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Sleepwalking

I have a good and happy life. I want for very little. I have all the food that I need, and plenty more besides! I have a comfortable car and a fun motorbike. I have a lovely house, bees, ducks in the pond, warmth and the wonder of the internet. I have a family that loves me and I live in a civilised and safe country. I think I also live in one of the most welcoming and genuinely ‘nice’ towns in England. I am healthy and reasonably fit. Life is good!

Each day I start my prayers with thanks for all of these good things that God has given. I end each day in the same way and try to hold something of this thankfulness in between. These are wonderful blessings and I thank my Father for each one. There is nothing wrong with enjoying the good things of this world. Each one is a gift and as such should be cherished and celebrated, even in Lent.

All of these things are given to me as gifts, they are not earned, they are simply gifts. Yes, I work hard but I am no more deserving of luxury than some person struggling every day to live a life with profound disability, or someone working hard all day picking through a rubbish dump to find something to sell. I work partly because I must to pay the bills, but mostly I work because I love my work as a minister of Christ. It is a huge privilege to do what I do, it brings contentment and deep joy. Thank you Jesus!

All these good things are gifts from God to be celebrated. But each one can also be a trap. I know that the jaws of this trap are close when I read:

‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?’ (Mark 8.34-36)

I read and I shout, I love my life as it is, I don’t want to lose it! I find myself putting my fingers in my ears and singing “La, la, la” so I can’t hear Jesus’ words. I want the bright things around me to dazzle my eyes so I can’t read the words. Maybe if I keep this up, Jesus will start to talk about love and peace and joy. My nice life will be safe then!

All the good things in my life are to be enjoyed as presents from God, but how easily they become a trap. How quickly they can become the foundation for my life: of my happiness. I blink and suddenly all these things are THE reason I get up on a morning. It’s dramatic but it all happens so subtly, gently even. I get used to a certain level of comfort. I then take this for granted. I then can’t imagine living without these things. My nice lifestyle become my gospel, my good news, my god. I find that I become addicted to my nice life. I am being drugged into a lifeless sleep, one from which, in the end, there is no waking up.

If you’ve ever watched the Disney version of The Jungle Book then its like having the huge snake Kaa, singing softly in my ear, “go to sleep… go to sleep… sleep… sleep”, as the coils slowly, gently even begin to wrap and tighten. A real and present danger. That is why I think Jesus shouts at Peter and calls him Satan (The Tempter):

(Jesus) then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ he said. ‘You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.’ Mark 8.31-33.

Peter was falling under the spell and needed a good shake to wake him up. So Jesus does just that, effectively Jesus shouts, “Peter watch out! Wake up!”. Jesus loved Peter enough to be a little rough with him: Jesus loves me just the same so sometimes I need a jolt too. I need to be reminded that my only true source of contentment or happiness is Jesus. The only way I can be sure of being safe is by letting go and letting the Holy Spirit have his way. I need to let Jesus shake me and shout “Wake up!”, “Wake up and smell the sulphur!”.

I know this. I know it to be true but it’s though I’m half in a dream and can’t quite wake up. I know that I’m in danger but as I struggle to wake the soft words work even harder to send me to sleep again: “go to sleep… sleep… be a good boy… dream of your bike… running… nice food… family… have a drink… go to sleep… you’re so tired… just for a little while… go to sleep… that’s right…”

I’m sleepwalking to Satan. Then I feel the Spirit shaking me. I wake some more and laugh at the Tempter.  He can try but he can never win! I laugh again, thank God for his generosity, for the good things that he gives. I thank him too for loving me enough to give me a good shake to wake me up and I pray:

Lead me not into temptation but deliver me from evil. Amen

Eeyore, Tigger, and Mark as the March Hare

Texts and emails, twitter, Facebook, instant message and all the rest, they’re all are great things. They allow us to communicate simple messages almost instantly to people anywhere in the world. Instant communication has its faults but there is nothing like instant communication when you’re excited. To see successful students texting and phoning friends and family with their results is a real joy. From people who live alone I’ve heard that the biggest sadness is not, as I would have expected, not having someone there to tell problems to when they get home, no, it’s not having someone to spin you round with excitement when something great has happened. Instant, is great for joy and excitement, sadness can usually take its time.

Mark’s Gospel is the email or text gospel. It is short, curt even, and you’re left to fill in the blanks. Matthew and John add lots of colour and texture but Mark is short and sharp. Matthew loves to tell stories where Mark seems to fire out events and sayings like bullets.

Just look at Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Mark says, “At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.” Mark 1.12-13 – 2 short verses. Matthew takes his time over 25 verses to paint the same story.

Mark is also breathless in the way he tells the story of Jesus, “At once” or “Straight away” are favourite phrases. I read Matthew for the detail. But I read Mark to get the real sense of urgency about Jesus’ mission. There is a breathless urgency about Mark’s writing. I can almost smell the excitement:

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’ (Mark 1.9-11)

The Heaven’s are torn apart! But there’s no time to stop – Mark rushes on:

At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. (Mark 1.12-13)

Jesus meets Satan and wild animals and angels serve him – I want to know more. But Mark grabs my hand – “No Time for that, there’s so much more to show you”, and Mark rushes on again:

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’ (Mark 1.14-15)

Heaven torn apart – Satan brushed aside, wild animals and angels, then I hear “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near.”

My head’s spinning, there’s so much to take in, so I let go of Mark’s hand to think a little before rushing on. I can almost see Mark, impatient, hopping from foot to foot, sparking with excitement. I never thought of Mark as the March Hare before, but now I look the resemblance is startling.

Mark’s Gospel may miss out so much wonderful detail, so many amazing facts, but he has just what I need right now. Mark is just what the doctor ordered! After all the miserable weather, the rain and the cold I’ve been feeling a little, well, jaded. I know Christ, I feel the Spirit in me, I know I’m loved, but the grey leaches away some of the excitement.

If you know the Winnie the Pooh books by AA Milne, then you’ll know what I mean when I say that my wife, Viv, tends to think of me as a ‘Tigger’, bouncing up the stairs to hug people. But recently I’ve been feeling more like Eeyore.

So there was me pottering along in the stream of the Spirit, when I open the Bible, turn to Mark 1 and I’m hit with a tidal wave of excitement. I may not be sure which way is up but wow does it feel good. I’m buzzing with the Gospel, grinning from ear to ear with excitement, the Spirit has hit and it is better than any roller coaster!

Then there’s a voice inside, ‘It’s Lent, should you be so happy and excited in Lent?! Lent is a serious sober time’. Part of me just wants to shrug my shoulders and say, ‘Whatever’. But, still buzzing I turn back to Mark 1. I read ‘temptation’, ‘wilderness’ and ‘repentance’. All serious words but I realise that I’m still being called to be excited about this Gospel, this Good News.

I spin back to ‘temptation’ and find that in Jesus I have all I need to overcome them. Indeed, each time I’m tempted Jesus can show me more about myself and the Spirit can work with me to make me whole.

I jump over to ‘wilderness’ and I know that I need to book a time away on retreat. Time to be quiet and pray. In the greyness I just couldn’t get round to it, but now I know I must.

I skip back to ‘repentance’ and see the wonder of the Christian life. I am far from perfect, I do things wrong but that doesn’t have to be me forever! I have a loving Father who through Jesus forgives me, and forgives me, and forgives me some more. Each time I’m shown a fault and say ‘sorry’, I’m forgiven and the Spirit can work to heal me a little more. The Spirit gives me a little more of Himself to make me stronger against temptations to come. But when I fall again, toddler that I am, then I’m lifted up into loving arms and off we go again.

I know that excitement isn’t everything. There are times and seasons for a whole rang of emotions to be right in God. But at the start of this Lent I am being shown that I need to rediscover my excitement in God. To feel joy of knowing Jesus. To be blown off my feet by the Spirit. To give myself whole heartedly to my heavenly Father.

I hear, “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near.” Then Mark grabs my arm and we’re off…

Love – What is love?

‘I love you’ – it trips off the tongue so easily, but do I really mean it? What is love?

‘I love you’ – Such a short phrase but one packed with so much meaning. What does it mean? Who is it addressed to? Who is it from?

‘I love you’ – For human beings that phrase can be the turning point from a relationship to the relationship. ‘Love’ is such a powerful word, one used well and one abused.

‘Love’ can mean despite my interests I want the very best for you – unconditionally, without limits and forever.

‘Love’ can also mean, whatever your best interests, I want to control you and possess you for myself – unconditionally, without limits and forever.

‘Love’ is such a powerful concept that we human beings can’t really be trusted with it. Not on our own. Being imperfect I know that I layer imperfect intentions into that perfect ‘Love’.

‘Love’, true love is at the heart of all things. The central nature of all creation. ‘God is love, and those who live in love, live in God and God lives in them’ (1 John 4.16). I know this to be true but I also know that despite my best efforts my love is not so great. My love is finite and the more I experience God the more finite I realise my love to be. So much so that I no longer trust my capacity to love. I cannot trust my human ability to love, it is far too caught up with ifs and buts: ‘I will love you unconditionally, unless you… say this, do that, believe that!’ then all deals are off.

I find that my human love, no matter how passionate I can be, is more of a contract than anything else. No matter how hard I try, I keep putting limits on my love. I can love kittens but not cockroaches… motorbikes but not scooters… and so on.

To learn to love I need to turn to God. I have found that it is only in the presence of the Spirit that I truly learn what unconditional love really is. It is only in the presence of the Spirit that I really become able to love, where my ‘love’ becomes true ‘Love’, the sort of love that I read about in 1 Corinthians 13:

  • ‘Love’ that is patient and kind (I’m naturally so impatient and my kindness is limited).

  • ‘Love’ that is never jealous or boastful – It is only in Christ that I can even start to let go of jealousy. It is only in the Spirit’s power that I truly know that all is from God, and there is absolutely nothing for me to boast about.

  • ‘Love’ that is not proud or rude – Pride creeps in so subtly that I need the bright light of the Spirit to search it out and wither it away. Rudeness, well rudeness comes out of not valuing people and it is only in the Spirit that I can ever hope to see Christ in all people and value them as I should.

  • ‘Love’ that isn’t selfish or quick tempered. I’m OK with these until I’m tired or stressed, then I naturally turn into a little child and scream, “I want!” and “mine!” and lose my temper when I don’t get my own way. When I am tired and weak then it is only Christ that can save me from myself.

  • ‘Love’ that keeps no record of wrongs. It is only in the power of the Spirit that I can ever truly forgive and forget.

Then I turned back to the Bible again and found, ‘ There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear’ (1 John 4.18). I am afraid of so many things; of my own shadow sometimes. But when I wake up afraid I’ve found that if I ask the Spirit to pour divine love onto my fears, they crumble away. It is as though they were scary figures made of salt, and the water of the Spirit is washing them away.

It is this kind of love, this true love, that I so desperately need. It is this true love that this world so desperately needs. Without a truly selfless love, a truly giving love that keeps no record of wrongs, there can be no true forgiveness, no reconciliation, no peace and ultimately no hope. Without the true love that never fails then every effort is doomed to failure.

Without true Love I too am doomed to fear and failure, sadness and loss. With Love all is healed, transformed and beautiful.

I am… Who am I? Who am I really?..

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…

Daydreams of Warmer Days and Learning…

I’ve been looking at the snow and ice, then going into the garage and looking at the motorbike. I’d like to get out on two wheels but it would be cold, uncomfortable and often dangerous. I’m like a little boy who can’t go out to play. So, all I can do is sit, look, and dream of warmer days. Days when I can just point the bike in a direction and go. When I get the chance (and time) I love to just head of in a direction and take what ever roads I fancy. I’m not trying to get anywhere, I’m just enjoying the ride. I’m learning new routes between places and discovering new sights. Sometimes I find places worth stopping and exploring further. I have a great time and learn all sorts of new things.

That made me think about how I learn things. Daydreams are like that, they lead all over the place. Sometimes I learn things by simply sitting and watching, but mostly I learn from other people. Even when out on my bike I’m following routes others have made, using skills others have taught me.

Going back to my start in life, I learned about love, security and affection from my Mam when I was a tiny baby. I can’t remember but I will have learned to walk and talk from my Mam and Dad, and others close to me like my grandparents. I learned to read and write a little bit at home but mostly at school. I learned to play and fight and shout and climb and how to catch snails and dam streams and search rock pools and so many other things that made me a kid – mostly from other kids.

Looking back all through my life I have learned things from other people: Either directly from being with them or from books or recordings or films that they have made. I’ve needed to be involved in my learning but nearly all of it has come from someone else or at least is based on what I have learned from other human beings.

So what about my faith? Here again I have learned so much from other people. From friends at University who put up with my endless questions as I discovered the reality of God, from David Wills my vicar in Liverpool, from Nick McKinnell my chaplain and so many others. But when I really think about it I have learned about God from one particular person, Jesus. How could I really get anywhere trying to understand who God is without God becoming the man we call Jesus?

It completely blows my mind that the all powerful creator God could and would become a human being to save the human beings He had made from the mess they had got themselves into. I often think about the enormity of Jesus’ sacrifice for me on the cross. But it is just as amazing that God allowed himself to be born as a tiny helpless human baby; to grow up in this world like any of us.

So through learning from Jesus I know that God fully understands all that I go through, good and bad. He had to be fully human for the cross I turn to so often to mean anything at all. He had to be a real man for the resurrection to be anything other than a parlour trick. The eternal God cannot die, but a human being can. If Jesus was just God pretending to be a human being then rising from an apparent death is no big deal, it’s what you would expect of someone who is immortal. But if Jesus is fully human I can look at him and learn everything that I need about being a godly human being. Learning from Jesus I learn that I can die with confidence that I too will rise again when Jesus calls me.

I have learned so much from my fellow human beings, and if I include Jesus, I have even begun to learn who God is!

Being a parent and converted are alike in so many ways!

After we got married Viv and I were keen to have children. We spent time with friends who had children. We saw what they had and we wanted it too. We were a bit selective perhaps in what we really saw. Things like nappies and sleepless nights weren’t given the prominence they deserve, for example. We were excited at the thought of bringing new life into the world – Sure that we would be wonderful parents. Then Elinor came: We were converted from being a couple into being parents. Our world changed for ever.

With another life at the heart of our family so much changed. Our social life didn’t vanish but it was certainly different. Either it involved taking a baby with us or finding a baby sitter. Sleep became a luxury. We could no longer just plan for ourselves, now there was always another life to love and protect.

Conversion is like that too, it changes everything, for ever. Looking at the conversion of St. Paul (Acts 9.1-22), those events on the road to Damascus completely changed the course of Paul’s life. Before Damascus Paul was out to arrest and even kill Christians where ever he could find them. His hands were already bloody from the death of Stephen in Jerusalem. Then he had a dramatic meeting with Jesus, and Jesus’ followers. From then on all the energy that had gone into persecuting Christians went into supporting them. He now championed Christianity with the same passion that he had shown in trying to wipe out the Church.

So the direction of Paul’s life had utterly changed. But Paul had not. Paul the person had not changed. Paul was still an ‘all or nothing’ person. Paul was still utterly passionate in his devotion to God. Paul still paid the bills by working as a tent maker. Paul was still a well educated Jew who knew how to explore the Old Testament to find its meaning. Paul was still a gifted theologian.

Looking back to Elinor’s birth, that was the same for me and Viv. Our whole world had changed but we hadn’t. It was only afterwards, as we learned how to be parents that we grew and changed. We learned new things about ourselves; our strengths and weaknesses. We learned new ways of loving but also new fears and burdens. That birth had changed our life’s path so much but the change only came later. Indeed, we are still learning how to be parents, even now over 20 years later.

When I think of Christian conversion, I always think of the difference that that conversion brings but so often I forget what doesn’t change. Looking back to my own conversion at the age of 18, the whole direction of my life changed very quickly. But I remained the same person. This I think is central to understanding how God works with me, and with everyone. God in Christ calls everyone to come to him as they are. Which is just as well because I know that I couldn’t have done anything else. When I came to know Jesus, he accepted me; good and bad, strengths and faults. The Spirit opened my eyes to see how he had been working in me my whole life. The Spirit opened my eyes to a whole new world where all things are ensouled by God. A world where good is Good and bad is Evil; an added dimension to everything.

I came to God just as I was, frankly a mess and found absolute acceptance and love. I fell in love, and then the change began. I started out just the same and slowly my relationship with God changed me – a bit like the way my relationship with my daughter has changed me but on a whole other level. God has been true to his promises and the Spirit has not stopped working in me to make me more like Jesus. He is working on me every moment of every day to make me more loving;

  • with the Love that God used to create this world;
  • the Love that sent Jesus into this world so that idiots like me might recognise something Godly in another human being;
  • Love that led Jesus to the cross; and
  • Love that is stronger even than death.

I know I’m still an idiot who fails to see so much and is so slow to learn – just ask my daughter! Thankfully, my daughter just rolls her eyes when I’m stupid; and God, well God just keeps on loving me with a love that is infinitely greater than my failings – Maybe he rolls his eyes too!

‘Come and See’ – The rest is up to God

Life can change so much but if you’re like me it can be so hard to spot the new turnings that appear, at least it’s so hard to spot them in time to take them. Sometimes it’s such an unlikely turning that I wouldn’t normally even give it a second look. The trick I’ve learned is not to look – to feel: To feel my way forward, asking not, “Does this look right?” but “Does this feel right?”

That took me back to crossing streams in the North York Moors as a boy. The streams are fast and cold, and can be dangerous at times if you lose your footing. The trick is not to look to closely but to test the depth with a stick, and each step carefully with your foot before putting your weight on the next stone. Those streams are so clear that your sight deceives you. I remember seeing this lovely little stream, shallow and calm. I took off my boots and socks and stepped in. The next thing I knew I was under water and travelling down stream at quite a speed. The water was so clear that a six foot depth looked less than a foot. Neither was there anything floating by to show me how fast it was flowing! I spluttered, came to the surface and managed to get to the bank. I never trusted just my eyes and common sense again! I learned to test things and to ask, “does this feel right?” before plunging in.

With all of this in mind I turned to the story of Philip introducing Nathanael to Jesus (John 1.43-51). Once Nathanael hears that this possible Messiah comes from Nazareth he rejects him instantly, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” But his friend Philip persuades Nathanael to have another look – he persuades Nathanael to go to Jesus and find out whether he ‘feels’ right. Nathanael meets Jesus and the rest is history.

That made me think about how I am as a Christian and how I share the wonder of Jesus with others. Religion has such a bad reputation these days. Religion for so many people in this country means the Paedophile Priest, the Terrorist Bomber or Gunman, the Crazy Person shouting at the street corner – or religion means – boring, restrictive, life limiting, life denying or just plain sad and deluded.

There are few really positive images of religion or people of faith that seem to make it into the minds of those outside.

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

“Can anything good come out of Religion?”

“Can anything good come out of Faith?”

I know that the answer to all of these is “Yes”, “Yes”, and “YES”! But how to help anyone else to discover this for themselves?

Like most Christians I get so hung up about this. How can I share faith in a way that others can except? How can I share faith in a way that offers people the freedom to explore the wonders that I am exploring? So much advice seems so contrived, so dishonest. Non-Christians are too often treated as prey for the Evangelist – new scalps to fix to the preacher’s Bible!

I’m sure that God doesn’t see anyone like that. All that I read in the Bible, and all that I have experienced of God, convince me that everyone is welcomed as a lost child is welcomed home, with love and acceptance; as well as with patience. I am so glad that God is patient with me as I settle in to my real home with him.

I find so little that I read about evangelism helpful, so in desperation I turned to the Bible (why do I never learn to do that first!) – So I turned to the Bible to that passage about Nathanael and Philip and I read what Nathanael did to encourage Philip that Jesus was worth a second look; I read, “Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ “

‘Come and see’! Can it really be as simple as that? But why not? God loves me so much that he guides me by his Spirit and leads me to Jesus. So if God loves every person at least as much as he loves me, then he will guide them to Jesus too, in the way that is right for them. He will guide me too to say the right things or to keep my mouth shut. All I need to do is stop and listen to the Spirit speaking within me, step up and say, ‘Come and see’.

The rest is up to God – I’m so relieved about that!

Perhaps God’s crazy is greater than human wisdom?

2000 years ago God revealed his Son to the world with the help of 3 strange foreigners.  At the time most of God’s people missed the point and one, Herod, tried to kill Jesus. Thankfully for me and the rest of us it didn’t end there. God kept revealing who Jesus was, through prophecy, through Jesus’ words, through the miracles and finally through Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. But, as a species, we humans are a bit slow. Still, even after Jesus rose from the dead, most people didn’t believe.

That was 2000 years ago, but people don’t seem to have got any smarter. We are no smarter but equally God hasn’t given up. God continues to reveal Jesus to us. God can reveal Jesus to us through absolutely anything or anyone. But mostly he seems to choose Jesus’ followers to reveal Jesus in the world today. Given how messed up some Christians can be that seems a completely crazy plan – but its God’s plan so perhaps it might work.

Perhaps I need to start showing Jesus in the world now? Perhaps if I take that seriously, letting the Spirit in, then maybe it could work. Maybe if I trust God, God’s Spirit can shine out of my actions and words and show Jesus to people today. What an amazing thought, now its in God’s strength not just mine, so perhaps it has a chance! Perhaps God’s crazy is greater than human wisdom?

There are millions of Christians everywhere in the world. Maybe if we all let God’s Spirit work in us and through us, Jesus will be revealed clearly to all? It could just work! I may be being childish and naïve but I hope its childlike trust. So, I can’t speak for anyone else but I for one am going to give it a try. I am going to trust God like the Wise Men trusted God and set out in faith. The rest… well that’s up to God.

Christmas – The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing but the Truth

I can remember being out camping when I was a Scout. We had some bacon that we were saving for the next morning. We’d kept it cool in the store tent, in a sealed box – we were really looking forward to bacon butties for breakfast before packing up. Well the next morning I got up bright and early, got the fire going, found the pan and the butter, then went to the store tent to get the bacon… and there was a woolly bottom sticking out. There was a sheep in the store tent. I shouted – it panicked and took off almost taking the tent with it. I looked in expecting to find the bread gone but the bread was OK, the few carrots we had left were untouched, but some how the sheep had opened the sealed plastic box, and had taken the bacon, wrapping and all! Did you know that sheep like bacon – that they will do anything to get it? Well I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it for myself. I can never look at those innocent looking woolly beasts without seeing a bacon thief in sheep’s clothing.

I’ve found that expectations can go badly wrong. Like my lovely fantasy of a bacon breakfast. That bacon story led me to look for more food horror stories. The internet can be a strange place. There are so many weird and wonderful things out here. I came across a few really disturbing food stories; gross stories. What was worse, they were stories with pictures. One was of a tin of Sainsbury’s baked beans with a mouse in. Another of a loaf of bread, again with mouse.

All of these stories are gross, but really not that bad. Not compared to the story that turns the Christmas story sour. We’ve had the wonderful story of Mary and Joseph and the little baby in the manger. I’ve seen lots of school productions with wise men bringing lovely gifts; they’re warned in a dream not to return to Herod so they trick him and leave by another way. That’s were the school nativity story ends. With Mary and Joseph, a young Jesus and lovely gifts – Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. Gold for a king, and Frankincense for a god. All good so far, then Myrrh for death and we don’t have to wait long for that!

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. (Matthew 2.16)

It’s like a thriller – everything was going too well so something bad was sure to happen and it did. What a terrible thought, all those babies and little children under 3 – grabbed from their mothers and murdered by Herod’s soldiers. I just can’t even imagine the horror of it all. I have visited parents who have lost a baby or young child and it is utterly heart rending. They were ‘normal’ deaths but to have had lovely healthy little boys dragged out into the street and killed before your eyes – the pain and despair must have been so much worse – unimaginably worse.

Our lovely story has turned sour and I can’t help asking why? Why did those innocent children have to pay for this? It was God’s fault. Why didn’t he stop it? Then I calm down… just a little. I calm down enough to realise that it is this event and the struggle to get to Bethlehem before it that make this story real, not a fairy story. This is the real world and Jesus was born in this real world, for this real world: A world of joy and sadness.

 

Some people ask why God didn’t stop it. It is one piece of evidence used against the belief that there is a loving, caring God. But God was not responsible for the deaths of those little children, Herod and his soldiers were. It was Herod’s actions and the atrocity that followed that underline why God, a loving God, had to go to the extraordinary lengths that he did – he had to send His only son into this world of atrocities, to be part of it all, to die because of it all, then rise to defeat all evil.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like this ending to the Nativity story. I so want a happy ending – So much so that I play along with it all – I, like everyone else around, me mostly end the story with the wise men going home, good winning and Herod being tricked.

I like happy endings but when it comes to the very foundation of my life, my belief, my hope; not just for myself, but also for everyone I care about; then I can’t afford fairy stories – I need the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I need the truth even if it makes me weep.

There is a happy ending but it comes much later and there is a lot of joy and sorrow still to come between here and there – many, many twists and turns in the story yet to come. I’m going to move on soon and start to enjoy the Christmas celebrations again. But for a little while I will allow myself to taste a little salt before returning to the sweetness of Christmas joy…

The Cast for Christmas Reassembles for Easter (Steve Turner)

Take the wise men to the Emperor’s palace.
Wash their hands in water.
Get them to say something about truth.
Does anyone know any good Jewish jokes?
The one about a carpenter
who thought he was a King?
The one about the Saviour
who couldn’t save himself?
The shepherds should stand with the chorus.
They have a big production number -
‘Barabbas, We Love You Baby’.
Mary? She can move to the front.
We have a special section reserved
for family and close friends.
Tell her that we had to cut the manger up.
We needed the wood for something else.
The star I’m afraid I can’t use.
There are no stars in this show.
The sky turns black with sorrow.
The earth shakes with terror.
Hold on to the frankincense.
We’ll need that for the garden scene.
Angels? He could do with some angels.
Avenging angels.
Merciful angels.
He could really do with some angels.
Baby Jesus.
Step this way please.
My! How you’ve grown!

Christmas has just got started – where have all the decorations gone?!

It’s so sad to see so many people packing up their Christmas things when Christmas has just got started! People put up with all the stress and worry of getting ready for Christmas but never seem to let themselves really enjoy it. They blow it all on one day and end with indigestion and a sore head and little more. Christmas is the time after all of the stupidity of the run up. The Advent preparation is over and there can now be a little extra spring in my step – working or not, I can still celebrate Christmas: the hope, the colour, the joy; as well as good food and drink. There are the full 12 days of Christmas joy, then there’s Epiphany (when the Wise Men join the story). So if I’m clever I can keep on celebrating all the way to Candlemas on 2nd February.

It’s sad when people miss out on the party!

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