John The Baptist eh? What was he like? If a hero can be someone you admire but in no way want to copy then John the Baptist is one of my heroes. If I was offered the chance to be Nora Ephron – I may have been tempted for a moment. However, John the Baptist is a different proposition. Single minded, strong and a cutting edge in human form. To be given the job the prepare the way for the Son of God – fancy it anyone? Oh and it won’t be like preparing the way for the Olympics like “Twenty Twelve” – all mocha lattes and meetings with Seb Coe. (if you are not following the BBC’s brilliant Twenty Twelve – you do not have the true Jubylimpic spirit and are missing out. I am always thinking of you first as you know and have put a little clip in to help you. I am too good to you.)
No this would mean giving up everything that you and I would call life – partner, family, friends, career and comfort with one purpose – just one – no work life balance here matey. No PR firm to big him up. In fact he began his ministry by retreating into the desert only for people to move heaven and earth to find him and to listen. It is, I think, an encouraging testament to the work he was doing for God that he managed to make it all happen without (a) social networking (b) a book deal or (c) a stadium tour. (Sometimes, when you see preachers nearly always being called by God on to bigger and brighter congregations – do you ever wonder about them going in exactly the opposite direction to John? Is it just me?)
It probably is just me. I am rubbish at self promotion and would love it if I could just send out dispatches from the desert. I’m probably just jealous of people who are good at getting out there. Anyway, back to John The Baptist rather than my meanderings. He was uncompromising, efficient, and single hearted. This was a man who had a calling from the womb – literally. When Jesus was looking for a man to baptise him – there was only one man to go to. Whatever it is that a man needs to be a follower of Christ – John had it in spades.
And yet we see him in Matthew 11. He is in prison. He is about to be the victim of a sordid game of sexual politics which will see him beheaded solely for his integrity. He knows that Jesus is out there and that his ministry has begun. He also knows that if that is so then his is drawing to an end. His whole life has been lived with this in mind. John the Super-Christian should now sit back and sigh and wait for his end. But he doesn’t.
When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come or should we expect someone else?”
But he is John – he must get the game? He has seen God move in an extraordinary way in his life. He has baptised Jesus and seen a unique manifestation of God when he did so. Is this a doubt? Is he scared about what will happen to him? Whatever the reason for the question, Jesus’ reaction is well – Jesus like. He doesn’t lecture him – “Well John – with all the stuff you have seen and grown up with – I am surprised you even had to ask. Good grief – call yourself a man of faith…” etc.
He tells John’s followers – paraphrasing – God loves me and he lets me – “Go and tell him all that I’m doing – healing the sick, raising the dead, helping the poor. The evidence is there. All is as planned. It is ok.” Then, when they go, Jesus doesn’t say “Well that was disappointing. I was expecting a bit more from John I must say.” He says just the opposite.
“Truly I tell you, among those born of women, there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist.”
I think everyone needs to hear a “yes” sometimes. No matter how strong your faith. How much you do for God. However long you have been a Christian. However faithful you have been. Sometimes things happen and you wonder and you worry and you doubt. And you need to ask. Is it still ok? Are things how I have always believed them to be? Am I still secure with you God? Although we know the answer really. I think our kind, sensitive God is just waiting to give you the affirmation that you need. Sometimes we need to hear a “yes” It’s ok to ask. He won’t bite. It’s supposed to be a relationship you know.
Continuing yesterday’s thoughts. This bit is more religious but it is good stuff I think so you pays your money and you takes your choice. As I think I said in Part One, I was watching a docudrama about the time just after the Resurrection. Docudramas are not always necessarily a “good thing” I think. However, this was ok as Tom Cruise was not playing Jesus nor was Brad Pitt playing Peter and no one had a Hollywood root perm.
I was watching as Peter and the other Jewish followers tentatively stepped out into what was called “The Way” as they began to live as if the Kingdom of God was already here. At first it was all sweetness and light as they were considered slightly funny but then things began to change. The Bible isn’t specific about what turned people against them. Some scholars think it was the Day of Pentecost. Some, the forces unleashed by the death of Stephen. Some think it was because they were so popular that powerful people began to feel threatened but the tide of public opinion certainly seemed to turn.
I think that I am sometimes guilty of “Hollywooding” Biblical christian persecution. I think I subconsciously think that because Stephen went to his death seemingly serenely, that it wasn’t so bad really. Watching a representation of the reality makes you wake up a bit. Most people didn’t go quietly to the horror of a stoning. They struck out and fought and dug their feet into the ground in a futile attempt to stop it as they were dragged outside the city walls. People lived in fear of a night-time knock on the door which would lead to a short trial and a condemnation. The threat of a crucifixion for both men and women was a constant terror, as the Romans intended it to be, and the small community scattered, leaving just the original disciples.
I wondered what that must have felt like, to see your dreams of this Christian kingdom shattered so completely. There must have been doubts creeping in. Now you may say that you never doubt but if you do say that, I fear you may be a cad and a charlatan *takes off glove and hits you gently on the cheek to demand satisfaction* I doubt about 20 times a day – before breakfast. But even in this most catastrophic of situations the disciples would see that God wan’t going to change what was happening but that what was happening seemed to be part of the plan. Firstly, when the church was scattered, they didn’t leave the gospel behind. They took it with them. They settled into lives and continued to live in “The Way” And the most important message in history had found a way to push out of its boundaries.
Then, the church receives one of those decision cards back and it has been filled in. You know the kind of thing. Left on the end of pews for children to doodle on and we get the shock of our lives when a genuine one has actually been completed.
“I am very interested in learning more about your church with a view to joining it…..signed ..Saul of Tarsus.”
Arrrgh! Are you joking God? Our biggest persecutor? The man who has taken all our troubles to a new level of horror almost single handed? Yet this was the man who God would use to take the church to the next level of love and productivity. He was their biggest problem but would become their biggest earthly asset.
Now I’m never too sure about the school of thought that says that God sends horrible things to make us strong. However, in “this ever changing world in which we’re living” (Acknowledgement :Scientifically Proven Best Beatle) where all sorts of powers and pressures and principalities are at work, life IS full of horrible things. Things that make you doubt that there is a way out of this.
It is very encouraging, therefore, to see that God can miraculously use the very disasters that are smacking us over the head to change our circumstances. Please get what I am saying here. God doesn’t always take the things that trouble us away, and I don’t just mean that they pass and then we feel stronger because we managed to live through it – although there is some value in that certainly. I mean that he actually changes things – using all the things that are happening to us – good or bad. And maybe – just maybe, we will look back on something insurmountable that is going on at the moment and realise that, not only did God miraculously intervene but he did so using the very thing that was causing the problem. *Wanders off pondering the massiveness of God.*
God can do anything you know-far more than you could ever guess or imagine or request in your wildest dreams.
Really busy week. Work – blah. Cracked Tooth – blah. Dentist – blah. Lots to say and hope the blog isn’t too long. It occurs to me that I might make this a bit easier by blogging a bit more often but don’t want to overstay my welcome so will think about it. We all survived the Prom. The weather was awful which didn’t help the balcony shot at FOW2’s friend’s house.
They spent a lovely day hot-tubbing (is that a word?) and being pampered. Then all the mums arrived and made their lives a misery for an hour by fussing and panicking. Some mums were a bit uber-organised which made me feel like a bad mother (again) because I just sort of turned up, gave her a kiss and said “have a good time” and “be careful with that dress because I’m going to Ebay it” She looked beautiful and grown up which was both lovely and a bit sad if you know what I mean.
Head of House and FOW 1 spent the weekend in York sorting out move to student house for next university year. Did I mention that he had changed his course from Politics to Archaeology? Can’t remember. Lots of reasons. Boring, Very disillusioned with the kind of people who did a politics course (some of them anyway) and also because, as his new Archaeology teacher said “I have no idea why you ever opted for Politics. You have stellar marks in History. whatever possessed you?” He wanted to make a difference I think but has decided that Politics is not the way to do it.
Just as an aside and in a non party political way. The only politicky person he saw that he at all impressed by (and he saw quite a few) was David Milliband. He was the one politician who, when asked a question that he didn’t know the answer to replied, “I don’t know the answer to that but I will try and find out for you.” No ballooning. Just an honest answer. Something to be learnt there maybe?
Anyway, as I was saying, family males were away for the weekend so I was in charge and people were panicking on Spotlight News because of the weather forecast. Floods everywhere apparently. Danger of Death. First time ever that Devon had a “RED” weather alert. They were so worked up that it knocked the story of “Extra Large Flower Grows in Salcombe” off the top of the news. Then FOW2 went down with a bad cold so she was going to be no help. Couldn’t sleep on Saturday morning because I was so busy listening for the Four Weathermen of the Apocalypse coming galloping up Glyn Road. How was I going to get Morecambe into a helicopter when we were winched to safety without him biting Prince William?
Found myself watching some Christian TV. Spent twenty minutes being begged for money then watching some young people with interesting hair doing worship. At one point they appeared to be shaking their fists at me. Oh Yeah? Well come and have a go then!
I luuurve Young People. I live with two of them and because of that I am running into lots of them all the time. (For some reason nearly all of them tell my kids – “I love your Mum – she is so funny and Northern!”. Why does no-one ever say “She’s so deep and spiritual” or “She reminds me so much of Nigella Lawson”? Answer to that obvious I suppose.) All young people are a bit annoying obviously but I think they deserve better than this one size fits all approach. It reminded me why I hardly ever bother with this kind of stuff. I’m not alone apparently. It’s a shame because I know there is good stuff on there – I see preachers’ names and I know they will be good. It’s just that there is so much same old – same old. For me anyway. I do not claim to be the fount of all media knowledge.
So I found this channel which was running a sort of docudrama of the time just after Jesus’ resurrection. I don’t even think it was overtly Christian because it kept going on about a “vision” of Jesus doing this and a “vision” of Jesus appearing here. It really hit home for me in a few ways though. The thing is, I have spent so much time rattling on about nothing in particular that I don’t really have time to write about it. So, I will probably do another post tomorrow. Please call back if you can. have just realised that this is 100th post. Sorry it is not more epic. Must be more disciplined. Must not witter.
Have taken far too much time watching the football. I have managed to fall out of the small routine that I have in the evenings and I am doing my own head in. It surprises me how it only takes a little disruption – like watching 22 men play the beautiful game and it being available nearly every night – to throw me off my little but still quite important evening routines. These are the routines that ensure that I get stuff done such as making sure everything is ready for work next morning so I don’t find myself frantically ironing a work shirt on the kitchen counter while trying to make my lunch sandwich and avoiding getting mayonnaise on said shirt. These are the routines that get writing written, dogs walked, menus planned and families nagged. They are annoying but they are important and I have to remind myself that I am a grown up now and need to buck up. Goodness knows what my life would have been like if I had lived during the time of say..”Lark Rise To Candleford” (the book not the wishy-washy TV series.) In those days every waking moment seemed to be devoted to work to stay alive. My family would have wasted down to nothing years before now. Anyway, the football is nearly finished now so back on the wagon as they say.
The title of this blog is part of the phrase “Tarring everybody with the same brush.” I don’t know if it is just a northern phrase and I’m sure it’s roots are quite unsavory but it was the only thing I can think of. Look, if you want literary depth try Shakespeare or Jilly Cooper or something.
I had been thinking about it while reading all the stuff about bankers. It is terrible to me how these people could bring us to the point of financial meltdown by using techniques that were both immoral and, it now seems, illegal. In another age we would have dragged these people to stocks or possibly guillotines. I am not recommending this as a punishment but the lack of accountability is almost as shocking as the things that have been done. However, I was earwigging in a queue this week and heard of someone going into a bank and having a go at the girl behind the counter which concluded with a phrase along the lines of “you ******* cheating bankers are all the same!”
I worked in a bank for fifteen years. I have many friends who work in banks. These are nice, normal people who would no more illegally fix an interest rate than they would boil their own heads. Many of them will be able to tell you stories about the time they were called to meetings to be told that the old culture of service, relationship and good stewardship were now to be ditched in favour of sales and oh yes.. selling. I remember people with thirty years of service being told that if they didn’t like it then they needed to find somewhere else to work. These decisions had been made by people as alien to them as something bursting out of John Hurt’s belly – yet they all go under the title of “bankers”. And not everyone who works in banking sales is a twonk. Some people are though – and some are not. It’s an individual thing.
Christians suffer the same problem. If you say you are a Christian, people sometimes see you as a right wing, gay bashing, crusade approving, cheek sucking in, generally disapproving kind of person or as a pathetic softy who uses Christianity as a crutch and won’t face up to the realities of life. I wouldn’t say that I am either but you might disagree. Then again, you may know a Christian who is like the description above and have therefore decided that this is how all Christians are. Some people judge all Christians by a bad thing that was done to them by a Christian once. Is that not like judging all Mexicans by a bad thing that was done by a Mexican once? I may be a Christian chump. It doesn’t mean that my Christian friend is. Some Christians are as bad. She’s not spiritual enough because I saw her in the pub. He’s too into his own holy hole to be of any use to the church. You know the sort of thing. Being judgy is a tricky business. By tarring everyone with the same brush you might be missing out on good people and a different point of view. The banking crisis is a sad state of affairs with many innocent victims. Lots of them may have the words “bank clerk” in their job description. Be kind.
Phillipians 4 The Message
You’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious – the best, not the worse.
Last week Head of House made our tea. This is not an unusual event. He often shares in cookery duties because he is a man – not an idiot. On this occasion he served up spaghetti bolognese, again not unusual. This is a meal well within outstanding capabilities. However, this week there was a problem. No one wanted to say anything at first because you don’t want to appear ungrateful but it was sooo salty. In the end, the coughing and the buckets of water we were consuming sort of gave the game away. HOH was the first to say – “Is this salty? Or is it me?” Relief! “Well yes actually – it is – a bit. Not a lot. Just, well, a bit” All very British.
It turns out that Nigella – for it is she – always salts her pasta liberally because she feels that it should taste as “salty as the Mediterranean” or some such blah. This confirms my thesis that Nigella should never be allowed to teach cookery to chaps because they either do not concentrate on anything she is saying as they are so busy staring glassily or they follow her advice, slavishly without question – even if it means everyone in the family develops type 2 diabetes in the space of an afternoon.
I am aware that Biblically, salt is often seen as a good thing and I am certainly NOT contradicting the Bible. None of your heresy here indeed no! But salt isn’t always a good thing and those of us who spent an evening this week putting our fingers down our throats and making retching noises will attest to this. (HOH I am not going on and on about this. I am making a very deep spiritual point here. I am aware that anyone can make a mistake. Let’s ask ourselves whether you were that gracious when I forgot to move the dog pooh from under the back step. You know it is a rule in here to look before you walk.)
I was reading in Ezekiel this week about a vision about a river that flowed into the sea. Unusually, when this river flows, it turns salt water into freshwater. Wherever it touches (and only where it actually touches) the land becomes habitable, plantable (if you know what I mean) lush and green.
Wherever the river flows, life will flourish…because the river is turning the salt sea into fresh water. Where the river flows, life abounds. The swamps and the marshes won’t become fresh – they’ll stay salty. But the river itself on both banks will grow fruit trees of all kinds. Their leaves won’t wither and the fruit won’t fail.”
I have left a bit of scripture out here which I think means certain death but you can read it in Ezekiel 47. Its very good.
This week, I spoke to a lady at length on the phone. I don’t speak to her that often and can’t claim to know her that well but I have to be honest – it was a bit of a trial. She doesn’t seem to like anything or anyone. Everyone has it in for her, everyone has an agenda, no one cares. It was the kind of conversation that makes you metaphorically put your duvet over your head and wait until it goes away. It made me think of the salt thing because I sort of felt that was how a slug must feel when my Mum is out and about in the garden with the salt cellar. My challenge, which – spoiler – I failed miserably, was, I think, to try and take the salt out of the way she felt and leave her happier and more balanced about life and her friends. It was much easier and in a way more natural to let her way of thinking infect me and end up believing that most people are indeed ratbags and go and shout at the football, which is more or less what happened
So, how to overcome when you are in the middle of general horribleness? When nastiness is intimidating the living daylights out of you and it’s difficult to fight back. When you are behaving like a piece of work yourself and seem powerless to stop it. Don’t ask me – it’s well outside my skill set. The difference, of course is God. The God who can turn us around and make us what we are not. Who makes the impossible possible. The promise is there but delivery only comes with asking. I think we are meant to ask and often. Only with God and through God, I think the moral is.