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2020 Bible Reflections

May 1st 2020: Psalm 149

Psalm 149

Praise the Lord!

Sing to the Lord a new song.
    Sing his praises in the assembly of the faithful.

O Israel, rejoice in your Maker.
    O people of Jerusalem, exult in your King.
Praise his name with dancing,
    accompanied by tambourine and harp.
For the Lord delights in his people;
    he crowns the humble with victory.
Let the faithful rejoice that he honors them.
    Let them sing for joy as they lie on their beds.

Let the praises of God be in their mouths,
    and a sharp sword in their hands—
to execute vengeance on the nations
    and punishment on the peoples,
to bind their kings with shackles
    and their leaders with iron chains,
to execute the judgment written against them.
    This is the glorious privilege of his faithful ones.

Praise the Lord!

There’s no denying it: some Psalms are troubling. The first half of this is great. Just the kind of thing you want to sing in the words of a song at Church on Sunday. From the second half of verse 6? Well, yes, quite so.

I never really know how to make any kind of definitive statement about pieces of Scripture like this. The people of God had been taught and shown through the stories of their history that it was their role to be the judges of those who opposed God, or them. This isn’t very palatable in our day – I wonder if it was then, to be honest – and any group setting themselves up as being justified in behaving in executing judgement against anyone else rightly is quickly to desist.

But there is a key point at stake here. In the new relationship between God and people that is possible because of all that Jesus did and who he was, we are reminded that God is a judge, that he judged humanity, found that it fell short and that justice needed to be satisfied in a different way. And so, Jesus and all that he did and all that he was. Judgement doesn’t go away just because we are no longer living in Old Testament times. What I think is offered to us now in the days that we live in is the opportunity to be clear and certain that we have hope, that we are forgiven and free and to invite anyone else who needs or wants to be forgiven and free to trust in God’s offer of salvation.

Because that is what the first two thirds of this is about. It’s about God’s goodness, which is so very good that all we can do rejoice and dance around thanking him for his kindness and mercy. It’s about realising that God crowns the humble (or, in other translations, the poor) with victory. It’s a sign that what might look or feel like victory in this life often isn’t, but that what looks like weakness, putting our hope and our trust in a God who might be largely unseen but who is most certainly not unknown or unknowable, for safety and salvation will ultimately lead to the kind of peace and the kind of life that this world that we live in simply cannot offer on its own. So in one set of key ways, we are to be judgemental. We’re to be judgemental about choosing love, choosing hope, choosing to pray for those who call us their enemy, choosing to speak good news in love and not to back down, choosing to trust in God for salvation, and choosing to be ok with the now and not-yet of receiving love from God now but realising that we won’t receive a final reward until later. ‘Well done good and faithful servant’ has to wait until we have proved to be good, and faithful. Keep going, my friends.

Something To Do

Check: if you are judging about something, is it because of a kingdom-related reason? Does judging this thing help you to love God, other people and yourself more?

Something To Pray

God, help me to judge rightly the way that you want me to live, the person you want me to be and please give me what I need to be just that kind of person today.

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April 2016

April 4th 2016: Romans 5:12-21

With apologies to those who have been waiting, and probably given up, for these posts to return after a two-week break. I decided to pare down what I worked on in the week before Easter, and have then been on holiday this past week. Normal service will now, I hope, be resumed.

You can follow today’s reading by clicking on this sentence.

 ‘Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.’

Do we believe what Paul says about the saving work of Jesus Christ (his death and resurrection) here? People have spent whole lifetimes trying to work out the salvific value of the cross, to whom it applies and what must be done in order to benefit from its consequence (or, to be crude, to be saved). Who’s in? Who’s out? What do we do to get ‘in’?

There are things that Christians are expected to do. We are to love others at least as much, if not more, than we love ourselves. We are to love the poor. We are to partner with God in building his new way of life here, because has given us that privilege. We are, primarily, to love God with everything we have, worshipping him, but not just with Rend Collective songs, or Charles Wesley hymns, with who we are and how we live. We’re to prioritise service, with everything we have, including our money. We’re to pray for those in authority, speaking the truth in love to power.

But none of that, in and of itself, gives life to anyone. Jesus Christ gives life and justification, purpose and all that goes with it, to everyone. Not just some people, his one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all, Paul says. All. Not just some. There’s no contraction or contingency here based on us behaving rightly in order to receive the undeserved consequences of the act of righteousness. We don’t even have to say a special prayer at a particularly emotive moment in our lives. Jesus has brought justification and life to all.

If this is true, and I can see already the sharpening of keyboards everywhere quoting various scriptures that might argue against it, doesn’t this have a monumental impact on everything? Perhaps Paul misunderstood salvation. Well, wouldn’t that be interesting. Some of us would struggle with that even being possible. Perhaps he’s journeying with his thinking on the issue. Perhaps what he really meant isn’t what has been communicated to us by the translation here. I wonder what Jesus would have to say about what he is asserting here.

But what about this: what if the greatest lie the devil uses in this age to confuse and concern people, aside from the one about not existing at all, is that Jesus did not know what he meant when he said ‘it is finished’ on the Cross? Wouldn’t that be a neat and powerful trick? See, I believe Jesus did know what he meant. Exactly what he meant. He meant that we have life and justification. Not so that we could build edifices, power structures, empires, whole industries, around his name and following him. We have life and justification so we can share it with everyone, those who know the life Jesus has won for them and those who do not.

A time is coming when evil’s complete annihilation and the total, final victory of love will become plain to all. This is the promise of the Cross and the wonder of the grace and mercy of God. So, lots of fine and fancy words, but what difference will they make to how we live today?

 

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February 2016

February 27th 2016: Hebrews 4:1-13

You can follow today’s reading by clicking on this sentence.

I’ve often wondered about what kind of mood the writer of Hebrews was in when this letter was written. There’s just a sense to it of negativity and worry that I don’t perceive in a lot of the rest of the New Testament. Everything is cautious, tempered, careful. And so I wonder, how does how we are feeling about things change how we talk about God? ‘Salvation’  looks very different when things are going well, I suggest, compared to  what it looks like when everything we are is threatened, even though ‘being saved’ and what that entails actually remains the same. We have an unchanging God, but our perspectives, our language, our experiences, these must change. For them to stay the same is, potentially at least, to deny that the ‘living and active’ element of his word, and his Word, Jesus. We can’t be made new, transformed by each encounter with the Spirit, and yet simultaneously remain the same. This is not feasible. Similarly, it seems to me that one of the main points of a life of faith is to be open to the Spirit’s prodding to the broadening of horizons and thoughts, so that we able to see and acknowledge more of God, his glory, and share it with those around us.

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Disability

Can You Be Disabled and Be a Man? (Sorted Article)

Can you be disabled and be a man?

 

It’s the kind of question that probably brings out an immediate “yes” from you, dear reader. Perhaps even a “why are you even asking that question?” Perhaps you’re reading to see if I’m about to be incredibly crass, even offensive. Perhaps you’re about to turn the page (no, wait, come back, it’ll get good in a sec). While the immediate answer to the question might be straightforward, sadly, as we’ll see here, some of us actually live, and think, like the answer is a lot more complicated.

 

17% of the population of the UK, according to the 2011 census, had a disability (as disability is defined by the government). 16% of the population of the UK, according to the same census, were under the age of 15. Stop and think about that for a moment. There are more people in this country who are disabled than there are children. Judging by the amount of children there seem to be in the country that means there must be a lot of disabled people around somewhere.

 

According to a recent survey from SCOPE, 43% of people said they didn’t know any disabled people (seriously, how is that possible?), whilst two-thirds of those surveyed said that they felt uncomfortable talking to a disabled person. As a disabled person myself, I can vouch for at least one of us (me) being a little odd, but seriously, what is that about?

 

As a Church of England minister (with attendant white plastic dog collar), a wheelchair user, a man with an increasingly impressive (and manly, so my wife says) beard and a penchant for wearing purple trousers, I have a fair number of experiences of people staring at me in the street. I, of course, prefer to think that they stare at my because of my film star good looks and suave, debonair charm, but I fear it might be something else. Thinking about it, perhaps it’s no wonder that 66% of people might be uncomfortable talking to me. I remember one particular occasion when a young gentleman stared at me again and again as he walked away from me up the high street, incredulous at the wonder of my beard (I assume) until he walked in to a lamppost. I may have chortled. I remember another in WHSmith (that bastion of propriety) where I was calmly going about my business and a guy came up to me and said, apropos of nothing “I f*****g hate disabled people” before getting in the lift and disappearing. I was a bit baffled by that one, but at least he made his point succinctly, and he thought I was a person.

 

As entertaining as these experiences, and others like them can be, though, I have a growing sense that fear, and a sense that I am somehow “less-than” as a disabled person, are coming, or returning, into play in our society. In most times in history, the clearest way of seeing how a society is doing is to look at how much compassion it shows, in general and to those considered to be its weakest members in particular. I don’t personally think, necessarily that impairment = weakness. Far from it. It’s pretty clear to me that in the way God created the world, at the very least the possibility of impairment was present. Nowhere are we told that people’s bodies and minds would not be different from one another. Nowhere are we told that we would all go through life like some cross between Jesus, Arnold Schwarzanegger and George Clooney, the perfect specimens of humanity in every conceivable way. Christians have no problem, it seems to me, holding up Jesus as the ultimate example of what it is to be a man, but he was nothing special to look at (the Bible, Jesus’s best PR, tells us so itself), was quite prone to losing his temper, said the wrong thing all the time, and most of all, achieved his greatest success and victory by becoming impaired to the fullest extent possible, before defeating death in the resurrection, but maintaining his scars. Jesus’s “blemishes” were part of who he was as he showed that he was who He Was.

 

So, we have a problem. As a bloke, I feel like I’m constantly being told that I have to prove that I’m worth it. Whether that’s through “contributing to society”, through how much money I earn and how nice my house is, whether I’m a net drain on the state because I take too much money in benefits as opposed to the amount of tax I pay, whether it’s the money paid on drugs and medical treatment to keep me going from one day to the next could perhaps be better spent on someone closer to the Clooney Utopian Model of Man, my sense of self is constantly under pressure. You might think I’m being silly, or facetious, but look at the questions asked about benefits and welfare in Britain (and other parts of the world at the moment). They all, in the end, come down to what we think a human life is worth. There’s a danger that we’re moving the goalposts, so that less people who are actually men, can be considered such. As soon as we stop viewing each other as equals, beloved of a Creator (a foundational aspect of creation) and view each other in terms of a hierarchy, we are in trouble. And the thing is, as a man, I feel that’s one of the things I’m constantly challenged to do. I’m to measure myself, and my success, against others. It’s competition that I’m engaged in, survival of the fittest. If I’m not seeking more money, promotion, more security, more happiness, more recognition, then somehow I’m not doing life properly. I’m letting myself down, and I should get out of the way and let someone who really has the hang of this capitalism thing achieve all the success they deserve, because they work bloody hard.

 

We have a tendency, I believe, to socially disable others in our society. Social disablement is the constructing of society in such a way that others are excluded and unable to take part. This happens all over the place. Whether it be trying to get into buildings, onto the Tube without feeling like death from having my face in someone’s BO-filled armpit is just around the corner (alright, this happens to everyone), finding it harder to get work (it is demonstrably harder to gain employment as a disabled person), build relationships, form community, or whatever it is, we live in a society where we like to keep each other in our places, where the only way that we can be “socially mobile” is if we deserve it. Do you deserve to be upwardly mobile? Do I? Who gets to decide that?

 

This is all fine until things stop working. We slow down. Bits start to sag, fall off, fall out, or stop to stand to attention. What makes a real man then? Does what a man is change when you get older, when you gain more experience, when you become senile, when you’re round the corner from death? In our culture it’s easy to think it does. It’s easy for us who might be in the prime of life to value ourselves more highly than those whose function, or intelligence, or productivity is lower than ours, but what happens when we become one of those people who functions less well, is less productive, needs to be looked after more than we can look after others? By some people’s logic there’d come a time when none of us are valid humans any more and we should all be gently assisted off this mortal coil. It is actually a fear of mine, hidden away deep down somewhere, that this might happen to me someday.

 

If what a man is, is down to how much power or authority we have, how much autonomy we exercise over our lives, then all is lost. Jesus lost everything to save everyone. We have to learn how to have less, to be less powerful, how to need to be less in control, so that we can understand that impairment, loss and decay are important parts of life. 95% of us will spend some time in a wheelchair at some point in our lives. It’s alright, it’s quite good fun. Have you seen some of those Wheelchair Rugby players? And anyway, if you could sit down all day, why would you walk around? I’ve never understood that.

 

To me, what it is to be a man is to be who you are, when people are watching and when they’re not. It’s not about how strong or weak you are. It’s not about what you do on your best day, or even on your worst. It’s about the spark of the divine that is within each one of us, recognizing and responding to it as far as we are able, and learning contentment. Ideally we’d learn to live together, like and love ourselves, love others and, at a push, love God too. If we’re going to do that, then elevating ourselves over and above other people has no place in our lives, our communities or our societies. And even if we were going to view ourselves, or someone else, as better or worse, it certainly cannot be on the basis of physical, mental or emotional ability or lack of ability. To view ourselves and others like that is to step on to a slippery slope which allows us to dismiss or eradicate those we don’t deem necessary, as I said. This is a chilling thought.

 

I have a hope that things can be better than this. I have a hope that we will learn to accept ourselves and others and stop fearing each other so much that we think it’s ok to practice injustice on one another as we disable one another. After all, we actually all need each other. Impairment and disability might well be coming to all of us at some stage. Ultimately, though, my hope rests in the idea that the God who impaired Himself to the largest extent possible for us all, also achieved ultimate victory, so that our broken senses of self and perspectives on life, love, hope and freedom could be fixed and renewed. There will come a time when we will no longer disable each other, whether we are impaired or not. Maybe I’ll be able to walk in heaven. Maybe I’ll have a gold-plated wheelchair. Maybe it doesn’t matter in the slightest. What does matter is that I’ll be who I was always meant to be, in the place I was always destined to be. So will all of us.

 

So can you be a man and be disabled? Of course you can. Should men be disabled? No they should not. We should not live and behave in ways which disable each other. Do we really believe that every living person is of equal value? Are we going to live like that is true? If we do and we are, then we can make it one of our goals to accept that sometimes we will be weaker than we want to be. Sometimes we will have impairments that we don’t want to have, but we can also make a promise to ourselves and others to not devalue or disable someone on the basis of what they can or can’t do. Jesus doesn’t do it. Neither should we. Jesus lived a life of radical love, generosity and self-sacrifice. Let’s do the same and follow his example.

 

Thanks to Mat Ray at Livability for the statistics

 

 

 

 

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2014 Lectionary Ramblings Lectionary Ramblings

September 11th 2014: Acts 9:32-43

Read Acts 9:32-43 here

As the good news of Jesus Christ the miracle worker is spread far and wide, this passage today recounts several healings of Peter, the Rock on which Jesus said His Church would be built. The healing miracles show Peter in a good light as the one who follows Jesus’s lead as the head of the Church. They also clearly result in many people coming to belief, baptism and living faith, as the fledgling Church grows. We can get excited about the drama of people being healed. It is exciting. We can run the risk of seeking merely to emulate the faith of the early Church in seeing the dramatic. It can be intoxicating to see God at work.

More than both of these though, let’s ask God to use us in whatever way He chooses so that many people might be added to His family, in believing, being baptised and living in faith.

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2014 Lectionary Ramblings Lectionary Ramblings

August 24th 2014: Acts 5:12-16

Read Acts 5:12-16 here

It is undeniable what the message of this passage is – there were many signs and wonders done by the apostles, and all who came to them were healed (cured). If you’re bored of me wriggling around the healing and cure issue, you’ll be glad to know I’m not going to do that here – everyone got healed. Personally I don’t see why that makes us think that everyone will be healed or cured today, but that’s another issue.

What interests me today is the idea that people felt like the shadow of Peter would heal them. It’s similar to the sense of the woman with the persistent bleed who was desperate to touch the hem of the garment of Jesus, and yet, if anything, the sense of faith and trust in Peter’s power is somehow given even greater weight here. I wonder why that is, and why the people misunderstood what Jesus had done. Perhaps the apostles didn’t really know what they were doing themselves. After all, it’s not long since their friend and master had died, risen again, and then disappeared in a cloud, and here they were, finding favour in the sight of all the people and inspiring fear and faith in equal measure. My guess, and it is a guess, is that they had no idea at all what they were doing but they simply tried to be obedient to what they felt God was asking them to do. Perhaps, too, they enjoyed the sense of power and authority that had suddenly come to them in this time of fear.

Sometimes we can be so keen to understand everything, to have a workable theology, a systematic theology if you will, that we have to make sense of everything before we do anything. The problem with that is though that the Christian faith makes no “sense” at all, and yet the evidence of Christian history is that the claims of Christ to be the saviour that the world has longed for and needed desperately, are true.

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2014 Lectionary Ramblings Lectionary Ramblings

August 23rd 2014: Acts 3:1-10

Read Acts 3:1-10 here

It is easy to see this story as a simple healing, or curing, miracle. Some of us might even view it as Peter grandly and generously offering the “lame beggar” exactly what he needed – to be able to walk – but I don’t think this is the main point of this story. Seeing cure as the goal of mission and ministry is to sell God short. It is profane. The healing or curing miracles of the New Testament, and in the life of the Church today, true curing miracles, or ones which lead a person in to a relationship with the living God. Jesus cured people to glorify God and lead people to Him. God offers healing to all of us, the healing of salvation. This is the healing we all need, whether we have a body or mind that works as we would wish or dream it to, or not. Leading people in to life-giving and life-transforming relationships with God is the work of the gospel, and I believe it is the work that Peter did on this occasion.

As I’ve said here before, don’t be tempted to limit God and what He wants to do in and through you in your life and ministry in His name.