Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Have a heart!

Having recently had heart surgery I am first of all amazed and humbled by the number of people who have sent me cards, telephoned and stopped my wife in the street to wish me a speedy recovery and to check up on my progress.

Secondly, I am amazed that after a billing of being ‘turned off’, chest opened, ribs removed and heart cut open so they could sew a patch between left and right hand side of my heart the reality was just under an hour and a half in the theatre and no scars! Clever or what?

We take so many things for granted these days and just as we seem to think that doctors can do anything with their new technology and clever tricks. We also appear to assume that by throwing money at a problem we will have created a solution. This is not just aimed at the financial world and the crisis it finds itself in but every sector and every type of problem.

When I worked in the world of engineering it was often the case that when a project started going wrong or looked like it would fail to deliver the promised results the first response was that of throwing more money at it. We brought in more people, got more sophisticated equipment and paid large sums to ‘experts’ (be warned – ‘ex’ means ‘has been’ and ‘spurt’ is a drip under pressure!) to solve all of our problems.

It was during my time in electronics research that I learnt a valuable lesson which I’d like to share with you. It goes like this:

When a plan starts to go wrong:
1. Stop and think about what result you wanted,
2. Take a look at what you have done so far and ask yourself ‘Why have I done this?’
3. Ask yourself if you have consulted the right people (i.e. with the right knowledge, skills and abilities) to help you achieve your goals, and
4. Look and see where you have cut corners or where other people have been ‘clever’ to bring about the desired result.

These four questions apply very much to everything we do. These days we find all too often that the ends justify the means. This means that as long as the right result is achieved it doesn’t matter how we get to the place we want to be. Generally speaking this is wrong thinking and as Christians such thinking is even more wrong (or as one of our kids used to say “wrongerer!”).

If you are looking for solutions to problems, first STOP and ask yourself what the right result should be. This is the result that achieves for you (or the person with the problem) a result that fits in with what God wants for you (or them).

Then reflect (this means think about) what you have done and why you have done it. Do the things you have done fit in with what Jesus would have done and what the Bible tells us to do? If not, then regardless of the outcome you want – you are wrong. STOP and change direction seeking advice as necessary (go on, bother your clergy!).

Consulting the right people starts with God. Tell Him your plans, needs and problems and listen. Reading the Bible and talking to His people will usually make the right direction to take obvious. Prayer should be the first thought and not the last resort!

Decide to stop cutting corners or ‘helping God’ to make things work. He doesn’t need the help we often bring and often it diverts or damages rather than help. This doesn’t mean we ignore commonsense just common practice (anger, revenge, getting even, lying, cheating, stealing, etc.)

The Bible says that we can come to God and ask for anything and He will answer. How about giving it a try, perhaps before your plans have even begun rather than after they have gone off the rail.


Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Heads or Tails?

Once the listening ends, then we speak (in Love) seeking to restore. We put our case using Scripture (something that so many orthodox seem to see as weakness as many don't use it), reason, tradition and love. Having made our case we listen again to the response and so on until we come to a point where an impasse is reached or it is obvious that pearls are being cast.

Then, sending (or leaving) them with a blessing, admonition, rebuke but never a curse we part company. If they are in our fellowship and they will not listen and witnesses followed by the leadership and then the whole church have been Biblically brought into the situation they are asked polite;ly to modify their position and if not fellowship 'koinonia' is broken.

this is not a light step to take for as I understand it koinonia is effectively being family and to 'divorce' a member of a fellowship and cast them out is an extreme and final option to be taken.

Sometimes we can speak and listen and whilst both parties do listen and hear the other side it it obvious that the situation has become inert. Then we need to bring in others who might have greater knowledge, wisdom or perspective in our endeavour to seek a position of peace.

A few years ago when pastoring, I had two men who disagreed over a pretty piddling issue. Neither would budge and neither was really listening to the other. Eventually I was called in and seeing that this was not a faith issue but a disagreement with a bit of Bible added for the upper moral ground I recalled a passage from Proverbs 18:18 (the next verse after the 'other man's story) which says something like:

" Casting lots can bring an end to arguments and settle disputes between powerful and aggressive men!"

I showed them the passage and asked whether they could settle the issue having discussed it between themselves and then with me. They both said a resounding 'No'. So I asked one whether he wanted heads or tails, he chose and I tossed. "Every lot cast is decided by God," I said as the coin spun - they left accepting the position of one as the place they would live in and I got to have a quiet evening.

Sometimes life is merely a toss up it seems - where wisdom fails chance provides

Knee-Jerk Christians

One of the big things I try to do when it comes to a situation is contact people when I am unsure as to their stance on an issue or when an action has been taken that confuses or confounds.

Time and time again I find myself in what is supposed to be Christian company and a topic crops up. For instance there was a conflict a few years ago over something David Jenkins said and all those (I was a Pente' then) I lived, worked and worshipped with were slagging the bloke off for being the Antichrist. Unlike some of the recent issues which have been well documented, reported and even filmed, this was an issue that had lots of people hearing what had been said and yet none that I knew (who were quoting him) had ever heard him speak.

I wrote the man a letter outlining what I had heard and what had been reported and what my concerns were. About a week later I received a charming letter from the man telling me what he had actually said and where and even why! It was perhaps nothing out of the ordinary for chat in a common room of a theological college but had surely been placed in the wrong domain. I wrote back with some questions and received a reply and some book references to keep me amused.

A few weeks later I was in a conference and the talk of my fellow pastors turned to the CofE and the pit of vipers that it was. Gleefully the demise of the church was talked over as surely it was apostate and 'true believers' would soon be leaving in droves for our denomination! I put forward some of the points made by the much maligned bloke and pointed out that much of what had been laid at his feet was not only out of context but not even said by him. I was branded some awful things that night and I was advised by a senior member of the denomination (a member of the executive no less) that even though what I said was probably very true it was always better to 'keep it to myself rather than cause conflict!'

Oddly, a few weeks further on DJ came and lectured and preached at my college at Oxford and sadly many of the students voted with their feet. The content was thoughtful, measured and challenging and the man was godly and charming.

So often we can see a man for his theology and thus miss the man. This episode taught me that to be a true Christian I should be sure of my fact and always be ready to give an explanation for the hope that I have and be willing to listed to the other person's view. We are indeed called to be ellenctic and if we are to speak the truth in love we also need to listen in the same way.

If we seek to speak the truth we need to do so with respect and love uppermost. If we are not sure of our facts, then we should ask (never did get a reply from DT!). If that which other says is taken as the only truth then we are in danger of being led astray (inadvertently and not with malice or sinister plots) by the perception of others.

Keep an open mind, try not to listen to others and become a 'knee-jerk' Christian. Proverbs 18:17 helps me do this (when I remember to apply it ):

"The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him."


"One man's story sounds convincing until you listen to the other side!"

As we say in aviation circles, "I learned a lot from that."

Lovingly speaking truth - more thoughts

Just because we are talking to 'fellow believers' this does not mean that we actually believe the same things!

The first thing we need to gauge is exactly what sort of a Christian the other person is. Not only that, but some people appear sound and rational until they are challenged, confronted with a different scale of thought or just plain disagreed with. Again, this is where we work at developing a relationship and having developed it we can bring up areas of concern or issues affecting us which might have a resonance with the person and the problems they are having or presenting.

If one just launches in feet first then we will often fnd ourselves in a position where the sin is concealed by such anomalies as Biblical interpretation, churchmanship, ad hominems, party lines and pure ignorance.

I was always taught to "Know my enemy". It also helps to know our brother and sisters too!

Ever since I became a Christian I have held to a basic belief that people who aren't members of the 'club' don't need to keep to the rules and regulations of it no matter how much keeping them might be benficial to them.

The other side of this coin of course is that those who have joined the 'club' have no option but to keep the rules and regs and use the big black book accordingly! Note, it is a big BLACK book not a big LACK book as some Christians would have us believe!

The milling around the edge of the coin has to be those who explicitly belong to to other clubs. These people have different rules and regs and present a challenge to us in many other ways. Most Chrstians find the coin falls on the face or obverse side and rarely do they encounter the thing falling onto the edge!

The key to "Telling the truth" is first of all actually using love! Not the easiest of tasks especially because people believe satan's lies (yes, he is a real person!). Not the easiest task because we see people we love doing something wrong and want them to stop damaging themselves. Panic, frustration, fear and a lack of understanding what being Christlike and an inability to give people time to have the right of access to them all counter this key facet.

Jesus came to a place and met people. He told stories and ate with them, the common people, the outcasts, the reviled and corrupt, those outside the club and by doing so developed in the people a desire to hear more and to want Him to talk to them. He never dissapointed when He spoke - lives were changed and hearts were broken and them wonderfully restored. New faith - real faith came into being. This is the call to us.

To tell the truth we have to know it. So many people who belong to the club tell only a part of the story. Some don't have the truth at all because they don't know it. So they should learn!

Some don't have the truth because they have chosen to put off truth to be less stern and to avoid telling people that they are wrong. After all, do this and they won't join. But when they do join it's a faux Chrstian faith they bring them into. "Jesus just wants you to be happy, do what you want and what you want to each other, it's all O.K." is a position and a theology that shows love - all the way to hell!

Some have so much truth that none will get in to heaven except them. They point out every speck and blemish. They know every word, phrase and call give you the words in Greek, Hebrew and serbo-croat. But there's no love, only 'being right!'. They are as bad as the previous group and the reasons are the same - they want to decide and whilst the first want all in the latter want no one in unless it's on their terms. (Look at some people's postings on the many Christian discussion boards for a great example of this - always right, always standing for what's right, never displaying love or winning souls).

Still more considerations!

Monday, 20 October 2008

Lovingly speaking truth - the saga continues

One of the big problems I find with "telling the truth in love' take where Christians are concerned is that often there is so very little love present! All too often the 'love' exhibited is more like a sneering putdown or a barbed and condemnatory mugging!

I like the Galatians passage for this, as I understand it, is how we tell the truth in love.

An example from my own experience might help illustrate this. I met a young man who was a go for it Christian and yet, not matter how hard he went for it, he remained at best static and at times further away from his goal. This seemed to me to be a little confusing and as I befriended him I realised that something didn't add up. I tried Bible studying with him, met him socially and introduced him to more Christians and still things were going wrong.

One day, whilst out eating I broached the subject and mentioned that the lack of clear water and the absence of peace was very much like daimonizomai, which we'd call 'possession' but was in fact better seen as oppression or restriction.

The bloke went white as a sheet and asked me if "I knew?" I replied that I knew nothing so what was he going to tell me. What followed was about forty minutes of cottaging and visits to 'male only' clubs. Over the next few months we worked together with his 'problem' and cutting a long story short he's now married with three kids and an elder in his church.

Relationship and openness coupled with a knowledge (he hoped) that I wouldn't 'blow the whistle' and would not walk away meant that I was able to tell him the truth in love and not only was he not lost but he was also restored.

The other way would have been to act as some here do (or at least write) and tear into the bloke and tell him what an abomination he was before the Lord. I could have called on him to repent and belittled him - or wept with him and stood by him (as I believe Jesus would have done).

Not an isolated case but one that demonstrates that to tell the truth in love takes more than a Bible, a placard and a big Gob (coupled with a sense of one's own importance and righteousness perhaps?) - it requires the relationship and the permission that that brings.


Sunday, 19 October 2008

Lovingly speaking truth - Continued

The underlying principle that I return to and continually work from is to be found in Galatians Chapter six:

"Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load. Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor. Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers."

What does this tell me?

First and foremost, that I am to to maintain myself as a 'spiritual' person and from this position of being "Right with God" (or as right with God as I can be) I am to come alongside those who are "Caught in a sin" and "restore" them.

This does not mean that I berate them, shout scream and utter disgusting things, condemning them as some Christian have done and probably will continue to do regardless of what Christ calls us to. What it means is that I come alongside them and show them a better way. I like the idea of 'coming alongside' for this is the 'parakletos' that is the Holy Spirit - who better to have as an ally and an example.

I seek to ensure that I do not utter terrible things and display attitudes that are not Christlike because to do so would mean that I am 'stumbling' myself and have given in to temptation.

That I do not engage in a particular sin does not make me better than the other person, for the sins (hidden very often) in which I engage make me just another sinner like them.

Some people obviously do think themselves to be 'something' in that they denounce others as not being 'proper' Christians and engage with the ad hominem and disgraceful utterances and truly they appear to deceive themselves. Sadly, they are not open to correction and will refuse relationships because they see themselves as obviously 'better' or something.

I hope this sets the scene a little more . . . .

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Lovingly speaking truth

In this world of conflict in so many areas, the question, "How do we lovingly speak the truth?" is one that is increasingly found of the lips of believers.

I would have to take my initial position regarding this topic from chapter fifteen of Paul's letter to the Ephesians, which tells us:
"Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
There is one body and one Spirit - just as you were called to one hope when you were called - one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: "When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men." (What does "he ascended" mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work."
I think that there are two keys here which is applied prevent us from engaging n the cliché the "Speaking the truth in love" is for some of us. We need to no longer be 'infants' and perhaps this also means that we will not be uttering stuff such as the 'infantile' uttering we find from the keyboards of some here! We eschew the cunning and crafty, deceitful schemes of man and speak that which is truth, restoring and loving.