Tuesday, April 30, 2024

A foot problem

Sunday mornings after worship we meet for coffee and chat. Three weeks ago I saw a lady who had been ill and out of action. I asked her about her illness in that general way that avoids too much prying yet expresses some compassion. If you know what I mean!  She explained that she had been hit by severe plantar fasciitis in her feet. I asked her to repeat the diagnosis.  It was the first time I'd heard it. She explained that the pain was so acute it made walking excruciating, though she has a dog so that forced her to take some steps daily however badly she felt. I sympathized and hoped it would improve.

Strangely, even as I was talking to her I was also suffering pain in my left foot.   Somehow I had bruised my heel and sole. Seeing a pharmacist (as recommended by our under pressure NHS) I was recommended a tube of lotion which, after a week, had made no difference. Consulting another pharmacist I received exactly the same advice. After a further week it seemed to be getting worse.  

So, on the Monday after I had my coffee conversation I emailed my surgery, explaining the problem. The doctor phoned me back and said the symptoms clearly led to one diagnosis: Plantar Fasciitis. He sent me details of exercises for the next 12 weeks. The model who poses these exercises is lithe and slim. For her it's effortless, rising upon a step before touching her heels to the ground. The rigor increases with a haversack full of heavy weights necessary after two weeks which is further increased in weights after six weeks.

I know my blog is odd. Spiritual thoughts jostle alongside unpleasantness. Which of course they always do. I am still seeking to be an Easter person as I grind out the exercises.  It's too early to detect much relief but my sympathy for that poor lady at church is heartfelt.

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Claim it



When the inside belief is married to the outside claim then the apostle Paul asserts you can be sure YOU WILL BE SAVED.  The language of being saved is not so often heard today. It’s easy to mock.  Unsophisticated. It’s a strong rescue word and most people laugh at the idea that they need rescuing from anything.  Someone who does 100 press-ups a day, plays squash 3 times a week, and walks 15,000 steps and whose fit life is as fulfilling as the next persons, scoffs at the notion they need saving:  'That's a guilt trip put on me by Christians...I'm as good as anyone else. I don't need rescuing, redeeming...any of that stuff.'

But when you grow closer to God, you begin to realize that there are possibilities you are missing out on. Again, its about SW spiritual wisdom – when you open up to spiritual reality of how different your life could be.  How there are messed up areas inside us and between us but, more radically, how our relationship with God is dead.  He remains totally beyond our world and our experience because for us there is no other reality but what we see.  We put our trust in human wisdom.  

Being saved is about bringing the messed up lives and relationships to God. The negative areas of our lives.  I love what someone said: I rather attend church with messed up people who love God than religious people who dislike messed up people.  We who belong together in church are fellow messed-up disciples.  That's why the words forgiven, cleansed, reconciled are vital and why confession is so necessary.

Being saved is also gloriously positive. It's about living large with God and his people and its progressive. 1 Cor. 1:18 stresses being saved - the process by which God's Spirit is helping us work out Jesus Christ character in our lives and communities. It's a profound ongoing journey. As Jesus put it: Life, life abundant.  

In our tough times especially, this spiritual wisdom reality of God's biggest purpose holds us together with everything else. My mother died in Addenbrookes Hospital, aged 57.  In good health she suffered a freak accident falling down the stairs and the hospital declared her brain dead.  On a life support machine we sat with her, read and prayed. She was a strong believer and a great influence on me. When I went in to be with her as they switched the life support off,  I read Scripture and prayed asking God to keep her safe. It was unbearably sad.  Looking out of the window, high up, I saw traffic on the main road and, in the distance, a train going to London. And in the bleakness of the parting came this conviction that Jesus is Lord. He is Lord over death, Lord over the world I could see, over my life as I returned to home and work.  The totality of his love, his claims are overwhelming.  We live in a larger world. Once and for all, at Easter, God has revealed himself in Jesus dying and rising, to bring us together to himself.

As C.S. Lewis wrote: Christianity if false is of no importance, and if true it's of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important. 


Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Say it!


It’s vital that this faith commitment is not just some inside thing, but we say it out loud.  At believers' baptism, where we stand is made clearly and boldly. And whenever we are together it matters to say it out loud, because you never know how much someone needs to hear you.  One of the earliest ways that Christians spoke about Jesus was wonderfully simple but so big: JESUS IS LORD.  They said it to each other as their basic affirmation truth, and for them it was dangerous. Because, contemporary with Paul’s writing, Nero was Roman emperor and his people were meant to say 'Lord Nero'.  Much archaeological evidence has come to light of inscriptions: 'Nero is Lord'. One even reads: 'Nero, Lord of the entire world'.  To say this was overreach is a massive understatement but when Jesus is risen it's no overreach.  His kingdom embraces everything - Alpha and Omega. 

The thing about lords is that everyone has lords of one kind or another.  Your particular Lord is what you concentrate on, what matters more than anything else in your life. Some people make Money, Pleasure, Success, Fitness and Health all important motivations in their lives. But there are many other lords which sometimes sound eminently reasonable - Friendship, Family, even Local Church – where we can put all our effort. So often it's what we have chosen.  The humbling revolution involved in confessing the risen Jesus requires voluntary submission to his lordship. What he chooses! So that seeking and obeying his will and purpose overarches everything else about our lives.  

In an earlier post I mentioned how I had contributed a quote for our recent church Easter installation. It was from a missionary hero of mine, E. Stanley Jones whose encounter with Jesus overwhelmed him with gratitude. He often wrote quotable quotes!   About the words Jesus is Lord he wrote: The most narrow, divisive, all claiming words that ever fell upon human ears. To say these words truly focuses attention like nothing else, and the moment you let him be Lord, everything changes for the better.  Life begins to add up as making spiritual sense. For then we have found who holds life together and gives it meaning and purpose. Life find’s its Lord,  


Saturday, April 13, 2024

To the point


One of the astounding single sentences in the New Testament puts it:  IF YOU CONFESS WITH YOUR MOUTH: JESUS IS LORD AND BELIEVE IN YOUR HEART THAT GOD RAISED HIM FROM THE DEAD, YOU WILL BE SAVED.  (Rom 10:9)


The one that thing that matters above everything else is that Jesus rose from the dead.  You can believe all sorts of religious things: that God made this world.  Things about God – about his benevolence and how heaven might work out in the end.  Many people speak about their faith. How it matters to them when times are tough. And sometimes they have constructed that 'faith' themselves. The truth is that Christian faith has one essential as its foundation - that God raised him from the dead. 

When Scripture says heart, it means your thinking HQ. It’s to do with IQ your intelligence, your EI emotional intelligence, even IT intelligence about all things digital (like my grandchildren have!)  Yet what counts most for the 'heart's' understanding, a vital extra dimension, is SW. Spiritual Wisdom, which works in a completely different dimension to worldly wisdom. As the apostle Paul puts it (1 Cor 2:13) when we are thinking God thoughts it's not human wisdom but spiritual wisdom. Human wisdom thinks spiritual wisdom is nonsense, foolishness.  Human wisdom doesn’t get it! It’s been called transrational wisdom, bigger than our comprehension. It’s  spiritual truth. God desires us to grasp it by faith and so gain spiritual conviction as you allow God’s spirit to work in your heart. To open up to the possibility of a spiritual realm where God is real and prayer works! 

There can be great tension between human wisdom and spiritual wisdom. We are always growing. When I  was baptized in my early teens I belonged to a red-hot youth group, involved in preaching, open air work, giving out Victory tracts. But when we moved to Cambridge and I went to sixth form college I was faced with hostility which stoked problems. Especially about the resurrection. A form teacher ridiculed intelligent people accepting this and others in the class laughed at my gullibility I really doubted. I had to work hard with God, to read, pray, share with others.  I had to learn the lesson  that I was trapped in human wisdom. I had to know that believing in my heart means being open to God and to his truth, and to living with other transformed Christians.  When I came through, God's Easter truth deepened and transformed me. It vindicated all Jesus' actions and promises. 

Because if Jesus rose from the dead it’s true that Jesus is who he says he is;…God’s son.

It’s true he was born in Bethlehem to live among us

It’s true he taught about God being his father, our father, and His love is at the centre of the universe. 

It’s true that he died on a cross to bear away our sin – and that we can be completely forgiven

It’s true when we stand behind the coffin of someone we loved deeply – there is resurrection beyond.

It’s true that he is forming a family of people who live differently together because he lives with them.

 He’s alive.  Once and for all God has revealed himself and acted decisively for us. He has won a new future in ways we shall never comprehend this side of heaven. 

Monday, April 8, 2024

Conspiracy Theory

I am so grateful for the privilege of preaching yesterday. To preach around Easter time is hallowed ground for enlivening faith.  I had to begin in Matt. 28. didn't I?

There have always been fake news, and conspiracy theories. Sometimes it’s vital to call out something as a  hoax.  And never has it mattered to powerful people as much as at the first Easter to call it all a hoax. When the guards tell the religious leaders that the tomb was empty, and a group of women were spreading the news :Jesus is risen, the leaders had to kill the news stone dead. If this was widely seen as a hoax then this Jesus would be forgotten as just another Messianic dreamer with big God claims who made absurd promises - especially about rising on the third day. They bribe the soldiers to confess they had fallen asleep while the disciples came and stole the dead body.  And the leaders promised to explain to the governor the reason for the story so to keep the soldiers out of trouble.  And it was a good story widely circulated.  Much easier to believe than a dead body had come alive again. Believe this version and you could jettison any claims about Jesus as Lord.

 Ever since, clever people have known that if they could prove the resurrection is a hoax and the rest of the New Testament with the apostle Paul as fake news, they could smash up Christianity. Maybe you know the story, for example, in the eighteenth century when two young Oxford students set out to destroy Easter.  Gilbert West and his cousin Lord Lyttleton reckoned the New Testament Easter claims were absurd. West said he would demonstrate Jesus never rose from the dead, Lyttleton said Saul of Tarsus was never converted to Christianity and the New Testament record is a nonsense. They were serious.  They did their research.  In embarrassment they met later. Independently they had come to the disturbing conclusion that Jesus really did rise from the dead and Saul of Tarsus became a new man in Christian faith.  West wrote a massive book: Observation on the history and evidences of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and Lyttleton wrote: The Conversion of Paul.  Both were transformed because if Easter is true then everything that’s important about who we are - our purpose and future is changed.

The whole point of Easter is not so give a holiday break or boost chocolate sales but to change the way that the world believes and behaves. (To be continued).


Thursday, April 4, 2024

Low Sunday

I find myself on preaching duty this Sunday. It's known as Low Sunday and if you google asking what  it means it says: After all the joy of celebrating Christ's resurrection, the Sunday after Easter can seem like a let down.  Some call it Low Sunday because attendance often decreases along with worshippers' enthusiasm.

Our pastor asked me to preach a few weeks ago but then talked with me last week in some panic.  He could find no one available to lead the service and had only just been able to locate a musician.  While I am prepared to lead (though out of practice) I was thankful I wasn't  responsible for the music as well! So it looks as though attendance will be down....it's just vital that our enthusiasm isn't! 

I am given free reign for text and theme and have brought together Matt. 28:11-15 with Rom. 10:8-13. It's a first for me.  Matthew's account of how powerful people start a conspiracy theory is not normally part of the Easter message but how necessary it was for the religious leaders to construct a counter story to the resurrection.  They knew that if they killed the story that Jesus is risen then they would kill off hopes of his lasting impact.  And the story they construct that soldiers fell asleep and disciples stole the dead body is a credible story.  Much more credible that claiming a dead person had come alive!

My link with Rom 10:9 emphasizes how critical the true story is: If you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  I am still working on the sermon for Sunday but its title is: EVERYTHING THAT'S IMPORTANT DEPENDS ON THIS.  It does!