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Friday, 31 October 2014

Ephesians 5:15-17

Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.
Make the most of the time. This is specific time not just a matter of chronology. Kairos not chronos. A precise moment waiting to be clutched, seized, laid hold of, made use of. Jesus tells us that the time has come. Mark 1.15. And what are we to do with this time, this now, this very moment of opportunity? We are to redeem it. And redeem it doubly. Once because our use of time is meant to compensate for the ways in which the world fails to use time well: as our saviour compensated for our failure on the cross so we make up for the world's wasted time. And twice because the second aspect of redemption is about payment. To redeem is to regain something in exchange for something else. In other words, redeeming our time is going to cost us something. What is the cost then? Jesus loves to turn our perception of cost effective time use on its head. Be wise but don't succumb to worldly wisdom. Godly use of time is probably going to look stupid because god has made foolish the wisdom of the wise. 1 Corinthians 1.20. God's folly is wiser than man's wisdom and he will use such folly to shame those who think they are wise. 1 Corinthians 1.27. God's wisdom is precisely not the wisdom of this age - 1 Corinthians 2.6 - so to walk in it we will look pretty silly. And so, be wise today. Be foolish.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Ephesians 5:14

Wake up, oh sleeper, and rise from the dead and Christ will shine on you.
Almost a year ago now, we prayed for a dear friend to be raised from the dead. In amongst the grief and confusion of that prayer not being answered, I remember realising how easy it would be for Jesus to breathe life back into someone. Just say the word. Matthew 8.8. His voice is the one that formed the world, that cracks the cedars, that causes all in the temple to cry glory. Psalm 29.3-10. His voice calls forth Lazarus from the grave, and causes dry bones to be bound with sinew and muscle and flesh. Wake. Up. At some point that night during the hours of calling out for god to act i realised that resurrection is what Jesus does - not just from literal death but spiritual death. Wake up sleepy heads. Wake up from your slumber, your forgetfulness, your wilful rebellion, your ingratitude, your labouring uselessly over what can never satisfy. Wake up, Nic, from your self pity, your anxiety, your anger, your grudges, your petty rivalries and your selfishness. Oh god, I want to shine and I cannot wake myself up. Can these bones of Barnwell of Cambridge of England of Nic live? Only you know. Ezekiel 37.3. Fill me with light today. Wake me up. Don't let the light within me become dark. Matt 6.22-23. Teach me to shine as I am covered by your rising light. Isaiah 60.1.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Ephesians 8:11-13

Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible – and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.

Wesley says of verse 11, "to avoid is not enough." Paul warns his friends to steer clear of what will hurt them and seduce them into old-self behaviour (2 Corinthians 6:14-17), but amidst the mess we have a job to do. And it is a job in which we imitate our saviour. Jesus always knew that his light-ness would cause problems: dark doesn't like light therefore we should expect hostility and even hatred as we live our counter-cultural life. (John 3:19-20; 1 Corinthians 4:5). Ultimate exposure, reproof, conviction is the work of the Spirit, but we are not to shirk responsibility: we must join Him in showing up what isn't Kingdom.
The language here is of making visible things for what they really are, a bringing into the cold light of day that which is shadowed and shady, a letting people know that certain things are not ok: that difficult conversation explaining to an 11 year old why it isn't ok to call his Sunday School teacher a 'bitch'; a gentle word about someone's Facebook use; acting as a peacekeeper amongst those who would rather cling to grudges and fester in dispute. This is risky business: as the minibeasts who make their life under a stone flee from the hand of a child who turns over their dwelling place, so we will encounter painful reactions to our shininess. Some things don't want to be exposed. Some things long to be hidden. Some things will always flee from the light. And yet this is not just the business of dark-destroying but light-making: an 11 year old who knows the damage caused by awful words might just become a little bit shiny himself. This is not a call to judgement or condemnation, but a firm bringing back from the brink (James 1:19-20); gentle restoration from a place of love (Galatians 6:1).

Don't hide your light; let it rub off on someone today.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Ephesians 5:8-10

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. 

Yesterday was a day of dark and light: the darkness of storm clouds gathering only to be broken through by golden cracks of light; swathes of grey suddenly splintered by the brilliance of blue sky. Darkness and light can never truly coexist; one always drives out the other. We are those who know what it is to walk in the light and we must live up to our calling. This is not a passive process: find out what pleases the Lord; seek it; test it; approve it. And the only way to get there; the only way to know God's will is whole-hearted submission, the surrendering of all we are for his sake. (Romans 12:1-2, Psalm 143:8, Luke 22:42) The fruit of light comes from laying ourselves down. (John 12:24) And if we do not produce fruit, if our lives do not look light, what is the point? Dallas Willard speaks of the danger of a Gospel that preaches forgiveness without preaching the need for transformation. The Light has come but we need to walk in it. Otherwise we are ineffective (2 Peter 1:8), unproductive (Titus 3:14), uprooted trees - twice dead (Jude 1:12). The kind of trees only useful for being thrown into the fire. (Matthew 7:19) Our separation from fruitlessness is to be absolute: whereas Light grows seeds of goodness, righteousness and truth, darkness grows the opposite and yet both will grow together. (Matthew 13:24-30) Jesus always intended that the lives of his disciples bear much fruit (John 15:16). How fruity are we feeling today? What evidence of our illuminated minds, of our adoption? Are we walking in the Light of God?

Monday, 20 October 2014

Ephesians 5:6-7

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.

Empty words. Void. Dull. Worthless. Words without the ability to give life. The word for 'deceived' here is a kind of soft-spoken persuasion, drawn in by a silver-tongue, seduced by sugar-coated words which promise what they cannot deliver. The writer of Hebrews uses this same word to speak of sin: do not allow the deceitfulness of sin to hoodwink you. (3:13) Be on your guard against what seems harmless but is, in fact, deadly. This is not simply the danger of falling into sin but of listening to untruth, of being gnawed at by false accusation, of succumbing to a sense of worthlessness instigated by meaningless comparison, a kind of Psalm 73 style questioning about other people's successes and our apparent failure. Paul's cry is insistent: do not be deceived. (Colossians 2:8, 2 Thessalonians 2:10). Do not surround yourself with lies and unhelpful influences; instead gird yourself with truth. (Eph 6:14) Buckle it round your belly. Stick it on your mirror. Stamp it on your forehead. Imprint it into your brain. We are those we live in the world. Paul is not suggesting monastic isolation but his pastoral concern is for a kind of tainting, selling short conformity that robs us of our distinction. Empty words end only in emptiness. Darkened thinking ends in dark places. We, on the other hand, speak words bursting with fullness, all the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. Our words lead others in the opposite direction to those of the deceiver: The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, turning a person from the snares of death. (Proverbs 13:14)

Friday, 17 October 2014

Ephesians 5:3-5

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed,because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of GodWe return again to another of Paul's lists. I've been struggling with these seemingly endless lists of what we are not to do. A thousand ways in which we fall into being the old self; a thousand reminders of what life looked like before and what it can't look like anymore. At the moment, life feels under strain. When confronted by ingratitude, anger, disrespect and the occassional dose of f-ing and blinding in my direction, it's difficult not to retailiate, difficult to be Christlike when 99.9% of my being wants to swear loudly and storm off in the opposite direction. But, amidst Paul's problems there is remedy. Each of these hateful vices is coupled with an antidotal virtue. Putting off and putting on go hand in hand. Thus, speaking truthfully is the remedy to falsehood (Eph 4:25); self-control shuts down anger (4:26); generosity of spirit is advised to those who would steal (4:28); encouragement not slagging off (4:29); kindness, compassion, forgiveness not bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander, malice (4:31-2); and here, in chapter 5, holiness medicates immorality (5:3) and thanksgiving replaces foolish talk (5:4). And then there is greed. For Paul, this is synonymous with idolotry. (Colossians 3:5). To be greedy for anything other than God is to put God in second place. To covet for anyone, anything, else is to deny God his rightful place, to carve an idol out of what cannot save. So what can save us? In all this, what are we to do to be distinct? How can we help ourselves? How can we defend ourselves from the desire to backtrack and sit comfortably in the skin of who we used to be? The weapons that we fight with are not the weapons of the world (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). A seeking of anything and everything else is countered only by seeking him. (Matthew 6:33) It is with worship and thanksgiving that we wage our war.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Ephesians 4:32-5:2

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Jesus has a monopoly on compassion in the New Testament. It's his word, his attribute, his character defining feature. It is the thing that compels Christ to act: an inner disposition, a holy discontent, a willingness to be broken by others brokenness that must result in doing something. In healing, in reaching out, in weeping. Mark 1.41, 6.34, 8.2, Luke 7.13. Compassion is no mere pity. In pre-Christian Greek the word doesn't have any of these connotations. It means the inner parts of a sacrifice, literally the bowels, the word used to describe Judas's spilt intestines in acts 1.18. It is a gut wrenching feeling, a twisting of the deep insides in response to fellow humanity's plight, a physical Ouch of identification with another.

In our community of late there has been much quabbling and quibbling, undercurrents of resentment, flashes of anger, the taking of offence. The world's solution to such behaviour is at worst a kind of tit for tat retaliation and at best a kind of enforced civility through gritted teeth: I'll be nice to you but the grudge runs deep; my catalogue of recorded wrongs is ready to be re-plundered at slightest provocation so don't you dare pee me off. But Jesus shows us a higher way. His way, the messianic peculiarity of compassion, of forgiveness, of kindness is the one which we are called to imitate. As those who know the loving compassionate kindness of a merciful God so we act. No Hugo Boss or Calvin Klein odour to demarcate us but the fragrance of compassion, the sweet scent of a live laid down.

Saturday, 11 October 2014


In the past week, I have spoken to two wise Christian sisters about what it really means to surrender. I have been struggling with feeling angry at God for a very long time. Living in a season of unanswered prayer is hard. Living in the meantime and trying to remain confident, trying to keep trusting, is a daily battle, and in recent weeks I have felt my heart grow hard and cold towards Jesus.

I've had some kind of Irritable Bowel Syndrome for several years. Last year I spent a lot of time in and out of doctors and hospital appointments searching for some kind of medical cure, some kind of cause, some kind of explanation or time scale, some kind of comfort and reassurance that my body is going to get better. I didn't find any.

At times, what I affectionately call my bowels of doom are bearable, but for much of the time it feels like something that I cannot carry. IBS is an embarrassing and misunderstood complaint. It leaves me feeling emotionally and physically drained, weak, unattractive, useless.

And angry. Don't forget the anger. Angry at God for not healing, angry at others for not understanding, angry at myself and my inability to do what I want to do with the energy that I want to do it. Anger is a hard stone carried around in place of a heart, fingers clenched tight into fists, head tipped slightly back lest something soften the hurt and rage and weaken it into tears. And somewhere along the lines, I have learned to like being angry. I have needed to feel angry and I have vented it at every opportunity. I have clung to my anger as a drowning man clings to the remnants of his ship. Anger is safe. It is invulnerable. A callous defence mechanism that barricades the self against any other weaker emotion that might cause loss of face.

It is ok to be angry. I believe in a God who permits our anger, who understands it and listens to it. I believe in a God who allowed people to write psalms to him that accuse him of indifference, of absence, of unwillingness to act. That, in short, accuse him of not being who he says he is, and demand that he start acting like the God he claims to be. Walter Bruggemann suggests that lament is not only a permissible act, but a necessary one. In pouring out our pain to God, “everything is said, and God is known to be strong enough and willing enough to hear” (The Psalms and the Life of Faith, p58). We must tell God how we feel, lest God becomes a dead cipher who cannot be addressed at all, and anger is a significant part of this telling.

But anger is also incredibly painful. The writer of proverbs says that envy rots the bones (Proverbs 14:30), and I think that anger does something similar: a slow, bitter poison that contaminates every other thought and emotion. A hardening of the heart that resists comfort, and refuses to be calmed. In Isaiah God laments that his people will not accept his gentleness: "In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it." (Isaiah 30:15) God is exasperated by Israel's stubbornness, saddened by their refusal to trust him. Israel chooses anger over comfort.

I see that same character trait in me. I don't want to be gentle. I don't want to give in and trust. I want to be angry. Anger is safe. Gentleness is vulnerable. As I prayed with a friend this week, God gave me a picture of a barren land, a wilderness parched by lack of rain. And yet, as the rain started to fall, the ground refused it. The ground would not allow the rain to soak in, almost like some kind of invisible water-repellent, a hidden tarpaulin refusing to let the water find the soil that so desperately needed it.

My friend asked me what surrender would look like. What would it look like to stop being angry? What would it look like to deliberately quieten my soul (Psalm 131:2) instead of giving full vent to its rage? The writer of Proverbs says "A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back." (29:11) It is permissible to rant. It is not always wise to do so. And yet, in my head at least, gentleness is weakness. To not be angry is to somehow give in, to give up and stop caring, to be a doormat that just accepts, that naively, stupidly, continues to love and trust even as it is stamped on.

But gentleness is Jesus' way. He is gentle and humble and we are to learn from him. (Matthew 11:28-30) Gentleness is a deliberate holding back of what could be released, a practised quietening, a disciplined calming down: "You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God." (1 Peter 3:4). I don't like that verse. I'm loud and decidedly ungentle. I've always assumed that verse isn't meant for me and been confused and envious by those I know who are able to master gentleness.

And yet and yet and yet...I am tired of being angry. I am tired of shouting myself hoarse in God's direction. I am tired of hot, angry tears that don't really mean anything. I am tired of asking why me why me why me. Tired of bitterness and rage and pent up aggression. What does surrender look like? What does it mean to embrace gentleness? What does it mean to let go?

I think it looks like dancing. I think it looks like face upturned to the sky with the sun on my face, like running fast and free, like foolishness, like making snow angels and catching snowflakes on my tongue. It looks like singing before the stars, like laughing from the pit of my belly, like a baby gurgling in delight as she is tickled in her father's arms. It looks like smiling for no reason whatsoever. Arms outstretched, hands opened, fists uncurled. It looks like weeping. It looks like free flowing tears of acceptance, of trust, or not understanding but deciding to keep trusting anyway. It look like a barren land that has forgotten what it feels like to not be in drought, drinking in the first drops of rain. It looks like a young man terrified in a garden, fearful, anxious, agonised by what might come and yet knowing that his father can be trusted. It looks like not my will but yours be done. 


I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.

Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me,
and in all your creatures -
I wish no more than this, O Lord.

Into your hands I commend my soul:
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.

Charles de Foucauld

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Ephesians 4.29-31

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.

There are many painful words in these verses: any, only, all, every. Paul loves his absolutes. Yet again, we are reminded of how high the standard is. Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48) Guard your mouth, your mind, your thoughts, your intentions. What feelings are bubbling under the surface? It's not only what comes out that's the problem. Repressed bitterness left to stew is just as bad. An invisible rotting of the bones and poisoning of the spirit. It all needs to go. But amidst the bad rubbish that needs to be riddanced is a sin of an altogether more serious kind: do not grieve the Holy Spirit with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Jesus says that those who blaspheme against the Spirit cannot be forgiven. We cannot receive forgiveness if we do not confess the deity of our helper and our need of him if we are to come to Christ to be forgiven in the first place. But what about us? How do we deny him? How do we grieve him? What makes him sad? Where do I squash the still, small voice of conviction? When do I reject the wise advice of my teacher? When do I feel the niggle of guilt in my belly and opt for self righteousness instead? The Holy Spirit is grieved when we ignore him, when we forget his equal importance within the godhead. Let us press on to acknowledge him today. Stop and be still. Which way is the wind blowing?

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Ephesians 4.25-28

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbour, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

Today is a day of baptisms. A day in which our community will welcome 6 beautiful children into the family of God. A day when we will stand together and declare who Jesus is and what it means to be one of those following him. These verses seem somewhat of a miscellaneous concoction, a mishmash of dos and don'ts. And yet they are not simply advice for individuals to prevent you from getting into trouble, but rules for community life. Paul paints a picture of a church that is full, a body that is well trained and alert to the needs of every distinct muscle and ligament, a people of Christ who show him off to the world. 

And so, what empties the fullness of Christ? What bursts the bubble, pops the balloon, springs a leak in this intended presentation of Jesus' body? What will prevent Christ from being seen in the gathering of our community today to those who are on the edge of it? We do. We are those who mar the body by the way we treat its members. Thus, Paul gives us a checklist. Who do we lie to? What about? In what relationships do we refrain from telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help me God? What truth needs to be spoken and what is just an excuse for gossiping. A masking of bitchiness with honesty. What about anger? What do we get angry at? Why? What's the root? And what sin springs forth from it? 

I'm too short, too snappy, too easily irritated by the foibles of others and too cross at my own inability. But at least I'm not a thief. I don't steal. Well. Not stuff anyway. But Paul's dig isn't merely about literal theft but about contribution. What do I hold back? What do I bring to a group dynamic? Do I build up or tear down? Do I rob attention and importance from others with my own determination - desperation - to be noticed? Pray for me today and for my community. May we be fully displaying Jesus today. We have no time to be half empty in our attitudes to one another.