A few musings from St Kilda

Sunday, 17 May 2015

You can't do that!

We've all seen them around.   They are prohibition signs that say "you can't do that".    These days we replace words with symbols, just in case someone can't read English.   Sometimes there is a red line striking through, sometimes there isn't one, usually on standard road signs, which makes things more confusing, but they mean the same - what's prohibited is on the sign.

These signs appear everywhere and most people understand their message - you can't do what's on the sign.   So I was intrigued to find this sign on the sea front when I was walking the dogs.

Here it is as large as life.  It's a dog on a lead in a prohibition sign.   What is says according to the rules above, is that you are not permitted to walk your dog on a lead.    That means you have to walk your dog off a lead doesn't it, because the sign shows a person with a dog on a lead?    As there is not a dog ban sign, they must be allowed, just not on a lead.  

Actually I'm being facetious here as I know very well what was meant because the sign is written in English underneath - which is just as well as there may be of confused people otherwise!

I found it no surprise that the authors of confusion were SCDC - it's typical municipal confusion, but I'm surprised no-one has noticed.  Perhaps they have and they don't want the expense of putting up a different sign unless someone else notices and makes a fuss!  

We have all lived in a generation of can't do's.  The signs may have changed over the years, but we live in a society that has limits.  Our behaviour is regulated by those in authority, or by those wanting to protect their privacy by putting up Keep Out signs.  Usually it's in the form of telling us what we can't do.    A common view of God is that He is someone who is a killjoy.  He has produced a book, the Bible which tells us what we can't do.   In the past couple of generations people have stressed freedom rather than prohibition.   Their rejection of the Christian faith is often on the basis of their freedom to do as they please.   

What strikes me about these signs is that we have not become a freer society, just that the nature of freedoms has shifted from one part of our culture to another.   So people may be freer in their sexual relationships, or freer in terms of race, gender or class, but in a modern surveillance society, many of our other rights have started to disappear, particularly in relation to personal privacy.

I sometimes watch Jeremy Kyle on telly - you can't avoid him really.   Are some of these people he has on his show for real?    How can human beings treat each other like that.  Not all do, but we all see elements of that sort of behaviour in our own community. 

Then we realise why the Bible is full of moral statements. Without God's framework, relationships can be very dysfunctional.  However much people may criticise the Christian faith for its Biblical moral stance, what replaces it is often moral anarchy which leads to broken relationships, anger, unforgiveness, revenge, hurt and hatred.  

Actually, the Bible is a book that helps us define freedoms.  It's a book that creates a framework in which we can live life knowing that we love others and honour God.   It tells us of things we shouldn't do and why, but it also tells us how in Jesus, God has set us free to live life to the full, by recognising all the space there is between the limits.   If you are a Christian, then God wants you to live life to the full.   

2 Cor 3:17.. the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.   True liberty is not found in ignoring Jesus but following Him.   The following verses always encourage me:    But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23).   The Christian faith is one where we have freedom to do all those things which build ourselves and others up.  They are all positive, and they are all powerful.   And the Spirit brings them into fruition in our lives.   Christians, in the power of the Spirit are a counter-culture people.    If we walk in the Spirit and pray in the Spirit, we display His fruit.  We will honour God and build up others.   The world, or society and those we know who don't know Jesus yet, needs that right now.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Pushing Jesus away?

Mark 6:1-6  
Jesus left there and went to his home town, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.
“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offence at him.
Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honour except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith. (NIV)

As I'm on sabbatical, I thought I would take the opportunity to visit other churches over the next few weeks.  My first outing was to Proclaimers Church at the Novotel in Ipswich.

I got a great welcome, so thanks to them.   The sermon was based on the passage from Mark above.  I've read it lots of times before but never preached on it.   And my attention was drawn to something I'd not noticed previously.  It's in verse 5.  Such was the lack of faith of people in His home town, that Jesus was only able to do a few miracles.  His blessings to them were limited by this lack of faith. We don't know if this was the same incident as in Luke 4 but either way, Jesus was driven away by their lack of faith and He went elsewhere and others received the blessings.

Jesus wants us to receive His blessings, but our lack of faith often means we miss out as we are not ready to receive.  We may even witness one or two miracles or answered prayers, but our lack of faith means that we can in effect push Him away from us. Because we have experienced a few things Jesus has done, we think we are OK and don't examine the areas in our life where we aren't faithful, full of doubts or unbelieving.

Yet Jesus wants to bless us so much more.  He wants to see us have victory in overcoming the difficulties in our lives,  to find strength to face the future, and most of all, to see the blessings He wants us to have as we believe.   As we pray in the Spirit we will see His work in the lives of those we pray for and in ourselves.

The Cross

One of the twentieth century's most significant global Christian figures was Billy Graham.   His huge evangelistic crusades resulted in many thousands - millions maybe - of commitments or re-commitments to Christ.

That style of ministry seems passé these days, although the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association points out that what they now call "Arena Events" still command huge crowds.    The church in Britain may use this kind of events much less now, but they still result in many changed lives in other parts of the world.   Of course, Billy is now 96 and hasn't done a large scale event for some time.

I was invited to a BGEA leaders' evening recently and they used the opportunity to introduce what the ministry currently does and the way it has tried to move with the social changes that have occurred both in the USA and in Europe that have changed the way in which we communicate with one another.   They are heavily into course, internet and video evangelism as well as their traditional preaching activities, now headed by Franklin Graham.  In fact a year ago Billy felt that God had given him one last message for America.  How was he to get it out, being largely housebound these days?  He made a video which is below which has resulted in many coming to Christ.

Unsurprisingly, his last message is exactly the same as the many thousands of messages in  over 60 years of ministry and its called The Cross.   So here's an opportunity to see Billy in a different format from that you're used to; presenting an old and familiar message to a new generation.   Who says you're ever too old to tell people about Jesus?  It has now been made available in a UK version too (this is the US one) and I hope to show the DVD later in the year plus a few other bonus videos from the BGEA.

Two Tribes

It was the biggest Ipswich-Norwich derby for many years in front of a full house at Portman Road. The video gives you some inkling of the atmosphere and the game was exciting. It was the 98th time the two teams had met in the league and  important for both teams, as they fight for a play-off place. At the final whistle it was a 1-1 draw, which was disappointing for us Ipswich fans.    However, sport apart, this derby has a darker side.

Violence in the past meant that twice the usual number of Police were on duty, many more stewards were hired and the City of London Police's mounted division was there. As far as I know there were few incidents to mar the day, but after the match I watched "fans" trade insults and one or two even spat at one another. Now that's a bit pathetic. To use the old adage; it is only a game.    But of course to some it's not. Norfolk - Suffolk rivalry can be identified as far back as the North Folk and the South Folk of the Kingdom of the East Angles.

We all have, and like to have an identity. I'm Welsh and I'm proud of it. I'm British too. But should that be used as a means to separate myself from others,  discriminate against them, insult them or even use violence? In our liberal democracy, most of us would say "of course not".   However we live in a competitive world where success for one can mean loss for others and animosity.  Whether it be football, nationality, race, sex, age, class, or occupation, people find all sorts of excuses to separate and discriminate.  It's all tribal and can lead to awful consequences.

What's God's view of this?  He shows no favouritism between people(Romans 2:11) and that's particularly true in their relationship with Him, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).   We're all the same to Him.

You'll notice I didn't mention religion in my list of things that make people resort to tribalism.   When people think they are right and that their views are endorsed by God (or gods) it can make them the most dangerous people on Earth.    Religion, even in the name of Christ has resulted in terrible atrocities as we know only too well by just looking at the news.   But is this what Jesus taught?  Of course it isn't.  Jesus came to bring peace between people and God and people and people.     He had all the reverse values to tribalism and these lie at the heart of biblical Christian tradition, and at the heart of a liberal democracy as well.

But doesn't religion divide?   After all Jesus claims to be the only way to God.  Surely that divides Christians from the rest?   Not really, because being a Christian isn't, or shouldn't be a mark of separation between them and the rest of society.     Quite the reverse, Christianity is inclusive - Jesus invites all people without exception to follow Him.   Let's repeat the Romans 3 verses by adding verse 24:  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Separated from God?  By birth yes, but each of us have the choice of believing, trusting and following Jesus, because God offers it to everybody as a free gift through following and trusting Jesus.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

It's been a while ......

It's been a while since I posed on this blog: about 4 years to be precise!  So why restart it now?   Well, I'm on sabbatical and wanted to put a miscellany of things that interested my, or the Lord drew my attention to at this time of reflection.   I suppose I could have put most of it in the MRBC In Touch blog and some of it may appear there in the long term.

It is also an opportunity to put in other stuff that grabbed me as well which doesn't belong in the church blog - so here it is - A Slice of Life.