Lie-Detector

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According to Hebrews 4, the Word of God is razor-sharp and it slices with a precise scalpel between “soul” and “spirit.” I guess the writer wanted us to consider two interior areas of being that are sometimes difficult to distinguish. It’s like tracking down your motivation for doing something – was it altruistic or egotistic? Sometimes we hardly know ourselves, because our motives are so muddied.

For example, when Peter exclaimed to Jesus (in Mark 8) that he should not go to Jerusalem and face the obvious danger that awaited him there in the power-centre of his enemies, Jesus said: “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Jesus (the living Word of God) was dividing between the”spirit” and “soul”  of Peter’s motivation. The “spirit” was impelling Jesus into the danger-zone; the “soul” was tempting him into safety and comfort.

In the (quite funny) movie depicted above, the father of our hapless hero’s prospective bride bullies him into undertaking a lie-detector test, with bizarre but predictable results. And when we come to the Word of God, the same exposure ensues.

The Word of God -and to an extent, the Body of Christ itself- functions as a lie detector test. The hidden becomes evident. Secrets are exposed. This is not for humiliation but rather like the exposure of wounds prior to healing. It’s like the acknowledgement of alcoholism that has to precede the AA programme, or the weighing scales in a Weight-loss club. You have to recognise just what is what, before change can begin.

And the Bible is very very serious about truth.

Lying corrupts community. In Leviticus 19:11, God commands: “Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not deceive one another.” Similarly, in the new covenant community: Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”  Colossians 3:9: “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices.”

God is characterised by truthfulness, and so his rejection of falsehood amounts to detestation: Proverbs 12:22: “The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy.” And we are summoned into the same response:Psalm 119:163: “I hate and detest falsehood but I love your law.” Proverbs 13:5: “The righteous hate what is false, but the wicked make themselves a stench and bring shame on themselves.”

There are many references, but it’s worth just referencing Jesus’s angry response in John 8: 44: “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” Jesus gives a rationale for God’s resistance to falsehood – it is the devil’s “native language.

So the Lie-Detector of the Word comes into operation, slicing between truth and falsehood, between soul and spirit, between the “concerns of men” and the “concerns of God.”

What do those two sides look like?

There’s a door in Galatians 5 which shows those two opposite sides.  The first shows what Paul called the “acts of the flesh” and the other shows the “fruit of the Spirit.” They seem to be mirror images of each other.

Does being on one side of the door mean to not be on the other?

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote: “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

It is  helpful to understand the “acts of the flesh” in contradistinction to the life of the Spirit and what love produces in the human heart.

The point is this: Each one of the acts  (or works) of the flesh is a violation or a perversion of the  love of God. It’s not really a mirror image, it’s a fairground distortion.

The line dividing good and evil cuts…

Here’s Paul’s list: The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;  idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions  and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” 

Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, and lewdness  in the very simplest analysis, are counterfeits of the way we share the intimacies of love.

Idolatry and sorcery are counterfeits of the way we approach God, seeking His will, understanding His character.

Hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, and murders are all opposites of the loving consideration with which we live together.

Drunkenness and revelries are sad attempts to fill a void only love can fill.

So what’s to be done? When we come to the Word, we come into the presence of one who knows us completely. It’ s silly to think that we can masquerade or pretend to a truthfulness that we do not possess. “He knows that we are dust.” It is as well that we come clean, so that he can make us truly clean. It’s as well that we take the test, admit the results and so discover grace and mercy.

Anything else is folly indeed.

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Archaeologist

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Robert Galbraith described someone as “playing archaeologist among the ruins of people’s traumatised memories…” Isn’t that a powerful picture of the role of a follower of Jesus? Someone who works among the ruins and points to its reality and life, despite every appearance.

There’s a lovely example of it in the first chapter of Nehemiah. Nehemiah had just heard the reports from back home: Jerusalem was in ruins.

The situation was utterly hopeless. And, after all, what can one man do? We might as well just give up.

It’s a picture of a life that has lost its defences against attack and lies open to repeated hurt and misery. And every time I turn the TV on I see the hurt and misery of people whose walls have been broken down. “Jerusalem in ruins” is a vivid picture of where we are. And this book of the Bible pictures the way of recovery from ruin to restoration.

The people were in trouble. They were feeling disgraced and diminished. The walls were broken down. The gates had been burned and were useless. The gates symbolized the way of entry. Whether they are fixed shut or fixed open, there’s still a problem. Perhaps you were a victim of divorce, or of some bitter experience, and you feel betrayed or sabotaged. Whatever it is: the walls are broken.

You may look back on your life and you see there are places where the walls have been broken down. There is no longer any ability left to resist attacks. You have fallen victim to sinful habits that you now find difficult, if not impossible, to break.

That is the kind of ruin that is described here: You know what I mean? In Prozac Nation, Elizabeth Wurtzel offered the following, quite brilliant description:

“And I know, knew for sure, with an absolute certainty, that this is rock bottom, this what the worst possible thing feels like. It is not some grand, wretched emotional breakdown. It is, in fact, so very mundane:…Rock Bottom is an inability to cope with the commonplace that is so extreme it makes even the grandest and loveliest things unbearable…Rock bottom is feeling that the only thing that matters in all of life is the one bad moment…Rock bottom is everything out of focus. It’s a failure of vision, a failure to see the world how it is, to see the good in what it is, and only to wonder why the hell things look the way they do and not—and not some other way.”

Nehemiah was devastated.

“I lay there for three whole days, totally paralyzed. My friends helped me to the bathroom and anywhere else I needed to move; but I have very vague impressions of those days because it was a time of complete darkness for me. Somebody told me later that what I had was a form of hysteria: my body and my mid fled into paralysis. There was nothing wrong with me organically, but somewhere inside I suffered a complete breakdown.” 
― Diet Eman, Things We Couldn’t Say

“When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of Heaven. (Nehemiah 1:4)

Nehemiah’s character is the keynote of the book that bears his name. And here he is, burdened with this problem that is about to become his life-mission.  He is willing to face the facts, to get angry and cry about them and tell God about them. Some things just can’t be papered over, or ignored, or brushed under the carpet. In such cases, a quick chorus of “Don’t worry, Be happy” is like putting a bandage over a deep, infected wound.

Before you attempt to fix something that’s wrong, you’re got to have a realistic idea of what you’re facing. But Nehemiah did not consider the size of the problem. He started by considering the size of the Problem-Solver.. What did that look like for Nehemiah?

  • First, he recognized the character of God: (1:5-6).
  • The second thing Nehemiah did was to repent of all personal and corporate sins: (1:6-7).
  • Third, Nehemiah reminded God of his gracious promises: (1:8-9).
  • Fourth, he requested specific help to begin this process: (1:10-11).

Help from whom? Well, Nehemiah tells us something interesting: “I was the cupbearer to the king.” (Nehemiah 1:11).

If you want to go where God wants you, you have to start from where you are. And no matter what the ruin of any life may be there is always a place to start. What’s yours?

Nehemiah began as an archaeologist, you might say, sketching the extent of the present ruin in order to develop a sense of the scope of what renewal would look like. We have to work that way upon ourselves too, as Agnes Chew noted:

“I have a habit of being an archaeologist of my own past, a sentimental collector of personal artefacts which may at first glance appear random, but each of which holds a unique significance. As the years pass me by, I find that the number of objects within my possession begins to accumulate. A torn map. A sealed letter. A boat full of paper animals. Each item encapsulates within itself a story, akin to an outward manifestation of my inner journey.”
― Agnes Chew, The Desire for Elsewhere

The point is that things have to be put back. Reassembly is possible but it is tedious and exhausting.

It recalls that old song:
“Heartaches, broken pieces, ruined lives are why you died on Calvary….”

Jesus is the archaeologist who reassembles the broken pieces of those ruined lives, and he calls us to do the same. Piece by piece.

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Gourmet

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According to Wikpedia, which seldom lies, Gourmet is “a cultural ideal associated with the culinary arts of fine food and drink, or haute cuisine, which is characterised by refined, even elaborate preparations and presentations of aesthetically balanced meals of several contrasting, often quite rich courses. The term and its associated practices are usually used positively to describe people of refined taste and passion.”

It’s that last idea. “Refined taste and passion.” As followers of Jesus, God calls us to be gourmets who “taste and see that the Lord is good.” That doesn’t mean picky, precious or self-important. It means savouring the pleasure of God’s presence to the fullest extent.

It’s a matter of delight and desire:

.“Delight yourself also in the Lord, And He shall give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4).

The phrase “Delight yourself” sounds rather self-indulgent, but this verse gives it its proper context. It’s “in the Lord”! Here is the very place where we can truly be delighted, and where we can fully explore the wonder of our own lives! It simply means that to dream wonderful dreams, we must know the wonderful love of God the dream-giver.

John expresses it so well:  “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! For that is what we are!”(1 John 3:1). There’s a ringing realisation that goes on here, in that last phrase. That is who you are! Loved! Liked! Appreciated! If we don’t believe God has our best interests at heart, we won’t dream big dreams.

It’s difficult to read that verse of John’s without imagining a huge smile on his face, like the smile of a toddler being given an unexpected ice cream. With a chocolate flake.

The joy, the sheer delight in the powerful presence of a God who loves me unconditionally!

Yes, that’s the place to dream. Someone said: “I believe God wants us to dream, and to dream big, because He’s a big God who wants to do big things and He wants to do them through us.”  And a more familiar quote of Eleanor Roosevelt comes to mind: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

So the two parts of the verse belong together. That is to say: God wants to grant you the desires of your heart; but He also wants to shape the desires of your heart.

And the shaping comes before the granting.

 It would be a foolish father indeed, who simply gave in to every whim of children who don’t know what they need, or even what they should really desire. It’s called “spoiling”.

And, of course, spoilt children grow into spoilt adults, ill-equipped to face life problems. And when a spoiled child becomes an adult he will still act in the same way he used to act as a child but in a form that is more acceptable by society.

For example….

A shy child who has been over-indulged and only used to playing alone becomes overly dependent on his own comfort zone when he becomes an adult.

A child who has learnt to cry until getting what he wants will cry for help too as an adult, by complaining, blame-shifting etc. Tantrums are not restricted to toddlers!

And in relationships too, when the spoiled child who becomes an adult discovers that the world isn’t responding to his demands, he may manoeuvre his partner into being a caregiver.

Spoiled children become helpless adults who are not flexible by any means and who expect the world to adjust to suit them instead of trying to adjust their way to suit the world.

And this was Paul’s reaction to the Christians at Corinth. They were spoilt and immature: “Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly — mere infants in Christ.   I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it.  Indeed, you are still not ready.   You are still worldly.  For since there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not worldly?” (1 Cor 3:1-3)

There’s a real danger when our theology becomes “man centred” rather than “God centred”: it places receiving before giving, and it perverts the Gospel and the mission of the church, creating an immature church that can’t stand up to trials. It folds in on itself.

But the Psalm teaches us that God does grant the desires of our hearts; but only when they have been shaped by a real relationship with Jesus Christ.

So what does that look like?  The first few verses of Psalm 37 give us some important descriptors: “Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong.” Don’t waste your mental energy – don’t fritter it away!- on non-essentials. Let’s just deal with your own relationship right now! We do so love to sort out the world, don’t we?

And so what do we do? Well, it’s not rocket science: “Trust in the Lord and do good.” Live by faith and walk in kindness. How hard can it be? There’s a lovely line in Peter Pan that comes to mind: “All the world is made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust.” That is to say: there’s a real magic in sheer goodness. It changes the world.

The verbs are very important here. It’s like a litany of the simple, godly life. Don’t fuss or argue. Don’t fret or fear. Trust. Do good. Dwell. Be at peace. These are the terms of the relationship to which you are called. It is not onerous or stressful. It is meant to do you good. And live “givingly”, as Jesus said (in Matthew 6): When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.”

And then something wonderful happens: you begin to “Take delight in the Lord.” Here’s how Jesus put it: “Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.

And “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: he will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun.  Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him…”

And one more passage from Matthew 6 which blends in so well:

“The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They’re full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don’t fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. “

This is your Father you are dealing with! He knows what you need.

And slowly, steadily, surely, a new You is being born. It’s a You that looks to Father and trusts that He knows best. It’s a You that looks out on the world and does good, quietly, without any fuss. It’s a You that looks inwards, acknowledging fear and failure but not majoring on it any more.

And God says: “So what do you want?” And you say, “I want what you want. I just want to be here, as simply and as honestly as I can manage.”

And He says. “Sorted.”

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Bank, Banker, Bankrupt

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We are called to be bankers.

We lay up treasure in heaven. But the gold and silver that we collect goes not  into a personal account but a joint one.  We are part of one another, building up each other’s reserves and providing help on rainy days.

We are part of one another’s lives and the community that we serve runs on a federal reserve. Love is the only currency. Not rightness or rectitude. We are not called to be correct, but to be loving. It’s that simple.

And “No matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.” (1 Cor 13 MSG)

I was watching Francis Chan this week (a sermon, not a karate movie) when he used the memorable line, “God measures our lives by how we love…”

And just now, Bible Gateway has given me the above thought for the day . Nothing I can say or do or even believe will measure up to anything much at all, without love.

The word is “bankrupt.”

How does that make you feel?

For myself, I have to confess to being worried. You see, I really understand that line  by Elie Wiesel, that  “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. ” There are so many situations where I feel indifferent, such as conversations about politics, music, food, flower arrangements, clothes….  I find myself nodding politely, with a kind of metaphorical “Gone fishing” sign draped over my face.

And situations with people too. My wife seems to live life on high alert, watching and responding to the worried wrinkles on people’s faces. Stopping to talk to Big Issue sellers, praying with shop assistants, soothing the fears of anxious dogs outside shops.

I notice nothing.

And when I finally trip over a homeless man, say, the biggest emotions that surge across my pysche are fear that I might be mugged or embarrassment that I might have to Do Something overtly practical.

Like help.

In the old “Good Samaritan” scenario, I’d like to suggest those two emotions as alternative reasons for “crossing over to the other side” and not offering assistance.

So the word “bankrupt” comes to me with rather an unpleasant jolt of self-awareness. “No matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do,”  God measures me by how I love.

Here’s how the paraphrase goes on:  “Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, Doesn’t have a swelled head, Doesn’t force itself on others, Isn’t always “me first,” Doesn’t fly off the handle, Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, Doesn’t revel when others grovel, Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, Never looks back, But keeps going to the end.”

Phew.

To be honest, I feel very small reading this. But God doesn’t want me to feel condemned so much as truthful and realistic about my many failures. And he doesn’t want me to Just Try Harder (though it wouldn’t hurt, would it?) so much as recognize that ultimately there is only one who has ever lived out that Love-life to the full, and his name is Jesus.

And I am truly loved. That’s what grace means. But I am glad indeed to sing this song:

When Satan tempts me to despair,
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look, and see Him there
Who made an end to all my sin.

Because the sinless Savior died,
My sinful soul is counted free;
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me

This is really good news. It means that the bank is already stocked. Jesus has “paid it all” and I am merely a steward of his resources. I’m, quite honestly, not much cop at any of this, but I have discovered an interesting fact. It is that love lives in the humblest of places. It doesn’t matter how big your house is, how nice your car is, how big your bank vault is…it only matters how much your heart can hold.

PS Lord, help me to be more loving today, too. I’ m bankrupt without love but with it – I’m God’s banker, stewarding the best investments.

Amen

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Cheerleader

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According to an online dictionary, a cheerleader is “an enthusiastic and vocal supporter of someone or something.”

That’s what I am. I am an enthusiastic and vocal supporter of people. The more I know them, the more I’m rooting for them and wanting them to succeed. And if I’m really close -like a father or a spouse to them- why, there’s just no limit imaginable. I’m just crazy to see them win in life and to be all they can be.

I’m a cheerleader.

It’s a really huge thing, to be a cheerleader. It radicalises every single conversation.  It stops you being self-obsessed and self-absorbed. It actually enables you to discover the whole world in a new way -the way other people see it! When you encourage others, you boost their self-esteem, enhance their self-confidence, make them work harder, lift their spirits and make them successful in their endeavours. Encouragement goes straight to the heart and is always available.

And it’s free.

The tongue is the strongest muscle in the human body. Use yours to lift someone up!

Be an encourager. Always.

This is how Paul encouraged a group of young believers to be encouragers.

“My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ.” (Col 2:2)

I’ve been a pastor and teacher for about thirty years now, but have yet to come across a better Biblical picture of what it is that I actually do (or try to do). I’man encourager! (And that’s it).

This verse is, of course, the prayer of Paul, sent to a group of young believers in a town that he would never visit. He had hopes and plans of all sorts –he really wanted to visit Spain, for example (which he might have seen as the “ends of the earth”), -but he had no way of knowing that his imprisonment would end abruptly with his execution just a short time after writing this letter.

So that makes me take this verse in three special ways. First, given its place in Paul’s own story, it reads as a last will, or even a legacy. The Word of God is always powerful and effective, but the Spirit always personalises it and locates God’s truth in real life situations. The Bible is not a text-book, but it is “His story,” told through the lives of real people. And real people need real help, right now.

Second, because this verse emerges from Paul’s own story, it makes me regard it, somehow, as a General Approach to Pastoring. Since Paul doesn’t know these people personally, he’s telling them the sort of thing that should be happening in their church-community. It’s not hands-on problem-solving (like the letters to Corinth or Galatia certainly are).

So, thirdly, it becomes, by that token, more precious to me personally. If I find it tricky to relate to Paul’s battle with those who required believers to be circumcised (Galatians), or to refrain from certain foods (Corinthians) –these first-century problems seem very distant – this verse is clarity itself.

My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ.”

The task before me is “that they may be encouraged.” The word has “-cour” in the middle which means “heart.” My job is to put heart into people who have maybe lost it.

And I can never discount the value of laughter and shared pleasure. Wouldn’t you want to be where the fun is?

I have been reading some of the magazine articles of Donald Hankey, a young soldier who died in the bloodbath of the Somme one hundred years ago this last summer. The article spoke movingly of his commanding officer in words that could almost said of Jesus.

Here it is:

“Somehow, gentle though he was, he was never familiar. He had a kind of innate nobility which marked him out as above us…. We knew that he would get killed. He was so amazingly unself-conscious. For that reason, we knew that he would be absolutely fearless. He would be so keen on the job in hand, and so anxious for his men, that he would forget about his own danger. So it proved. He was a Captain when we went out to the front. Whenever there was a tiresome job to be done, he was there, in charge. If ever there were a moment of danger, he was on the spot…”

There’s a Victorian hymn by Thomas Lynch, not much sung nowadays perhaps, that contains the lines:

“I have a Captain, and the heart
Of every private man
Has drunk in valour from His eyes,
Since first the war began.”

I’m sure that this was exactly Donald Hankey’s point. His essay was even called “The Beloved Captain.” Even in the worst possible situation, and anticipating the horrors ahead, I have “drunk in valour from his eyes.” I am en-couraged by his example – there’s an injection of courage! He is different to me (with an “innate nobility”) but completely alert to all that I am going through. He shares it with me and so shows me how to cope.

Maybe, in the light of this passage, you think that my word “cheerleader” is a bit trivial. You’re probably right, but even so, the passage and the word both indicate the spiritual gift of encouragement. That’s the heart of being an Encourager, and of being the people-person like you were called to be.

There’s quite a bit more in this verse, but maybe that’s enough for now.

Of course, every believer has a calling to be like Jesus. And when I look at Jesus, smiling, with his arms full of sprawling children; or looking down at a humiliated woman and tenderly encouraging her to stand; when I see Jesus, stirred with compassion for a confused crowd, reaching to heal, to help, to restore… standing among the broken; then it fills me with courage to live that way.

And in that sense, Jesus calls us to pastor one another encouraged in heart and united in love so that we may completely understand our calling, to be like Jesus in a hurting world.

How would your life be different if you walked away from gossip and verbal defamation and every kind of negative talk? Let today be the day… Speak only the good you know of other people and encourage others to do the same.

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Tuner

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The art of discipling people is like tuning a guitar.

“Tuning must come first. Each recital begins with a careful tightening of the pegs on the cross-bar, twisting them in their socket of red threads as each string is plucked and tested. He uses his thumb for this, softer and subtler than the plectrum, his head bent to the vibrating string and his lips slightly open…” ― Ann WroeOrpheus: The Song of Life

That is to say, it’s a delicate business, tuning an instrument. You can’t rush it. You have to listen carefully, and go back and back until it’s all done.

And even then, after every song, there may be a little more adjusting. In fact, with every piece played, one pulls a little at the strings, sometimes quite strongly, if the passion of the melody requires it. When it does, one bends the notes and slurs them for effect. And all of this heightens the tension of the strings and threatens their balance, their relative tuning. So the musician must stay alert to the composite sound of the strings.

It’s easy enough to do, because one learns to hear the whole sound together, and the false note jars on the ear, immediately.

I’m told that I grimace, that I actually pull a face, when my instrument out of tune. The moment creates in me, that is to say, a tiny frisson of pain, a microscopic shudder.

But sometimes one cannot quite hear which string is out of balance. And then the musician must go back to basics, checking through each one in turn. Many musicians will use an oft-practised scale that they carry in their mind, an old tune perhaps, or some sequence of notes that aids the discovery of the note that is out of sequence, or that breaks the tune.

The thing is, it’s easier to discover which string is out of tune when it stands in relation to the others, and not when it is considered individually, tout seul.

And then when the errant string is at last discovered, it is nursed gently back into position.

At this point, if you do it wrongly, too quickly or too wildly, then you may even break the string.

Imagine that.

All your effort to bring everything into balance, and your very attention to the problem has made things worse than ever.

Of course, a new string is a small matter, but when it is lives that are out of tune with each other, then the issue is very serious.

The nearer the relationship, the more attuned you become to hearing the jarring note. Old married couples finish each other’s sentences and “just know” when the other is in pain or distress without a single word spoken.

And in a real community of faith, we need no instruction to “mourn with those who mourn” or “rejoice with those who rejoice” because we do anyway, through simple empathy. We hear the false note and respond.

So Paul acknowledged that, to the church of the Colossians, encouraging them to “Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other.” (Col 3:17 MSG) Keep in tune, guys!

Once that perfect, balanced harmony is heard, there is nothing else quite like it.

Now, it is the “peace of Christ” that creates unity, restores balance and creates community. Offence and unforgiveness, bitterness and resentment are the old jarring notes of an untuned instrument.

And we keep fine-tuning, loving, keeping “no record of wrongs,” forgiving each other, “bearing with one another” or simply putting up with a bit of nonsense, until the very hills are alive with the sound of music.

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Darts-players

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Darts-players, to me at any rate, exemplify that estimable quality of relaxed precision.

It’s an interesting trait. They appear to be unhurried to the point of being comatose, and wait, allowing the last twitch of nervy giddiness to slip away, and then, gently, cast the arrow.

It’s a sort of yin-yang moment, the balance of opposites.

Imagine this quality in spiritual terms. Jesus told Peter and Andrew: “I will make you fishers of men.” By this, one assumes, he meant that the characteristics of a fisherman would be employed in a new sphere.

So, think about those characteristics. In 1st century Palestine, it would have meant  long hours, hard work in all weathers and conditions, patience, courage and perseverance. But over and above those things, it would have meant something more: it meant knowing where the fish were.

That would have been a skill acquired by long experience, technical know-how, and common sense.

This, surely, was the joke of the Gospels, when, on more than one occasion, Jesus (the amateur) instructed the disciples (the professionals) to relocate the position of their nets. Remember Peter’s answer in Luke 5? “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.”  Of course, there is the parable here of a great catch awaiting their efforts ; of -to mix the metaphor- fields that are “white unto harvest.” But the joke is that Jesus knows where the fish are and they don’t.

So what has this to do with darts-players?

It’s knowing exactly where to aim, and how much effort to apply to achieve a result. It’s that sense of strategic timing that Jesus exhibited.

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on what we call “Palm Sunday“, he was picking a  precise moment to force a choice.  The choice was between being ready and being unready: it was call to “understand the time.”

In Luke 19:44, it is spelt out: “They did not recognise the time of God‘s coming”.

When we were tiny, I remember getting ready for an important visit. I can’t quite remember who it was who was coming, but I remember the Getting Ready. The house tidied and swept, we children in our Sunday best, and on our best behaviour. Special foods and trimmings. And afterwards, standing in line to be kissed (dim recollection of this rubber plunger coming through the sky) and being given Two Shillings. Imagine! And the visit complete.

So we knew what was coming, and we got ready for it. We understood the time.

Jesus told many stories about those who did and those who didn’t. Luke 19  opens with an account of Zaccheus, a picture of someone looking for the coming of the king, as if his tree was a watchtower, and who recognises him when he comes, and who receives him. Jesus says, simply, “Salvation has come to this house.” And it’s done.

Then he tells a story of a group of servants (vv11-27) who receive money in trust  from their master. Some use it wisely, whilst others do not. The point, again, is: Are they ready for the return of their master? Do they understand that the time for an accounting is at hand?

Luke adds an important aside here: “He told them this story because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the Kingdom of God was going to appear at once.” You have to understand the time correctly. In one sense, be ready, like Zaccheus, for the king to come. In another, work through with what you have towards a final accounting.

Do you know what time it is? Are you ready for the visit?

And then the story of the Entry into Jerusalem itself,  which is described in my translation here as  “Jesus comes to Jerusalem as King:  Luke 19:28-38.” In one sense it is a strategic, prophetic declaration that says “Now is the time.” And the choice is forced between those who worship and receive him (vv37 and 38) and those who doubt and criticise (v39).

It’s a remarkable division. In v40, Jesus says that he cannot restrain the shouts of praise, because, if he did, “The stones would cry out!” I can understand the Psalmist speaking of “Trees clapping their hands” and “The heavens declaring the glory of the Lord” but this takes it to a new level. The inanimate is animated!

And then in v44, weeping over the coming refusal to receive, he prophesies a Jerusalem where “the stones are cast down.”

Do you see it? The choice is made between stones that cry out and stones that are cast down, between praise and disaster.

And between the two stands Jesus, the darts champion, choosing his moment, unflustered by praise and unfazed by criticism, sufficient in himself.

That’s how he calls us to manage the matter of discipling. We are called to keep in step with the Holy Spirit, watching for the right moment, living with mindfulness, watching the lines of care on someone’s face, judging the opportunity and saying the right thing at the right time.

There’s a right and a wrong time to speak. There’s a proverb that speaks of “a word fitly spoken” being like “apples of gold in settings of silver.” It means that when a word is spoken “fitly,” (appropriately, at the right moment) it is beautiful and helpful.

Other times, not so much. Just because something is true doesn’t mean it has to be spoken then and there.

Relaxed precision.

God is training darts-players. The Indonesian poet Emha Ainun Nadjib wrote this:

“You must become a free man so that you have “Sidik Paningal Java” (lucidity and precision of sight). Later, you achieve the peak of detachment of sight (Ma’rifat), where you see something to the horizon with great clarity. Do not take another step before you are certain that the path you take is the right one. Failure is another matter; what matters is precision.”

What matters with our words, our actions and our sense of timing, is precision. This is how love works.

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