The Invitation

 

Last week I got the chance to go on retreat for a few days.  I had been really looking forward to it.  For a little while my relationship with God had felt a little stale and some of the things I had been dealing with through work had got me a little out of sorts – nothing drastic, just that feeling inside.  I knew that I needed to get away with God for a couple of days.

On our first evening, we were told we would get the chance to watch a film.  As our evening began, I discovered that the film we were to watch was “The Shack”.  I had never seen the film before but, a few years back, I had read the book and had not got on with it.  I knew the book was an allegory and not intended as a work of theology.  I had read the criticism of Wm Paul Young’s views.  I suppose because I had read it in “bits and pieces”, I found it hard to follow and found myself frustrated by it.

As soon as we were told that the film was “The Shack”, my heart sank.  I found feelings within me to watch the film with a distinct attitude of justification for my previously held dislike.  Much less, did I expect God to speak to me through it.  But, speak He did!

I found that as I was drawn into Mack’s story, I began to feel some gentle nudges from God.  The most powerful came when Mack received the invitation to go to “The Shack”, the words just seemed to leap off the screen at me.  There were many other things too but, space does not permit them!

That night I struggled to sleep.  I found myself dreaming about my own past and some of the worries I have in the present.  Some of the dreams could, perhaps, be best described as nightmares.  In the early hours of the following day I decided to give up with sleep and keep myself awake, it was much safer that way.

As our new day began it was to be a day of silence.  There was an art exhibition to help our thinking and spark our imaginations into prayer.  One quote I saw really spoke to me, it came from the basement of a concentration camp;

 

I believe in the sun even when it is not shining

I believe in love even when I cannot feel it

I believe in God even when He is silent

 

Accompanying that quote was a painting that looked like a swirl of blackness.  But, when you stood at a particular angle, there was the face of Jesus hidden within it.  As I gazed at the picture, I felt God saying to me “it’s time to come to The Shack”.  In the story, The Shack represents Mack’s heart.  It’s a dark place where the hurt and the pain of his “great sadness” are stored.

My story is very different to Mack’s and very very different to Wm Paul Young but, I have a Shack too.  It’s the place where I store up my hurts, failures, regrets, anger and the memories of all that has bred my insecurities.  God’s invitation to “come to the Shack” was frightening, I don’t like visiting my shack because, it’s a place of my pain.

In the story, when Mack goes to the Shack (nice little rhyme that!) he has an encounter which brings him healing and transformation.  What struck me was that, in the film, is The Shack is shown as a dark place the lighting is dim, it is a place of shadows.  As soon as Mack has his encounter it’s a place of colours and brightness.  It reminded me of a verse in the Bible which says;

For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light.

(Luke 8 vs. 17 – NRSV)

I had always seen those words as a bit of a threat. I don’t want anyone to know what is in my shack or, how it had got there.  Imagine the horror of having your deepest darkest secrets on full display for the world to see!

What I found was, as I went to my shack, it wasn’t everyone else who knew about it.  There was me and one other there and, that one other, already knew what was in my shack and He wasn’t horrified, angry or embarrassed by me.  He simply wanted to bring into the light what I was hiding in darkness so that He could bring forgiveness and healing.

I spent a long time at my shack with God that day.  As the afternoon approached, I went back to my shack and I lay down. I awoke 3 hours later having had the deepest most refreshing sleep for a long while.

I wonder where and how you will encounter God today?

 

 

 

Back to the school of the desert!

This week, in our area, marked the kids returning to school.  One of my aunties always used to tell me that “your school days are the best days of your life”.

I hated school.

I hated school assemblies.  I can remember sitting cross legged in the school hall that seemed to smell permanently of bad feet and boiled cabbage.  I can remember the half-hearted singing of hymns and the headmaster marching up and down yelling “sing” at any child he thought was not putting enough effort into it.  Even now, I hear the words or tunes of certain songs and they invoke really powerful memories for me.

I have always associated “Dear Lord and Father of mankind” with school.  I cannot bring myself to sing the proper words to “Morning has broken”.  Our version went;

Morning has broken

Somebody dropped it

Teacher has spoken

Let’s go to sleep

 

As a child, you tried to sneak the alternative words in without the teacher working out who done it.  As an adult looking back, I now understand the poetry of the words.  I can see what they were trying to convey. They spoke about God’s perfect creation.  They spoke about a world in harmony.  They spoke about a world set at peace with itself.

But that was not the world I knew then and, that is not the world I know now.

The world in which we live, is not the world that God created it to be.  Humanity walked away from God’s will and design and so the relationship was spoiled.

If you trace the history of the nations of Israel and Judah it reads like a pattern of “close to God the nation does well” and “away from God, the nations fall apart”.  There came a time in their history when they had strayed so far from God’s plans and purposes that they lost the nation altogether and ended up in exile in Babylon.

But, what the Bible teaches is, with God there is always hope.

This morning, we read chapter 35 from the book of Isaiah. I reflected on the fact that sometimes the Bible uses particular words that are loaded with significance.  The word that was significant for me in this chapter was the word “desert”.  I saw this word as an illustration meaning, not the natural state of things.  A desert is a tragedy.  A desert speaks of failure.  The desert is the place of regret.

I think many of us end up living in the desert of life.

So, we are faced with a choice.  We either dig in if we are going to get through; tough it out.  Or, we get beaten by it

The passage in Isaiah 35 tells us that the desert doesn’t have the last word.  The desert does not have the victory

The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendour of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the LORD, the splendour of our God.

(Isaiah 35 vs. 1 – 2)

The desert can never have the last word because even in the worst of situations, God can work to bring about His purposes and His plans.

 

 

Camels, needles and all that jazz!

 

The rich young man walked away from Jesus.  Ever since he could remember, he had kept the rules.  Done the right thing.  He had attended all the festivals, associated with the right people, been seen by the great and the good.  Yet, in just a few short words, Jesus had put his finger part of his life that was not up for discussion.

There was nothing wrong with having money, was there?  He liked his nice clothes, he liked to look good.  He enjoyed eating out at the top class restaurants, being seen in the right places.  He had hot and cold running servants, well why not?  At least it gave jobs to the poor.

There was the odd occasion when his income had dipped.  Business plans not quite to schedule, investments not given the rate of return that was promised.  Those were the times when his temper came to the forefront.  Nobody would cross him in business.  He could be a little ruthless at times, he admitted that, after all it was HIS money.

He looked at some of his friends.  He saw what they had.  The latest.  The best.  The new design.  He wanted that too.  After all it was HIS money.

 

What I think Jesus saw when he looked at the rich young man (Matthew 19 vs. 16 – 30) was somebody who was trapped.  He was trapped by his wealth.  We may think wealth is a nice problem to have, particularly if we are not overly rich by our societies standards.  Jesus, however, challenges that concept because that young man’s identity had become wrapped up in what he owned not, in who he was.

After the rich young man has walked away Jesus then goes on to speak about the values of the Kingdom of God.  Camels through the eye of a needle, first being last and the last being first.  His kingdom does not seem to fit into our world view of success.  He reminds us that God’s doesn’t always see things the way the world teaches us to see things.  What the world says is of value is not necessarily what God says is valuable.

This was the passage I was reflecting on during my quiet time this morning.  As I thought about the rich young ruler and Jesus response to His disciples questions I found myself thinking about a word that I do not hear very often.  It was word “contentment”.

One of the ways that our world functions is through the power of consumerism.  Consumerism creates a grey area between needs and wants.  It can lead us to, selfishly, focus on self, whilst claiming to empower us.  It can lead to greed and can be as addictive as any drug.  For some people “retail therapy” is more than a joke, it has become their drug of choice!

The antidote to this problem is found in contentment.  The Apostle Paul writes;

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

(Philippians 4 vs. 11 13)

 

And to his friend Timothy, he writes;

But godliness with contentment is great gain. 

(1 Timothy 6 vs. 6)

 

It seems, contentment will require us to challenge our current world view and seek God’s views, values and standards.  So, as I thought about these words, I looked at my own life and asked some tough questions of myself.  Am I satisfied with what I have or, am I always wanting more?  Am I content or striving?  What are the things I see valuable?  What would make my life “complete”?

I took a few moments bring my answers to God and, maybe, you would like to do the same.

I then thought again about my own life and listed those things that I was grateful to God for today.  As I did, I began to feel a real sense of contentment and gratitude for the many blessings that God has given to me.

Why not give it a go and try it for yourself?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting to the root of the problem!

This morning, I undertook a bit of gardening.

Those who know me will know I am not much of a gardener.  I struggle to tell weed from plant, sunflower from green bean.  But, when it comes to the sort of job that requires a bit of brute force and ignorance, I’m your man!

Our neighbour had pointed out that one of our fence panels was getting very damaged by an ivy plant that has been in the garden for years.  But, acting on my neighbours concerns, I armed myself with some shears and a saw and began to tackle the plant.

The surface of the plant looked quite nice, even fairly attractive. As I began to remove the surface layers, I saw that the plant was twisted, intertwined, parts of it were quite thick through years of being left to grow.  What looked, on the face of it, a fairly straightforward job, began to get heavier and harder.

Once I had got the plant down, I could see the full extent of the damaged fence beneath.  My neighbour had seen what I could not.

This incident got me thinking.

As we go through life we can pick up knocks and bruises along the way.  Our natural desire is to protect ourselves and so we allow things to “grow” around us as a form of hedge of protection.  What we don’t always see is the damage these things can be doing to us.

Like my ivy plant, we sometimes need to do a bit of radical uprooting in our lives.  We need to face, head on, the false hedge of protection that can causes so much damage.

I thought about some of the hedges of protection I have allowed to grow around me over the years.  If I am honest, pulling up some of them, feels like incredibly hard work, have I the strength to do it?  However, I do not have to face this work alone.  God, by the power of His Holy Spirit can and will work within us to clear away those things that damage.  Here is what the Apostle Paul writes;

God can do anything, you know – far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.

(Ephesians 3 vs. 20 – The Message)  

 

I love that phrase “deeply and gently within us”.

He works within us as we, honestly, open our hearts to Him and allow Him to change us from the inside out.

What is that?

I read something in a blog today that caused me to panic.

This particular blog was about writing, communication and social media.  The writer was talking about how the summertime was good for planning and making improvements to your media profile.  The writer went on to advise;

If you are feeling brave, you may even want to tackle your WiP

I had never seen those initials before.  I did not know what WiP was.

I have a love hate relationship with Twitter, I do a bit with Facebook, I have a blog.  I have never got into podcasting or vlogging was WiP some new social media platform?

I began to panic.

I felt as though there was a new world out there which I was not part of.  In the face of WiP, I was an outsider, excluded.  I wanted to find out what was involved in WiP, was there an app? I wanted to get on the inside track and then I could proudly say “I am on Twitter, Facebook, blog and WiP”.

You cannot begin to imagine how foolish and relieved I was when I discovered that WiP stands for Work In Progress. In the context of the blog I was reading summer is a good time to tackle some of the work in progress that has been in the background for a little while.

As I reflected on my folly, I began to think about the importance of the we use.

Our words are powerful.  We all know that we can say words that help, heal or hurt and damage but, the language we use has the power to include or exclude too.  Sometimes, the language we use helps us to identify those who are part of the “in-crowd” and those who “don’t belong”.

I remember, when I was training for the ministry, hearing a story of a preacher from Victorian times.  When he had finished preparing his sermons, he would summon his cook and preach the sermon to her.  He did this because, he felt, if his cook could not understand it, it wasn’t worth preaching!

I don’t have a cook, or servants!  But, the incident with the blog was a real warning to me about the language that I use.  Do the words I use include or, exclude others?

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been preaching from the “Lost and Found” stories in Luke chapter 15;

One day when many tax collectors and other outcasts came to listen to Jesus, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law started grumbling, “This man welcomes outcasts and even eats with them!”

(Luke 15 vs. 1 – 2 Good News Bible)

 

Jesus then tells them 3 stories to make a point that, with God, there is no such thing as an outcast because, God welcomes all.

I hope our language reflects that!

 

 

 

A Tale With A Sting In The Tail

On Sunday, I shared a well-known story with our congregation.

“There was a man who had two sons.

Two boys, younger one says “I want my inheritance now” and off he goes and wastes the lot.  Wine, women and song.  When the money runs out, so do the friends.  The younger son is left in such a terrible state he ends up looking after the pigs

Eventually, he comes to his senses and heads for home

Dad hasn’t given up hope and spends his days watching the horizon for young son to come again.  And as he sees the younger son on the horizon he rushes out to greet him and welcome him home.  They throw a huge party!  Everyone is happy, except the fatted calf and the older brother who has some uncomfortable things to say to his dad.

Jesus then leaves the story hanging in mid air

It is almost like he is throwing out a challenge to his hearers and to us “Who are you in this story?”

Are you like the older brother?  diligent, faithful, trustworthy and yet what have you got out of it?   How do you respond to those you are “not like me” when they receive the news of God’s kingdom and accept it?

Or perhaps you identify more with the prodigal?

Let’s face it, we have all known those people who have made an absolute mess of their lives.  We know those who seem to have had it all and blown it.  We know those who have walked away.  A few years back, many churches became involved in praying for the prodigals in this longing to see those people who had just drifted from Church fellowships to return.  Maybe there are the prodigals in your family, amongst your friends that you are praying for that you long to see brought back into a kingdom relationship with God.

Maybe you have been the prodigal.  One post that I saw on facebook recently that made me smile said

If the grass is greener on the other side that’s probably because it is fake

 Henri Nouwen said;

“I am a prodigal son every time I search for unconditional love where it cannot be found.”

As I unpacked this story that I have preached on countless time over the years, I found that this tale had a “sting in the tale” for me.  This time, my focus was drawn onto the Father.  He is the character that the whole story hinges on after all.  One of the things that I like to do in preparation is look at different Bible translations.  I am used to seeing the title “The Prodigal Son.  One of the translations I looked at called it “The Merciful Father”.  I think that is a wonderful title because it re-focuses where our attention on the mercy of the Father, whether we are the older brother or, the prodigal his mercy is available for us.  Henri Nouwen again says

“the Father is always looking for me with outstretched arms to receive me back and whisper again in my ear: ‘You are my Beloved, on you my favour rests.’”

And that is true for each of us because our heavenly Father is rich in mercy.  It doesn’t matter what we have done or failed to do in life the moment we turn to God His arms are outstretched to us because He is rich in mercy.

God’s mercy is incredibly powerful.  We often confuse the idea of mercy and pity but, they are not the same thing at all.  God’s mercy can be described as restorative mercy because it brings life and freedom.  It brings hope and grace.  John Paul II In his letter “On the mercy of God” says this;

This love is able to reach down to every prodigal son, to every human misery, and above all to every form of moral misery, to sin. When this happens, the person who is the object of mercy does not feel humiliated, but rather found again and “restored to value”

 Mercy has restorative power.

Now, here is the sting!

In Luke 6 Jesus talks loving those who have hurt us, loving those who have persecuted us and then He goes on to say;

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

(Luke 6 vs. 36)

 

You see through this parable there is the challenge for us to not only be receivers of mercy but, to show mercy.  If I am honest with you, sometimes find this difficult.  I am not the sort of person who holds grudges, life is too short.  But, when somebody has done me wrong, I want them to come to me and apologise.  I want them to make the first move toward restoration.  The Father in the parable doesn’t wait Luke 15 vs. 20;

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

(Luke 15 vs. 20)

The Father makes the move.  Can I do that, can I go the extra mile?  Can I embrace those who have hurt me?  Some of those hurts that life has thrown at me run very deep indeed yet, can I be merciful just as my Father in heaven is merciful?

 

I needed to spend some time quietly with God and I needed to open my heart to Him and share with Him some of my hurts and pains.  I found that, as I did, God’s arms were open wide and I felt the power of His embrace.

Is there something or someone you need to bring before God, why not take this opportunity to talk to Him?

Are We Nearly There Yet?

There was one phrase my kids used to use all the time when they were little and I could guarantee it would drive me nuts every time I heard it “are we nearly there yet!”

Every parent has heard it.

You are going out for a nice day.  You have packed the picnic, the first aid kit, the road maps, the alternatives in case of rain, the alternatives in case of closures, the games to play en-route.  It would be simpler taking the British Army on full scale military manoeuvres than the kids out for the day.

With the kids strapped in, you start to reverse off the drive and that whinging voice begins in the back ;

“Are we nearly there yet!”

It seems to me that speed and hurry are encouraged in our lives from a very early age.

We prize speed.  There is a land speed record. Gold medals are awarded to the fastest athletes. If you finish this job quickly, you can get onto something much nicer!  Eat your dinner quickly, you can have pudding.

One of the biggest challenges I have faced in my spiritual journey is learning to slow down and to trust in the slow work of God.  I am not claiming perfection in this!  God has to frequently remind me that my ways and His ways are not always the same.  Sometimes, God needs to pull me back and remind me that I have to;

Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything.” 

(Psalm 46 vs. 10 – The Message)

He had to do that this morning.

I came into the office, I saw the mountains of papers that were covering my desk.  I thought “I don’t have time to spend long in prayer, I will have to be quick”.  I grabbed my Bible, read a short passage said a quick prayer and got on with the work.  As I started to sort my in tray I found a copy of a poem by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin called Patient Trust;

Patient Trust

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.

—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin,

 

I left the in tray.

Picked up my Bible

and I spent some time doing the most important thing of all, I sat aware of the loving presence of God

 

 

The best advice I have ever been given

 

The best piece of advice I have ever been given, was shared with me when I moved to my current pastorate a little over 10 years ago.  It has proved to be so useful that, I have often shared it with new ministers that have moved into the town. I was reflecting on it this week as I wrote a card to welcome the new Salvation Army officers who begin their ministry here this week.  Should I or shouldn’t I write it in?

That piece of advice?  Let me set the scene for you…

It was my induction.  I had got through the service and I was surrounded by a sea of faces, many of whom I hadn’t got a clue who they were. There was one chap approached me and, as we chatted, he explained he worked in the motor industry and then he said

“my advice to you is, whenever you drive around here and approach a roundabout, always watch out for the traffic on the left.”

 

I did a double take.

I may not be the worlds best driver but, even I know, that the British Highway code instructs drivers to give way to traffic on the right at a roundabout.  I laughed because he was obviously joking.

There was no trace of humour on his face.  “I am serious” he said and he certainly looked it.

 

“People round here don’t understand roundabouts.  If you want your car to stay in one piece, watch out for the traffic on the left.”

 

His advice has proved to be invaluable.  I have, thankfully, never been hit but I have had plenty of near misses!!!

I wish that advice had been given to me when I first became a Christian.  In fact, I think that advice should be given to anybody who steps out in faith to “have a go for God”.

Watch out for what comes at you from left field

The Apostle Peter writes;

 

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.

(1 Peter 5 vs. 8 – NLT)

 

The roaring lion is a great image and often in this verse, that is what I am drawn to.  But it is the words “stay alert!” that are the most important ones in this verse.  I think, if Peter were writing today, he might just say “at roundabouts, watch out for the traffic on the left”

The fact is that the Christian life is not always plain sailing.  There are struggles, challenges, temptations and frustrations  somewhere along the line.  In my experience, it is often the attacks that come at us from “left field” that hurt the most.  Even when we brace ourselves for difficulty, it comes from the quarter we least expect.The colleague who we thought a friend, who bad-mouths us.   The person we believed would stand with us who lets us down.  Dare I even use the phrase “friendly fire” that comes from other Christians?

The more I think about it the more I realise, I have had a few near misses in the car but, when it comes to life, I have had plenty of head on collisions!

I have sometimes ended up feeling as though I have had the stuffing well and truly knocked out of me and I find myself wondering how I will ever be able to stand again.  The Apostle Peter goes on to say;

Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

(1 Peter 5 vs. 9 – NIV)

 

This is what real Christian fellowship looks like.  I am not on my own in my struggle.  Other Christians are going through the same sort of thing I am.  Other Christians are hurting.  Other Christians can empathise because they have either been there or are there.  Other Christians can give encouragement because they have the experience.

I am absolutely convinced that this is part of the role of the Christian Church, we are to be givers as well as receivers.

I believe that the church needs to open it’s eyes to each other.  We live in a self-centred society and that is not God’s intention or God’s way.

 

Peter then goes on to say;

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.

(1 Peter 5 vs. 10)

 Somewhere in the midst of it all, is God.  He can work in the toughest and hardest of situations to reveal something of Himself to us.  The Jesuits teach that God is in all things.  If I am honest, I struggle with that.  I would like to see God in all things but, sometimes that just isn’t easy.   When I am hurting, those are the times that God can feel far away

 

What these words have come to mean to me is that the pressure of the world, the flesh and the devil are inevitable.  They are part of life.  Part of what it means to live as human in a fallen and damaged world.

God will be there somewhere in the midst of it helping us to stand.  Teaching us and blessing us too, somehow whether I can see it or not

So, what I must do is trust and keep trusting

It may be only years later that we will be able to look back and see what God has done how God has guided.  It may be only years later we will look back and say, God gave me the strength to stand firm in the face of that situation

Where ever you are today, whatever you face.  My friend, I want you to know what I also need to hear

God is in the midst of this, somewhere

Ducks in the baptistery

 

Yesterday was a very special day at Pier Avenue.  We celebrated two people being baptised.  I love a good baptism and, I have to say, it is one of the greatest privileges of being a Baptist Minister.  I get to hear the stories and share in something the joy of the baptizees (not convinced that is a word but it will do).

The atmosphere in Church was wonderful, almost party like.  Somebody had even put two rubber ducks in the baptistery!

Many people have an expectation of Church they expect “Wesley and Weirdo’s” and yet, yesterday’s service was anything but!   I love it when those who are not used to Church, tell me how much they enjoyed being in the service and it wasn’t what they expected.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  There is a time when it is right to be serious in Church.  There are times when we should “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12 vs. 15).  But equally, there are times when we should rejoice, celebrate and have fun too.  In fact, it is scriptural read Luke 15 there are parties galore as those that were lost are found again!

When the time came Archbishop Duck-a-lot and his “bath store buddy” were lifted out of the water and we put them on the side to enjoy the view as we celebrated two lives transformed by the love of Jesus.

Today, I stood beside the emptying baptistery and couldn’t help smiling as I reflected on what happened yesterday.  I feel very honoured and humbled to have taken part in such a service.  Like every baptism, I will remember it as a very special occasion.  As I walked away I thought to myself “I may have got very wet but, not as wet as those who were baptized!”

 

 

 

How can I believe?

 

I wonder of you have ever had the experience of turning to a well-known passage in the Bible, recognizing it and then skim reading it quickly because you know what happens next?

That was my experience this morning as I looked at a really familiar passage from John’s Gospel.  It was the story of “doubting Thomas” John 20 vs. 24 – 29.  All of the other disciples had been present when the resurrected Jesus had appeared.  For some reason, unexplained, Thomas had been elsewhere.  Jesus appears to the others, they are full of joy and excitement about who and what they had experienced.  Thomas pours cold water upon it;

“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

(John 20 vs. 24)

Over the years, I have heard many different sermons on this scene (preached quite a few myself).  It was one of those passages that held no surprises for me – or so I thought.

As I quickly read the passage, I felt God invite me to step into the scene.  I imagined what it would have been like to have been there.  I imagined the room, the feelings of the disciples and I imagined them trying to convince Thomas of what had happened.  I heard Thomas make his statement of disbelief but, as he spoke, I heard different words;

“How can I believe unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, how can I believe?”

Thomas asks a very fair question.  It is a question that we have all asked at one time or another.  The brokenness and tragedy of the world causes us to ask the question “how can I believe?”  The brokenness in our own lives causes us to ask the question “how can I believe?”

I think it is healthy to ask questions.  It is human to ask questions.  As a pastor, if I see people “smiling through” all of their struggles without a moments’ hesitation, I worry about their grasp on reality!

Why does Thomas seem so keen to see the physical evidence of the cross?  Why is seeing the nail prints so important?  Partly because they are proof positive that it is Jesus.  But, I also think, there is something deeper going on here.  I think it is to do with identification at a much deeper level.  The pagan gods were remote, isolated from humanity.  In Jesus, God became fully human.  He experienced the full joy and sorrow that we all experience.  In Jesus, He bore our suffering on the cross and carries the marks of that suffering.

A week later, Jesus invites Thomas to see the marks of the crucifixion.  Jesus doesn’t shy away from Thomas questions, He understands them and helps him move forward in faith.

I cannot pretend, in this short thought, to fully understand the joys and the struggles you are experiencing in your life nor can I explain to you the things that I face. What I believe is that Jesus still carries the marks of crucifixion and if you, like Thomas, are asking “how can I believe?” then He welcomes your question.