Is Britain Broken?

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Is Britain Broken?

It’s a fair question when we consider the events in our country over recent weeks.

I was reminded, yesterday, of a verse in the Old Testament book of Judges which says;

In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.(Judges 21 vs. 25)

Because of this, the nation of Israel went through a continual cycle of “boom and bust”.  Whenever they hit a “bust” period, God raised up a hero (called a Judge) to free the people.  The problem with the Judges is, they were not always Godly people (just read the story of Samson and ask yourself “why, why, why Delilah?”)

Of course, the king that the nation needed would provide Godly leadership.  Keep the nation on track with God and enable them to fulfill the role that God had given to the nation of Israel.

Now, as I have said previously, this is NOT a political blog nor am I presenting my opinions on the monarchy. 

I do feel, however, that in recent events there are many people who are just crying out for something ‘different’ in our nation.  I believe, this vacuum has been created because we have neglected God and are “doing whatever seems right in our own eyes”.

My reflections have led me to consider how the Church needs to be raised up like the Judges in the Old Testament to show the nation the way back to God.

The question is, how do we do this?

I think, firstly, we need to re-discover our missional heart.  The Church is not a club for the good but, a rescue station for the troubled.  It was Archbishop William Temple who was quoted as saying

“The Church is the only institution that exists primarily for the benefit of those who are not its members.”

I have always passionately believed this but, in the day to day management of church activities, it is often forgotten. In our battle to keep the buildings running, the program full we have concentrated our efforts on keeping people happy, rather than reaching those who do not yet know Jesus.

One thing I heard the other day, which shocked me, is that some Church Ministers now face performance management reviews and annual appraisals.  I am all for professionalism and accountability but, surely, this is going too far.

Secondly, we forget the radical nature of Christian community.  In some respects, the church has become part of society and therefore absorbed into it.  The early Church were outsiders. Because they were outside the system, the Church had to cling together and work together despite their differences.  That radical community was so attractive, it grew.

Thirdly, the consumer culture has entered the Church.  Rather than influencing our society, we have been influenced by society.  Church has become about a lifestyle choice and “what do I get out of this”.  The danger with this consumer approach is that, in a desperate attempt to compete in the marketplace, we offer everything to everybody and burn ourselves out in the process.

Dear reader, this has to stop!

We have to get back to what is at the heart of the gospel.

Relationship

Relationship

Relationship

It’s time to radically rethink the way that we “do Church” and to recapture what our faith is actually about. 

I want to be excited by the gospel opportunities that are available in our country.  I want to be engaging fully with God’s word.  I want to share what I have found in Jesus with those who do not yet know Him.

There is a story told about the evangelist Gypsy Smith (I don’t know if it’s true but, I like it).  Somebody once asked him “how can we see revival in the nation?”.  Gypsy Smith responded that it was easy “take a piece of chalk and draw a circle on the floor.  Stand in the circle and pray ‘Lord, send revival and start with everybody who is standing in this circle’”.

I don’t know about you but, I am off to find a piece of chalk.

 

Grenfell Tower

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My heart goes out to those who have lost loved ones, a home and community in the tragedy of Grenfell Tower.  I cannot begin to imagine the fear and horror of those poor people and the nightmare they have lived through and continue to live through.  In this country we are really blessed to have incredible emergency services and hospital facilities.  

It does seem that, in Britain, at the moment we have had more than our fair share of heartache.  This year, we have lived through terrorism in Manchester and London and now this tragedy in London.  In the face of such immense pressure, communities can either pull together or, be driven apart.

I have no doubt, over the coming weeks and months more revelations will come out about these tragedies that will leave people asking “how could this have been allowed to happen?”.  In the wake of Grenfell Tower, there has been much anger already expressed.  I am wary of those who would seek to capitalize on a communities suffering for their own narrow ends whether politically or in the media. 

When it comes to questions on human suffering, there are no easy or “off pat” answers we can give.  The Bible certainly echos that, take a quick glimpse through the Psalms or, try and unravel the book of Job!

What I do know, however, is that God is not immune to our sadness and our suffering.  In Jesus, He experienced both the best and the worst that this world has to offer and, when our hearts are breaking, His is breaking too.

Over these last few days, our nation has been remembering the MP Jo Cox, who lost her life so tragically.  Her famous quote, that we have been reminded of is;

jo-cox-quote

 

I, for one, hope that as a nation we do pull together in the wake of these tragedies.  I pray lessons will be learnt, justice will be given, the homeless will be housed, the bereaved will be supported and that we will come together for the benefit of all.

Many centuries ago, a prophet called Amos spoke the word of God to the nation of Israel.  He reminded the people what God required of them and those are words we need to hear as a nation now;

But let justice roll on like a river,                                                                                         righteousness like a never-failing stream!

(Amos 5 vs. 24)

 

Tim Farron & Political Correctness

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I can remember, many years ago, hearing a man called Dave Carr preach.  One of the phrases he used in his sermon really struck me, he said;

The biggest threat to the Church in Britain will come, not from world religions but, from political correctness.

The idea behind political correctness is not a bad one. 

We should think about the language we use and the effect that our language, behaviour, attitudes and so forth have on others.  However, when pushed too far, political correctness creates an atmosphere of fear and actually closes dialogue and creates walls that it was intended to break and, on that basis, I think David Carr is right.

I was recalling this yesterday, when I read of the resignation of Lib Dem leader Tim Farron.  Now, as I have said previously, my blogs are not intended to be political.  Until the recent election, I wasn’t entirely sure who Tim Farron was.  However, during the course of the election he was catapulted into the limelight for his Christian views and his struggle to answer certain, media placed, questions. His resignation announced on the BBC News website with the headline

 

Farron quits as Lib Dem leader over clash between faith and politics

In a statement, he said he was “torn between living as a faithful Christian and serving as a political leader”.

(http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-40281300)

This statement made me really sad. 

I don’t agree with a lot of Tim Farron’s views, however, to have faced the media onslaught, the challenging and questioning that he has been through must have taken an incredible toll on him.  Jesus words;

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.”                                                                   (Matthew 5 vs. 11)

My thoughts and prayers are with Mr Farron and I hope he finds some respite from the pressure he has been under.

I was also reminded that, during the Blair years, one of Tony Blair’s spin doctors famously said;

We don’t do God

And with Mr Farron’s resignation, I am sure there are many who will be reflecting upon their faith, politics and public life.  Should God be kept out of politics?  Is there any place for God within public life? 

Big questions, no easy answers.  But, let me share with you the conclusions I have come to.

I believe that God, the Christian faith, public and political life cannot be separated.  God’s heart is for all people and He, therefore, has a concern for all that affects people.  Politics affects people, therefore you cannot separate God from politics.  Jesus once said,

You are the salt of the earth                                                                              (Matthew 5 vs. 13)

When we add salt to our cooking, it should season the whole dish and not just part.  When Christ is in our lives He makes a difference to the whole of our lives and that includes our public as well as our private life.

Now, when it comes to political and public life, I can guarantee that there will be people out there of all political persuasion and none!  I cannot (and would not) inflict my view upon you, and I ask you not to inflict yours upon me!

What I hope we can agree on is that our Country and our world needs Christians to not only speak the words of Christ but, to live the teachings of Christ at this difficult time. 

One of the things that I have been challenged about recently is how the Bible teaches us that we should pray for those in authority (1 Tim 2 vs. 2), whether we like them or not.

So, I am praying for our nation.  Our leaders.  The world and world leaders that;

we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.                      (1 Tim 2 vs. 2)

 

A blot on the landscape

Clacton Pier

I am blessed, truly blessed.

I do a job that I really love (among a people that are a joy to be with) in an area that is wonderful.  I know Clacton on Sea isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, there has been a lot of negative press over recent years but, I like Clacton.

What could be nicer than a stroll by the sea or, sitting on the front with a mug of tea in hand watching the world go by?  When “in landers” are stifling under that horrible sticky heat we have fresh sea air.  In the winter time, what is more spectacular than watching the constantly changing and spectacular sea?

There is, however, a blot on the landscape.  There is one thing that ruins this seaside idyll – the seagull.

This uncivilized creature has a habit of loudly squawking in the early hours of the morning.  It is not a solitary squawk, no, they squawk in packs.  When one starts, they all join in and the noise is enough to wake the dead!  Certainly enough to wake me.

There is one habit that this feathered fiend has, that is horrendous and I saw its horror this morning.

Tuesday is bin day in my part of Clacton.  The bin men come very early and so I, and my neighbours, put our bags out the night before.  By Tuesday morning our streets are covered in litter.  The eagle eyed (or should that be seagull eyed?) pests have swooped down and shredded the bags helping themselves to the best (or worst) of the rubbish.

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I know our town council regularly explore options of managing the situation but, in the main, there is little anybody can do.  If we want to live in this wonderful place, we learn to live with the blot on the landscape.

I suppose that’s how many of us view life too. 

We have our weaknesses our failures, our foibles and we tell people “that’s just me, you can either take it or leave it”.  People have to learn to live with our “blot on the landscape”.

Or, maybe, you are in the situation where you are living with somebody else’s “blot on the landscape” and you live with the consequences.  Perhaps you see the pain they are in or cause and wonder if the situation can ever be changed.

One thing that I have discovered over the years is that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a message of transformation and I believe that message is as powerful today as it has ever been.  I suppose, the only caveat I would put with that, is that the transformation Christ brings is so deep that it doesn’t happen overnight.  It’s an old image, I know, but none the less true the Christian life is a journey in transformation.  Elyse Fitzpatrick says;

Elyse Fitzpatrick says

 

So, how can this transformation take place?  How can my “blot on the landscape” be changed.  Here is what the Apostle Paul prays for the Church at Ephesus;

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

(Ephesians 3 vs. 16 – 19)

There is a lot in this prayer (I preached from it last Sunday).  But, as I reflected back, this morning for me, the key is found in the words “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts”.  The sense here is not a “one off visit” but, a continual presence a staying within.  In our lives we need Christ to be within our hearts continually.  Each and every day asking Him to come and dwell within us and, as He does, we will experience the transformation that only He can bring.

 

 

Grow Up

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In light of recent events, a couple of characters have really stood out for me.

Firstly, Ariana Grande.  If I am brutally honest I had not heard of her before the Manchester attacks but, I don’t exactly fit the demographic of this 23 year singer from the USA.

Secondly, Donald Trump.  It seems everybody has an opinion on the 70 year old president of the USA.

Following the attacks in Manchester and London we have seen Ariana Grande supporting victims and working to unite a city and Donald Trump launching an attack on Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London.

My thoughts were “how come a 23 year old singer can behave with more compassion and maturity than a 70 year old president”?  It certainly proves the quote attributed to Walt Disney, Carroll Bryant and others;

To grow old is mandatory, to grow up is optional

I believe in the Bible and so was interested to see what the Bible had to say about maturity and growing up

Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly – mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.                         (1 Corinthians 3 vs. 1 – 2) 

 He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.                                              (Colossians 1 vs. 28)

There were a lot more passages too.  I came away from my study with the clear understanding that the goal of the Christian life is to grow to maturity in Christ.  We are not to remain as “spiritual infants” but, we are to grow up!  The more I dwell on this, the more I see this as one of the parts of discipleship.

So, how do I grow up?

It begins with the choices I make about the attitude I will adopt.  The Apostle Paul wrote;

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had                                (Philippians 2 vs. 5)

Sometimes, in life, we have to ask tough questions of ourselves.  The tough one I have to continually ask myself is;

Is my attitude the same attitude that Christ Jesus had?

And, if it isn’t, am I brave enough to change ?  

Have you the courage to ask the same questions of  yourself?

Manchester, London, the Crucible and all that….

Manchester

I write these reflections in the wake of a further attack in London and following the attack in Manchester.  My thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by these horrible events.

On Friday I visited the theatre to watch Arthur Miller’s incredible play “The Crucible”.  The Crucible holds a bit of a special place in my heart because, my first go at “am dram”, was playing Thomas Putnam in our school production.  If you get chance, I would encourage you to go and see this amazing performance but, beware, The Crucible is a challenging watch – as my wife said “not exactly a laugh a minute”! (www.selladoor.com/productions/the-crucible)

Arthur Miller’s work can be read at several different layers.  Firstly, it is the story of the characters involved in the Salem Witch Trials (1692-3) a really tragic time in American history.  At another level, it is a damning indictment of McCarthyism (roughly 1947 – 56) of which Miller was a victim.  It tackles issues of bravery, love, failure, morality and poses so many questions your head spins.  But, I still recommend it!

My biggest challenge of the evening came as I stood in the ice cream queue (keep with me – not quite what you think!) and I overheard to ladies in the line behind me (you should never listen in on other people’s conversations).  They were discussing the play and one of them said to the other;

It’s about time we got rid of this stupid religious @:*!!@

Part of me wanted to turn and challenge them but, part of me agreed.

Let me explain that and bring in my reflection on, recent, horrific events.

I believe there is a fundamental difference between “religion” and “faith”.

I am a Christian and would consider myself a follower of Jesus Christ.  That does not mean that I am perfect, or a do gooder.  I am a church minister who struggles as much with the “church” (meaning structure and organization) and rejoices in the church (meaning true fellowship with others).

But, I have a real problem when it comes to religion and, as I read the Bible, so did Jesus.

To my understanding, religion is about rules and regulations and leads to an outward display of conformity.  Jesus spoke about the inward condition of the heart and our relationship with God and with each other.

Religion demands that you follow the set pattern to fit in. Jesus welcomed all

Religion demands behaviour that appears righteous, Jesus spoke about seeking God and then everything else would fall into place.

Religion demands you follow the ritual and deviation not welcome.  Jesus taught about the shepherd who left the 99 and rejoiced when he found the 1 that had wandered off.

Religion demands you keep to the rules.  Jesus spoke about grace

Religion points the finger at failures.  Jesus came to set the prisoner free and proclaim the year of the Lords favour.

This doesn’t mean Jesus was silent about sin but, He urged us to realistic and honest about ourselves. 

I have no doubt that, in the light of recent events, there will be many voices that cry out “religion is the cause of all wars”.  They will, no doubt, point to ISIS, the Crusaders, the Inquisition and, yes, the Salem trials along with many other examples of man’s inhumanity to man.  I know what they mean but, it would be more accurate to say “people are the cause of all wars” and it’s their demand that others conform to the “standards” they set.

This kind of religion has nothing to do with the faith that Jesus calls us to when He said;

“Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbour’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbour.                                                (Matthew 7 vs. 1 – 5 – The Message)

This is the same Jesus, who invited those who hear His message to come and follow Him and it’s only when we follow, in faith not religion, that we discover hope, freedom and the fullness of life that God offers.

 

come and follow