Photo credits

The Embalse de Riano in northern Spain. The picture was taken by .... me!

Wednesday, May 30

Faith or delusion?

In case I have forgotten to tell you – we are putting the house on the market soon and have been working up a sweat getting it all ready in time. Innumerable trips to the tip. £££ spent on a decorator. Chaos and disruption everywhere. But its beginning to come together as a nice marketable property.

So where next?

The motivation is to downsize and reduce debt, and also release funds so that I can finally apply for ordination training.

Also now that kids are leaving home, Mrs is increasingly wanting to have a job of some kind, and being un-employable after 20 years out of the workplace with no CV and no referees, she wants to run her own business, maybe a guest house, maybe a caravan or holiday cottage.

And she also (or maybe alternatively) wants to get into some form of Christian ministry. Possibly ordination, maybe just as a lay minister. She also wants to establish ‘Play Church’ for young families to whom the services offered by normal churches are inappropriate.

So we are looking for somewhere that ticks all these boxes.

We have found one place which has enough rooms for our remaining kids and a basement flat for any that come back from college but which can also be rented out as business on the side. It also has some of the best views in the town, and is in good condition and sufficiently well decorated for us to just move in. We would have about £100k equity left to clear debts, invest in other business, etc. This is the sensible option.

We have also seen another place. It used to be my daughter’s nursery. But when one of the town’s churches wanted to move to bigger premises, they sold their church to the nursery and it was converted to a very nice posh nursery. The old nursery now belongs to the church, as part of a part-exchange deal. So its basically empty apart from some of the church’s junk being stored there. They occasionally use it for garden parties. It has a larger footprint than our present house, and an annexe that could be rented out as a holiday cottage. It has sufficient room for our remaining kids – just. It also has a very large upstairs room with a huge window overlooking the garden, which would be an ideal meeting room. It would suit ‘Play Church’. The garden is also very very much bigger than the patio we currently have. So in many ways it is ideal. But it is more expensive, and overall bigger than our present house (although the area of habitable rooms is actually less), so it doesn’t count for ‘downsize and reduce debt’. And into the bargain, it needs a lot of work on it to convert it from derelict nursery to family home with ministry/business uses. This is the stupid option.

The church has invited offers, and would consider a house swap. So that would save us estate agent fees and a very long wait for a buyer and lots of hassle keeping it nice for viewers. So that makes the stupid option slightly more feasible.

This blog says “If you want to walk on water you have to get out of the boat”. This blog is not about easy, sensible options. Reasonable men adapt to the world, but the world is changed by unreasonable men. Normal life – for the Christian – is an adventure.

So we want to do it, even though our better judgement says “Run away. Run as fast as you can”

Pray that we may distinguish faith from delusion, and Godly vision from human fantasy.

Friday, May 25

Shaking it about

I thought it would be clever to pre-mix my coffee and sugar by shaking them together, so that when I want a cuppa I only have to open one jar.

Since the propoerties of the coffee and sugar grains are different (weight, size, etc), the more you shake them the more they seperate into layers.  Not perfect layers of course, not separate enough to put them back in their original individual containers. 

So I had to have a series of strong unsweeted cups, followed by a series of weak syrupy ones.

Tuesday, May 22


The age old question - why do we suffer?

I keep coming across people with the view that it is all down to sin:
  • Our sin leads us into suffering
  • The sins of others affect us
  • We are attacked by a sinful devil
  • Since the sin of Adam, we are affected by a fallen world.
They say, in effect, that God is too nice to give us hard things or take things away from us.

In my own time I have preached this analysis of suffering.  And I still believe that all those things listed above cause us to suffer against God's desires.

But I no longer find that to be a satisfactory explanation of all suffering.

Take a trivial example.

Two teams are in the league final.  Both have worked extremely hard to get there.  Both teams deserve to win.  But there can be only one winner, and the other side is the loser.  After all that hard work, they go home empty handed.  After all their dedicated support, the losing fans go home dejected.

There is no sin here.  Neither team disobeyed God.  It is not spiritual rebellion to participate in a competition.  The devil didn't make them do it.  I believe God loves sport and feats of human achievement and endurance.  The Bible is contains sporting analogies - "run the race to win the prize!" - its good.  But there is still suffering.  Suffering that does not arise from evil.

One lad, preaching on this at our church recently, said "God will not cut off my right arm just to teach me to write with my left arm".  And he belived that that proves God only does nice easy comfortable things.

But I take my daughter for her vaccinations, and deliberately inflict suffering on her, to train her body to recognise disease.

A general will take his best soldiers and make them stand in straight lines for hours and then deliberately inflict pain and suffering on them, to train them for the task ahead.  The more they suffer, the stronger they are.

In the 1987 'hurricane' that blew down trees all over the south east of England, there was a park with a row of huge majestic trees that all came down.  The park-keeper who had tended them, fed them and waterered them was asked why such good trees had succumbed to the storm when they had been provided with all they needed.  His answer: "They had it too easy.  They didn't put down roots".

So on one level Suffering occurs because - quite apart from sin - that is the way the world works.  God made it, upholds it by his word of power.  HE does hard things too us, and we suffer, but its nothing to do with sin - just life.

On another level, suffering trains us and makes us more than we were.  God sends it.  Nothing to do with sin - its just for our growth as people.  Romans 5 says: we[c] also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope.  The example given in the previous chapter is of Abraham, waiting -suffering - for his promised child.

'God gives us growth' - sounds so cosy, but sustainable growth comes through hardship, not through over-stimulus.

On another level, God sends us suffering for his own purposes.  Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?  Neither, but he was born blind so that the work of God may be made manifest in him.  Jesus specifically excludes sin as the cause of the suffering.

Matt Reman writes "You give and take away".  I believe he wrote it after losing a child.  He understood that God, in his sovereignty, can do as he wishes.  There is no suggestion in that song that the taking away is anything to do with sin.  Its just God's will.

And I agree.

But we are not saying that God is capricious in what he does, or malicious.  I have shied away from saying God does bad in causing suffering.  Because all things woirk together for the good of them that love him.  I know the suffering that he sends is not to punish me for sin, but to make me grow.  He only does good things, its just that they feel bad at the time.  No child enjoys vaccinations, they enjoy the health that comes later.  No child likes being refused a thrid biscuit, but they do enjoy not being fat.  No child likes a curfew, but they do enjoy the health that comes from routine.

Hebrews: No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.  Discipline - discipling - is not all about punishment.  Those soldiers I mentioned before were disciplined by their hard training, not punished.

So what do I do now when something bad happens to me?

I embrace it.

It's God, loving me.

It's not God punishing me. (well sometimes maybe, but not usually)

It's not the devil getting at me.(well sometimes maybe, but not usually).  We give the devil far to much credit.  It's God's world, not his.  The devil is God's devil.  He can only do what God 'wants'. (This could be another long post on its own) - I'm not talking 'permissive will' here, I'm talking 'active will' - God actively sends evil spirits to achieve his purpose - see 2 Chronicals 18v21 - but I realsie that's controversial and its not the topic of this post.

It's not a consequence of my neighbours' sin.  (well quite often it is but that's not the point)

So in church this Sunday I nearly shouted hallelujah (it's an anglican church) when a woman spoke form the front adn said "I thank God for my illness (M.E.) because it has taken me out of work and given me time with my family".  She gets what I get.  Sometimes we are too busy demanding healing to see the blessing under our noses.

In summary, I do believe all those bullet points I started with cause suffering, but by no means all of it.  Much of what we call suffering is actually a blessing from God and we should stop moaning and rejoice in it as the scripture commands.

The Interpreter

I chanced on his film late one night on Sky recently, and just for once caught the opening scenes and therefore actually understood what was going on in the rest of it.


I really liked it.  I know it only gets 3 stars in the reviews, and I know some of the flaws in the plot are rather large, but overall I liked the way that we gradually got to know more and more about the interpreter.

Perhaps the key point is how, no matter how principled we are, it all goes out the window in a moment of stress.  You can be a pacifist and believe in the power of negotiation, but when you are standing next to the man who killed your brother and you have a gun in your hand, it all seems very right to put the gun to his head.  Very easy.  The proper thing to do. 

The story has no happy ending.  The widower remains alone.  The obvious romance comes to nothing.  The girl goes home to Africa - but it is full of pain and bloodshed.

Student Alpha

We are into the second week of our alpha course at work.

We have previously used the old Alpha express DVDs, but this time we are trialling the Student Alpha version.

This is a much better visual presentation than the outdated alpha express. It just looks more modern.

I haven’t yet seen all of the videos, but what I have seen so far seems to be very similar in content, just with different personal illustrations and references (Jamie Haith rather than Nicky Gumbel). So far it looks like a good decision.

The disappointing side is the low attendance. We only have one person coming. I suppose its not bad for a workplace alpha, but I had hoped for more. In the past we have had up to six.

We weren’t going to do the course this year, but someone found our details on the intranet and asked for it. So we didn’t advertise – one of our group said we should allow the Lord to bring the right people to us rather than waste an alpha course on people who were never going to take it up properly. The next day my colleague expressed an interest, so it was looking good, but in the end he decided not to come. He is Greek. He gets very animated in a debate, and he felt that he would ruin it for the others as he argues the toss on every point. I couldn’t disagree!

So please pray for our one delegate – it will all be worthwhile if she comes to faith. She is currently of a mixed philosophical/Buddhist way of thinking. Her family is mixed protestant/catholic, and the resulting arguments put her off the faith. But I believe God is still working with her, if he goes to the trouble of prompting her to ask for the course.

Tuesday, May 15

Taking Communion from your enemy - The tough walk of reconciliation

I forgot to mention in my previous post ...

When the time came for communion, I noticed that one of those administering would be the man at the focus of our row with this church in 2010 - the man who's callous disregard for my wife was the cause of it all.  We have spoken to and made friends with every one involved except for him.  He was the main reason I was reluctant to return.  He is the one of whom I felt that if I was in the same room, even after all this time, I would still have an urge to punch - repeatedly - in the face and take pleasure in his pain and in his blood.  I am not speaking metaphorically - that is how I genuinely feel.

Yes, this is me, a nice loving Christian man, talking like this.  But he was the man who destroyed my wife, and I am very protective of her.  I didn't undertsand hatred until he did those things.

And now that man is lining up at the front taking communion, and since we have three stations at our church tere is a one in three chance that I will end up at that station.  And my wife too.

Panic!  How can I take communion from him?

And yet there is another voice in me - the quiet voice of the trained lay minister, the man who has been a Christian since he gave his life to the Lord 42 years ago, the voice of experience of the walk with God.  And that voice said "This is from God.  You will never go to him unless forced.  Leave it to God.  If it is his will for you too meet, he will com to your station.  If you're not ready yet, he'll go to another station".

He came to my station.

I pointed out to my wife what was about to happen.  She started to panic a bit too, and she is normally ahead of me when it comes to forgiving the people at this church for what they did to her.  But I took her elbow and said 'This is from God' and escorted her up there.

We waited in the line.

He came to us.  He took the bread in his hand, looked into our eyes, and gave it to us in turn saying "Simon, the body of Christ" "[Wife's name], the body of Christ".

And there was a deep sense - not an emotional thing, it was much deeper than a mere emotion - a deep sense that the thing that had been passed between us was much more important than the other thing which had passed between us.  It was an evaporation.  It was a passing of yesterdays weather.  It was a sun shining, which had always been shining.  None of these metapors really carry it.

And let's be honest, I still have serious issues with the guy.  But I know now that it will be OK.

Monday, May 14

Reinstating the Readership

Been back at the original church for three weeks now.

I was due for my 5-yearly relicensing in April, but because of having been about to transfer the license to the other church and then unexpectedly moving back to this one, at which I am not currently on the electoral role having been away for 16 months, the relicensing has just fallen through the middle oif it all.  Terrible timing.

But the Bishop has now agreed that after 6 months, just to check that I have settled in, I will be relicensed to this church.

It's a bit frustrating, but I think it is the right thing.  Yes, I am back at my home church.  But it has changed.  there are a lot of new people that don't know me, and it would be hard for them to accept my ministry as -in their eyes - a new comer.

Also, I am unsettled myself.

It was not my choice to come back to this church.  I am almost in a state of shock about it all.  I feel sort of numb, and I don't really know what my calling and vision is.

Out of six services I have attended, I have had theological issues with 4.

Part of me doesn't feel at home here anymore.

Meanwhile, I am going through serious doubts about the faith in general.

I am struggling with 'what is the scripture?'  I was brought up with the idea that it was practically dictated by God to Moses at al.  Yet I am increasingly convinced by the idea of it as a compilation in the post-exilic period.  And i find that this detracts from my view of it as authoratative.  This is compounded by my recent thoughts on the Apocrypha.  Presumable part of the septuagint that Paul had in mind when he wrote in 2 Tim 3:16 All scripture is God breathed and profitable for teaching correction and reproof - and yet the more I read it the more nonsensical it becomes.  It's accepted by most the historical churches, yet taken out by Luther partly owing to its inconveneient doctrines.  But if it is part of what Paul had in mind, then we have to keep it in and review our theology accordingly.

So you see, I'm in a mess.  And if I am to teach, I really need to know what I think.

So I need these six months, and ask you to poray that it will be a time when I am fully re-estblished in the church and in the faith.

That's torn it!

The installation of the new dishwasher went very well except for one thing:

It tore the brand new lino in several places, destroying it completely.

The old dishwasher had a flat bottom and woudl slide in and out.  the new one has adjustable feet, which caught the lino and ripped it.  Several times.

The new lino was in aid of putting the house on the market in June.  So we have no real choice but to replace it.   £££.

Needless to say I was not a popular husband over the weekend.