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Story, faith and a hatred for reading

 

I’ve been unwell this last week, and maybe this is the reason for a post that is a little more reflective than normal:

I hated reading for most of the time I was in primary school. I would do anything to get out of it, and to avoid anyone finding out. I did pretty well and avoided reading to my teacher for quite some time. We had standard reading books that we so boring that I had no interest at all: I couldn’t care less what John had done with his ball, nor whether Janet was happy or not. I didn’t want to read these stupid books, but equally I didn’t want the trouble that came with openly refusing to do what my teacher told me to. So I figured out a sneaky way out. It worked too. Each week we would line up to read to the teacher. Each week I would join the line then, when I was 2 or 3 from the front, I would ‘forget’ something, go back to my place and then join the end of the line again.

I can’t remember exactly how long I got away with this but it was quite a while, then I was caught. I had to read and was forced to read to my Mam each night. This very nearly put me off reading for ever. Then something amazing happened, a new book was read to us during story time. I loved it. I couldn’t get enough of it. I was loving it but the other children weren’t, so the teacher decided to move back to a simpler book for story time. I complained, and before I realised what I was doing, I asked to borrow the book to read at home. It was way above my reading level but the teacher said, “Yes”, and the rest is history.

That book, was “The Hobbit” by JRR Tolkien and, now I had the interest and passion, I could read just fine. That was the first ‘real’ book I read from cover to cover. The second such book, came a week or two later, “The Lord of the Rings”, again by Tolkien.

Looking back, I discovered the power of the realm of story. The power of a story to captivate and change the way I saw the world. From those early books I learned about simple courage that could turn an ordinary person into a hero. I learned about friendship and perseverance, and about the fundamental battle between good and evil. I also learned a love of reading, of enquiry; of searching for answers.

Many years later this searching led to me finding a faith. A faith that I found I already had but it seemed to have spent the preceding years doing it’s best to hide. Then my love of reading led me to read the ‘God-story’ in the Bible. It was like that first book all over again. I couldn’t put it down. I would read my pocket Bible every spare minute. I devoured it. It was the doorway to a whole new world for me. A doorway to a world that made sense at last. A world where my inner sense that there was more to life than met the eye was shown to be real; and not far away but here and now. I read the Written Word like a starving man crams in food.

I then met the Living Word when I experienced the Spirit for the first time. I had read about the theory, now was time for my first practical. I suddenly discovered that what I read about was for real, and that blew my mind even more. It was as though I had gone up the mountain with James, and John and Peter and had seen Jesus transfigured (Luke 9.28-36). But instead of just Jesus glowing, everything now had that glow of glory. Every created thing was now clearer, more beautiful and precious. Nothing around me had changed in the least. It was me that had changed. I could now see something of the Creator in the creation. I could see the Life-giver, in the life around me. A glimpse of ‘heaven’ had burst through into this mundane world. Or more accurately, my eyes had been opened so that I could begin to see what had been there in front of me the whole time.

Now, many years on, the Spirit keeps on that work of transfiguration. I’ll admit, there are days when all seems dark and the light of God seems like a distant, long gone, fantasy. Those days happen but the Spirit still shines in the darkness and the darkness doesn’t win, not in the end. I am finding that, over time, more and more of this world is being transformed, transfigured and I can see or feel God at work.

I see the brightness and, for a moment at least, I see that the evil and corruption in this world cannot triumph. I see the stories on the news and, for a brief moment at least, I have the faith to know for certain, like Julian of Norwich, that “all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well”.

Who am I? Who are you? Who am I really? (second time around)

Hi,

I am not providing the teaching this week, so I’ve looked back and old posts and found this one from a year ago…

Who am I? Who are you? Who am I really?

The cold weather has made me a bit, well not so much confused as reflective. I’ve been wondering who I am. No I haven’t completely lost it – I still know my name, where I live and all the rest – but who am I, who am I really? To try and answer this question, I started like most people with the things that I do, the things that in some way define me to others.

So, who am I? Well, I am a husband and I am a father. I am a minster. I am a biker. I am a martial artist (a rather rusty one now but it has changed who I now am), I am… well the list goes on and on. But even if I wrote down 100, 200 or more ‘I am’ statements like that it wouldn’t really tell you who I am, not really. You would have to meet me and spend time with me for that.

Then I thought of Jesus: The Jesus described by Paul in that wonderful poem from Colossians 1.15-20:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Colossians 1.15-17 – NIV).

Jesus is all things. So if my ‘I am’ list is long then Jesus’ ‘I am’ list must be be beyond long; Jesus’ ‘I am’ list must be infinite. In fact Jesus could shorten the whole thing and just say, “I am” – that would do it. Maybe that’s why the Gospels are littered with so many ‘I am’ sayings from Jesus. Even one where he owns up to who he truly is and says to the people in the Jerusalem temple, “‘Very truly I tell you,’ … ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’” (John 8.58). This clearly echoed Exodus 3.14 where “God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: “I am has sent me to you.”’ So much so that the people in the temple had no doubt that he was claiming to be God himself and went to kill Jesus there and then.

So I have lots of ‘I am’ statements but Jesus has an infinite number, he is God, so is simply, “I am”. But, just like my ‘I am’ statements don’t really get you to know me, so all the 100s of ‘I am’ statements about Jesus that I could list won’t really get me to know Jesus. They are useful, they help me to know ‘about’ Jesus but they don’t help me to really know him. For that I need to spend time with him. I need to talk with Jesus, why not, the Spirit makes that possible?

I need to spend time pondering over the things that Jesus said, and the things said about him in the Bible. I need to ponder and open myself to the presence of Jesus now. Then I can start to learn to feel who Jesus is rather than just know facts about him, even beautiful poetic facts, like, “He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1.17) or “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (John 1.14). Even beautiful facts like these are no substitute for spending time in Jesus’ company.

There’s lots more to be said about this, even more to be experienced. So, I’m going to finish here, to sit with Jesus for a while, listen and ponder…

Strange, scary places!

School sports days can be strange, scary places! They are supposed to be lots of light hearted competition and fun. Tell that to some parents (and some of the teachers too)! For some you would think that the world depended upon their little darling winning their race. I close my eyes and imagine gladiators in the Forum in Rome – that’s how fierce some parents seem. I look into their eyes and know they’re baying for blood, not just an egg-and-spoon race.

It’s great to be there to support your child, but some go way over the top. You can see their little one wilting with embarrassment at all the shouting and screaming from the sideline. I’ve even seen parents escorted off school grounds for swearing at the staff and children when their child failed to perform as expected.

Thankfully, most love just seeing the children race, win or lose. I too love to see and cheer them all. I particularly love the three legged race. Two children (or even better staff) tied together by one of their legs trying desperately to race down the track. To do it well is probably harder than any of the other races, but generally everyone just takes it as a bit of fun.

The three legged race is a bit of fun but it does show just how hard it is to run when you don’t have full control of both your legs. It also favours the pairs who are willing to work together as a unit, as one body.

All of these observations made me think of Paul’s advice in 1 Corinthians 12, especially verses 12 & 13: “The body of Christ has many different parts, just as any other body does. Some of us are Jews, and others are Gentiles. Some of us are slaves, and others are free. But God’s Spirit baptised each of us and made us part of the body of Christ. Now we each drink from that same Spirit.” (CEV)

It should be obvious that all the children are running for their house or school, not just for themselves, but it isn’t. So it should be obvious that the church isn’t about individuals doing their thing, but it isn’t. The Christians in Corinth were having trouble with this and so is the church today, at least the church that I see. Perhaps there is a corner somewhere that is running as it should but if you know where that perfect church is, don’t tell me, I’ll just spoil it!

Like school sports days, churches can be strange, scary places. Like any body, for a church to work well each part needs to do what it’s intended to do. My temptation is to do the things other members of the body should be doing. I think it’s a failing of most ministers but it’s still very real, and so easy to slip into: “after all it’s easier just to do it myself”; so seductive, so simple, so poisonous!

I’ve seen others desperately trying to do jobs that they are not equipped to do. Preachers who cannot preach, organisers who send volunteers running for the hills and many more: Ministers who desperately want a ministry different from the one given (a bigger church, more authority (an archdeacon or bishop)) – that is particularly sad to see, but so easy to slip into.

I have fallen for all of these temptations at sometime or other and they just made me feel depressed and useless. God felt distant too. In fact I’ve found that the sense of God blessing what I’m doing is often (but not always) a sign that I’m on the right track.

From all of this it is clear to me just how important it is for all of God’s children to work together well: how important it is for all of us to do the things that God wants us to do. But how do I know, I mean really know, what I am supposed to do (what part of the Christ’s body I am – am I an eye or a foot, or a kidney)? After all, it is only natural to want to do more, to speak, or preach, or lead, to be recognised for what God is doing in me, but what is right?

It is times like this when I wish I knew the Father’s direct dial number . Then I could ask, everyone could ask, what job I’m supposed to be doing in the church, and I’d get a simple answer back. But sadly, I’ve never found that number and I don’t know anyone who has. So we have to use what we have been given, the Holy Spirit. Together, we need to ask what each of us is supposed to be doing, and then listen, watch and then do it!

I spend time asking the Spirit to show me what I should or should not be doing. I also spend time asking what others should be doing. I know that the Spirit is pouring gifts into his people, all of his people. Some have musical gifts to share, some have gifts of administration, or communication, or teaching, or prayer, or leadership. Some are given the gift of encouragement to lift up those around them. Some the Spirit uses to speak through in prophecy. Some the Spirit works through for healing. The Spirit gives gifts to us all, with the intention of all of us working together and using these gifts for the good of us all.

It sounds so easy, but I find it so hard. We not only have to figure out what we are supposed to do but then we’re to work smoothly together for the good of all, for the good of Christ. I pray every day for that perfect church here where I minister, and each day we fall short. Sadly, 1 Corinthians 12 ends before the Paul gives the key ingredient that can make at least a little of this harmony possible. In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul tells us about the greatest gift of the Spirit, the one that is greater than all the others, the only one that can bind these all together, the gift of Love.

So I pray for discernment, I pray that we all discover our gifts, but most of all I pray that we have the love for each other because without love we are nothing.

“Turn this water into wine. Come on… What you waiting for, your pal Jesus did it!”

“Hey, Vicar. How about conjuring up a some wine over here?”

“Turn this water into wine. Come on… What you waiting for, your pal Jesus did it.”

“Sorry mate, I’m in sales not management!”

I wish I had a pound for every time I’ve heard that one. In the pub, at parties, especially at a wedding reception after the drink’s been flowing for a while. It’s often followed by an offer of a drink, so it’s not all bad. Really, I don’t mind. It’s an easy opener, a way in to getting to know the fellas at the bar.

But what of that strange Bible story of Jesus turning water into wine (John 2.1-11)? It is an odd story but what does it mean?

I’ve often heard preachers take the safe line and explain how Jesus, in blessing that wedding, blesses all weddings. In a sense that he is blessing the very institution of marriage. True, but what about the drink? Well, that showed Jesus power over this world and through this miracle, “Jesus showed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.” (John 2.11 CEV)

But, but, but… Jesus didn’t just provide a little extra wine. They were already drunk! Why wasn’t Jesus ‘sensible’? Why didn’t he just provide the guests with a little more; not too much, perhaps just one more glass then home? But no. Jesus turns 60 to 90 gallons of water into wine! I don’t think I have ever seen that much wine all together, outside of a wine merchant’s that is. That is a huge amount. Enough to make them all ill for a week or more.

Jesus was exuberant in his generosity. That is certainly one of the messages from this story. That God in Jesus is generous beyond all expectations and dreams. The wine was good too, the very best. Again a sign of God’s generosity. This miracle of turning water into wine was a blessing on the groom and on everyone at that wedding. So, wine is a blessing, not as we too easily think a curse. Wine and the good things of life are blessings. Blessings to be enjoyed. Blessings to be accepted graciously to honour the giver.

Wine and joy and happiness are blessings from God. But they can come and they can go. I need to remember not to be a puritan about the good things of this earth. But equally I mustn’t worship them, or see them as necessary for my happiness, or as indicators of God’s love for me. If I do that I forget the rest of Jesus story.

After this wedding Jesus and his friends left Galilee. They attracted crowds but also suffered hardship, rejection and ultimately came to the cross. All through this God did not take away his love and blessing from his Son and his friends. God was there in the laughter and in the tears, redeeming both. In the parties and the hard times I’ve found that God is with me. He works extravagantly in both to show his love for me, all people and all things. He is generous beyond all imagining.

I need to remember not to search for God only in the good times, otherwise He will be missing from much of my life. I need God with me today as I meet, pray and plan with my ministry team. I need God with me when I’m worshipping later with young parents and their children. Then later I’m seeing a wedding couple; then arranging a funeral for a much loved member of my church family. That’s one Saturday, each day is different but I know I need, really need, God with me for every moment. If he’s only there in the good times then I’m well and truly stuffed.

Thankfully, He is there, with me, in me in the joys and the sorrows. Just as he will have been with that wedding couple throughout the joys and sorrows of their life together. I pray for the Spirit to give me the wisdom to take both equally. To have the faith of Job, and be able to say, “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Praise the name of the Lord!” (Job 1.21 ERV).

Baptism Seeds again

Hi,

I’m away this week so I thought I looked back at past posts and found this from 2012.

God bless,

Nigel.

{This post refers to the celebration of  the Baptism of Christ and in 2012 this was followed by a Baptism} So I had heard again the story of Jesus going to John the Baptist and being baptised by him. Again I here those wonderful words, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”}

In the baptism service that afternoon I did’t expect to hear a voice from heaven. But by baptism into Christ each one of us has become God‘s son or daughter, His beloved. I had a new start at my baptism and so did everyone, each of us also gets a new start each day; each time we are forgiven and start again on the Christian way of life it is as though we are washed clean – not by a new baptism but by the power of that one baptism, all those years ago.

 This new life is very like this:

Imagine your out and you find a shop and behind the counter is God. You ask what God’s selling in the shop and he tells you, “Everything your heart desires.”

 Now – what would you ask for ………? Things for the world, things for yourself, for the sick, for friends, for enemies. What would you ask for?

 Well there was a woman who dreamt of that shop and she asked for all sorts of things…. {Peace of mind, love, happiness, wisdom, freedom from fear} {for all people}

 And God smiled and replied, “I think you’ve got me wrong, my dear. I don’t sell fruits, only seeds.”

 That’s what what happened at my baptism; seeds were planted, seeds of “Peace of mind, love, happiness, wisdom, freedom from fear”. Some of those seeds will have sprung up straight away, others will have developed more slowly, some will be still waiting inside me for the right conditions to germinate.

 It’s quite a thought though, isn’t it!

 At first it is encouraging; I have all of those seeds inside of me just waiting to germinate and grow: All those latent opportunities to make my life better. I have all of those seeds inside of me that can make this world a better place. But then I look at myself and I think about how much better I could be. Then I realise that there must be an awful lot of seeds in me that have yet to germinate!

Then I look at our world and see so much that is wrong, and I realise that there must be an awful lot of people with ungerminated seeds in them.

 Then I feel far less happy. If I really think about it, it could make me want to give up. Then I remember something very important, or more accurately I remember someone important, the Holy Spirit.

 Just think about that story from Acts 8, where the apostles Peter and John went to baptise some new Christians with the Holy Spirit. Just think about the story of Jesus’ baptism were the Holy Spirit came down like a dove.

 The Holy Spirit is the one who makes those seeds grow inside us. It is the Holy Spirit that prepares the ground with in us. It is the Holy Spirit who waters those seeds. It is the Holy Spirit who is the nutrients and light that those seeds need to grow. But as God’s child, I need to work with the Spirit; I need to share in the work.

 I have the Holy Spirit who is working in me; who has been working in my throughout my life. There is no need to be discouraged by all that has not happened. I am not perfect, but I am a work in progress. I’m God’s work project and so are we all.

 So now, take a moment to think about all of the things that you would ask God for: All those seeds from the divine shop keeper. What would you ask for, peace of mind, love, happiness, wisdom, freedom from fear..?

Whatever it is that you would ask God for pray that the Holy Spirit will germinate the right seeds in you, and in enough people to make it happen.

A spoilt child’s New Year

I really loved Christmas when I was little. I am an only child and I guess in many ways I was spoilt. I was certainly spoilt when it came to Christmas. I can remember getting up before dawn to open presents, only to be sent back to bed. But it wasn’t too long before my Mam and Dad gave in and, bleary eyed, followed their over excited child into the living room. There there was a huge pile of presents, almost all for me!

I wasn’t subtle with my presents. I would pile in ripping the paper off one, then the next. I was like a pig in a strawberry bed. It can’t have taken long before I had lots of new toys and games and a huge pile of torn wrapping paper. I vaguely remember giving my Mam and Dad hugs and kisses of thanks, but to be honest that could just be my adult self trying to make myself feel a little better about the spoilt brat that I probably was.

I loved Christmas, but only because it was a time to get things, lots of things. After the presents were opened I would dash out to compare and try out presents with my friends. Presumably leaving a pile of discarded wrapping for someone to clear, Dad would go for a drink and Mam would get on with preparing Christmas dinner (or lunch for those of you not from the north).

Compared to the Christmas message of the angels my childhood Christmases must sound dystopian. That may be true, but I loved them and I don’t think they were that different from those of the people around me then, or of many people that I see around me today. I was baptised as a baby (probably to keep my Gran happy) but I can never remember church or faith entering my family life in any way. Growing up Christmas was for me and mine a winter gift-giving festival of presents and feasting. Good fun but soon over and forgotten. It was a huge shock, many years later, when I found out that Christmas only started on Christmas Day and lasted almost a fortnight afterwards. It was even more of a shock to find that the Wise Men only turned up a couple of years later.

I now know Christmas as a birthday celebration. I’ve been invited to Jesus’ birthday party. Yes, there were presents and food and drink, but Christmas is now a celebration of hope that lasts after the wrapping paper is binned and the tinsel is put away. The birth of that little child so many years ago still brings hope to my world. It brings hope because all the potential of that new life was fulfilled beyond the wildest dreams of any parent. I am now at the beginning of my favourite story once again. I know how it will end, but I’m still excited to throw myself into the drama of it all. I can look forward to the stories that are to come: To Jesus panicking his parents by staying behind in Jerusalem: To Jesus teasing and ridiculing the posh people: To Jesus at parties: To the arrest and execution (where all seems lost again): To the triumph and hope to follow.

All of that is to come. But for now I am content to let Jesus live in and through me. So let the New Year story unfold…

Happy New Year!

—————–

This year I want to share something from my town for New Year:

Harleston has come together to make a New Year’s resolution. It is a resolution to make this little town even better place. How? By “Thinking for Each Other” on the roads and throughout our town.

To join hear our invitation to join our New Year’s resolution just follow this link: Harleston – Think for Each Other (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wdzuQdpjJQg&feature=em-share_video_user).

There are so many people in my town to praise but this year Carol Wiles has been singled out for particular well deserved praise for her behind the scenes service to all and awarded an MBE for “dedicating 25 years of her life to helping children with disabilities” – Congratulations Carol, it’s well deserved:

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Carol Wiles

Christmas is not just Christmas Day!

Christmas is not just Christmas Day!

Christmas Day has come and started the wonderful season of Christmas. I am writing this on Boxing Day, just before heading to see family. Christmas is a time for celebrating the gift of Jesus and that is what I hope to do, celebrate. Christmas is about the gift of a baby and about the offer to all people that they can be part of God’s family too, so I hope all of you can celebrate too.

I’m sutting down my laptop and I’m off to join my inlaws for a few hours.

Happy Christmastide.

God bless,

Nigel.

It’s Christmas! Why?

One of the great things about my job is that I get to spend time in schools. I find children and young people refreshing. I’ve loved the various nativity plays. In one a little girl was overcome by it all and began to cry, so she was helped off stage. Another girl came off stage to sit with her and give her a hug. Then they both went back up again. In that simple natural act of love I learned about Christmas, all over again.

I needed that. Christmas is such a busy and commercial time that any sense of specialness can be lost. I can feel tired and jaded. But that’s not the case with little children. Christmas is all bright and new. They see the world with fresh eyes and they help me to do the same. It’s so easy to stop thinking and questioning, but not when you are with young children who will ask the questions most adults are too polite to ask: Not when you are with a small child who keeps asking “Why?”

“That’s a bee.”
“What does it do?”
“It buzzes and makes honey from the flowers it visits.”
“Why?”
“So it has food.”
“Why?” and so on.

Or even more challenging, “What’s that?”
“That’s a caterpillar.”
“Why?”

Or even the question I really need at this time of year, “This is Christmas.”
“Why?”

“It’s Christmas.”
“Why?”

“Why is it Christmas?”
“It’s December 25th“
“Why?”

A good question. Why Christmas? Why is Christmas important?

To me Christmas is important because it brings hope to ordinary people like those shepherds, like you and me, like Joseph the carpenter and Mary too. God is so hard to understand but a baby, we all understand the hope and promise that comes with a baby. Yes, I know there is so much more Jesus, more to THIS baby, but God starts where you are, where I am, with something we can understand.

God knows I can’t understand him. God knows I can’t reach him. God knows I’ve tried!

So God decided to come down to us give us at least a fighting chance of understanding something about him. First a baby is a focus for love and devotion. I don’t know about you but I can’t help it, I see a baby and I smile; I feel a sense of love. God is showing us, through this baby, that he loves us, and also that he wants us to love him back.

God chose to come to us as a baby. A baby is helpless, it can’t force us to do anything. God who is all powerful has chosen not to force us into anything. I’ve certainly found that God wants me to to respond to his love, with love, but love that real love can’t be forced.

A baby is the centre of a new family. When there’s a baby relationships need to change and grow. Self-focused love now needs to expand and grow. I know it can be hard, but who ever said love was easy? This baby is saying to us that God’s love is the basis for all that is precious and wholesome, that in loving we are sharing God’s love. If you’ve ever spent time with a baby you’ll also know that God is also telling us that his love and my love has to be practical. My little girl is all grown up now but I still remember that babies cry in the middle of the night, that babies need nappy changes as well as nice giggly cuddles!

Like all little children, the little baby in the manger at Christmas leaves us with questions too. A baby is a bundle of hope for the future. I can’t help looking into the eyes of a baby and wondering, “Who are you?” “What are you going to do as you grow?” “Who are you going to show yourself to be?”. And yes, “Why?”. Little baby, “What are you doing here?” “Why did you come?”

Christmas is the start of a very special story of how God came to us in a way that we can understand. God’s message of love and hope is not complicated, it’s not difficult. This is the start of a story, a story that starts with a little baby, and the question, “Why?”
God bless, and Happy Christmas.

Birthdays and the joy of life

Today’s my birthday – I’m 50 today!

Everyone is keen to make a big thing of it but I just feel the same as I did yesterday. I love my presents and all the good wishes. I’m looking forward to a bit of a party; but at the same time I feel like a fraud. All I have done to deserve all of this is, well, not die! As if I really have a lot of control over that event.

I am though really grateful to be alive. I should really have died 39 years ago. I had TB meningitis as a child and was sent home to die for my 11th Birthday. No one asked me about that and I’ve always been awkward – so here I am at the age of 50.

I’m not being gloomy. I’m just taking a moment to realise just how precious the gift of life is, and how fragile. Each morning I wake up and thank God for that first waking breath. I’m thrilled every day by the colours around me: The greens and reds of the house plants, the ‘rainbow’ of books on the bookshelves, and so much more. I pick up one of our guinea pigs and hold her to me. I feel her snuggle up into my neck and feel her warmth. This small, trusting creature makes me smile. I feel both how precious and fragile this life is.

Life is a great gift. That is why tomorrow I’ll be celebrating the children of Mary and Martha (Luke 1.39-45). The two boys were born, we know their names, John and Jesus. We know the joy of their mothers before their birth and we know a little of what they did when they grew up. But we know very little about them growing up. Just a few snippets about Jesus.

As I get ready for Christmas I suppose I don’t need to know the little details. I just need to recognise that human life is precious, a gift from my Father. A gift to be celebrated and enjoyed. On my birthday I need to celebrate that gift and so be ready to celebrate from my heart the wonderful birth of life that is Christmas.

Some people are just scary – I mean really scary!

Some people are just scary – I mean really scary! A good few years ago I was a volunteer for Drug Dependants Anonymous (DDA) in Nottingham. DDA was an amazing organisation doing real good in that city. It was set up and run by two former drug addicts. They still lived in a little flat in one of the ‘worst’ parts of Nottingham. Their home was open house for drug addicts and those finding life hard, and they would be the first to say that their home life was to say the least ‘complicated’.

DDA grew out of the work that they were doing from their own flat. They got funding for a small centre in the middle of Nottingham with a kitchen where people could come in for a hot drink or toast or to cook their own food. There were a few private rooms where people could talk about their drug taking with someone who understood and a needle bank to help keep them alive. There were prison visits. There were washing machines and somewhere warm to sit and chat. It was in that last room that I would sit and chat to whoever came in. No one knew who I was, one guessed at me being an out of work actor!

I just chatted. Most people in there were a little unpredictable and chaotic but were never a threat. Some were not. One or two were also paranoid and had proven themselves to be violent with criminal convictions. One or two of those addicts were really scary. The normal rules of human life didn’t seem to reach them. They had strange tales to tell too. Tales of reality and paranoid fiction all woven together until no one, including them, had any idea what was true and what wasn’t.

This made me think of John the Baptist. He must have been seriously scary. Wide eyed with passion, dressed in ragged rough clothes, with long hair and beard. He didn’t seem to understand the normal rules of human life either: He ignored the normal rules of hospitality and turned on his visitors shouting things like, “You brood of vipers!” (Luke 3.7). But that is where the similarity ends – at the surface. John may have looked and sounded insane but you couldn’t have found anyone more in their right mind. He forced people to see the realities that they just didn’t want to see. He forced Herod to recognise that marrying his brother’s wife was wrong and he famously paid for it with his head (Mark 6.14-29).

If I was in any doubt about John’s sanity all I needed to do was listen to his teaching; his advice to those who would listen to his warnings. And that advice was good, simple advice for normal men and women. He told soldiers not to use their power to abuse people or steal from them. He told tax-collectors not to stop working for the Romans, but to simply be honest. To ordinary people he told them to be more caring and generous with those around them by giving their extras to those who had nothing. It is like the prophet Micah coming back to life to give God’s practical advice again:

“Human, the Lord has told you what goodness is.
This is what he wants from you:
Be fair to other people.
Love kindness and loyalty,
and humbly obey your God” (Micah 6.8). 

I find John the Baptist a scary figure, but I’m glad he did what he did and I would really like to have met him. I would love to have the chance to talk to him because I recognise him to be a prophet, someone with God’s wisdom, speaking His words. I don’t know whether I would like what he would say to me, but I do know that, easy or hard, I would need to takeit to heart. But I can’t meet John, not this side of heaven. I can though read what he said and prepare myself for Jesus, the one who is to come as judge of all. And how do I prepare? By doing the simple things, being generous, honest and above all loving. In other words I get ready by being more Christlike, so Jesus can see the family likeness when he comes to call.

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