Mar 142014
 

A couple of days ago Jo, my wife, nottingham castle
and I were in Nottingham and spent some time looking round Nottingham Castle.

The original castle was built in 1068 and after being burnt down and redesigned over the centuries was converted into a museum and art gallery in 1875.

We walked around the grounds and came across a small plaque which claimed to mark the spot where the English Civil War had started in 1642 when King Charles 1 raised his flag and called for people to rally round him.

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This marked the start of a terrible chapter in English history as the country was divided over whether to follow the King or to support Parliament.

Four years later it was all over – the King had been defeated and the Parliament forces had won.

But I wonder how long the scars affected lives and families and communities, as divisions had to be healed and senses of betrayal had to be dealt with. Those who had been spies and informers would have tried to blend back into society while those who had suffered at their hands could easily have looked for revenge.

And it made me think about something Jesus once said to those who were thinking about following him.

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ (Matthew 10:34–36)  

These are words many of us do not often, or easily, associate with Jesus. And we need to recognise that elsewhere he speaks about the peace he came to bring and the peace he offers to his followers. So what was he saying here, what did he mean?

It comes down to the question of loyalty – to whom are we loyal, who receives our greatest allegiance? In the Civil War, brothers who supported different sides in the conflict would still have been brothers but their allegiance to King or Parliament could have taken a higher priority and so the family would have been divided.

And the point Jesus is making is that he is looking for that first place of allegiance, that primary loyalty, in those who call themselves his followers. For many Christians today, at least those living in the West, the choices are less stark. They can choose to follow Jesus and their families or friends may think they are strange but it doesn’t always cause bitter division (although sometimes it can).

I have a friend who isn’t able to go back to his own country due to fears of what would happen to to him for being a Christian. I have another friend who was really concerned about how his family would respond when they learned that he had decided to commit himself to Jesus. For these people they had to answer the question of where their priorities lay and decided to follow Jesus while recognising the cost.

But what about those of us who don’t experience the divisions and breakdown in relationships that Jesus speaks about? Does it sometimes result in us not living the lives he is calling us to live?

In the passage I quoted above, Jesus goes on to talk about the priority he is looking for and it is clear he isn’t expecting half-measures:

  • He is looking for us to love him more than we love our parents and our children (Matthew 10:37)
  • He is looking for us, each day, to be prepared to suffer for him as he suffered for us (Matthew 10:38)
  • He is looking for us to find fulfillment and satisfaction in his plans for our lives as opposed to our own plans (Matthew 10:39)

These are hard, tough commitments but Jesus is totally serious in what he is calling for.

Tom Wright, commenting on this passage, refers to the example of St Francis:

leaving his wealthy home despite his father’s fury, to go and live a simple life of imitating Jesus as much as he could—and setting an example that thousands still follow today

Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-15, p.122.

And there are many examples throughout history, and probably many examples we each know today, of people who are prepared to respond positively and joyfully to the call of Jesus and find the fullness of life which he came to bring. And there are many of us who are prepared to sit on the sidelines and watch such people as opposed to taking up the challenge for ourselves.

If Jesus were to raise his flag in your street, in your place of work, in your church, amongst your friends how would you respond?

Feb 252014
 

So much is bound up in who we see ourselves to be and the labels that we – and others – apply to us.

We are male or female, gay or straight, young or old, rich or poor. We are each citizens of a particular country which, in turn, drives a lot of behaviours and affiliations; we support different sports teams;football-worldcup-2006-553084-m we vote for different political parties; we are employed or not.

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Some of these labels are intrinsic to who we are, some change with circumstances. i have always been male and I was once young!

Some labels vary with context. When I was working in the IT industry and attended a conference I met a lot of people and they took on various labels. Some were colleagues working in the same company, some were customers, some were partners with whom we collaborated and delivered solutions to those customers, some were competitors. And, as people changed roles, and different projects came along, we ended up wearing different labels – a partner one day, a competitor the next – and this was necessary and helpful in terms of determining the way we related to different people and the level of information we shared with them.

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In many ways, the combination of labels we carry tell us, and others, a lot about who we are and the experiences we have had. I am a Christian, a husband, a son, a father, a church leader. I used to be an IT consultant, I enjoy science fiction, I drink black coffee (and that started when someone played a trick on me 30 years ago!)

But God also says things about us – and these result in really important labels.

Right back in the beginning God was about to create human beings and he said this:

Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness (Gen 1:26)

And from that time on humanity has carried within itself something of the nature of God. We reflect Him, we are “like Him”, we are able to relate to Him. Yes, we have made mistakes, yes that image is often marred and tarnished, but there is something in us which is made in the image of God. And while that is great for us to realise for ourselves it carries with it a challenge for how we treat other people. If every person we meet, if every person we speak with, if every person driving on the same roads as we drive on, if every person on this planet bears the spark of God within them then surely this is a more important label than whether we support the same football team, enjoy the same music, work for the same company or attend the same church.

Paul, when speaking about the labels which he could legitimately use to define who he was (Philippians 3:5-6) went on to conclude that none of them mattered. What was important to him was knowing Christ, gaining Christ and being found in Christ (Philippians 3:8-9). Throughout his writings, the label which Paul keeps on applying to himself and to those whom he is writing is that of being “in Christ”.

In one short passage he was able to speak about:

  • Being blessed with “every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3)
  • Being chosen in Christ (Ephesians 1:4)
  • Redemption being in Christ (Ephesians 1:7)
  • Being included in Christ (Ephesians 1:13)

No wonder this was the core of his identity. This is what had come to matter to him, everything else was peripheral.fingerprint-227873-m

And the question this raises is which labels are essential to us and how important to our identity is being “in Christ”? Is this the central foundation on which our entire lives are based or is it an “add-on” to the other things which characterise us more deeply?

I wonder how differently I would have treated my colleagues, partners, customers and competitors if I had consistently seen them first as people made in God’s image and if I had always seen my being “in Christ” as the label which characterised me most.

I wonder how much those I spend time with now see this demonstrated in me on a consistent basis.

 

Feb 222014
 

I have always been fascinated by theology – seeking a deeper understanding of God through what He has revealed in the Bible and in the person of Jesus Christ. Not just as an academic discipline – although I enjoy that – but as a transforming influence on how I live.

As a church minister I have the privilege of sharing these ideas with others and growing together in our understanding of what it means to live as God’s people.

But we also live in a world which subscribes to, and teaches, very different standards and principles from those which God desires and often it is easy to be influenced by, and conform to, those standards instead of being influences for good and for God. We can cease to be the salt and light which Jesus calls his followers to be (Matthew 5:13-16) and become moulded into this world’s pattern (something which Paul warns against in Romans 12:2).

But God is continuing to work in the world and to transform it which means that God’s reign and the ideologies of the world are continually bumping into each other which raises some fascinating (well, at least I find them fascinating!) and challenging questions .

  • What happens when God’s kingdom and the “kingdoms” and ideas of this world meet?intersection
  • How is our understanding of God influenced by our experiences?
  • How can our understanding of God affect how we live in society?

It is these questions – among probably many others – that I want to explore on this blog.

It won’t always be like this. The Bible speaks about a time when God’s reign will be fully established (Revelation 11:15) but, until that happens, Christians are called to live as citizens with dual-nationality (of this world and of God’s kingdom) and as ambassadors of that kingdom.

Borrowing the title of a book by Francis Schaeffer – “How should we then live?”