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: Handling the Psalms with Care.

James’s Blog:  Handling the Psalms with Care.

It’s been said that the Bible is a record of God speaking to Man, but the Psalms are a record of Man speaking to God. This, I think, is one of the reasons why they have a universal appeal. Psalm 23 is the Amazing Grace of the Bible; it’s the one that everyone knows. The power of the Psalms is that they put into words the inner music of the human soul. Whatever is going on in you, there’s a Psalm that you can read and say, “Me too!” 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: Writers Wot Have Influenced Me – Part 2 of 4

James’s Blog:  Writers Wot Have Influenced Me – Part 2 of 4

Richard Wurmbrand.

In the early days of my faith I read Tortured for Christ by Richard Wurmbrand, a Romanian pastor who was imprisoned during the rule of Communism. The book left an impression on me, and in those early days, if I wasn’t in a Christian bookshop browsing through the Adrian Plass books then I would have been in a Christian bookshop browsing through the Richard Wurmbrand books. His biographical account, In God’s Underground, is absolutely fantastic. As Brian Clough might have said, “I wouldn’t say that it’s my favourite Christian autobiography, but it’s in the top one.”

One book that I read was Alone with God, which is a collection of his sermons. What makes them unusual is that they are sermons that Wurmbrand preached while he was in solitary confinement. As part of a routine to keep his sanity, he would preach a sermon in his cell every day, despite the fact that no-one was there to hear it. He says that he reduced their main points to rhyming couplets, and by doing so he was able to memorise the bulk of them. When he was released, one of the things that he did was write them down, and he claimed that he managed to recall 348 of the 350 that he had preached.

I find that feat of memory amazing enough, but when you consider that many of the sermons include extensive quotes from the Bible, Shakespeare and other sources, it becomes truly incredible. I can’t help but think that the published articles were a lot more polished than the original sermons. Regardless, Alone with God was a very significant book for me when I was a younger Christian.

Many years later, while I was in Australia, I read a copy of the first collection of sermons that he wrote, the functionally-titled Sermons in Solitary Confinement. I’d found Alone with God to be insightful, powerful and influential. Sermons in Solitary Confinement. Blew. My. Mind. The sermons in this collection were raw and uncompromising in a way I’d never encountered before – these were the ones that read like sermons conceived in a oppressive hole deep in the Romanian earth. There is something incredibly unnerving about having a man bleed all over you, but you can’t doubt for a second the strength and meaningfulness of his convictions. These sermons came from a dark place, but they blazed in a way that deeply challenged and comforted me, despite the distance of both years and geography.

One thing that had a large influence on both my writing and my personal walk was the book’s introduction. Wurmbrand was obviously aware of the potential controversy of some of what he was writing so he warns the reader that he will find some disturbing and uncertain things within. This is not a place to find solid, consistent theology and doctrine, he warns, rather these are the outpourings of a soul in agony. But then he writes the following about those days: “I did not live on dogma then. Nobody can. The soul feeds on Christ, not on teachings about him.” Wurmbrand survived his ordeal not because he knew a lot of theology, but because he knew Christ. Do you understand the difference? In that one line he put into words the yearning of my soul since the first day that I had bowed my head before my new master.

If there is one goal in my writings, it is this. I do not want people to learn about Christ through what I write. I want them to encounter Christ. There is a crucial and important difference, and I am thankful to Richard Wurmbrand for his writings over the years, in which he demonstrated that distinction. It has helped to make my faith real, rather than hypothetical.

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