What I would have said…

Sometimes on this blog I post some notes, or thoughts, from a talk that I have given; often with a ‘well, this is what I planned to say, but it didn’t quite come out like that…’ note. I think this has to be a first however- What follows has not been used as a talk at all, or given as an address- not even with a few changes or alterations.

I was, last week, ahead of the game- everything was prepped for the weekend by 5pm on Friday so that I could take some time off for the kids on Saturday- all good… until the phone call on Saturday afternoon… I’m not working so my wife picks up, listens, talks a bit, and then says ‘well, I think you’ll need to speak to Andy’… and calls ‘Andy, its your boss on the phone’. Fortunately, it wasn’t THAT kind of a phone call from the boss, but the other one, where he rings you up and says ‘hey, do you want a lie in tomorrow, I’ll take your early start if you like, come along and lead the main service but I’ll do the 8am’….. You bet! And then as I put the phone down, it hits me- firstly, I have 3 children, a lie in? and secondly that I have a completely sorted talk that’s going begging…

Anyway, so here is the premier unveiling of my… unspoken talk, based around the first 11 verses from chapter 5 of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome.

If it doesn’t make sense, well, sorry… I haven’t road tested it yet.

‘Therefore’… Paul has been building an argument over the last few chapters of the letter to the Roman church, and he continues to do so… ‘you see’, ‘since’… This is not an image-laden passage, not his testimony or a powerful metaphor… this is Paul in full logical argument mode…

Justification- being made right with God, comes through faith… by believing in Jesus we are at peace with God- or as John puts it- to all who received him, to all who believed in his name he gave the right to become children of God… as believers we are now in the unique position of being able to stand before God- but only because of his grace and Christ’s saving sacrifice…

Suffering for the sake of future peace- we have hope, and so we persevere, which leads to greater hope…

When people talk about favourite passages of Scripture, they may refer to a story- a parable, because we can retell a story, they may refer to a passage from the Psalms or Proverbs that is evocative- the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it… or a short verse that helps us understand God’s will and work- Romans 5 verses 6-8 is just such a passage…

It emphasises the role of God- at just the right time while we were still powerless…

It clearly describes the action of God- Christ died for the ungodly

It challenges our easy acceptance of this- very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man (but haven’t we just been described as ungodly?)

And then it comes back round to the starting point- but God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners Christ died for us…

That single verse contains so much-

The nature of God, the relationship that God desires for us and him, the relationship between Christ and God, the nature of sin and redemption…

In some circles the theology of redemption isn’t very popular- particularly penal substitution, which suggests that not only did Christ have to live and die for us, but that it was as a punishment that God the Father either could not or would not rescind… Now, that doesn’t sound loving or merciful to us, but we have to remember that we, us sinners, are the ones needing redemption… and that we cannot save ourselves. Unless we can… If somehow we can lift ourselves out of our sins such that we are saved from God’s wrath by our own actions (maybe inspired by Jesus?), then we don’t need redeeming… but if that’s the case, then why did Jesus die?

It seems, from the Gospels and from passages such as this in Romans, that there is an essential need for some kind of redemptive action by God- that Jesus chose to take on life so we could know God more fully, and that he chose to die so that all who believe might be forgiven… and rose to life again to show his power over sin, and death… God demonstrated his love in that Christ died, God demonstrated his power in that Christ rose again…

Under the covenant that God established with the people of Israel in the Old Testament, if you read Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers, we see repeatedly the idea of substitution- where someone sins, there is something they can do or give to atone- to make up for what they’ve done… and there are specific things… there is a clear indication of the necessity, established from the moment of the Passover, for some form of substitution… things can’t simply be forgotten but they can be resolved… God creates a way for the mess that we are, and the mess that we are in, to be redeemed… while we were still sinners, Christ died for us…

And what this means for us, as Christians, is expressed most fully in the final verses of this mornings passage- this is how much God loves us- he allowed his son to give his life so that we might be reconciled- before we were actually reconciled… and so now we in are in that relationship with God… one that he conceived before we knew of his existence, one that he acted to make possible, one that he continually restores us in when we blunder, slip or march headlong back into sin…

This is the God we worship, the one we are called to follow as we serve Him in this world, this is the Gospel we have received and are called to proclaim as we grow and make disciples. This is the relationship we have, and can grow through our own prayer life and our study of Scripture. So let us pray that this week we may do all we can, each day, to make this true in our lives.

 

 

Advertisements

Thuffering Thuckertash! What do you mean, its not all about the suffering?

We reach the end of the book of Job, and this week, at last, God shows up. Never apologises for his timing does he… (- maybe that’s where Tolkien got his inspiration for Gandalf’s ‘wizards are never late, they always arrive exactly when they mean to’ from Lord of the Rings). And when God speaks in chapters 38-41 -which is one of the longest pieces of speech ascribed to God anywhere in the Bible, we here his side of the story.  I’m going to post my text from yesterday, which was also recorded and posted onto the website here, but below I’ll also put a blog that came across my radar from Morning Story and Dilbert– I hope you can see the connection.

This morning we return to the book of Job- this passage taken from the conclusion of the book is the climax of God’s response- by the end of the various speeches Job has reached that conclusion that God is wilful, weak or absent as far as he is concerned. He’s refused to curse God, but has equally refused to acknowledge himself as guilty. As we said last time, its that action- claiming perfection for himself over and above God, standing in judgement over God, that is his sin- in all areas of his life God has seen that Job is righteous and holy; and when his prosperity and health are lost, he doesn’t immediately blame God. In fact, its only when his friends point the finger at him- you must have done something wrong, that Job responds: at first proclaiming his innocence and calling God to judge him, and then gradually reaching that point of self-justification and anger, and ultimately arrogance.

Here’s a question to mull over for a moment- when things are going wrong for you, what can those around you do that really helps- and what doesn’t help?

At times, we may want a solution- someone to come to our rescue

Sometimes we may want an explanation- its ok if we can understand why

Sometimes we may want someone to blame- it may not matter if they are or not

Sometimes we simply need someone to be with us- not to speak, explain, solve or accuse but to be with us in the difficult place. If you’ve been looking at the readings through Job this month you may recall that Job’s friends sat with him in silence for a week before saying anything…  Sometimes that is the response we need to offer to those around us, and to know that its ok. We may feel the need to ‘sort things out’, and as Christians may feel that our prayers are the way we do that… but when we don’t know how to pray, what then? Paul wrote specifically to this when he said in his letter to the Romans ‘we do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes for us’ (8.26)… our tears, inarticulate groans and silence all speak eloquently to God.

The passage speaks about justice- God questions whether Job would discredit his justice in order to make himself feel ok… and God is also asking ‘Do you have any idea who I really am and what I do?’… in one way it makes me think of a caricature- a parent and child, or a pupil and a headteacher… why do I have to eat my peas/go to bed/be nice/sit still in class/take my exams?  What Job knows of God is that God is fair and just… and so the question he raises is ‘how is this fair?’ As we read God’s response to Job we see God’s creativity- God’s outpouring of love in the act of creation… and for us the easy thing to do is hold these things in tension- as if God is struggling with these two sides to his personality… on the one hand God is full of love, and on the other hand God brings justice… but its simpler than that: God is just and God is loving… not one or the other. Its not a question of one winning over the other but how to reconcile those two equal parts of God’s character with the world, and with the way that we act and live and speak ourselves.

At the outset, we may think that the book of Job is about the question of suffering, but as we reach its conclusion we discover that it is equally about knowing the character of God- Job knew of God, and was living by the rules that he had observed- do this, avoid that and you’ll be in the right with God… and that sustained him through much of his sufferings. However at this point Job is beginning to really know God- and while we might easily say that its more important to know God than to just know about God- that belief and discipleship are vastly more important to the Christian life than knowledge and attendance… it does raise the question- is it worth it? Is a full, committed faith with all the highs and lows that it brings better than a consistent low level ‘ok-ish’ one? Without the commitment and the vulnerability we cannot appreciate the highs and the full extent of God’s love for us… But the answer is yes- just as much here, when we talk about faith, as it is for anyone who has taught anyone, cared for a child, and in many other ways- when we make ourselves vulnerable and open, we allow others to hurt us, but we are also more truly alive because we feel more fully. And in becoming open to others we’re also more able to know them… if I keep you at a distance from me, you cannot get close to me with all that entails but neither can I know you… and the same is true of God.

If we do allow God to come close to us, and intentionally come closer to God- whether through a daily pattern of prayer and Bible reading, or through attending events at Lee Abbey or New Wine, through our worship here and the prayer times we have each week… if we come closer to God, we will have a right understanding of the relationship between us and God… that recognition of who God is… which leads to conviction of our own unworthiness, appreciation of the grace of God, is outworked in worship and a desire to serve God, but above all is expressed in humility. Job, having once been humble, has been humbled and now finds true humility- not to suggest that his previous behaviour was like that of Uriah Heep, Dickens’ master villain who ate ‘umble pie with an appetite… Job now sees God more clearly, and his self-justification disappears… he realises that his previous claims are as nothing… and he humbles himself before God- as the song goes ‘you are God in heaven, and here am I on earth’.

It’s a tricky thing to remain fully humble- if we serve God and our community, and things don’t work out, then we can become discouraged. But if things work- if we manage to do a few things and see some fruit… we have to consistently point past ourselves to God- AND mean it… And that is the heart of it- as people begin to gather around a community that proclaims the Lordship of Jesus, we need to maintain that Lordship- the best thing we have isn’t us, our building or our coffee… its Jesus, knowing him in our lives, knowing God as our Father, knowing ourselves as sent into the world by the power of the Spirit… that is the challenge and the call to us as we read the book of Job alongside the rest of the Bible… not to deny suffering or reduce its meaning, but to put alongside it God’s love and to live humbly as those who know that love in our lives.

so that’s what I said yesterday, or near enough… and here’s what landed on my laptop this morning:

Man: God, can I ask You a question?

God: Sure

Man: Promise You won’t get mad …

God: I promise

Man: Why did You let so much stuff happen to me today?

God: What do u mean?

Man: Well, I woke up late

God: Yes

Man: My car took forever to start

God: Okay

Man: at lunch they made my sandwich wrong & I had to wait

God: Hmm

Man: On the way home, my phone went DEAD, just as I picked up a call

God: All right

Man: And on top of it all, when I got home I just wanted to soak my
feet in my new foot massager & relax. BUT it wouldn’t work!!! Nothing
went right today! Why did You do that?

God: Let me see, the death angel was at your bed this morning & I had
to send one of My Angels to battle him for your life. I let you sleep
through that .

Man (humbled): OH

GOD: I didn’t let your car start because there was a drunk driver on
your route that would have hit you if you were on the road.

Man: (ashamed)

God: The first person who made your sandwich today was sick & I didn’t
want you to catch what they have, I knew you couldn’t afford to miss
work.

Man (embarrassed): Okay

God: Your phone went dead because the person that was calling was
going to give false witness about what you said on that call, I didn’t
even let you talk to them so you would be covered.

Man (softly): I see God

God: Oh and that foot mas-sager, it had a shortage that was going to
throw out all of the power in your house tonight. I didn’t think you
wanted to be in the dark.

Man: I’m Sorry God

God: Don’t be sorry,  just learn to Trust Me…. in All things , the Good
& the bad.

Man: I will trust You.

God: And don’t doubt that My plan for your day is Always Better than your plan.

Man: I won’t God. And let me just tell you God, Thank You for Everything today.

God: You’re welcome child. It was just another day being your God and
looking after My Children…

hmmm... it gave me one of those moments...

too busy being busy to get things done…

The last week has, on a scale of busy to hectic, been right up there with the best of them. For all sorts of reasons. And most of them are of my own making. And because of them, I don’t have last Sunday’s sermon notes to post- because I didn’t really do a sermon as such… I spoke to a group of people in a bar about what Communion means and then we shared bread and wine… and that was where we worshipped last Sunday morning- in a bar tent in a field at a music festival.

I’ll be writing and posting a proper reflection on the weekend, but I wanted to share this post below, which comes from Mustard Seed Budget here. It captures something of what the team of us were attempting last weekend at the Somersault Festival, and what we try to model in our church each week… we don’t go out of our way to be imperfect or make it into a standard to aim for- ‘how imperfect are you?’ but it happens- we mess up, and somewhere in the mess, sometimes, other people are helped in their mess…

It’s the great irony of ministry: I’m far from perfect, and yet I attempt — and sometimes succeed! — in helping other imperfect people.

As ministers of God’s grace, we should never lose sight of the fact that we, ourselves, are sinners. We are NOT the inerrant voice of God. Stay humble.

The world hurls “hypocrite!” I don’t snarl in return. Because basically it’s true. Who can say it’s not? Who is without sin to throw stones?

God’s grace is such that He reaches people with His grace THROUGH imperfect people.

cheers

Holding the door open for friends

A friend once told me about their experience of becoming a Christian, and spoke of her desperation to get into God’s presence once she’d realised what it meant. Another friend is always encouraging others to go before him in every situation… he’s often making the case for why Christianity makes sense in conversations with people- although he has yet to make that decision for himself.

Sometimes when we hold open a door for others its to allow them to join in, at other times we invite them to go first, and on occasions we know we will miss out because we’ve allowed others to go ahead.

On two occasions in the book of Acts Peter holds open a door for others. And on both occasions he risks being shut out himself as a result.

When he healed the lame man, he invited that man to move from being a ‘sinner’ and ‘unclean’ to being accepted by God, and he stood in front of the council and told the why. The result? Both the man and Peter were told their behaviour was unacceptable. Peter was being threatened with exclusion from the faith community of his people.

And later, as we read in Acts chapter 11, he’s done something even worse- he’s gone to the house of a gentile (yuck!) and entered it (yuckier!), shared food (defilement!) and shared the gospel of Jesus (what!!!??), and then after all that, he hasn’t even had the decency to clean himself. Instead, he’s baptised them- he’s brought the gentile family and friends of Cornelius into the people of God.

And once again, he’s being warned off.

Both times Peter gives a similar answer- Who am I to oppose God? Should I listen to you or God?

And the rest is history…

So what would it mean for you to risk listening to God? To hold the door open or to step through it yourself? If the worst that can happen is we make a mistake, why are we so scared of the possibility of being right?

Jesus, that man’s got attitude!

Sorry, couldn’t resist that… so this morning we were looking at the Beatitudes, which crop up in Matthew chapter 5, at the beginning of the sermon on the mount. I had the interesting challenge of doing a talk that was for all ages at the beginning, with children hiving off after a few minutes, and if that wasn’t hard enough I was speaking on a passage which, the last time I did some teaching on, took 5 evening sessions and even then seemed crammed. I’m going to have words with the guy who sets the preaching rota in our church…

Anyway, here’s the gist of what I said:

Attitude- good attitude, bad attitude, someone with ‘attitude’… it’s a word that describes how what is inside you can be seen…  (dictionary- a settled way of thinking, a physical position of the body showing a mental state, uncooperative behaviour, individuality and self-confidence.  a good attitude isn’t necessarily being good at something, but its how you carry yourself- whether you’re a champion or a steady mid grade… Sometimes people refer to the beatitudes in that way- as Jesus’ description of how we should be- the ‘be attitudes’. If that’s so, what do you think are some important attitudes for us to have as Christians? How should we be? And what attitudes would we be wise to try and avoid?

 

Here’s a few- Proud   Humble       Kind    confident        uncertain        grumpy

 

Or if we want a list from the Bible-in Galatians 5 these are called the fruit of the Spirit, but they’re also the attitudes of a Christian:

 

Loving     joyfilled       peaceful         patient        kind     good     faithful        gentle     self-controlled

 

In this passage Jesus talks about how his followers should live- not so much the way to be, but the way to blessings… some translations actually use the phrase ‘happy are you when…’ but its not really a kind of ‘don’t worry be happy’ or a Pharrell Williams song, its about something much deeper… if you want… the chances are that for most of us, something this past week made us happy- made us smile and lifted our spirits… it might have been a joke or a flower or child or whatever… but what makes us feel deeply blessed- content- joyful… that’s the kind of happiness Jesus means (and actually I think its what Pharrell Williams is trying to talk about)…

 

Its actually quite a radical manifesto both in terms of what it talks about and what it asks…

 

This is a manifesto for the kingdom of heaven- which is not a place on a map but a place in our hearts- its our attitude… when we take these phrases, those virtues listed as the fruits of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Christians, and we live them out- as we begin to try and live by those values ‘the kingdom is near’.

 

As we hear the beatitudes, the intention isn’t that we should pat ourselves on the back… yup, got that one, nor that we should beat ourselves over the head for our failure- I’m not hungry enough for righteousness, but that we should recognise our intentions and that they fall short of our own hopes. By recognising that we fall short, we come without pretence or false confidence to God… and because of God’s grace we are provided with all we need… to take the first phrase ‘poor in spirit’… is one of those phrases that we ‘get’ without often understanding- what does it mean to be poor in spirit? Poor… lacking in what you need- not just a bit short when it comes to the holiday fund, but struggling, unable to pay the bills or for necessities… but we live in a world of credit and short term loans… the poor are fooled or forced into behaving as if they haven’t a worry… Spiritually poor, means without the spiritual resources to get by- and those who understand that they are spiritually poor are those who’re most eager to receive all that God has for them- if I know I’m poor, then I want all that God has for me… and I’ll grow in faith etc… the kingdom of heaven becomes clearer in my life and my actions… Those spiritual resources being the basic disciplines of the Christian life- intimacy with God, worship of God, sharing the love of God in the world…

 

Intimacy through personal prayer, fasting, Bible study

 

Worship through corporate acts, glorifying God through our lives, putting God first

 

Sharing God’s love through practical action, through being with people, through standing against injustice, through sharing our personal stories of God…

 

Blessed are the poor in spirit- does that mean I should avoid those things so that God will bless me? No- when we realise we are poor, we’re open to receive… God blesses us when we realise we have held back from a real, close relationship with him. God blesses us when we worship fully in all our lives. God blesses us when we give all we have… we receive things we never hoped for.

 

By raising the bar, Jesus isn’t making a relationship with God even more exclusive than the Pharisees or the religious authorities he so often clashed with. No- he’s making it clear how impossible it is for us on our own, and promising that God will help us to reach those heights- so let us mourn instead of feeling a bit sorry, lets humbly recognise our own spiritual poverty, lets desire a right relationship with God as if it was water in the desert, lets offer mercy when it sticks in our throat, lets be willing to step into a conflict and create peace, lets be persecuted for our faith… because Jesus promises that we will not be let down by God when we do.

 

Oh, and I was very well behaved- the idea of including the sermon on the mount scene from Monty Python’s the life of Brian was very tempting… but I didn’t. If you don’t know what I’m referring to, or just want to see it again, here it is:

#nwunited14 -thank you to the agents of grace!

So got back from New Wine last weekend- we left on the Saturday evening for several reasons… partly the threatened bad weather, partly my health (more below) and then the deal was closed by our youngest deciding the be sick for the 3rd time…

The journey home was interesting, as one of our other children had caught the same bug and we needed to stop 4 times in a 2 hour journey… lets just say we won’t be forgetting the experience!

This is now the 6th time we’ve been to New Wine, and each year has been great, for various reasons. This time around, with 3 children and going with a large group of friends from our old church, was different once again. Seeing all 3 children loving their groups was a real joy for us- with both of our older daughters talking about prayer and worship and receiving God’s love in a really natural way, but the thing that i was most struck by during the week was the giving heart of the volunteers in different teams.

Don’t get me wrong- I drank in the worship times both in the Arena and Hungry, really enjoyed listening to Robby Dawkins, Rich Johnson and Sean Doherty and loved meeting up with old friends, but- the volunteers in Stepping Stones and the Medical team just blew me away.

Stepping Stones was a new venue, open during the main talks for parents and pre-school children, with refreshments, changing areas and lots of toys. Great, and an obvious development of what has been there for a few years. However, it was also open from 5.30am for any parents who needed to bring wide awake babies down from the camping area, and on 2 mornings during the week I joined the group of half-awake adults and their too-awake children. The team were welcoming, friendly and understanding, and the place was a real haven.

The medical team, at the far side of the site from anything exciting, were a team of first aiders, nurses and doctors who worked long shifts through the whole week helping folks out- I saw them caring for people through the night, and I ended up visiting them 4 times myself as my back steadfastly refused to behave and heal of its own accord (I’d had a minor op the previous week and the stitches hadn’t held).  The team were professional, helpful, and also able to offer prayer at the end of each visit- something they aren’t able to do in their normal professional capacity.

Both these teams, and many others, demonstrated to me walking examples of grace and love to the stranger. They encouraged and challenged me to do the same, and so for that, as well as the help they provided during the week, I want to put out a big thank you to them all.

Of course, I’m not thinking of running an open house from 5.30am each morning for my neighbours, and my first aid skills aren’t good enough to start an alternative to the NHS, so the question that I’m pondering, and I hope will be there for each of you, is this ‘what would it look like for me to do that? In my own life as it stands, or with some minor changes, how could I be an agent of grace?’

Following the herd or heading off piste

I’ve been thinking about doing things differently. Not differently for the sake of it, but differently because you know, deep down, you ought to. And I’m not doing one of those clever euphemistic things where in 500words time you’ll realise I’m talking about wanting to become a ballet dancer or my views on the environment or any other ethical or career choice… I’m talking about doing things differently, because deep down inside you know you ought to.

That’s what lies at the heart of the passage I was reading this morning from 1 Samuel (great name for a prophet, great name for a son too, by the way). It was the passage in chapters 8-10 where the people ask for a king. It doesn’t quite come out of nowhere- there’s a history of good leaders followed by bad ones (Eli… his sons, and now as Samuel gets older it looks as though his sons aren’t shaping up too well), but the people of Israel aren’t saying to Samuel ‘we want better leaders’, but rather ‘we want leaders like the neighbours have got’. We want to be like them. We don’t want to stick out.

Sometimes its important to be like those around us- because that’s how society works. I was talking to a friend today about whether owning a house is actually something that ethically sits with the Christian faith. I was suggesting that since nothing is truly owned, why do we invest so much energy into claiming these piles of bricks; and he responded that in our society, this is how we manage the issue of who lives and sleeps where, of personal space in a crowded country etc; and so rather than reject the concept of home ownership, we should own houses well and do it in a way that honours God rather than worships the house and the money invested in it.

In a similar way, having a monarch isn’t as such a truly awful idea, but when that monarch replaces God, and we invest all our hopes and dreams in that person, its a problem. Why? Partly because that monarch will inevitably fail, and partly because in looking to that person we are looking away from God.

Sometimes we need to stop, to take a moment and ask why we’re doing what we’re doing, and maybe we then carry on doing the same thing, but with a renewed understanding (yup, I’ve thought about it and I’m happy) or recognising its limits (this isn’t perfect, but for today it’s the best available option and tomorrow I’ll work on it). And maybe we change what we’re doing, or we at least recognise that we need to change. In an article I read today in the Guardian about the Ukraine crisis it appeared that some of the freedom fighters in a unit were terrified of their own leader- they knew they were on the verge of being ordered to do something wrong, but how to change? Very few of us find ourselves in the presence of a dangerous gunman ordering us about, but it still remains one of the hardest things in the world to change our behaviour- to stop what we know is wrong and to start to do something right.

And don’t think I’ve got this one sorted. I really haven’t. I’d love to, but I haven’t.

I’m all ears, I’d love to know how anyone manages it.

Prayer? sure, that helps… but its not enough. God’s Holy Spirit? that’ll help too… but it doesn’t overcome Andy’s stroppy spirit. A verbal slap and being told off? Nope, that’s never been very successful. And don’t even think about suggesting that guilt will do the trick…

So tell me what, if anything, works for you.

Genesis chapter 12- trust, promises and being an idiot

This morning I was talking about Abram’s journey, God’s promise and how things went pear-shaped in Egypt in two different places- the first was with a group of parents and children at our ‘Early Bird’ breakfast service, which involved telling the story and pausing for questions, while distributing toy animals and people to represent the increasing size of Abram’s household as he journeyed, and the second was with one of our congregations in a more normal situation. The ‘script’ for the story journey isn’t really intelligible, so i won’t post it here… but you can have a look at what i said later in the morning…

This week in our Bible readings we’ve been looking at the story of Abram (as became Abraham), and his descendants… we’ve been reading about promises, trust, betrayal, loss and above all God’s consistent love.

If the snapshot of last week was about how we’re created in the image of God, and our failure to live up to that, then this week is about God’s first steps to bring reconciliation- God starts to make peace with us, in the first instance through a relationship with one man- Abram.

God could have appeared with power and wonder in the city of Haran, causing all people to fall on their faces… but that isn’t the nature of God- thinking back to the garden of Eden, God’s relationship with Adam and Eve was that he walked in the garden, looking for them- not swooping over or summoning them into his presence. And so here, and repeatedly through Scripture and in our own lives, God comes at the most personal level that people can respond to- Abram hears God’s voice, see’s God and walks and talks with him; Jacob dreams of him and wrestles through the night… if we’re wanting to know God and are wondering why we struggle to hear him, the simple question is are we expecting to- are we waiting and listening, and are we responding when God has spoken to us? A friend shared that often people ask him what God might be saying to them… and the first answer is ‘this- the Bible’. This is one thing that God has said to us all, and if we’re struggling to know what God wants us to do, how to live etc… have we failed to look at his Word, and to apply it to our lives?

So, what is revealed in this passage that was true for Abram, and is also true for our lives?

Firstly- God made a promise. Abram didn’t ask for it or extract it… God started this. And Abram was willing to respond. A couple of questions I had as I read this- Did Abram know exactly where he was going? (No) What was God asking him to do? (Leave his familiar surroundings and step into the unknown) How do you think Abram felt as he left his hometown? (a mixture of feelings, but definitely nervousness was in there).

Few of us have probably had that direct call to leave our homes to follow God, but there is a parallel that we can each draw- when we come to faith, or commit to follow Jesus as a disciple, or actively decide to deepen our faith at some stage of our lives, we are making that step of leaving the known, and stepping into the unknown. God never told me where I would end up when I came to faith 26years ago- not in terms of place or the things I’d do. Its been a case of trusting him and seeing a short distance ahead- enough to continue things but not so much that I have my whole life mapped out in detail.

And then, as Abram is journeying, he pauses in Canaan- this is the place I shall give to your descendants… that’s great, but where do I go? Might be an answer, but Abram has grown to trust God, and so he worships- through the narrative of his life we hear of 7 different places where he stops, builds and altar and worships God- he’s not limited to one place, he certainly isn’t constrained by others, and his response to the things God puts before him is to worship. God is beginning to show Abram the answer, the promise, that Abram can trust him, and so he worships God. When God reveals something to us, either of his character or his promises to us, our human instinct may be to analyse it ‘how will that fit with everything else I’ve got going on?’ ‘how will my family/colleagues etc view this?’… but God asks us to trust him, and put him as the foundation in our lives that everything else rests on- not competing with them for time, but looking at everything from a perspective that starts with God- so we worship and pray and share our faith because to do anything else makes no sense; but we do worship and pray and share faith in the place and with the people around us, for them…

But in the midst of this, Abram feels that God’s promise is falling apart- there is a drought which leads to a famine- he can’t feel the presence of God and is uncertain of what to do… he’s no longer sure of the promise and can’t wait- maybe he feels the pressure of providing for his household, maybe there are others giving advice and so he goes to a place where he might find food- Egypt. Note that God didn’t say ‘don’t go there’, but neither did Abram ask for direction… as I read this I reflected that this might be one of those things that are neither perfect or terrible… its all in how we act in a situation like this. And that is where the problem comes. Abram now compounds his doubt that God would provide for him, with a fear that God will not protect him. And rather than holding back or waiting… he comes up with a plan which involves lying and deception- from right back at the beginning we know that God hates lying- that’s what led to the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the presence of God.

In Egypt things get confusing- the lies don’t seem to cause too much of a problem, at least not immediately- Abram isn’t killed, Sarai ends up living in the palace, Abram is even treated well… but of course there’s one basic problem- Abram’s wife is now living with another man, and this has been caused by deception, and how is God’s promise going to be fulfilled in this situation? All too often, we resort to our own human thinking when God’s plan doesn’t seem to be working out, or at least not from our viewpoint… Abram is confused, and resorts to old habits. Its interesting to see how God responds… not with fire, brimstone and destruction- with something that Pharaoh understands and the Egyptians will respond to- we don’t know whether Pharaoh had ignored a recurring dream or other signs, but he seems to have understood immediately that the cause of the diseases affecting his house is his connection to Sarai and knows that she is Abram’s wife… And in a way that foreshadows the events of the Exodus, Abram and his household leave Egypt, with more than they arrived with…

Abram was in the middle of things, and its hard to keep your perspective there- you have to balance the immediate with the long term, the personal with the big picture. As we look at the Bible we can more easily see the whole big picture- the beginning of God’s restored relationship with humanity, starting with Abram and his descendants, the promise of a blessing for all people that would eventually come in the form of Jesus, and the restored relationship with God that is now available for anyone who asks.  For us, here in Bishop’s Tawton, its important to know that we are within that narrative, each of us, and this church, that God’s promises to Abram hold true for us, that He will be with us, will lead us on, and will bless others through us if we trust him.

Have a good week, huge blessings

E100 day 2 things go wrong

Guest blogger Lois, aged 4 writes…

‘The snake was a trickster’

And she even typed it too.

So, we were reading Genesis Chapter 3 this morning, and there are some parts that the kids knew- the story of everything being fine in the beginning, and the trickster snake and how things went wrong. And then, as we were reading it through, there’re a couple of verses towards the end that ended up being paraphrased… for several reasons

Firstly, my wife wasn’t too sure that the kids (aged 7,4 and 1/2) would understand the whole bit about pain in childbirth and graft in the field… or that if they did understand it we would want to have the discussions that might follow on- after all, this was over breakfast.

Secondly, how often do you quote or refer to bits of the Bible that talk about God’s love, or forgiveness, compared to those that talk about God’s judgement or justice? I know which ones I prefer to focus on… am I just a lame grace loving wishy washy as-close-as-makes-no-difference universalist? We don’t like the bits where God tells folk off… just as in the Gospels we all prefer the parts about Jesus healing or feeding to the ones where he challenges folks to leave their livelihoods and families in order to follow him… We like God to be under our control, to be tame… we don’t like the idea that we’re subject to Him or that He has authority over us- oh, and when I say ‘we’ here, I’m talking about those people who’d call themselves Christians- those of us who wouldn’t self-identify with that term might be quite happy with those passages because they reinforce our belief that God is quite clearly a control freak or a fascist (though of course if God doesn’t exist then the argument is only hypothetical for them).

Anyway, I’ve been challenged today about how we don’t like to acknowledge the things about ourselves that are wrong, that we do wrong or avoid doing… and we really don’t like to talk about them in front of someone else. So what am I going to do about it? Not sure, but I won’t be posting an online confession of all my faults, if that’s what you’re hoping for!

On not speaking…

I’m a speaker, its what I do, or at least one of the things I do.

Today, I wasn’t speaking, or at least I wasn’t ‘the speaker’ at any of the things that happened in our churches.  Because of that, several things happened-

first up, I was able to relax into the hosting role (leading worship is what some people call it, others call it curating, a bunch call it presiding or celebrating- anyway, that thing where you’re standing at the front of church). Because I relaxed, I felt able to respond to God and to encourage folks to engage more- which is all good.

second up, others were able to develop their skills at our other church and in our children’s nativity, which is a really good thing to do. For some reason we often feel that we’re unable to do things in church which we’re more than capable of in the rest of our week, and yet others really are able to do those things which we just can’t… odd, isn’t it? So, me not speaking or doing stuff caused a bunch of other people to step into positions of responsibility.

Of course, those who were with me at any stage of the day might say i’d done just as much speaking as I ever do… maybe next time I’ll try complete silence…

Standing aside and not doing things ourselves has more power than we often acknowledge. It shows up our self-importance, and just as much allows other people to develop and grow in confidence. If we’re wondering about a good model for this, I seem to remember some Jewish carpenter used to delegate a fair bit- he sent his apprentices (sorry, disciples) out in pairs during their training, and commissioned them to go to the ends of the earth- thats a fair bit of leeway being granted there. And when he sent them, he was allowing them to act, to speak, to be his representatives wherever they found themselves… he trusted them.  So lets trust ourselves, and trust others.

What about you, do you find this idea of standing aside easy? does it worry you that people want to do things differently or might make mistakes, or are you thrilled by how much they’ll learn?