ASPECTS OF FAITH -PART ONE

ASPECTS OF FAITH
 
ADVANCING, FROM ONE POINT, TO ANOTHER.
At what point does ‘possibly’ become ‘probably’; ‘acquaintance’ become ‘friendship’; ‘hope’ become ‘certainty’, and so on?  Perhaps the undefined milestones along life’s journey, are greater in number that we might have supposed; and every bit as determinant as the more clearly-designated markers, by which we usually gauge direction, stages reached, and distance yet to travel.

ANDREW.
He is mentioned just three times in the Gospel According to St. John; but, on each occasion, we find him introducing someone to Jesus; most notably and importantly, his own brother, Simon, called Peter.
 
ANSWERED PRAYER.
A garage proprietor, who claimed to be an atheist, said: ‘I live next-door to a minister of religion; who made a whole lot of noise early one morning, trying to get his car to start. As I looked out of my window, to see what was going on: he put his hands together, and said a prayer. He was all dressed up; like he was off to somewhere important; so I thought that I had better help him if I could. In less than five minutes, I got the motor going nicely. 
     The minister thanked me; and I said: 'I saw you praying just now; but what you really needed was a mechanic who knows about motors, and their funny ways'. Then he said to me: 'But have you considered that you were the answer to my prayer’, and that made me think, I can tell you’.
 
An Aspect of The Ascension.
Ordinary human and social thinking; important though it is in its proper place can get us rather muddled, in terms of spiritual thoughts about Heaven; and what goes on in that realm of being. We think of this earthly realm, or state of being, as reality: and use various images of the heavenly realm, or state of being, as pointers, to how this life might one day become.
       However, Jesus taught that true reality is in heaven; with this life, even at its best, being no more than an image or pointer to how things are in that other realm of being. It is not what could be going on here; that saves us to eternal life: but what is actually going on there, as Jesus Christ still ministers mercy, love and grace to the world.
 
ASCENSIONTIDE. 
Ascension-tide, has come, and gone. Did we note the significance of the season? The historical Ascension Day, marked the withdrawal of the in-the-flesh Christ (Mark 16:19. Luke 24:51. Acts 1:9). It also prepared the way for the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (John 16: 4-11). According to scriptures, the Ascension event took place on the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:12) after a period of forty days; during which the Risen Christ appeared to his followers in order to encourage them, and to give them further teaching (Acts 1:3). Although John's gospel record has no account of the event itself, there are references to it (at 6:62. and 20:17) and there are other references to the event throughout the New Testament.
     Read, for example, Ephesians 4: 8-10. Hebrews 7:26. Hebrews 8:1. I. Peter 3:22. and I. Timothy 3:16. If we peruse these, and similar texts; we find them to be very encouraging. The theological significance of the Ascension; consists in the fact that, through the event; all the qualities and attributes of Christ's human nature were taken into heaven.
     As with many other aspects of our faith, we may not fully understand the significance of each divine action or, in this life, unravel the mystery that remains; despite our best efforts to understand; but this should in no way discourage us. If God could be contained within the compass of our intelligence and understanding, then he would be no greater than our own minds, and no God at all. So, to a large extent, our knowledge of God is compassed about by mystery, but the mystery is of no real hindrance to our faith.
     In attempting to understand a bit more of what the Ascension means to us; we may be encouraged by the following aspects of it. Search as we will through the Bible passages relating to the Risen, Ascended and Glorified Christ, there is not even a hint that, at the Ascension, our Lord laid down any of his earthly attributes and titles. Instead, it is a teaching of the Church, and a part of our Christian faith that, at the moment of the Ascension, and for the first time ever, a TRUE MAN entered into that realm, or state of being, which we call 'heaven'.
     In the Old Testament (Psalm 103: 13-14a) we read these words: ‘As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those that fear him, for he knows our frame’. The whole of the New Testament, adds a new and wonderful dimension to our understanding of God's knowledge of 'our frame'; for our Lord has been, and, in a very real sense, still is, one of us. Colossians 1:19 says: ‘For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell’.
      In his earthly ministry, our Lord closely identified himself with mankind and, more often than not, used the title 'Son of man' when speaking of himself. If, as we believe, Christ took his full humanity into heaven, and with it all those attributes and titles which he bore on earth, then the words of Hebrews 4: 14-16, are not only theological statements to be pondered; but also an important part of that firm base of assurance upon which our Christian lives are built. And here are those words. ‘Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weakness, but one who, in every respect, has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we might receive mercy, and find grace, to help in time of need’.                                                                                                                
                           ASSUMPTIONS AND ATTITUDES. 
Christians are as liable as anyone else, to make all sorts of assumptions that may, or may not, be well founded; and then assume attitudes relating to those assumptions. Once the assumption is made, and the attitude becomes adopted, there will be a tendency to weave these things into the patterns of established thought and behaviour, and to leave them unquestioned from then on.
     Of course, some assumptions will not remain unquestioned; simply because they relate to particularly important areas of life; and because the passage of time will eventually prove the assumption to have been right or wrong. For example, the family and friends of a healthy young woman; and the young woman herself; especially if she is very attractive; may assume that she would, one day, marry and have children. But she may never marry or, if she does, may be unable to have children. Given enough time and the right circumstances, events will show whether or not the assumption was well founded. That is a simple and straightforward example; but, where relationships are concerned, life tends to be complicated, rather than simple.
     It is often so, that assumptions, based upon little, or even false, information; and with even less experience to act as a corrective: can be taken into new situations and relationships, and spoil things at a very early stage. Unless the situation is considered to be important enough; or the new and developing relationship be considered interesting enough, and worth pursuing; we may not make the effort of closer examination; being content with the assumptions just as they are; right or wrong.
     Many assumptions are no more than conclusions; 'jumped to' through something seen or heard; but not closely examined. Early one afternoon, at closing time, a man collapsed outside a public house; in a busy, London street. Those pedestrians who stepped over or around him; or who crossed to the other side of the road, rather than get involved; probably assumed that he was drunk. The woman who telephoned for an ambulance, and accompanied the man to the hospital, discovered the truth of the matter; that he was a diabetic; long overdue his insulin injection; and that it was from that cause, that he had collapsed.
     Assumptions that are based upon little, or even false, information: are unlikely to be recognized as such, by those making them. Nor does the process stop there, with the one doing the assuming. Some people; consciously or otherwise; not only manage to convert an assumption into a ‘fact' in a remarkably short time: but also, when passing such 'facts' on to others; add a considerable amount of largely imagined, extra information and material.
     It is possible that one of the men who stepped around the body of the diabetic on the pavement, went home to his wife that evening, and said: “I nearly tripped over a drunk at lunch time. He came staggering out of the 'pub, and collapsed right in front of me'. If his wife were to reply along these lines: “It's disgusting, the way some people behave”, then an almost inevitable process, will have been completed: the process whereby an assumption; strongly influenced by prejudice; is made by one person: and then offered an a 'fact' to someone else; in whom it is like to produce a reaction, spiced by their own prejudices.
     Here is an example of how a few bits and pieces of visual information; with nothing else to go on; could lead to incorrect ideas and assumptions; which, in turn, can easily be converted into, and passed on as, 'facts', and produce reactions closely related to preconceived attitudes.
     On two occasions; when passing through a village, on the way to take preaching appointments; I saw a man taking a dog for a walk. The man looked to be about sixty-five years old, but he had a remarkable shock of yellowish hair. Not only that, his facial expression seemed to be one of abject misery as he walked along; with the dog's lead in one hand, and a club-like stick in the other. Nor did the dog look very happy: as it moved along with a crouching-and-creeping, pulling-sideways action.
     Based on those few scraps of visual information; briefly seen from a moving car; I could have made several assumptions. I could have assumed that he lived in the village where I saw him; and that he always walked his dog at ten-thirty on a Sunday morning. I could have assumed that few men of his age have so much natural hair, especially of that colour, and that he wore a wig. Because he seemed to me to look very miserable; I could also have assumed that he was, indeed, a miserable fellow; and, further; a miserable fellow like that is sure to beat his dog. I could have concluded by thinking that it was no wonder that he carried a club-like stick; he used it to beat the dog.   
     But he might have been a visitor rather than a resident, and the occasions when I saw him, might have been the only times when he walked that stretch of road; and it might not have been his dog. However, I could go on making assumptions and, consciously or otherwise; apply preconceived attitudes to them. I could say to myself: “It is no wonder that the National Health Service costs so much, if they waste money on buying blonde wigs for sixty-five year-old men', or, “Instead of walking his dog on a Sunday morning, he ought to be in church”, or, “He ought to be ashamed of himself, beating his dog like that”', and so on.
     In all of this, I might be applying preconceived attitudes to wholly unjustified assumptions. Even if the man does wear a wig, he may well have bought it with his own money. And the half-hour between my sight of him and an eleven o'clock service; may leave plenty of time to take the dog home, and then go to the church. As for his 'miserable' expression, it may have been created by a trick of the light, or, if he really looked like that, his expression might belie a kindly nature, and a love of animals. Knowing that this is only an example of what could be, we might smile at such things; but it must be recognized that making unwarranted assumptions; converting them into 'facts', and then passing these 'facts' on to other people, is not only a human failing, but also a form of injustice.
     People in general do seem to have the tendency to take a few bits and pieces of information; and then lace them together in their own fashion; adding some notions of their own, in the process: eventually arriving at conclusions which can not only become woven into habitual thought-patterns; but also produce certain reactions, when linked with preconceived attitudes. If we allow that 'people in general' includes us, then let us always beware of the wrongly based assumption, and the misapplied, preconceived attitude.
 
ATTACK.
St. Paul's 'Whole armour of God' teaching (Ephesians 6: 10-18) includes: ‘the Sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God'. As with an ordinary sword: so with the 'Sword of the Spirit'. It can be used in attack, as well as in defence: but many Christians; perhaps lacking spiritual daring; develop firmly established concepts of defence, and not much else. The Old Testament offers such images as shepherd, strong tower; shield; refuge, and so on; and the New Testament continues the theme with teachings on protection; help; rescue and deliverance. Most Christians could quote several ‘defence images', but when it comes to 'attack', things are rather different.
     There are comparatively few texts which clearly teach, and illustrate, the cut- and-thrust nature of the ‘Word'; as it relates to life's events and situations; and accomplishes God's intentions. Many Christians would be hard-put to quote more than two of them: say Isaiah 55:1.1, and Hebrews 4:12. Not surprisingly, most Christians develop a defence-related understanding of ‘The Sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God’, and view it as something by which they stand, and are kept safe: rather than (that, too, but also) that with which the Christian moves  forward; and is victorious.

BACK WHERE WE BELONG - WITH GOD.
It can be argued that there is no such thing as dirt: only organic or inorganic matter that is out of its proper place. 'Earth' that is trodden from the garden to the kitchen floor becomes 'dirt’, but it can be swept up; put back on the flower-beds, where, immediately, it become good 'earth' once more. Garden soil is 'bad' in the wrong place, and 'good' in its proper place.
     Something like this has happened to man. His proper place; is in relationship and communion, with God. Out of relationship, he becomes 'bad', or sinful. Restore him to where he belongs, and he becomes 'good' once more. When 'good earth', out of place, has become 'bad dirt’: it still retains the inherent qualities of 'good earth'. If there is enough of it, it can be gathered together, and have a flower grown in it. Something like this is true of man. He may be out of his proper place, and 'bad', but he still retains inherent qualities of 'good', given him by God. Put him back where he belongs; and he is able to grow in goodness and spiritual stature; and develop Christ-like qualities and attributes.
 
BARRENNESS.
King David; only partly dressed; '...danced before the Lord with all his might...(See (2. Sam. 6:14). That was his way of expressing his very great joy in the Lord, at that moment. His wife, Michal, watched him, from a window, and, 'when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart'.
     David was impulsive: a man rich in spirit, and quick to express himself. He was also much blessed by God. Of him, the Lord said, to later generations of kings: 'Walk in my holy ways, as did my servant, David’. Of Michal, there was no such approval. The only further mention of her; is that she was barren, and bore no child. Her attitude towards David may show barrenness of spirit also.
 
BIBLE READING.
A concert-pianist cannot play a great piano-concerto, using just one finger, on eight keys somewhere in the middle of the keyboard. If the pianist is to discover, and express, the composer's intentions and meaning; then all of the music provided, and all the necessary keys, must be used.
     Something like this is true of many Christians, in relation to their use of the Bible. They have a tendency to pick out the equivalent of a one-fingered ‘tune’, which pleases them, from a few 'notes' of the Bible. Such an approach can never bring out the fullness and richness of the scriptures. It is all too easy to pick out a one-fingered 'tune' that pleases, such as God is love but, to be content with that, is to miss those great chords which lie beyond those few middle 'notes', and which declare: 'God is love because...’
 
THE BONDS BETWEEN MAN AND THE EARTH. 
This is a speech delivered in 1854 by the Red Indian, Chief Seattle, in response to a demand that he sell his people’s land to the White Man. The speech is preserved in Washington. It is a moving document, and has been described as the most beautiful and profound statement on the environment, ever made.
 
The Great Chief in Washington, sends word that he wishes to buy our land. The Great Chief also sends us words of friendship and goodwill. This is very kind of him: since we know that he has little need of our friendship, in return. But we will consider your offer; for we know that if we do not sell, the white man may come with guns, and take our land. How can you buy or sell the sky; the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air, and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them? Every part of this earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle; every sandy shore; every mist in the dark woods; every clearing, and humming insect, is holy in the memory, and experience, of my people. The sap that courses through the trees: carries the memories of the red man.
     The white man’s dead, forget the country of their birth; when they go to walk among the stars. Our dead never forget this beautiful earth; for it is the mother of the red man. We are part of the earth, and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters; the deer; the horse; the great eagle; these are our brothers. The rocky crests; the juices of the meadow-plants; the body heat of pony and man - all belong to the same family. So, when the Great Chief in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land, he asks much of us.
     The Great Chief sends word that he will reserve us a place so that we can live comfortably to ourselves. He will be our father; and we will be his children. So, we will consider your offer to buy our land: but it will not be easy, for this land is sacred to us. The shining water that moves in the streams and rivers: is not just water, but the blood of our ancestors. If we sell you land, you must remember that it is sacred; and you must teach your children that it is sacred, and that each ghostly reflection in the clear water of the lakes, tells us of events and memories in the life of my people. The water’s murmur is the voice of my father’s father. The rivers are our brothers: they quench our thirst; carry our canoes, and feed our children. If we sell you our land; you must remember, and teach your children, that the rivers are our brothers and yours; and you must henceforth give the rivers the kindness you would give any brother. 
     The red man has always retreated before the advancing white man, as the mist of the mountain runs before the morning sun. But the ashes of our fathers are sacred. Their graves are holy ground; and so these hills; these trees; this portion of the earth, is consecrated to us. We know that the white man does not understand our ways. One portion of land is the same to him as the next; for he is a stranger who comes in the night, and takes from the land whatever he needs.
     The earth is not his brother, but his enemy: and, when he has conquered it, he moves on. He leaves his fathers’ graves behind; and he does not care. He kidnaps the earth from his children. He does not care. His fathers’ graves, and his children’s birthright, are forgotten. He treats his mother, the earth; and his brother, the sky; as things to be bought; plundered, or sold like sheep or bright beads. His appetite will devour the earth; and leave behind only a desert. I do not know. Our ways are different from your ways.
     The sight of your cities, pains the eyes of the red man. But, perhaps it is because the red man is a savage, and does not understand. There is no quiet place in the white man’s cities. No place to hear the unfurling of leaves in spring, or the rustle of insects’ wings. But perhaps it is because I am a savage; and do not understand. The clatter only seems to insult the ears. And what is there to life, if a man cannot hear the lonely cry of the whippoorwill, or the arguments of frogs around a pond at night? I am a red man; and do not understand. The Indian prefers the soft sound of the wind, darting over the face of a pond; and the smell of the wind itself; cleansed by the midday rain, or scented with pine upon pine.
      The air is precious to the red man, for all things share the same breath - the beast, the tree, the man; they all share the same breath. The white man does not seem to notice the air that he breathes. Like a man dying over a period of many days, he is numb to the stench in which he exists. But if we sell you our land; you must remember that the air is precious to us, and that the air shares its spirit, with all the life that it supports. The wind that gave our grandfather his first breath, also receives his last sigh. And the wind must also give our children the spirit of life. And if we sell you our land, you must keep it apart and sacred, as a place where even the white man can go, to taste the wind that is sweetened by the meadow’s flowers.
     So, we will consider your offer to buy the land. If we decide to accept, I will make one condition: the white man must treat the beasts of this land as brothers. I am a savage, and do not understand any other way. I have seen a thousand rotting buffaloes on the prairie; left by the white man, who shot them from a passing train. I am a savage, and I do not understand how the smoking iron horse, can be more important than the buffalo that we kill, only in order to stay alive. What is man without the beast? If all the beasts were gone, men would die from a great loneliness of spirit; for whatever happens to the beasts, soon happens to man. All things are connected.
     You must teach your children: that the ground beneath their feet; is the ashes of our grandfathers: so that they will respect the land. Tell your children that the earth is rich with the lives of our kin. Teach your children what we have taught our children; that the earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the earth; befalls the sons of the earth. If men spit upon the ground, they spit upon themselves. This we know: the earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. This we know: that all things are connected; like the blood which unites one family. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth; befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life: he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.
     But we will consider your offer to go to the reservation you have, for my people. We will live apart, and in peace. It matters little where we spend the rest of our days. Our children have seen their fathers humbled in defeat. Our warriors have felt shame; and, after defeat; they live out their days in idleness: and contaminate their bodies with sweet foods, and strong drink. It matters little where we pass the rest of our days. They are not many. A few more hours: a few more winters: and none of the children of the great tribes, that once lived on this earth, will be left to mourn at the graves of a people, once as powerful, and hopeful, as yours. But why should I mourn the passing of my people? Tribes are made of men, nothing more. Men come and go, like the waves of the sea. Even the white man, whose God walks and talks with him, as friend to friend, cannot be exempt from the common destiny.
     We may be brothers after all: we shall see. One thing we know, which the white man may one day discover, is that our God, and your God, is the same. You may think now that you own him, in the way that you wish to own our land; but you cannot. He is the God of man, and his compassion is equal for the red man and the white. This earth is precious to him; and to harm the earth is to heap contempt upon its creator. The whites too shall pass: perhaps sooner than all other tribes. Continue to contaminate your bed; and one night you will suffocate in your own waste. But in your perishing, you will shine brightly, fired by the strength of the God who brought you to this land; and, for some special purpose, gave you dominion over this land; and over the red man. That destiny is a mystery to us, for we do not understand: when all the buffaloes are slaughtered; the wild horses are tamed; the secret corners of the forest made heavy with the scent of many men, and the view of the ripe hills blotted by talking wires. Where is the thicket? Gone! Where is the eagle? Gone! And what is it, to say goodbye to the swift pony, and the hunt? The end of living: and the beginning of survival.
     So, we will consider your offer to buy our land. If we agree, it will be to secure the reservation you have promised. There, perhaps, we may live out our brief days as we wish. When the last red man has vanished from the earth, and his memory is only the shadow of a cloud, moving across the prairie; these shores and forests will still hold the spirits of my people. For they love this earth, as the newborn loves its mother’s heartbeat. So, if we sell our land, love it as we have loved it, Care for it, as we have cared for it. Hold in your mind, the memory of the land, as it is when you take it over. And with all your strength, with all your mind, and with all your heart; preserve it for your children; and love it as God loves us all.
     One thing we know: our God and your God is the same. This earth is precious to him. Even the white man cannot be exempt from the common destiny. We may be brothers after all. We shall see.
 
BOLDNESS.
Immediately after Pentecost, the disciples preached, taught and healed with boldness; and the Church began to grow. God's love at work in them had, indeed, cast out fear. Many factors must have contributed to that boldness, but the principle ones, were the God-given authority, courage and plain-speaking that they demonstrated.
BUTTRESS.
I wrote this for the opening page of the Milton Keynes Circuit’s preaching-plan that covered the quarter-year September-November 1996.
 
Dear Friends,
Imagine a buttress, helping to support one of the thick, external, walls of a cathedral. At first sight, it appears to have little or nothing to do with the world-famous dome of the huge edifice; and lies outside of, and beyond, the worshipful spiritual life going on within that great church.
     Under the open sky; the buttress suffers the effects of pollution, weather and time; and, perhaps, doesn’t look up to much. Its stuck-where-it-is, modestly-functional position; makes it hardly noticed by those whose interest in church history; or whose desire to worship God ‘in spirit and in truth’; has set their hearts and minds on vastly greater matters.
     However, ‘doesn’t look up to much’; ‘stuck-where-it-is’, and ‘hardly noticed’ or not: that buttress has a designed place, function and purpose; that goes far beyond what seems to be apparent. Along with many other such buttresses, it supports one of the external walls, which takes the powerful downward and outward thrust, of the dome that dominates the skyline. It may be said that that which catches the public eye and attention; and is deemed to be ‘great’ or ‘important’, is very often supported by the hardly-noticed and disregarded.
     And so it appears to be within some biblical teaching. The Old Testament gives examples of smallness or seeming unimportance, such as the choosing of Israel (Deut. 7: 7+8) and the comparative unimportance of the River Jordan (2.Kings 5: 1-14). In the New Testament, Jesus sometimes reveals the presence of God in the simplest, smallest and often disregarded things. The ‘Widow’s mite’ is the most obvious example (Mark 12: 41-44), but there are many others: the fall of a sparrow; the hairs upon the head; a boy’s picnic lunch; the ‘lilies of the field’; a woman’s tears; a donkey; a piece of bread and so on.
     However, in taking joy that God regards, accepts and blesses the otherwise small, unimportant and disregarded (as demonstrated in the words and actions of Jesus) let us never forget that our negative or positive attitudes towards ‘small’ or ‘unimportant’ things; events; other people, and even ourselves; is not only noted by God, but also helps shape who we really are, for good or ill; and what we are to become.
     Sometimes, we may feel a bit like the cathedral buttress; largely external to what is going on elsewhere, and more than a little knocked about by time, and the demands of life. If this is so; we may take heart from the life and teaching of Jesus, where the seemingly small and unimportant is shown to have place and purpose within God’s great scheme of things; and to be linked to eternity.       
                                                                                                                     
CAPERNAUM.
Capernaum was a small, relatively unimportant town; some eighty-five miles from Jerusalem: lying beyond the immediate interest of the Jewish leaders; who probably did not care about it, so long as it paid its tithes to them, and its taxes to the Romans. In Capernaum, the people appear to have heard Jesus with gladness; to have crowded round him; followed him, wherever he went; and to have received great teaching, healing, and blessing from him. In Jerusalem, things were different. To a certain extent, the Jewish leaders in that city defended a way of life based on a religious system, which they operated; and from which they profited. As much of Christ's teaching proves: the system grew, until it became a looming presence, which shut out much of the light of God's truth. The Pharisees, too, crowded around Jesus: not to 'hear him gladly', but in trying to catch him out. Therefore, most of them received little or nothing from him, in the way of teaching, healing and blessing.
     In the lives of many Christians, there is both a 'Jerusalem' and a 'Capernaum'. Within the one, we may be like the Pharisees: in defending religious system and practice, to the point where some of God's truth is obscured. Within the other, there is always the danger of 'hearing with gladness'; but; like ancient Capernaum; not actually repenting.

CHANGING OUR MINDS.
In the world, and within the Church, can be found the idea that, to change the mind is a sign of weakness. It sometimes is; but it mostly isn't. It is the weak who seldom change their minds; perhaps because they lack the moral strength to do so; or are afraid of what will be thought about them if they do: whereas the strong are able to change their minds, and redirect events, situations, and even their lives; because they do have the moral strength to do so, and are unafraid.
 
CHARITY.
There is plain common-sense in the saying: 'Charity begins at home', for Christian love, and all that it entails, must be at work under our own roof before it can reach out, to touch and bless others.
     Samuel Pepys' diary, shows that he was a man whose many talents and interests, took him out and about: that he was seldom at home: and that, even when he went home, he was often late. As a religious man; Pepys would have been familiar with much of scripture; including Christ's commands to love one another. As a man-about-town, he often ignored what he knew, thus making charity scarce under his own roof. On December 19th. 1662, Pepys wrote: 'Home, a little displeased with my wife, who, poor wretch, is troubled with her lonely life, which I know not how, without great trouble, to help as yet; but I will study how to do it'.
     Pepys knew that his wife was lonely because of his selfish, out-and-about style of life. He must have known how to put things right; but, as the diary-entry says, he didn't want the 'great trouble' of, himself, effecting a remedy. His written intention to 'study how to do it' seems not to have been put into practice. He did nothing to amend his life, and change his wife's situation. Indeed, the last entry in his diary, of May 31st. 1669 includes these very telling words: 'Thence to the World's.End, a drinking-house by the park; and there merry, and so home late’.
 
CHOOSING  -  ACCEPTANCE AND REJECTION.
Many people pick, choose and even reject parts of Christ’s teachings; for their own reasons: such as a lack of understanding of what was said: a lack of willingness to risk the commitment coming out of acceptance of what was said; or that what was said does not suit their set, habitual thinking.
     Perhaps the starkest of all Christ’s teachings in this matter of acceptance or rejection of his word is found at John 12: 47-50.  Many people; including those regularly attending church; believe that there are choices to make, as to what to accept, and what to put to one side. The words in this text; leave no scrap of room for anything other than a stark ‘either/or’ situation of accepting, and living in spirit; or rejecting, and being condemned and damned.
     Closely associated with the above text; is what Jesus meant, when he said: “I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send, accepts me; and whoever accepts me, accepts the one who sent me” (John 13:20. and Matthew 10: 40 + 41) This, too, is an area where large numbers of people, including regular church-goers, feel that they have choices to make, as to what or who they will accept. With little thought that it was God in Christ calling, and sending, the preachers, teachers or leaders in question: some people set about criticizing and harassing them; and may even go as far as to engineer getting them sacked. When this happens, such people will claim to have had God on their side. They fail to see, that there is a clearly implied opposite teaching that: “Whoever rejects the one that I send, rejects me”.
     Jesus taught that swearing oaths is not of God, but of the devil (Matt.5:33-37) but our ‘Christian country’ waived this concept long ago; and Christian people are asked to ‘Swear by almighty God’ about this thing or that; and continue to do so, even though British law now actually allows them to make a simple ‘yes/no’ affirmation instead. If asked; most of those attending churches, would be unable to say what Christ actually said, or meant, in this matter; and so, by neglect if not by deliberate intent, reject his teaching.
     Something very similar applies in the matter of Christ forbidding divorce, except for one, specific reason (Matthew 19:1-9) Again; both State and individuals have set this teaching to one side, because it suits them to do so; and many consider Christ’s words to be long out of date. Another largely rejected teaching of Jesus, is the matter of being ‘born again of the Spirit’ (John 3:1-7) Christ did not speak of being ‘born again’ as an option, but as a necessity: but, because many never take the trouble to enquire as to what is actually meant; the teaching is neglected at the very least, and certainly rejected by many; to great spiritual loss!
     Much the same applies to the whole, wide area of teaching, that the true follower of Christ must be filled with the Holy Spirit; by Christ (Matt.3:1. + Luke 11:13. + Luke 24:49). Again, vast numbers of people in the churches refuse to see the necessity thereof, because; as far as they are concerned; they are ‘managing very nicely without, thank-you!’
     Paul gives a very severe teaching at Romans 10: 1-11, which is based upon those of Jesus at Matt.10: 32+33, and Luke 12:8-10. However, people very largely ignore or reject this. On the one hand, they appear to see testimony and witness as the province of others, and nothing at all to do with them. On the other hand, they seldom, if ever query just what constitutes the ultimate sin against the Holy spirit; or even think of asking whether or not they have committed that sin.
     Many a church-attending woman can tell you more about Catherine Cookson’s novels, than she can about Christ’s teachings. Here are some other matters arising out of Christ’s teachings: that many people know little or nothing about, or else see these things as not applying to themselves, and, therefore, reject them:
 

  • That those who lend things and money should do so without expecting anything in return; not even the repayment of what was lent.
  • That Christian perfection might involve selling everything, in order to be able to follow Jesus fully.
  • That God loves the unlovely every bit as much, and perhaps more than, he loves the lovely.
  • That it is possible for Christians to do ‘greater works than these (shall you

            do) because I go to the Father). 

  • That ‘unless I wash your feet’ (serve you in a humble manner) ‘you have no   

            part of me’. Most Christians could not see, let alone begin to understand,
            what this could possibly mean to them, in this day and age: so, they  
            ignore it, or reject it and, by so doing, lose all the blessing.

  • That Christ’s parables of the ‘Talents’ (commanding the profitable-to-the-

            Kingdom use of things that God has entrusted to us) not only applies to others, 
            but to us, as well.
 
Enough for now: but I trust that all the above shows that it is not only possible, but quite common, for Christians to reject much of Christ’s teaching.
 
CHRIST THE HEALER  A few thoughts on Luke 5: 17-26. 
'And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick'. This seems to be the only text to say that. If, sometimes we may wonder why the power of the Lord seems absent; in this situation or that; we might be prayerful, in the hope that understanding will be given as to why the power of God was not apparent: and the grace to accept, and respond to, what is given.
     The Sick man. We know nothing of him: save that he was a sinner; and that he was loved by Christ: who said: ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven’ Did he have to nag his friends to take him to Jesus?  Was he a complainer?   What kind of faith did he have, if any? At Verse 20, we see that the friends had faith. But, whatever the case, a moaner or not, personal faith or not, Jesus said: 'Your sins are forgiven', and, later, 'Get up, take your mat, and go home'. Of such is the love of God.
     In plays, books and films, where the story is very interesting, and even exciting; there is something going on, which is usually known as 'character identification’. We become the hero, or heroine, in the story. In this biblical story, with whom do we identify, and why? With the kind friends who; in love and faith; take the sick man to Jesus? Or with the sick man on the stretcher: looking up, and in need of help?
     The Bible sees us as both, and together. We have sins that need forgiving; and, perhaps, psychosomatic troubles of body, mind or spirit, that need to be dealt with; as well as ordinary sicknesses. But the Bible shows that, at the same time, we are called of God to be ‘wounded healers’, as we serve and help, and become part of the Lord’s healing ministries to a needy world.
 
CHRISTIAN COMMANDOS. Thoughts relating to Christmas.
To the church at Rome: Paul wrote: ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first, and also the Greek’. Paul clearly saw, and taught, that Christ was God's greatest gift to the needy world that he loved. He also made it very clear that the gospel - the 'Good News' - which Christ both taught and lived out, was the God-appointed way to salvation.
     In his letters; Paul emphasized that the initiative, and the giving, is on the God-ward side: and that, to make both the initiative and the gift fully effective; man must equally fully respond to what the Lord does; and that a true response on the man-ward side; demands a complete receiving of what God offers.
     In the 1960’s, a lot of people with outreach in mind gathered themselves in groups under the title of 'Christian Commandos'. They undertook to call on people where they could find them; rather than waiting in the hope that they might, one day, start going to church. So, they undertook 'Commando Campaigns' up and down our land. In an Edinburgh newspaper; a report was given of such a visit, to a public house in one of the rougher areas of the city.
     The 'Christian Commando'; perhaps thinking it a good opening, to get a conversation going; walked up to a man leaning against the bar, and asked him: ‘If Jesus Christ was here in this pub, and speaking to you, what do you think that he would ask you to give to him’. The man's reply appeared to reveal a greater understanding of the gospel, than the 'Commando’ had. He said: ‘If Jesus Christ were to be here; and was speaking to me; he would not ask me to give him anything. He would want to give me something’.
     Isn't this the very heart of the 'Good News' of the Christian gospel? It tells of what God in Christ has done, and will do, for the world and for us: of what God in Christ has given, and will give, to the world and to us. So many people reverse this. They do so, mainly because they were taught, when small, that our God is a demanding God: who wants us to do this or that thing for him: and to give this or that thing to him. Therefore, they develop concepts of the Christian having to do things in order to become someone; rather than concepts of, first, becoming someone (a child of God) with doing things as a natural and happy response, to what God has already done and given.
         The true Christian way, consists of thankfully receiving from God every gift and grace that he offers; and every scrap of help and encouragement that he gives. When these things are as fully received; as they are fully given; they make our lives as new; enhance and build them up, in ways that make us both greatly blessed; and effective as Christians. Such lives enter more fully upon the great adventure of the 'Upward call of God in Christ', and, having received much, they have much to offer, and to share with others. It is only in giving to others, in loving service, that we truly give anything at all to God.
     If, before we can give to others, we must first receive; and if we know of certain spiritual gifts and graces that we still lack, but need, for effective living: then, like the man in the Edinburgh bar, we must consider what it is that Christ wants to give to us; and then, this Christmas-tide, to ask the Lord for whatever it is, and to thankfully receive it.                                                                             

THE CHURCH. 
The three-legged symbol of the Isle of Man, designed to a circular pattern, looks as though it is turning. One leg has left the ground, and is on the upward: the second leg has its foot firmly on the ground, and the third leg is travelling downward, to eventually take its place. To a certain extent, that symbol sums up ideas of the Church, in the minds of many Christians. The leg that has left the ground represents the 'yesterday' of the Church. The leg with the foot on the ground is its ‘today’, and the one on the way down, is its ‘tomorrow’.
     The symmetrical symbol of the Isle of Man, can undergo considerable change when applied to the Church; and its ideas of its past, present and future. Many Christians think, and say: "Yesterday? Why, it was wonderful! Look at all the people who used to go to church: services and meetings were packed out". In terms of the image, the 'leg' of the Church's yesterday; is of elephantine proportions.
     With regard to today, Christians tend to say: "Yes! Things aren't what they used to be. Look at the decline in membership over the last generation or so. I don't know where it's all going to end". In terms of the image, the 'leg' of the present is seen to be comparatively spindly, and rather weak at the knee. As to the future: "Things don't look good, do they? I wouldn't be too surprised if..." And so, in terms of the image, the 'leg' of the future Church, is seen to be so skinny and weak as to be incapable of fulfilling its Christ-given function and task.
     All of this may be an overstatement of the case; but there is a widespread tendency, to think along lines, which cut against New Testament teachings, about the eternal nature of Christ's promises; and the unassailable nature of the Church, which he instituted and commissioned.
     Most Christians, when they are gathered together in services of worship, meetings and rallies, have a well-developed sense of belonging and sharing; and of a common faith, and all the rest of it. However, this sense of belonging often exists only during the anticipation of meaningful services and meetings, and while they take place. Later, such feelings of belonging can gradually fade; until the next time that there is an opportunity to meet.
 Such a fading-away of good feeling, is likely to result in a Christian not taking an undiminished sense of belonging, sharing and common faith into the events and situations of ordinary, daily life. Where that happens, 'Church' can become an event that takes place occasionally; rather than the context of a way of life that is continually lived out.
     Holiday-makers, visiting Wales, and admiring the scenery, may be told: "Ah, yes! It's beautiful all right: but wait until you see Welsh Wales". Does 'Welsh Wales' actually exist? Different informants will have different ideas as to where it lies. A bit to the west, perhaps; or to the north; maybe beyond those distant mountains, and so on, The only consistently-agreed thing is that 'Welsh Wales' is even more beautiful than what is being looked at; and is that bit farther off.
     Many Christians take a similar attitude to the Church. The hoped-for church situation (whatever it might be) is more desirable than what is presently experienced. It is just that bit farther off at the moment: not quite reachable today, perhaps, but who knows; tomorrow we may get there. When will the hoped-for, more-desirable church-situation come about? When we have larger congregations; or when younger, more energetic people join; or when the offerings are doubled; or when the new minister arrives; or when…
     These and similar ‘Welsh Wales' equivalents, can distract our thoughts from where we actually are: and the ways in which we can be effective: and can lead us into visions of places and situations, either beyond our present reach; or which are quite irrelevant to the fulfilment of our Christian calling.
 
CHURCH: WHY BELONGING  TOGETHER IS ESSENTIAL. 
 The "I don't have to go to church to be a Christian" argument; can be countered in various ways: and here's one thought about it.
 
I love playing football!  Oh! Do you play in a team? No! Nothing like that! What do you do, then: just have a bit of a kick-around with some friends? No! I don't play with anyone else at all. You don't play with anyone else? But how can you say ... Well, what I do is to dribble the ball around my back garden, and then, once in a while, take a tremendous kick at a goal that I have erected. But that’s not football! Proper football must involve others.
 
CHURCH GROWTH.
It is a matter of history, that those churches that begin to move, and to grow, and to become and remain all that God intended of them: follow a classic pattern. This 'classic pattern' remains unchanged in principle: although, of course, many factors, or matters of degree, may exist within the unchanging principle.
     The first step, within any particular church; is the recognition of the need to do something about its situation. What actually needs doing is not really the question at this point, because answers will arise, quite naturally, later on. When the leaders of a church are prepared to do something positive about things, the next step should mark the beginning of action. As they face up to their situation in an honest and realistic manner; and take a definite lead; the following matters and attitudes are likely to arise, and need to be prayerfully worked through.
 
1)- The 'classic pattern' always, without exception, requires a releasing from those things of that church's past which, otherwise, hold it back and prevent it from becoming and being 'The Family of God', 'The Church of Jesus Christ' and 'The Body of Christ'. Only when there has been a releasing from, can there be a releasing into new life and growth; spiritual maturity, and all those other things that a church may desire.
 
2)- This 'releasing from’ will vary from church to church, but there are a great many common factors which link all those churches which have a need to grow. These common factors' will include:
 
·      Habitual thinking, close-linked-with the attitude: ‘This is what we have always done: and will continue to do: thank-you very much!’
·      The ‘over my dead body’ attitude which, so very often, seeks to defend something that is not really worth defending.
·      Threats, along the lines of: 'If you do such-and-such, then I'm going to leave the church’; or, 'I'm sure that I speak on behalf of many people when I say that…’ the speaker often ending with threats of one sort or another.
·      Fatalistic thinking, which argues: ‘I cannot see that there is anything to be done’, or ‘We tried all that in the past. It didn’t work then, and I’m sure that it won’t work now’. That ‘in the past’ may have been thirty or forty years before. Things can, and do, change; and it could be worth trying again.
·      Lack of vision. Such thinking; with inevitability, and sadness, at its heart; is likely to have no greater vision than: ‘I do hope that things will last for a while yet, and that the chapel will see me out in my time’.
·      Defensive thinking: that relates itself to those buildings that have fond memories attached to them: which memories must not be put at risk, by change. The same thinking, may relate to long-established systems, and to particular locations.
·      Possessive thinking, close-linked with the above. There is, often, a quite strongly held sense of possession; a 'this is mine/ours’ attitude; which resents what appears to be seen as intrusion into established territory.
·      Plain unbelief ... (which is remarkably common in modern Christian thinking, and in modern church practice).
·      A lack of love, and little or no concept of what 'fellowship’ actually is: although the word is used often enough.
·      A great, and sometimes almost total, lack of understanding as to what the Lord Jesus Christ instituted and commissioned the Church to become, and to do. Many Christians; to be found in most churches; would be virtually incapable of writing a ‘Job Description’ of the Church’s call of Christ; and its   divinely-appointed function in the world.
 
This list could be made to go on; but enough has been written to show something of the enormous range of the restricting and binding factors that prevent church growth, and, all unwittingly, promote decline. A far more positive aspect of it all, is 'releasing into’. This will vary from church to church (much as the 'releasing from' did) because what the Lord calls us into; is common to all the Church, throughout its membership.
 
An individual church, that is becoming 'released into' a new concept of what Kingdom Life is all about; and expressing the developing concept in terms of its corporate life; will discern the following 'classic' signs of growth within itself.

  • A new, and perhaps for the first time, real, desire for prayer. All historical revivals have prayer at the very heart of them.
  • A new respect for the authority of the Bible. Far too many people see the Bible, and what it has to say, as a matter of opinion, rather than as a word from the Lord.
  • A new, or renewed; desire to read the scriptures with understanding. Few church-attending people read the scriptures in a consistent, disciplined and methodical manner.
  • Effective leadership. It can be said that only a proportion of the Church's appointed leaders; actually give a spiritual lead.
  • A church membership with a vision, and with zeal to fulfil it. Many years ago, a book was published entitled: 'God's Frozen People'. That is, they were 'frozen' in the sense that they wouldn't shift out of the security of their habitual and entrenched positions. Little has changed in the 35 or so years since publication.
  • Interesting, eventful, soul-refreshing worship. Those churches that have released themselves from unfulfilling worship patterns: and have released themselves into the freedom to be expressive: will attract, and hold, lively memberships, and involved congregations. 
  • Continuous evangelism. Only a small proportion of Christians and their churches have a real concept of what evangelism is, and who should be undertaking it. Most use what the Americans call a 'cop-out' approach by insisting that evangelism is what other people do. (Look at ACTS 2: 46 + 47).
  • A vision of communal life. (Look at ACTS 2: 42 - 45 + ACTS 4: 32 - 37) though 'Communal' does not, of course, mean having to live under the one roof.
  • Compassionate service. And this means far more than doing things from a safe distance, such as putting money in a collecting tin, or subscribing to some needy cause; where hands never risk getting dirtied. (Look at the teaching of Christ at Matthew 25: 34-40).
  • Openness to change. Most of the Lord Jesus Christ’s parables and teachings involve change of one sort or another…things such as new wineskins; repent (change away from sin) ‘Behold, I make all things new; the rich giving up their treasure for a greater gain; resurrection….the dead being made alive; accepting the Gentiles (a change, indeed, for the Jewish converts) casting out evil spirits (an obvious change for the good) the talents (another change, in that a servant was allowed to manage his master's affairs) treasure hidden in a field (selling/changing what had gone before, in order to achieve the greater thing) The rich man and Lazarus (a changed concept of rightness and reward); The image of the Vine and the Branches (a new concept of man actually sharing in the qualities, attributes and, indeed, life, of God himself) water turned into wine (image of the lesser becoming as the greater) 'I came not to be served, but to serve' (a changed concept of the powerful becoming humble, not because of force, but as a matter of their own will) etc. etc. Yet Christians, probably more than most other groups, tend to resist change: so strongly as to risk alienating each other.  Indeed, history has proved that some Christians have administered violence and death, in order to prevent change. Question: why do Christians actively resist change?
  • Released resources. It can be argued that every possible thing needed for revival and renewal; either already lies within the church and it members: or else will be given by the Lord, who always provides that which is needful: which can be very different from that which is desired.

 
OTHER POSSIBLE DISCUSSION-POINTS ARE:
 

  • The people need to be taught…
  • ...and sometimes corrected/disciplined.
  • Jesus Christ must always be at the centre.
  • God makes converts: the Church makes disciples.
  • Begin where the people are ... but don't leave them there.
  • A renewed vision of the ‘world' for which Christ died.
  • Holy boldness.
  • Be prepared to be misunderstood.

 
 
 
 
CONFIRMATION…AFFIRMATION…DEDICATION …DECLARATION.
 
Confirmation. The Church, as representing Christ, confirms its belief that belonging to God in love and trust; and belonging to each other, in spiritual fellowship; is the Way that is set before us, by our Lord Jesus Christ. The Church also confirms its desire; through faith and obedience; to do all that it can to create a context of love; acceptance, belonging and sharing; within which the Spirit of God will move, as he, the Lord of Life, touches and blesses all those who truly seek to follow Jesus. The ‘Service of Confirmation’ is a time when the Church gives assent to the good that God has been doing in the lives of certain people in its midst; and confirms its acceptance of them into the full membership of the Holy Church of God.
 
Affirmation is undertaken by those to be confirmed: and not by the Church as a whole. They affirm their trust in God; and in the mercy, love and grace that he shows them, in Jesus Christ. They also affirm their continuing hope in the Lord; and their desire that the Holy Spirit should guard; guide, bless and keep them, as they journey the Way of Truth and Life.
 
Dedication is the special emphasis of those being confirmed: or who are affirming their trust in Christ: as they offer their lives to God, afresh. But, because dedication to God is something in which we all share; the service also becomes an opportunity for all to rededicate themselves to the Lord; through the fellowship of the Church to which they belong.
 
Declaration. In a world that seems to have lost sight of much that is good: we make a public declaration for righteousness, and truth. As individual believers; and as a congregation; we declare the Sovereignty of God, and our belief that, in him alone, is true life: which he gives to us in, and through, and because of, Jesus Christ. Among many other things: we also declare our belief that, in Christ, we are made ‘Children of God, and Inheritors of the Kingdom of Heaven’. May this time of confirmation; affirmation; dedication, and declaration, be a blessing to us. May we, through God’s grace; be a blessing to others.   Amen!
                                                                                                                        
CONFESSION.
Confession is not only telling God, or anyone else, about our sins, and needs: but also an acknowledgement of the truth about ourselves. Such acknowledgement should not be in such broad terms as to say something, but lead nowhere: but in specific terms, which point out particular areas of need, and lead us to do something about these things.
 
CONFINEMENT - AND RELEASE.
Consider a live chick that has grown as far as it can, within the confinement and restriction of an eggshell that pre-existed it - and is ready to hatch. Consider also the Christian, born into a situation where, in terms of the image, there is a pre-existent 'shell' of particular conventions, expectations and strictures; that contain, and may even restrict: just as the un-hatched chick, is contained and restricted.
 
When the chick is ready to hatch, one thing is certain: it does not add anything to the shell, making it more difficult to get out. Instead, it pecks its way through what is there, and releases itself into the freedom to grow, develop, and become a mature chicken. Now we, who claim to be cleverer than chicken, often fail to use the simple, good sense of the chick, as it releases itself from that which restricts, and into the place where its potential can be fulfilled. Instead, and quite often, we add something extra to the 'shell' that pre-existed us, making it more difficult to get out. To do so, is to prevent the development, growth and fulfilment that one part of our nature desires, through giving in to a tendency to hide away within 'shells' of our own making. One Bible-text begins with: 'Consider the ant'. There is just as much reason to say: 'Consider the chicken'.
CONFLICT.
If we were asked: 'Which of you has never experienced conflict and tension?’ probably none of us could raise our hands. To the question: 'Which of you has experienced tension and conflict, because of another person's expectations and demands of you? perhaps most hands could be raised. But what of a further question, which asks: 'Which of you is that 'other person' whose expectations and demands helped cause tension and conflict to someone else?' How would we answer?

CONSENT.
Matthew's account of Christ's Jordan baptism shows John to have been very reluctant to baptise Jesus: arguing that things ought to be the other way round. ‘Then Jesus said: "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this, to fulfil all righteousness". Then John consented'.
   
 In Christ's baptism: so long as John argued, there was no agreement, let alone consent. To consent is not merely to agree. Agreement might be arrived at, through one person giving in to another, for the sake of peace and quiet: with nothing truly mutual about it. The Latin roots of our English word indicate that 'consent' is a shared thing, where the common feeling as to the rightness of something, brings about a mutual acceptance of how to proceed, in the matter in hand. When Jesus stated why the baptism was necessary; John recognized the truth of what was said; stopped arguing, and immediately entered into a common feeling with Jesus, as to the rightness of going ahead, as requested.
    
Then the two of them, bound together by mutual consent as to purpose and action, got on with things. Only then was 'heaven opened', and the confirming word and power of God brought into the situation and event. Perhaps, in our Christian lives, we could do with a lot more ‘agreement', and 'consent'.
 
 
 
CO-OPERATION.
Biblically named people who, perhaps, unknowingly co-operated with God.
Some Christians have narrow and rigid views about the meanings of various pieces of scripture, or the applications of particular doctrines of the Church, and claim that God will only use in his service, those Christians who are not only willing to serve, but who are also ‘clean vessels’, and ‘in a state of grace’. However, the testimony of Scripture seems to indicate otherwise. The following examples are of people found in the New Testament; who, although they might not have been ‘anti’ what God was doing, were either not very ‘for’ it; or else were entirely ignorant of the Lord’s purposes.
 
·      Caesar Augustus. By declaring that the census should be taken ‘at the city of their fathers’ (Luke 1.) he helped create the context of the return of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, in keeping with the Old Testament prophecy.
·      The Tribune. He saved Paul’s life (See Acts 21: 27ff. Acts 23:10. Acts 23: 23ff).
·      Porcius Festus. He was very friendly-disposed towards Paul. (Acts 25: 1-5).
·      The Town Clerk, at Ephesus. (See Acts 19: 23-41).
·      The Centurion. Saves Paul’s life. (See Acts 27: 43).
·      Caesar. (Claudius Tiberius) By the ‘Appeal to Caesar’ rule itself, Paul was not only saved for the moment, but was safely escorted to Rome where, for two years, he held ‘open house’, and witnessed to Christ. (Acts 25: 11-12).
·      O.T. examples are Pharoah, King Cyrus, and even Satan, in relation to Job.
 
CO-OPERATION.
Four men, digging a ditch together, will achieve more in one day's work, than one man digging a ditch, on his own, for four days; and this, because of mutual encouragement and help.
     The Christ-centred community of a church; exercising true mutual concern and care, and acting together in love; will be something like those four men. Such a church will contain more of the Spirit of its Lord; be better able to realise its spiritual potential; and better equipped for meaningful service, in the world all around it; and add up to far more than the sum of the talents of individual members on their own.
 
CULTURE.
On the face of it; culture appears to have been spread by war: because the history books indicate that; for instance; the Roman occupation of Britain, entailed far more support workers, of various sorts, than soldiers. These support workers, would have included architects and engineers: leather workers and shoe makers: cooks: farmers and herdsmen: teachers: doctors: potters: builders: lawyers: secretaries: silversmiths: artists: surveyors; and representatives of just about every other facet of social life, as it was then. From this, it might be argued that; although war, and the forceful occupation of a country; creates the context within which huge, social change can take place; and a legacy created: the acceptance and real spread of a culture, happens at the pots and pans level of interchange. It has been said that many of the earlier European missionaries; went to far-away lands, with their sword in one hand, and a Bible in the other. However, it is probably true that, neither the sword, nor the Bible, effected the radical cultural and spiritual change, in many countries: as rapidly, and effectively, as the day-to-day lives, and relationships, of the missionaries themselves.
 
DARING, AND  TAKING A RISK.
At Luke 7: 1-10, we read of a Roman centurion, who took a considerable risk on behalf of a sick servant: and whose faith caused Jesus to marvel. The centurion was part of the authoritarian structure of Roman rule over the Jews, who were, largely, a misunderstood and despised people.
     It was already being said of this particular centurion; that he loved the Jews, and went out of his way to help them in various matters. In the story, we find him not only having social relationships with a conquered people; but also addressing one of them as 'Lord'; and asking a favour of him. If all of this was noted, higher up the military scale, and frowned upon: that might have been the end of any hopes of promotion. Indeed, it might have led to demotion; being reduced to the rank of common soldier once more.
     The centurion might not have asked anything at all of Jesus: but he did, through being daring enough to take a risk. He took hold of two great matters; a true desire for the good of his servant, and a firm belief in the authority and power of Christ; and put them to work, through creating a context where the desired blessing could come into being. Does our faith ever have a touch of spiritual daring about it? Are we prepared, where necessary, to take a bit of a risk for the good of another?
 
DELIGHT.
Is our Christian faith an ongoing delight to us? If not: why not?
 
 
 
DENOMINATIONAL OVEREMPHASIS.
In George Orwell's 'Animal Farm', the animals took over the running of the place; worked out the doctrines of their new position, and painted a credal statement on the barn wall: 'All ANIMALS ARE EQUAL'. In due course, the statement became considerably altered by the addition of the words: 'BUT SOME ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS'. The qualifying clause created a profound 'them and us' effect on life at the farm. For too many years; divisions within the Christian Church have been fostered by similar, them-and-us, thinking: 'ALL DENOMINATIONS ARE EQUAL, BUT MINE IS MORE EQUAL THAN YOURS'.
 
 
 
DEVOTION.
 
 
Devotion is very closely related to ‘Quiet times; personal devotions, and spiritual development’, but the subject can be dealt with that much better, with the title the other way around.
     Spiritual development may be the desired end-result; but it must also be the necessary spur, or trigger, that gets us started in the first place. Most church-attending people have no strong concept of the need for spiritual growth. Therefore, it isn’t surprising to find that up to 80% of them, do not avail themselves of some of those ‘means of grace’ which make spiritual development not only possible, but highly likely: such things as regular bible-study; devotional reading of the bible and other important Christian books; prayer-meetings; fellowship meetings; regular attendance at services of worship, especially Holy Communion; meditation and daily ‘Quiet times’.
     Without a concept of the need of spiritual growth and development: it is very unlikely that ‘Personal devotion(s)’ will be on their agendas. The ‘Concise Oxford Dictionary’ gives the prime meaning of ‘devote’ as ‘Consecrate; give up exclusively (oneself, person, thing, especially one’s life, abilities etc.) to (God, person, pursuit, purpose) and it defines ‘devotion’ as ‘Devoutness; devoting; divine worship’, and ‘devotions’ as ‘prayers, worship’. These words are rooted in the Latin for ‘vow’, with a particular emphasis upon ‘oath of loyalty’.
     Without a strong concept of the need of spiritual growth and development; and without a personal devotion to God, ‘Quiet times’ have little or no relevance in the thinking, planning and daily lives of many people; who appear to take the view: ‘That’s alright for those who like that sort of thing’, and, unwittingly perhaps, help create an unnatural division in a congregation, between ‘those who will, and those who won’t’. Going back to the original title, and beginning again, we can ask: ‘What are peoples’ reasons, for wanting a ‘Quiet Time’?  Are they responding to a recognized, genuine need, or feeling that they should comply with expectations of what a Christian ought to be doing? How determined are they to finish what they start to do; and how prepared are they to invest time, energy, and even a bit of money into seeing things through?’
     Is the great difference between ‘silence’ and ‘quiet’, recognized?  Many, perhaps even most, people never take, or make, opportunities to create quiet for positive, significant reasons. One significant reason is the deeper discovery of self, for it may be said that, knowing where we start out from; and what we set off with, makes all the difference in the adventure of discovering God.
     The word ‘meditate’ is sometimes used to describe part of the activity within the event of a ‘Quiet time’; and some people believe that, through meditation, thoughts come to mind in a divinely given way. This may be so on occasion but, in its most proper application, the word and the action have a particular, human meaning and responsibility. ‘Meditation’ is rooted in the Latin for ‘measure’; and the ‘Concise Oxford Dictionary’ defines it as: ‘Plan mentally...design...exercise the mind in relation to a particular matter; especially a religious one; contemplate upon a matter or subject’. How many people, unguided, can actually find, or create, the discipline to undertake meditation in the meanings outlined above?
     What guidance is used; or even readily available? The amount of daily, Christian material available on radio, television or the newspapers is diminishing. The amount of Christian material to be bought, or sent for, appears to be increasing. The potential ‘Quiet-timer’ has to be a bit wary, informed and disciplined. Wariness may be needed because; as with other parts of human life; there are some companies that are guided more by profit-motives, than by the furtherance of the Kingdom. ‘Quiet-timers’ could find themselves signing up for extensive and expensive courses: purchasing unsuitable material; or else buying far more, than they require, or are likely to use.
     Being informed; is necessary: because almost all of Christian material is produced with a slant to it. The ‘slant’ may affect the production of the material, or else determine its best application. For example ‘Every Day with Jesus’ is produced by the ‘Campaign for World Renewal’, and their material is very evangelical in general; is teaching-orientated in particular (rather than devotional) and can be used by individuals or groups. On the other hand, the International Bible-Reading Association produces booklets that are ‘middle-of-the-road’ in terms of theological stance: are more for personal use than for groups; and are knowledgeably devotional in emphasis. Other materials include: ‘Daily Bread’ bible-reading notes; The Roman Catholic Missal; The Methodist lectionary; The C. of E. ‘Daily Office’, prayer-lists, etc.
     Self-discipline can be ‘passive’, where it requires the believer not to say or do a particular thing, for whatever reason, at a particular time: but active self-discipline is essential if: ‘God, who began a good work in you, will carry it on to completion’. (Phil.1:6.) This is because God; who seems never to work alone in such matters; requires our full co-operation, if the desired spiritual growth and development is to be achieved. What are the observed, felt, and experienced results of such active self-discipline?
     What the individual believer receives, or develops, during such devotional disciplines; is available to be added to, and shared with, the fellowship of the church or group: to its good; strengthening, and blessing, and as a positive Christian witness. At its very best, the ‘Quiet-time’ is more than an event which take place each day, and which has a beginning, a middle, and an end; but is an actual, continuing and developing part of daily living; affecting the whole of Christian life and its expression.
 
 
DISCERNMENT.
Being a modern rendering of the ‘Guidelines’ that are attributed to St. Ignatius Loyola.
 
1)- If the core of our being is directed to God; then the decisions we make, which are in harmony with that fundamental desire, will resonate in our moods and feelings; bringing some measure of peace, strength and tranquillity. The destructive forces outside and within us, will oppose this fundamental desire; causing agitation, sadness and inner turmoil.
 
2)- If the core of our being is turned away from God; any decisions we make, which are in harmony with that fundamental aversion, will comfort and console us; while the creative forces outside and within us, will trouble us with stings of conscience.
3)- Creative moods and feelings are to be distinguished from destructive ones; not by their pleasantness or painfulness; but by their effect. If going with the mood or feeling, leads to an increase of faith, hope and love; then it is creative: if it leads to a decrease of faith, hope and love, then it is destructive.
 
4)- Moods and inner feelings, whether pleasant or unpleasant, which draw us towards God, are called ‘Consolation’; and moods and feelings which draw us away from God, are called ‘Desolation’.
 
5)- In desolation, we should never go back on a decision made in a time of consolation: because thoughts and judgements that spring from desolation are the opposite of those that come from consolation. It is, however, useful to act against the desolation, beginning by examining the cause of it.
 
6)- In desolation, remember two things:  a)- Know that the desolation will pass.  b)- If we can keep the focus of our attention upon God; even if we have no felt experience of God’s presence; God will teach us through desolation. It is as though, in desolation, God gouges out our false securities; revealing God’s Self to our inner emptiness, so that God may fill and possess it.
 
7)- In consolation, make the most of it! Acknowledge it as a gift, freely given, to reveal a deeper truth of our existence, namely, that we live always within the goodness and faithfulness of God. In consolation, we have had a felt experience of this truth. Let this truth become the anchor of our hope, in time of desolation.
 
8)- We should face the fears that haunt us.
 
DISCIPLESHIP.
In the gospels and epistles, there are over 250 references to 'disciples'. Most of them relate to the followers of Jesus. Some few relate to the followers of John the Baptist (John 1:35) and the followers of the Pharisees (Mark 2:18). The last and smallest group of references are those where the Pharisees state that their discipleship lies with Moses and the law (John 9:29).
     So, the New Testament shows that there were two categories of disciple: those who followed a living and present teacher, with something to say and to offer: and those who followed a long-established system. Once in a while, Christians may do well to ask themselves: ‘Where does my discipleship lie?’ 
    It could be said that John the Baptist was not a disciple of Jesus because, although he had a very special reference to Christ, he appears not to have 'sat at his feet', and come under his direct teaching. Even so, John's active ministry can be looked at in terms of discipleship; and can be seen to have had three distinguishing marks. Firstly, it was prophetic, secondly, it was self-effacing, and thirdly, it was Christ-pointing.  Perhaps these three things are the distinguishing marks of all discipleship of the Lord Jesus Christ.

 
 
 
 
 

 
DISCOVERING THINGS FOR OUR SELVES.
What the Bible teaches us is, of course, very important, but the form in which the teaching is presented can have its own importance. This is true of Christ's 'Good Shepherd' teaching. (John 10: 1-18). It is not strictly in the form of a parable, for a parable deals with similitude: the truth contained within a brief story, that has a particular point to it; which point leads hearers and readers to recognize the greater truth, beyond the story. The 'Good Shepherd' teaching is not really didactic either; for it is not presented in a ‘that’s how it is: take it or leave it' manner. As the text itself makes clear (v.6.) Jesus used a 'figure of speech'; which consists largely of metaphors: the metaphors containing images that are not immediately applicable, and which have to be looked at carefully, if the intended meaning is to be discovered.
         In using cryptic language with a veiled meaning, Jesus was not being awkward, and deliberately making things difficult for his hearers. Instead, he was probably being very helpful, in this way. What is taught in parable form (The truth is something like this or that) or what is taught didactically ‘That’s how it is’ may not be fully received and understood: going 'in one ear, and out of the other', and soon forgotten. But the truth that is arrived at through personal search, effort and discovery, is far more likely to be received, understood and retained. Perhaps Jesus offered veiled-speech teaching in the hope that his hearers might discover the truth for themselves.
 
DISTINCTIONS AND CONTRASTS.
Now and again; as we read the Bible; distinctions and contrasts might be noted. One such is the contrast between distinctive spiritual ‘ups’, and spiritual ‘downs’, affecting various people. The ‘ups’ were nearly always because of the special presence of the Holy Spirit, in situations and events; and the ‘downs’, if they may truly be called that, are mainly the result of the human spirit, caught in a struggle of some sort. A few texts, relating to Jesus and others, may make both the contrast, and the point.
 

  • 'He saw the Spirit of God ..... lighting on him’. (Matthew 3:16b).
  • ‘Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit’. (Luke 10:21).
  • ‘…called Simeon ... the Holy Spirit was upon him'. (Luke 2:25b).
  • 'There he (Jesus) was transfigured before them...'. (Matthew 17:2a).
  • St. Paul wrote of being '... caught up to Paradise...'. (2.Corinthians 12:4).

 
There are few such texts, but plenty to indicate that high points of spiritual experience were rare enough to be commented upon. If that is true of the ‘ups’, it was true of the 'downs' as well.
      ·    'Paul's spirit was provoked' (R. S.V.) or 'distressed'. (Acts 17:16).

  • 'Jesus was deeply moved in spirit’. (John 11:33).
  • ‘Jesus was troubled in spirit. (John 13:21).
  • 'Jesus sighed deeply in his own spirit. (R.S.V.) (Mark 8:12).

 
Again, not many texts: but enough to indicate that low points of spiritual experience, were also rare enough to be commented upon. The point to be made is that, between the apparently rare moments of ‘up’ or 'down’, were the days, weeks, months, and even years of ordinary, getting-on-with-it life, and ministry.
 
DIVISION.
Our Lord Jesus Christ said: 'Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand'. (Matthew 12:25). St. Paul asked: 'Is Christ divided?' (1. Corinthians 1: 13). And common-sense theology asks: 'Can a divided church offer the undivided Christ?'
 
DOING THE WILL OF GOD.
Many otherwise good and sensible Christian people; knowing something about the will of God, and making honest attempts to live according to that will; can easily slip into making a basic mistake. The mistake comes about when a man attempts to obey God's will when it suits him to do so; and to ignore divine commands and sanctions; again, when it suits him.
         A journalist lived in a block of flats in Crane Court, just off Fleet Street. The flats were designed for single, and reasonably well to do people; and, included in the signing of the lease, was agreement to a set of 'house rules'. One of the rules was that no resident should keep pets of any kind. That suited the journalist because, as he said at the time, he did not like cats or dogs, and thoroughly disagreed with the keeping of birds in cages.
         Then, one day, in the pet-department of a famous London store, he saw, and took a fancy to, a very small alligator. He bought it; smuggled it into his flat; kept it in the bathroom, and called it 'Albert’. Up to that time, for some two or three years, he had kept the 'no pets' house rule, because it suited him to do so. From that time on, he broke the rule: again, because it suited him to do so.
     Christians know that the new and spiritual life that they receive from God, through Jesus Christ, is rooted in believing obedience. So they must be watchful and careful, lest they, too, obey only when it suits them to do so.                                                                                           
 
 
DOUBT.
Many Christians equate doubt with unbelief. This is not surprising, because the Bible says so, in some places: especially at James 1:6. However, not all doubt is of that negative, unbelieving sort. Indeed, there is a sense in which honest doubt, in search of an answer, is a very positive thing: expressing a particular lack of knowledge or conviction, but a willingness to find out, or be converted.
     Two scientists, undertaking an experiment, share a doubt; and hope to share its resolution, through a successful outcome to their joint work. A successful experiment may, of itself, open up other avenues of enquiry, and also their associated doubts, with even wider areas of discovery in view.
 
So it can be with the Christian faith. Honest doubts, properly tackled, are part of the seeking and finding, asking and receiving approach to God; that Jesus both taught, and encouraged. For the Christian, the resolution of an honest doubt can be a very good and helpful way of opening up new, and wider, areas of exploration and discovery.
 
Ecclesiasticus 38: 1-15.
Verses 1-3. Honour the doctor with the honour that is his due, in return for his services; for he, too, has been created by the Lord. Healing itself comes from the Most High, like a gift from a king. The doctor’s learning keeps his head high; he is regarded with awe by potentates. 4. The Lord has brought medicines into existence from the earth, and the sensible man will not despise them.  5. Did not a piece of wood once sweeten the water, thus giving proof of its virtue? (See Exodus 15: 22-25).  6. He has also given men learning, so that they may glory in his mighty works. 7+8. He uses them to heal and relieve pain; the chemist makes up a mixture from them. Thus there is no end to his activities, and through him, health extends across the world.  9-11.  My son, when you are ill; do not be depressed, but pray to the Lord, and he will heal you. Renounce your faults, keep your hands unsoiled, and cleanse you heart from all sin. Offer incense and a memorial of fine flour, and make as rich an offering as you can afford. 12-15. Then let the doctor take over - the Lord created him too - and do not let him leave you, for you need him. Sometimes success is in their hands, since they in turn will beseech the Lord to grant them the grace to relieve and to heal, that life may be saved. If a man sins in the eyes of his Maker: may he fall under the care of a physician.
 
EXCESS BAGGAGE.
In ordinary travelling and journeying, excess baggage is a very costly thing to take. Where the traveller is unable, or refuses; to pay the extra charge; he or she sorts through possible items, and takes only the truly essential ones. So it is with the spiritual journey of faith. Many a Christian carries costly, excess baggage such as wishful thinking, and false hopes; misplaced fears; judgmental attitudes, or an unforgiving heart; plain unbelief, and so many similar things, which the Bible warns us against.
     But commoner even than these things is the 'excess baggage' of an inner conflict, such as lack of a proper self-love and self-respect, or an unwillingness to forgive self. All 'excess baggage' is very costly; in terms of spiritual vision grown dull; of faith having lost its cutting-edge; of joy gradually going out of a life; and in relationships with God, self and others: that do not deepen, and ripen. None can really afford to pay such 'excess baggage' charges, yet so many do.
 
 
EXPERIMENT. 
A question is, usually, an appeal to knowledge, experience and authority. Where none of these suffice; there remains what may be called ‘an appeal to nature’: which is more generally known as an experiment.
     In terms of spiritual desire; but where there is no previous knowledge of, let alone experience of, God: and, therefore, little or no concept of divine authority: the adventure of experiment, lies wide open to exploration. Such an experiment can act as a catalyst, enabling a process that gives entry to the divine presence. When and where this has happened; and no matter how rudimentary they may be; knowledge and experience have come into being; and divine authority will soon make itself known.
 
FACING UP TO SITUATIONS. 
When a man turns away from a problem, barrier or hindrance; standing between him and a desired goal; then, as a natural consequence, he also turns away from the desired goal itself. When that man decides to face up to the problem, barrier or hindrance then, again as a natural consequence, the desired goal lies before him. This may sound too obvious to say, but the obvious is often overlooked.
 
FAITH – A DEFINITION. 
“Faith takes an eternal truth; accepts it; and acts upon it as a present fact”.
 
FAITH IS A SHARED EXPERIENCE. 
Many people, for this reason or that, move away from the shared life of the Church, and lose something of their faith. They realize their loss, but seldom do much about getting back into the sharing-situation, where faith might be restored to them.
     They are something like ordinary earthworms, in our gardens. For this reason or that, worms often leave the comparative safety, and shared life, of the flowerbed; and venture out on their own. They move onto the dangerous areas of tarmac paths, and concrete backyards: and the likelihood of a safe arrival, at the place where they were heading for, is not very high. On dry and windy days, such earthworms will get only so far, before their bodies dry out, and they can proceed no farther, and die. Or else, on wet days, they will get caught in puddles and drown. On both occasions, wet days or dry, they risk being eaten by birds.
     It is something like that with Christians who drift spiritually; who leave the shared life of the Church, and wander off on their own. In terms of the image, many of them will 'dry out’ spiritually, and die. Or else they will ‘drown' in the troubles of the world, or get ‘eaten up' by desires foreign to the nature of the true Christian. How might we help such people; known to us; to come back within the 'flower-bed' of shared Church life, where their faith might be restored?
 
FAITH, HOPE AND LOVE - A Paraphrase of I.Corinthians I3.
If I had the gift of being able to speak in any language that exists, in heaven or on earth, but knew nothing of love; and, therefore, never spoke it out; then what I had to say would have an empty ring about it. If God shared His secrets with me; allowed me to see those things that he is planning, and gave me the gift of prophetic utterance; and if my response to what I was shown and given, was not one of love; what good would it do?
     If I had such faith that I could, at a word, move a mountain; but was not, myself, moved by love; then where is the benefit to anyone? If I gave everything I had to the poor, but was not motivated by love; or if I risked everything for the sake of the Gospel, but did not live out the message that I preached; then there is no true gain for anyone.
     Love is very patient and kind. It does not look for a return, but continues, even in the face of misunderstanding or rejection. Love is never jealous. It does not envy what others have; or what others are called to be, and to do. Nor does it boast of what it is doing; but, instead, quietly and graciously pursues its course. Love is not forceful, demanding its own way. Therefore, it never becomes irritable and resentful. Because it is not resentful, it does not bear any grudges.
     Love takes no pleasure in other people's downfall into sin. Instead, it rejoices whenever truth and goodness prevail. True love overcomes all obstacles in its path. It will always find a way. Love implicitly believes everything that is good and beautiful. It is prepared to trust, to hope, and to endure, whatever comes. Love puts up with anything and everything, rather than to admit defeat. It knows no other way, than to keep on being its own true self.
        
All the gifts and powers that God has given us will, some day, come to an end. All, that is, except love. We need such gifts and powers now, because our knowledge of God and of His purposes is far from complete, and these things help us to understand, and to grow. Just as, when we were little children, we knew little, but gradually came into knowledge; so we now grow spiritually. What we are now; is different from what we were: and what we shall become; will be different again. When we have been made perfect and complete, by God Himself, and have been brought to full spiritual maturity, we will have no need of special gifts to enable us to know Jesus Christ, for we shall be with him in the presence of God. Then all truth will be revealed to us in the fullness of its beauty.
     Meanwhile, there are three great and enduring qualities at work in our lives; faith; hope, and love. Faith gives strength and direction to our lives; hope keeps us going; but love is the greatest of the three; for true love binds all other good things together. Love is, at the same time, both the reason for our very existence, and the goal of our spiritual journey.                                                                 
 
FAITH.
What is faith? Perhaps it cannot be pinned down, examined and analysed any more than, say, electricity can be. Electricity has formed an essential part of the universe and the world, from the beginning. Man has recognized the power of electricity; learned a lot about it; harnessed it, and used it in many ways for his good and comfort. However, all of the millions of words written and spoken about electricity relate only to its generation, transmission and application. Not one word in all that great mass of words actually defines what electricity is. It has, so far, defied definition, as also have magnetism and gravity; forces that are essential to our physical lives. Faith, though vital to our spiritual lives is, perhaps, also beyond definition.
     Consider the jellyfish. Because it has no backbone, it is entirely dependent upon, and at the mercy of, outside forces. Winds and tides carry it about. It may remain safe in the water; but it may get washed up on the beach, dry out, and die; it has little or no decision in the matter. We do have a backbone. It holds the various parts of us together; helps give us our particular and distinctive shape, and the power to move. We are not carried about by the winds and tides of life, because we have a backbone that enables us to put decisions into action.
     And so it is, with the Christian faith. It may be said to be our spiritual backbone. It holds the various parts of our lives together, and gives us that particular and distinctive Christian shape.
     Faith gives us mental, moral and spiritual strength, and the power of decisive movement, along the ups-and-downs of life's journey. Our physical lives may still be influenced by outside forces but, unlike the jellyfish, we can do something about them. Through the exercise of our faith, we are able to implement our decisions, and to overcome otherwise insurmountable things, and situations. We can decide for God, righteousness and truth. We can decide for Christ, and make our way forward in faith. But, to 'decide for Christ' is one thing; to keep going may be another. Consider the jellyfish.
 
FAITH’S APPLICATION.
In relation to their faith, many Christians are like thermometers. A thermometer contains within itself a certain amount of mercury, carefully measured, to perform a particular task. Beyond that, a thermometer has no control over the degrees of heat or cold that are registered; the mercury simply going up or down, in response to the outside influence of the temperature affecting it. By the grace of God, all Christians have a certain amount of faith in them: lovingly given, to perform particular tasks. Here any comparison with a thermometer should end; but often it does not. Many Christians appear to have no control over their faith, and what it might register; simply allowing it to go up or down in response to outside influences in the world all around.
     Have you ever considered that your faith may, already, be a perfect thing? So many Christians, when thinking and speaking about faith, concern themselves with quantity, but perfection lies in faith's quality.  If you utterly trust; not in yourself, nor in other people; not in the big, wide world: nor in the Church and its practices, not even in the Bible, as such; but in God alone; then how might your faith be bettered? If, through vesting it in God alone, your faith cannot be bettered, then surely it is already perfect in its quality; and quantity will, quite naturally, take care of itself.
 
FEAR.
A fear of the Jews, rather than of God; is clearly stated in John 9, where we find the story of the man born blind. Jesus healed that man, and restored his sight, on the Sabbath. Not quite sure about what had happened; the Jewish leaders tried to find out, apparently in the hope that, if there had been a Sabbath healing, they could use the event to work up a damaging case against Jesus.
     Sending for the man who had been healed; they questioned him; but did not like his answers; attempting to twist his words around, and to say that the whole thing was a fraud, because he had never been blind in the first place. When the man’s parents were sent for; they answered the first questions honestly enough. 'Yes! This is our son'. 'Yes! He was born blind’, but when it came to the further question: 'Then how does he now see? they became frightened. Sidestepping the opportunity to witness to the love and power of Jesus the Christ: they gave a cleverly evasive answer about their son being old enough to speak for himself: doing this, because they feared the Jewish leaders, and were afraid of being banned from the synagogue. What might we have done, in their place?
 
FEAR, PERHAPS.
Why is it, that a Christian man or woman can far more readily accept abstract, mystical concepts; than risk getting caught up by, and involved in, the practical, concrete application, and experience, of some of them?
     In week-to-week church life; congregations will think upon; claim as true; read scriptural passages dealing with; and sing about; such concepts as justification by faith; redemption; spiritual rebirth, resurrection and eternal life: things that, largely, they can neither see nor touch: and yet, have little or nothing to do with physical and practical benefits promised by Jesus, and experienced by the very early Church: such things as divine healing; miracles, and prophecy.
     With little or no demur: they will accept the intangible, with its occasional tangible expression: yet reject; almost out of hand, the tangible; with its concomitant intangible blessings. Perhaps fear is the root cause: and this, at two levels: fear of things not working: with the possibility of faith being damaged, as the outcome; and fear of them working: and producing changed understanding, involvement and commitment, as a result.
FOCUS.
An astronomer can focus his telescope on a star but, in order to keep it in sight, he must continually move the telescope; otherwise the movement of the earth will soon have him focused on something different, or even on nothing at all. So it is, with the Christian life. When we first turned to God, and focused our lives on him, we learned that we must continually adjust the 'telescope' of our faith, to keep him in view; otherwise the 'pull' and demands of our humanity, can soon have us focused on something else, or even on nothing at all.
 
AN ASPECT OF FORGIVENESS.
'It's a great life, if you don't weaken', said a cheerful-sounding milkman. Straightening the crates on his float, and lighting a cigarette, he was obviously ready for a bit of a chat. In a bantering manner, he touched upon many world problems and national affairs, and 'put things to rights'.
     Then he became rather more serious. Pointing at my dog-collar, he said: “I wouldn't have your job: not with people like me around'. It was not long before he got to the heart of what he wanted to talk about. He said that he had a problem; a deep and ongoing sense of guilt; because he was unable to forgive someone who had done him harm. ”I do try”, he said, “But I never really manage it. I'm not much of a Christian, am I, if 1 can't forgive that chap?”
 
He was obviously troubled, but further discussion showed that he was suffering not so much from an unforgiving spirit, but more from an unreliable memory. What had happened was that, at the time when he had forgiven the one who had harmed him, he forgave only what he remembered at that moment. Therefore, because of a faulty memory, some parts of the situation remained un-forgiven.
     Later on, memories came to him, which, once again, stirred up the old hurts. Because of this, he thought that he must be unforgiving; and, therefore, considered himself to be a failure as a Christian. Many people make a similar mistake because they do not recognize the importance of memory in the whole process of forgiveness. In situations like that experienced by the milkman; where unbidden thoughts intrude, and trouble the mind; there may be no need at all for feelings of guilt. A few moments of quiet reflection; might show that the hurtful memories, which appear to indicate a bad and unforgiving spirit, simply relate to those aspects of the original event; which were forgotten at the moment when forgiveness was offered; and which, as a consequence, remain un-forgiven.
     In such case, the sensible thing is not to be upset with self, but to recognize what is happening; and to forgive each aspect of the original event as it is remembered until, eventually, all is remembered and all is forgiven.                                                        
                                                                                                                                                         
FORGIVENESS (WITH AN EXTRA ‘N’).
Forgiveness can remain a concept; a hope, or a postponed intention; until it is put into action; at which moment, it becomes an event; and from which moment, it becomes a matter of history. Immediately; from that point in a personal history; the possibilities of forgiveness, become the actuality of forgiven-ness.
 
FORGIVENESS.
The older form of the Lord's prayer asks 'and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us' The words 'as we' imply that we desire to be forgiven in exactly the same way that we forgive others. If this is so, and if we forgive others in part only; or grudgingly, or with strings attached; then we ask the Lord to forgive us in just that same way; partly, grudgingly, or with strings attached. If the Lord were to answer that particular petition as asked, we would not be fully forgiven. If the Lord refuses to answer as asked, in that way, we would remain completely unforgiven. Either way, we would be in a bad case. However, if we forgive others fully: with no grudge held on to, and no strings attached: then our prayer becomes as effective for us, as it is for them.
 
FORMALITY.
A petition within the 1936 form of the Methodist Covenant Service asks: 'Forgive us, we beseech Thee, the formality of our prayers...' Perhaps there ought to have been a further petition, asking forgiveness for the formality that often exists, even within quite small churches, where the same people have been worshipping for years; and yet, a certain formality between them has prevented simple friendships developing, let alone deeper fellowship.
     In a B.B.C. radio programme, two men discussed mushrooms; and their love of cooking and eating them. One man was, by his own definition, 'a quite ordinary chap’; the other was a high-court judge. As the conversation developed, the ‘quite ordinary chap' asked the judge: "How do I address you. Do I call you 'My Lord, or what?" The judge replied: "My dear fellow: mushrooms are far too important a subject for formality, Call me John’.  If mushrooms are: ‘far too important a subject for formality’, how much more so is the Christian faith. 
 
 
FREE WILL.
Because God has given free will to mankind, he seems never to intervene in a manner that prevents this or that thing being done; and to cause something else to be done instead. The Lord may yearn towards his people; and long to do good in them; for them, and through them. He may give warnings about those things that he does not want to be done, or entered into. He may give guidance and encouragement towards the things that he does want done; but the Lord appears to refuse to coerce those who would go against his will; otherwise, he removes the once-given freedom.
 
One very common, and even 'classic' question is: 'If God really is the God of love, then how is it that he allows?’ and a particular evil, catastrophe or tragedy is then named. Obviously, not in all cases, but in many of them, the answer must be: 'Because the Lord has given us free will’. Indeed, not only could this answer be given to many of the questions; but; equally often; a new question could be asked. It would relate not so much to God, as to ourselves; and it would ask us: 'If we really do have such free will, then how is it that we allow .... ?’
 
FREEDOM FROM + FREEDOM TO.
Immediately after Pentecost, the disciples experienced tremendous freedom. They burst from the confines of 'The Upper Room', and out onto the streets; where they spoke and acted as people no longer constricted by the fear of what others may think, say or do; but as men free to undertake what God's love prompted them to do. Since then, there have been many periods where something of that original freedom has been experienced all over again: but, in turn, each historical revival has come to an end. It may be said that each such period of revival began to lose its spiritual energy, and to fade away, in direct relation to its loss of freedom; and that the thing which most constrained and diminished freedom was the onset, and increase, of formalism and respectability.
 
It has been said that 'eternal vigilance is the price of liberty’; and this is surely true of the spiritual freedom that belongs within the Christian life of faith.
 
Most freedoms are double; in that a freedom from something, brings with it a concomitant freedom to; to do whatever it is that the 'freedom from' makes possible, and allows. A man may sit in prison, bewailing his lack of a freedom from: from the prison itself, with all of its restrictions and disciplines. As soon as that man is released, he receives a double freedom: from prison life, to make a new start; to keep out of trouble, and all the rest. If the man in question does not really use the ‘freedom to’, he will very soon get caught up in his old ways; be in trouble again, and end up in prison once more. As soon as the gates close him in, he has lost both freedoms: a ‘freedom from’, because he is back behind bars; and a freedom to, for the very same reason; that he is in prison.
                      Many otherwise good, sensible Christians get caught up in this sort of process. Through faith in Christ, they receive a freedom from the power of sin and death, and the freedom to live a new, spiritual and obedient life. However, through failing to fully exercise the God-given freedom to, they begin to slip back into the old way of life: and risk ending up at the place where they will lose their freedom from once more.