Wednesday, 31 May 2017


The good news is not that we won’t die, we will. The good news is that death does not have to be the final word. We will all die, but in choosing to ‘die to self’ in this life, we become alive in Christ. In believing in Jesus we are raised to new life. The death of our body is no longer the defining moment, no longer the end-point of our existence.

Similarly, with guilt and condemnation. The good news is not that we will never have to feel guilty or condemned, we will. If we hurt someone, if we let them down, speak badly about them, lie to them, abuse them in some way, then we should feel guilty. What we did was wrong and if we have any goodness in us, our conscience will condemn our actions. And rightly so. The good news is that these do not have to be the banner that is written over our life.

I’m not talking about things we feel guilty about but for which we have no responsibility. The enemy loves to weigh us down with guilt and condemnation that is not deserved and sometimes we receive the burden rather than rebuking the enemy and brushing ourselves down. I’m talking about those times when we know we got it wrong, when we absolutely were the cause of the problem, the pain, the hurt. Times when we rightly feel the weight of guilt, because we are guilty.

The good news is that the agony of these feelings no longer has to define us or control us. Because of Christ’s work there is a means of forgiveness. A means by which we can be forgiven by God and by which others can forgive us. We can confess our sin and repent of it – to God and to those who we have hurt. We can offer restitution and we can be forgiven and set free.

At the risk of making us feel guilty, I wonder though, if we have become too keen to absolve ourselves and others of these painful feelings, quoting “There is now, no condemnation….” but applying it too quickly, short-cutting the process by which we receive that freedom.

I don’t believe that the Gospel is a ‘get out of jail free’ card. It doesn’t give us a licence to behave selfishly without facing the consequences, it doesn’t mean we can do wrong, press the ‘I am saved’ button and have our painful feelings of guilt and condemnation removed without due process.

Being forgiven for what we have deeply felt and owned – all of the responsibility, the grief, the horror, the guilt, the right condemnation, is a transformational experience. Forgiveness received in this way isn’t on the glib basis of “it’s alright, it doesn’t matter”, or a trite response to a favourite verse. It isn’t an analgesic to hide the pain without dealing with the cause. It is a true and deep cleansing, won at immense cost.

And knowing that does two things. It builds a barrier to us doing the same again and it deepens the love we have for those who have so graciously and expensively, forgiven us. Then, and only then, can we experience the wonder of guilt removed and condemnation replaced with acceptance and renewed relationship.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

A New Way To Balance the Budget

I read through all the manifesto’s last week. Well, I glanced at them. Ok, I saw the headlines about them. My conclusion, based on this detailed analysis? They all cost a lot of money. Which invites the question ‘How do we raise such a lot of money?’

The standard approach seems to be through taxation.  Basically, you charge people for the services that they benefit from, in return for which they get access to those services and the right to vote. Sounds like a plan to me. Except within that there seems to be an untested mantra that those who have more money should pay more. Now I’m the one who used to take a copy of Socialist Worker into the Insurance Broker that I worked for and have never voted for anyone further right than a Lib Dem. But this strikes me as not well thought through. Maybe it's one of those things that we’ve all heard said so often that it becomes received wisdom.

But why? Would this be reasonable anywhere else? If I go to Asda (reopening soon, hurrah) and buy the same items as the person next to me, how would they react if they were charged more, simply because they had more disposable income than me? If they want a better product, they are free to choose to go to Waitrose and spend some of their disposable income there. But why should they have to pay Waitrose prices for Asda quality, just because they have the money?

The well-off don’t receive better education if they use the state school system or better health care through the NHS, nor are they better defended by the Army, just because they are rich. Of course they can buy private education or health-care and they may buy security by paying for insurance or a nice living location. But in making those choices and not using public services, they reduce the burden on them, freeing them for others to use. In which case an equally sound (ie not very) argument could be made that those choosing to spend their money in that way should pay lower, not higher, taxes.

Now, I know some will bridle at such a thought, because it seems unfair. The rich can afford to make those choices, the poorer cannot. But that is an argument about whether the rich deserve their riches or not, it’s a “We don’t have as much as those rich ***** so we’ll find a legal way of redistributing the wealth”. But this lacks integrity. If the problem is inequality, then justify that position and spell out policies that address it, don’t hide behind the urban myth that it is intrinsically right for those who have more to pay a disproportionate amount more than those who have less. (The argument “those who have more should contribute more” is entirely sensible – but they already do, even if they are taxed at the same rate.)

There are other pragmatic considerations too. Not just that the rich will push off to somewhere friendlier, but also for those who stay. If a company has 110 employees, 10 of whom are on the higher tax rate, then in order to give everybody £75 more in their pocket requires the company to increase the pay of the higher tax payers by more than that of the lower paid. (£125 vs £100) For the same outlay, if everyone was on the same tax rate, all the employees would receive a £77 after-tax increase, £2 more than they would otherwise have received. Given a fixed budget, most employees lose out by having some on a higher tax rate, even if the company is seeking to be egalitarian!

A thought then on how we might fund the manifestos: Each party starts a crowd-funding page via Facebook. The party that gets the funding for their policies first, becomes the government. Not only does it solve the shortfall, it could replace the election entirely.

Genius, I think.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Humpty Dumpty

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
And all the King’s Horses and all the King’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again

Profound stuff, an egg, fallen from a ledge, splattered on the floor, the shell in pieces, the yolk and white mixed, no wonder it was beyond anyone to fix, including the King!

But it isn’t about an egg, it’s about you and me. We fell too, not from a ledge, but from loving relationship with God. And it cracked us open, breaking our bodies, spilling our souls and leaking our spirits. 

And all the NHS, all the celebrity advice, all the world’s wisdom can’t put us back together again.

The good news is that the God, who we rejected, still loves us, still knows how we were uniquely knit together still knows how to unscramble us and make us whole. 

There’s never been anything more broken than Jesus on the cross. So disfigured in body and soul that he barely looked human anymore, so utterly forsaken that His spirit cries out in agony. Yet having borne our sin and shared our suffering, He is completely healed and even though He was dead, becomes alive again.

The Humpty Dumpty that is me, seemingly broken and beyond repair is eminently mendable by that same God. “The power that was at work, raising Jesus from the dead, is now at work in you”

Monday, 8 May 2017


Imagine that a dangerous criminal had escaped from a nearby prison. The news is full of it, warning people to be prepared. They show a photograph and advise anyone who sees the fugitive to stay clear and call the police immediately.

Later in the day there is an unexpected knock on the door. It’s insistent and disconcerting. Your awareness is heightened and you leave the security chain on as you gingerly open the door a fraction. With relief, you realise it isn’t the escaped convict. The identikit photograph was of a young man and this is a middle-aged woman. She is obviously distressed. She says that she felt like she was being followed and had heard the news about the escaped prisoner. She asks if she can come in and call the police. Sympathetically you open the door and let her in, seeing too late the gun being brought up, ready to use. Your final thought is to wonder how you were supposed to be prepared when the person was so different to the picture.

When Jesus comes ‘as a thief in the night’, unexpectedly and suddenly, I wonder if people will have the same reaction? As church, we are ‘the body of Christ’. We are supposed to be the living photograph of Jesus. If we got people to describe Jesus from what they saw of church, what would the 'identikit' look like? A well-meaning group, trying to do some good with limited resources? An insular, fractious and judgemental group that lost any relevance it might have once had? 

Or would it look like Jesus - one who is self-sacrificing, willing to give up dignity and reputation for the sake of the poor and vulnerable. One who is willing to die for the worst of people as well as the best. One who despite betrayal, injustice and abuse cries out forgiveness. One who fulfils the heart of the law whilst dismissing the legalism. One who endures loneliness, despair and suffering, for the joy of restored, loving relationship with people. One who allows himself to be judged and condemned. One who speaks up for the oppressed. One who lifts others, who gets his hands dirty in the messiness of life. One who overcomes in the power of God and defeats, even death.

This isn’t a sideswipe at church from someone perched on their lofty, holier than thou, mountain top. I'm part of the problem. It isn’t a complaint against so many of the wonderful, Christ-like individuals who comprise the church. In truth, there is much to commend, both in the present and the past – a truth often overlooked by the media and hidden by people’s general disinterest. Yet the question persists in my mind. What picture does the world see, what image of God do we display? 

For those of us 'in' church, who have met with the extraordinary love of Jesus, how can we so misrepresent that passion, that person, by such a timid and tepid response? For the sake of those who don't yet know Jesus, how can we more accurately represent the one whose church it is? Doesn't it require something more radical than a slightly tweaked personal agenda? Doesn't it need an unbalanced, slightly unhinged, faith endued madness that is willing to risk everything for the sake of others? Can we truly represent a God who invades enemy territory as a baby and wins victory by being crucified, by living like everyone else? 

I know this heart-cry stirs in many -  the question is how, what do we do? Let's not still be asking the question this time next year.

Friday, 5 May 2017


The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).

We are fractured people: Our bodies are fractured from our souls, our souls from our spirit. Our bodies grow old and sick, our souls lose hope and suffer depression whilst our spirits, hidden from view most of the time, are deeply yearning for relationship with their creator and the person they truly are.

Of course, for much of the time, this brokenness is invisible, both to ourselves and to those around. For a start, we develop coping mechanisms: medicines and cosmetics for the body, busy-ness, CBT and more medicines for our soul, Eastern mysticism, new-age, religion for our spirit. It makes the underlying malaise feels normal, to be expected, just part of life.

But Paul, writing to his friends in Rome, points to something profound. It isn’t ‘part of life’ it’s a form of death. Life isn’t supposed to be a constant round of patching up or covering over or enduring the brokenness. 

In the Bible, righteousness means ‘the state that is acceptable to God’ and peace (shalom) means wholeness. Brokenness is not a state that God intended for us nor one in which He is content to leave us. Something much better has been won for us through Jesus. In His life on earth He experienced first-hand the full extent of that brokenness. Through His death and resurrection, He broke brokenness and killed death. ‘By his stripes, we are healed’

When the love of God comes in to our life, healing comes. Increasingly we are knit back together; body, soul and spirit. Then the life-giving, strengthening joy of God can flow once more. Through our souls, through our bodies and cause our spirit to soar.