James’s Blog: Some Beautiful Waste.

James’s Blog:  Some Beautiful Waste.

It’s a picturesque time of year, as Christmas summons frosted grass and offers a horizon spotted with naked trees. But it’s cold and wet, and that makes it less picturesque. In these conditions, the autumnal waste creates work. Every couple of weeks I have to pull manky, slimy leaves from the drain behind our kitchen or we get an overflow of yucky water outside. There’s no Yuletide cheer in that job, let me tell you.

It’s something of a shame, because it mars the beauty of those discarded leaves. When dry, those withered brown skeletons are one of my favourite things about autumn. There’s something magical about a big pile of those jagged, crunchy seasonal off-cuts. Granted, they become quite disgusting after a few days of being drenched in grey water, but what doesn’t?

Maybe I’m alone in this, but I don’t think so. It’s amazing, isn’t it, to live in a world where something that nature is throwing away is so magnificent.

Now, if even God’s rubbish is beautiful, what does that make you?

James’s Blog: Reasons to be Cheerful.

James’s Blog:  Reasons to be Cheerful.

I cried out to God for help;

I cried out to God to hear me.

 

Is it possible for God to ever be far from us? Does He ever withdraw Himself? We can debate these questions all day long, but one thing is certain – sometimes it feels like He’s gone away.

 

I thought about the former days, the years of long ago;

I remembered my songs in the night.

My heart mused and my spirit enquired:

Will the Lord reject for ever?

Will he never show his favour again?”

 

On those days, we wonder if we will ever know His presence again. It seems like such a terminal condition. When you’re in the desert, there’s nothing but sand as far as the eye can see.

 

Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:

the years of the right hand of the Most High.”

I will remember the deeds of the LORD;

yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.

I will meditate on all your works

and consider all your mighty deeds.

 

But when I feel that distance, I remember that there have been many times in my life when God has felt impossibly close. I remember specific, life-shaping encounters; dragons being slain; explicit guidance; tears of gratitude. I remember times when God was so real to me that I cried out, “LORD, I can’t imagine ever being depressed again!”

 

Your ways, O God, are holy.

What god is so great as our God?

You are the God who performs miracles;

you display your power among the peoples.

 

And I realise that someone, somewhere, is meeting with God right now. Someone is bumping into Jesus for the first time. Someone is being healed; forgiven; challenged; changed forever. Someone, somewhere in this world is in the middle of a full-on, black and white encounter with the Father’s grace. God may feel distant from me right now, but I am a very small part of a very big universe. In my solitary, self-centred world I may suffer, but I have a big family. Somewhere, one of my brothers or sisters feels as close to God as they have ever felt.

I celebrate. I rejoice with this unnamed, unknown saint.

I am thankful, because I remember that although God feels absent today, He will draw near again. He always does.

When I was younger, the desert would often stretch out for days and months. These days I’m better at finding the hidden streams. Sometimes God feels far away, but not for long.

James’s Blog: Exchanging the Truth of God for a Lie.

James’s Blog:  Exchanging the Truth of God for a Lie.

It always begins with a lie.

In the garden, the first of us chose to reject the truth, and chose to believe a lie.  It broke us, sold us into slavery.  Ever since the first, the Father of Lies has been keeping us in our chains by sidling up to us, and in a pleasant tone of voice asking what seems a most reasonable question – “Did God really say…?”

“Did God really say that He would be with you, whatever you face?  If that’s the truth, then why do you feel so alone?”

“Did God really say that you are worth something to Him?  If that’s the truth, why do your failures define you?”

“Did God really say that following Him brings life to the full?  If that’s the truth, why are you so bored and disillusioned?”

The lie seems to make sense of our experience, so we believe it.

But does the lie make sense of our experience, or does our experience just confirm that we have already believed the lie?

Is God really absent, or do we just believe that He is absent?  Are we really defined by our failures, or do we just believe that we are defined by our failures?  Is this really as good as following Christ gets, or do we just believe that this is as good as following Christ gets?

You know the stuff that Jesus says?  What if it were true?  All of it?  What if the problem is not that it’s false, but that we don’t believe it?  What if “God really did say…” and the only reason we don’t enjoy the freedom of this truth is because we choose the chains of a lie instead.

Why would we do that?  Why would anyone choose to believe what is not true?

I don’t know why we do, but we do.  Perhaps it’s because by the time we encounter the truth, we are already weighed down by a thousand lies.  Perhaps it’s because it really does seem too good to be true.  Perhaps it’s because we just don’t know the truth as well as we think that we do.  Perhaps it’s because trusting God is just too much of a risk for us right now.

A lie is something false, but if you believe it then you give it power.  What is unreal becomes real, and it controls the way that we relate to the world.

Don’t believe me?

There was once a man whose car suffered a flat tyre whilst driving along a deserted country road.  He had a spare, but was unable to change it because, when he went to look, his jack was missing.  What to do?

Looking into the paddock on his left, he noticed – far in the distance – a building.  It must be a farmhouse, he reasoned, and hopping over the fence he began walking, hoping that the farmer would have a jack that he could borrow.

Well, the farmhouse was further away than he’d thought.  The sun was setting, and clouds were gathering ominously in the sky.  It began to get dark.  The driver began rehearsing the conversation in his mind.

“I will ask to borrow a jack, and then I’ll have to run back and change the tyre before it gets too dark.”

As the man pondered this, it began to rain.

“Of course, it’s raining.  The farmer will take one look at the rain and decide that he doesn’t want to go to the trouble of coming out to help me find the jack.  I’d have to find it myself.  In his shed, which is probably full of old machinery and rubbish!”

The sun set, and the sky got darker.

“So there I am, in a dark shed looking for a jack, tripping over junk every step I take.  I’m cold and wet, and the farmer – who knows exactly where the jack is – is sitting in his house by the fire, drinking a hot cup of coffee!”

The man got angrier and angrier as he reflected on this injustice, and as the moon began to rise, he had another realisation.

“It’s night time now, and I bet the farmer has already gone to bed.  And when I knock, he’s not going to want to get out of bed.  He’s going to pretend he can’t hear me!  There I’ll be on his doorstep, cold, wet and tired, and he’s not even going to answer the door.  I’ll be there without a jack after all.”

Furious, the driver finally reached the farmhouse.  He pounded on the door until he heard a timid voice from inside, “Who is it?”

“You know full well who it is, you selfish old goat!  And I wouldn’t borrow your jack if it were the last one on earth!” bellowed the driver, before he stormed off.

Still don’t believe me?

James’s Blog: The Small Things.

James’s Blog:  The Small Things.

I’m not an adventurous person, but the twists and turns of my life suggest that, for me at least, God implements such things as ‘compulsory adventures’. The problem is that being between adventures leaves me tormented by restlessness. I’m not exaggerating for effect (who me?).  ‘Tormented’ is a carefully chosen word.  I suspect this is a condition I’ll have to deal with for the rest of my days. It’s difficult.

My mistake is to think that life is about these big, momentous experiences, and eavesdropping on our culture only reinforces this misunderstanding. As a rule, we’re encouraged to sleepwalk our way through the week, looking forward to the weekend, or a holiday, or the Next Big Thing. It’s true that life can feel like long periods of boredom punctuated by brief periods of excitement, but only being enthusiastic about adventure is no way to live.

Actually, those long periods of boredom are crucially important. It’s the small things that we fill our lives with that make the difference, and as Richard Wurmbrand said, “Saints are those who do small things well.” The fruit of our lives comes from what we plant in the uneventful, not what we do on our compulsory adventures. We think that significant Christian leaders, the sort of people whose stories are told long after they are gone, are significant purely because they make the most of big opportunities. No. They’re men and women who make the most of the small things, and when the big things come their way they’re already so used to putting God front and centre that they take advantage of adventures out of habit. If you keep God to one side, waiting for something big to come along, then you’ll find that He won’t fit into your life because you’ve already filled it with junk.

Today’s blog post is just for me. I need to remind myself of what is true, especially during these grumpy weeks. Sitting down, staring in front of a blank screen and painfully squeezing words onto a page is good medicine. It’s one of the small things that I need to fill my life with in order to qualify for the next compulsory adventure.

James’s Blog: Soul Jar.

James’s Blog:  Soul Jar.

The soul is like a jar.  It’s probably made of clay.  God seems to have a thing for clay.

Sometimes you go to someone’s soul jar and it’s empty.  You look at the person, and you see the bitterness etched on his face and you roll your eyes.  Words spring to mind: small-minded, tiny-hearted, empty soul.  No wonder, you think, that this soul jar is empty.  He is mean, wicked, horrible and anything poured into that jar would turn into vinegar the moment that it splashed against the sides.

But it doesn’t work like that.  The jar is not empty because of bitterness, but rather there is bitterness because the jar is empty.

Let me explain.

I watch a child dancing with breathless joy in the morning, while the world around me shouts “Fire and Fury!” and I think, She doesn’t understand and that’s why she dances.  But then God taps me on the shoulder and says, “No, James, she does understand, and that’s why she dances.  You may have lost your way for a moment.”

The jar starts full, but a swift kick here and a rough push there and a crack will show, and if we don’t attend to it then the soul starts to leak out.  If we don’t watch those chips and fractures then we’ll dry out.  It might take years, but it’ll happen.

“And it’s not just your jar, James,” says God.  “You know what Fred Craddock says the rule for all big families is, don’t you?”

“Yes, God,” I reply.  “The older ones help the younger ones.”

“Good.  Now fix your jar, and I can always top it up for you.  And when you see someone else in danger of leaking out all over the place, you know what to do, don’t you?”

“Yes, God,” I say.  “The older ones help the younger ones.”

How’s your jar?

How about the jars to your left and right?

Don’t just watch the treasure leak out.

James’s Blog: No Rest for the Righteous.

James’s Blog:  No Rest for the Righteous.

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt about spiritual warfare, it’s that Satan is no gentleman. He isn’t one to say, “Hey, James has had a really rough week. Let’s go easy on him for the moment.” Quite the opposite in fact. There may be times where the conflict is more overt, and I am more aware of it, but rarely do the guns actually stop.

As a preacher, I know that the build up to a sermon can be a time of conflict. The act of preparation, with the temptation to take shortcuts or play fast and loose with the truth, feels like a battle. When we’re working towards something specific, we can be conscious of the spiritual struggle, wrestling with motives and prayer, but it’s a mistake to think that after the event there’s a ceasefire. As soon as the seed has landed on the path is the best time for the birds to swoop. The moment the preacher sits down is as good a time as any to push him into pride or drag him into despair.

However, as relentless as the Enemy is, God is even more so. The truth doesn’t ever stop being true. There is not a moment where resisting the devil doesn’t cause him to flee from us. I don’t stop being a child of God because I’ve had a bad week. We are always vulnerable to attack but, equally, the Enemy is always vulnerable to the truth.

James’s Blog: The Cost of Discipleship.

James’s Blog:  The Cost of Discipleship.

“Go away!” squealed the Ghost.  “Go away!  Can’t you see I want to be left alone?”

“But you need help,” said the Solid One.

“If you have the least trace of decent feeling left,” said the Ghost, “you’ll keep away.  I don’t want help.  I want to be left alone…”

The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis Read more

James’s Blog: Writers Wot Have Influenced Me – Part 5 of 4

James’s Blog:  Writers Wot Have Influenced Me – Part 5 of 4

Flannery O’Connor

“She had never given much thought to the devil for she felt that religion was essentially for those people who didn’t have the brains to avoid evil without it. For people like herself, for people of gumption, it was a social occasion providing the opportunity to sing; but if she had ever given it much thought, she would have considered the devil the head of it and God the hanger-on. With the coming of these displaced people, she was obliged to give new thought to a good many things.”

The Displaced Person, Flannery O’Connor Read more

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