Tuesday, September 26, 2006

He breaks the power of cancelled sin

Wondering through London last Thursday, I pondered purity of heart.

Sitting in Green Park, I began to read some of a sermon by John Wesley on the text ‘Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God’. (Then a bloke came along and told me it would cost a pound to sit there, so I moved on to a less privatised seat and continued.) Bits of it made me pray out loud to God. Bits like:

And "blessed are" they who are thus "pure in heart; for they shall see God." He will "manifest himself unto them," not only "as he doth not unto the world," but as he doth not always to his own children. He will bless them with the clearest communications of his Spirit, the most intimate "fellowship with the Father and with the Son." He will cause his presence to go continually before them, and the light of his countenance to shine upon them. It is the ceaseless prayer of their heart, "I beseech thee, show me thy glory."

Surely, purity of heart has got to be the most awesomely desirable thing that there can possibly be.

Later, in Regents Park (God is often to be found there, I’ve found) I thought about sin and how it still tangles around my heart – my thoughts and words and actions. I read a bit more Wesley in which he argued (fairly inescapably) that it was possible and should be expected that a Christian should have not just forgiveness, but power over sin.

It may sound over-dramatic (but I’ll risk it) – I felt like I was peering over the edge of damnation. ‘I write this to you so that you will not sin’ wrote the Apostle John (so it has to be a possibility...) I gasped out for God to have mercy on me and heard the Holy Spirit say, ‘Read the next verse’. I looked it up and it said, ‘But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defence— Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.’ And it may sound over-dramatic a second time (but I’ll risk it a second time) – I felt like I’d been saved all over again. And purity seemed a possibility - because when you're forgiven much, you love much.

He breaks the power of cancelled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean;
His blood availed for
- Charles Wesley

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Four Fathers

Tonight I’m going to London. The reason I’m going to London is to spend some time with two of my fathers. I’ve actually got four fathers. And my father died five years ago.

Sorry for my riddling. On Thursday I’m going to spend the day walking in Regents Park, praying and listening to God – that’s father number one. I’m staying with my father-in-law – that’s father number two – and on Friday we’re going for a walk together in Epping Forest. Father number three is my pastor in Coventry – a spiritual dad. And father number four is Dad – who died in 2001.

This year I’ve been reflecting a lot on fathers: reading, pondering, thinking through the implications for my own life – and, of course, I’ve been being a dad to my own daughter and son.

There’s a lot to consider. A lot of the thoughts I’ve arrived at are really rather obvious – but that doesn’t mean they’re not overlooked.

Like: sons need their dads. They need them to teach them how to be a man. Not a woman, not a mouse, nor an ogre – a man. With all the strength and compassion that being a man ought to involve. But fathers are often absent (physically or emotionally), sometimes very imperfect, never perfect. So men everywhere grow up with what some writers call ‘the father-wound’ – the result of an ultimately unfulfilled longing for a true father-son bond.

Sometimes the father-wound results in feminisation; sometimes in aggression (the number of ‘bad’ fathers who were badly fathered...); sometimes in homosexuality; sometimes in heterosexual promiscuity; but probably most often in an ill-defined but deep-seated general insecurity.

The answer? Well, it can’t be a pat answer, but the answer is Father God. It is in relationship with Father God that men begin to find healing form the father-wound. And in relationship with Elder Brother Jesus (and His Spirit who teaches us to call God ‘Abba Father’) that they learn how to be a true son.

Yet it goes wider than that. Fathered by God, men come to know their need of real relationships with other men. Not beery joviality. Not going fishing and sitting in gloomy (but at least male) silence. But brotherhood. And with brotherhood comes fatherhood – men, in the church of Jesus are fathered by one another. It starts with knowing God as Father (and Jesus insists we must replace Him in that role with no man – Matthew 23:9) but it grows from this to (usually older) men in the church fathering other (usually younger) ones. And so Paul called Timothy his ‘dear son’ and John writes to ‘fathers’ and the ‘young men’ they father in his letter.

I had a relationship with my Dad which was full of longing which was rarely (not never) fulfilled. He found it difficult to connect emotionally largely because of a difficult relationship with his dad. When I came to know Father God, aged 16, He began to meet my need for fathering.

But, as I reflect on those early years as a Christian, I realise that I saw God as a mother. Oh, I sang songs about ‘Father God’ – but He was warm, He put His arms around me... He rocked me to sleep and called me diddums – well, not quite, but it was certainly in primarily maternal terms that I saw God.

And not surprising. I always had a secure, loving relationship with Mum. She was a great mum – I owe her more than can be expressed. But she wasn’t a dad. And because Dad was never quite able to call me away from the maternal into the male, I’d got stuck.

What changed things? God led me to other men in His church. Men like my spiritual dad in Coventry. And, later, my Christian father-in-law. I joined a church with a strong emphasis on brotherhood. God started to show me what a man of God looked like.

It was terrifying at times. I remember one particularly vivid experience. I’d been thinking about John the Baptist and I suddenly realised I was scared witless by him. This wild, shouting, unpredictable, hairy man. Nothing maternal about him. I got beyond the cardboard-cut-out Bible character and suddenly realised the kind of men God hung out with! And the Spirit showed me that it is through John the Baptist, through the ‘wild man’, that I ‘behold the Lamb of God’ – Jesus.

I started to make friends with masculinity and not to be afraid of it. I’m still very much on that journey. And God, and my fathers – and my brothers and my son – are helping me get there.

(Daughters need their dads too – and dads their daughters... but I’ll save that for another post...)

Friday, September 15, 2006

In the - right? - job

I went to the doc this morning. He said it's a good job I'm not a trapeze artist. I thought it was a good job he wasn't a comedian.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Good servants, poor masters

A dear friend and spiritual mentor once described emotions to me as ‘good servants but poor masters’.

I’ve often reflected on this. Without emotions life would be monochrome, inhuman – dead. Yet, if we’re ruled entirely by our emotions then the result is instability, unfaithfulness and ultimately chaos.

I shared this nugget of truth last night at my ‘Elisha band’ (an occasional get-together between pastors and their flock which happen every eight or nine weeks in our church calendar). The band went well, on the whole, and I was left afterwards with a warm fuzzy feeling of something like success.

But it was a warm, fuzzy feeling that sat on top of a cold, sharp feeling. Why? Well... not every pastoral relationship brings unqualified joy. Sometimes (often?) it’s more about heartache, conflict, uncertainty and desperate longing.

So I was left last night – and this morning – with this strange hot-and-cold inner cocktail. I want my human feelings to make me tenderer, more passionate, more open to Jesus, more humble and able to listen. I don’t want them to bully me into extremes and insanity.

I know I need others to keep me on track.

As a Christian leader, every moment of delight is bordered with sadness; every moment of despair is lit softly by joy.

Till we see Him – face to face.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Sneak preview

I write half of the Church's weekly bible study sheet. But I'm not blowing my own trumpet when I say that there's a great quote on next week's sheet - it's on the half that my brother writes!

Anyway, here it is (hope you like it):

‘The bible without the Spirit is like a sundial by moonlight’ - D.L. Moody

Good, eh? Let's ensure we know the author. Then we'll understand His book.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Bridge over trouble

Someone asked me this morning if worked as an evangelist. I think they had a rather fixed idea of what that meant (for him it was preaching on the streets of the capital if it was anything at all). But my reply was that I was an evangelist - in more ways than one.

First there's the fact that I bring the gospel to those who come to White Stone. Then there's the fact that I'm often involved in taking the gospel out into Coventry and other places... But the particular kind of evangelism that I was thinking of was my editing and writing for the Streetpaper - the evangelistic newspaper of the Jesus Army.

I wrote this for Streetpaper today. Hope you like it.


We can't reach God, however hard we try - and some religions and philosophies have tried very hard over the years.

No, the journey's going to have to be the other way round. He's going to have to come to us.

So He did. He came down. God became a man - and the name of that man is Jesus. "In the beginning was the one who is called the Word. The Word was with God and was truly God... The Word became a human being and lived here with us" (John 1:1, 14, The Bible).

And that is the enormous difference between faith in Jesus and "religion" (whatever the brand). Religions start by telling us what to do. The Christian message starts with what God has already done.

Why did Jesus live and die and rise again? In dying for us and rising again, He bridged the gap over death into life that never ends.

This means we have been given an incredible offer. This is how Jesus described it: "Everyone who has faith in me will live, even if they die. And everyone who lives because of faith in me will never really die." (John 11:25-26, The Bible)

Are you going to take Him up on it?