10. Living with Uncertainty

8 11 2017

And so months have passed, a general election come and gone and now Parliament seems to be  taken up with with sexual misbehavior scandals and claims. For a moment there is a pause while the media get taken up with the results of a computer hacking that yet again reveals questionable activities in respect of overseas money handling, but no doubt the pendulum of the news cycle will swing back again and the unsavory behaviour of those who have been voted to rule over us comes under the spotlight yet again – with yet again unpleasant revelations. And all the while the Brexit process continues or appears not to continue.  That is the thing about negotiations; it is like playing poker and a hand is not revealed until the end and until then, doubt, questions, and all the time the media piranhas circle and watch and then dart in with acrid words. It is not a pretty sight.

It seems to me that this whole process is designed to reveal the worst of mankind. Observe the politicians from all sides, squabbling, jeering, sneering, jousting among themselves, out to capitalize on every slow move, every unwise word, every foolish misbehaviour. The absence of statesmanship appears rife and the very ordinariness of these people shines out and we are left wishing for a Churchill or his like who will stand like a rock in critical times and give us hope, but we seem to look in vain.

And then the media. I watched the other day the Governor of the Bank of England give a press conference as he explained why he was going to raise the bank rate by a quarter of a percent.  It was a clear and comprehensive explanation. And then the floor was thrown open to the media to ask questions. The first came from a BBC representative and then a journalist from the Times. I have a friend in America who says they used to trust the BBC but no longer. I felt the same about the Times. Bias and criticism that is self-serving seems to be the name of the day so often.  Both these two men as they asked their questions left me thinking, “Were you not listening? He explained that just now – very clearly! Why are you asking such questions?” I am still a subscriber to the Times which I often enjoy for it is still, I believe, one of the most clear cut papers and yet it appears so often to allow that snide, edgy writing that looks for the worst.

I have been an observer for a number of decades, of the state of the nation as far as ‘moral outlook’ is concerned and have commented more than once  that I believe the decline in moral standards, the undermining of ethical standards, can be directly related to the decline in belief in God in our nation. I have watched it and I think it is virtually measurable. It is a fact. It is also, therefore, not surprising.

On a good day, each of us would subscribe to a society that goes with the second half of the Ten Commandments. You would be an idiot to say that you think stealing or murder or adultery are good things and indeed you could take the argument much further and suggest there are many more things that do NOT make for a good, just, and harmonious society, things which we wish were not part of our national community, and which I have tagged in the first three paragraphs above.  Most of us agree to these things but we simply don’t have the power not to do them. Self-help is the name of the game and it fails us, and so we are left with this cycle of revelation; the behaviour never changes just the revelation of what is happening. And yes, we are glad that the media are there, pouncing on these people higher in the pile of society from whom we expect better than we are getting, but then we become saddened and jaded by the whole thing.

Is there hope? Oh yes, there has to be otherwise we might as well take a trip to a Swiss euthanasia expert and end it all now.  Oh yes, there is hope, the hope that perhaps prayers will be heard, perhaps a voice of sanity will arise in the public consciousness and perhaps a spirit of honesty and integrity will sweep through the corridors of power, whether they be in Westminster or any other instrument of society.  But it is not enough simply to analyse; there must also be endeavors, little ones and big ones to bring goodness in the midst of the darkness – overcome evil with good as the famous apostle once said.

Blame for Wars?

13 03 2014

In many ways this is a follow on to my previous writing about who was to blame for World War 1.  To even attempt to write this blog I have to confess my ignorance. Not only am I painfully aware of so many areas of ignorance about life in general, but specifically, here at least, I need to confess my ignorance about the two world wars of last century. I guess that this ignorance is shared by a great many, and many would say, does it matter? I suggest it matters if for no other reason than it should make us think (and pray) and learn from such times.

Aware that we were going into a centenary year this year,  in respect of The Great War, I determined it was time to remedy some of that ignorance and started with World War 2, simply because I had run across Max Hastings’ book on it entitled, “All Hell Let Loose.”   It is a meaty tome of some six hundred pages and I grab a few pages when there are a few minutes spare – which is not the best way to read such a book – and I am about half way through.  It is not all about strategies etc., but about what went on affecting ordinary people and ordinary soldiers and as such is, I suggest, compulsory reading for anyone with romantic ideas about wars. It was a most terrible time in history if for no other reason than the shear numbers of casualties and the ways they died or were injured or were treated.  If Max Hastings is half right no one comes out it whiter than white; in fact the exact opposite.

As I have picked up this book, again and again as a Christian I could not help thinking, “Where is God in all this?”  Now I know I covered much of this in the previous blog but it bears repeating or expanding upon.

The crusading atheists berate a God who is supposed to be love, and when it comes to examining the last century, a God who apparently either caused it or sat on the sidelines and laughed.  No the atheistic viewpoint gets two-faced at this point because if you don’t believe there is a God you can’t blame ‘Him’ for such events, and if you can’t blame Him then you are left with a simply miserable view of mankind.  All of the humanists’ optimism is revealed as complete bunkum when you examine the history of the last hundred years. You can’t just blame Hitler or Stalin, because they both had powerful underlings who could have stopped it all early on.  But more than that, the record shows that vast numbers of ordinary Germans were just as excited about their nation’s imperialistic aims as Hitler was.  The things happening in Crimea today indicate that Russian nationalism is as strong in ordinary people as it is in Putin and his leaders.  Little changes.   I think the optimism of the Humanist Manifesto has to be  one of the best examples of self-delusion that you can find on the planet.  Go to virtually any continent on the globe and you find self-important people being unkind to other people (the nicest way I can put it.)

Put aside the atheists for a moment, for they are a minority grouping.  The majority  grouping believe in a God, even if many of them think He is either impotent or not concerned with us.   But what are the options that you are  left with if you do believe there is a God, when you come to consider these two wars?  At first sight, there are just two: either that He caused them or that He just sat back and did nothing about them. Perhaps we need to consult the Bible for a parallel example to help us. The apostle Peter, preaching under the anointing of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, and speaking about how Jesus had died, declared, “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.”  In other words Jesus’ death had been part of God’s plan and He foresaw the way events would work out as sinful human beings rejected His Son and eventually crucified him.

Now let’s take a mundane example from everyday life. You are a school teacher of a primary school and as you watch them play in the school playground you see they constantly fight. You go outside and tell them off and tell them to stop fighting. After this happens three times, you call them all in and they are all made to sit in their classroom in silence for half an hour.  So far no one is objecting to that.  Now, to change the picture, supposing some cattle or sheep contract a contagious and virulent disease. We know what happens, we’ve seen it in recent years.  The government order whole herds or flocks across the country to be destroyed and burned. Suppose a wounded soldier’s foot injury contracts gangrene. The only way to save his life is to cut off his leg.  Suppose ten terrorists take hostage a school full of children and start shooting them, one an hour until their demands are met.  We watch as the SAS go in and the body count of dead terrorists is 100%.  We all cheer.  We measure these things against the harm that will be caused if such drastic action is not taken.

OK, I’m speculating now.  Suppose God could see the direction and outworking of the 18th and 19th centuries and could see that in response to His enabling/allowing the advancement of science and technology, our foolish response was to reject Him and turn to godless atheism (examples of which were seen in Hitler and Stalin and many others). And suppose the logical response of that was to lift off all restraint which, if left unattended, would result in inhumanities beyond our present wildest dreams that would affect the entire planet and rob us of our very humanity.  If we had the eyes to see that, would we not stand in awesome silence and say, “God is just, God is wise, we are so stupid, this was the only course of action that could have happened to save us as a world.”

Of course we have not learnt and we are still so tainted by this self-centred godlessness that we probably laugh at such an idea, but it is the most rational one around. As with what Peter said about Jesus, suppose God knew the path that foolish and wicked men left to their own devices, would go down resulting in World Wars, and if that is what they chose, maybe, just maybe, they might learn from it and the future of humanity be saved.  But have we learned? The signs are not great.

If God allowed us a financial crash (brought about by the greed and folly of men) with some longer term effects, has that brought us to our senses?  The signs are not good.  Is God gently lifting off His hand of restraint again so that foolish and godless imperialistic semi-dictators can do their own thing yet again?  If not Moscow, might it be some other ‘power’?  Gloomy talk and I don’t like gloomy talk, but when will we come to our senses?  Have the various movies coming out of Hollywood portraying a nuclear disaster ending, been a warning?  Put this all aside if you like but the key question still stands – are you, are our leaders, is our nation, demonstrating godless, self-centredness, and if so, then what hope is there for our future?

Who’s to Blame for The Great War?

25 01 2014

As we moved towards and into 2014 we started hearing references to the centenary remembrance of the start of what we now call World War 1, otherwise referred to as The Great War.  But no sooner has the new year arrived than voices are raised debating who started it off, who caused it, who was to blame for it?  My understanding, which may well be over-simplistic is that a number of people agreed with a number of other people to support and defend them if others raised hands against them and when it appeared that someone was doing just that, everyone found themselves embroiled in a fight that produced images of “trenches, mud, wire and poets” (Max Hastings in the introduction to ‘Catastrophe – Europe Goes to war 1914’).   Although the numbers killed or seriously wounded were horrific in that war, statistics tell us that the numbers killed in the Second World War make that number almost pale into  insignificance. To say that we had learnt nothing in that intervening period would be unfair because the ambitions of a little German with a moustache didn’t give the rest of us much option but to fight. Yet the first stage of that second war seemed to indicate that just possibly after the initial battles, the fighting might have slowed to a trickle if one man by the name of Churchill had not said we will not be overrun and raised his voice to rouse the rest of us to freedom.  Again that might be too over-simplistic but there is a lot of truth there.

But I am a Christian and we try to make sense of the world with the help of God, and when I read the book of Revelation  (putting aside all the difficult detail for the moment) I see God’s warnings come again and again to a foolish mankind who, just like Pharaoh of old, refuse to take note of the awful things happening and refuse to come to their senses and desist from their godless, self-centred, self-destroying ways of life.  And then I read in Romans how there are times when “God gives them over to…” even worse self-destructive practices and I realise there is a form of God’s judgement that is worse than Him bringing bad things to happen; it is Him standing back and saying, “Very well, I lift my hand of restraint off you; you are free to do whatever your sinful hearts want to do,” and to quote the title of Max Hastings book about the Second World War, “Hell Breaks Loose”.

Was that, I wonder, what happened in the twentieth century? Did God step back and allow humanity to move forward in its folly and do things that brought forth utter destruction?  Don’t blame God for the Wars because there are very human elements in both First and Second World Wars that are observable  that brought both about. Did we come to our senses after those times? Clearly not. We are still, here in the West at least, still as godless and still as self-centred as ever. Was the financial crisis that has engulfed so much of the world in these recent years been another instance of God lifting off His hand of restraint to allow the folly of mankind to prevail? Have we learnt from it?  Be quite clear, these three things I have referred to have been the work of humanity let loose.  In my previous blog, almost a year ago, I wrote about facing the truth of our situation. The book of Revelation shows the folly of mankind failing to learn from the things that happen. The last hundred years show us the folly of mankind failing to learn from the things that happen.  The question should not be so much, who was to blame for World War 1, or who was to blame for World War 2, or who was to blame for the financial crisis, but have we learned that as a godless human race we need help?

Is God standing on the sidelines impotent? Most definitely not. He works in and through His Church and He works in and through His world to say ‘Thus far and no further’.  (Was Churchill one such agent?)  Where people do start coming to their senses He is there – as always – instantly ready to be our Saviour, in little things in our personal lives and in big things in our national lives.

Psalm 2 asks, “Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One. “Let us break their chains,” they say, “and throw off their fetters.”  Still the presence of sin in the human heart says, “We don’t need God. We can manage,” but the evidence clearly points otherwise.  As the old song goes, “Oh when will they ever learn, when will they ever learn?”  ‘They’ is you and me. The evidence for God’s love is there for those who want to go looking, there is plenty of it. The evidence for the folly of living without God is piling up. Every now and then a Hollywood film postulates a future after a Third World War and it is never a pretty sight. May we come to our senses and turn to our God before the next idiot or bunch of idiots provoke such a scenario – but it starts with you.

Disillusioned with Humanity?

7 02 2013

Disillusioned with Humanity?

Job’s wisdom came with an interview with God. I often think how different we would all be if we each had ‘an interview with God’ and would thus be able to realise how great He is and how small we are, but it’s not like that. It seems that the Lord in His wisdom allows us to go our own way but then He either brings or allows (and there is room for debates in individual occurrences) things to cross our lives that make us question the views that we had of ourselves as almost divine-like beings.

But real life for us begins when we proceed along, to use a picture that Jemima Khan has recently used in respect to her attitude to Julian Assange over the principles of WikiLeaks, “a journey of admiration to demoralisation”.  So much of the time we live with self-admiration but we only come to a place of reality when we become demoralised over what we are really like. Then we come to God for help.

Our society in the UK is going through a journey from admiration to demoralisation. We, as a society at least, abandoned God back in the last quarter of the twentieth century and became a self-admiring society that, free from its religious shackles, could now grow up and reach its full potential. Yet the truth is that in any and every area of our society over the last ten years we have been found to be drastically wanting and demoralisation is setting in.

Being cut free from the strictures of absolute morality, government authorities and media, all made up of self-admiring individuals, have opened the doors to liberal freedoms –  but these chickens are now coming home to roost.

In the financial realm, the mockery of the bankers continues unabated after over five years of mismanagement. I recently came across a comment written by Clive James a couple of years ago that seemed to describe it all so well: “Even the legitimate financial system had all the trappings of a racket, including a wonderful mechanism whereby which the banks that lost your money were saved from ruin by being given more of your money so that they could award it as bonuses to the very people who lost your money in the first place.”  That is the bizarre nature of the world without absolutes that we have created.

If we move into the realm of relationships and sexual freedom, even the most liberal of writers is now forced to concede that it is not going well.  In a world freed from absolute morality, it is no wonder that promiscuity so often undermines marriages and committed cohabitation alike, it is no wonder that many men struggle with sexual imagery in their minds that drifts into reality and produces sexual abuse, rape, child abuse and so much more, it is no wonder that teenage pregnancy rates, abortion rates and STD rates are at almost epidemic proportions, it is no wonder that young people and old alike despair at ever finding that elusive quality called love.

It takes a Sunday journalist to state it clearly: “Children fare best, and are less likely to be a problem to society, if they are raised by married parents. Those married parents are far more likely to remain together – and so provide a stable home life for their families, as well as being a socially cohesive force in the community – than are those who are unmarried. These are just bald statistical facts.”  But it seems most of us don’t like the facts.

Perhaps the icon for demoralisation should be Jimmy Saville. If he was guilty as so many seem to claim he was, wasn’t the guilt also spread through those who turned a blind eye to him. Expediency was obviously the name of the game in the world freed from absolute morality. Only now, it seems, after he is dead, is the curtain being drawn back and the magnitude and extent of the sin revealed.

Demoralisation is striking in every quarter. In the realm of politics, in recent weeks I have now twice heard, from what were once staunch Conservatives, about both Prime Minister and Chancellor, the equivalent of “This man must go!” and yet the alternatives seem equally bad. Moral ethics appear to have no part to play in modern politics, only what is expedient or seems good at the time to an unanchored mind. Much of the malaise experienced within this society today must be laid at the feet of politicians and media people alike who have their own present-day agendas built on nothing less than what seems good to them today. Already we have said, the chickens are coming home to roost, but still they plough on opening further doors to future social chaos. Today’s laws thus create tomorrow’s chaos.

I have heard a few comments of “There must be an alternative to all this,” but generally society acts like the frog in the saucepan of water bring gradually brought to the boil, and seems unaware of just how bad things are. Self-admiration is a difficult thing to overcome; indeed it often takes crisis to shake our self-sufficiency. Whether we are suffering from the effects of global warming or from a cycle of unpleasant weather systems, as a country we have been getting pounded by the weather for the last few years.  Perhaps it is only those who suffer flooding again and again who begin to face the reality that they are small and puny and have little or no power in the face of such things. We will eventually learn to build flood-proof houses but we are slow to learn how to do that, and to recognise our own frailty and need of God’s help.

Perhaps the process would be accelerated if London was seriously flooded. That would be a wakeup call! But would that bring such people as our national leaders to their senses? The book of revelation shows crisis after crisis but still the stupidity of mankind meant they failed to turn to God for help. Self-admiration can be both the most blinding and the most stunting characteristic of the human race. How tragic.

In the midst of the process that I have referred to as “a journey of admiration to demoralisation”, we fail to face the truth that all of us are human beings prone to getting it wrong.  The recent classic case of Chris Huhne, a man who found himself getting caught doing one relatively small thing wrong (speeding), shows the folly of self-admiration that desperately seeks to cover up any failing. In his case he sought the help of his wife, but when the marriage broke down, found himself exposed and then had to tell lie after lie for years to try to cover it up. One sin (speeding) + one sin (conspiracy with wife) + multiple sins (lying and denial) = rejection of an MP by society. How much more simple would it have been if he took a driving ban originally and the whole thing passed into obscurity. Instead self-admiration dragged on for ten years before demoralisation set in and the truth was faced.

At a corporate level we are hearing yet again of the failings of the NHS, this time because of deaths occurring while in NHS care. Yes, of course we can do better but for the moment we are going through the media frenzy yet again where truth is hazy. Only this morning I read of nurses who dropped an 86 in the ward and two weeks later the lady died. Whether the two things were linked is unclear, but people (nurses) are human beings and from time to time they get it wrong. Did they drop that lady purposely? Of course not!  In fact so fearful were they of repercussions that they pretended it had not happened. Self-admiration seeks to cover up and avoid truth.

The recent snow brought many school closures and with them, criticism about wimpish schools. One good article on the subject suggested it was nothing to do with that, but more that head teachers were fearful of litigation. The payouts that have been paid in recent years by education authorities for even minor natural injuries, things that happen in day to day living, like tripping over, have been incredible in both numbers and size. This is a society failing to handle its demoralisation by blaming whoever it can – except yourself – and, along the way, making capital out of others. Greed and selfishness walk hand in hand with self-admiration. And all the while, God in His goodness, is quietly working to bring people to their senses. As I’ve asked before on these pages, how long will it take?

Putting the Old Year to Rest

30 12 2012

It is the time of the year, with just two days left in it, when you tend to look back and reflect on what has gone on. Perhaps the reality is that we are more concerned with the year ahead to bother about the year that has gone and if that is so, it may be that we leave the old year with unresolved issues. Now ‘the world’ is good at leaving issues unresolved  and so often when someone becomes a Christian they find there are a whole raft of issues that Jesus wants them to deal with, bad attitudes held on to, bad relationships still festering, and so on.

If we trouble to look back over the year that has just been, and really take time to do this as an exercise, we will find a variety of things that we feel uncomfortable about (yes, there will be many things to be thankful about but we’ll come to them later).  There are, first of all, our failures, the things lurking in the background that we try to forget about, things where, at the very least, we didn’t handle it very well.  Now the simple evangelical response is to suggest that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:9) and that is right and proper but, I might ask, why did we fail in the way we did? Why did we say the things we did? Why did we give way to the temptation we gave way to? I ask these because saying sorry doesn’t necessarily mean we won’t do it again. True repentance, I suggest, does mean that we are so convicted by what we did, that we will be too horrified ever to do it again. Yet, so often it is not that simple. What was it in me that made me open my mouth and say the wrong thing? Now we each one have to ask the Lord that for ourselves and the answer may be different for each of us. It may be we spoke out of a lack of sensitivity for others. It may be we spoke out of our insecurity? It may be we gave way to that temptation because we lacked relationships whereby we can talk out our wonderings and see them in the cold light of discussion for what they are – wrongs.  That’s enough to start you wondering. The point I am making is that if we look at the reasons for whatever it is we feel uncomfortable thinking about, things where we know deep down we got it wrong, we will see how to avoid the same thing in the coming year. It does bear thinking about in that way. Dare we pray, “Lord I bring my failures to you to ask for your forgiveness, but please will you also show me why I did what I did and help me not to repeat it in the year ahead.”

But then when we look back on the year that has been, for many of us there will be questions or doubts about things that happened that were beyond our control, things that were not good.  Why did the Lord let that thing happen? What about…..  If we are able to be honest, there are many Christians with questions that they try to push down and ignore because “good Christians don’t have doubts!”  Well no, that’s not true.  We all have doubts at some time or other because walking or living by faith (which all Christians do, in some measure at least) means everything is not clear and sometimes we aren’t shown the ‘why’ until a long while later.  The fact that everything is not always absolutely clear, is something the Lord allows to happen because He wants us to learn to trust Him, to trust that He is a good God and that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Rom 8:28).  I have often said in the past, I am sure that when we get to heaven, if the Lord allows us to look back over our lives and see them with the comprehensive sight that He has, we will never be able to criticise Him for anything He said or did, or didn’t do.  Now I am absolutely convinced of that  but that is a very different thing from the experience I can have when the sky seems to fall on my head and I am left wondering ‘why?’.  The reality of that is that there are only a limited number of answers: it was as a result of my or someone else’s folly, it was Satan at work, it was just part of this Fallen World where things now ‘go wrong’ because of the presence of Sin in it, or the Lord brought it.  Now more often than not, it will not be the latter one, but at least He allowed it.  So why did he allow it, why didn’t He step in and prevent it happening? Because He gives me and you free will and is loath to override it. Why did He allow Satan access to my life or the world to ‘break’ so as to upset me? To strengthen me, to point out a weakness or vulnerability in my life that He wants us to remedy. It was part of that famous ‘learning curve’ that we’re on as Christians.  So our prayer at the end of that has to be something like, “Lord, I trust you, that you are here for me. Please show me what you are trying to teach me through these things.”

But then, when we look back on the year that has been, for some of us if we can allow it to float to the surface (because we don’t like facing up to this one so it remains almost hidden just below the surface) there are fears that we had. Fears in this context tend to be built on bad past experience and so often the fear is of a repetition of that experience – that something might go wrong with another person, or in a job, or just in some life situation. May be it was the fear of health breakdown or fear of losing a loved one. In each case it is linked with the fear that perhaps we will not be able to cope, that we will not be able to handle whatever it is.

Now of course the thing about fears is that they are always about the future, about what might happen. Have you ever come across that verse, “Perfect love drives out fear“? (1 Jn 4:18)  Because we have a memory of it not working out well (whatever it was) we worry (fear) about it happening again and of us again not being able to handle it. Well, you’ve grown since it last happened, you’ve learned a lot and you’ve learned that God is there for you in it! His perfect love  IS here for you, whatever comes. His perfect grace IS sufficient to help you handle it and, the truth is, it may never happen again anyway. The prayer here, has to be something like, “Lord fill me with your prefect love that I may just rest in that love knowing that you are here for me, guarding me, protecting me, providing for me, so that whatever happens in life, we can handle it together.” Maybe, before finishing with this one, it’s a good thing to share your fears with a wise older friend if you have one and ask them to pray for you.

Finally, as we look back, it is worth sitting and remembering the year and remembering all the good things that happened and give thanks to the Lord for them. It does take time to do because our memories aren’t always wonderful, so why not get balance in your memories, and take the time to sit down and think back over what has happened in the year and thank God for them.

If we can do these things, we are better equipped to look into the year that is coming, the New Year. May it be so!




Three Levels of Christian Experience

31 10 2011

There is a song that goes with a mine that i have have seen a couple of times over the year called, “Sitting at the Window Praying” and is all about Ananias, a Christian  who lived in Damascus minding his own business until the Lord sent him to meet Saul.  I have the feeling that I’ve gone through a period of life when I’ve just been, “sitting at the window praying” and minding my own business and wondering what God was about. I’m probably still there but something has been seeping through to me.

We are at an ‘interesting’ time in our nation (rather like the Chinese curse – ‘may you live in interesting times’). We are in financial difficulties but I hear calls for rich people to become givers. It set me thinking. There are three levels of the Christian experience that we ought to be aware of – and you’ll see where this is going in a minute.

The first level is the foundational level – the basics of the Christian experience, founded in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Without that nothing else makes sense.

The second level of that which is our response to that level and what happens to us. This level is the level of testimony. The epitome of this  is the blind man of John 9 – “One thing I know – I was blind but now I can see.”  This doesn’t try to rationalise it, but simply state it. We’re often not very good at this – recognising the amazing changes that take place when a person is born again and becomes a new being (as Jesus put it in John 3).  The reality is my life has been dramatically changed and, if you’re a genuine Christian, so has yours been. We just to stop and give serious thought to the various ways they have changed so we can verbalise it when challenged.  There is an ocean of testimony out there that is of immense value.

The third level is the good life that I can now live and, again, we’re often not very clear about this or very good at working it out I may risk saying. The truth is that God has saved us to be salt and light and we are that when we express His love and goodness to the world around us. Now this is actions far more than words.

When I consider my Christian experience of the past forty years, I think we in the Christian world have  focussed on level 1 a great deal, level 2 of little bit and level 3 not much – there are notable exceptions –  but for the vast majority of us, we have been happy to tell about Jesus life, death and resurrection, but haven’t been  very good at articulating the changes that have come about within us, and therefore have had little confidence to be major players in bringing goodness to the world.

Briefly yesterday I heard Baroness Cox on an early morning radio programme and was struck by her brilliant clarity to speak some of what I have been saying here. Very often we Christians have focused the “Good News” on the historical events involving Jesus but it is staggeringly more than that – it is about life transformation and then even more of bringing God’s goodness into this world.

And that’s what bring me back to this whole question of giving or, for that matter, bring goodness and help in whatever we can into our ailing society. When Israel were carried into captivity into Babylon, God’s instructions to them were,  “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.”  (Jer 29:7).   The call was to look for the good of this godless nation and through that God would work.

So what talents and abilities are we sitting on that God can take to bless this nation?  What resources do we have – money, possessions, talents, businesses etc. – that God can take and use to enable us to be salt and light. When the world sees our genuine goodness (not that done to impress) they will ask, what is it about you that has you doing this? Then we will testify about the life changes that we’ve experiences (WHEN we’ve genuinely thought through what they are) and then they will be open to believe the level 1 foundational information which will then start the process off in them.

Jesus did the good (healed and changed people) THEN taught (testified of his Father’s love) and THEN gave his life as a ransom for us all, and on which we now focus our faith. Let’s genuinely love and serve this world and then they might ask questions and then thing might change. Have a good week!








Loving Feet of Clay

9 02 2011

I just called by to check when I had last written here – a year ago!  Well 2010 anyway. I noted titles of things I had recently (or fairly recently) written and noted one about time passing. So where am I today that I wasn’t back in 2010?

I think the answer has to be, more aware of people and more appreciative of people. For the past four months I have been interviewing people from all walks of local life and I have enjoyed people. It has caused me to think about these people a lot more: are they as good as they seem, and why do I even have to ask that question?

Have these people been putting on a show for me? I don’t think so for they are often remarkably honest. No, I think it is just that I have been focusing on one side of their lives, their work, their vocation, the thing they do everyday, and many of them are really enthusiastic about it.

It has made me think about being made in the image of God. I pondered that a number of years ago. What is it that differentiates us from the animal kingdom? What characteristics do we have that make us similar to God? Well, we are not all-powerful, all-knowing and all-wise like He is, so what is it?  It is the abilities to communicate, think, plan, reason, invent, create, write, work, order, purpose and enter into the fullness of what we were designed to be, i.e. grow and change. The amazing thing is that we have all of these things despite being sinners – and that is what I have been observing in the people I have been interviewing.

But then I have also been becoming more aware of what I shall simply and gently refer to as people’s feet of clay.   It doesn’t matter how nice people are, how fulfilled people, how creative they are, or whatever, they are still sinners, so they don’t tell me how they have argued with their spouse or ‘partner’, or how unsure of life they are, or of their fears – those will come later when they trust me perhaps.

I have seen this distinction most clearly in reading biographies or autobiographies (written by another or written first hand).  I started a year or so ago reading the biography of a hero of mine, Alistair Cooke of ‘Letter from America’ fame. There was an amazing amount more that he did and I found it an enthralling book – but he certainly had feet of clay. He was emotionally stunted in respect of his children and divorced from his first wife. That will do to be going on with. I was disturbed by that because I had always enjoyed his way of writing and speaking and he was my hero – but he had feet of clay. I learned that feet of clay should not stop us admiring the “in the likeness of God” side of people, even if they weren’t aware of it themselves.

I next went to read of Anglican bishop, David Pytches. I have only seen and heard him minister once, and that recently, and he struck me as an immensely gentle and godly and sensitive man growing into old age with some struggles. But when I read his autobiography, I felt his feet of clay often shone through (there’s a mixed picture!

I’ve also been rereading Francis Schaeffer’s biography, another man greatly used of God but again a man known by those close to him to have feet of clay. My wife speaks of her teenage years of knowing Tom Rees, an evangelist greatly used in the mid-twentieth century by God, but again, known by those close to him, as a man with feet of clay.

Next I took a book token given for a birthday and bought and read Alan Sugar’s autobiography. Quite an amazing business man in many ways, often with streaks of humility and loyalty that stood out – but what feet of clay does he admit to! But I still found myself appreciating the ‘in the likeness of God’ aspects of his life.

So there we are, people made in the image of God, capable of great things, but at the same time with feet of clay that reveal we are sinners in desperate need of a relationship with the loving God. That is the sad part of so many of these lives. Yes, they do have reflections of greatness in their lives, but at the same time there are these ‘feet of clay’ these things that spoil and limit and hinder, things that stop us becoming so much more. And that is sad!

The truths underlying all this? I believe there are three key things here. First, we are called to love all men, whether we are aware of their feet of clay or not. Second, God loves us even with our feet of clay and will still use us if we are available, despite our feet of clay. Third, God is saddened by our feet of clay because those are things we seem to fail to get to grips with, and they mar and spoil what we could and can be.

Rejoice – we’re different!

25 06 2010

While on a week’s break recently, my wife and I resurrected a habit we had once had but let fall, of ambling into charity shops while on holiday and browsing the bookshelves. This habit had rather fallen by the way because of my wife’s complaint that we were running out of bookshelves! However, on this occasion there we were again browsing the shelves where, to my delight, I spotted the biography of Alistair  Cooke famed for, among other things, his ‘Letters from America’ which started in the mid 1940’s and which, I believe, he carried on producing until he was 95.  I already possessed two copies of selections of his early talks and so it seemed a bright idea to start reading one a day of these early ‘letters’ while I ploughed through the biography, which is a long winded way of describing how I came to a particular piece that seemed to gel with something I’ve recently heard to do with world cup fever.

The particular letter in question reminisced about a particular Jewish comedian, who had recently died, by the name of Willie Howard. Willie Howard created much laughter by emphasising his Jewishness and the apparent idiosyncrasies of Jews. Indeed it appeared a time when comedians of various nationalities earned their living by making fun of their own national  idiosyncrasies.  Cooke pointed out that this was now happening less and less in the late 1940’s in America, which was showing signs of what we now call political correctness, extolling the apparent virtues a something that became a sledgehammer, called tolerance.

Now many better writers have, over the years, pointed out the hypocrisy of this so-called ‘tolerance’ which in reality became a weapon in the hands of one group of ideologists to bash the rest of us into conformity of their thinking. I will make no further comment on it. However what brought all this to the fore in my thinking was the report, which someone conveyed to me recently, that in a particular town the council had outlawed the displaying of the St. Georges flag and banned football shirts with it on because it could be a racist symbol in a town where the majority of the population were Muslims. Now I believe that a leading football club did the same thing for the same reason last year.

As I read Alistair Cooke’s letter I pondered why it is that we have become so sensitive. It is only cutting edge comedians who, looking for fame by being inflammatory, now dare cross the bridge of making fun of our different national idiosyncrasies. But why should it even be cutting edge?  I have no problem with fun being made about me being either British or even, for that matter being a Christian. So what is it that has made this such a minefield?

I have concluded that it is simply that, with the removal of God from our playing field and a shaking of morality and ethics as a result, we have all become both nervous and nasty about these things. James Cordon, of Gavin and Stacey fame, wrote an excellent piece for the Times on the 9th June entitled, “Make a stand and sit down if you love England.” He recounted how he and a bunch of friends had been in a pub when ‘the lads’ arrived to watch the friendly against Mexico and very soon ‘the lads’ were chanting, “Stand up if you hate the French” with a chant that got louder and louder and required everybody else to stand up with arms out – except Cordon and his friends. He portrayed the brash side of sport that makes itself feel good by being jointly nasty about others.

Gone are the days when we could genuinely laugh about each other’s differences. Now there is a nasty, snide, hypocritical edge, a demeaning of others by using their differences. It is the defensiveness of the extreme right or extreme left wings of politics. It is fearful of difference and so tries to squash it by a ‘tolerance’ that demands conformity, or brash chanting that seeks to intimidate and dominate.

I recently stumbled across an article in my archives about “What is a Good Person?” which invited the readers to answer the question. Some answers were proposed: “A good person is utterly selfless, everything about them is looking for the good of everyone else, they will never seek to get their own way to the detriment of another, they will always be looking out for and caring for the other person.”

In a world that so often prides itself on ‘coming of age’ isn’t it sad that, on the basis of these few starter thoughts at least, there seem to be fewer and fewer ‘good men’ around! A faint hope in the darkness?  Yes, reports of supporters in South Africa from different teams, being together and at peace and enjoying the friendly banter. Bad news? Reports of the German press demeaning the English team in the name of pre-match psychology. Yes. we’ll probably join in – but we don’t have to. After all, for goodness sake, it’s only a sport isn’t it?

The Loss of Truth

8 06 2010

It has been over a month since I last wrote here. I fear writing. I read so many good writers and wonder whatever have I got to contribute and how badly I compare with them. Yet I find myself here, clicking on a keyboard again.

The election has gone and the dust has settled. Our new Prime Minister makes seriously ominous noises about the difficult times to come, even with talk about our whole lifestyles changing, yet somehow I have this feeling of unreality. Yes, I am sure there are people unemployed now who were not two years ago. Yes, I am sure I  am paying more tax now than I was two years ago but bizarrely life continues on and on. I’m not sure what is real or true any longer. Where I live there are still as many people out shopping and still as many people taking holidays. Is that genuinely coming to an end soon?

I suspect that when we move into the realm of Government policy we should never try thinking about truth. The last government put much stress on the values of early learning and reports today say we spend £5B annually on early years provision.  A report from the Office of National Statistics now suggests there is little or no impact on outcomes from starting children off that much earlier.  On a day when my third grandchild is starting nursery school for the first time, I am grateful that it is there, but am under no illusions about its impact on her which comes far more, I am sure, from her parents (and hopefully grandparents!!!).  I have this horrible feeling that so many chickens bred in the past thirteen years are coming home to roost. The truth was not out there!

I recently stood in a Freeport, looking around as my wife shopped in this environment that is artificial and soulless. It is supposed to be a place where you can buy good more cheaply than in the high street, yet it seems they are cheap because they are the rubbish end of each firm’s products, the cheap and nasty end. The range of shoes or clothes didn’t even seem as good as in the high street. We were being sold a lie. I will stay away for a long time until my memory has dulled and my wife asks that we visit again. That Freeport appears a place of deception. The truth is not there.

In the past month we also had reported in the media, a court case involving three young children and questions of the ability of young children to tell the truth was questioned. I have also heard of a case of a man of otherwise impeccable morality being accused of abuse by a girl of eight – and being found guilty on no more than her word, despite contrary evidence and despite a dubious background of child and immediate family.  It is a seriously worrying world where our fear of abuse has frightened us into a loss of perspective where truth has been lost.

And then there have been the funny phone calls. The first one was several weeks ago, purporting to be  from a Building Society and started out asking for security information. I assumed a scam and put the phone down. A week later a similar call, apparently from NatWest bank starting out the same way. Ditto response –  but I started wondering. A few days later a further call apparently from NatWest. This time I asked questions which seemed to fluster the caller who talked about my loan application. I haven’t made one I insisted. He left sounding even more flustered. Yesterday a fourth call, apparently from a firm of surveys who had been instructed by a man from NatWest in Birmingham to carry out a survey for us on a house in the district we were thinking of buying. No, we weren’t. Is someone trying to take NatWest for money in my name?  Have you tried making contact with a bank recently on the phone – not easy! Eventually I gatecrashed  a girl at the security side of the credit card centre who eventually transferred me to the fraud people, who appeared very laid back. Perhaps it happens so often they don’t care. Oh well, I did warn them.   Identity theft is a major industry today and it’s all about lies and deception.  The truth is out there somewhere – perhaps!

I fear because my God is concerned for truth and justice and both seem to be in increasingly short supply in our society today. But it is Summer and so when the sun  shines we can forget about the nasty elements of life – but they are still there. My only hope is that even as truth seems to have gone out on the tide, one of these days it will come rushing back in and life will change for the better. A misguided hope? Time will tell.

Truth is a Strange Thing

3 05 2010

I’m writing this simply because I haven’t written here for some time and if I don’t soon the General Election will have come and gone. This election appears to be unique within living memory. It looks like it will be very close for the three main parties and it has been portrayed in the media as a presidential campaign with the three main contenders appearing in three live debates and their daily activities being reported – but virtually none of that by other leading members of their parties, except on special mini-debates. It has been a media run election.

It is also unique, I believe, because of the nature of the economic situation we find ourselves in.  There is only one of the three main leaders, Gordon Brown, who is in any real position to accurately say what he and his party will do in terms of our economic future because he alone of the three has access to all the current government figures. The others are haphazarding guesses. The suggestion has been in the media that all three have not been able to say accurately how they will deal with the present economic climate. One wonders therefore of the value, in reality, of all of the talk of policies, and of how they will all be slid to the side in the face of reality in say a year’s time. The truth may be ‘out there’ but I am sure we don’t know what it is.

For that reason I suggest that when all the shouting is over the simplest and most logical approach is to say, Brown has failed to bring in the goods over fourteen years,  and has even contributed to the bad state of affairs, and so is a non-runner.  Clegg is a new boy on the block who though appearing charismatic has no experience behind him and the thought of letting lose a bunch of untried brand new politicians as government is scary. Which only leaves Cameron who doesn’t appear everyone’s cup of tea, but is the only alternative. He does at least have a lot experience in those who stand behind him. We’ll see if the electorate comes up with this conclusion later this week.

If the media are half right, then whoever is the next leader will have just picked up one of the worst jobs in modern history for whoever is in power we ARE going through stringent times it would appear.  The best bet option appears to get business back into a thriving position so they make much money, employ many people, produce much tax revenue and thus provide income for government to spend and help pay off debts and sustain services . Everything else is of secondary importance it seems but, yes, we will worry about education, pensions and the health services but unless we generate income we are lost. So who will do it and will they be able to do it? Time will tell.

Another thing I am certain of and that is that it’s going to be a painful time and in painful times people squeal and look for help. The Church, the sole keepers of the truth, has the opportunity to be seen as the gold nuggets in society as it provides an alternative caring lifestyle that brings security in a way that no one else can bring. Is it possible that God has brought us to this point of history so that, as Jesus said, the fields are white for harvest? If so, is the church ready, waiting and watching. Let’s not miss the opportunities of the years immediately ahead of us that may be so difficult for so many who may at last start coming to their senses and reject the materialistic and godless lifestyle that have adopted for so long.