James’s Blog: What Hosea Said.

James’s Blog:  What Hosea Said.

Here’s a twelve year old sermon that I’ve edited into a blog post. This one was on Hosea 6 & 7, and is a lot longer than the last sermon I revisited on these pages. It also required a lot more editing – I had to remove some especially dated references. Listen, it’s not that I’m too lazy to come up with something original – it’s rather that I don’t think I’ll ever preach this sermon again, so I’m putting it on the internet for posterity. Yes, that’s it.

I have a friend. Some of you will have a friend like this. He keeps making harmful decisions, because he’s…well, I don’t know why he does it. It’s not as bad now, thankfully, but back when we hung out it was crazy. It would be easier to understand if he wasn’t a Christian, but he is. He’s been a Christian since he was young, but he walks this fine line with his faith. It’s not that he’s not committed, or not sincere. To be honest, I just don’t know what it is.

He goes through up and downs, like most of us. Sometimes he’s passionate about God, sometimes he’s not. He knows his Bible. He knows it well, and he’s got a good grasp of theology.

But, well, it’s almost like he knows it, but he never lets the information make the journey from his head to his heart. It’s like he’s going through the motions a lot of the time, because he knows it’s what he should be doing, and thinking, and feeling, but it’s as though it’s not quite real for him. But again, he’s sincere. He knows who Jesus is, but he just doesn’t seem to be able to make the connection between that and living for God.

Take relationships, for example. He just makes bad choices when it comes to women. It’s not even that he goes out with non-Christians. He meets girls at church that are just as messed up as he is. In the two year period that I was closest to him, he had four girlfriends and none of them were good for him. It’s like these relationships seem to shut God out of his life. They never last, but I reckon that’s a good thing, because as damaging as these relationships are in the short term, I dread to think what he’d be like if he’d been going out with one of these girls for years rather than months.

He’s highly suggestible too. Easily swayed by outward appearances and advertising. Suckered in by any and every half-baked scheme; wasting his money on stuff that can’t help him. He knows that Christ alone offers satisfaction and health; he knows this. But like I said, he doesn’t know it. He was always showing me the stuff he’d bought. He was always showing me and telling me about his new toy and how it was the thing that he’d really been after – but he got through stuff pretty quickly. Some of my other friends did very well off him, waiting for him to get bored with his new purchase and then buying it off him on the cheap.

I remember one conversation we had outside Currys. We were waiting for a bus and he was talking to me about Jesus and God and stuff. He was saying all the right things, about how he’d just got out of one of those destructive relationships. He was telling me how he’d really drawn strength from his faith, and how he felt closer to God, and that he realised that God was all that he needed and the source of the hope that he’d been missing. He said that he needed to get that relationship back on track. But it was weird; he was saying all this, and I noticed that as he was talking his eyes were drifting, until it was obvious that he was looking elsewhere.

I followed his gaze to see that he was looking in the shop window, at a huge widescreen TV. There was no sound, but it was the adverts. He was there talking to me about God, but watching the adverts. That kind of sums him up really. Talks the talk, says the right things, and knows the right things, but is focused on something else. His mind is elsewhere. Talks about God, but watches the adverts.

It wouldn’t be so bad, but he really didn’t have a clue what he was like. He just didn’t get it. He knew something was wrong, but he didn’t understand what. He didn’t know that he was doing it to himself. I tried to tell him. Lots of people tried to tell him. I’m not the only one. He’s been very blessed, really, that God has sent a constant stream of people to try and show him and tell him that something’s got to change, but he never really makes the connection. Sometimes it gets close. Sometimes he says something that makes you think, “Wow, it’s finally sunk in,” but soon you realise that it was a moment of clarity and nothing else. Just part of the right language he knows, but isn’t sure what to do with.

Do you want to know his name? You might already know his name.

He goes by many names, but most of the time he’s simply called ‘Israel’. Sometimes Ephraim. Sometimes Judah. It’s all similar you know. One of his friends, a guy called Hosea, tried to make him see sense. Like I said, just one of many friends who say the same things, and it seems like he never listens.

Hosea said to him, “You’ve had four girlfriend in the past two years…” well, what Hosea actually said was, “You’ve had four kings in the past twenty years…” but it’s the same thing really. Hosea said, or rather God said through Hosea, “You’ve had four kings in the past twenty years – and each one of them was assassinated. You know what? Not one of them ever called out to me.”

What do you expect for Israel when he’s in those kind of relationships? And God said to him, “It’s not your ideas that are half-baked – it’s you! You’re like a half-baked cake. Mixed in with all the wrong ingredients and the final act, the act of turning back to Me, left undone.”

God said to him, “You invest your time and money and energy into these foreign powers, these idols, and they’re just robbing you. You’re paying tribute to foreign powers and smiling, unaware that you’re just draining yourself of your resources for no gain.”

God said to him “You’re like a bird that’s easily scared from branch to branch, flitting and flying here and there. Stupid, easily trapped and ensnared in something that’s no good for you.”

God said to him, “The worst thing is that you smile about it. You are totally unaware of what’s happening. You think that this is how it should be, how I want it to be! You just don’t seem to want to understand! Wake up and smell the coffee!”

That’s what Hosea used to tell him. He was much better at speaking to Israel than me.

Anyway, we drifted apart. I wasn’t too worried because, despite everything, he seemed to be one of those people that God had taken a special interest in, and seemed to be making a lot of effort for. I totally lost contact with him until very recently, when I bumped into him on a train – one of those chance encounters, you know. He looked really well. I didn’t recognise him at first. He spotted me. I said, “You look good.” He said, “Yeah, things are going well. I’ve changed a lot since you saw me last. Me and God, we’ve moved on to a new stage in our relationship. It’s great. It’s working very well.” He did seem to be different, in a good way, but I was a little concerned. I saw it in his eyes. I noticed the way his attention flicked to an attractive girl who entered the carriage and stayed just a little bit too long. I noticed that when we were waiting at a station there was a whole chunk of the conversation that he missed because he was mesmerised by an advertising billboard on the platform. On the whole he seemed much better, it’s just I was a little worried that the signs were still there, that he wouldn’t have to fall too far to totally slip back to where he was.

We reached his station and he got out. “Good to see you again, Israel,” I said. He smiled and said, “You too, James. But my name’s not Israel anymore. I changed it. My name is Church.”

Church. It seemed to suit him. But, well, you know. I hope that it lasts. I’d hate for a few years down the line his new friends to be saying exactly the same kind of things that Hosea used to say. I’d hate for it to be all as it was when I knew him, and that the only thing that had changed was that people were calling him Church instead of Israel.

James’s Blog: An Opportunity to Reflect.

James’s Blog:  An Opportunity to Reflect.

When I was training to be a minister they made me do something that they called ‘theological reflection’. Each week I had to choose an experience I’d had in the last seven days and write a short reflection on it. I had to ponder over what had happened, how I’d responded, whether I’d do anything different and so on. Part of this process involved thinking through what the event and my responses revealed about God, the Bible, human nature and the like. I didn’t look forward to this enforced weekly introspection. It’s an odd way to live, having something major happen in your life and be thinking, “Oh good! I’ll have something to write about this week.” But, like many unpleasant disciplines, it achieved its purpose. After a couple of years, the habit became ingrained. Now I couldn’t stop theologically reflecting on stuff even if I wanted to.

After a few years of living in Australia, I returned briefly to the UK for a winter pilgrimage of sorts. I did a whistle-stop tour of most of the places that I had lived, or had been significant in some way, and took the time to stop, listen and reflect. At each location I asked myself a question: “What did I learn about God while I was here, and how did I experience Him during this stage of my life?” It was an excellent use of a plane ticket.

I’m telling you this because I am an advocate for reflection, in whatever form it takes. Reflect on your day-to-day life; reflect on significant, epoch-shaking moments; reflect on how you live and what it says about your faith; reflect, and make a habit of reflecting. ‘The unexamined life is not worth living’, and all that jazz.

And a final word to a few of you – you will know who you are. After 27 years, the Canowindra campus of Cornerstone is closing down. On the 18th November the community there is setting apart some time to share stories, reflect and say goodbye. If you had a significant experience at Canowindra, and if you’re able to go, then take advantage of the opportunity. It can be hard to grab time for pilgrimage and reflection, but it’s good for you.

James’s Blog: My Family and Other Disorders.

James’s Blog:  My Family and Other Disorders.

In this past week our son Parker has been diagnosed with Asperger’s, except it’s not called Asperger’s any more. It’s called Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), except it won’t be called that for long. They’re changing it to Autistic Spectrum Condition (ASC) because, I assume, that Conditions are less offensive than Disorders. This diagnosis is not bad news for us. We’d assumed that he was autistic for a while now, and had been treating him appropriately. I imagine we’re not alone in being parents who were very relieved to hear that he has ASD, rather than the alternative (“We’re sorry Mr & Mrs Webb. He’s not autistic, he’s just really obnoxious.”).

It’s business as usual for the Webb family really, except that now we have access to various resources and courses that will help us be better parents for him and for his siblings, who struggle more than we do with managing their frustration at his seemingly irrational way of approaching life.

The reality is that no children are easy to raise, and each one should be treated uniquely anyway. In that regard, Parker is just like the rest of them. As difficult as it can be, I enjoy the variety I find in my own house – most of the time, anyway. Our home is a glorious circus; I alternate between being paralysed by laughter and grinding my teeth down to their stumps. I think that family life, like being part of any community, is one of God’s ways of giving us an insight into what it’s like for Him. Would Adam and Eve have been in such a rush to become like God if they had really known that it was less about exercising unlimited power and more about repeatedly having to tidy up after other people who acted like you didn’t exist?

Raising a child with ASD is a challenge, and it brings into the light all those failings that your other children didn’t manage to expose, but I think about the patient, generous way that God has raised me, and it helps.

James’s Blog: The Big Bad Wolf.

James’s Blog:  The Big Bad Wolf.

Of all the temptations that men face, the temptation of power is the one that scrubs up the best. No-one can deny the lure of sex and money, but it’s a lot harder to make your interest in those look noble. But power? Well, who doesn’t want to change the world for the better? Who doesn’t want to use their influence for good, to improve the lot of the downtrodden common man? Who doesn’t secretly believe that although power corrupts, it won’t corrupt me?

I don’t know if it was what Tolkien intended, but his One Ring is a fine metaphor of what power can do to us. No matter how well-intentioned, how noble the goal, taking hold of the One Ring is to invite corruption. Handling power wisely requires a certain strength of character. I’ve already quoted Martyn Lloyd-Jones in a previous blog, but his insightful comment bears repeating: “The worst thing that can happen to a man is for him to succeed before he is ready.”

Power gives you influence over other bearers of God’s image. This is a delicate and weighty responsibility. If you wield power then your feet should permanently be bare, for you are always on holy ground. Love is patient, love is kind. It is not proud, it is not self-seeking. Love always protects.

Why do you think that the meek will be the ones to inherit the earth? Who else would God trust with it?

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