Honest Christianity – a blessing for summer reflection

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We had this blessing in church this morning and I expect many of us are ready for a break and are on or getting ready for our holidays, I thought this would give us a reflection to re inspire us upon our return.

May God bless you with a restless discomfort about easy answers, half truths and superficial relationships, so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.

May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people

May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed with those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really can make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.

Have a wonderful re inspired summer and may we know we are blessed now and blessed for our return.

Honest Christianity – grace is always greater

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This is a quote I re-read from one of my favourite writers this week on retreat. It is from Henri Nouwen’s book about the prodigal son. He explores the story from the perspective of the prodigal, the father and the stay at home son. It is a classic and will always speak afresh or anew to me when I pick it up again.

When we think about how God thinks about and treats us, it is helpful for our mental and spiritual wellbeing, to remind ourselves that God’s goodness, kindness, mercy, forgiveness, generosity, is always for us, available and accessible even when our lives are not what they can be. As Paul asks us shall we continue to sin that grace abounds (Romans 6.1), we answer no, but we do, we remind ourselves that we do live in the benefits of greater grace.

Read or reread the book, you will be inspired by God’s favour towards us.

Honest Christianity – incongruence and integrity

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I heard a story this morning about a son inheriting the family organic beef farm. The cows alone were worth 50K, so you would think it had the basis of a successful business. The son was very proud of what his father had built up, the trouble was the son was a vegan!

The son did not feel with integrity that he could continue to breed cattle for slaughter, so he planned to keep the family tradition of farming but wanted to change to organic vegan produce. He did not have much money but to still live out his values, he did not sell or send his herd to the abattoir, but gave them to a farm animal sanctuary where they could live until the end of their natural lives!

I am not saying I agree with his eating or animal welfare ethics but I do admire the consistency of his values, lifestyle and business practice. This is how one can have a peaceful mind, life and sleep, although he might lose sleep through worry about how he might live, to live out our values is worth that cost. This is integrity, a high consistent standard of internal and external lifestyle, to have no incongruency. I appreciate it may be felt this might be a luxury some people do not have if they are to be fulfilling their responsibilities in looking after themselves and their families. ‘But how should we then live?’, asks Francis Shaeffer in his seminal work?

As a christian to have this replicated in my worlds of thought, word, practice, teaching, writing in the areas of ministry, marriage, finance, relationships, community involvement is a worthwhile characteristic of being an honest Christian and minister. To count the cost, and be willing to pay it. I have some way to go but it is where I seek as well as hope to be.

Honest Christianity – naming my mistakes: humiliating or liberating?

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Many of us across our Christian traditions will be used to the regular encouragement to confess our sins, either in our liturgies, our quiet times or confessor / spiritual director. This could and probably sometimes does feel a little humiliating and or embarrassing. What about chatting to others or even God, if something was a sin, a mistake, an oops. I don’t know about you but sometimes I am just not sure what it is. I am not seeking to be proud or ever so, ever so humble, but sometimes when I reflect back on my day or week, I am just not sure what it has been. I have previously blogged around needing God’s perspective. This has helped me this week as I have been in several situations when I have sought to discern what I have done, said, what has been heard, received by others and especially God’s view of what happened at the time, motives and consequences. When I have worried, been anxious and not been in a good place, I have had the need to pray and ask God what He thinks, how God views understands, what happened.

The consequence has been on several occasions I have sensed harm did not happen, so my spirit has felt released and liberated. Other times I have sensed I made mistakes and hurt was received by other and God. To name these during confessions and prayers has been an appropriate and needed response. Ironically, the same release and liberation has been felt and an ability to move on to a good or better place.

My default in the past has been if in doubt, ask for forgiveness. This has felt like the safe, best option, just in case. Perhaps, this approach has the merit of being a humble one, it is a bit too blunt to discern, grow and mature in to all God requires of and resources me to be. What can be better, healing , restorative than God’s perspective of my life? Just need to walk, live close enough to God to know, hear, receive it, ah, that sounds like the challenge, but it seems worth it!

Honest Christianity – when liberal is not liberal enough

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There has been another devastating event again this week with the fire in the block of flats in London. Of all the individuals and groups criticized, the local churches were not among them. Their doors, hearts, hands and pockets were open within minutes of the gravity of the situation being realised.

How sad that while this tragedy was being outplayed, a Christian declared that they had to resign because they could not see how they could reconcile their personal faith and their job. the person was Tim Farron and his job was the leader of a national political party, the Liberal Democrats. In his speech he said:
“I seem to be the subject of suspicion because of what I believe and who my faith is in….In which case we are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society.
That’s why I have chosen to step down as leader of the Liberal Democrats.”

There is always more going on than what is seen or reported but how sad that someone who has sought to publicly serve their country and joined a party which has inclusive values and a Christian heritage, could not balance and integrity, their personal beliefs and their public role. His voting record did not seem as important as his beliefs and or struggles as a basis of being judged.

Although not on Tim’s scale, I sympathise with his dilemma. In the early days of being a NHS senior chaplain in a multicultural city, reconciling as someone from an evangelical charismatic background and leading a multi faith team and service, was not an easy place or position for me. How to hold these with integrity, transparency and consistency was a challenge and at first did not seem possible. It seemed something had to give. Did Paul help in l Corinthians
9 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews.To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 New International Version (NIV)

Through prayer, reflection and wise counsel my way forward was found in being the best Christian I can be, to love those I lead and serve. The criteria cannot be about agreeing, as we have such a spectrum of beliefs in our team but to respect and to seek to serve the wide spectrum of values and wellbeing of our patents, families, staff and reputation in our community. My own integrated consistent universal mission is to seek to live out and show the love of God with whoever I am with and in whatever I am doing. I am still trying to
work this out to Paul’s lifestyle. At the moment I am concentrating on being authentic and seeking to be and be better at, a Jesus loving Christian.

Honest Christianity – God wants you to know Papa is especially fond of you

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Yes Sally and I have just got back from seeing The Shack at the cinema. There will be no need for any spoiler alerts and it is a while since i have read the book, but as I recall the book the film is close to it. I have left the cinema with a more tender heart and some small glimpses of light into the mysteries of God as Trinity and engaging with the sufferings of life. I know some have issues with the theology of The Shack but I want to congratulate the author of the book William Paul Young and the Director of the film Stuart Hazeldine for tackling two of he most difficult and perplexing concepts and issues within the Christian faith – suffering and the Trinity.

We were also privileged to hear the Trinity/baptism Godly Play story in church in an inspiring Messy church time. The story reminded us of the wholeness and the individuality of the personhoods and character of the our Trinitarian God as circles of cloth were laid as an overlapping Venn diagram and water, light and oil were used to represent our creator, redeemer and sustainer.

Remember. God wants you know, Papa is especially fond of you.

Honest Christianity – how to respond to suffering?

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Many people have been interviewed about how they understand and are dealing with the recent terrorist attracts. Most have said pray, some said comfort and support those injured, bereaved individuals, their families or support staff involved.

I was asked today by a parent of a very poorly child if I believed in God and if so why did God allow this? I said I did believe in God, just like the many Christians who have come to the aid on bridges and concert venues. And as to why, I did not know but I was sure God loved their child and them, was broken hearted and wept with them at their bedside. I also said that I would not insult their pain by giving him a trite answer in the midst of such sadness, but that I grieve with others over broken bodies seeking to live a loving life in a broken world. Sadly, I expect that by this family, many others and our nation even more questions will be asked over the coming days.

Sometimes, like today, and the last few sad weeks, I hope less is more and this more is never less.