Monday, 24 January 2011

Sin and Consequences

I have been reflecting recently on sin, consequences and forgiveness.

As I have said before, I think that sin at its root is that we have not loved God with all that we are and failed to love one another properly. The consequence of this is that we are 'sin-sick' and 'disorientated' and therefore struggle to know our full potential as humans.

What I mean by 'sin-sick' is that because we have not loved God properly and focus our love, attention and worship on other things, we are becoming like the things we worship. Whatever these things are cannot ultimately bring life however and so death is what awaits us. So Jesus came to cure us, to bring us life, rid us of death and enable us to become the people that God desires us to become.

Jesus shows us what true humanity is in all its beauty.

What I mean by 'disorientated' is that we are not sure where God is and so go on various different journeys looking for God or 'gods' but never quite sure where God is.

As a result, us and all of creation, instead of us journeying towards God to one day reach the goal (the goal being in relationship with God and finding our true purpose in Jesus), we travel a different road, a different path, and lose our way. Jesus re-orientates us back to the right path heading in the right direction towards God, towards His love, grace and beauty.

The thing is, even when we are re-orientated back to God and begin to discover our true humanity in Jesus, the consequences of our sin may still be felt and known. When I come to God and ask for forgiveness and begin a new life with Him, He utterly and completely forgives me. But the consequences of my sin may be felt, possibly, for a life-time.

Take my teeth as a small and insignificant example.

I was a very heavy drinker as I have commented in my story. I drank a lot of vodka and smoked a lot of cigarettes and abused my body for a number of years. The result of this is that my teeth are now paying the price. I need to continue to have work done to them because the years of abuse as finally caught up.

Now I know that my past is dealt with, that I am forgiven, that I am a new person, but the consequences of my actions are still felt.

So we must be aware of our actions and the effect they may have.

Friday, 21 January 2011

The One Show

Tonight on BBC 1, my mum and Dad will be on The One Show talking about Mersea Oysters.

It will start at 7pm for those of you who can get BBC 1.

Tune in and have a look! You can glimpse Mersea and the oyster trade which I used to be involved in.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Homosexuality, B+B's and Freedom

So today a court has ruled in favour of a gay couple who were refused a room in a B+B that was owned by a Christian couple.

Martyn Hall and his civil partner Steven Preddy took Peter and Hazelmary Bull to court for 'direct discrimination' against them. They were awarded £1800 each in compensation.

Go here for Mrs Bull's response to the decision. She believes Christianity is being sidelined in the UK and, as a Christian, you are no longer an equal in society.

Go here for Mr Hall and Mr Preddy's response. They believe this decision does not undermine Christian belief, but that it simply means that when running a business you cannot impose your beliefs on others.

This is an interesting story.

A lot has been said throughout this case about human rights and equality. A gay couples right to stay in a B+B. A Christian couples right to exercise their beliefs. People are talking about their human rights.

But what are human rights and how far should we take this? What is religious freedom?

Stalin banished religion and killed millions searching for an atheistic 'perfection'.

The Crusades were a war against those who did not follow perceived 'Christian' belief.

So whose human rights do we follow? What 'freedom' do we perceive to be best?

Now there is a law for businesses in the UK and if you don't want to get in trouble you follow the law. Now if you don't agree with the law then you have the right and freedom to stand against the law and suffer the consequences. And thank God for people who have during history stood against the law of the land for the rights and freedom of others.

I think this case is different though.

A belief about sexuality and the ensuing court case does not threaten the freedom to be a follower of Jesus in the UK.

The issue of homosexuality is not an issue of the Gospel of Jesus and who he is.


Our response TO homosexuality does reflect to society who we think Jesus is.

And what this court case does is yet again polarise people into two groups, those who think homosexuality is ok and those who don't. And these two groups have Christians on both sides.

So some Christians will now complain that their religious freedom is being sidelined and some Christians will not.

And what we do get is a 'demonising' of groups on both sides where there is an enemy to be fought against. This is never a good thing.

Perhaps if we all sat back and thought about each other a little more and, rather than looking for a reason to condemn one another, but looked for a way to love each other, then maybe it would never come to what we have seen today on the news.

But then maybe I'm just a fanciful dreamer!

Monday, 17 January 2011

Pulling Teeth

I am having problems with my teeth. I've been to see a number of dentists over the last year or so and I must admit, having problems with my teeth does get me down a bit.

As I shared in My Story, I drank a lot of vodka and smoked a lot of cigarettes, and I imagine that the abuse my body suffered is now having its affect on my teeth. Thankfully I have had them seen to by a very good dentist, but one of them continues to be a problem. I have to go back again and get it looked at and hopefully it will get sorted out.

Why do I share this mundane info with you?

Well there seems to be a real difference in the way some dentists deal with you. I saw a variety of dentists on the NHS and all of them couldn't really care less about my teeth. The way they handled my and my teeth was often with little regard for how I was feeling or my genuine vulnerability that I feel when I am in the chair. It feels like I am just another patient with bad teeth that needs sorting out. It feels like because it is my fault that my teeth are bad then I shouldn't expect my sympathy or care. They've got a job to do, simple as that.

However, I recently saw a community dentist who normally deals with patients who have special needs and disabilities. The difference was incredible. Because she is always treating people who are vulnerable, her attitude to me was so different to other dentists. She was caring and concerned and keen to make me feel as relaxed as possible. She talked me through everything with great clarity and made sure I understood everything that was happening. I remember being seen by another community dentist some years ago, a guy who went to my church, and he was exactly the same. Regardless of how my teeth have come to be how they are, she wanted to remedy them and do the best she could for me.

An example of this was that I went to see my normal dentist a few months ago and they wanted to pull two of my teeth out saying that they were not able to do anything for them. Now these two teeth are quite near the front so I said I wanted a second opinion. I went in next week a another dentist said the same thing, but I was still unhappy with what they said. Now they didn't do an x-ray, so I knew that they couldn't be treating me right. So I spoke to a friend who worked for a community dentist and went to see her the following week. She took an x-ray and gathered another dentist to look at my pictures and together they concluded that fillings and root canal would be the best course of action for my teeth and that neither of them needed to be extracted. You see and extraction and a root canal are worth the same points in the NHS, but the extraction takes 5 minutes, the root canal, an hour. The first dentist didn't want to spend time on my teeth, the second one did.

Now I apologise if your are a dentist or dental nurse and I have generalised somewhat, but I can only share form my own personal experiences.

Made me think about church...

People get involved with the Christian faith from all kinds of backgrounds. Some come baring the wounds of some really rough times in their lives. Some of these wounds are self-afflicted, some are by circumstances, some from other people. But whatever these life wounds are, people come with them still very raw and real; people come to Christianity feeling very vulnerable.

Now our attitude in church could be like the first dentist. We don't like how people got the life wounds they are carrying. We don't like the places they were the night before and the people they were mixing with. We can judge people for the life they have lived and are living. So we don't really care about the person, we just want to see a 'result'. As long as they become a Christian, that's all that matters. An 'extraction' would be the best result. Pull them out of their environment. It's easier that way. Not only that, but we don't have to spend time trying to heal at a deeper level. It's easier for us. It might not be in the person's best interest, but we've got the result we were looking for and can move on.

Or we could be very different...

We want to know how they got their wounds. And we care. We spend time listening and trying to get into their world, figuring out how best to help them. And then we spend time getting into their world, trying to bring healing from within it. It takes time and energy, frustrations and setbacks, but we are investing ourselves into the wounds and life of this person, and that is real love right there. We don't judge them on the life they once lived or where they were the night before, because we understand that if it wasn't for a few small differences, we would be where they are. We understand that they are vulnerable and need us to be vulnerable for them.

We can sometimes think in church that we are there to see people become a Christian and that this is our purpose, so whenever we come into contact with someone new then the purpose is to make them a Christian. The reality is that we are called to simply love people.

Whatever their background, whatever they believe, wherever they were the night before, we are called to love them. No motive, no agenda.

Now that is hard-work. That takes time and energy. But that is what something of what it means to follow Jesus.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

A Common Enemy

On Tuesday I shared a video by Pastor Rudy about pushing love not fear. Part way through the video he talks about how on a Sunday he gets about 2800 people coming to church on a Sunday, but that if he took another approach he could get 28,000 people coming. That other approach he says is to point the finger at a people group and use them as a punching bag, and in doing so more people would come to his church 'because nothing unifies like a common enemy'.

A phone in like this polarises people into two groups, those who are ok with abortion and those who are against it. It leaves no room from the complexity of life and circumstances that cannot simply be answered with a yes or a no. And so people draw a line where they stand and face off against each other, thus creating a common enemy.

And it is easy to put people into boxes, to label those who are different to ourselves and then to unite in our disapproval about those who are different.

So people are dehumanised and become a label:

Etc Etc

Yet unconditional love doesn't label people and actively seeks to destroy the labels that have been created.

Unconditional love pushes out fear of those who are different.
Unconditional love goes to those who are different and loves them because they are another person loved and created in the image of God.

Unconditional love starts with the persons name.

Unconditional love continues regardless of what the person believes, it doesn't mean we have to agree or condone, but it does mean that love will continue despite our differences.

Unconditional love is hard work. It is easier to have a common enemy. People love to point the finger and exclude those who are different. It is much harder to embrace our differences and to walk together in spite of our differences.

But that is the calling of Jesus followers. It is to go and love, not label and point the finger. So now the challenge for me is to go to those who are different to me and to love and walk with them. But then it is a challenge for you too isn't it?

Monday, 10 January 2011

A Great Story

And the most powerful story, the one that will keep you enthralled, the one that will captivate you and change you, the one that is so powerful you will never want it to end, the one that is so great it will stay with you forever...

That story is when your story and God's story come together.

And that really is a story worth telling.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Good Samaritan

On the BBC website people have been leaving 'Good Samaritan' stories, sharing their experiences of how strangers have helped them in a time of real need or trouble.

The stories are really heart warming and challenging.

Go here and read them all for yourselves, but here are two that caught my eye.

The first one showing the beauty of humanity and how the love and care from people to people can deeply change lives:

In 1993, at a football game between Millwall and Portsmouth, I was drunk as usual.

A policewoman was ushering us Portsmouth fans back towards the station when she saw me staggering and went to arrest me for being drunk.

Seeing that I was not disorderly, she asked if I was OK. I said: "Yes, fine, just having a good time." She said it didn't look like much fun and asked whether I drank often. I replied: "Every day" and cried.

She held my arm gently and told me to stop drinking. Life was too good to drink every day, she told me. She said I looked too good to be a drunk and was too good a man to die young. The policewoman looked at me with pity and a kindness that made me cry again and think.

Two months or so later I got sober. I haven't had a drink in 17 years.

Ian Geddes, Southampton

The second story affirms my belief in angels and how we may never know it it really is that is helping us:

My father parked the car at the top of a steep hill when I was about six years old and walked down to a pub.

I was in the passenger seat alone, before seatbelts existed. The car started rolling down the hill towards the pub, a main road and a huge wall, picking up speed.

I expected to be killed.

Miraculously, a man leapt from a vehicle into my dad's car and managed to stop it at the bottom off the hill, just a few inches from the wall.

Dad didn't return until he was drunk, as usual, by which time the man had taken me home, but no-one was in.

I always wondered who that man was who saved my life, then disappeared, 57 years ago.

Karen, London

I wonder if these stories remind you of times in your life when a stranger has helped you?

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Human Creativity

There are some that think that in Christian theology there is the belief that until Jesus appeared heaven was merely watching things unfold here on earth. So some think that creation was a project that God set in motion and then sat back and watched things unfold once it was all in motion.

I'm sure many Christians would want to say that God has always been and continues to be intimately involved with His creation. But when we use language like 'God intervened' then we are in danger of seeing God as being 'far away' from us, 'looking down from heaven' and then, when a miracle happens we think that he has stepped in and done something only to then go off 'back to heaven'.

Firstly, God created everything out of nothing. Before anything existed, there was God living and loving in a perfect relationship within Himself as Father, Son and Spirit. Then He created all things out of NOTHING. He didn't create out of space or dark matter or atoms; he didn't create stuff from the universe; the universe has not existed for eternity; God created all things from absolutely nothing. God spoke and things began to exist, even time itself. The universe, however, cannot continue to exist unless God continues to preserve it and sustain it; creation needs God to continually act and create and sustain for it to continue to 'be'. If there was a moment that the presence and action of God stopped in the universe, then the universe would collapse once more into nothing.

So saying that God 'intervened' is not helpful, because God is never removed from creation. That does not mean that God is a part of creation, but that God is distinct from creation whilst always being active within it. A tree does not have God in it, but a tree cannot exist unless God wants it to exist. So God is here with us by His Spirit, involved in our lives.

God will sometimes act in the most miraculous and surprising ways, but this is Him continuing that goal of everything finding its purpose and goal in Jesus. The Bible tells us that Jesus is the source, purpose and goal of all creation, and one day He will bring all things together in peace and harmony.

What does any of this have to do with human creativity then?

Well human creativity, something that is given by the Holy Spirit, a sharing in the creativity of God, is to help creation, humans included, to reach the goal that God has always intended. The goal is be perfected and transformed and be in relationship with God through Jesus. Jesus is the goal of everything. So the church is called to be a people of real creativity in the power of the Holy Spirit helping people and communities, creation and all things to reach their goal, to share in the love of their Creator.

Creativity is a vital and can sometimes be lost within our churches and communities. Let us look for ways to be powerfully creative with the hope of helping our communities move towards the goal of being in eternal relationship with Jesus.

How can you be creative? What kind of creative actions can we do in these coming days and weeks to bring about something of God's love, grace and Kingdom?

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Arguing Against Atheism

'Let’s say the consensus is that our species, we, being the higher primates, homo sapiens, has been on the planet for at least 100,000 years, maybe more. Richard Dawkins thinks perhaps a quarter of a million, but I’ll take a hundred thousand.

In order to be Christian, you have to believe that, for 98,000 years our species suffered and died, most of its children dying in childbirth, most other people having a life expectancy of about 25, dying of bad teeth, famine, struggle, vicious war, suffering, misery... all of that for 98,000 years, heaven watching with complete indifference and then 2000 years ago thinks, “That’s enough of that, it’s time to intervene. The best way to do this would be to condemning someone to a human sacrifice somewhere in the less literate part of the Middle East. Let’s not appear to the Chinese, for example, where people can read and study evidence and have a civilization; let’s go to the desert and have another revelation...”

This is nonsense. It can’t be believed by a thinking person.' Christopher Hitchens

I was challenged with this argument over Christmas when having a discussion with somebody about the existence of God. I had a feeling at the time that it sounded like Hitchens or Dawkins and then recently read this and realised that this person must have read some New Atheist stuff.

What I find fascinating about this line of argument is the assumption that we know how humanity felt 100,000 years ago in light of the suffering that they were experiencing. As people who live in the West in the 21st Century who have access to medicine, health care, clean water, central heating, clothes, plenty of food etc etc, we make assumptions about how humanity behaved and responded and felt 100,000 years ago, yet how can we really know what people thought or felt? Their time and culture is so removed from ours, so different, that we cannot really know how people responded to the suffering they were experiencing.

The other point to make is that this line of thinking from Hitchens is poor theology. The Bible makes it very clear that since the dawn of creation God has been intimately involved with all that he has created and that humanity is extremely loved and treasured to God. The idea that heaven was watching with complete indifference is an idea that has not fully understood or grappled with the concept of the Christian God as revealed in Christ. God has always been involved with humanity, always sharing in their pain and suffering, always seeking to redeem and heal humanity from its 'sin-sickness'.

The suffering that humanity experienced 100,000 years ago was felt by God. And God responded to their suffering in light of the culture and the time in which they suffered. He continues to do the same today. It is astounding when people make assumptions about a time and culture based on our own time and culture.

There is an assumption here in that in pain and suffering people feel abandoned or God-forsaken. Yet we have no idea that this is how those people felt. When I was in India we met many people who were suffering because of floods, disease and poverty, yet never once did we hear that they felt God-forsaken or abandoned, but rather they felt that and knew that God was with them in the midst of their suffering.

The reality of Christ's coming was that, at just the right time, his life, death and resurrection brings about healing and redemption that all of creation has been waiting for. John 1 says that the Word was made flesh and came into the darkness, yet the darkness has not overcome the Light, who is Christ. Colossians 1 speaks of Christ holding all things in heaven and earth together and reconciling everything to Himself. So creation has darkness that needs dissolving. Creation is dislocated and fractured and needs reconciling. Jesus comes to bring about that transformation.

Someone said to me that if they said a golden teapot circled the earth I'd think they were nuts, so how is belief in God any different (this is a Dawkins argument again)? Yet Christianity is not based on fanciful thinking or irrational thought. Christianity is a faith of history and story that continues to journey and flourish in light of all those who have gone before. The first disciples saw, met with and witnessed the Risen Jesus. They then went and told others all that they had seen and heard. Christianity is a faith of proven history, personal experience and the reality of the person of Jesus, his life, death and resurrection.

Faith is not what you believe but what you do, and those first disciples were convinced that Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah and Redeemer, and in their actions affirmed this belief. They were willing to die, be abused and rejected because they were certain of who Jesus is. And it is this Jesus who fully reveals God to us and as a thinking person I am assured of the claims of Jesus.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Looking Back and Then Pressing On Toward The Goal

I've had a good break over the Christmas and New Year period, enabling me to spend some quality time with family and friends.

2010 all in all was a great year. So much has happened this past year and, reflecting on the previous 12 months, there is much to be thankful for. The first part of the year was tough because I was suffering with bad headaches on a daily basis whilst trying to write essays and travelling up and down the country looking for a new ministry. Found out in the end that the headaches were from the boiler being faulty, so once that we remedied it was much easier to focus on the year ahead.

Highlight of the year is of course my second daughter Lizzie being born. She is a true Devonian and breaks the Essex mould! She is a little beauty and I'm very blessed with my two girls and my amazing wife.

Being called to work in Devon and church plant has been another great joy this year. Settling in to a new county, new house, new job and having a new baby has been tough, but well worth it. Sarah and I are learning ever more what it means to put God first and depend on Him.

Finishing my degree in theology and getting a 2:1 was another highlight. I left school and went straight to work when I was 16, so writing essay's and studying was a real challenge. My time at college was amazing and I value all that I gained from my time there.

Speaking of theology, I have found myself being challenged and mentally stretched constantly throughout the year, which is a really good thing. College obviously provided that, and now this church plant and my blog are throwing up loads of questions that keep me thinking and wrestling theologically.

I'm looking forward to the year ahead with all the challenges and encouragement's that await. There is so much to be thankful for and it is going to be interesting to see how things evolve with this church plant.

What I am sure of, beyond everything else, is that God is good, that He loves us and will always be with us. With every step, in every conversation, in every trial and tear, with every smile and laugh, God is with us. He will lovingly correct us in our mistakes and redeem us for greater things. He will go before us in our adventures and take the small thing we do for Him and make them into something outstanding and beautiful.

Whatever this year holds, I know that God loves me, and I pray that will learn to be content in that.

'I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.' Philippians 3:10-14