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: 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: Walking with God Again.

James’s Blog:  Walking with God Again.

I was out on one of my walks one evening, and I saw something unusual. Down below me, in her front garden, was an elderly woman, wrapped up against the cold, standing behind a lawn mower. It was a strange sight, seeing this tiny old lady about to start mowing her front lawn in the autumn twilight. Read more

*Award Winning!* James’s Blog: The Man who Sold me a Pear

*Award Winning!* James’s Blog:  The Man who Sold me a Pear

We were in the supermarket to buy a pear for Imogen. She’d been asking for one all day, ever since she saw a picture of a pear in the morning and been reminded that they existed. There were no pears at home, so I found myself in a supermarket, a single pear in my hand, queuing up to pay.

And I felt embarrassed.

It had been a tough six days, on top of a tough six weeks, which had come off the back of a tough six years. I was tired, and had been worn down by the harsh reality of living and moving and having my being in this tainted world. We had returned to the UK from Australia just under a year ago, and were gearing up for our fourth house move in as many months. I had been wearied by the dehumanising journey of simply trying to secure a place for my family to live. I had spoken to countless robotic voices, and a fair few human ones, giving and taking various details. I had been dragged through the mill, weighed on the scales and been found wanting; judged by our absence from the country and by our inadequate income. Whenever I described our situation I encountered awkward pauses, credit checks and patronising explanations as to why we needed to jump through a dozen impersonal hoops. After all that suspicion and contempt, my embarrassment made perfect sense.

You see, there I was, surrounded by shoppers with bulging trolleys and heaving baskets, holding one pear. Do you understand? We were wasting their time, me and my pear. Me, the less than human, offering something that was barely worth their while to sell. What would be the response of the worker at the till? Mockery? Contempt? “One pear? Couldn’t you have at least bought two or three?” Would I even be worth any emotion? It’s a difficult thing to find yourself in a place where the best that you can hope for is to be ignored.

I was called forward to a till. An older man, not old, but older than me, with a scattering of awkward teeth left in his mouth, like Stonehenge after an earthquake. I prepared myself for the worst.

“Just one pear today,” I said, offering my feeble excuse to the God of the Till, hoping to stave off his wrath. If I make light of the situation perhaps I can escape with just a disdainful smile. I think I could handle that.

“Just one pear,” he repeated, but there was no judgement there.

I handed him the fruit. It was duly processed.

“Fifty-four pence, sir,” he said, without a trace of sarcasm.

Was that expensive for just one pear? I didn’t care, because he called me ‘sir’. Did you hear that? ‘Sir’! Me, with my solitary Forelle pear! Surely I did not deserve a ‘sir’, not for fifty-four pence, but it was given anyway.

Emboldened by this kindness, I passed over a five pound note.

“Thank you, sir,” he said, as though the tedium of having to count out four pounds and forty-six pence worth of change was a precious gift that I was passing on. How much effort would he have to expend for my pittance? How much of my fifty-four pence would make its way to his pocket? Surely none, and yet…”Thank you, sir,”

He passed over the handful of gold, silver and copper shrapnel. I received it as though I were receiving a communion wafer.

“There you go, sir. Would you like a bag?”

Nowadays you have to pay for the privilege of a bag, but not then.  In those days, they were free.  And he makes the offer.  A free bag for my one pear!  What generosity of spirit!  What grace!

“No, thank you,” I said, smiling as I passed the fruit straight on to my delighted daughter.

No bag, but the gesture meant more to me than a thousand bags.

“Have a good afternoon,” I said. I meant it.

“You as well, sir,” he replied. He meant it too.

I swear to you, in all seriousness, there were tears in my eyes as I walked from that till-bound saint and out of that supermarket. Until that moment, I hadn’t realised just how bruised I was, and neither had I realised just how hungry I was for a little kindness.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened,” said Jesus, “and I will sell you a pear.”

This post won the 2016 Good Samaritan short story award with ACW and Street Pastors

James’s Blog: The Thin Line Between Love & Hate.

James’s Blog:  The Thin Line Between Love & Hate.

I’ve just returned from speaking at our church on the topic of ‘Love’, because there’s no reason why my first church-based speaking engagement in years should be about something, you know, easy.

I used to work for a charity called Tearfund. I was in the glamorous business of, as it was known back then, ‘Income Processing’. That meant that if you sent in a donation, I was one of the people who made sure that your gift ended up allocated to the right project. You too can ascend to such dizzying heights if you have a degree in theology.

One day we received a letter with a donation. The gist of the letter was that the writer had been saving up to buy a new house, but that God had made it clear to her that she wasn’t to move. The donation was, she wrote, the money that she had saved so far towards her new house. Her donation was a cheque for £80,000.

What I remember most about this was the letter. By the tone, the wording and reading between the lines I was certain that this letter should have had a postscript, and it should have read ‘P.S. I’m not happy about this‘. There was a resigned frustration, a subtle anger in the wording. This was £80,000 worth of painful submission.

One day, an elderly man who had once walked around Palestine with an itinerant preacher and trouble-maker wrote his own letter, and in it you find the words, “This is love for God: To obey his commands.”

What an intriguing paradox; the topsy turvey Kingdom of God in action. Love for God has little to do with feelings, and much to do with obedience. Like the woman who surrendered £80,000, it is possible to be angry with God, resentful towards God, frustrated by Him, but if you do what He asks, then you love Him nonetheless. ‘A cold and broken Hallelujah,’ as Leonard Cohen sang. Hollywood tells us that we should have soaring violins and misty-eyed glances across a crowded room, but true love can be spitting bile as long as it obeys. After all, what you do shows to whom your heart really belongs.

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