Pointing fingers!


This week is marked by many as “Mental Health Awareness” week.  I, for one, am glad that during this week there are people who are openly speaking about mental health and are challenging the social stigma that has been placed on these issues.  As I drove into work this morning, I was listening to a fascinating piece on the radio about our poor sleep patterns in this country and their link to mental health and wellbeing.  As I finished listening to the piece on sleep, it felt a little ironic to then listen to a piece on problems in the Middle East and North Korea.  If anything would deprive me of sleep, it’s those two situations!

I found myself reflecting on human beings.

Humanity is, in the words of the Psalmist, fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139 vs. 14).  We are a complex creation of mind, body and soul.  We can be emotional, caring, creative and incredibly destructive.

I thought about the many ways in humanity has sought to make life better for itself.  We have endeavoured to find political answers, which have gone horribly wrong.  The old cliché rings true; In capitalism man exploits man, in communism it is the other way roundEven the best of intentioned can get lured by power and prestige.  I thought about the charities and humanitarian solutions that have been offered, only to be reminded of their, recent, heart breaking scandals.

In my time of reflection, I read some words of Jesus;

My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.

(John 17 vs. 15)

I remember, a few years ago, hearing an interview with a mega-church pastor from America.  He described his “Church-complex” that included a shopping mall, health centre, medical facilities, gymnasium and even a hairdressers.  He finished his interview by saying “none of my people need to go into the world for anything”.  I have never felt such anger as I felt at that moment! (I even typed that paragraph angrily).

God does not separate Himself from the mess of humanity but, in Jesus Christ, embraces what it means to be fully human.  He then pays the price for human mess on the cross.  His resurrection is the ultimate in life transformation and hope.

I believe that the gospel that we have to share is one of transformation for the world now and in the age to come.  The gospel is not just “pie in the sky when you die”, it’s about transforming the world in which we live.  If you like, eternal life begins this side of glory.  That is what the Church is called to live!

Yes, the Church is flawed.  Yes, the Church gets things wrong and make mistakes.  But, a Church that separates itself from the world, is a church that is not living the gospel.

But Jesus prays something else in this verse.  He prays, that we would be protected from the evil one.  This led me to think about whether or not I always recognize the presence of the evil one.  In the world we see so much hurt and pain that it’s easy to point the finger and say “that is evil”. 

However, evil and the presence of evil it not always “out there”.  Sometimes, it’s very much “in here”.  Let me explain what I mean by that.  Evil can be a very subtle, manipulative thing.  Do I always recognize the presence of evil in my life, my heart?  How often do I give into the pressure to “be somebody important”?  How often do I trade servant leadership for power?  My ways for God’s ways?

Sometimes, I need to remember when I point the finger at somebody else and declare “that is evil” there are three pointing back at me! 

My prayer today is that God would help me to recognize the presence of evil in my own heart and bring it to Him so that I can experience His forgiveness and renewing love.  What about you?








A bowl of Salad?



I read a wonderful piece recently written by Margaret Silf.  In her book Landmarks an Ignatian Journey she describes an experience she had whilst attending a friend’s induction as minister of a church.  She writes;

The congregation streamed out of the church and into the hall.  The place became alive with conversation, and, as so often happens at these gatherings, within ten minutes the laden tables were almost bare…..…Except for one large bowl of rice salad, which remained untouched in the middle of a long empty table.

Margaret then goes on to say how she could not understand why the rice salad had not been consumed with the same gusto as the rest of the food.  It looked good, somebody had obviously put time and effort into it.  She tried to imagine the feelings of the person who had provided it.  She decided that she would consume some of the delicious looking rice salad.  However, as she approached the salad she discovered that the reason why it had remained untouched was because there was no spoon to serve it with.

Margaret Silf used the bowl of salad to ask some serious questions of the Church and, I believe, that her questions are very valid for us to consider too.  The Christian faith is, to use Margaret Silf’s analogy, like a bowl of delicious salad!  But, as she rightly asks, where is the spoon?

Today, as I wrote this piece, is marked as the Feast of The Ascension and I read part of Marks Gospel this morning as part of my devotions;

He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.”

(Mark 16 vs. 15)

Over quite a number of years, the fellowship at Pier Avenue have undertaken building work.  In the physical sense, we undertook the building of the Welcome Centre, Atrium and improving other facilities.  This has been done to enable us to actively engage with an ever changing community. 

We have engaged.  Our building is constantly in use by Church and outside groups.  We have welcomed the homeless.  We have welcomed the confused, hurting, lonely and isolated from our community.  We have sought to build bridges to “outside users” of our halls and we have learnt some interesting things along the way.

To only consider the physical aspect (no matter how beautiful that is) of our mission and to neglect the inner aspect of our mission is to miss the most crucial part of all.  Too often, we do a great job at the “outer” display of mission at the expense of the “inner” part of mission.

I believe that people are hungry for a deeper reality in life.  People are hungry for, as Jesus puts it, “life in all its fullness” (John 10vs. 10).  Therefore, we must continually ask ourselves the question, what are we engaging people with where, if you like, is the spoon?

For me, I believe we continually need to be seeking God’s guidance on our Spiritual lives.  As individuals, and as a Church, I feel that we need to, regularly and honestly review the journey we are on and seek God’s leading for the future and we need to be brave enough to ask the honest question of ourselves, where is the spoon?  Can others easily see and access all the good things of God through my life?

As I read on in the Gospel, I read something I had never spotted before;

Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.   

(Mark 16 vs. 20)

It was that phrase, and the Lord worked with them that caught my eye.  They were not on their own Jesus, through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit worked through them, enabling them to engage.

As I was reflecting on these words, my mind went to a well-known passage in John’s Gospel where Jesus refers to Himself as the true vine (you can read it in John 15 vs. 1 – 17).  In that passage Jesus tells us that we must remain in Him, connected, receiving His life flowing through us and, as we do that, then we will truly offer the world something that is worth having.