Tag Archives: Jesus

Losing My Religion

“True religion helps us to grow, but pseudo-religion hinders growth, for it creates and maintains obstacles and barriers. Thus it is that much religion merely censors experience and does not liberate it, stifles human potential and does not allow it to blossom.” Kenneth Leech

In the light of Leech’s comment I find myself wondering if  our Christian communities have become defined by our jobs in church or religious knowledge rather than our spiritual centredness and experience of the living God?

Sure we need both, but I fear that the structure of religion has become a safety net for some and a cage for others. The others, have and are leaving in search of spiritual meaning else where, looking for what Kenneth leech describes as something that liberates and allows us to blossom.

That latter experience of God being liberating and blossoming  is something people experienced around Jesus, those who where healed, challenged, where changed from the encounter. For them they entered into a new way of life a new reality.

If we believe our religion, and our spiritual journey to be the right path, or one of the right paths, then there needs to be something more than ritual, something deeper than collective routine.

The purpose of religious ritual and routine is to deepen our walk with God, open us to the deeper spiritual narrative of what the holy spirit is doing in our lives and the lives of others, in our community and world. But does it? Does the routine still do those things? Or have we become stale? Do we need a change, or do we need to change?

In exercise terms as our bodies got used to the routine and so the routine doesn’t have the greater impact in calorific loss, or muscle gain, because we need to run longer or increase our weights! In the same way our spiritual health is dependent on us to keep it fresh, to change things when we get into that hamster wheel of religiosity just going around and around perhaps not even seeing initially, what is happening, until we get so fed up we think God isn’t listening to us and we leave altogether.

There is of course, something wonderful about religion, that collective cohesion, common bond and outlook, common worship that holds us and binds us together. A religious community growing together in God, deepening one another’s spiritual reality, just like iron sharpens iron. Too often perhaps we expect perfection from our Christian community because after all Jesus is perfect. Perhaps there would be less politics and backbiting in church, if we accepted one another the way we are, for all of our failings and successes and instead directed our energy in following, listening and growing, in Jesus.

I wonder in what ways do we, or would we need to change as communities of Christians, to allow one another to grow deeper in God. It has to be more than teaching programmes, or inspirational worship. That spiritual growth is quite individualistic in a way, but the fruit of it, is outward looking, allowing us to bless others, come alongside the brokenhearted, and be the kind of Christian and religious community perhaps God is calling us to be and the world needs us to be.

Loving God Isn’t Easy!

As promised part two of the valentines post. Sometimes loving God, is sometimes a lot harder than it looks and takes more effort than the sunday service!

I once asked the Rev Paul Jinadu, after he got off the stage having just leading the morning Bible study at Spring Harvest some years ago when I was a teenager. Why it was that God and I felt distant from each other. He responded with the question, did I have a girlfriend! Which in retrospect was perhaps a strange question!

I at the time happened to be madly in love with somebody, who I can’t for the life of me now remember the name off!  Paul followed up his earlier question with, what do you do with her! I said something along the lines of ‘well we hang out and talk and stuff’. Then he asked me if I loved God, I answered with an emphatic yes. Then came the sideswipe, he challenged me to think of my walk with Jesus similar to that of my relationship with the girl. That Just as we had a to and fro conversations and hung out with her I should also hang out with Jesus the same. The challenge of that conversation has never left me and the graciousness of Paul to give his time up for me and the razor sharpness of his wisdom, has been an enduring blessing over the many years since.

But life is busy, frantic and hectic it is hard to spend time, quality time, with those whom you love. The rate of marriage break-ups and relationships crumbling is testimony to that. Perhaps even the rate at which our churches are emptying is yet another example of people falling out with God! A God people sometimes fail to understand, perhaps because they have not spent enough time getting to know him.

Moreover there are those of us who after many years of faithful service, just walk away from God. Because somewhere along the way we lost our faith in God, a God that looks like the church at its worst, and appears to be absent from the world when it is at its most depraved a God who allows the atrocity, brokenness, and evil to prevail. That no matter how hard we try, good just doesn’t seem to win. For those of us that feel and have felt that way we need some kind of intervention.

As Relate works with couples, we need something similar to work between humanity and God to mend broken bridges, to heal the deep wounds, that love might blossom once more, could that be the church at its best, truly emulating its Christo-centric heart, or Jesus centredness. Of course the love between God and humanity is not like Romance, it’s something more and deeper, sustaining and liberating, forgiving and healing. I need to know God loves me from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet, without which I am simply lost.

Let us perhaps use this valentines season, short though it is. To recommit ourselves to our relationship with God, who through Jesus can mend bridges, heal deep wounds, and is the image and example of forgiveness and true love.

Finally 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 is that classic passage about love, I have used to dozens of times in weddings, but I find its definition of love falls short of human relationships and perhaps could be rewritten in this way. God is patient; God is kind; God is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. He is not irritable or resentful; He does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. He bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Gods love never ends.

Losing My Faith In Stone

If your faith is wrapped and rooted in the reassuring warmth of your denomination, then perhaps you should click away, I wouldn’t want you to get cold or be offended! Although you could just risk it and take a look just a few lines, after all where’s the harm in that! Alternatively if you are a little like me, not always finding the church an easy place to be! Then I warmly invite you to read on.

Dear reader For a moment would you imagine with me what it might be to lose your faith in the church. To shake off the shackles, to break out of the box that has become more like a cage. To live a life free and and unencumbered by a pastors theological and political bias, or a sense of loyalty to a bygone age. Instead my friends let us remember who it is all meant to be for.

Instead, believe beyond what church tells you, or what society considers our God might say on an array of subjects. Too often it is thought that the church just wants money, and on a recent carol singing trip people in the community found it difficult to comprehend, that we were not collecting for anything or anyone!

Churches tell us how to live, the type and style of our worship is predetermined for us. But it isn’t our worship it is Gods. All we do, all we sing, regardless of what song book, whether it’s projected on screen, whether our worship is informal or traditional. It is about connecting to the living God. My question is, does it?

In a recent conversation with a minister friend of mine, he asked whether I was a blue sky thinker! And I said yes and that can be a bit scary for some people! He smiled and nodded his agreement.

We are at a point in the life of the Church National and international if you’re in the northern hemisphere on earth, where churches on the whole are not growing or engaging in the making of disciples.

I would like us to discover for ourselves what it means to believe in God, just you and God, unhindered by religious expectation, unsanitised by liturgical poetry, unstructured by denominational pageantry!

Let us discover for ourselves once again why we follow Jesus, and may that self-discovery, that visceral encounter with the living God, redefine our church. Reshape our communities and renew our spirits.

An elderly man in one of my congregations, turned and told me in broad Scottish tones this week, how he had left the church, because he became aware that the people in power, were Methodists first and Christians second. He grinned at me and I grinned back because we understood each other. Our denomination is just where we hangout, or where God has put us. It shouldn’t be what we have faith in. For as certain as  Jesus is coming back, it is him that owns my soul not my denomination!

Finally there is hope within the walls of our structures, within the people that dwell there. People who want to take what is the best of what we have and reshape it, between the religious institution and the rest of society. Thusly building a bridge not where they walk over to us, but a place where we can both meet, and admire the view.

The Peace Baby

‘I can’t forgive you.’ Is the kind of statement that separates people, divides communities and causes rifts that last years, perhaps life times. The words signify a break in that relationship, a fissure opens up between you and they.

When I face my tormenter, I can’t forgive from my own wellspring of strength. No matter how much I work out in the gym or look inwards. Instead it is only when God supports me, and reminds me, that he loves the person behind the torment that there is a bigger narrative! Only then can I find the strength to have compassion, the strength to stand and not be his victim anymore.

This christmas the birth of Jesus could be seen as a peace offering, the beginning of a way back to God and a deepening of our walk with him. It is said of a primitive tribe in some far flung place on earth, that part of their culture when one tribe is at war with the other, the offering of a peace baby could be made, in this ritual the chief offers his own baby to his enemy to be raised as one of them. As long as this peace baby survives peace remains intact between the warring sides.

God put his son into the hands of those who didn’t truly understand who the messiah was, to people who were impoverished in so many ways. God entrusted his sons care in a simple act of  trust that is reciprocated. In that simple trust the cosmic rift between us and God begins to be healed, closed and shut for good.

Gods lullaby to us is of a love that transforms, Joseph into the most understanding husband ever, that his betrothed would be pregnant by God, this love transforms a peasant girl into Mary mother of God, Shepherds into the first evangelists, and wise men into the first christalogical scholars.

I wonder how Gods lullaby might transform us with our internal struggles, and how this song might lead us to a new place of healing and understanding. Of a God who will literally go the distance for us. I wonder would we at least, in his strength, go the distance for one another.

My children sometimes come to me affronted by the other who has wronged them in some way, all too often as parents we hear the line, “they started it!!” After which forgetting how young they are I  try to explain, that if no one steps up and becomes the bigger person and breaks that cycle, when does it stop. He looks at me blankly and replies, ‘but she started it!’

We find in the christmas story that God breaks the cycle, which begins with birth and ends in resurrection. God begins a 33 year peacemaking programme with humankind with the people of Mary and Josephs time. As we celebrate Christmas this year we are reminded of his peace initiative, God’s olive branch his peace baby who doesn’t stay dead, that the rift between us and God might be healed and peace maintained forever, by a baby born in a manger in Bethlehem, who is called Jesus.

Merry Christmas.

A lesson In Humility

It’s hard to ignore the inner voice wanting us to be noticed to ‘become someone.’ I wonder would I or indeed you, be willing to become socially unknown for a greater good? Would I allow my life to have meaning in something bigger, greater than my own desires wants and dreams?

In scripture we hear of plenty of nameless people, we don’t hear their stories, or their family situation, these people like the woman at the well, the men with leprosy or man who was born blind, are some of the nameless, we know them for two reasons there disease or predicament, and how much Jesus valued them. His valuing of them meant of course, he brought healing and social transformation to there lives.

These life changing moments were, just one of may signs and wonders Jesus displayed to show that the kingdom of God was at hand, literally changing everything. Yet we never learn the names, included in this list are people like, the centurions daughter, woman who had bled for many years or the daemon possessed man. Jesus noticed them, knew who they were and envisioned who they could be, just as he does with us whoever we might be or indeed how popular we might feel we are. For these people it’s there stories that have become important, they have truly become signposts pointing us to Jesus.

If Jesus noticed these people and blessed them regardless of who they were, shouldn’t we do the same regardless of who they are. Let’s not bless others because of what we know about them but simply because they deserve it, everyone deserves justice, an education, a job these are universal human rights.

Back to the question posed at the beginning, what if I become socially nameless like the people in scripture, and instead just known by what Jesus has done, in my life. Would I be ok with people saying about me ” I can’t remember the guys name, but did you hear what Jesus did in his life.” Am I, are you ok, if the only name people remember is Jesus’s, and your identity, achievements are lost to the transitory nature of time?

So should we unplug from social media or just promote groups that point people to Jesus and become nothing more than a signpost briefly looked but crucial to the journey, as the juggernaut of life passes by. A more moderate position would to be somewhere in between and worth aiming for perhaps beautifully summed up in scripture as, being a door keeper in the temple of the lord, now that’s something to aspire too.

Can Church Be As Good As Chocolate

The dull thud as my teeth snap off a chunk of dairy milk chocolate welcomes me to the experience, the changing texture as it melts in my mouth, and the strong thick taste of the cocoa as it collects in my mouth, and not surprisingly I want to eat more and more as my taste buds respond to its sugary goodness and my brain craves for more of this confectionery masterpiece. When I get behind the wheel of my car I look forward to the power of controlling this loud petrol guzzling beast, of releasing the energy to push ahead to my destination, and conversely pulling back the horse power with the break peddle.

Life welcomes us to a smorgasbord of experiences from the moment we are developing in the womb, some good some not so much, but all demands a reaction, comment, emotional response whether that is anger, joy, tears, both happy or sad. Social media is alive with such experiences of life, and our need to share those experiences with others. Our lives are shaped and honed through our life long interactions with experiences, both in isolation and with others. Such experiences shape us, transform us, can break us for a time and give us the courage to overcome.

When we are about to embark on a course of action or interaction be that falling in love, having kids, starting a new job or indeed eating chocolate, we in the split second decide will this be good or bad. Mostly we try to if at all possible avoid the bad or not so great in favour for the good life, over as small things like picking what to eat for breakfast or bigger things like choosing a car, holiday or the person we will spend our lives with.

As much as a shop window tells us what kind of things are sold there and intern attract us or not through its doors. So our churches communicate both by decor and people within, what and who our God is. Thinking about your church community what does it tell you about God? Or put another way If God set up shop in your life and your church what should it look like and be like?

Should our comunity not remind us of a Jesus who turned water into wine, surprised his friends by walking on water and conjured up hundreds of fish in his friends nets. As well as a Jesus who was serious about releasing people from sickness and death, serious about poverty and injustice and deadly serious on the cross. I don’t believe in a Jesus who says follow me and be laid low with burdens and wows. I believe in a Jesus that says that loving  your neighbour means you can have a laugh with them as well as cry with them, I believe that Jesus does offer life in fullness but sometimes we mistake that with a life of backbreaking, hope crushing service to the church and the god it sometimes looks like.

The shop front of our faith should witness to the life in all its fullness that christ offers, where burdens are shared or lifted where there is laughter and tears.  I find Jesus in chilly eating contests and loud banter with friends around some pints of beer and a very hot curry, and their discipleship of me to try even hotter curry. I find the presence of God in the small D:church leadership community over Skype as we plan discuss and pray together.  I don’t always find Jesus in Church but I know I should. Instead sometimes I find a todo list that saps my strength, long hours that saps my energy and spiritual fervour. I long for good christian communities to not be stumbled upon by accident, like an oasis in the desert. Instead exist as a many streams of living water running out into the street and neighbourhood where it blesses, transforms and where we encounter christ in a real tangible way.

Let us be part of or develop Christian communities that is serious about God, authentic in its expression and full of life in all its rich hilarious abundance, where the broken can come and find wholeness and the searching can find a place they can call home.

The secret to peace

My daughter is for ever telling on her older brother for is apparent wrongs, no matter how minor, sometimes she will even throw something at him if he annoys her a lot!

When your wronged what would you like to do to the person who hurt you? Seek revenge or seek to forgive? Which I wonder is harder the latter of the former, which brings the most rewards, the most peace, but also perhaps is the most costly?

The act of forgiveness doesn’t so much affect the perpetrator. It doesn’t mean they don’t have to deal with the consequences of their actions or live with their guilt.

Forgiveness releases the victim, brings healing to the one who has been wronged. Forgiveness gives us a choice, to draw a line in the metaphorical sand of experiences. To say to ourselves I will not let him or the situation define me, shape me, cripple me more than it has. I will not let it break me more than it looks like it has done.

So should we forgive someone’s involvement in the the pain of another or indeed ourselves? Not that we allow them to reoffend, but set them and us free to flourish rather than be rooted by the ball and chain of guilt, shame and the realities of there crimes and our sense of victimisation.

There may be situations in our lives that have needed a serious effort to forgive. Not just once or twice, but every day. I find I can’t do this on my own, but Jesus helps me, to such a point that forgiveness over a long period becomes a habit, a line in the sand which I don’t step over, and god stands with me on that line. However if I or we step over into the darkness beyond the line, Jesus takes our hand and gently leads me back to the light.

Forgiveness isn’t cheap, nor is it easy, but it is a journey worth traveling as the best journeys often are. Forgivness enabled Nelson Mandela to work with his former white oppressors, it helped Martin Luther king push the agenda of racial equality. There are so many other examples, and when we look at the issues of Syria, or Ukraine, with the unwillingness to forgive, leads to the hell confusion and human degeneration we see on our TV screens. The unwillingness to forgive in Northern Ireland challenges the future of the peace process. A lack of forgiveness challenges our ability yours and mine to receive healing and move forward free people.

This day this moment, ask the Lord to help you begin the road to forgiveness and ultimately your personal peace and salvation.

 

 

 

Easter Day: Told You So…

entry two in a disciples diary might read:

Dear Diary,

Not really sure where to start, apparently i have been a bit short sighted, my self loathing of yesterday has been overturned, to mind bending joy. I cannot really totally believe it.

Apparently God you can walk away from crucifixion, who knew! And me and the guys are acting like we knew it was all part of the master plan. But diary, i didn’t know. Am wondering if  I should scrub out yesterdays entry, I should have listened more, maybe I would have released.

I suspect i am not the only one who didn’t know, I wonder if the 12 knew? The chosen Jesus team, I saw one of them yesterday, if they knew he was coming back, they weren’t showing it. Anyway not one of them has said i told you so yet!

So what now, everything was true about Jesus, what does it mean? I am not sure which is easier, believing he was dead and it was all over. Or dealing with the ramifications of Jesus rising from the dead…

Since then 2000 years ago  believers has been figuring out what Jesus resurrection might mean, for how we worship, and live for God. There have been colossal mistakes along the way, illustrated by damaged people who have left, and those who think Jesus is still dead. There has also been an awesome, global outpouring of charity motivated by the love Jesus showed, which has begun schools and hospitals, feed and clothed the hungry and poor, and has and continues to fight for the rights of the oppressed and not listened too.

Lets Pray

Lord forgive our imperfect attempts at building your kingdom. May the power of the cross that broke you, also break our pride, busyness, personal agendas and give way to renewal of self and your calling to the church. Show us lord what you see.Amen

Easter Saturday

On Easter Saturday, i wonder what one of the disciples might have put into their diary, (if they had one) perhaps something a little like this.

Dear Diary,

 I have been taken for a fool, I feel embarrassed, how could i have fallen for, Jesus lines, about newness of life. Was everything he said a lie? His miracles, were they just tricks? Does God even exist beyond the temple courts and religious trapping?

A God I believed and which Jesus spoke of, that knew my name, the numbers of hairs on my head, a God who says i am more important than the birds of the field. How could i have been so stupid, Jesus took our hope to the cross and with him it died.

I cant face tomorrow, its so hard, I hide from the jeers of others and the laughter. It seams everyone else saw through Jesus, and stupid dumb, overoptimistic me, believed, and ridiculously still hopes something will happen. But who ever heard someone walking away from crucifixion!

I’m so pathetic.

 

A Little Bit Of Patience

As we pray how often do we expect and indeed want instant answers to our prayer requests? It is hard when we have to wait, when this doesn’t happen, doubt can creep in and uncertainty about whether God cares. But perhaps sometimes, we need to take a longer view. Have you ever considered whether or not you are ready for what you prayed for?

Are we ready for the responsibility, of wealth, marriage, children, that awesome job or something else. Is there perhaps some thing in, God not answering immediately, that God is trying to actually say something. Could he be saying we aren’t ready? Or there is something else I need you to do before you will get your hearts desire, if your hearts desire is his of course!

Some numbers, 5 years ago I prayed to become a father, and am radically different to what I was all those years ago, the journey has made me better prepared as a parent. 10 years ago I prayed and felt called to be an ordained minister and that took a very long time indeed, but no doubt a better minister for it. (At least I hope so!!)

Just because God doesn’t answer something straight away, doesn’t mean he won’t answer it in his own time. and as you wait, after you have given that hoped for prize to God and said that prayer, try to get on with your life, because living your life might be just what God wants you to do, so through this living, you might find he answers your prayer after all.

Lord give me the courage to be patient, the wisdom to see the big picture, and openness to allow you to search me and mould me as we journey onwards. Amen

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