Saturday, March 31, 2007
'Getting music out of what is left of life; being stricken with blindness and yet continuing to see supremest visions (this a reference to Milton whom he has earlier quoted); fighting a duel with a sword – and when the sword gets broken, fighting on with the hilt: carrying on the same task – in any sphere – more brilliantly when the untoward happens and the crisis comes. Whenever we get a clean-cut example of undiscouraged pluck, it reaches down into our hearts to make music – sweeter than all the stories of success – and strikes a reverberating chord that we know is true, explain it as we may.
God, having put a Cross at the centre of the world’s mystery, also put it into men’s hearts to respond to crosses.
It is here that we see the first- if not the main- purpose of why God may have let it happen. Christ always preached self-sacrifice in His life, and not only in His death. But the Cross, coming at the end, stands clear cut and incisive, reflecting, as in some brilliant miniature, the larger framework of His whole life’s message. His life from start to finish was like a sun giving warmth to all who came within its rays; but in His Cross that same sun became focussed, as through a lens, till the warmth of His example becomes so concentrated as to set on fire all that it touches. That resolute persistency, the doing battle with the hilt when His sword was gone…attracts men, draws them, thrills them. You cannot say why; it is just that it does. In being lifted up from the earth, He arrested the attention not of the House of Israel only, who knew His claims. He moved the universal heart of man.
George MacLeod, Lenten sermon, 'The Cross', Govan Calling, 1934.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
Two things that Jesus said come to my mind:
“…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be a slave of all.” (Mark 10.43-44)
“If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (John 14.15)
Currently I am reading a book and recently it has been talking about having a lifestyle that is driven by our love of God and results in an outworking – serving.
We do not need to be great or amazing to serve, we simply need to be willing. Sometimes its easy to say “I’ll get round to that later” or “I’ll help them tomorrow because I am busy today” but the reality of it is that if Christ came across someone in need –what did he do – he helped them of course! Even if it seems to get in the way of what he was doing. Remember the little children “interfering” with Jesus’ teaching and how the disciples tried to stop it, but Jesus welcome them.
Jesus death and resurrection teaches us that he paid a great price for us. Do you love Jesus? Then how willing are you to serve? How willing am I to serve? Is there one small thing you can do for the kingdom of God where you are – is there a way in which you can serve God by serving others?
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Speech. Holy Word - the articulation of divine intention and purpose, ‘Let there be…’
Made in the image of God, we too speak, and what we say vibrates with possibility. Words call into existence, make possible, shape relationships, communicate meaning, become freighted with significance because once we speak, words are let loose. They cannot be recovered, unsaid, and their healing or hurt may have a long afterlife. Made in the image of God, we are wise if we listen not only to what God says, but to how God speaks; and if we pay attention to why God speaks.
When James tackles the fundamental spiritual disciplines he says little of contemplation, mystical joy rides, charismatic gifts – he speaks of wisdom, words, and therefore wise speaking and even wiser listening. James 3.1-12
Lord we all make many mistakes in our conversation.
The way we choose words and construct sentences,
which temper and tamper with truth;
The tone of voice, the pace of diction, the volume of our speaking,
communicating impatience and self-importance.
Lord forgive us when we use words as weapons to hurt others,
or as shields to hide behind when we are criticised:
Lord forgive us, when our words are arrogant and self serving,
when we would rather speak than listen,
and rather be seen and heard than seen and serving .
Lord, whose words called worlds into being,
Make our words creative and life-giving;
Lord whose words wrestled order our of chaos,
and whose words still speak light out of darkness:
That challenge injustice and defend the vulnerable,
Through Jesus Christ, the Word,
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Everything they need does not mean everything they want. And everything they need to follow him does not mean everything they need to live a long, healthy life free from suffering, disappoinment, frustration, or loneliness and full of achievement, recognition and contentment. These things may be substituted for the gospel, may be aspirations of many Christians, may be welcome blessings in any human life - but they are not to be mistaken for following the God of Jesus Christ. Christians are called to follow and are given everything they need to follow ... Following Jesus means learning to want the limitless things God gives us in Jesus.
Sam Wells, God's Companions, 2006, 5
Monday, March 26, 2007
On the other hand, there is hope and fellowship and so many stories of people overcoming despite everything. My town Stevenage is twinned with a town in Zimbabwe, called Kadoma. For the last 10 years Cornerstone (inter-church youth organisation) has been developing a relationship with a similar organisation in Kadoma called Sungano (meaning unity). Below is a quote from a local news article following their previous trip:
Aids and unemployment are both rife, often with tragic results.
Andy said: "One of the strangest experiences for me was when we went into a carpentry workshop.
"You couldn't initially tell what they were making but then it became clear there were making coffins."
Among the hand-made coffins Andy saw were child-size versions.
The group did not directly discuss Aids with any Zimbabweans but the shadow the virus casts on the country was obvious.
"Walking around some of the outlying country areas, we saw malnutrition and people who were thin, which could be Aids related. What one notices, particularly in the youth centre, is that the information that they've got in there for young people is all Aids advice.
Despite the problems the country faces, not everything looks gloomy for the future.
In a bid to improve communication with Kadoma, the Stevenage visitors took a laptop over as a gift, and it is already helping improve the link.
"We've had some tremendous contact. It's almost been continuous which is something we've never had and is a real bonus," Andy said.
The Cornerstone contingent used the trip to see if it would be appropriate to take a group of young people out to Kadoma, as they have done in the past.
Because they were all welcomed so warmly, a group will be heading out later this year for three weeks. As part of their trip they will live among the people of Kadoma and the neighbouring township of Rimuka and work on various projects to help their Zimbabwean friends."
When we prayed, my daughter felt Mugabe was like king Saul and so we are praying for a new David to arise. Pray for Zimbabwe, a country full of amazing beauty and history, and amazing people.
As part of lent, let's not just look up and in. The bible seems clear to me that a huge part of living a God-centred holy life is looking out. Praying and doing- seeking justice.
Sunday, March 25, 2007
I do not know the man
I am more comfortable with the God. The man speaks to me not in solemn commands, in law and majesty, but the touch of a hand, a baby crying, a death, and expects me to hear and obey these voices of need and friendship as if they were the voice of God...
I do not know the man
I do not want to know the human, the provisional and ironic, tears and laughter, the future still to make...Take us away from all this; like the ultimate romatic hero, sweep us into the world of distant panoramas, magical controls, solved problems. I do not want to be forced back to the earth where I must choose and travel and be hurt.
I do not know the man.
Friday, March 23, 2007
God gives his people everything they need to worship him, to be his friends, and to eat with him. A companion is one with whom one shares bread. God calls his people to be his companions, the ones with whom he shares bread - his friends. Christians call sharing bread with God, worship. Thus to follow the God of Jesus Christ means to worship him, to be his friends, and to eat with him: in short, to be his companions.
Sam Wells, God's Companions, 2006, 1
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Over the last few days I have been challenged a far amount about my life and ministry. I come from a family who are absolutely wonderful - who are very committed and also very determined to keep going no matter what. I remember one example when my mum came back from hospital having had a wrist replaced and although she was told to do as little as possible she was determined not to just sit there, so she started to do the washing. Once the clothes had been placed in the washing machine one handed, she then discovered that her left wrist (which wasnt replaced but also suffered from arthritus) could turn the dial to set the washing machine. Now her right wrist certainly could do it but she did not give up there. Eventually she found something that could be wedged into the dial that gave her enough leverage to turn it and therefore do the washing!
That is my family - we all try and work as hard as we can and although that is a good thing, I have been discovering some drawbacks to it lately.
I currently have two jobs in minstry and add to that my lack of time management skills/planning I often find life extremely busy and often stressful. This morning my wife was trying to help me clear some of the backlog of stuff and I got very defensive and told her that I wanted to sort out this mess - a throwback to the Bishop family trait! I am beginning to see that all I am about and do is done in my own strength - by my own force of will, by own determination. At the end of the day this is neither sustainable or healthy.
I was sent an email this morning from someone and it contained this verse:
"It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man" Psalm 118:8
I think I am beginning to see that I am putting more trust in man (aka me) than in God. I need to turn to God and take refuge in Him - to gain my strength from Him - to seek help from Him.
At the root of who we are - do you trust in yourself, others or God?
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
- the Temple would be dismantled,
- national leadership would be confused and in meltdown,
- international conflicts would multiply exponentially
- religious and political interests would develop lethal power games
- scary images of stampeding refugees and unprecedented natural disasters would become stark realities.
"Keep awake!" But who can keep awake all the time anyway? A body on chronic red alert is going to crash sometime. Sleep is a natural and essential process of rest and renewal. Well, yes, but we know what Jesus meant. There is such a thing as dozing our way through life without noticing, not paying attention to what’s going on around us. But for followers of Jesus, to be passive and silent, uninterested or disinterested in what is happening to our planet, or complacent about the threats to the vulnerable in our world, or to be uncritical of those who use and abuse power over others; that is to sleep the sleep of the culpable.
On the other hand to be awake to the ethical implications of business decisions; to be awake to the human consequences of our political leaders’ actions; to be awake so as to hear the cries of the poor and the pleadings of the suffering; these are examples of necessary vigilance.
- Being awake to the ongoing moral cost of Guantanamo
- Being aware of dawn raids on asylum seekers as violation
- Being informed on Trident, Just War theory AND the Sermon on the Mount
- Being alert to the daily violence and consequent tragedies of Baghdad
- Being vigilant on behalf of the still threatened tribal peoples in Darfur
- Feel free to add to this rather personal, limited but ethically prejudiced list
The practical application of the most powerful, sustained, detailed warning Jesus ever gave is, ‘don’t go to sleep’. Be there when and where it matters. Stay awake, notice what’s going on. But noticing is one thing; drawing attention to what we see is quite another. Doing something about it is something else again. Lenten discipline is more than introspective concern for our own personal spiritual development - it is risk-taking moral alertness and compassion.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, that most wide-awake and watchful of Christ’s followers, who saw long before most, where Hitler’s Nazi ideology would finally lead, famously wrote ‘When Christ calls a man he bids him come and die.’ There is a cost attached to being awake, seeing what’s happening, and taking the stand in the centre of the world’s courtroom as Christ’s witness. And the rewards aren’t obvious, except to know that alert outspokenness on behalf of the poor, the threatened and the suffering is always an act of obedience to Christ who commands us, for the sake of the world, and as an attitude of costly obedience ‘Stay awake!
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
There are many ways in which we can more fully express a discipleship commitment to Jesus. One which I have been thinking a lot about recently is simplicity. Our society is full of people vying for our attention, promising us happiness if we buy their latest products. Simple living is ‘stopping that treadmill and giving us … space for God’ (Valerio). In addition, storing up treasures on this earth where so many have so little is both selfish and idolatrous. The needs of others make a consumer lifestyle inexcusable, - but I know I have more possessions than I need.
Cultivating simplicity in this society is a demanding and difficult process. It means being a counter-culture. But is this not what Jesus has called us to? How can we make our lives more radical, and less comfortable?
Some suggestions (from Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline):
Buy things for usefulness rather than status.
Get rid of anything producing an addiction, develop instead a habit of giving things away. This is difficult, but I challenge you to learn from the example of these proactive bloggers.
Refuse to be influenced by advertisements, and learn to enjoy things without owning them.
Reject what causes oppression of others, buy fairtrade goods, and avoid companies that exploit workers.
We must learn, ‘that a man [or woman] can live profoundly without masses of things’ (Byrd).
Monday, March 19, 2007
How can we be faithful to each other- truly faithful? How can we go beyond our polite lets-not-rock-the-boat loyalty which looks lovely but will never answer honestly the question "does my bum look big in this?" or "have I made the right decision?"
I would rather have a friend who helps me face my mistakes than a friend who assures me that everything I do is fine. But this kind of faithfulness comes at a price- it is painful and requires a large amount of time invested in each others lives. It involves being real with each other and allowing others to see the more unappetising sides of our life and character. Not things that come easily in our time-poor Christian culture where we often tend towards the superficial with one another.
Some people come to mind- in 2 Samuel 12, there is Nathan the prophet. David could have easily banished, ruined or even killed him for his boldness in pointing out David's rather gaping mistakes. It was a huge risk.
For another side of faithfulness, Ruth's words to Naomi(Ruth 1 v 16-7) are so inspiring to me, speaking of a deep kind of covenant relationship: "Don't ask me to leave you! Don't beg me not to follow you! Every place you go, I will go. Every place you live, I will live. Your people will be my people. Your God will be my God. And where you die I will die."
Naomi was left alone and bereft- even changing her name to Bitter... Ruth- also mourning, but still with a life to live and a people to be with- gave up everything to move with Naomi to a foreign country and support her through her tragedy.
God, by your Spirit, make me more faithful in the relationships I have. Let me count the cost and be truly faithful.
Friday, March 16, 2007
Can one be a Christian on the quiet? Can one be a ruler by day and worshipper by night? The story of Jesus' passion presents two figures who sought to do just that: Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus (p.90).Our culture wants to mould all belief into a private matter, not to be displayed in public. We've removed the political implications of Jesus' call to discipleship and embraced the western gospel, which celebrates the market and the rights of the individual. We've become 'night-time' disciples, who either don't know how to live lives shaped by the Christian gospel, or who are afraid we will be branded a fundamentalist in the vein of Stephen Green of Christian Voice or some Islamic extremist.
It is my desire to become less of a 'night-time' disciple, and to find ways of embodying the Christian faith in which I believe, in the full exposure of the day. I am becoming more convinced that the way of discipleship is in discovering and often re-discovering habits and practices that shape my life in ways that speak of good news. My desire is to find a community of people who want to take that journey with me. In this I am grateful for those who are blogging with me at hopeful imagination, who help me imagine what this looks like.
Whatever you are doing, whatever you are thinking....stop.
Life is busy, life is full of many good things to do....but right now you must stop.
There are points in all our lives when we must stop and return to the source - return to God. This is even more so during lent when we are trying to re-focus our lives to that of Christ.
So today take some significant time out to be with God.
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11.25-30)
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
John Swinton's deeply pastoral and theologically alert book, Raging with Compassion, which is not about 9/11, raises very important questions about all the clever explanations of suffering that theorise and intellectualise human pain. There are times when explanations do more harm than good, they don't reduce the pain of evil. Indeed they may add to it by suggesting that extreme suffering can ever be rationally explained or dealt with by the mind, without reducing the humanity of the sufferer. John's book offers a pastorally informed warning about the inadequacy of philosophical, theoretical, theological argument to make any real difference to the person suffering. At best such arguments make the observer more intellectually or theologically comfortable.
Grief ought to be used
To create more love;
There's no greater force
From below or above
Such grief as we have seen
Could water the roots
Of a new world dream.
Give the dead power
To change the world
Into something higher;
That we may listen
Cry and turn injustice into a flower.
This is the strange blessing
Of those flaming towers:
That we may wake up to
And with vision sweeten humanity's hours.
Ben Okri, 2001
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Heb 12 v 2
I think that often we lack God's perspective on joy and happiness. That old chestnut of: if there is a God, why does he allow suffering?, suggests a view that suffering is always bad, and that happiness/joy and suffering/pain must always be diametrically opposed to each other. When Jesus said that he came to give us life to the full, what picture do these words paint in our mind? Do we imagine a life involving struggling and pain and even failiure or a much more rosy one where no one can knock the cheesy grin off our face and we all live “happily ever after”? I did grow up in a church where the teaching seemed to suggest that all those bad times were either pre-conversion or as a direct result of me sinning now. Life with Jesus was about proclaiming victory and if you didn't have a good story to tell, better wait until you did before speaking out...
Maybe God's view of life on this earth isn't so black and white. Maybe one of the things we see in the life, and particularly the death and resurrection of Jesus is that there is a wider view of joy to be had, involving not only victory and hope but also suffering and pain.
Saturday, March 10, 2007
Friday, March 09, 2007
Sam Wells in his book Power and Passion, reminds us that to follow Jesus faithfully requires more than just passion.
"Passion alone is not enough. Not just because other things are required but because passionate commitment is often made up of the kind of tendencies that we see so clearly in Peter - an assumption that one is superior to others, a profound but misplaced confidence in one's own dependability, and a sense that one knows better than Jesus"
A prayer - Jesus I want to follow you passionately but not in an arrogant I know best way. Help me to follow, to walk humbly with you with loving kindness as you empower and doing justice as you one my eyes to how you see reality. Amen
Thursday, March 08, 2007
Its not about you. You have been born and created for God's purposes and this applies to lent too. Its for God purpose not ours. Its not to help us get fitter, of feel better about ourselves because by sheer will power we did not eat chocolate for 40 days. There are so many programmes is this world that are about helping us live a healthier lifestyle. De-tox this, de-tox that. There is obviously nothing wrong with wanting and aiming to live a better, more healthly life - but what is the source of all that. If its self-centred then even if its good, its not done to the glory of God.
By all means give things up, but give them up to God and engage God in the process. Let him be your strength. I have two verses to close on:
"I can do everything through him who gives me strength" Philippians 4:13
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight." Proverbs 3v5-6
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
‘If you really cared about me…..’
If you were really serious about…..
If it had been me I would have…..
But why test a certainty?
And that drama in the desert, the drama of If..., becomes also the drama of Christian obedience.
If you are a child of God…
If God is to be trusted….
If what you say you believe, you really believe, then…
Three final ‘If’ statements, with disciplined grace, and obedient faithfulness providing the tension points:
I am the vine, you are the branches…if you remain in me and I in you, you will
bear much fruit….
You are my friends If you do what I command you….
by this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you love one another……
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
feb 21 jim gordon
22 jon bishop
23 andy goodliff
24 ashley beck
25 1st sunday in lent
26 stuart blythe
27 andy goodliff
28 jim gordon
mar 1 jon bishop
2 ashley beck
3 stuart blythe
4 2nd sunday in lent
5 miriam pugh
6 - a quote from sam wells
7 jim gordon
8 jon bishop
9 brodie mcgregor
10 stuart blythe
11 3rd sunday in lent
12 miriam pugh
13 - a quote from sam wells
14 jim gordon
15 jon bishop
16 andy goodliff
18 4th sunday in lent
19 miriam pugh
20 rachel bishop
21 jim gordon
22 jon bishop
23 - a quote from sam wells
24 stuart blythe
25 5th sunday in lent
26 miriam pugh
27 - a quote from sam wells
28 jim gordon
29 jon bishop
31 stuart blythe
apr 1 6th sunday in lent
2 - a quote from sam wells
4 jim gordon
5 jon bishop
6 stuart blythe
8 easter day
The choice between Barabbas and Jesus, a choice that I am suggesting is a central choice in the whole gospel story, is not a choice between a man who took a political route and a man who took a spiritual route. It is not a choice between a man who wanted outer change and a man who called for inner change. It is a choice between a man who changed too little and a man who changed everything.
(Sam Wells, Power and Passion, The Archbishop of Canterbury's Official 2007 Lent Book)
Monday, March 05, 2007
A week before Ash Wednesday: Ella ,7, announces that she is going to give up television for the whole of lent. I am extremely impressed and promise to join her of course.
Day 3 of lent- Ella is not at all sure this was such a good idea- brother Charlie is also less than impressed with the absence of telly.
By the weekend: Ella has modified her fast to week days only... I am in a quandry- the discipline lent has to be a personal response to God and yet I am unhappy to allow her to quit so early on. I try to walk the line of gentle persuasion and firm reminders of her original intention but to no avail...
End of week one- the television fast unceremoniously bites the dust... I am a bit gutted.
Week 2: Ella is given a sheet of 40 things to do in lent. These include giving a weeks pocket money to charity, buying one fairtrade thing a week, not arguing for 3 days, cheering someone up, etc. This is proving to be an inspiration to her and I wonder if it is actually producing more real fruit in her relationship with God and her sense of faith-in-action. The first day of no arguing is a revelation- she is not only avoiding arguments but looking for ways to help her siblings have fun and stay happy. I know 7 year olds can't not argue forever, but I feel that living this day in itself must change her and open her eyes to what is possible.
She gives away 2 weeks' pocket money and an encouraging letter to someone at church who is raising money for a trip to Zimbabwe. A girl who was being nasty to her at school and that she has prayed for now wants to come to tea and sleepover. Ella says that underneath she is actually really nice.
I am left pondering the true meaning of fasting and I think about Isaiah 58. I know the discipline and humbling oneself symbolised in the Lenten fast is an important part of our growth as Christians. But maybe I am seeing a different side of fasting- still denying oneself, still saying "not my will, but Yours"...
Saturday, March 03, 2007
Friday, March 02, 2007
For lent I have decided on two things:
a) I have given up coffee.
b) I have decided to read every post on this blog this lent, and reflect on it properly.
The first one was a bit of a cheat. I like coffee, yes, especially when I'm killing time during the day. But I thought it'd be fairly easy. It's not. It appears I drink it more often than I thought.
My SU bar at uni makes very bad cups of tea. And I don't drink cola anymore. And I don't like to drink beer before class. So I normally have a coffee. Now, I have to consciously think about what I'm going to order. Which both reminds me about the season, and makes me conscious of why I'm doing it; and also makes me think 'do I really need to buy a drink?' when I have bottles of water in my bag. And re-thinking what I spend money on is always healthy.
And reading and reflecting on the posts here is good for me, too. It helps me to spend just a little time reflecting on the faith in a devotional, rather than an academic way. It can be too easy to simply approach the faith critically, without engaging in the story- and that can be draining.
I guess I am sharing this for two reasons. First, because you can all help me if I see you by not offering to buy me coffee. Secondly, and more seriously, to encourage you, in whatever you have decided to do for Lent, to reflect on how it is good for you/ what you are learning from it.
Thursday, March 01, 2007
My understanding of lent is that its about refocusing on God and re-alining oneself with God. If lent becomes giving something up in my own strength then I have completely missed the point of it all.
Today - no matter who well, or badly things are going for you right now, just stop and ask God to enter into today and be your sustainer.