Great Expectations

jesus-christ-triumphal-entry-949744-wallpaperIt just dawned on me what it was that led to the people who called for Jesus to be crucified only a week after hailing him as the Messiah… their expectations!

We are often told from pulpits that the Pharisees and the religious ‘establishment’ in Jerusalem ‘turned the crowd against Jesus’. That has an element of truth in it, but it wasn’t in just one week that it was achieved. The people had been fed a diet of expectation all their lives. It was the received wisdom, from specific interpretations of their scriptures, that the Messiah was about to come, but he would be a warrior king who would supernaturally eject the Romans from Judaea and ‘restore the kingdom’ i.e. just as it was in King David’s time.

That was why they cried ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ (Matt. 21:9). They were expecting this revolution, this spiritual freeing of their nation from oppression. They had heard many things, and many rumours about this prophet from a far-off part.

Imagine their disappointment when he actually did not challenge the Romans, nor be drawn on any questions about how they should ‘deal’ with the Imperialists. Instead he continued in his teaching he had always maintained… that he wants his followers to be servants, to everyone, and to love all, even enemies! It wasn’t a battle cry, or a call to arms, or anything remotely like that. No, it was the opposite! This man they had been told was coming even arrived on a donkey! The donkey and colt were ready for him to use for his ‘triumphal’ entry, just as Zechariah had prophesied, so these people were not properly informed on scripture after all. The first thing Jesus did on arrival? He went to the Temple and drove out those who had commercialised his religion! His attacks were not on their conquerors, but their own religious leaders. He just could not have been their glorious Messiah! So when the call came for his death, they were only too eager to join in.

What are our expectations of Jesus? Do we decide in advance what we think he will do for us, or who or what he will be to us?

Or do we just accept who he iswhat he is, and most importantly, what he asks us to be, and to do? It’s all there in our gospel records, so why the false expectations?

Grace be with you.

Who is my neighbour?

good_samaritan

It would appear that the commandment ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ which goes right back to Leviticus (19:18) has always drawn the question “who is my neighbour?” as if we all want to be sure that we can include those we want to love and exclude the rest. Many commentators often try to whittle down the possibilities to produce a smaller category. Isn’t that what we all want? There are plenty of people around that I just have no desire to show love to! I do not like being told to extend my loving embrace beyond my own circle! It’s only human nature. Meeting that question head on, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan (which has come to be lost on us to some extent since we no longer view Samaritans with the same contempt that first century Jews had). Though if you wish to take a deeper thought from the parable that I never realised myself, take a look at the ‘grammatical tweak‘ Jesus performs.

Reading a daily devotional from my own church the other morning, I was struck by a thought. The devotional highlighted a legal statement made under tort law (which seeks to define cases eligible for civil lawsuits). It came from Lord Atkins in a 1932 case, where he answered that perennial question ‘who is my neighbour?’ in a very concise and helpful way:

“The answer seems to be persons who are so closely and directly affected by my act that I ought reasonably to have them in contemplation as being so affected when I am directing my mind to the acts or omissions which are called in question.”

If we accept this very concise and very apt description, then practically everybody we coilovemankindme into contact with is our neighbour, whom we are to love. This could be anybody that any ‘act or omission‘ on my part would affect, so not even offering a smile to someone could be an omission by me that otherwise would have affected that person: Even that person who cut into my lane last week and nearly swiped the entire wing off my car. I can assure you I did not give her a smile!

If you think this only applies to acts you do, not ‘omission’ of acts you did not do, think again:

If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

James 4:17

Though I’ve long known that the above is the true definition of my neighbour (and I have grave reservations about anyone trying to narrow it), I now realise that in the 21st century, this must go even further! Social media has turned the ‘global village’ into a thriving metropolis. Those who used to be people we sent emails to in order to be faster than traditional ‘snail mail’ can now be easily messaged or tweeted instantly, at any time or place in the world (with internet connection). I can raise someone up or put them down with my all-powerful words, and that someone could be a total stranger to me thousands of miles away. Only now they are no longer a stranger, they are my neighbour! I have forged relationships with new people on Facebook, friended friends of friends, and entered into lengthy debates over faith and politics with other commenters on various blogs, articles or Facebook posts. I have maintained relationships with people I no longer meet in person, and rekindled old ones. This new world of communication makes our need to be salt and light all the more potent, dynamic, consuming and precarious! Especially when you consider the pitfalls of the absence on social media of non-verbal communication!!

May we consider carefully every word we type and ‘send button’ we hit!

connect-social-media-blue

Grace be with you.

What do they mean; ‘unelectable’?

I come across this word in the media every now and then. It is applied to Jeremy Corbyn, and to a lesser extent to Bernie Sanders in the US (but maybe I just don’t see it stuck on Sanders as often due to geographical location). I wonder what they mean. It would imply that a nation just could not elect them to the top office, yes? Then I think; “hold on, if enough people cast a vote for them, they will be elected!” and realise that ‘unelectable’ could not mean what it says. Who would be truly unelectable? My neighbour’s cat! As far as I know, and I’m pretty sure I’d be right, you have to be a human in order to stand for election; other than that, I’m hard pressed to think of any other reason. Even a prisoner languishing in jail can stand!

No, they must mean something else. They must be stating that to elect such a person, one would need a whole nation of eejits or at least enough people of a very low IQ to make such an election possible. Then I think; yeah, there are plenty of those voters around. Donald Trump, for the best example, would require a very large mandate from uninformed airheads in order to beat the ‘unelectable’ tag. As would Nick Griffin. For me, to a slightly lesser extent, would be Nigel Farage. However, I’ve yet to come across the label being applied to them! Is this an attempt to preempt our thinking and make us believe that certain politicians are really someone we, the people, must not vote for, since they are just quite simply in that category: unelectable!?

As far as I recall, we are in the democratic Western world. We can elect whomever we like. We do have a vote to use in an election, and can use it regardless of any label or slur or ridicule anyone else applies to our chosen candidate. Trump may seem to me to be ‘unelectable’ but the truth is that, were enough US citizens  to cast a vote for him (were enough Republicans to have nominated him), he could become the next President of the USA! Therefore he is certainly not unelectable. He’s an absolute moron, and probably has the potential to be the most dangerous politician of the 21st century, but he’s no more unelectable than anybody else. Just like Adolf Hitler! Anyone who can vote for him is welcome to, if they so choose; that’s democracy.

As for me, I shall choose to vote for whomever I choose to vote for, whether or not they carry an ‘unelectable’ label chosen by someone else!…. No! Hold on! I forgot for a second there that I live in the totally disenfranchised political backwater of Northern Ireland, where the choice is between Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck (or Goofy if you’re brave enough). I’ll probably just write ‘NONE’ across my ballot. Again!

Grace be with you.

In Praise of Taxation

Here’s a brief argument: it is short, believe me, simply because it’s simple and clear, and it comes from a little news item that was debated today on a discussion show. While all my ‘right-leaning’ friends have an inbred disdain for government taxation, they miss the basic value and merit that good taxation and spending brings to society i.e. everyone who lives under such a government.

Amidst all the austerity cuts we are facing, it is clear it’s not just ‘welfare scroungers’ and ‘wasteful councils’ who are being dealt the bad hand. It is slicing away practically everything that we hold dear in our society, but if you have people in power who have no real belief that society ‘exists’, what were you expecting? Perhaps the most incredible of these cuts is in policing, since even the most venomous libertarian who cries for minimal taxation and minuscule government wants protection from the criminal elements in our society (sorry for using that ‘defunct’ word, but what else should we call it?). As the rich grow ever further away from those beneath them, one inevitable result is that criminals come calling to their houses to rob them of their vast hordes of money. Yes, they will face criminal elements, or even those who have found themselves choosing crime over any other means of eking out a living since being law-abiding members of society (oops!) doth not butter any of their parsnips.

The wealthy borough of Hampstead in London has seen a rise in violent crime, but also saw their 100-year old police station close due to cuts! So the residents (well, some of them) have decided they could get together and pay £13/ year each for three extra officers for their borough, but these officers would not be allowed to be diverted to any other events outside their borough if needed. The basic story is here. The debate then inevitably ensues that it may not be right that wealthy boroughs can simply pay for extra policing while poorer boroughs have to put up with less police, and cannot even call upon the police from the wealthy boroughs if things ever get bad. Then the proposal is made that maybe these boroughs should be allowed to pay in a ‘contribution’ to policing in general, and they get half the extra officers and the rest of us get the other half. Maybe their borough postcode could get a gold star?

Then the next question, of course, since this is not taxation but a voluntary choice, is “what if one millionaire in their mansion pays this charge, but their neighbour doesn’t?” They shouldn’t all get that gold star! Surely that would also mean that the ‘extra police officers’ would only be allowed to attend to the houses of those who have paid! They’ll not be allowed to apprehend a criminal on the lawn of the neighbour’s house! So… this becomes compulsory, if the majority of residents decide they want it, and so you have a local tax! It’s the only way it would work!

Hold on! Why don’t we all just agree that we do all live in one big society (‘Big Society’ – anyone get the sheer irony?), and accept that we all just pay our taxes and allow the revenue to cover things like law and order and the criminal prosecution service, and our roads and street lighting, and our children’s education, and… is this not just plain common sense?

Grace be with you.

The Prodigal Father

prodsonI awoke early this morning. This is very unusual for me; I only find it hard to get to sleep on rare occasions, but once I do, I usually need to be awoken. It’s one of the duties my wife performs diligently, believe me!

One of the things that awakens you unexpectedly is pain. This time it’s not the pain from my wounds received on the operating table, but it is pain in my chest, since that is where the heart lies.

In my book, I used a wonderful thought from a devotional that said we should change the name of one of the best known parables. It is called the parable of the lost son in the NIV and other translations, but we have known it as The Prodigal Son for a very long time. I used to think that ‘prodigal’ meant lost, many have thought it to mean sinful, but it simply means wasteful, reckless or lavish. The devotional I read suggested we call it The Prodigal Father since it was the father who was reckless in giving his wayward son his inheritance too early and lavish in treating him so well on his return. This new angle was a wonderful one, and the parable has so many angles; I even used the elder brother in an earlier blog.

I knew at the outset of my book that I would face trials, because the search for true contentment means that I must learn, and my Father in heaven seeks to teach me. I have faced a lot lately, and some I never foresaw; some unexpected, like awaking in hospital facing death after a brain haemorrhage, some physical, like my recent operation and recovery, some nightmares, like the awaking again in intensive care and the flashbacks and paranoia I underwent (only briefly, praise God, but the memories remain). The last time I sought contentment, I asked God to stop teaching me, since I couldn’t take it any more. Now I’m stronger, but I’m at the point of asking him again.

Now this is a pain I cannot bear; it is worse than all that has gone before. Now I know, Lord, I understand! The Prodigal Father lost contact with his beloved son, and stood looking to the horizon every day for his return, never knowing. How long, Lord? How many years did it take for that return to happen? We are not told in the story, but I want to know, because my own daughter has gone, cut the ties, changed her number. A father-daughter relationship is special; I honestly don’t think a mother really ‘gets it’!

The parable is there to tell us about the pain that a loving father went through, so we’d know just how our heavenly Father weeps for his lost children who have gone their own way, and never pray to him. I feel it now, Lord, just as Hosea had to suffer an adulterous wife to grasp how you felt about your children going after other gods, I now know exactly what that Prodigal Father felt. I know what you feel. Please stop the pain now! This hurts too much, my emotions are in a total mess. I want the lessons to finish. Please.

But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2Cor. 12:9)

Grace be with you, readers.

Don’t let fear.

Jim-Hurst-3

 

I haven’t blogged in a while, I’ve been so consumed with my book; I even took my laptop when I went into hospital for my operation, so I could continue with it in between the painkillers. One thing I knew for sure in writing my book was that I would be setting on a quest for this ‘contentment’ and as such, would be facing trials of all kinds, in order to learn and apply lessons, first to myself, then to my readers. What I did not foresee was a trial that was so instant, yet so devastating, that I briefly lost my faith. Yes!

I have a framed poster on the wall of my study, of a rock climber on the wall of El Capitan in California, with a caption: “Don’t let your fears stand in the way of your dreams.” I relate to it very well, since I was a keen climber in my youth. I never reached the truly dizzy heights of the likes of El Capitan (above), the Troll Wall (or even our own local Fair Head), or anything like that, but it was the very fear while climbing that gave it the ‘buzz’ that drew me to it. You ignored such fear and just climbed!

In life and faith, I have learnt to treat fear in the same way. I believe that as I reach for the things that I believe God wishes for me (and I’m not talking about material things!), then I should be as adventurous as a climber tackling a new climb. You see, the opposite of faith is not doubt, it is fear. Doubt creates an opportunity for you to question and seek answers and rethink, regroup your thoughts and maybe even change your stance, and then God can reassure you and make your faith yet stronger, but fear…. that just paralyses your faith.

So it was that I was in a confused state after my second operation, coming round from anaesthetic in a place I had nightmares about six years ago; Intensive Care, the last place I’d ever wish to be, and everything left me. Well, not true, actually – God never left me, but my faith did, and if there is one major lesson I take from this personal ‘worst trial ever’ that I underwent, it is that fear is very powerful, and nothing can overcome it, except God alone. My ‘faith’ left me, but my faith is a thing that I construct around God, based on my life experiences, my doctrine, my church, my fellow believers, my own thoughts, but it is not God himself.

I have much to write on this in my book’s last chapter, and there is much to discuss, but for now, please recognise what things in your life you may think are of God, but are not. Even the most precious things, like my worship ministry, my church of supportive and loving brothers and sisters, my Bible, even my ‘faith’… all these things can easily become substitutes for my heavenly Father and his presence in my life. Hold onto HIM, and nothing else. Then when fear comes, you will have at hand the very thing you need to defeat it.

What fear(s) do you have that challenge you right now?

What thing(s) do you have that may well be holding a place in your heart that actually (maybe very innocently) exclude God from his seat there?

Grace be with you.

Fight the battles that count…

Some blogs are just WORTH reblogging!….

Watching / Laughing / Dreaming

sheila

Today as a large proportion of the Christian community reacted online to news of a local court ruling, I received news on my Facebook feed of an all together different tragedy.

In Uganda last summer, the group of young people I was with were served diligently by a beautiful young woman called Sheila. A woman in need with a young family to support, Sheila left some of her children for a few months to come and work with the Kasozi family who were providing her with much needed income for her family. Sheila worked for us tirelessly. She cooked for us, cleaned for us, washed our clothes and served us in every way she could find. While language was a barrier, she built strong bonds with our team, learning our names, hugging our girls and laughing at our fashion.

And while we could never match the depths of her service…

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