Psalm 144:4 Man is like a breath; his days are like a fleeting shadow.

I believe in Hell

I believe in hell!

I have seen hell and it exists.

It isn’t at all where it has traditionally been portrayed and it isn’t what those old paintings or new television shows make it out to be.

It is happening for people right here and right now and we have seen it this last week.

Hell is when gunmen break into restaurants, concert halls, music and sports venues and methodically murder hundreds of people.
Hell is where someone deluded and radicalised blows themselves up killing scores of others.
Hell is when your home is swept away by a mud-slide or a tornado or an earthquake leaving you without clean water or sanitation.
Hell is when you believe your best hope of survival is fleeing.
Hell is when you believe that it is safer in an inflatable dingy trying to cross the sea than on the land where you live.
Hell is where you watch boats filled with expensive consumer electronics sailing past the beaches of your country, the very country who’s land has been pillaged and exploited for the raw materials that make up those devices with no benefit to the people who live there.
Hell is where a child breaks into his own school and guns down 15 other kids in his classroom before turning the weapon on himself.
Hell is where your life caves in on you, your world crumbles and leaves you emotionally burned out, physically drained and spiritually empty.

I believe in hell.

To explore one example: the atrocities we saw in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad last week, there is a relevant parable that Jesus told, recorded in Matthew 12 and Luke 11.

“When a demon goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it swept and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other demons more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first.”
Luke 11 v 24-26

It is a fairly accurate picture of the problem we have in this world today.

The armies of the west have gone blundering into the middle east, clearing out one ‘demon’ after another: Sadam has been ousted, The Taliban ‘defeated’, Colonel Gaddafi has been deposed…
It would be generous to say that the middle east was left “swept and put in order”, but the next sentence is definitely true: –“Then he goes and takes with him seven other demons more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first”

The middle east has never been as unstable or dangerous and the problem with the ‘demon’ “returning” with “seven other demons more wicked than himself” is that the fallout is now spreading beyond the borders of those first ‘houses’.

The problem is, nothing was put in to fill the vacuum.

So IS came and made the situation seven times worse.

Almost always, after something like this, the question that comes at me as someone who is a follower of Jesus is “where is God”?

Where is God in the famine? Where is God in the flood? Where is God in the oppression and the exploitation, the violence, war and broken lives?

I believe that mostly, when God works in the world he works through people, so the only answer I can ever give to the question “where is God?” is actually a question: “Where am I?”

Where am I in the famine, flood exploitation and violence, the war and the broken lives? If I claim to be a follower of Jesus, I must believe what he tells me. I must believe the promise he makes to live in me.

If I believe Jesus lives in me, and I do… Then it is the face of Jesus that I need to display. And it is the behaviour of Jesus that I need to display. And in behaving like Jesus, I am the one that needs to reach out to lift up the broken and oppressed of this world. I am the one who shows God in the famine and the flood, in the violence and the war. It is in my example and my actions that people see God in these circumstances.
You and I are the people that can show that we have, by the grace of God and his life within us as Jesus people, the power to make this planet a better place.
The response to hell today is not to retaliate. Retaliation only leads to escalation and further hurt.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
Martin Luther King

Care workers on the fringes of disaster

If you look at the periphery of the disasters we have just witnessed, you will see God at work. The people who are caring medically, putting other bodies and lives back together. Those that are trying to protect others and keep the streets calm. Friends and family supporting the injured and those with broken hearts.
That’s where you will see God at work, that is where we must be to lift the broken and hurting, to demonstrate the love of God and to show that the world is not a cold dead place hurtling head-long into destruction and oblivion.

We can only start with ourselves to make a difference to our families and communities, but we must start, because that is the way God will use Love to overcome the hatred in the world.

Averting the Apocalypse

Image used without permission but Attributes to http://www.silverpetticoatreview.com/I am a staunch Dr Who fan.

Episode 13 in season 1 of the ‘re-boot’ with Christopher Ecclestone and Billie Piper contains a scene in which, Rose Tyler (Piper) breaks open the heart of the TARDIS in an attempt to save The Doctor (Ecclestone). Rose looks into the heart of the TARDIS and it changes her. There’s a pretty low-resolution 4 minute version of it here.

When she arrives and saves The Doctor, he asks: “What did you do?” and Rose replies: (watch it here)

“I looked into the TARDIS and the TARDIS looked into me”.

It transpires after that point that Rose has special abilities, she destroys the daleks, she is able to bring back to life Captain Jack Harkness who has just been exterminated.

Once Rose looked into the heart of the TARDIS, she was completely changed by what she saw. She could not un-see, she couldn’t let go of what she had seen and could not be unchanged from how it had changed her.

I would argue that this works as a lovely illustration of when we truly see the heart of God. When we look into God’s heart and see the depths of his love and the extent he has gone to display that love to us, we can’t help but be changed. And if we truly connect and really see the heart of God, we cannot unsee, we cannot be changed back, we can’t ever return to what we were before.

In an address to students at Harvard university in 2008, JK Rowling said:

“we do not need magic to transform our world; we carry all the power we need inside of ourselves.”

And in many ways, she is right because of the promise of Jesus in John 14:11-21

Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realise that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

The root of this concept is stated in 1 John 4:9

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.

This is the message of God through Jesus: Just as Rose was changed by viewing the heart of the TARDIS, we are changed when we see the heart of God and it changes us to be more like Him. He promises to live in us.

We can’t sit around inert, expecting God to step in and save us all from either our current situation or the problems we find ourselves surrounded by in this world.

Make no mistake: He Will.

One day, God Will complete the process of redeeming and restoring this planet, creating a place where everything is, once again, returned to a condition where all the earth continually sings His praises.

But while we wait for that inevitability, it is the job of believers to be the hands and the feet of God in this world.

It starts within our homes and our church family.

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 13:35

It’s not radical, it’s not new, its not easy but it is vital and mandatory.

No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

1 John 4:12

When we look ‘into the heart of the TARDIS’, when we gaze into the heart of God and God gazes into our hearts, we become changed, we become the agents of Gods’ love, the vehicles of his power at work in the world and that love is good news to the people around us. It is a life that displays “the gospel”.

Think of the tangible benefit to us personally and our communities if we were to take on Jesus’ example and embrace the counter-cultural world of Matthew 25 – a life lived as if God is not coming to mend all our brokenness and it is our job to put in the leg-work.

I am a great fan of Mother Teresa of Calcutta who’s words speak into this approach to faith and life.

“You can do no great things in this life, only small things with great love”

Mother Teresa of Calcutta

I believe that when God works in the world, he works through people. You and I are the people of God and we are the ones to push through the expectation of some supernatural intervention and demonstrate the ‘love beyond magic‘ that Kester Brewin talks about in his book.

It is only through love that we can achieve godliness. It is only through love that we can slowly, carefully redeem and restore this world. It is that same sacrificial love that we see demonstrated on the cross that gives us the example to do likewise.

Whoever loves God is known by God.

1 Corinthians 8:3

1 John 4:8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

1 John 4:8

If anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever says that he lives in God must live as Jesus lived.

1 John 2:5-6

This is our call to arms as believers. We can revert the apocalypse, we provide the hope to the hopeless, we demonstrate the love of God and provide the care of God’s hands, we can be the support for others in the way we have been taught by God.

I realise that I am suggesting we live with the paradox of living as if God will not fully and finally step in whilst knowing full well that he will because that’s what he has promised us he will do. Sometimes we have to hold this tension.

Are you, like me, feeling sand, angry, disgusted, enraged, compassionate about the situation in Syria?

Now is your chance to step in. And don’t leave it at that, live your ability to demonstrate God’s love into every single apocalyptic moment or situation that you see.

But what hope is there if you are feeling hopeless? Are you someone who’s life is fractured and broken? Do you wake up and see an endless black hole of depression? Are you at the bottom of the pit without a ladder, struggling to make ends meet, desperate to find some way to put food on the table or clothes on the children.

Are you feeling like you are unable to pick up the weight of the responsibility that comes with being a follower of Jesus?

Firstly, rely on your church family. That’s really kind of the point: We connect to each other and to God through our shared brokenness, not through our personal victories, strengths and accomplishments or some supernatural magic. Our church family will be the arms that God will wrap around you. They will make sure that God’s promise to provide is not an empty one. They will be the people that will carry you close to their hearts until you can soar like an eagle again.

If you aren’t a believer, but feel like you want the world to stop so you can get off or facing any or all of the hopelessness and pain that I outlined above; go and search for a community of people that will provide the love and support that I’ve just suggested should be present in a church family.

Hopefully you will find it in a group of Jesus followers. You may find that it is displayed better in a smaller group / church, a house group or you may find that one of these new fangled ‘worship centres’ or ‘life churches’ can provide the love, care and support that shows the life of Jesus and the love of God.

Secondly, I have seen what happens after Revelation 20. After the metaphor that describes every struggle, every challenge, every war, conflict, oppression, famine and disaster, man-made or natural that has torn at our hearts and bodies in recorded history…

There is still hope.

God does step in to make all things new. So hold on to that hope, the hope for the hopeless, the salvation for the un-saveable, the great love for the unloved.

I heard a great voice, coming from the throne.

See, the home of God is with His people.
    He will live among them;
    They will be His people,
    And God Himself will be with them.

    He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
    Death will be no more;
    Mourning no more, crying no more, pain no more,
    For the first things have gone away.

Revelation 21 v 3-4

Read the rest of Revelation 21

Apocalypse Now

Apocalypse Now image courtesy of www.filmdetail.com

There is, I think, an interesting and possibly myopic traditional view of both the biblical text of Revelation and of the Christian understanding of the ‘return of Christ’ or the ‘second coming’ and the “Kingdom of God”.

Let me explain:

I’ve been brought up in a community that, broadly speaking, believes and preaches that at a finite, fixed point in time, Jesus Christ will appear on planet earth in physical form once more. At this point, (and there’s plenty of debate about when, how, where…) a series of events will ensue, culminating in the complete restoration and renewal of the earth to the original potential that God intended. The people who haven’t rejected God and his vision will then live eternally in paradise – “The Kingdom of God”.

That’s all well and good and I think that to a greater or lesser extent, I do believe that the physical presence of Christ will once again walk the dust and dirt and soil and tarmac of Gods good earth.

However when you say a definite concrete “yes” to one thing, you inevitably have to say “no” to another and there are some things that I’m not willing to say “no” to quite so quickly when grasping at some future ‘nirvana’.

Return of Christ

Firstly, there’s the words of Jesus himself from Luke 21.

“Some Pharisees asked Jesus when the Kingdom of God would come. His answer was, “The Kingdom of God does not come in such a way as to be seen. No one will say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’; because the Kingdom of God is within you.””

Luke 17:20-21

This probably raises more questions than it answers, but in my mind, Jesus is suggesting that the “kingdom of God” is not only a specific future for the world but also something that requires current, present participation. It is not just an event but a state of existence. It is something that we can actively be involved with now, not only a thing to be looked forward to.

Here’s where I’m going to suggest something probably not new, but it came to me as I was listening to my dad present some ideas at a study day, so it’s new to me.

There’s a passage in John that on the face of it can be a bit confusing.

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”
John 14:15-18

In summary, Jesus is saying “I’m going but I’m not going because I’m coming back but someone else is coming but you already know them because they’re already lived with you and will be in you.”

I think the simplest explanation is often the best and to me, the simplest view of this is that Jesus was physically leaving the disciples. He was also leaving the physical so he could become part of the spiritual domain. In becoming spirit as opposed to physical flesh, Jesus becomes able to be more effective. He can be with all believers simultaneously, he can “live in” all believers. This was something that had not yet been encountered in quite this way before, thus the verse about the world not being able to “accept him because it neither sees him or knows him.”

This opens up the possibility of the return of Christ being progressive and gradual in part, before a full-blown ‘big event’ return. If we accept that Jesus returned as spirit to enable believers to do great miracles and works as it says in John 14:12;

…”whoever believes in me will do the same things that I do. Those who believe will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father”.

then in some ways, Jesus has already returned and his life is in those who believe in him and they are the ones that act out the love and grace of God.

I suppose I’m saying that in a way, there could be a first part of the second coming that has already happened and there’s a second phase that will happen some time in the future. I might be wrong and it probably isn’t new but it gives us another possibility to think about, something that refocusses us on the present and the continuing work of God in this world today. Hopefully, with that grounding, we aren’t constantly avoiding our responsibilities, just waiting for some unknown day in the future.


Secondly, there is the vast array of angles on Revelation.
In my experience, my community has, in the past, put forward an interpretation of revelation that is known as “continuous historical”, where the book provides a narrative of Church history from the first century to the return of Christ. Historical continuity is the focus and the numerous judgment stories have been aligned with a pantheon of historic wars, revolutions, socio-political and religious movements. This approach has often caused much consternation and debate and not a little re-calculation of numbers, dates and inconvenient changes in interpretation as world events pass without quite the same results as the careful predictions.

I firmly believe that Revelation had to be relevant and meaningful to the people that first read it in the first century. If it was just about some future time 2000 or more years on from their position, that’s not going to be something useful or comforting to them.

With that in mind, I believe that Revelation is a huge apocalyptic metaphor designed to be relevant to every generation, designed to wake up the people of God who have become comfortable and somnolent within the ’empire’ of their age. It is a book aimed at encouraging God’s people to become like a refreshing, icy cold drink on a hot day or a superheated coal from a fire ready to ignite passion and fervour for God. It is a call to be distinctive and contrasting from the bland monotone offerings of assimilation into empire.

Why so I particularly think that?

Because I see apocalypse for many people today. There are the big, obvious ones like the situation in Syria where people have had lives, family, homes, communities, food, water, shelter towns, cities, communications torn from their every-day and they are destitute, wounded, homeless, starving and cold.
And Syria isn’t the only one, one day viewing the news on television or in the newspapers will highlight many, many more big apocalypses going on right now on planet Earth.

Just because it isn’t happening in my own cushy neighbourhood, just because it isn’t affecting me directly doesn’t mean that the ‘four horsemen of the apocalypse’ – Conquest, War, Famine, and Death aren’t currently riding, unchecked somewhere else on this planet. Indeed they are.

And there are the less obvious apocalypses happening in individual people’s lives daily. The marriage blown apart by an affair. The family decimated by terminal cancer. A car crash. A fire or flood.

And also the mini ones; exam results not being what were wanted, a falling out with a friend etc.

The book of Revelation covers them all if you have open eyes to see it. It’s my story and your story as well as the story of the fall of Jerusalem and the Vietnam War and possibly the story of the end of the world in it’s present condition. It is the story of human suffering and loss throughout all the generations and it is written in such graphic language to make people see the world around them for what it is and do something different.

What’s that then?

Well… I’ve run out of space here, so that will have to wait for part 2.

Image rights filmdetail.com used without permission but credit attributed!

Great Church!


I love my Church.

Partly because my Church is a community of people and not a fancy building, but also because it’s on its way to being great.

I don’t mean in the way a lot of people talk about great places, experiences or events and I don’t mean in the way people talk about “going to such a great church where the singing is awesome and the preacher is just so relevant and the seats are so comfy and they serve real coffee…”

No, I mean our church is building towards being GREAT.

G – God Centred: Rooted in the love of God and dedicated to centring our lives and what drives our behaviour in the word of God as made alive in Jesus.

R – Respected: Known in the local community to be reliable, honest and dependable, to demonstrate integrity and love. Local people may not agree with what we believe, but they shouldn’t be able to deny that we live by the blueprint of Jesus and they would rather work for or live next door to or have their children marry one of us than someone else.

E – Embracing: Open armed, accessible and welcoming to all that come through the doors, whether dancing or stumbling, whoever they are and whatever their issues. We are aiming to be strong at the centre and open at the edges, drawing people into a growing relationship with God.

A – Active: Putting God’s values, beliefs and preaching into practice by living out love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, generosity and touching the local community with those practices.

T – Transforming: Within ourselves, to be more like Jesus and for those we touch, to change their lives by our own lives being changed. Gradually displaying a more accurate image of God and his generous love to the whole world, allowing that to alter us and reaching out for that to transform other people’s lives.

That’s why I love my church.

And we all love it when other people want to be a part of that so if you fancy working for the glory of God and the majesty of Jesus, we can always use a hand…




“Nobody drifts towards holiness.”

I think it was John Piper who said it and it came to me again this morning.

In the last seven months, I have been less and less engaged with church and all that goes with it.

While we’ve been building and renovating a house ready to move into, while we’ve been concentrating on getting the job done, I’ve been skipping the time at church and with church family to work on the house.

I’m not losing my faith or my love for God and Jesus but my mind has been elsewhere. You could say I have ‘checked out’ of church, or that I have drifted.

Today it was driven home but over a few months, I realised that unless I consciously choose to pursue the things of God, I will end up drifting away from Him.

I realise this is currently a season that will pass, we will finish our building project and I won’t have so much to be distracted by. However, I also realise that I need to make deliberate decisions to make sure that checking out and drifting doesn’t become a habit.

The challenge and encouragement to me comes from Colossians 3:1-4 (though I admit, technically, it is a bit out of context.)

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Do you think you are drifting? What or who can help you to refocus and make conscious choices to pursue God and His plans for your life?


My great friend Charles led the thoughts at church a couple of weeks ago and a mighty fine job he did of it (listen here).

The brief summary of his thoughts is as follows:

The Israelites knew how to build! They had a background in brick-creation and tent-making. These were skills that God used and enhanced for the building of the tabernacle. In the same way, our skills are transferable when building a place to worship God.
This is not a place made of stones, but of people, a place where we are both the builders and the building material. We are all important and all have something to give. Our uniqueness is not weakness and our weakness may be strength. When we choose to build with God, we build something that keeps growing and doesn’t decline. Finally, We must all “excel in the gifts that build up the church” 1 Cor 3:10-15

This got me thinking about an interview that I had recently read with Amy Williams – the British Skeleton Bobsled Gold medallist of 2010.
The salient point of the interview was this sentence.

“…every decision, every single day was, ‘will this help me win gold, yes or no?’ Is this ice cream going to help me? No, then don’t eat it. It was as brutal as that.”
Amy Williams

The laser-focus on that Gold medal was something that impressed me and stuck in my consciousness, so when Charles quoted from 1 Corinthians “excel in the gifts that build up the church”, Amy’s words came back to me.

Almost immediately, I merged the two things together in my head to come up with this mantra for our church lives.

“…every decision, every single day needs to be, ‘will this build up the church, yes or no?’ Is this {insert action / comment here} going to help? No, then don’t do it.”

Can we do that? As individuals? As a community?

I’m going to try, anyone else in for the journey?

It’s all about Rescue – Part 2

I have already discussed that though ‘The Exodus’- the account of the people of Israel (Jacob’s changed name) being rescued from Egypt by God may have been the first ‘corporate rescue event’, and the first genuine introduction of the hebrew people to the character of God, it is by no means the first rescue.

There is a rescue in the beginning of that story, before it even really begins.

Moses is rescued from Pharaoh’s cull of baby boys as his mother places him in a basket made of reeds and puts him in the river. He is rescued from this basket by Pharaoh’s daughter, who brings him up as her son.
Moses sees the anguish and suffering of his people and wants to rescue them, starting off by murdering an Egyptian slave-master to rescue a fellow hebrew. (see Exodus 2:11+12)

Rescue, rescue, rescue… You must be getting the picture by now.

But track back again to before the story of the Exodus and, having already looked briefly at Cain & Abel and Noah, the chronologically next most well-known rescue is probaly that of Abram (Later Abraham) & Lot (Genesis 12 and Genesis 18), both these men were being called away from places that were either wicked or would not do them any good long-term. Abram even negotiates more rescue from God in Genesis 18, a story that eventually culminates in the exodus of Lot from Soddom in Genesis 19. At least that’s what it seems like.

Have a closer look at that ‘rescue’ negotiated by Abram. The story unfolds with the back and forth bargaining from verse 22 to 33, and then, the destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah is stayed for four people. That is less than half of Abram’s final bargaining point. Clearly, God is more forgiving and gracious than Abram, God rescues a whole city for four people. (Yes, the next two chapters are fairly unsavoury and eventually, only three of the people get away before the place is then destroyed.

God it seems is teaching Abram about rescue and about grace. We often view the story as Abram convincing God not to decimate a place, but Abram stops asking at a point before God stops rescuing.

We’re barely out of Exodus – the second book of the bible and we have come a cross a lot of rescue stories already!

Did I say “It’s all about rescue”? There is going to have to be a part 3, maybe more.

It’s all about Rescue – Part 1

Creation is not the first belief about God!

In the ancient Hebrew world, God was not primarily ‘Creator’.

The first real nation-wide interaction and exposure to God for the Israelite people was at the Exodus. The people were rescued from slavery in Egypt, hence the first part of Exodus 20

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”
Exodus 20:2

The people, rescued from slavery, led out by Moses, who then really introduced them fully to God in the next few chapters, initially thought of God as rescuer, then went on to explore what else God was. They posed the question “Who is this rescuer God, what else has he done?”

And then the story of creation was explored and told and passed from generation to generation as were a lot of other stories throughout history. Many of them are other stories about rescue!

In fact, if we read the creation story as not a completely literal, historical account, it too can be thought of as a type of rescue. There is a growing acceptance that in aligning the evidence we have available through scientific exploration and reasoning, and the biblical text, we should be viewing the ‘Adam and Eve’ story as more symbolic, and that in the event of the two – Adam and Eve being real people who actually existed (I’m not denying it as a plausible possibility), they were called away from the race of people that existed at the time and as-it-were, ‘rescued’ – set apart to and for God. See ‘Who Were Adam and Eve Part 1 and Who Were Adam and Eve Part 2 for a bit more exploration into these concepts.

From the beginning then, we can see God is a rescuer, saving people, drawing individuals out into relationship with Him.

The next most obvious, perhaps most famous rescue story is of course that of Noah in Genesis 6 + 7.

God the rescuer, rescuing Noah from the adverse and oppressive, the wicked and sinful.

But (at risk of being accused of jumping around) if we go back almost to the beginning and look at some of the earlier stories in a bit more detail, we can discover yet more rescue.

One of the most striking is God’s rescue of the first convicted murderer.

Genesis 2 holds the story of Cain & Abel – the story of the first farming rage incident and the first recorded murder.

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”

“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”

Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”

But the Lord said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

Genesis 2:2-16

What fascinates me is God’s double rescue – firstly in verse 7

“If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

God is offering Cain a way out before he even gets to murdering his brother – God is saying, bring me a sacrifice in the way I have asked for it and there’s no problem any longer. God is also warning Cain that if he doesn’t, God can see that he is going to face temptation that he will find hard to resist.

Then, after Cain murders Abel, you might think that as punishment, God would just finish him off, but instead, God protects him from anyone else – Verse 15

“the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him”

God rescues the first murderer. Yes, Cain faces a punishment / consequences of his actions, but God will not allow him to be harmed. That’s fascinating. That’s incredible grace. Not to totally condemn or reject the first murderer, the first person to kill someone else is rescued by God from anyone seeking revenge.

It’s all about rescue, really, all about rescue.

There are more, lots more, but they will have to be covered in part 2.

Divine Comedy?

Reading John 5, I was confused by the seeming incongruity of verse 14.

The context: Jesus has just healed a man who had been an ‘invalid’ for 38 years, told the man to ‘pick up his mat and walk’ and promptly vanished. The man is then reprimanded by the pharisees for carrying his mat on the sabbath, and a little while later, Jesus finds him at the temple and says to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”

It is possible, and has been suggested by many that the man had gone on to the temple, set himself back up as a beggar (likely as not his previous ‘occupation’ whilst being an invalid) again, and Jesus is warning him not to deceive people when he is actually well.
As an explanation, that’s fair enough and perfectly plausible.

However, I wonder if actually, because we can’t hear the tone of voice, we are missing something in the way Jesus says that sentence “Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” I wonder if, instead of threatening the man, rather than this being some kind of warning of divine punishment if the guy doesn’t stop sinning, perhaps, Jesus is having a little ‘private’ joke with the guy.

Is it possible that Jesus sidles up to the chap and says, with a big grin and a sparkle in his eye, (reading between the lines) “you know the pharisees, their inflexibility, their attention to the minute detail, their officious judgemental ruling that even carrying your mat on the sabbath is work and therefore a sin… well, make sure you don’t go on ‘sinning’ {wink} (doing things the pharisees disapprove of) or something worse might happen!”?

Could it be that Jesus is having a little dig at the pharisees and a little laugh with the healed man?

Jesus knew that in the cultural context of the day, people thought that God punished sin fairly immediately or at least that people’s disabilities or misfortunes were thought to be because of their sin. He also knew that God doesn’t work like that. Maybe, what seems to be a veiled threat of God’s imminent judgement, could be Jesus making light of how the man had been perceived by the pharisees.

And maybe after that, the man goes off and tells the pharisees it was Jesus who healed him because he knows it will not only wind them up but it will get them off his back for carrying his mat?

I don’t know, but I could just imagine Jesus having a bit of a lark with the man about the oppressive yoke that the pharisees were trying to lay on the poor guy.

I could well be wrong, but it doesn’t seem very Jesussy to make that sort of dark threat to the guy he has just healed, especially a threat that is hollow in as much as we know that God doesn’t generally punish people specifically for specific sins, but that sin brings it’s own punishment & carries it’s own consequences.

Jesus is all about forgiveness and the only people he condemns are those that think they have it all ‘right’ – i.e. mostly the pharisees and ‘teachers of the law’.

Would he really turn to threatening someone he had just taken the trouble to seek out and heal?

Late to the ‘party’

The other book I had with me on holiday was Rob Bell’s (in some circles – controversial) book “Love Wins”.

Yes, I’m pretty late reading it and passing comment and I’m sure that all possible comments have already been aired on the book, but I wanted to share some thoughts on what ended up being another fairly rapid read.

Interestingly, going back to read Rob’s earlier book ‘Sex God’ since I’ve been back from holiday and remembering a fair amount of ‘Velvet Elvis’, ‘Love Wins’ is really just further development of a thread that runs through a lot of Rob’s work.

Rob came in for a lot of criticism having written this and was called all sorts of things even before its release, even by people that hadn’t actually read the book (a dangerous policy if you ask me).
The first label levelled at Rob was that he is a ‘Universalist’. I didn’t get that impression from reading the book. Rob is definitely not saying “everybody gets saved in the end regardless”, he does however ask the question “what kind of God do we believe in?” Do we believe in an all powerful God that can find a way to redeem everything and everybody in His own way, or do we believe in a God that isn’t powerful enough to find a way to restore all things to himself?”

That’s quite a different thing and its quite a fundamental and important question.

There’s some very good explorations if what we understand by Heaven and Hell also. For example, in summing up the chapter on Hell:

“To summarize, then, we need a loaded, volatile, adequately violent, dramatic, serious word to describe the very real consequences we experience when we reject the good and true and beautiful life that God
has for us.
We need a word that refers to the big, wide, terrible evil that comes from the secrets hidden deep within our hearts all the way to the massive, society-wide collapse and chaos that comes when we fail to live in God’s world God’s way.
And for that,
the word “hell” works quite well.”

Rob writes very gently and graciously and even if you don’t agree with his position, you would need to work hard to take offence, the book is more about asking the questions than specifically finding the ‘right’ answers.

Rob likes the parable of the prodigal sons and he uses it in this book because it highlights both extremes of ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’, coexisting in the same place: it’s purely our response to God’s love and grace that defines which place we chose to exist in. Rob rounds up the story by saying:

“Neither son understands that the father’s love was never about any of that (being good enough to deserve the father’s love or bad enough for it to disappear). The father’s love cannot be earned,

and it cannot be taken away.

It just is.

It’s a party.

The final chapter closes with a great passage that encapsulates both the continual restoration of all things into God’s “shalom” and our response to God, His love, forgiveness and grace.

“I believe that the indestructible love of God is an unfolding, dynamic reality and that every single one of us is endlessly being invited to trust, accept, believe, embrace, and experience it. Whatever words you find helpful for describing this act of trust, Jesus invites us to say yes to this love of God,
again and again and again.”

The book is definitely worth a read, I have barely scratched the surface in reviewing it here, it is also the perfect companion to ‘After Magic‘ by Kester Brewin if you want to read two books together!


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