Blog #22

 

It's one of those questions that seems to have stumped quite a lot of people throughout history and continues to do so: 'what is the Kingdom of God?' The disciples of Jesus were confused (thinking it must be something to do with the overthrow of the Romans) and, from that point on, others have been as equally unclear as to what the Kingdom really is.

Well, firstly it must have something to do with a King but what about the 'dom' bit? My thinking is that 'dom' is to do with 'domain' or 'dominion' and this seems to fit with Jesus' description of the Kingdom being like a mustard seed that grows into a huge tree in Matthew 13: 31-32. This tree then becomes a refuge for birds to nest in. In other words, it is their domain and they thrive when they gather there. However, it is easy to get mixed up at this point and think the tree must be the church building or maybe the congregation itself, but Jesus says the tree is actually the Kingdom; it is the domain where the church can gather and thrive in a safe place. The church is the birds. 

A couple of days ago I was listening to the today programme on Radio 4 and a reporter was lamenting his disappointment at the lack of birds on his garden bird table. This was somewhat peculiar as all had been well only a short time before with birds of all types flocking to the food his wife put out each morning and the two of them regularly sitting back with a cup of tea to watch the show. But this ornithological bliss had dramatically ended almost overnight. The ensuing investigation revealed the cause...a huge skyscraper of a bird table had been erected in the next door neighbour's garden and the birds, as fickle as cats, had transferred their allegiance at the drop of a hat.

When the embittered reporter asked an 'expert' how the problem might be resolved he was counselled to buy good quality food as birds are 'very discerning creatures'. He also said that birds know when they are safe and so placing his table in a secure location would help. I don't know if the reporter got his birds back but the story certainly made me consider my own priorities as a pastor. Do I want a larger building and smarter facilities to draw a bigger crowd of people to our church? Is a large crowd a true measure of growth anyway? And then I suddenly stopped and remembered the parable and how it explains the fact that the large mustard tree isn't the church itself. Rather, it is the presence of the Holy Spirit moving among us in power, making us more like Jesus and creating a safe place for us to thrive in. The Spirit is the essence of the Kingdom, the One who gives us security and brings real growth. My job, along with other people, is simply to keep feeding the birds with good food.

      

Blog #21

Someone pointed out to me, after they had read my last offering, that it was entitled 'Bog #20'. For this I apologise as it was not meant to be a heads up about the quality of the writing or even anything to do with a 'toilet twinning' exercise with a public convenience in Timbuktu. However, normal service is now resumed even though I am writing this article with Phil Collins singing, 'Did I miss again?' in the background.

Talking of music, Jeremy Vine said on Radio 2 today (yes, I do listen to Radio 2), that he was in the studio wearing a T-shirt with, 'I may be old but at least I heard all the great bands live!' I got the same T-shirt for my last birthday and, to a certain extent, I agree with the sentiment. Over the years I've seen Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, Queen, Spandau Ballet and Simon and Garfunkel to name just a few. And right now, I bet you're reading this and saying, 'Ah, but I bet you didn't get to see....'.  

Yet, even better than witnessing great musical acts in yester-year must be when passing your son's bedroom one day you catch the strains of Clapton or Supertramp seeping out from under the door. The satisfaction of knowing that, despite not appearing to have appreciated my musical tastes at all, he has actually absorbed a good deal of them (and now plays the music for himself out of choice) is fantastic! And who would have guessed it was possible?

There must have been a moment when instead of tuning out he tuned in and embraced something that in many ways was essentially cross-cultural or even counter-intuitive. And this is how it must be with faith; when the stories we have told our kids for a long time are, in a moment, picked up, reappraised and taken to heart by the next generation of believers.

If your children haven't done that yet, don't despair. Keep telling the stories of hope and faith in Jesus. Keep praying. Keep playing the music.

Let me know the bands you went to see and we'll compare notes!

   


Bog #20

 I've loved Bond films ever since I was a young boy and my favourite James Bond has to be Sean Connery although I think Daniel Craig runs him a close second. You'll have your own opinion about that analysis I'm quite sure but, none-the-less, you may be keenly anticipating the arrival of the 25th Bond movie, 'No Time to Die' very soon like I am. Or at least I was until I watched the news this morning when it was announced the film will be delayed until Spring 2021.

It seems life is delayed until Spring 2021. Boris says the winter will present us with a 'rocky road ahead' and restrictions may get even tighter. Looks like the masks and the hand gel are here to stay for quite a while yet and you might not even be able to take comfort in a trip to the cinema if they all start to close their doors as some have done today.

The reasoning has been interesting; why would anyone want to come out to a cinema and have to be socailly distanced whilst wearing a mask that prevents eating your popcorn and drinking your Coke? It's just not the same. Customers would much prefer to watch a film from their couch. Unless of course there's a blockbuster on it's way. That will get the punters back. But that's not going to happen for a while now.

I couldn't help compare this situation with how things stand for churches currently. Of course it's very important for Christian communities to set the highest standards in reducing the risk of infection from Covid-19 and obey the law in how they operate. But there is also a pervading sense that, unless a blockbuster comes along perhaps like a famous Christian speaker or some other 'special' event, many might well choose the sofa over meeting physically. Whilst the Church has, on the whole, accomodated the virtual world and made the most of new opportunities to disciple and evangelize, there is a danger of becoming virtually disconnected emotionally and spiritually if we're not careful. 

M once said to Bond; 'I would ask you to remain emotionally detached'. We Christians can't allow that to happen.     

Blog #19

I'm pleased to say we managed to get away on holiday this summer down to Cornwall. This was the second time in three years that we had decided to spend a week in a caravan and it was a good decision. At least until the night of the storm. I kept reminding myself (each time I woke up in the night) that the caravan was anchored to the concrete base beneath us and that they make these mobile homes very well these days.

It must have felt similar on a wooden ship crossing the sea centuries ago as the very frame of our temporary home creaked and yawned as its sub frame was twisted and turned by the huge force of the winds outside. Yet, we survived and awoke to find we were still in the same county. When we arrived home, several days later, I sighed a sigh of relief to be back in familiar surroundings and in the comfort of a house with no wheels. 

But I missed being in the caravan after a while; it appealed to the traveller in me, the Toad of Toad Hall in me if you like. Who wants to be comfortable all the time anyway? Where's the fun in that? And yet, I often find myself wanting to be comfortable above all else. If only I could travel and be at home at the same time combining both longings. 

Jesus said, 'the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head', but He took comfort from His relationships with the Father and the Holy Spirit such that the Trinity was His home and He carried that reality with Him everywhere He went. Our new tortoise, Zerubbabel, carries his home everywhere he goes and it reminds me of the need to find our real home, our rest, in God Himself. He goes with us and is always present providing comfort and protection even when we fail to recognize it. 

When God calls us out of our material and spiritual comfort zones, as He often does, He goes with us and covers us in all weathers. He is our home.   

Blog #18

In the last two weeks I've found myself in the curious situation of needing to tear down some old fences in one location and build new ones in another. I'm not talking metaphorically here. These are real fences and they have taken real effort to remove and build. Having said that, the removing has been a lot easier than the building. A very large sledge hammer and several swings later dealt with fence posts that had to be taken out due to the imminent arrival of a double decker bus (recently bought for the use of our youth groups at Poverest). It must be added at this juncture, that I've had to keep my nerve over this bus; each time one has passed me on on the road I've realised just how big they are and a sense of panic has firmly gripped me by the throat. Hence the frantic ripping down of fences on the church site to make room. 

Now the other fence I mentioned earlier is at the end of my garden and, ignoring my wife's sensible advice to 'get a professional in', I proceeded to commence with the work of rebuilding it myself full of confidence that this job would be done in no time. Yesterday, I began to get the last panel in place having spend many hours over the last two weeks doing the best I can to get a sturdy fence installed that would meet my neighbour's scrutiny. All is well I hear you say. Well, not quite. It was all ok up until the point when I noticed I had fixed the previous panels upside down and would have to remove and fit them all over again. 

Moreover, this heartache was nothing compared to the sheer effort of getting the fence posts solidly in the ground with vertical accuracy and, in truth, it was only the very last one that I felt really happy with. With this particular one, I dug down deeper, took out more stones and cut the roots back further. It took much longer than the others but only when I was satisfied did I put the post in. Thinking about it now, I reckon this is the post that will hold the whole fence up the next time there's a gale (I hope!)

God wants us to stand vertically in the gale (in fact He holds a plumb line up to see how upright we are and that plumb line is the perfection that is Jesus). But to achieve this God will dig down deep to make our foundation secure and he'll remove the stones and old roots that get in the way of His purposes and this takes time and effort and a degree of heartache. So if you are wondering what God is doing with you and why life can be so tough at times remember it's only the fence posts that are deeply set and solid that will take the weight of the storm when it comes.