My tuppence – A Coronavirus response

It’s been a while since I was inspired to write something from a song. 

Two things have been buzzing through my mind in the past few days. The first is my response to the Coronavirus pandemic, and the second is the following lyric.

Opening salvo
Didn’t help solve anything
Every time we shout our rights out
We get all grouchy and grey

It’s all about me, me
It’s all about what I can take
And if that doesn’t ring true anymore
Maybe it was our first mistake

In a way the two are quite closely linked. 

The government have an almost impossible task (and I genuinely think that is true for whichever party may be in power) of balancing the desire to open up the economy and the necessity to keep the population safe.

It feels like they are sending mixed messages. One day we are being told to try and get back to ‘normal’, the next to stay home and protect ourselves. What appears to be a U-turn is in fact a response to scientific evidence. The circulation of the virus is changing, and so must our response to it.

Parts of the advice doesn’t seem to make any sense. Why are one group allowed to gather, and another prevented from doing so? 

None of us enjoy having our freedom ‘taken away’ from us. We feel that we have rights. We feel that if we are prevented from doing what we wish we deserve recompense and a full explanation. Each of us will have different circumstances in which we find ourselves. Even those that appear at first sight to be the same, will have idiosyncrasies that mean a ‘one size fits all’ solution won’t suit.  

There have been some terrible leaders of countries around the world over the centuries, I genuinely believe that those in charge of our country at present (or Her Majesties opposition if they were in power), have the best interests of the country at heart. They would not be asking us to stay 2 metres apart and avoid mixing with others if it really wasn’t absolutely necessary. We are dealing with a virus and a situation that is evolving (not a popular word in most Christian circles, but that is what is happening), and we must respond quickly. Science has and will give us pointers as to the direction to go, but as a lecturer once said to me (as I was studying Microbiology at MSc level in case you wondered if I was simply adding to the abundance of opinion online from no place of understanding) ‘Microorganisms do not read text books’

We can try and predict what they will do, and how they will interact with us, but when all is said and done, they will survive by any means necessary.

How does the song link to all this you may be wondering? I guess my issue with the way people are reacting online is that for large parts of the population they are ‘shouting their rights out’. They want to do what they want to do. They have ‘survived’ the first wave, and now feel invincible. They feel that the government were slow to react in the first instance, but the same people now feel that they have overreacted at the beginning of the second wave.

People are complaining about the number and availability of tests. I can personally confirm that we are working flat out to perform as many as we possibly can with the available hardware. We’ve extended the working day from 9-5 to 8-11pm. We don’t have any more staff to do this (in fact we have less following some moving on to other things), but the number of tests we are expected to carry out is increasing daily. We still meet the government target of 15hrs – but it is beginning to break the one thing that is difficult to repair. Each and every one of us is exhausted. We continue because we always have but seeing calls for us to do more is difficult to take. 

What we don’t know (and never will) is how bad would it have been if the government had done nothing?  I saw something earlier this week indicating that if I had influenza and did nothing, I would infect 1.3 people. If these people went on to infect the same number of people, up to 10 times, 14 people in total would be infected.

If the same were true with Coronavirus, given what we know about the infectivity, and that was continued on 10 times as before, a staggering 59,000 people would be infected.

It is true that at present the sharpest increase in infections is in the 20-29yr age bracket. It is also true that for the majority of these people, Coronavirus will be a relatively mild infection. If we did nothing, as so many of the ‘Facebook experts’ seem to be suggesting, it doesn’t take much thought to realise that pretty soon your older parents, or grandparents, or those with underlying conditions would become infected. It seems to me to be incredibly selfish to be so concerned about your own rights of movement and freedom but not to seem to care about those of others. 

I wish I could predict how this will all pan out. Will there be a vaccine by Christmas (highly unlikely), or the middle of next year (possibly)? Will that be the silver bullet we are all hoping it will be? (who knows). What I do know that it is no good for some of us to do something and for others to ignore the advice, guidance and in some cases the law of the land.  Either we all do this, or the virus takes over. There is no middle ground.

Following the guidance will help. If we all do, perhaps we can get back to working normal hours and seeing our families again. 

It’s all about me, me. It’s all about what I can take.’  

Not anymore. This is about all of us. All of us playing our part. 

Pulling down heaven

I saw a quote recently which got me thinking.

“You can’t push a rope. To end a drought, Elijah partnered with Heaven for rain to come. His final act before rain was to put his head between his knees as he pulled on heaven in prayer. Some of us are pushing so hard for rain, perhaps it is time to pull on heaven instead.”

It seems to me that as we progress further and further down the road that is a world with Coronavirus as a major part of it, both individuals and groups are pushing for a return to whatever they consider ‘normal’.

In the world that I live in this seems to be especially true in those who are trying to return to a worship experience that involves meeting in a building, singing songs and being with those who believe the same as we do.

Over the past few weeks I’ve seen opinions ranging from sticking as firmly as possible to the guidelines published by the government of the land (and taking a few steps beyond the guidelines just to be sure that they comply) to others where the only government that they are willing to recognise is government from heaven, and the directive in the bible clearly states that we ‘should not neglect meeting together.’

The exact position that your church takes will likely fall somewhere between these two extremes.

While I yearn to meet together, to worship as a body of believers I am pulled too by the rules that have been laid down by the leaders of our country, and by the science which I understand (and is evolving as we find out more about this novel virus). 

1 Peter  2:7 tells us to ‘honour everyone, Love the brotherhood, Fear God, Honour the Emperor’ What we are told to do by the leaders of our nation matters. I understand that in a number of cases the guidance is confusing, and seemingly contradictory. I get that it feels like churches are being unfairly targeted for stricter guidance than some other sectors. It makes little sense to most to allow schools and pubs to open, but restrict church services. 

Elijah could easily have simply told the rain to come. It was of course the way he ensured that there had been a drought in the first place. 

He spoke and it came to pass. 

When it was time for the drought to end though, there needed to be persistent and fervent prayer. It is true that when one knows ones identity and standing in the heart of the Father it is possible (and sometimes necessary and preferable) to simply speak things that we wish to see into being. 

But sometimes it is necessary (and preferable) to spend time petitioning heaven, asking for guidance, asking for His will to come on earth. Part of the reason that we need to spend that time on our knees asking Him to intervene is because we need to see the difference between our will and His. We have tried to be God in so many different ways by shouting our rights and complaining when we feel hard done by.

The Father wants our heart to beat as one with His. For His will to become our will.

At that point, Heaven will move. 

There will be no stopping it.

I have little doubt that it will look different to the ‘normal’ that we are trying to get back to – but I also have little doubt that it will be worth the wait.

Let us join together church, on our knees, pulling on heaven for our town, for our nation, for the world.

Is your brand visible?

New Forest ponies run free. 

Owned by ‘Commoners’ they are rounded up each year so that their owners can check on their health. Although the practice is changing (to microchipping) many of the ponies have been branded to identify them. All will have their tails clipped to a specified pattern so that it can be proved that fees have been paid by their owners.

Although the concept of ownership of animals is largely accepted, ownership of people is something we take a stand against. 

This makes me wonder about the Christianise phrase ‘I belong to Jesus’. Does it make a difference that it is something that we willingly do? Jesus doesn’t force himself on us, but ‘stands at the door and knocks.’ (Rev 3:20) It is up to us to open the door, accept Him and allow Him to direct our lives.

As Christians, although we shouldn’t have a physical mark identifying us as belonging to Christ, there should be something that others can spot easily. What is it in your life? Does the language you use change? Do you demonstrate the love that Christ has for you by loving the unlovable in front of you? Do you put others first, allowing them to develop into all that God has for them?

The bible says that others will know we are Christians by the way we love one another. (John 13:35). I don’t know about you, but I find it easy to love those I agree with. I spend time with those that share similar interests and invest in relationships with these people. 

What is more difficult is loving those that have different interests and beliefs. That means others that identify as Christians as well as those who don’t. How we relate to others who practice their faith in a different way to us is really important. I would go so far as to suggest that it is even more important than the way we relate to those who have no faith at all. Whether they care to admit it or not, those that have no faith are watching those who profess to follow Jesus. They want to know if we actually believe what we say we do.  Are we celebrating what others are doing, even if it is different to the way we would do it?  

We say that we don’t care where people go to church as long as they do go, but are we secretly judging others that don’t come to our church? 

Are we allowing the love of Jesus to permeate every part of our lives? We may not be physically branded as Christians (even though I wonder if that would make us act more like Christians sometimes?) but the way we love people should make it easy for people to know to whom we belong.

More questions than answers

This blog will be a bit different to others I have written. In previous posts I have sought to bring a new perspective on some spiritual truth or a reminder of one that perhaps seems to have been forgotten at the time of writing. 

In this one, I fear that I will be posting far more unanswered questions that providing answers. The questions are a result of me currently struggling with seemingly diametric truths about what I believe to be true.

The struggle isn’t new. As a family we have been walking a journey which has seemed unfair, difficult, frustrating and, as a parent heart-breaking. From the passing of both parents so close together, to the chronic illness of a daughter who has now been unable to attend school, or do anything that young teenagers enjoy for over a year, I think it is fair to say that this is not the path we would have chosen. When the doctors say that there really isn’t anything that can be done to help, or don’t really seem to ‘get it’, it should be comforting to know that our faith gives us assurance that we are connected to the Great Physician and therefore He will sort it out.

And we are comforted by that, and we do believe that He will.

But the waiting is hard. There have been, there are, and there will be tears along the way. 

I was recently inspired by the following lyrics from a song by Jason Upton.

‘what’s amazing to me about a man like you

Is that you raised the dead

But had to suffer too

Jesus’

You see, I believed that God can and does heal today. You can try and convince me otherwise but won’t be able to. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I firmly believe that Jesus meant it when He said that we that believe would do the things He did, and greater things that that too. I believe that He raised the dead, healed all that came to Him, confounded the religious rulers of the day with His interpretation of the scriptures. He had access to the full storehouses of heaven, what is more He knew it. He was God, here on earth in flesh. 

And yet He suffered. He had nowhere to lay His head. During His ministry years He was pursued by men who wanted Him dead. When He was finally arrested, He was subjected to the cruellest torture and death known at the time or since. 

It is easy to see Jesus as someone who came to earth to show us the way, yet not grasp the fact that He understands that we are struggling along the way. That He couldn’t understand because He had it easy, because He was God. 

That isn’t the example that we read about in the Gospels. Here we see a man who was despised and rejected. One that was ‘acquainted’ with suffering. If we are looking for the ultimate example of one who knows what a difficult life is like, we need look no further.

As humans we have a template of what is good and what isn’t. We are pretty much universally agreed that sickness, illness and death are bad. Good health, joy and long life are good. We know that God is good, and therefore the bad things don’t sit well with what we know of His character. If God loves the world as much as the bible says He does (and to demonstrate this love, sent His only Son to die in order that we might have life) it seems inconsistent that He would allow illness in those who love Him and ask for that illness to go. Yet we still see sickness and death. Hospitals are full. Pandemics are sweeping across the globe. Where is God in all this. 

Eminent theologians have sought to comment on this over the years. Opinion ranges from a cessationist viewpoint (God set it all in motion then stepped back and let us get on with it) to sickness is God’s judgement on the world who do not follow in His ways. My issue with that particular one is that why do those who do follow His ways still suffer? For those for whom anything not bowing to the name of Jesus when commanded to is simply not contemplated, there is little or no comment.

There are variations of these extremes across the board and denominational spectrum, but when it all comes down to it I think it is fair to say that our best guess is that suffering and pain breaks the heart of the Father even more than it breaks ours. There will be justice for what is suffered here on earth, but we may have to wait until eternity to see it. (I suspect that once there we won’t be quite as concerned with it as we are now.) 

The bible says that ‘He works all things together for good’. The best thing we can do is look for the good in all that we experience. To do that, it is very likely that we will have to put aside our preconceptions of how things ‘should’ be and accept how they are. 

Then ask Him – how is He making this beautiful? Especially if it doesn’t feel beautiful. 

There are countless podcasts, videos and books available that will tell us ‘what to do to get our healing’. Each will tell some sort of formula – pray more, fast more, worship more, and then you will receive your breakthrough. 

I believe that breakthrough is possible for all situations we find ourselves in but I also believe that formula is no replacement for relationship. Jesus healed all that came to Him not because He knew which prayer to pray, or when to lay hands or simply command, but because He lived His life in constant connection with His Father. 

Without offering that as simply another formula to be tried, I wonder if concentrating on our relationship with Him rather than trying to solve our problems is the answer that we have been missing for so long. 

I am certain that if we do that, while our situation may not change, our outlook on it most definitely will. 

link to song that inspired the post – Jason Upton ‘Hammer and an awkward nail’ https://youtu.be/KxyAes7XDqY

Get on your knees

King David had messed up pretty royally. From adultery to murder, with a pregnant mistress thrown in, I think it’s fair to say that he was in a place that he wished he wasn’t. As the king he probably thought he could keep things hidden, or at the very least stop people talking about it.

I reckon that deep down his heart was in a mess. He knew that God had given him all that he had. He knew the law. He knew what pleased God, and yet here he was in turmoil. How to fix what he had done? How to forgive the unforgivable?

I was listening to a song today whilst driving. The lyric “you’ve given ground you can’t retrieve’ reminded me of David. He found himself in a situation where there was no way out. He had allowed sin to infiltrate little by little until there seemed no way back to the days when he had the ear of Yahweh.

I wonder if you have found yourself in the same situation. What started out a lack of concentration slowly became a habit. You managed to keep it hidden for a while, but now it’s becoming much more difficult. 

Maybe in a moment of weakness you chose fleeting pleasure instead of resisting. That might not have been so bad, but the next time the opportunity presented itself it was harder to say no than you thought it would be. 

Whatever caused it, I’m pretty sure that all of us have found ourselves in a place at one time or another when we wished we could click our fingers and go back in time.

The song I referenced above goes on to say, ‘get on your knees, and fight like a man.’ The truth is that there is something that can be done. There is a way out. It involves talking to the one who is able to wipe slates clean. David knew this. In Psalm 51 he confesses that he has done wrong and admits that even if others don’t know about them, they are laid bare in front of God’s eyes. He doesn’t try and dodge the issues any longer but admits that he has done wrong. 

Fast forward to the New Testament, we read this in 1 John 1:9.  “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins, and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (emphasis mine)

All we need to do is admit we have messed up, say we are sorry and God takes care of the rest. I love the fact that He doesn’t just make us a little bit cleaner. It is the full Persil white processes. It doesn’t matter what dirt you ask Him to sort, we are made completely righteous. Every time.

The reality is that God can and does cleanse us. That doesn’t mean that the mess that has been created by our sin will just go away though. David found that out the hard way. The son that was borne out of his sin died. Uriah was still dead. 

When we confess our sins, our account with God is cleared – but there may still be people that we need to repair relationships with.  There may be consequences that we need to live with. The peace that is found knowing that we are right with God is worth all that though. 

I think we are often fearful of dealing with the consequences of sin, so we buy into the lie that if we ignore it, it will go away. It won’t, so better to allow the love of the Father to flow into the situation and begin to heal the wounds.

So wherever you find yourself right now, whatever ground you have given, know that with God there is nothing that can’t be retrieved.  God is a God of restoration and forgiveness. 

Get on your knees and talk to Him today.

Following instructions

Today there will be parts of England that will be waking up with a hangover. It will be a couple of weeks before we know whether the enjoyment has been worth it.

Further lockdown restrictions have been lifted and for the first time in months it has been possible to go to a pub for a drink.

Strict social distancing rules are allegedly in place, but if the photographs are to be believed, they have not been adhered to. 

The danger is that as the country opens up and gets back to ‘normal’, the virus which has been on retreat will find a way to re-emerge causing the feared second wave. 

I have to say that as someone that works in the NHS, not on the front line as such as I don’t look after patients directly, but carrying out the testing for Coronavirus, a second wave would be devastating. We are already stretched and have been for months. To ask us to ‘go again’ would be incredibly difficult, but we will, because we always do.

Although the rules are in place to keep people safe, it is evident that many struggle to follow them, (especially if they have been drinking.) If I’m honest, I haven’t been great at following instructions in the past.

If told to stand, my natural reaction is to want to sit. If I am told to dress a certain way, I will resist for several years before conforming to fashion rules. I think there is something in all of us that wants to push back against boundaries. One just needs to look at a child growing up, gradually trying to see how far their parents can be challenged before they break to appreciate that.

My question is – if we struggle to follow the instructions given by the highest authority in the land, how do we perform when challenged with instructions from the highest authority there is? 

Jesus said, ‘this is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you’ (john 15:2)

He said ‘heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons’ (Matthew 10:8)

‘If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.’ (Matthew 5:39)

‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.’ (Matthew 28:19)

These are just four of the things that Jesus asks us to do. 

I once saw a picture with the caption “Simon says pat your head, and we pat our head. Jesus said make disciples and we hand out gospel tracts.” 

As humans we struggle with instructions, but with us as Christian’s it should be easier to follow Christs instructions. Why do we struggle so much? As I have noted in an earlier blog, it is our mind that needs to be renewed, our soul is battling against the new creations that is our spirit man. It is time to speak to our soul, command our mind and tell it that obedience is far better than sacrifice. 

How are you getting on with loving others? Even those that upset or annoy you? Have you decided that it is just too hard at the moment? 

In a world that is shouting about its rights are you prepared to be the one who stands and allows others to realise theirs at the expense of yours? Are you prepared to suffer for the things that you hold to be true?  Are you confident in the one who has saved you? Does the verse “But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me?’  Are you convinced or simply hopeful?

Have we become guilty of handing out gospel tracts (in reality or figuratively) rather than making disciples? A disciple is one that follows in the footsteps of the one who has taught them. We are to make people disciples of Jesus. In order to do that effectively, we too need to be disciples. We need to be so immersed in the life of Jesus, his teachings and his instruction that it becomes second nature to us. That is the only way that we will be able to help people become accurate reproductions of the Master.

I hope and pray that we as a nation become better at following instructions. That we realise that they are there for our safety and our good. That we will stop trying to rebel against them simply as a way to make our voices heard. 

And that we will follow instructions of the one who makes it all worthwhile, who made us, holds us together and knows what is best for us.

Awake my soul

I don’t know about you, but I’ve realised more and more during lockdown that I’ve had to give myself a good talking to. I’ve found that my mind is easily gets distracted and I find that I get so focused on little things that actually ‘real life’ becomes challenging.

The trick is to try and ensure that you catch yourself before it becomes a real issue, preventing normal functions.

At times, I wonder why I am the way I am. Many of you, like me will have been taught that when you become a Christian everything becomes ‘rosy’ and all you have to do is get on with life. The reality tends to be a bit different though doesn’t it. 

The more I think about it though, the more I realise that it shouldn’t surprise me. As a human I am ‘made’ up of three parts – body, soul and spirit. 

My body (greek = soma) continues to get older, creaks more each day, and will eventually cease to allow me to continue to experience that which we refer to as life.

When this happens, my spirit (greek = pneuma), which is the part of me that because of my relationship with Jesus is acceptable to the Father will continue to exist. My spirit is where I find my conscience, and it is the part of me that communes with God.

My soul (greek = psyché), or mind is a part of me that needs continual work. Romans 12:2 tells us that we need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. I think that we forget that our minds need to be transformed. We assume that becoming a Christian means that we will automatically think the right way. We can find ourselves getting more and more frustrated as we realise that our minds are not in line with our spirit. 

As a church we are spending some time looking at the life of David and some of the Psalms that he wrote.David spent a lot of time telling his soul to come back into line and to start thinking the right way.

I believe that it is important to feed our ‘spirit man’ We need to spend time with the Father, communing with Him, stretching our faith, enjoying His presence. It has already been make perfect by the cross, but He loves it when we spend time with Him.

But we need to be disciplined with our body too – too much junk and not enough exercise will reap its own reward.

Our soul can be talked into a place of destruction or one of promise and hope. 

Consider these verses. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases.” (Psalm 103:1-2)

‘Why are you downcast O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation.” (Psalm 45:2)

In each example, David tells himself to remember things, to consider things, and questions why he feels the way he does. I dare say, if it is ok for David to do this, it is safe to assume that we can too.

There is an old story about an even older Cherokee and his conversation with his grandson.

“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil–he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you–and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

There will be some who read this for whom simply talking to yourself is not the answer. Some will have very real medical issues that need to be dealt with by a professional. Please seek help as appropriate. If you are already receiving help, can I encourage you to speak positively to your soul as an addition to anything that has been provided, whether that be medication or something else. God is absolutely able to transform any situation around in an instant, but sometimes He uses medical professionals to effect His perfect plan for your life. 

Speaking truth to your soul is a good thing. I pray that as you do, your experience of lockdown will change for the better, and you will begin to see clear paths and opportunities where there may only have been mountains before.

Stay safe.

Dates matter

Some dates are important.

They need to be remembered on the day they happened.

Birthdays.

Weddings.

Graduations.

For me, I love to remember the happy things in life. 

For the not so happy things, whilst I think it is important to remember them, I don’t want specific dates to be associated with them. For example, I don’t want Christmas to be spoiled because something sad happened in my world just before or after it.

Or so I thought. 

Turns out I seem to find the dates of the sad things important too. 

I had to stay late at work today. It was busy, things had to be done. I had planned to visit the cemetery. I’ve been there on an off for the past year and half or so. I don’t really enjoy it – I don’t think one is supposed to have a good time there, but I am always glad I’ve been. 

Today, having planned to go, and then finding that it might not be possible, I discovered that I really did care about going on a significant date. 

As it is June, it was actually still light enough after I left work, so I decided to pay a quick visit. (gates were open, but once I had parked it seems that the cemetery is actually closed to ‘visitors’. It had been such an emotional rollercoaster of a day that I decided to ignore the signs and stood for a few moments at the foot of the final earthly resting place of both my mum and dad. 

As I stood, I reflected on the world that we live in. The unprecedented impact of Covid-19, the protests in the USA, London and beyond. I wondered what mum and dad would have made of it all. On one hand I am glad that they are free from all the change and risk that Covid-19 has brought, on the other, I wish I was able to talk to them about it, to learn from their experience.

I wondered how they would have coped with things like church by Zoom, and not being able to give their grandchildren a hug. 

The strange thing about faith, at least the faith that I have, and that I know my parents shared, is that whilst I would give almost anything to have them here with me right now, I know with absolute assurance that they are in a much, much better place. I know that I will see them again. I know that if I could but glimpse the experience they were currently having, I would want to be there more than I want them back here.

The Apostle Paul summed that up well when he wrote “For me, to live is Christ, to die is gain.” He understood that co-labouring with Christ here on earth was often a painful, but always worth it experience. He also knew that finding himself with Christ on the other side of death was infinitely better. 

I believe that too. It doesn’t always stop the tears though.

It was important that I went today. 

I miss them both.

What kind of fish are you?

In Matthew 13, Jesus tells us that ‘the Kingdom of Heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught up all kinds of fish. When it was full the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

I began a series recently looking at ‘the Kingdom of Heaven’ statements in the gospels, and wanted to explore this one a little.

Even if we haven’t been fishing ourselves, most of us are familiar with the picture of someone standing at the edge of a body of water with a rod, fishing line and some bait. This type of fishing is for sport or ‘fun’. Most of us will also be aware that the majority of the fish that we eat is caught in large nets, dragged behind a boat, capturing all in the way. This is the sort of picture that is being painted by Jesus. 

When He began talking about good and bad fish, I started to wonder how they would have decided which was good and which was bad. Was it a size thing? Did the smaller ones get thrown back to fight another day? Was it only those whose appearance (have you ever seen a good looking fish??) was appealing and would bring a good price at market? Surely all fish are good? Genesis 1:20-21 tells of God creating the things that live in the sea, and states that ‘it was good.’

When God gave the Law to Moses, He said that the only ‘clean’ type of fish were the ones that had scales and fins. (Leviticus 11:9-12, Deuteronomy 14:9-10). Clearly sin had entered the world between the two statements, a fracture in the goodness that God had established, but I am unclear as to why things like sharks and sturgeon were singled out as being unclean. 

I assume that this is the basis in which the fishermen of Jesus time chose the fish that were good and threw away those which were bad.

What then are the ‘signs’ that will allow the angels to separate us? Jesus says that the wicked will be separated from the righteous. What does a righteous person look like? What will the evidence be.

At the end of Mark’s gospel, Jesus tells us about the signs of those who believe. He says they will drive out demons, they will speak in new tongues, they will hold snakes and not get hurt, they will drink poison and not die, they will place hands on the sick and they will get well. (Mark 16:17)

I get very cautious about people that say they believe, confess that they are Christians yet I can see no evidence of the transformation that they claim has happened in their day to day lives. Jesus says there will be. 

The challenge for me, for us, is what is the evidence in my life. I don’t think it was necessarily Jesus intention that we use the list he gave as a check box exercise. It isn’t as if once we have spoken in tongues and prayed for a few people we are two steps up the ladder to heaven. I believe it is there to remind us that with the Kingdom of heaven within us, the things that should be impossible are actually possible. Have our lives been sufficiently changed by the King, that the rule and reign of the King leaks out of our lives, changing the atmosphere and culture of our environment? 

A place where the King is on the throne is a far more peaceful, powerful, effective place to live. 

Will you join me?

The Kingdom of Heaven is…

The Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed.

This is a parable that I’m sure you are all familiar with. Jesus tells us that the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man plants, and although it was a really small seed, grew into a tree that birds could rest in.

I was thinking about this and did a bit of research which I think gives us a bit more insight into what Jesus might have been saying to us.

It seems that there are at least four different contenders for which type of mustard seed that Jesus might have been referring to. Sinapsis nigra, the black mustard seed appears to be the most likely candidate. It grows in the right area, with the right climate and produces the right size of seeds. (others that may also fit the bill are Sinapsis arvense or Sinapsis alba)

The black mustard seed is known for its rapid germination. It seems that it begins to grow the day after it is planted, and grows rapidly in one season.  Although not actually the smallest seed in Palestine at the time of Jesus, it would have certainly been the smallest that was planted and cultivated.  (between 1 and 3mm in diameter) 

In order to grow, a seed needs to die, germinate, take root and breakthrough the soil. 

When Jesus said the Kingdom of heaven was like a mustard seed, what was He saying? If we understand the Kingdom of heaven to be a place where the rule and reign of the King is realised, and we apply that rule and reign to our lives we notice the following.

Without Christ, we begin as something small and insignificant. We have no real structure, and can easily be blown away on the wind. 

When we surrender at the foot of the cross, the outer shell is broken away, and there is a new germination of our inner being. This takes root quickly and we begin to grow. The ideal of heaven is that our growth is rapid. There is no waiting around for the right conditions. Everything we need is supplied, and we flourish, demonstrating the power and majesty of the Creator. 

As we grow, we reproduce, more seeds that will yield still more potential. There are two purposes to our growth. We are positioned ideally to allow other to rest, to take refuge and shelter from all the world throws at them, and we reproduce, more seeds. The seeds can be used for flavour – we are to flavour those around us with testimony of the King. New trees can be grown, to increase capacity for allowing still others to rest and take shelter.

One of the errors the church in the West makes far too often is that when we see a small mustard seed planted, we try to control its growth. We water it and feed it with small nurture groups and special ‘new Christian’ classes. We prune it ever so carefully, to make sure the growth is shaped into what we believe a new follower should look like, taking off the leaves and branches that don’t quite fit or look right, and we find ourselves with powerless Christians that come to church out of obligation or habit, and never actually fulfil their potential to grow new trees and shelter those who need it.

Jesus said that if we were His friends, we would do what He did (and greater things than that too). Let’s not put too many restrictions on the new growth, the growth that is supposed to be rapid, that is supposed to surprise given the small beginnings. Teach them, yes. Encourage them, yes. 

Tell them they can’t, simply because we haven’t. Absolutely not.