Monthly Archives: March 2017

Keep pouring!

Luke 6:36-38 (NRSV)

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Judging Others

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

Double blog today!!  

A short one.

The “measure” that God gives us is a “pressed down”, “shaken together”, “running over” measure!

I think that’s a fantastic image!

We’ve all done it, haven’t we?  poured flour into a tupperware, but there’s a bit left in the bag and the tupperware seems full – but you don’t want to keep a tiny bit in the bag in the cupboard and you don’t want to throw it away – so you tap the tupperware and compact it with a spoon so that you can fit the last bit in.

Or you’ve watched the barman carfully making sure that your pint of bitter isn’t all foamy head – it’s a knack and a skill!

That’s what God is like – he gives us the fullest measure there can be.  In fact he overdoes it a bit so that it is overflowing.

Does that match the measure I give to God and my neighbour?  How often is the measure I give the barest minimum?  Answer?  Too often.

Now you’ve all had double-daily-measure of my blog!  Your cups are oferflowing!  Yay!  🙂

Absence makes the heart….

You may have noticed – perhaps with relief – that I haven’t blogged for a whole week.

It was a very busy week one way and another, and I have experienced slippage.

This blog is my discipline to make me reflect on my daily morning Bible reading.  If I don’t set my self the discipline of blogging about my thoughts – then I don’t have any thoughts…

Yeah – you guessed – the oldest slip in the book.  I allowed a busy week to derail my pattern of prayer.  I think I only managed three days of morning prayer this week.  It wasn’t a total washout – but it was poor.

And guess what?  I was the poorer for it – I actually felt spiritually parched.

I have reflected on this…

I used to think that there were two basic prayer personalities:

1) the person who needs a pattern of prayer – a place, a time, a ritual, a “habit” in the best sense of the word.
2) the person who is a freeform pray-er – who just does it as and when – as if the whole of life is a prayer.

And I used to think that person 2 was somehow better than person 1 – and that I was definitely person 2.

I set aside the fact that until recently my prayer life was pretty arid and it clearly wasn’t working – and persuaded myself that I was person 2.

I think the lesson has finally sunk in!  I don’t think this IS an either/or situation.  I have discovered that in order to fuel the “pray all the time” model of prayer – I NEED a pattern of prayer.  Without the pattern of prayer I just DON’T pray all the time.  I was kidding myself.  If I have a pattern of prayer, then the pray-all-the-time just follows naturally.  If I don’t – then it doesn’t!

So – some good has come of it – at the age of 53 I have learned a lesson I probably should have been able to grasp 30 years ago!  Go me! 

Temptation Test: Jesus scores 1 out of 3, could do better?

Stanley Spencer: “The Scorpion”

Matthew 4:1-11 (CEB)

Temptation of Jesus

Then the Spirit led Jesus up into the wilderness so that the devil might tempt him. After Jesus had fasted for forty days and forty nights, he was starving. The tempter came to him and said, “Since you are God’s Son, command these stones to become bread.”

Jesus replied, “It’s written, People won’t live only by bread, but by every word spoken by God.”

After that the devil brought him into the holy city and stood him at the highest point of the temple. He said to him, “Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down; for it is written, I will command my angels concerning you, and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone.

Jesus replied, “Again it’s written, Don’t test the Lord your God.”

Then the devil brought him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. He said, “I’ll give you all these if you bow down and worship me.”

Jesus responded, “Go away, Satan, because it’s written, You will worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” The devil left him, and angels came and took care of him.

Jesus refuses to turn stone into bread…   yet fairly soon after he turns water into wine and then turns 5 loaves and 2 fish into a feast for more then 5000 people.

Jesus refuses to throw himself off the temple in the expectation that the angels will catch him and people will be amazed…  yet fairly soon after he throws himself into the hands of the Romans and onto the cross with the expecation (surely?) that God will somehow make it right.

Jesus never (it seems to me) bowed down to Satan in return for power – or to put it into more modern terms – he never borrowed the power of unholy alliances even to advance his holy aims.  So, one out of three ain’t bad?

The temptation (see what I did there?) is to leap to Jesus’ defense here and explain how loaves and fish to feed 5000 or water into wine is different from stones into bread, or to explain that throwing himself onto the cross as a demonstration of the power of God’s love is not the same as throwing himself off the temple to be caught by the angels…  You may already be doing that – rehearsing some theological arguments in your mind…

It’s possible to do that, I’ve tried!

But lately I’ve stopped trying, because to do that is, I think, to miss the point of this story of testing.  For too long we have presented this passage as a once-for-all experience for Jesus, as if he passed this test and then lived sinless and temptation-less for the rest of his life.  We still try to present the story like this even though we know it can’t really have been like that.

Jesus goes out into the wilderness to think through how his ministry is going to be.  As he thinks it through, lots of options are there (just as they are for us today).  I imagine there were more than three – these are a symbolic three.  He must have boiled it down for the disciples sometime else how would anyone have known about it to describe it?

The thing about ministry is that it isn’t that simple – LIFE isn’t that simple – and so through the years Jesus DOES wow the crowds with miracles – and yes he does throw himself onto the cross towards death in the confident faith that, in some way he may not have understood, God would catch him.

That doesn’t mean he failed, that doesn’t mean what he did was wrong, all it means is that life and ministry is complicated and in truth you can never plan how you will respond in every circumstance.  

Maybe Jesus and God laughed together…

God:    Hey – remember that time in the desert when you said you’d never do the bread thing.
Jesus:  Yeah!  LOL! don’t remind me – I was so tunnel-focussed.
God:    I’m glad you were – you needed to be – you had to be.
Jesus:  Yeah – those 40days were the formation of everything.
God:    Yeah – I was there.
Jesus:   I know that now!  But I did feel so alone.
God:    You were never alone.
Jesus:   I did get a bit carried away with the water and the wine, though.  Mum put me on the spot!
God:    Mums do that – it’s their job!  Don’t sweat!  It did give us loads of publicity!
Jesus:  Hmmmm…  but the number of people who asked me to do it again at parties!!!
God:    You were true to your desert experience.  Your focus was always in the right place. I’m proud of you.
Jesus:   Awww… shucks…  I couldn’t have done any of it without you…

The desert was not the end of Jesus testing.  In Luke’s Gospel we are told that the Devil left “biding his time”.  If anything, this was just the start of it.

Clearly that desert experience was absolutely key for Jesus.  I have contemplated the idea of taking myself off onto the wilds of Dartmoor and rough-camping for 40 days and nights.  But I know I am never going to do that – even if I wanted to I haven’t got 40days where nobody would notice me gone and get a bit cross about it!  (my next sabbattical?)

But what I do have is Lent.  Lent is supposed to be for us an annual “40 days in the wilderness” being tested and choosing the path we will take…

Doing Lent WRONG!

Isaiah 58:1-9 (CEB)

Fasting from injustice

Shout loudly; don’t hold back; raise your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their crime, to the house of Jacob their sins.
They seek me day after day, desiring knowledge of my ways 
like a nation that acted righteously, that didn’t abandon their God.
They ask me for righteous judgments, wanting to be close to God.
“Why do we fast and you don’t see; why afflict ourselves and you don’t notice?”
Yet on your fast day you do whatever you want, and oppress all your workers.
You quarrel and brawl, and then you fast; you hit each other violently with your fists.
You shouldn’t fast as you are doing today if you want to make your voice heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I choose, a day of self-affliction,
    of bending one’s head like a reed and of lying down in mourning clothing and ashes?
    Is this what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?

Isn’t this the fast I choose: releasing wicked restraints, untying the ropes of a yoke,
    setting free the mistreated, and breaking every yoke?
Isn’t it sharing your bread with the hungry and bringing the homeless poor into your house,
    covering the naked when you see them, and not hiding from your own family?
Then your light will break out like the dawn, and you will be healed quickly.
Your own righteousness will walk before you, and the Lord’s glory will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and God will say, “I’m here.”
If you remove the yoke from among you, the finger-pointing, the wicked speech;
A very welcome diversion into Isaiah.

A retired Minister in Newton Abbot told me, just after my farewell service, that he had enjoyed my ministry at the church and he wished me well for the future, but that he hoped he was being helpful in telling me that my preaching was too challenging – it made people feel uncomfortable.  What people really need, he advised me, is reassurance.

The words of Isaiah are trumpeted from our lecterns and pulpits week in and week out, and (yes!) there are passages like 

“Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.

Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem…”


“Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall:
But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”

(both from Isaiah chapter 40)

But they are more the exception than the norm and Isaiah could never be described as a comforting preacher, his words rarely resembled a warm bath of calming reassurance.  Isaiah would never have been invited to be Minister of a local church based on his preaching.  If MY preaching is too challenging, then Isaiah is simply off the scale!

Here and elesewhere, Isaiah proclaims that God is sick of their worship – their fasting and their so-called prayerful devotion.  God is repulsed by it, God will no longer even listen to it.  That’s strong!

This is, of course, a very apt time to be thinking about fasting – it’s the start of Lent.  Lent is entering the public consciousness with increasing volume.  Social Media has had a part in that, I think.  I am in two minds about whether this is a good thing.  People have the idea that there is a vague connection between Lent and “fasting” or (more acceptably) “giving something up for Lent”.  Consequently there are LOTS of fb where people declare their plans to give something up – alcohol is a popular choice, but there are many others…

It sounds curmudgeonly to moan about this – giving up alcohol for a while is good for your health!  But that’s not really what Lent is about!  I can’t help but imagine Isaiah’s voice…

Shout loudly; don’t hold back; raise your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their crime, to the house of Jacob their sins.
They post on fb day after day, telling all who will hear about their so-called holy fasting…

Isn’t this the fast I choose:
    releasing wicked restraints, untying the ropes of a yoke,
    setting free the mistreated,
    and breaking every yoke?
Isn’t it sharing your bread with the hungry
    and bringing the homeless poor into your house,
    covering the naked when you see them,
    and not hiding from your own family?

There are alternatives, of course – “take something up for Lent!”  “take a photo every day for Lent – here’s a list of 40 vague and random words to inspire you!”  “Do this random thing each day for lent and then send us money!” 

I am sure all of these things are wonderful and lovely things to do – random acts of kindness are great, sending cash to Christian Aid is great, arty-farting about with your camera and posting your imaginative musings are ACE – BUT – I keep hearing Isaiah’s trumpeting challenge:

Isn’t this the fast I choose:
    releasing wicked restraints, untying the ropes of a yoke,
    setting free the mistreated,
    and breaking every yoke?
Isn’t it sharing your bread with the hungry
    and bringing the homeless poor into your house,
    covering the naked when you see them,
    and not hiding from your own family?

Here’s the bit where you imagine I am now going to tell you how I have got it right and share with you my plan for doing Lent right!  

well – no.  For two reasons: 

1) I haven’t really got a plan!
2) If I did – I don’t think it is the point of Lent to do it publically and in a showy way.

In case you imagine that I am immune to any of this stuff I appear to be ranting about – far from it – I have done all of it – and provided daily updates on fb for all my friends to see how great at Lent I am being!!

last year I did the Lent photo-a-day challenge.  I did it every day – and posted pictures on fb EVERY chuffing DAY!! 

If you are interested, here is the album that contains all of those photos in glorious full-size splendour!

ReThink Church Lent Photo-a-day album

The year before I did random acts of kindness – and catalogued how great I was most days on fb…

well – you get the point!  And, as you can see, that retired minister was probably right about me!  😉

Incomprehensibly Paul…

Philippians 3:8-14 (CEB)

But even beyond that, I consider everything a loss in comparison with the superior value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have lost everything for him, but what I lost I think of as sewer trash, so that I might gain Christ and be found in him. In Christ I have a righteousness that is not my own and that does not come from the Law but rather from the faithfulness of Christ. It is the righteousness of God that is based on faith. The righteousness that I have comes from knowing Christ, the power of his resurrection, and the participation in his sufferings. It includes being conformed to his death so that I may perhaps reach the goal of the resurrection of the dead.

It’s not that I have already reached this goal or have already been perfected, but I pursue it, so that I may grab hold of it because Christ grabbed hold of me for just this purpose. Brothers and sisters, I myself don’t think I’ve reached it, but I do this one thing: I forget about the things behind me and reach out for the things ahead of me. The goal I pursue is the prize of God’s upward call in Christ Jesus.

I have always had a problem with Paul – the author of this letter to the church at Philippi.

Here’s how this passage sounds to me – even if I listen to it twice:

But even beyond that, I consider everything a loss in comparison with the superior value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have lost everything for him, but….In witness whereof the parties hereunto have set their hands to these presents as a deed on the day month and year hereinbefore mentioned. AND WHEREAS We have consented to the said period being so brought to an end and to the exercise of such right of presentation NOW WE HEREBY DECLARE that the said period shall come to an end on the date hereof and that the said vacancy in the said Benefice of Ansdell and Fairhaven Saint Paul in Our said Diocese of Blackburn may thereupon be filled. The test on whether or not you qualify for flexible drawdown is only at the start of flexible drawdown. The decision to move to flexible drawdown is irrevocable under the tax rules and you can’t lose the ability to take drawdown pension using flexible drawdown. Once you are in flexible drawdown it is for you and your scheme administrator to decide how much you take out and how often. The amounts drawn under flexible drawdown may be similar to or different from the amounts allowed under capped drawdown. However, there are tax consequences if you subsequently make contributions to or resume active membership of any registered pension schemes after taking flexible drawdown… zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

OK, maybe I exaggerate slightly!  BUT!!  My experience of Paul’s letters being quoted is that it is almost always in the context of some kind of dogmatic argument about obscure theological doctrine designed to prove that someone’s faith is on shaky ground.

It probably isn’t Paul’s point – he intended these as pastoral letters to churches in trouble, but today they don’t come across like that. Probably because he was very concerned to correct the danger of heresy in his absence, they come across as anything BUT inspirational documents about justice and compassion and living a Christ-like life.

I am SURE this is unfair on Paul – justice and compassion and living a Christ-like life are certainly in there – but the problem is that to find them you have to dig around quite deeply and understand an awful lot of jargon – jargon that has been re-jargonned and double-jargonned by successively narrow interpretations of Christianity – words like “law” and “righteousness” and “sanctify” that have so many centuries of layered baggage added to them that being confident what Paul meant by them is really quite a challenge.

I am no longer interested in a brand of Christianity that places doctrinal hurdles or faith-statements at the heart of what it is to be a disciple.  I am no longer interested in a brand of Christianity that views the “goal” of the Gospel as “personal salvation.” I am no longer interested in a brand of Christianity that is oriented towards persuading people to believe doctrinal statements a), b), c), d), e), and f) part i, ii, iii and iii(a) and thus be able to join the club.

Yes, again I am exaggerating – but with good intent.

Maybe Paul is lost to me – maybe it is too late.  Or maybe one day I will rediscover layers in Paul that DO move me and inspire me and invigorate my faith.  It is there, I am sure!  

Lest you despair of me too much, the absolute number one piece of scripture that I quote above and beyond all others is Romans 8:38-39 “I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created.”  So all is not lost, ther is hope for me yet!

But if today’s reading has served to remind me of anything, it is that the church I want to be a part of is not primarily driven by doctrines or notions of personal salvation – but by a ready commitment to follow in the footsteps of Christ, learn on the job, join in with a company of others doing the same, and in doing so – change the world so that it looks more like the Kingdom of God. 

That’s torn it!

Joel 2:12-14 (CEB)

Change your hearts

Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with all your hearts,
with fasting, with weeping, and with sorrow;
tear your hearts
and not your clothing.
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is merciful and compassionate,
very patient, full of faithful love,
and ready to forgive

Blog on the move today courtesy of Costa wi-fi (other coffee shops are available!)

“Tear your hearts not your clothes.”

Sackloth and ashes and torn clothes – all accepted signs of repentance in ye olden Bible days.

I am not a keen clothes shopper and I don’t frequent the most fashionable outlets – but the high fashion emporia that I do frequent (ok – mainly Matalan!) have mens’ sections that are mainly made up of racks of hideously torn and crumpled jeans.

Torn clothes might now be trendy – but repentance certainly isn’t. From politicians we don’t get repentance or “I’m sorry” but rather, “I regret any hurt my words/actions might have caused.” But let’s not fool ourselves it’s not just politicians!

Repentance isn’t trendy. Maybe we are afraid that it is damaging to self-esteem – let’s just focus on the positive (cough!)appreciative enquiry! 😉

But on this Ash Wednesday I want to say that repentance is not weak or confidence-destroying. Rather it is a positive step of true self-understanding helping us to move back towards being the people we were made to be. Not the tearing of clothes – the cheap, outward symbol of repentance (giving up alcohol for Lent…) but the tearing of the heart… true repentance.

When we do that it does not weaken or destroy us because we meet the God who “is merciful and compassionate, very patient, full of faithful love, and ready to forgive!”

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