Ash Wednesday: Original Goodness

Today I started reading Tearfund's lent devotional, Alive. The first message speaks into the heart of a sadness I have over humanity being so broken. The message speaks of original goodness, of being made in divine image and the need to reconnect with the divine vision. Two verses are shared that express much needed hope for humanity.

Genesis 1:27 (ESV)
"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them."

John 1:5 (ESV)
"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."

Amen and Amen.


L'arche and Vanier

L’Arche International inquiry into historic sexual abuse by Jean Vanier

L'arche will always hold a special place in my journey. I am impressed they have responded and had the allegations investigated. It truly grieves my soul that one of the founders may have fallen so far. The summary report states that the findings of the inquiry are “based on a ‘balance of probabilities’, and not ‘beyond any doubt’ standard of proof”. Even the possibility of it being true has compounded my recent general loss of faith in humanity. Can we truly trust anyone in leadership, but the Lord? Putting anyone on a pedistal is grave error, and the caste system of "Saints" and supposed non-saint followers of Jesus is so flawed. The only advice I can give is look to Jesus not to man.


The Fruit of Love

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind”; and, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” (New Testament Community Bible Experience (2011) NIV p26)

In Luke it says a teacher asked how to get eternal life. The answer is put forth: Love God and Love others. Jesus says “do this and you will live”. John says elsewhere “whosoever believeth in Him shall have everlasting life.” So it seems trusting in Jesus and loving Him (and others) are joined to each other. You can’t love Him without true faith in Him and you can’t have true faith in Him without loving Him (and inevitably others and even yourself – all made in His image). Without faith you can’t see God and faith (as James says) without works is dead. If one has true faith there must be evidence. There will be fruit and that fruit is primarily love. We are not saved by works (writes Paul). It is all of Grace through faith but we are saved to do good and demonstrate our love for God. 1 John 4 speaks of the importance of love and how without loving others one can’t say they love God.  So not only is faith and love to God connected, but love to God and others is connected also. Love is so important to our faith, indeed  all the fruits of the spirit are important….

(Gal 5:22,23 NIV UK)
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

So let us draw nigh to God in faith and live life full of love!


Happy Valentines!

You (a Valentines Day poem for my beautiful wife Sarah)

Nature, gentle wild things and you. The things that I love so true.
Walk with me through the woods of life. Hand in hand we will take the strife.
Across the valley to the babbling brooks. I will admire your kind looks.
Into the wild lands where nature is king. Our love will make us sing.
My angelic beloved, you are beautiful forever. Intertwined I will leave you never.
Nature, gentle wild things and you. The one that I love so true is you!


The history of Valentine's Day:

Judas, Peter or Jesus? The Kiss, the Sword or the Cup?

Based on an article I wrote for the LCW in 2010.


Jesus Washes Our Feet


Though the phrase alone gives images of a lonely saviour on a tree,
being alone can also be good.

Jesus often was alone in prayer:

“At once the Spirit sent [Jesus] out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days,
being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.”
(Mark 1:12-13)

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off
to a solitary place, where he prayed.”
(Mark 1:35)

“Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”
(Luke 5:16)

“Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.
When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them.”
(Luke 6:12-13)

George Fox the founder of the Society of Friends is an example from history of a man
who spent alone time. “I fasted much,” Fox says, “walked about in solitary places many days,
and often took my Bible, and sat in hollow trees and lonesome places till night came on;
and frequently in the night walked mournfully about by myself; for I was a man of sorrows in
the time of the first workings of the Lord in me…
Though my exercises and troubles were very great… I was sometimes brought into such
a heavenly joy that I thought I had been in Abraham’s bosom…”

For instance, one day when he was walking in solitary prayer he writes,
“I was taken up in the love of God… it was opened to me by the eternal light and power
and I… clearly saw that all was done and to be done in and by Christ, and how He conquers
and destroys this tempter the devil, and all his works…
and that all these troubles were good for me.”

Scripture says “Be still and know that I am God.”
(Psalm 46:10)

Let us withdraw at times to pray alone,
and remember to be still, and know Him as God.

(Also appeared as a guest post on Reflections Online).


The Peace Testimony (Part 4)

- Part 4 - 

Ancient Roots:
The Christian Peace Testimony has its roots in the early church and is therefore the oldest tradition and in my opinion the best. Ringma writes of how there was a dangerous memory among the early church of how the Prince of Peace came proclaiming the kingdom of God and did much good before suffering a cruel death at the hands of the establishment. Also that He never tried to justify Himself or use force to protect Himself in retaliation. Ringma further points out that Christians have found it difficult to follow such an example and not justify, defend or retaliate. The pages of Church history are full of this retaliation. He writes, ‘It is the history of the sword wielded in the name of religion much more than the history of the peaceful dove.’ He goes on to quote the French Sociologist, Political activist and Theologian, Jacques Ellul, who says ‘violence seems to be the great temptation in the Church and among Christians.’ Ringma also reflects that, ‘To be a peacemaker requires more certainty and courage than to be a warmonger.’ Dymond argues that after Jesus’ death His followers did not believe in war, as they believed He had forbidden it. This is why so many of the early Christians chose to die and suffer persecution in the name of non – violence. This was not a minority view among the first followers, but a majority view. Marcellus, a centurion in the Trajana legion, on being converted threw off his belt (that no doubt had his sword on it) and declared himself to be a Christian and no longer able to be involved in war. He was sent to jail for this uncompromising act, at which he stated that it was not lawful for Christians to bear arms. Such a witness is likely to have prompted Cassian from his own legion to also abandon the legion and face the death penalty. Another example of such dedication to Peace Testimony is that Sulpicius Severus spoke of a man called Martin who was taught in the ways of War, but on conversion to Christ gave it all up. He gave it up saying that he was a Christian and therefore could not fight. These are just a few examples of the roots of the Peace Testimony in early Christianity. The question for us today is will we be faithful to the early roots of our faith? Will we follow the Prince of Peace? Will we consider the implications of applying the idea of peace to 21st Century earth? Jesus was betrayed with a kiss and in a way to this day is being betrayed, sometimes with swords too and in a sense he is being crucified afresh. Yet the Prince of Peace takes the cup of suffering, loving even enemies. It is time for us also to choose – The Kiss, The Sword or the Cup!

(This series of posts were originally taken from an article I wrote in my University days and had published in Ploughshares Christian CND Journal)

References used and other useful resources:Acta Martyrum (Ratisborn, 1859)Cadoux, The Early Christian Attitude to War: A Contribution to the History of Christian Ethics (Headley Bros: London 1919)Constitution of the Oberlin Non – Resistance Society (www.nonresitance.org 17/01/09)Dresser The Bible Against War (Oberlin: Ohio, 2006)Dymond ‘The Early Christians on the subject of war’ (1821) An Inquiry into the Accordancy of War with the Principles of ChristianityGillman A Light that is Shining: an introduction to the Quakers (Quaker Books: London, 2003)Kurlansky Nonviolence (Jonathan Cape: London, 2006)Lock ‘Transcribers’ notes’, Pacificus A Solemn Review of the Customs of War (Oberlin: Ohio, 2007)Meyer The Pacifist Conscience (Rupert Hart – Davis Ltd: London, 1966)Molnar A study of Peter Chelcick├Ż’s Life and Translation of from Czech of part one of his Net of Faith (Berkeley: California, 1947)Pacificus A Solemn Review of the Customs of War (Oberlin: Ohio, 2007)Penn Address to the American Indians (1682) cited in Meyer The Pacifist Conscience (Rupert Hart – Davis Ltd: London, 1966)Ringma Resist the Powers (Albatross, 1995)Vanier Finding Peace (Continuum: London, 2003)Water Moral Choices Made Simple (Hunt Ltd, 2002)Whelpley Letters addressed to Caleb Strong ESQ (The Elm Street Printing Company, 1870)


The Peace Testimony (Part 3)

The debate is far more complex than it seems at first glance. There are more than three views and there are differences even within each of these schools. One example of this is that the pacifist school of thought has some who say war is never a resort, whilst people like Martin Luther King and Bonhoffer suggested that in the case of people and situations like Hitler, war was the final inevitable resort. However, these complexities aside, Waters summarizes the beliefs of the Christian Pacifists in this way: “The Christian Pacifist says: To hate those who love us is the devil’s way; To love those who love us and hate those who hate us is the way of the world; To love those who hate us is the way of Jesus.”


The Peace Testimony (Part 2)

- Part 2 - 

The Three Main Views: 

The Peace Testimony is not the only view adopted by Christians. It is useful to know there are three main views that have existed and continue to exist within the Church at large.

1. The Just War Theory: This theory predates Christianity and was adapted by Augustine in the 4th Century. Later Thomas Aquinas developed it as a systematic theology in the 13th Century. He suggested that in order for a war to be just three things were needful: The authority of the sovereign, a just cause and a rightful intention. This idea was then developed further by Francisco Vitoria in the 16th Century and then accepted by many (though not all) of the Reformers. It continues to be a popular idea among both Protestant and Roman Catholic churches (though again not all). The criteria given for a just war are: a) it starts with an official declaration of war b) is a last resort c) is just and with good intentions d) is defensive, its aim is justice e) must be free of revenge or hate f) targets should only be military g) it should when all is done have saved more lives than it killed h) only be fought if a clear victory and product of a just outcome can be met. Therefore, most wars have not even lived up to this standard, let alone to the standard of any Peace Testimony.

2. Relative Pacifism: This theory suggests that in some cases governments may choose war. However, Christians of such a state would not take up arms. They can work in weapons factories, but never use weapons. Those who hold to this theory also tend to believe that the use of Atomic or Biological weapons is sinful, but possessing them is needful in order to make nation states feel unthreatened by other nations.

3. Absolute Pacifism: The term pacifist is misleading in a way, as it seems to indicate not taking action. However, many who hold to this Peace Testimony are active in politics and religion. This absolutist view teaches that all war is evil even ones said to be defensive. Verses where Jesus tells His followers to ‘Turn the other cheek’ or ‘Love your enemy’ are often taken to be applied not just to the individual, but also to nation states. Jesus is viewed as the perfect example of Peace in that He was led like a lamb to the slaughter without violent protest (Isa 53:7). The path of non – violence and non – resistance are seen in the life of Christ and sought to be imitated in the life of followers.


The Peace Testimony (Part 1)

- Part 1 - 

On the 12th of March 295 in Thevesta, North Africa a man called Maximilainus stood before a Roman proconsul for refusing to be a conscript in the army. He was ordered to be put under the foot rule as he was in fact fit for service in the army. However, he boldly proclaimed that because of his faith in Christ he could not be a soldier. After continued efforts by the proconsul to make him reconsider he was warned that the punishment for not joining up was death. His response to this displeased the proconsul as he proclaimed that they could behead him if they liked, but he would never choose to be a soldier of this world for he was a soldier of the Christ. The proconsul even attempted to get the young man’s father to convince him of his duty to take up arms, but his father pointed out that he was old enough to make his own decisions. Even after the proconsul pointed out that others who claimed to follow Jesus had joined the army, the young man stood firm on his convictions. After threats of a cruel death he pointed out that as a follower of Christ he would not truly die but go to be with Christ the Lord. Finally he was ordered to be led away to die by the sword at which he said ‘God be praised!’

The above story is one of the first ever recorded accounts of a conscientious objector being martyred from the Christian tradition. Throughout the long history of Christianity there has always been a Peace Testimony, the testimony of those who have denounced war and embraced non – violence.


The Challenging Subject of Suffering in Our World

Free Will and The Light:

It seems to me in our attempt to worship God, we sometimes think of Him as Sovereign in a twisted way, almost like a dictator with absolute power, micro managing everything and every detail of the world. But that would be a world without free will, a world we humans didn't choose (humans, angels, demons, creatures have varied degrees of free will). This means troubles will come for not all use free will for good or in a way that doesn't have lasting negative consequences. There is a world of variables. There are good things and bad things. There is a war between light and darkness.

In a general sense the troubles of the world can be traced directly to our fallen nature. Freely and willfully humans have time and again chosen the darkness over the light plunging the world deeper and deeper into dispair, driving us further and further east of Eden. However, this does not mean every single suffering is somehow an act of divine judgment. In the gospel of John Jesus's disciples ask Him why a man was blind: 

"And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him." (John 9:3 ESV)

Rather than the suffering being a symbol of judgement it was to be a symbol of redemption. Jesus goes on in that passage to speak of how He was the light of the world. He also miraculously heals the man. It reminds me of that line in the hymn Amazing Grace that says "I was blind, but now I see." Perhaps it wasn't just the blind man he was healing that day because that whole passage itself is an eye opener.

Paul's Lot in Life:

No one gets away with having no suffering at all. Even the Apostle Paul had his thorn in the flesh among his many other sufferings (2 Cor 12:7-10). He was a man of great revelations who was kept humble by this trial in his life. This experience, specific to Paul, was what he called a "messenger of Satan to harass" him. That is all we actually know about it. No one knows for sure what this thorn was.

Those who suggest that lack of faith in prayer is the reason some are not healed seem unaware of God's amazing grace within the darkness. Three times Paul prayed the thorn would be removed from him. This was a faithful Apostle and the answer seems to have effectively been "no." It is then that Paul begins to see that His grace is sufficient even in our weakness. The dynamics of Grace and God can often be found in the place of trial and weakness.

Weakness forces us to rely more on God. It pushes us to come to the end of our self and the start of Him. It is unlikely that we will ever put our weight on Him as our sufficiency without some measure of hardship in life.

Amazingly Paul starts to boast in his sufferings and even become content in trials. In that place of suffering God gives great strength rather than direct healing.

"Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me."

Incarnational Love:

We often forget the child in a stable and poor man on a cross bit. The suffering saviour suffers with our world.

There are no easy answers to suffering, and pat answers won’t do. But, what if God was suffering with us incarnationally in a crucified world.

"Where is God now?"

And I heard a voice within me answer him:

"Where is He? He is--He is hanging here on this


Wiesel wrote that about a boy with an angelic face hung by the Nazis. Wiesel's story is a reminder of the cross.

"God lets himself be pushed out of the world onto the cross. He is weak and powerless in the world, and that is

precisely the way, the only way, in which he is with us and helps us. Matt. 8:17 makes it quite clear that Christ helps us, not by virtue of his omnipotence, but by virtue
of his weakness and suffering." (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

“He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases.” (Matt 8:17)

Listening to Him:

Voices in the world may be like Jobs "
friends". They may be entirely unhelpful in our times of need. Some may say, "You just haven't got enough faith!" Others may say, "You need to suffer, you need to learn by it." Still others may say, "Where is your God now?" Rest assured there is nothing new under the sun. Sometimes even well meaning people can be entirely unhelpful about our troubles in life. People want a quick fix. A blanket answer to deal with or answer the problem of suffering in the world. Something they can apply to all situations without regard. Such a blanket doesn't exist.

Like Paul in his suffering and Jesus in His one thing that shines through is listening to God. It was no doubt in conversation with God that Paul discovered the reason and meaning behind his sufferings. In Christ's suffering He said "nevertheless thy will be done." Before listening to the world's voices listen to God's.

Oppression and The Big Picture:

Often people suffer at the hands of others. This is a sad reality in this fallen world. One story that speaks volumes is the story of Joseph who was sold into slavery by his brothers. In the end it gave him strength and he became what was effectively the Pime Minister of Egypt. He told his brothers "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good." God was with him during the proverbial floods and fires of a hard life and turned the evil actions against him for good.

Hebrews 11 verse 35 onwards talks of terrible persecution against God's people during the Old Testament age, but indicates a bigger picture. This suffering and faithfulness was the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things yet unseen. Things fulfilled in Christ. Jesus suffered and indicated that if they persecuted the master then surely they will persecute the disciples. Sometimes we struggle to see the entire narrative that God surely can see. It can fill us with dread at times, and trusting in His mysterious purposes can be hard for such as we are, but fear not he has overcome the world. 

"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." (Ro 8:28)

Creation itself is Suffering:

It can be so hard watching the news or even just hearing about awful things happening around the world. As us who are environmentally conscious will tell you things on earth are not OK. This does not mean we should give up hope, nor does it mean we should just not bother. We must accept "...that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now"(Ro 8:22). A birthing is underway. "Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning" (Psalm 30:5b).

Our Part:

So what can we do, what is our role in a suffering and broken world? It is to be His hands and feet in this world.

To be His and His agents of love.

Here are 17 injunctions for embodied faith:

“True evangelical faith is of such a nature it cannot lie dormant, but spreads itself out in all kinds of righteousness and fruits of love;

it dies to flesh and blood (1);

it destroys all lusts and forbidden desires (2);

it seeks, serves and fears God in its inmost soul (3);

it clothes the naked (4);

it feeds the hungry (5);

it comforts the sorrowful (6);

it shelters the destitute (7);

it aids and consoles the sad (8);

it does good to those who do it harm (9);

it serves those that harm it (10);

it prays for those who persecute it (11);

it teaches, admonishes and judges us with the Word of the Lord (12);

it seeks those who are lost (13);

it binds up what is wounded (14);

it heals the sick (15);

it saves what is strong (sound) (16);

it becomes all things to all people (17).

The persecution, suffering and anguish that come to it for the sake of the Lord’s truth have become a glorious joy and comfort to it.” (Menno Simons) 

If we can even help a suffering world a little then we should, in whatever way we can, even if only by helping one person at a time and little by little.

On that note this song I rediscovered recently is so relevant:

This article has been a work in progress over a number of years. A shorter version of the article was kindly published a number of years ago in The Scottish Baptist Lay Preachers Association Digest. I'm also grateful to Pastor Gordon Wright of Centrepoint Church who recently preached on 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. This sermon had an influence on a number of changes I have made to the article. Listen or download here
Soli Deo Gloria.