James’s Blog: Redemption Walks Softly and Carries a Big Stick.

James’s Blog:  Redemption Walks Softly and Carries a Big Stick.

There is a big man waiting at the gate. He is carrying a huge wooden club. It has a nail in it. His name is Redemption. Do you let him in?

Blood sacrifice and murdered prophets in the Old Testament; Jesus and a persecuted church in the New. Redemption is a glorious word,a magnificent thing, but it leaves a scar. There is no redemption without a big club with a nail in it. Why would God do such a thing? Because redemption involves a tearing and a rending; it involves having the umbilical cord that ties us to this broken world surgically severed. Why would it not hurt? If you expect pain-free redemption then you haven’t understood what you are being redeemed from.

Imagine this: A woman finds out that her husband is a gambling addict, and has spent the last twelve months frittering away the children’s inheritance. True, she has not been a perfect wife, but she knows that she has not been a bad wife. She did not drive her husband to this; he chose the path of the spoiled brat. She is a woman more sinned against than sinning. So what does she do? She must carry his sin, and its consequences. She must explore the burden of forgiveness and all the ugly feelings that make it real.

But she has her own dark side. She struggles with the urge to keep her husband’s failure a secret. She is afraid of the shame. For so long all she’s wanted is the perfect family, the kind of family that arouses jealousy in the hearts of struggling parents and unhappy spouses alike. And for a while she had it. Why not? She worked hard for it. She deserves it. But if her husband’s actions come out then she loses it all. So what does she do? In the midst of this hurt and pain and wrong she is forced to come face-to-face with something that she didn’t realise was there. Her own pride.

It’s not fair! She is the wounded party, the victim, the wronged one, so why won’t God leave her alone? But the Holy Spirit, who watched her build her house on the sand, now watches – through the same tear-stained eyes – to see what she will do next. Not only does she have to deal with the fallout from her husband’s actions, her own sin has been exposed. It’s not the main event, sure, but it’s out there now. Listen! Can you hear Redemption at the gate, dragging his club behind him? This is her chance to not only redeem her husband and their relationship, but it’s also her chance to redeem herself. It’s her chance to walk away from the unstable house that she has built and wander in the desert for a while, trusting in nothing but the uncertain and terrifying love of God. Now Redemption is knocking. Does she let him in?

No-one ever said that redemption was fair, but it is most definitely good.

James’s Blog: Death by Watching.

James’s Blog:  Death by Watching.

Above the waist Philip oozed calm confidence, but underneath the desk his foot tapped like a woodpecker. Opposite him, the young executive leaned back in his swivel chair, Philip’s CV in one hand and a twirling pen in the other.

“I see that you’ve got plenty of experience in television, Mr Hendrickson.”

“Yes,” said Philip.

Pause.

Say something else, you idiot!

“Yes,” Philip repeated. “Plenty of experience.”

Well, that was fantastic.

“It’s good,” the executive continued, “that you know what it takes to provide high quality amusement.  That’s what we need.”

“’Amusement’?” said Philip.

“Sorry?” said the executive.

“You said ‘amusement’? I thought this was more of a…an educational type of channel.”

The executive laughed. “Entertainment is education, Mr Hendrickson.”

“Of course,” said Philip, blushing. Entertainment is education? What did that even mean?

“I have to say,” said the executive, ignoring Philip’s embarrassment, “that I’m very impressed with what I’ve seen today. I think you’ll fit in well at Big Jesus TV. Very well.”

Philip’s nervous foot slowed to a stop.

“You’re offering me the job?”

“Well,” the executive placed the CV on his desk and threw Philip a winning smile, “let’s just say that you can expect an encouraging phone call later today.”

“Great!” Philip really meant it.

“Do you have any questions?” the executive leaned forward, elbows on the desk and hands clasped together.

“Actually, I do. You want me to work on this program, Super Amazing Mission Stories, about people telling others about Jesus, right?”

“Yes.” The executive rested his head on his intertwined fingers and grinned.

“Well, I was wondering, where do the stories come from?”

The executive lifted himself from the desk, leaned back in his chair again and gestured vaguely.

“Here and there. Books. The Internet. We get them from all over the place really. Most of them need, you know, tweaking a bit.”

“Tweaking?” said Philip.

“Yeah, to make them more…interesting. More exciting.” The executive tapped the side of his nose knowingly. “So that God gets more glory, of course.”

Philip waited.

“I don’t understand. Are you saying that you make bits up?” he said, eventually.

“Bingo,” said the executive, his finger swooping to point at Philip as though he were picking him out of a crowd.

“Is that…is that OK?” said Philip.

The executive shrugged. “Jesus made stories up all the time. It’s basically the same thing.”

“Oh,” said Philip. He’d never thought about it like that before.

“It’s our goal, to beam exciting and inspirational stories to the millions who subscribe to our service. But not too inspirational, hey?” said the executive, with a conspiratorial wink.

“But isn’t that the point? To inspire others to share their faith?”

“Philip,” said the executive, shaking his head, “can I call you Philip?”

“Please do.”

“Philip, think about it. If people are out there,” the executive said, waving his hand at the wall, “sharing their faith, what aren’t they doing?”

“Ummmm,” said Philip, “watching TV?”

“Exactly! We don’t provide Big Jesus TV in order to encourage people to not watch Big Jesus TV. Can you imagine that? What would our advertisers say?”

The executive burst out laughing, as though he’d just heard the punchline to an exceptionally good joke.

“So you want people to be watching your channel rather than actually doing stuff for God?” said Philip.

“Watching our channel is doing stuff for God. When you’re watching Big Jesus TV you’re being edified and built up. You can’t be out shoplifting or committing adultery while you’re watching us, can you?”

“No, I suppose not,” said Philip. He thought he was beginning to understand. “I guess that if people are going to be consumers, they should at least be consuming something worthwhile.”

“I knew you’d fit in here!” The executive slammed his fist on the desk. “That’s the Big Jesus mindset to a tee. Though I don’t like to call people ‘consumers’. It’s a bit demeaning. I prefer the term ‘addicts’.”

“’Addicts’?”

“Yes. Consumers are wishy-washy and will head off as soon as they get the slightest sniff of a better bargain. Addicts are dependable. They’ll never leave you in the lurch. Being addicted to God is good, right?”

“And being addicted to Big Jesus TV?” said Philip.

“For most people, it’s the same thing,” said the executive. “Trust me.”

James’s Blog: Acts 2:32-37 for the Modern Pulpit.

James’s Blog:  Acts 2:32-37 for the Modern Pulpit.

32 “…God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand 35 until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”’ 36 Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

37 When the people heard this, a few said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, thank you. I enjoyed that.”

And a few said, “Oh, I love Psalm 110. Let me tell you what I like about it.”

And a few said, “I think I’ve heard that sermon before.”

And a few said, “That was too simple. I wish you’d go a bit deeper.”

And a few said, “It wasn’t as good as last week’s sermon.”

And a few said, “It was too short.”

And a few said, “No, it was too long.”

And a few said,”That was just what my friend needed to hear.”

And a few were cut to the heart and thought, “Brothers, what shall we do?” but they didn’t say it out loud, or to anybody else, and by the time they were sitting down to their Sunday lunch they were already thinking about what they were going to do that afternoon and didn’t give Peter’s words another thought.

James’s Blog: How I Put Myself Outside the Church.

James’s Blog:  How I Put Myself Outside the Church.

One of the most unChristian aspects of my character is that I don’t like to eat with others. If it’s lunchtime, and the house is empty, I enjoy the thrill of choosing whatever food I want, taking however long I want to prepare it, and then sitting and enjoying it in the silence of a good book, or the rumblings of an even better film. I’m going to level with you; offer me the choice between a fantastic Indian meal with good friends, or a lonely peanut butter sandwich in front of the television, and it’s by no means a foregone conclusion.

Those of you who felt a sympathetic shiver of approval as they read that last paragraph may be a little disconcerted to hear me describe such a thing as ‘unChristian’. “The problem with you, James,” you might say, “is that I can’t tell when you’re joking.” Well, you know what? Neither can I.

I’m afraid that it’s the Bible that’s done it. Its pages are littered, right there in black ink, with words that tell me that great things happen when people gather together to eat.

We have no record of the amazing things that Jesus reflected on when he sat down to eat cheese and crackers by himself, but so very many stories of what happened when he sat down to eat with others. Have you ever noticed how many of Jesus’ parables, teachings and miracles occurred while he was at a meal table? It’s surprising. Even the risen Jesus couldn’t help himself. Whether it’s the fish barbecue on the beach, or the bread broken with two weary travellers on the road to Emmaus, Jesus makes himself known over food.

In Acts 2, Luke writes that one of the defining characteristics of the infant Church was that “[t]hey broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts…” When Paul is writing to Corinth, instructing them on how to punish an unrepentant man who had brought public shame on the church, he says the worst thing that he can think of: “With such a man do not even eat.”

How interesting it is. We live in a world obsessed with food, yet all we ever talk about is what we should eat, when we should eat and how much we should eat. We never talk about the fact that God’s presence when two or three are gathered together in His name refers not just to prayer meetings, but to fish and chips too.

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