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Meaningless, meaningless, all is meaningless

Cheerful book Ecclesiates: ‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless’ (Ecclesiastes 1.2). I don’t know about you but I normally turn to the Bible for encouragement, or wisdom or perhaps guidance. I don’t tend to look for a big slice of depression; with cream and a cherry on top, but that’s just what I find in Ecclesiastes.

The writer is rich and successful but is bored with life. He has children but he obviously doesn’t think much of them because he resents leaving his wealth for them to enjoy. He is bitter and twisted, which begs the question, “why have this in the Bible”? Why indeed?

Well for a start, it chimes with how most people feel about life, at least at some point. No matter how positive I want to be, at times life will get me down. Then these passages are strangely comforting. They say to me that I’m not alone, that I at least have company. What’s more, they say that I have God for company because he has allowed Ecclesiastes to be part of the Bible.

I can be depressed and I am still not cut off from God. I can be depressed and there is a passage of the Bible that is not saying to me, ‘cheer up’, or ‘pull yourself together’, or ‘count your blessings’, or all the other well meaning but pointless things people say to those who are depressed. No, I hear words that describe how depression feels, “‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’  ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless’”. That is the reality of depression. No matter how you try, the world remains grey and featureless, and here in this passage I discover that God understands; I discover that God is there in the darkness.

This reassurance is important because most people find it hard to cope with someone who is depressed, and Christians are not exception. There can also be the implication that depression equals a lack of faith, or a refusal to trust in God. But here we have a book of the Bible that deals with depression and deals with it head on.

Ecclesiastes faces down the argument that if you have good things then you shouldn’t be depressed; that you should, “Count your blessings”. The writer of Ecclesiastes has everything, he is king, he is rich, and he is well educated. He has all this and yet, “Everything is meaningless”.

Ecclesiastes is often used to teach the fact that earthly riches do not bring ultimate contentment, before pointing to the need for spiritual riches. This point is true but it is not what Ecclesiastes is about. If it were about this then the author would say so but he does not. Ecclesiastes ends as depressed as it starts – all is meaningless at the end of the book, just as it is at the beginning. No, I believe Ecclesiastes is about depression. It is about a man who has everything and still it is as though the colour, texture, and savour of everything has leached away leaving all grey and tasteless.

With this in mind I don’t think this book should be used to make points about spiritual wealth. It should be taken seriously for what it is. For those who are depressed it should be seen as a lifeline; a way into the Bible and the hope that it can bring. Ecclesiastes brings far more hope than all the platitudes put together.

Ecclesiastes opens the door to a depressive to the wealth of hope that comes from God. The sort of hope explored by St. John of the Cross in his spiritual classic, “The Dark Night of the Soul”.

So if you are prone to depression, then I recommend that you read Ecclesiastes. You may find that it speaks for you. If you are never weighed down by depression then read Ecclesiastes, let it sink into you so that you can better understand and support those who are weighed down.

Ecclesiastes is also valuable when your world falls apart. When you lose someone close to you, or perhaps when your health fails. Ecclesiastes can express what is inside at these times, it can allow  me to be honest about how we feel. Ecclesiastes gives me permission to say to God, “Meaningless! Meaningless!’ ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless”. Ecclesiastes allows me to say this without feeling guilty that I’ve let God or anyone else down. Ecclesiastes can lead to the cross, where Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

I have said these words before but I feel I must say them again.

Ecclesiastes – the most miserable of the books of the Bible, but at times it may just be one of the most valuable.

Lost books, L-space, libraries and the odour of bananas

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I thoroughly enjoyed the short program on Julian’s manuscript. My library is growing… is that banana I smell?

Zen and the Art of Tightrope Walking

Lost books, L-space, libraries and the odour of bananas

I have a recurring dream of a lost book that I have somehow found. It’s a beautiful book, filled with marvels, hand-written in quirky calligraphy as if by someone who has seen how calligraphy looks but has never been taught how to do it “properly” (bit like me, actually). It has drawings in it that remind you of illuminated manuscripts, and some which are entirely different. It has some resemblance to Jung’s famous Red Book, but the writing is in English and the drawings are not the same. Each time the book pops up in dreams, I wonder whose book it is, whether it exists in our ordinary reality or whether it is something that may one day exist or has once existed and exists no more.

A few nights ago on British TV, there was a programme on BBC4 on…

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That late night phone call! That knock on the door!

The phone rings late at night. For me they means something terrible has happened. Why else would they call? The phone rings, I glance at the clock, it’s just before midnight. I dash to answer, then pause, afraid to pick up and be told that my Mam is critically ill. I pick up and there’s a cheerful voice on the other end of the line. They’ve called to catch up and find out a few minor details about the service in the morning. I’m civil, I’m polite and helpful but most of me just wants to shout, “You idiot! I thought someone was dead. Next time there will be – you!”

Then there is the elderly parishioner who has been up since before dawn, so 6am on a summer morning is practically midday. The doorbell rings, I stumble down stairs expecting to find a fireman standing there telling me my house is on fire; or perhaps a police officer to tell me that there has been a terrible car accident and I had better sit down. But no, it is just a friendly elderly face dropping off a note by hand, they just wanted to give me my rota in person. Again, I’m civil, I’m polite and helpful but most of me just wants to shout, “You idiot! I thought someone was dead. Next time there will be – you!”

No one likes to be disturbed at some ‘ungodly hour’, now just as much as in Jesus’ time. So, I’m with Jesus’ outraged crowd when he tells them a story not too different from this (Luke 11.5-8):

“Suppose one of your neighbours comes to you in the middle of the night and says, “Let me borrow a few beers… and some nibbles if you have them. A friend of mine has dropped in, we’re catching up and I’ve run out.” And suppose you answer, “Don’t bother me! We’re all in bed. Go away before you wake the children.”

Too right! What friend would get you out of bed in the middle of the night like that?

Then the story goes on,

“But in the end you do get up and give him everything he asks for,  just to make him stop shouting and waking up the entire street.”

Again, I’m with the crowd. What a jerk! I just want him to go away so I’ll give him what he wants, just as long as he shuts up.

Then comes the real shock. That’s what my prayer should be like.

That makes no sense at all. How could a story about an annoying soon to be ex-friend have anything to do with something as holy and special as prayer? Before Jesus’ version of the story he has just given the crowd the sublime formula for prayer known today as ‘The Lord’s Prayer’, or the ‘Our Father’; but now I’m with them in the middle of a sick comedy.

What is more, Jesus says that when I pray I’m to be like that annoying neighbour! I’m to pester and annoy God with my prayers. It seems all wrong. God’s too busy for all my trivia, surely. Then it sinks in; I’m an idiot! No great news there.

I suddenly remember the obvious: God is eternal, so there is no such thing as time for him. How can he be ‘too busy’? Where do I think he’s going to be when I pray? On the loo… or asleep, perhaps tucked up with Jesus and the Holy Spirit? I’m stupid sometimes; of course God is always ready to hear the prayers of his children; even in the middle of the night.

But why pester? Why not ask once then stop pestering God with my trivia? But Jesus does seem to be saying that I’m to keep asking. Then the penny drops again; I’m not pestering, I’m simply bringing everything to God who is my Father. He loves me and wants me to tell him everything. What Father wouldn’t?

There is another reason too. I’ve found that every time I draw near to God in prayer, he seems closer to me than before. The more I bring everything to him, the more he seems to get into everything and every part of my life. Prayer becomes a family chat. So, I’ll keep asking. I’ll be a proper ‘God botherer’. I’ll keep on ‘bothering’ my Father with my concerns and worries, sure that he will keep on ‘bothering’ me with his love.

Have you ever tried to listen?

Have you ever tried to listen? I mean really listen? I have and it’s a lot harder than it sounds. At least I find it so.

I sit and listen to the wind in the bushes. I listen hard. I’m doing well, for a second or so, then all the concerns and the business come bubbling up. I start out listening to the wind then I suddenly come to myself with a start: I’ve been planning the next service rota in my head or thinking about a tricky issue that will come up in the next meeting. I try again. Again I’m doing well; then I find that I’m not even sitting anymore, I’ve wandered over to check on the bees, or I’m on my knees clearing rubbish from the pond.

I try to listen but so often I find that no matter how hard I try I quickly find that I’m being busy again, I’m worrying again, I’m active again. This fault can happen anywhere, anytime. I can be reading my Bible or praying and my mind can lead me away to the business of the day, or I can suddenly find myself at my computer busily replying to my emails!

This may seem like a normal confession. It is I suppose. The danger is that it needs dealing with or I’ll very soon find that I’m with a bereaved family, and suddenly realise that I haven’t heard a word that the tearful people before me have said. It is serious, I worry about so many things, but only one is needed.

I worry about so many things, the growth of my church, the state of my country, a racist incident in one of my schools, that tricky meeting, illness, family, pets …, the list seems endless until my mind feels as though it is going to explode.

I worry about so many things, but only one thing is needed, only one thing is necessary.

Then I laugh at myself. The silly fool that I am. Rushing around inside my head, rushing around my parishes, rushing around, always late, never getting there. I laugh and Jesus’ words to Martha come back to me. I’ll tell the story (Luke 10.38-42):

Jesus is staying in the house of two sisters, Mary and Martha. Mary is doing her job, she is working hard making sure that her important guest, and the crowd that came with him, are looked after properly. She’s making sure they have a drink at least. But what of her sister? Martha is sitting dough-eyed on the floor listening to Jesus, without a care in the world – without a care for her poor stressed sister.

Martha complains to Jesus and he says, “Martha, Martha! You are worried and upset about so many things, but only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen what is best, and it will not be taken away from her.”

I see Martha in my mind, and I see the March Hare from Alice in Wonderland, I see myself growing huge ears and big teeth, and I laugh again.

I remember why George and Margaret and other teachers in college taught me Christian Meditation. I laugh, as the knots in my mind untie. I laugh as I sit quietly again. The laughing fades with the gentle rhythm of my breathing. The worries begin to dissolve with the gentle repetition of the Jesus Prayer; “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner”. The words flow, and eventually become background. For a little while at least I am Mary, not Martha, I am sitting with my mind open, I am sitting at the feet of Jesus; waiting and listening. Then occasionally, just occasionally, I enter completely into the silence between my thoughts. I am beyond thought, one with Christ, one with the Father, one with the Spirit – but those thoughts only come after. For that time, all too short, I and God are one, and my ‘I’ dissolves.

Then I’m back in the struggle with my business. I’m sitting at Jesus feet but itching to get on with the work to be done. I’m Martha once again. I notice and laugh, and Jesus laughs too.

I head to my next meeting, busy, but still with words, gentle but firm in my mind, “only one thing is necessary,” and was that just a hint of another laugh?

“It’s important to suck up every last drop of life” – Chris Packham

I’ve been listening to an interview with Chris Packham. Chris Packham, if you don’t know him, is a naturalist and t.v. presenter. In that interview it was clear that Chris was absolutely, 100% committed to the natural world. His passion shone out of every word that he spoke. That passion and commitment was, for me at least, compelling. That interview made me want to know more, to do more for the natural world. It made me want to check out Chris’ website. The passion is there too. In particular, one phrase from that website really jumped out at me, “it’s important to suck up every last drop of life”.

I thought about that. I agreed whole heartedly that, “it’s important to suck up every last drop of life”.

I look to my church and I am excited to see more and more bishops and ministers who are 100% committed to what they proclaim. I see more and more Christians who are really living their faith too and I’m encouraged. I’m encouraged because not so long ago I saw too many Christians apologising for their faith. No wonder our churches went through a time of decline; no wonder we are starting becoming healthy once again.

Why were we ever embarrassed? Who knows? But what I do know is in my faith I have found something completely life changing. I’m still far from perfect but I’ve definitely become a better person through that relationship. I encourage people to give the Christian life a go because I hope they will find it as wonderful and rewarding as I have.

When I first became a Christian God gave me a renewed zest and love for life, all life. That’s probably why Chris Packham’s words struck such a chord in me. I certainly know how important it is, “to suck up every last drop of life” – thanks Chris, that phrase is going to stick with me for some time!

Over the many years since that first encounter with God things have changed, but that love has not grown less. I’ve been depressed but God has been there in the darkness. I’ve been on top of the world and He’s been there too. As I’m writing this I’m feeling grateful for being able to live in such an attractive and friendly little town. I’m really looking forward to enjoying the rest of this summer. I hope you are too.

 

 

To be “a flawed saint” – now there’s an ambition!

I’m nervous and excited all at the same time. Why? ‘Change’ – that’s why!

Change is here in all sorts of forms. There is political change in the air. What will leaving the EU end up looking like? Who will lead us out? Who will lead the opposition? Will there even be an opposition? At least there is a now a period of calm. Nothing will happen in a hurry. But is this the calm that leads to a beautiful future, or is it the calm before the storm? I know so many people who are anxious and afraid. Sadly, that fear is turning some hard and unfeeling; aggressive even to any they see as a threat or just different.

I read the news and hear that this fear and hardening of the heart has led some to be hostile to Eastern Europeans living and working here. It is like the start of a civil war. Neighbours who got along fine are now the target of hostility. Family friends are being shunned at the corner shop and outside of school. This is certainly not England’s finest hour!

I look inside of myself and I find some fear too. It seems to lurk there waiting for a time to strike. Perhaps I’m worn out, and stressed, then I’m faced with that difficult person – the one person I really didn’t want to see. My more noble emotions are spent and my fear sees the power vacuum, sees its chance and jumps in. I react defensively not compassionately; I say the hurtful things that may stop the person but certainly do not build them up – certainly do not show Christ and his kingdom. I become captive to the old kingdom once again. The kingdom that is already a lie, that is already on its way out: In short I fall.

Or at least that is the real danger. Thankfully, Christ is in me and the Spirit seems to bring me round quickly. So far, he has always been able to stop me before my tongue does any real damage (Cf. James 3.1-12). When I do react wrongly, He gives me the strength and the humility to say ‘sorry’ – such a hard word to say. As the Spirit refills my reserves of love, the fear goes or at least reduces, and I’m more able to see the person not my fears (Cf. 1 John 4.18); I am more able to be loving, compassionate, patient and kind.

That brings me to one of my heroes – Thomas the Apostle. Often called ‘Doubting Thomas’ and relegated to a lesson from failure (John 20.24-29). He’s a hero to me because in Thomas I see a man that I can follow. He failed like another of my heroes Peter, who denied Jesus. Those heroes make me smile. They give me hope. Not hope for the easy times, such hope is everywhere, such hope is cheap. No Thomas and Peter give me hope for the hard times, the times when I am overwhelmed by life – and there are many. Most of all stories like the doubting of Thomas give me hope for when I fail, for when I doubt, for when I question what God is doing. More accurately, it is how Jesus deals with Thomas (and Peter) that gives that hope. Jesus, accepted their failures. Jesus accepts mine and transforms those failures.

So, I look at Thomas and I see a flawed saint. A saint who failed but who Jesus redeemed. I see a saint for my country in its current hour of need. I can follow a flawed saint, I may even be able to be one! So might those who are fearful now, those who are failing their neighbour, who are hating the stranger. Through Thomas Jesus tells me that there is hope even for them. There is hope. They too can be flawed saints.

To be a “a flawed saint” – now there’s an ambition!

The EU Referendum – A Prayerful Response

As I think of Sunday and worship I am in shock. My country has voted to leave the European Union to chart a more independent course in the world. I had hoped that we would stay and work with our partners across Europe for the good of all. I have no illusions the EU is perfect, then I have no illusions that the UK government or any government is perfect. I did however see countries across Europe working together for more than just trade to be a good thing. The UK, I believe could have done more good being part of this.

I can say this more clearly now. Before the referendum I felt that I could offer those that I lead guidance on the sorts of questions to ask. Such as, “What would be best for all, not just me?” I did not feel that I could direct people to make one or other political choice. I know that the people of my benefice were divided on this issue, people of intelligence and good conscience. So I am sad, but I accept the decision and am now trying to see how best to move forward. What advice is the Spirit giving to God’s people? What witness can we have to our nation?

At this time of uncertainty, we need to be together. We need to make clear decisions and we must rebuild the relationships broken by angry and divisive campaigns from both sides. My job, the job of Christ’s people now is to pray and work for a better future. The referendum has left this country deeply divided. I need to work hard to rebuild those bridges. Bridges between young and old are particularly needed. The statistics that I read showed an overwhelming majority of people under 30 wanted to remain but a similar majority of those over 60 wanted to leave. Of those aged 14-16 who could not vote over 75% wanted to remain. This division cannot be healthy for our nation. The alienation of young and old, will not help us be confident looking to the future.

I look online, on social media and in the papers and I hear only discord. I look for political leadership and I see a vacuum.

I look to my Church and I find hope. My country is anxious and divided, so Christ’s people must be united firmly to the rock of Christ. I unite with both of the English Archbishops and my own Bishop of Norwich, in urging all Christians to be Christlike and show the signs of the Kingdom that is greater than any early authority. The signs of the work of the Spirit that Paul summarised as, “ love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control” (Galatians 5.22-23). At this time, if we are to have joy and peace, we most certainly need to give our country an shining example of peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, self-control, and greatest of all – love.

 

God bless,

 

Nigel.

The statements from the Archbishops and the Bishop of Norwich are copied below.

 

Statement from Archbishops on EU Referendum Result

24 June 2016

On Thursday, millions of people from across the United Kingdom voted in the Referendum, and a majority expressed a desire that Britain’s future is to be outside the European Union

The outcome of this referendum has been determined by the people of this country. It is now the responsibility of the Government, with the support of Parliament, to take full account of the outcome of the referendum, and, in the light of this, decide upon the next steps. This morning, the Prime Minister David Cameron has offered a framework for when this process might formally begin.

The vote to withdraw from the European Union means that now we must all reimagine both what it means to be the United Kingdom in an interdependent world and what values and virtues should shape and guide our relationships with others.

As citizens of the United Kingdom, whatever our views during the referendum campaign, we must now unite in a common task to build a generous and forward looking country, contributing to human flourishing around the world. We must remain hospitable and compassionate, builders of bridges and not barriers. Many of those living among us and alongside us as neighbours, friends and work colleagues come from overseas and some will feel a deep sense of insecurity. We must respond by offering reassurance, by cherishing our wonderfully diverse society, and by affirming the unique contribution of each and every one.

The referendum campaign has been vigorous and at times has caused hurt to those on one side or the other. We must therefore act with humility and courage – being true to the principles that make the very best of our nation. Unity, hope and generosity will enable us to overcome the period of transition that will now happen, and to emerge confident and successful. The opportunities and challenges that face us as a nation and as global citizens are too significant for us to settle for less.

As those who hope and trust in the living God, let us pray for all our leaders, especially for Prime Minister David Cameron in his remaining months in office. We also pray for leaders across Europe, and around the world, as they face this dramatic change. Let us pray especially that we may go forward to build a good United Kingdom that, though relating to the rest of Europe in a new way will play its part amongst the nations in the pursuit of the common good throughout the world.

 

 

 

Statement by The Rt Revd Graham James, Bishop of Norwich,

to Norwich Diocesan Synod,

Saturday June 25th 2016

following the EU Referendum

 

The result of Thursday’s Referendum seemed to take even some who supported the Leave campaign by surprise.  The announcement of the resignation of the Prime Minister, a year after victory at the General Election, adds to the level of uncertainty.  The will of the people expressed in the Referendum must be honoured but no one has yet negotiated an exit from the European Union under the Lisbon Treaty so much is unpredictable.

 

In this diocese every voting district, except Norwich, voted Leave.  Some areas like South Norfolk were very evenly split.  Great Yarmouth saw a majority in excess of 70% for Leave.  Norwich voted 56% to 44% in favour of Remain.  It’s a reminder close to home of the division of opinion.

 

Therein lies a consequential danger of the outcome of this referendum.  Ostensibly it has been about separation from the European Union.  But it has revealed major divisions in the United Kingdom – between Scotland and Northern Ireland on one side and England and Wales on the other; between London and the rest of England since the capital voted heavily to Remain.  But there are other divisions too – between north and south in England; between rural and urban; between young and old.

 

Such divisions are dangerous, especially after a campaign which was often shrill, bruising and alienating.

 

Our church communities, including this Diocesan Synod, contain people who voted on both sides in this referendum.  There is no single Christian position on the European Union and membership of it.  But there is a common Christian conviction that unity is better than division, hope better than despair and that we are always in partnership with Jesus Christ when proclaiming the good news.  He offers salvation and redemption for all people in all places at all times.

 

So in the wake of this referendum we have much to do.  First we should pray for our country and for the people of Europe.  Then we should pray for our Prime Minister and for all Government ministers, indeed all politicians.  The tragic death of Jo Cox is a reminder that the generous service given to their communities by so many Members of Parliament can be dangerous.  Our political leaders need our prayer and support, never more so than now.

 

Further, in our local communities and in our churches we should be the agents of unity, always hospitable and not hostile and committed to the pursuit of the common good.  As St Paul tells the Galatians “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6.9)  Rarely have we had more gospel work to do.

 

God bless our country, and God bless you all.

Boy abandoned in bear-infested woods ‘as punishment’

Boy abandoned in bear-infested woods ‘as punishment’

I remember my shock at reading that headline earlier this year. A seven-year-old boy had annoyed his parents by continuing to throw stones, so they drove off leaving him in a dense forest with no food and water. It just happened to be full of bears too.

Now, I can remember how frustrating it can be to have a child that just won’t behave. I can remember car journeys where I have threatened to tie my daughter to the roof-rack for a little peace. But I never would and never did. My wife asked her whether she remembered me making these threats – she said, “Yes, often, but I knew he would never do it”, and laughed. It was an over the top threat that made her laugh as a little child, but somehow often worked. That mock punishment seemed to often bring us both to our senses.

Thankfully, that little boy was resourceful, and fortunate enough to find an empty army hut where he could shelter. There was no one there but he survived by drinking rain water until he was found by a soldier 6 days later. Still this must have been a terrifying time for the boy, and everyone involved. This included his parents. They had only wanted to scare him, but when they drove back a few minutes later their little boy was gone!

I think that I’m not alone feeling a sense of horror and disbelief. How could any parent do this to their child, even if they planned to come back? I was so relieved when I read that the little boy was safe and well, and amazingly reconciled with his very contrite parents.

I also remember my disbelief and horror when I learned that my loving Father God could act in a far more severe way with his children. The two facts didn’t seem to add up. It certainly didn’t match what I knew of God through the work of his Spirit in me. It did not match up to Jesus saying, “God is Love and those who live in love live in God, and God lives in them” (1 John 4.16). But it did seem to match the image of God as pure and holy, who could never tolerate any sin or corruption. So what was happening? Why the contradiction?

For quite some time I just had to live with the contradiction. I loved Jesus, but feared the God of judgement. Thankfully, I already had a strong enough relationship with God through his Spirit, that I knew that I could trust him to sort it out somehow. I just had no real idea how this could happen.

Then a simple phrase in the Bible came alive. The Spirit lifted it off the page for me. It was this, “Now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith” (Galatians 3.25-26 CEV). “I am no longer subject to a disciplinarian!” But who is this disciplinarian? It can’t be Jesus because he has freed me from this disciplinarian, and from that passage it clearly isn’t God the Father either. After all this passage is clear that I am his child, through faith.

So who is the disciplinarian? I read more of Galatians and found that Paul accuses the religious law of making his readers slaves. It is religious law that is the cruel slave-master, that would happily punish me severely for even the slightest disobedience, the slightest sin. Thankfully, through faith in Jesus I’m no longer subject to that disciplinarian, to that slave-master. I am not only no longer a slave, I am a loved child.

But then a voice whispers, “But what about all those things that you do and think that are far from holy or perfect? What about all that anger and violence that filled you when you read about that MP being murdered? What’s God going to do about all that?” Then I get worried again, perhaps I’ve missed something.

Then I looked to Jesus, and this time the story of the demon possessed man (Luke 8.26-39 CEV). He is described as not only mad but utterly debased too. He even lives with the dead in the graveyard. Jesus sees through the corruption to the man inside, the man in torment. Then he does something amazing he banishes all the evil and corruption. The man is left sane and healthy again. His life is returned to him. That is what I know God is doing to me, and in me. Through faith, and God’s love in me, the Holy Spirit is getting access to the dingier and darker parts of me. I’m letting him in and he is cleaning out the rubbish. Then there’s room for more love. Sadly, it hasn’t all happened at once. I know I’m more godly, more loving than I was, but I also know that I’m far from perfect still. I suspect that this is because God knows me so well, he knows that I’d just get big headed and proud. So he takes it slow and steady, in small steps that leave as little room as possible for my pride to fit in. But still, Jesus is loving me just as much as he loved that tormented man.

I pray that wonderful prayer, the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner”. I am no longer praying to a fearful god standing over me with a big stick. No, I’m praying to my loving Brother, praying please help me with my weakness and all that separates me from you. Knowing that through my Brother Jesus, I have discovered that I have a loving Father God who loves me as he loves Jesus.

I have no fear of punishment, at least not from God. I do however fear through lack of Love. I know for certain that my Father would never leave me behind and drive off, he would never neglect or harm me. Like any child within a loving family I am free to grow and flourish.

Are you a sinner? Well are you!?

Are you a sinner? Well are you!?

Don’t worry, I haven’t turned into a fire and brimstone preacher.  But still I ask; I ask you, I ask myself, are you a sinner? The answer of course is, “Yes”. Not that you are a particularly bad person. In fact I look around at good people. Looking at me; it is not that I have a great sin that I need to confess to you all – No, I’m not about to run off with and set up a love nest with the bishop!

I am not however perfect. In fact I know I’m far from perfect; so are you. Anything that is not of God is sin. Sin is something that separates me from God. It is like this string. Imagine this is the cord between me and God. Each time I sin I cut the cord, and each time I’m forgiven the Spirit ties a knot in the string again. Each time I fail, I separate myself from God, and each time I’m forgiven again and the bond is restored.

This happens all of the time. This is the Christian way of life. The way by which I come closer to God and become ever more Christ-like.

Do you notice something?

What has happened to this string? What has happened to the distance between me and God? – They are both shorter.

Each time I come back from doing something wrong, I’m forgiven, the relationship between me and my God is restored and I’m closer to God as a result. That is not to say that I should deliberately sin just to give God the opportunity to forgive. There is plenty in me that needs sorting without deliberately adding to it.

As Jesus points out the more I’m forgiven the more I learn about the forgiving love of the Father. The more I learn of that divine love, in turn the more I learn to love. That is our Christian way of life.

This turns upside down the view I often have of sin and God.

I started out with a view of sin as some terrible filth in me. God could see all this filth in me and was standing there with a big stick to punish me for it all. I was the naughty child of a stern and unforgiving father. My only chance was to hide behind Jesus and perhaps Jesus could stop God the Father giving me a good thrashing. That was so wrong. Thankfully, I moved from that view of God very early on in my time as a Christian.

I came to understand that God created me and knows who I am. Indeed, my creator knows me better than I know myself, far better. Through the Spirit God helps me to see the things that are wrong in me, one at a time. Not because he wants a chance to punish me; No, the Spirit points out my failings so that he can show me even more of the Father’s love for me. He can forgive, and forgive and forgive; each time pouring more and more and more love into me.

My discovery of each thing in me that keeps me from God is one more opportunity for the Spirit to pour into me the Father’s love. That is what Jesus offers to me. That is what he is saying in story about the women who wept over Jesus’ feet (Luke 7.36-8.3). I am forgiven much and so is able to love much. If I think  that I am already right with God, (like the Pharisee in the story) I am not only mistaken, I am also denying myself the opportunity of receiving God’s love.

This passage is an encouragement to be honest with God about who I really am. When I am honest in this way, then it is so much easier for the Spirit to work in me and make me more like Jesus.

It is also a warning for me not to go about judging others. No matter how bad someone might appear, that is their business and God’s, not mine, not anyone’s. The temptation to judge others is just a distraction from my calling to take Jesus’ hand and let him show me who I am. I mustn’t let others distract me, but only look to what God is doing in me.

I am to accept who I am – God knows already. I can then bring that before the throne of God, be forgiven and receive another drop of the Father’s love. That’s my task and the task of any who would like it.

Beautiful but Broken

I love life. I love the exuberance of the garden that I can see out of my window. Just looking at the roses I can smell them in my mind. There are plants lining my window sill. I have been blessed with being able to feel the life around me. I can sense the life breathed into the birds and animals and plants around me. At times it feels as though, for a brief moment at least, I’m back with God at the dawn of creation, where God is breathing life, breath, spirit into all creatures (see Genesis 2 and Psalm 104). Then the moment passes, I long for it to come back but I know I need to wait a little longer. I need to wait until Christ’s return when I’m promised a perfect creation once again.

So my eyes become clouded again by the falleness of creation as well as the beauty. I see the dead chick, only a day or so old, lying on the drive. I hear the news coming in of wars and rumours of wars; I see the hedgehog killed senselessly on the road. I feel again the pain of loss from losing the family and friends that have died over the years. I feel the darkness and sadness descend just as powerfully as the joy only moments before. I see Stephen Fry on the tv showing the grubs of parasitic wasps slowly eating their prey alive, and hear the scornful words, “How can there be a loving god, if he creates such things and allows such suffering?”

Strangely it is those mocking words that bring me out of the depths. I like Stephen Fry but this just irritates. It feels cheap and unworthy of someone of such intelligence and education.

I remember that Jesus has never promised that my life or this world will be all beautiful. I am reminded that this world is fallen. It is corrupted but not abandoned by its Creator. Indeed, the Creator sent Jesus for the very purpose of redeeming, not only me, not only humanity, but all of creation; a creation which Paul describes as ‘groaning’ as it waits for this work to be completed at Christ’s return (Romans 8.22-25).

I do not know all the reasons why this has happened, but I do know that we humans are doing more than our fair share of the spoiling and corrupting. I also know that the world is as described in the Bible, created, beautiful, and now fallen.

I remember once again that I am to be like Jesus. I am to feel the pain of creation and weep. Equally, I am to feel the life, vitality and beauty of creation and laugh with joy. I am also to do all that I can to allow the Spirit to show me and those around me the reality of the new creation; the new kingdom that is so close. So I work to make this world a better place for all. I pray with confidence for healing and other signs that the kingdom is close – after all, my faith is not always as strong as I’d like and signs like the healings that I’ve witnessed recently are a welcome boost.

Encouraged, I look to my Bible again. I read the story of Jesus taking pity on a widow whose only son had just died (Luke 7.11-17). I read of his compassion and of him restoring the son to life. I pray for more such signs of the kingdom here and now, but I pray most for the time when all humanity, with all creation, will hear Jesus’ call to rise up – the final healing. I pray Maranatha – Come Lord Jesus!

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