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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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March 2016

March 22nd 2016: Luke 22: 39-53

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

Have you ever prayed so earnestly that it was as if you were sweating blood? In our comfortable Western context, prayer can easily lack intensity. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a place where someone sweated like great drops of blood blood in anguished prayer. If they did, we’d probably try and calm them down, make them sit down so as not to distress other people. Jesus, as he does this, is entering the most intense moment, not just of his life, but arguably of all of human history. Still, it’s a detail that can sometimes get brushed over in our cultural of appropriateness.

Jesus finds his disciples sleeping ‘because of grief’ and demands that they pray ‘earnestly that you might not come into the time of trial’. If we do pray like this, it’s easy for us to slip into feeling selfish or to descend into self-absorption. Recently, the concept of the enemy ‘prowling like a lion that he might devour some’ has been much on my mind. As I write this in front of the backdrop of the unfolding event of the terror attacks in Brussels this morning, I find myself thinking again of how accepting I have become of ‘times of trial’, moments when evil rears its head and wreaks as much havoc as it possibly can, seeking not just to devour individuals, but whole communities, cultures and ideologies. Evil is part of our world, our lives, but it is never acceptable. We should do all we can to stand against it, recognising, especially this week of all weeks, that we have one who is for us and who went to the Cross to defeat evil. In our own lives, in our thoughts and actions, in our words, in our politics, in the choices we make with money, let us not be people who repay evil for evil. Let’s instead be people who pray earnestly for those who find themselves in a time of trial, that the merciful love of God would enfold them. Let’s be people who, when faced with evil, repay it with good. Where there is hatred, let’s bring love. Easy in theory, but all so very hard in practice.

Let’s be people who hold true to the one we believe in and love, the Prince of Peace.

 

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March 2016

March 9th 2016: Hebrews 10:1-18

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

‘I will remember their sins and lawless deeds no more’

Today’s is one of the most amazing passages in the whole of Scripture (in my opinion). Jesus gave a single offering for all sin, which was sufficient to satisfy the demands of justice. The law of love wins! All the offering and sacrificing we can do will not ever lead us to freedom, Jesus’s gift to us is the only thing that can do that.

And not only that, as the quote at the top of this post says, God promises that he will put sins and lawless deeds out of his mind. He will not remember them. This seems entirely contrary. I keep a record of my own wrongs, even though I shouldn’t. More than this, I am bad at keeping a record of the wrongs of others. Am I loving them? When we find ourselves living in times when injustice is meted out to the poor on an institutional scale and every reading of a news article’s ‘under the line’ comments section indicates a national hardening of heart towards those who are in need, there is a rising within me of a desire for justice (which I think is good) as well as a desire for the restoration for balance (still good, I think) and finally a desire for some kind of redress (this is where it gets bad, I think). We are to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God. If, at any point I find myself claiming that I am less in need of the grace and mercy of God than those who vote for or implement unjust laws, those whose opinions I disagree with, however strongly, claiming that those things are more sinful and in need of mercy than I am, then I deceive myself.

We live in times when it is all too easy to be fearful. Just look at the political leadership situations in most of the most powerful nations of the world. But God is my light and my salvation, whom then shall I fear? We have a God who could remember our sins and lawless deeds, who could count them against us, who could do anything he likes at any moment. He chooses grace and mercy. Let’s do the same today.

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March 2016

March 4th 2016: Hebrews 7:11-28

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

‘…accordingly Jesus has also become the guarantee of a better covenant’.

The Christian life can be so hard, a series of tests and challenges, one after another. We can, if we’re not careful, spend a very large portion of our faith-lives seeking to ensure that the deposit God made in us with the gift of the Holy Spirit comes to fruition. If we just do this, do that, say this, say that, all will be well.

But then we fail and fall, we think the wrong things, say the wrong things, do the wrong things. Again, and again, and again and blasted again, and we know that the deposit is being wasted. Or worse, we essay along in blissful ignorance of what we’re doing, its consequences and the impact we are having on ourselves and others. We’ve all been there at times, I would wager.

Jesus, because of his obedience to God and the call that was placed on his life, has GUARANTEED a better covenant, a better relational contract, between God and his people. It isn’t a might or a maybe. It is a done deal. It is God’s promise, as our eternal pursuer that this new relational status, won for us by Jesus, will be honoured. We can live forgiven and free, spending our whole lives working out what that actually means, every time we come to a conclusion realising there is more forgiveness and more freedom to be had, all because of Jesus. I can’t do it alone, earn it alone, or satisfy the right demands of it all alone. Jesus has done it all. All glory to him.

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March 2016

March 3rd 2016: Hebrews 7:1-10

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

A King of Peace and a King of Righteousness. Sound familiar? Melchizedek is a ‘type’, or a forerunner of Jesus, just as earlier in Hebrews (6:20) we are told that Jesus is our forerunner, entering in on our behalf. The writer of Hebrews is at pains to show us that Jesus follows after Melchizedek, is the only one to surpass his righteousness, and is therefore worthy of all the glory, honour and praise that is and should be given to him.

As we are in Christ, it is possible that we, too, can be people of peace and righteousness. Melchizedek was a ‘type’ for Jesus, In turn Jesus accomplished all that he did for us and showed us the way, the pattern for the life of faith. So we are to seek to honour God, love one another in the way that we love ourselves and take seriously our roles as forerunners pointing the way to Jesus and his life and love.

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February 2016

February 20th 2016: Galatians 6

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

‘If anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a sprit of gentleness’

This verse hits me between the eyes. I like justice. I like things done the right way, in an ordered fashion. When I don’t do things in the right way, in an ordered fashion (as has happened for most of my aware and responsible life it seems to me) I enjoy telling myself off at great length, denying all the things God wants to give me to myself and generally being miserable. For some reason I think it suits me and I deserve it.

As a Church leader, I struggle to balance the liking I have for things being done what I consider to be the right way, with being gracious, merciful and, like Jesus, abounding in steadfast love. When we’re wronged, or when our Church, our poor, our weak, our nation, are wronged, there’s a temptation to do anything but ‘restore such a one [wrongdoer] in a spirit of gentleness. We want redress. Sometimes wanting redress spills over into wanting revenge, but ‘vengeance is mine, says the Lord’ is an extremely useful touchstone to remember to hold on to.

Paul’s talking about the process of restoring a transgressor in to a Church family or fellowship here, but I think it is safe to apply the principle to other areas of our lives and work. Throughout society, there is so much corruption, so much injustice, as pockets are lined, cronies are helped and capitalism works in favour of the winners, the corporations and those in positions of authority. We can and we must, in line with Scripture, protest prophetically about this. A society is, I think, partly at least judged on how it supports its weakest or poorest members. We are not all supposed to be rich or to ‘succeed’ but there is enough for all of us. That not all of us have enough is a scandal for which history should judge us.

There are particular people, institutions and ideologies that are responsible for the inequalities in our society at present. That it seems like they don’t seek to equalise things, but instead seek to further inequality (not in word, but in deed) is, again, a scandal. So what are we to do? My temptation is to stridently stand against things, to cry out against injustie, to seek an uprising even. Perhaps at some moments those are the right responses. All the same, I’m tempered with this one verse today. These people, these institutions, these ideologies even, that make me so angry are also in need of mercy, grace, generosity, love. To show those things, at the same time as seeking justice for all, is what a Christian truly should consider their calling.

And so, through it all, I am undone and find myself once again in need of the mercy which can only be found at the foot of the cross.

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February 2016

February 15th 2016: Galatians 3:23-4:7

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

As I read this passage today and therefore write these few brief thoughts, I have to confess, the idea of the Spirit crying ‘Abba, Father!’ from my heart to God feels a bit unlikely. But isn’t that the point and one of the most beautiful aspects of what Paul is saying here? If we base the success of our lives of faith (or our lives in general) on how feel, how our thoughts have developed or progressed over a period time, the perspective we now view them from, we run the risk of finding ourselves in a constant state of confusion and flux. I’ll be the first to admit that there’s very little about which I am certain at the present time. However, the concept that the Spirit dwells in the hearts of the baptised and acknowledges God, whatever the weather, whatever my feelings or sense of failings might be, if that were true, it would be revolutionary. At a stroke, faith ceases again to be about effort, success or failure, finding the right, pious or reverent way of doing things and instead becomes a task of acceptance: acceptance of mercy, grace, forgiveness, opportunity, possibility and hope. My sense of who I am may change with how I feel, but the actuality of who I am, in light of what God has done and who Jesus is, that does not change. God has done it. He has placed his self in me. Christ in me the hope of glory. My hope is not me. It is so much more and so much greater than that. What a relief!

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February 2016

February 9th 2016: Galatians 2:1-10

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

As I read this passage first, it seemed complicated and convoluted. Paul, continuing to tell the story of his journey in faith and, as seems common with him, working hard to justify the vaunted position that he claims for himself as an apostle. If we were doing an in-depth, line by line study of this passage, I’m certain that there would be much for us to chew over about the claims Paul makes, what God has done for him, in him and through him, and the fruit that bore for the Church then, and continues to today.

But then I read it again, and my heart soared. I actually found myself rejoicing. Here is Paul, a pillar of the faith, discussing Peter, the rock on whom Jesus said he would build his Church, and other early followers of Jesus, and what are they ultimately doing? They’re trying to work out what it means to follow Jesus, to be the Church, where they find themselves. They were in at the beginning of the Church, before structures and traditions had taken hold, and they didn’t know what to do. However much we look to them as people who set the tone for the life of faith and were examples to follow, and they were, these were not faultless perfect people who never made mistakes, said the wrong thing at the wrong moment, or dishonoured God. These were broken, honest, real people, called by God to follow him, lead his people and give their lives for his good news, just as he asks us today. As we try and work out what it means to follow Jesus, be comforted that none of us has ever done it perfectly before, but we are still beloved, called, equipped and sent, just as Paul was.

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A Song A Month

A Song A Month – January – Kingdom

The first song i my A Song A Month Project for 2016 is Kingdom. I wanted to start the year with an uptempo, joyful song. These don’t always come naturally to me! It’s about the Kingdom of God, based around a Taize chant, whose words are

The kingdom of God is justice and peace
And joy in the holy spirit
Come Lord and open in us
The gates of your kingdom

I’ve always found this chant quite affecting, as to me it boils down the essence of what some of the key elements of being a Christian are, to act justly, seek and love mercy and to live joyfully wherever possible.

Of course, the biggest thing about the Kingdom is that it is God’s not ours, but we are part of it, and he is building it with us. It’s here and now. As we sing praise, as we live seeking to follow the Way, we’re showing that there is a better way, a hope for now and a hope for the future. I’ve heard it said that the local church is the hope of the nation. I hope that singing this song might encourage some of us to lives of justice, peace and joy in the holy spirit as we show that hope to others.

Big thanks to Pete Thorn for playing percussion in the video and for his help with putting the video together.

Without further ado, watch the video below.

If you’re interested and would like to donwload the lyrics and chords to the song, you can do by clicking here

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Disability

#fullaccesschurch – An Impossible Dream?

This past week, Disability and Jesus lead David Lucas declared a day of social media action with regard to disability and access to Church. It seems to have been an extremely fruitful and wide-reaching demonstration of unity and desire for change amongst those with an interest in disability and Church, along with a much-needed poke to people at all levels of Church life to think about whether the Church of which they are part is a provider or denier of access. Even General Synod got in on the act tweeting its support for the campaign. One can only hope this is followed by action. If you want to learn more about what was said, the stories that were told on the day, the conversations that sprung up, and some of the hopes that there are for what is to come, you can follow the hashtag for the day here. Much was achieved in a short space of time. Much more may be to come.

Naomi Jacobs has written an incisive and constructive response to the day here. I’d encourage you to read it.

Over the last few months, as I’ve spent my first prolonged period in full-time Christian ministry, one of the key areas that I’ve found myself struggling with is that of authority and control. As a Church of England (Assistant) Curate, there are some people that would defer to me in a lot of things. Thankfully not many of them are in my Church! Some people like to be under authority, they like to know where they are. They like boundaries, a sense of what is right and wrong, what or who is allowed in, and who should be kept out. Some people are, naturally, quite the opposite, straining against any boundaries that you might set as a leader, and indeed questioning what right any leader might have to set those boundaries in the first place. I’ve written before on the question of who, and what kind of person, do we want to be led by. Another way of putting it is, who do we want to submit to? Some of us want to say that we submit to God, but I myself find that a daily, or several times daily, decision that I have to make. Others are happy to submit to authority exercised by government (Jesus seems to have told us to do this, but what does it look like in our lives and in our society?)

We want to accept that God has us in the palm of his hand, that nothing can take us from his hand because we have been given to Jesus, as today’s lectionary gospel reading tells us. To do this, we work towards accepting that we are part of a new family, we have been adopted in to God’s family. We were adopted not because we chose to be, because we satisfied some criteria of suitability, but because God desired it to be so. We are his. All of creation is reconciled to God in and through Jesus. We have been brought together. It has happened. We are no longer strangers to the arms of God, as an excellent recent Vineyard song puts it. We might feel like it. You might not even think that God exists (well done for reading this far if that’s your point of view). We have, though, been included in God, and in his family. We are invited to lives of full participation. Full participation in what God is bringing about. For some reason best known to himself, he wants to partner with us in bringing hope, joy and peace to the poor, the widow and the orphan, the dispossessed, the unjustly treated, those who treat unjustly (or, to put it another way, everyone). This is the holy improvisation that we are invited to. None of us know how to do “Church” well, and what is Church anyway? All we’re called to do is love God with as much as we can, love ourselves, and love our neighbours. If we do this, if we believe in Jesus, the one he has sent, then we are doing what we’re supposed to. Jesus said so.

And so, and here’s the kicker, it troubles me when all we seek is inclusion. For inclusion and exclusion to exist and be exercised, there has to be someone making the decision to include or exclude. Someone, somewhere, has to have been given, or taken for themselves, the power to decide who is in and who is out, what is acceptable and what isn’t. A lot of our society is built on premises like this. I’m not sure that God designed it that way. Perhaps it was designed that way. There’s every chance I’m wrong and I’m speaking out of turn, but is it enough to give “power”, “control” and “authority” to the Church to include or exclude according to theology, economic “realities”, buildings or anything else, when the actual possibility of hope is not just to be included in something I was previously excluded from, but to participate in the way of life all of creation was originally designed for? There’s not a person alive, or an institution in existence which is able to reverse God’s declaration of life, hope, and a future over the creation he has reconciled to himself. I can preach up a storm, theologise (entirely speculatively I might add, just as I’m doing here) until I’m blue in the face. I can lock a certain group out of my building or my community life (literally or figuratively). I can validate this with all the proof-texting, systematic theology and apparent tradition and reason in the world, but that does nothing to diminish the power of what God has said and what God has done. All are welcome, all are welcome. All have a part to play. There’s not a Christian in the world who doesn’t have a ministry of some kind. There’s not a person that God does not want to be part of his family.

To simply ask the Church for inclusion ascribes the Church with too much power, I suppose is my point. What actually needs to happen, in my view, is that all of us who lead Churches at any level need to humble ourselves. The Church is God’s. It is not ours to maintain. He is growing it. He is extending its borders. It’s not ours to include or exclude. It’s ours to acknowledge that all are “included”. No-one is in the kingdom of God to passively watch the show as it unfolds though. We are making the show, with God as our director. He’s calling us to improvise our parts after the pattern of what we see him doing. To limit the scope of the Church to that of an ever-expanding club is to miss the point entirely. God is far ahead of us, preparing a place for all of us. Do we really want the Church to contain and belong to all of us? Or just some of us?

#fullaccesschurch already exists? Do we want it to or will we continue to think we have the power and the authority to pretend it doesn’t? Is it an impossible dream or a reality that we deny at our peril?