know that God’s angels protect them. We together did what James said, we, “Surrendered to God” so that we could resist all evil, and watch it run!

We Christians have been too timid in our faith. Looking to myself, either I believe that Jesus has conquered all evil or I don’t. So I’m not cowering and I’m not encouraging my fellow Christians to cower either!

This Halloween, I will be in church, celebrating the calling of one of God’s people, one of his saints. I will be celebrating the licensing and commissioning of the Lead Evangelist for our new Centre for Mission. There will be no hint of cowering or fear, only joy at the power and love of God.

I won’t let Halloween be the elephant in the room. In Christ there is nowhere for evil to hide!

Something Old, Something New

A few years ago a priest friend of mine took me to perhaps the oldest church in England. It is the 7th Century Anglo-Saxon church of St. John at Escomb , near Bishop Auckland in Co. Durham.

Standing in that small church I was reminded of the deep roots of Christianity in this country. Roots as deep and old as some of the yew trees in our churchyards. It made me think too of the deep roots of my medieval churches and more recent off-shoots.

I was reminded of how the church has come and gone only to return again. And of how ordinary Christian people have just carried on living a simple Christian life right through it all.

That little church was mostly built from stone taken from the nearby Roman Fort of Binchester. Some of the stone still has its original Roman inscriptions. Those stones will have witnessed the first conversion of Britain to Christianity when the Romans still ruled.

Then came the Saxons and Angles who destroyed the Roman church that they found here. Then the Anglo-Saxons became Christians, converted by monks from Scotland and Ireland. Then came the Danes, destroying the churches once again only to be converted themselves, before being banished from these shores.

Then throughout the history of England the Church has flourished for a while before losing its fervour, only to be revitalised once again. And through it all, ordinary Christian people have stayed faithful.

We are now in one of those times where the Church seems to be in decline. Numbers have been falling and churches have been closing or have to banded together to survive in a hostile world.

When I see churches closed or full with nothing but silence, I think about the history of our church. I think about the past and know that now is not the time to give up. A new and vital church is on its way. Indeed, I see signs over the past few years that Christianity is strengthening again, that the church is already beginning to grow.

Now is the time to stand firm for what we believe. For values that the rest of society need so much. People who are more likely to believe in Halloween ghosts than in the presence of the Saints whose festival eve they unwittingly commemorate.

Values of love and forgiveness. Values of truth and honesty.

The value of forgiveness and the knowledge of the ever present reality of the world of the divine.

We have a rich tradition. A mass of resources available to us to help people find hope and meaning for their lives. Meaning beyond material things. Meaning that helps us to see the real value of the things that we have.

We, and our church, have so much to offer. So much to give.

The challenge to our church is to hold onto what is of value from our past and let it grow in new and vibrant ways: Ways that people who have had no contact with the church can understand. We think of mission and outreach and hope that our church buildings will be full. And that may be the result.

But it may not. Mission may lead to people praying and learning online, or in their own homes. It has led to the main service for some people being on a day or evening other than Sunday. Already, I have congregations that meet on a Saturday afternoon, in homes, or in pubs. These may lead to more people on Sundays, they may not. I only see the growth and the way that the Spirit seems to be leading at this point. I do not see what is around the next corner. Perhaps, that is the lesson I and my church need to learn: To hold lightly to what is and let the Spirit guide us to his future. This world, God’s world, changes constantly and so should it be any surprise if the way God leads us to reveal him in the world changes with it.

I love our Church of England. But it also drives me mad at times. It inspires high and low to live lives of world changing holiness, then almost in the same breath it can be petty and inflexible; full of bureaucratic yes-men (and yes-women – I don’t want to be accused of being sexist).

Then I remember that little church in Escomb, and the even smaller Saxon Church in my home town of Thornaby. I think of my old churches here in Norfolk. I think of the ups and downs in the fortunes of the church that they have seen come and seen go. And I smile. God is in control. All is well.

Jesus faced far worse than we face, the Spirit has transformed more stiff necked countries than ours.

So, until you and I get the chance to do something big; let’s continue living our simple Christian lives. That’s far more radical these days than being covered with tattoos and piercings. Far more outrageous than living a wild life or having an affair; living a decent, honest life; loving rather than hating; being generous rather than grasping; are not what you learn from the tv adverts.

Just turning up to worship is now a radical statement. Just by continuing to live my faith, and finding a life of contentment in God; that is a statement of rebellion against materialism. A simple life of peace and contentment is a powerful statement that the latest purchase can never truly satisfy; that there is a hole in so many lives.

So I look at the deep roots of Christianity in this land. With such a foundation and the blessing of the Lord of all things, I can only smile at the futility of the storm all around.

An unpalatable truth

I want the world to be nice. I want all people to be nice and kind and caring. I don’t like the thought of hatred and people falling out, never mind the thought of real bloodshed and war. I want an end to all nastiness, and I pray for that. I pray for the day when the vision of the prophet Isaiah will come true and:

Leopards will lie down
with young goats,
and wolves will rest
with lambs.

Calves and lions
will eat together
and be cared for
by little children.

Cows and bears will share
the same pasture;
their young will rest
side by side.

Lions and oxen
will both eat straw.

(Isaiah 11.6-7)

I want a perfect, peaceful world. But this vision; this hope seems so far from the ‘real world’ that I live in. The world where wolves tear lambs apart, where human predators prey on defenceless children; or rape and enslave helpless refugees. If I just look at lovely passages of the Bible like that, what have I to say to this world?

I need to remember the words of Isaiah that come just before this vision of perfection:

 

This king won’t judge
by appearances
or listen to rumours.
The poor and the needy
will be treated with fairness
and with justice.

His word will be law
everywhere in the land,
and criminals
will be put to death.
Honesty and fairness
will be his royal robes.

(Isaiah 11-3-5)

In addition to pictures of perfection, I have to face the reality that to get there there will need to be some sort of clean up and clear out of all that is wrong and corrupt and evil. With people as they are, there need to be consequences for actions that harm and hurt. Justice is needs to be enforced if the innocent and weak are to be able to live and flourish.

This is an unpalatable truth that is often glossed over. It is the problem with the story of the wedding feast from the beginning of Matthew 22. In the story of the wedding feast we have a king offering a banquet in honour of his son, but all of the invited guests refuse to come to the feast. They even murder the messengers. This is a message to the Jewish leaders who are refusing to respond to God’s invitation offered through his son Jesus.

Then the gates are opened for everyone to come in. All are invited to the party and the banquet is full. That is the summary that fits well with the lovely image of a generous loving God. But like Isaiah, Jesus includes a note of reality too. The Jewish people who killed Jesus, are turning from their God and his protection and must face the consequences of that rejection and murder. In the story their city is destroyed, often seen as a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD. Then after the invite to everyone the story turns more bitter once again, ending with one of the guests being found unworthy to be there. He is bound and thrown out.

If I were telling that story I would probably want to end with the lovely message that all are welcomed by God. But that is a temptation that Jesus avoids. This is a real hope not a fantasy, so harsh realities have to be faced if they are to come true.

The harsh reality is that this world will have to change massively to be perfect once again. People will need to change too. I think of it this way: I want a world of peace, love and kindness but how is that possible if God just welcomes in people who are going to abuse, hate, rape and kill? Obviously, they will need to be excluded.

If a better world is to come then lots of evil needs to be dealt with. If I tried this, I would just fail at every turn. I would be loving but not strict, I would let the evil in people back in, and the world would be no better. Or, I would be stricter and not so loving and lots of people would be abandoned and left to their own corruption and despair. Thankfully, I am not God. This task is beyond me, indeed I believe it to be beyond all human wisdom. The God shown by Jesus is a God who is love. So I must leave it to his loving wisdom.

I can’t sort this problem out, that’s probably because I’m part of the problem. I have hatred in me. I am not always loving, and I’m far from being as generous as I could be. I have though found that by following Jesus I am becoming more loving, more peaceful, more generous and a little more kind. I want a better world but if I’m serious about this I have to admit that I must change too. I am like the Jewish leaders when I reject Jesus’ call when I try to rely on my religion to keep me close to God. I have to respond to God’s invitation anew every day.

I am utterly unworthy of being invited and welcomed by God. But I know that I am invited and I’ve eagerly ran to the feast. Still now I’m in the party, I know that I need to let God’s Spirit keep working in me so that I show God’s love for me by loving those around me.

I seek to draw close to God and become changed. I work for a little more of God’s perfection to come into this imperfect world. In all of this, I make compromises, I fight injustice, I support the forces of justice, law and order. I also call for mercy as well as justice. I call for reconciliation as well as deterrent. This is a messy world, but this is the world that I find myself in. I must pray for a better world, work for a better world, and live in the world I’ve been given.

Come, taste and see that the Lord is Good!

I know people who are wary about becoming a Christian because they think that there will 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)!

Great Good and Great Evil

I hear the noise of the news. I hear of Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un acting like infants throwing insults at each other, yet again. Turning to this country, I read of a man near Bolton throwing a three year old girl 30 feet into a river. Thankfully, the little girl was not killed and the man has been arrested. I reflect some more and I want to despair of the human race. Then I remember the other news. I remember the local football match a few days ago to celebrate the lives of the three teenagers killed earlier this year. That was an example of people coming together to celebrate life in the face of despair; it was a good match too!

Stepping back a little it looks as though we human beings are capable of great good and great evil, in almost equal measure. But how do we bring more good into this world than evil? That was a question posed at a baptism recently. There it was about how the parents and godparents could give a ‘good’ example to the little child being baptised. How could they do everything possible to make sure that child grew up picking up only good and godly habits from them? The answer we came to was to look to Jesus.

If looking to Jesus to find the way is good enough to be the foundation for bringing up a precious child, then perhaps faith is the answer to so many more ills too.

I read my New Testament and again and again I read about the central place of living a loving life. James famously says, “Faith without works is dead”, (James 2.26 https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=james%202.14-26&version=NRSVA) and “Suppose someone disagrees and says, “It is possible to have faith without doing kind deeds. I would answer, “Prove that you have faith without doing kind deeds, and I will prove that I have faith by doing them.” (James 2.18).

So if I follow Jesus, I have to live a loving life. I am called to show my faith by what I do. This is not a spiritual ‘add-on’ to Christianity, this is central and essential. As Paul puts it,

“Christ encourages you, and his love comforts you. God’s Spirit unites you, and you are concerned for others. Now make me completely happy! Live in harmony by showing love for each other. Be united in what you think, as if you were only one person. Don’t be jealous or proud, but be humble and consider others more important than yourselves. Care about them as much as you care about yourselves and think the same way that Christ Jesus thought.” (Philippians 2.1-5)

So, this way of loving isn’t about me trying hard, then trying even harder to be good and loving. Thank God for that, because I am bound to fail. No, this way of loving comes naturally out of living close to God. Then Jesus encourages me, and his love comforts me. I’m changed by the power of the Holy Spirit so that I am able to love more, along with all of God’s family.

So I pray for that man who tried to kill that little girl and I pray for Kim Jong-un. I pray for them to find a living faith in God. A faith that turns their life around, so that they become lovingly concerned for others.

I pray for Donald Trump. I pray for the Spirit of Love to break through in one of his prayer meetings. I pray of him to discover more of the power of the Holy Spirit to make him more loving and less judgemental.

I pray for myself. I pray for Christ to encourage me and his love to comfort me. I pray that by the Spirit I may be more concerned for others. I pray that I too can be more loving and less judgemental. I pray for the whole human race, “Father forgive them!”

Me and all human beings seem to have a huge capacity for good and an equally huge capacity for evil. I pray that through Jesus more and more of the goodness given to humanity can come out. I pray, I feel God’s love in me, then I pray “Thy kingdom come”, and know that it will come to be.