James’s Blog: The Myth of Good Stewardship.

James’s Blog:  The Myth of Good Stewardship.

Paul writes a few things about giving money. He tells us to be generous, to be cheerful, to give as God has given to us, but he never tells us to be shrewd with what we give. And yet, some of us treat our financial giving like we might treat a stock portfolio.

“I must get the biggest bang for my buck. I must make a good investment, and get the biggest return I can on my money…”

I’m sure, somewhere, that there’s a man who has compiled a spreadsheet, where he is comparing various good causes and working out the ‘Souls Won per Dollar’ ratio. I imagine that he also thinks that God is likely to give him a pat on the back at the end of the day, but I wonder if instead God might aim a bit lower down and use His foot.

Like everything else, our giving must be submitted to God’s agenda. And by God’s agenda, I don’t mean ‘what we assume God’s agenda is’. You don’t arrive at God’s agenda by dividing Middle Class Values by the Protestant Work Ethic. You arrive at God’s agenda by seeking, praying, fasting and listening.

Have you ever given to someone who is needy through their own sin and short-sighted mismanagement? Have you ever given to someone even though you know that there’s a better than even chance that they’ll waste or misuse your gift? Have you ever given to someone who has taken advantage of your generosity once already, and is coming to you a second time cap in hand? God has, and does every single day. And I’m not just talking about salvation, I’m talking about every aspect of His providence. I’m talking about how he gives to you and me. We are called to give as God does, and yet I know that some of us break out into a cold sweat at the thought of such irresponsible generosity. Yet, good stewardship is not about using your resources according to the values of Middle Britain. Good stewardship is about using your resources to the best of your ability according to the call that God places on your life. You give as He gives to you, whatever that may look like, and leave the rest to Him.  I’m not talking about being stupid or irresponsible, I’m talking about being obedient and about not being self-righteous enough to assume that God only wants to give to the people that you think deserve it.

Fred Craddock once preached on the parable of the Prodigal Son, and was approached afterwards by a member of the congregation who happened to be a lawyer. He proceeded to tell Fred that he didn’t like that particular parable.

“What is it you don’t like about it?” said Fred.

“It’s not morally responsible,” he said.

“What do you mean by that?”

“Forgiving that boy,” said the lawyer.

“Well, what would you have done?” said Fred.

“I think when he came home he should have been arrested.”

“What would you have given the prodigal?” said Fred.

“Six years.”

James’s Blog: God Bless Restrictions.

James’s Blog:  God Bless Restrictions.

One piece of advice that artistic people often give is that restrictions and constraints are good for creativity. I’ve heard this from artists, writers, film makers and computer game programmers, so it must be true.

Actually, it is.

If you give an artist a blank piece of canvas then what is he supposed to do with it? If you tell him that you want a picture of a tree, well, it doesn’t require much in the way of creative thinking but at least it’s something. If you tell him that you want a picture of a tree, and that it can only be in black and white, and that if you turn it upside down it must then look like a picture of a little girl – well, now you’re talking. That’s when the creative muscles get a workout.

I’ve dabbled in Microfiction (aka Flash Fiction), which for those of you who don’t know, is a discipline where you subject yourself to an arbitrary word count (usually well under a thousand words) and set yourself the task of writing a complete, coherent story. I’ve found it a highly useful exercise, especially as my stumbling attempts to transfer my fleeting philosophical musings from the centre of my thought processes onto a sheet of blank paper have a disarming habit of running to the verbose. You know what I mean.

I’m currently working on editing a batch of stories for the sequel to The Listening Book, and a couple of those were born from constraints. When I was describing The Listening Book to a friend he asked me if one of the stories was called ‘The Parable of the Boy who Ran with Scissors’. Trust me, this is fairly typical of the type of question that he asks. I replied that there was not, but the very next day I sat down and set myself the task of writing a story with that exact title. I’m quite pleased with it.

Perhaps that’s the way I should go. I could get other people to suggest titles, and then I have to write a story to attach to them. So, if you have any imaginative titles lying around feel free to throw them in my direction, and if I’m looking for a challenge one day I could try writing a short story for it. Maybe I’ll post it here, maybe I won’t. It depends on whether or not it’ll make me look creative.

James’s Blog: Walking with God.

James’s Blog:  Walking with God.

There are many reasons why I like to go for a walk, but two of them are as follows:

a) I like to get away from people every now and then.
b) I like to spend time with God.

However, those two reasons are not mutually exclusive, which is a common mistake we introverts often make. Another mistake is to assume that during those lonely strolls the only thing God wants to do with us is internal. Those of us prone to mysticism can be so lost in our thoughts that the rich young ruler could come to us and say, “What must I do to be saved?” and our instinctive response would be, “Push off, I’m praying.”.

The thing is, when you try to get away in order to spend time with God, you’re climbing into the ring with Him, and sometimes He fights dirty. You just want a bit of peace and quiet in order to reflect and have Him all to yourself, but He just can’t help trying to draw your attention to the universe outside. If you really want to spend time with God, you have to take the rough with the smooth. Thankfully, I’ve had some excellent teachers, so now I tend to go for my prayer walks with one eye on my soul and the other on the world around me.

Richard Wurmbrand tells of the first time that he ever entered a church. As an eight-year old he went in with a school friend who had been sent to deliver a message to the Catholic priest. After the message had been passed on, the priest spoke to Richard.

“What can I do for you, little fellow?”

“Nothing. I just entered with my friend,” said Richard.

“I am the disciple of One who has taught me never to allow anybody to pass near me without doing him at least a little bit of good. It is hot outside. Would you allow me to bring you a cup of cold water?” said the priest.

Wurmbrand said it was the best cup of water he’d ever tasted.

That’s pretty good. I would like it if the word ‘Christian’ was synonymous with ‘One who never allows anybody to pass nearby without doing at least a little bit of good’. I try to keep that in mind when I’m out and about, because God’s always at work. If I’m trying to hang out with Him then I should expect to be dragged into such things.

James’s Blog: As Yet Untitled.

James’s Blog:  As Yet Untitled.

I read a book.
The author’s search
for the Jesus of our church.
“It turns out, as you can see,
that Jesus was just like me:
A Liberal, Western-educated, postmodern, hipster, beardy social justice warrior.”

I read a book.
The author’s search
for the Jesus of our church.
“It turns out, as you can see,
that Jesus was just like me:
A middle-aged Conservative white American male, angry at gays, Muslims, the unemployed and Russia.”

I read a book.
The author’s search
for the Jesus of our church.
“It turns out, as you can see,
that Jesus was just like me:
A bland, cringing, spineless academic who just wants everyone to be happy and is trying desperately to avoid giving offence.”

I read a book.
The author’s search
for the Jesus of our church.
“It turns out, as you can see,
that Jesus was just like me:
A black, bisexual, left-handed Wiccan who cares deeply about animals, making wicker baskets and bathing in her own urine.”

But where am I to begin
if I just want to be like him?