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.

James’s Blog: What if it’s Already Happened?

James’s Blog:  What if it’s Already Happened?

Easter is a topsy-turvey time.  Everything is back-to-front.  Suffering brings salvation, death brings life; the established order of things is turned on its head.  Yet we spend so much of our time and energy trying to make things work in a world where we believe that death is stronger than life and that despair is greater than hope. Read more

James’s Blog: Fishers of Men?

James’s Blog:  Fishers of Men?

I’m beginning to come round to the idea that there’s no such thing as a shallow person. I think that we all have depth; we all have significant, meaningful needs. What we think of as a ‘shallow person’ is just someone who hasn’t realised just how deep their identity goes, and tries to meet profound needs with shallow, disposable things. Comfort Eating, Retail Therapy and Binge Watching all work, but not for long. Read more

James’s Blog: On Being Misunderstood.

James’s Blog:  On Being Misunderstood.

The Second Listening Book is now available from Amazon, and I thought that I should mention this in the blog. It’s another collection of short stories and parables, ripe for misunderstanding. Being misunderstood is an occupational hazard for me. I’ve preached at least one sermon where my sophisticated and intelligent delivery (i.e. being too clever for my own good) was taken to mean that I was saying the exact opposite of what I was really trying to say, with hilarious consequences. Read more

James’s Blog: Newsworthy.

James’s Blog:  Newsworthy.

A friend of mine once told me about a small group of young people from his church that had gone and done some praiseworthy good deed. Local television sent a news crew to ask what had motivated them to do such a noble thing. Most of the group gave safe answers, but one girl talked about how her actions were an expression of her faith in Christ. I’ll let you guess which was the one piece of footage that they didn’t use when they ran the story. Read more

James’s Blog: The Discipline of Smiling

James’s Blog:  The Discipline of Smiling

I don’t want them. My spirits are not lifted to see them; my heart is hard and cold.  The visitor at the door is an intruder, wanting to take from me.

So what do I do? What I want to do is communicate to them, in a non-verbal way, that they are not welcome. A scowl. Closed body posture. An irritated tone. All these say “Go Away!” without me actually having to speak the words out loud. It’s not a sin that way, right?

And why not? I am busy. I am in the middle of something, and there’s a fifty percent chance it could be something quite important. I don’t have much time in the day. I don’t have much of myself to spread around. Besides, I’m an introvert. All the blessings that being an introvert bring come at a price to somebody else, and really, I think that they should consider themselves honoured to pay that price.

Weary and unbending, I want them to go away.

But that is not an option. I can’t do that. I know this. I have a Bible. I know all the things that Paul says about loving one another and bearing each other’s burdens and all that, but those aren’t the words that break me. What does it is that wonderful, horrible story in Matthew 14 where Jesus withdraws to grieve over the death of John the Baptist. He just wants a moment to himself. A moment to be with his Father and his thoughts. You understand that, surely. I understand it. I live it.

But the stupid, selfish crowd can’t see beyond their ugly sense of entitlement and their greed and they follow him. They won’t leave him alone, not even for a second. Like everyone, they want a piece of him. They want to be made whole, but their stupid, selfish vision won’t allow them to see what it costs Jesus. They can’t see beyond themselves. Self-centred. Self-focused. Stupid, selfish crowd.

But then…Jesus gets off the boat and sees them. What happens to the God-man? What stirs in his soul? Anger? Pain? Bitterness?  No.  I’ll tell you what it says.

“…he had compassion on them, and healed their sick.”

Give me a pair of scissors and I will cut that verse from my Bible and yours. I would expunge all record of that moment of compassion from history. Do you not see? Do you not understand? Those words will not leave me alone. I cannot sleep. I cannot get peace.  He had compassion while I was angry. He breaks the power of darkness while I send away. So, now you understand why I cannot allow the same thing that drove the crowd to drive me. Now you know why I cannot send them away.

So I submit myself to the discipline of smiling. When they come, I will smile. I may not feel compassion, but I can smile. I may not heal their sickness, but I can smile. I can deny the anger, the resentment and the bile that stirs in my soul and I can smile. I know enough to know that this is how it begins. The smile is the start. I know that one day, if I live this discipline enough, I will look up and see the face at my door and the smile will already be there before I even have to think about it. And I know that another day will come, a day when I will see the face at my door and I will feel like smiling, no matter what urgent task consumes me. I will become my smile.

I can hear the voice now. Liar! No Integrity! No Authenticity! By smiling when you resent you are denying the truth.

And I know where that voice comes from.  I know well, and I rebuke it. He is the liar. His is the call to no authenticity and no integrity.

Listen. John says it best – “How marvelous is the love that the Father extends to us. Just look at it – we are called children of God. And that is what we really are.”

And that is what we really are! So, if that is who I really am, then which action is the one that lacks integrity? The smile or the frown? If who I really am is a child of God, then it’s the anger and the resentment that doesn’t belong. It’s that which is at odds with who I really am. The feelings are the lie.  The smile is the truth breaking through.  The smile is just me being who God has made me. The rest of me just hasn’t quite caught up yet.

So, If you appear at my door and I do not seem pleased to see you, do tell me. I am trying to follow the discipline of smiling.

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