Don’t look away

“My God, my God. Why hast thou forsaken me?” – Matthew 27:46

‘The cross is about Jesus, the eternal son of God,
being forsaken by his Father.’

‘How great the pain of searing loss,
the Father turns his face away.’

‘One final breath He gave
As heaven looked away.’

‘The light of the world,
Abandoned in darkness to die.’

I love the depth of the cross. I love the weight of Jesus’ sacrifice. I love the certainty of ‘It is Finished!’ But I really struggle with the idea that the God who promised Israel, and all of Humanity (whom Jesus fully represents on the cross), “never will I leave you or forsake you” breaks that promise at the very moment Jesus needed it most.

And, as far as I can see, there is nothing in scripture that actually suggests God abandoned Jesus on the Cross. In fact it seems quite the opposite when the psalmist prophetically writes ‘you will not abandon me to the grave’ (Psalm 16:10).

Even in Jesus cry “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” there is hope. Those agonising words are the opening lines of Psalm 22.  And in feeling abandoned, he finds the fulfilment of God’s promise in v24….

“For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.” – Psalm 22:24

What if the cross isn’t about forsaking, it’s about Father, Son and Spirit faithfully working together to bring healing and wholeness even in the most agonising of suffering?

What if, rather than turning his face away in the midst of our suffering, at the very moment we need him most, when we’re at our end and feel totally alone… our heavenly Father hears our cry for help and, by his Spirit, stands with us until it is finished? What if  it is when we are poorest and when we are persecuted that we find the King of Heaven standing up for his citizens (Matt 5:3 & 10 and Proverbs 31:8-9)?

If that is the case, we need better ways of describing what happened on the cross. We need new ways of expressing how our Heavenly Father relates to Jesus and to us, in his time of need and ours.

God said “never will I leave you or forsake you” and I believe my Heavenly Father honours his promises.

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A letter to America

Dear Friends,

Once again we find ourselves in a world reeling from the news of another shooting in America. And once again the media coverage, emotional responses and political spin form their familiar dances around the issue.

President Trump has been quick to label the tragedy as a mental health issue and ‘not a guns situation’ (not that he has any intention of addressing either!). The perpetrator was a young, white, American veteran and is therefore deemed by the media outlets not as a terrorist but as a man with a ‘difficult’ background; a ‘lone wolf’.

And once again the gun lobbyists and enthusiasts have been quick to jump on their 2nd Amendment bandwagon; proclaiming with ‘patriot’ passion their ‘right to bear arms!’

I am not an American citizen. But I struggle with the 2nd Amendment argument from those quick to fall back on their Constitutional prooftext.

I am a Christian. I am a pastor of a local church. I teach from the Bible. I have received academic theological training, part of which was the art of critically reading ancient texts – a skill largely lacking in many 2nd Amendment arguments. I know all too well the dangers of proof-texting and am often challenged on how I can possibly allow my 21st Century life to be so influenced by ancient manuscripts; manuscripts written in other languages, in other cultures, thousands of years ago. And my answer is this:

  • I study the text – what it says in and of itself.
  • I study the culture in which it was written – what principles were the authors trying to convey.
  • How can I learn from and embody those principles in my own life?

There are many complicated verses and passages in the Bible. There are chapters and books that appear to contradict one another. It is difficult, to say the least, to take the entirety of the Bible literally and embody each and every teaching accurately.

Perhaps the same can be said of the American Constitution. Whilst a relatively young document, the Constitution was written in a time and culture not our own. It would be dangerous to take 18th Century principles and slam them into 21st Century America. How can we critically read, for sake of this argument, the 2nd Amendment?

What does the text say?

“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

What of the culture in which in was written? A fledgling country finding its feet and establishing independence from, in their view, a tyrannical regime. Wanting to secure for themselves a new country based on liberty, they installed within their constitution the right to collectively defend their cause by military means if necessary.

What principles can we bring into our contemporary lives?

Firstly, a ‘lone wolf’ is not a ‘well regulated militia’. The definition of militia is ‘a military force that is raised from the civil population to supplement a regular army in an emergency.’ Individuals carrying guns for ‘personal protection’ is not a ‘well regulated militia’.

Secondly, shooting the general public – including children – in schools, churches, shopping malls or concerts are not the actions of a well regulated militia defending and ensuring the security of the state against a tyrannical or oppressive force.

Thirdly, as I understand it, the 2nd Amendment is about defending the country you love from powers who would seek to destroy it from within or without; so defend it. Protect it, not by shooting one another but by forging a society that is fair, benevolent, equitable and peaceful. Forge a country your forefathers would be proud of. Forge a nation so renowned for its respect for the life of each of its citizens that the thought of using a gun against any of them for any reason is repugnant. Those struggling with their mental health need access to health care not assault rifles.

The Government has a responsibility to act. Millions of prayers have been offered up over the years for the victims of mass shootings in the U.S. Thousands more for those affected by smaller gun crimes across that country. I believe in prayer. I believe it provides a comfort for those who mourn and a peace that surpasses understanding for those who grieve. But I also believe that we can so often be the answer to people’s prayers. And those in power in the U.S. Government have the power and responsibility to answer the prayers of its own citizens, and citizens of the global community of which the United States of America is a part.

President Trump swore an oath to ‘preserve, protect and defend’ the constitution. It is well within his job description to prevent U.S. citizens from misusing the Constitution for their own selfish end.

Gun control is constitutional.

Yours,

A concerned British Friend who shares your pain.

Why wouldn’t you push the button?

Last night I watched a TV audience despair at a politician for refusing to use nuclear weapons if he was elected to lead the country. After all, it isn’t much of a deterrent if one is reluctant to use it, right? Surely a strong leader is one prepared to ‘Push the button’.

Allow me to remind us what happened the last time someone ‘pushed the button’.

World Map Inked

“And this is what happened on 6 August 1945 at Hiroshima: 8:15am. The streets are full of people; people going to work, people going to shop, people – smaller people – going to school. It was a lovely summer morning, sunshine and blue sky. Blue sky stands for happiness in Japan. The air raid siren sounds. No one pays attention. There’s only a single enemy aircraft in the sky. The aircraft flies across the city. Above the centre, something falls. It’s hard to see – the bomb is very small, two kilograms in weight, a little larger than a tennis ball in size. It falls for ten to fifteen seconds, it falls and falls.

“Then there is a searing flash of light, brighter and hotter than a thousand suns. Those who were looking directly at it had their eyes burnt in their sockets. They never looked again on men or things. In the street below there was a business man in charge of large affairs, walking to his work. A lady, as elegant as she was beautiful. A brilliant student, the leader of his class; a little girl, laughing as she ran. And in a moment they were gone. They vanished from the earth. They were utterly consumed by the furnace of the flash. There were no ashes even on the pavement. Nothing but their black shadows on the stones. Scores of thousands more, sheltered by walls or buildings by the flash, were driven mad by an intolerable thirst that followed from the heat. They ran in frenzied hordes towards the seven rivers of the delta on which Hiroshima is built. They fought like maniacs to reach the water. If they succeeded, they stooped to drink the poisoned stream, and in a month they too were dead.

“Strength is only strength when it makes the weak strong.” – Kosuke Koyama.

“Then came the blast, thousand of miles an hour. Buildings in all directions for kilometres, flattened to the ground. Lorries, cars, milk-carts, human beings, babies’ prams, picked up and hurled like lethal projectiles, hundreds of metres through the air. The blast piled its victims up in frightful heaps, seven of eight corpses deep. Then the fireball touched the earth and scores of conflagrations, fanned by hurricane winds, joined in a fire-storm. And many thousands more, trapped by the walls of flame, that leaped higher than the highest tower in the town, in swiftly or longer agony, were burnt to death. Then all went black as night. The mushroom cloud rose to 40,000 feet. It blotted out the sun. It dropped its poison dust, its fall-out, on everything that still remained not lethal in Hiroshima. And death by radioactive sickness from the fall-out was the fate of those who had survived the flash, the river, the blast, the fire-storm.”

– Philip Noel Baker.

Is this really what we want our elected officials to inflict on anyone? Is this description really an accurate depiction of the effects of ‘strong and stable leadership’?

And let us not wash our own hands of this responsibility. It is not enough to say ‘not in my name’. Our elected officials represent us; they work on our behalf therefore we share responsibility for their actions: If our Prime Minister or President pushes the button… we push the button!

I suggest that the leader in question maybe stronger than some think when, confronted by a room of people apparently comfortable with unleashing the kind of destruction described above, he stayed true to his principles of peace, communication and reconciliation instead of bowing to the vocal ‘Bomb now, talk later’ tactics; one who is prepared to meet, talk and negotiate with those who are different; one who is willing to try something new and not, even hypothetically to win votes, repeat the atrocities of the past.

The truth is simply this, there are no positives in the possession or use of nuclear weapons.

Political Prayer

This post was originally written in 2015. 
In light of the upcoming 2017 election, it seems fitting to re-post and re-pray for our country and its leaders — Jimmy

On 7th May 2015, the UK had the opportunity to vote for its new Government. The votes were counted, the Conservative party won the most seats and Mr David Cameron began another five years in the office of Prime Minister.

Since the results were announced, social media has been flooded with opinions, complaints, rants and viewpoints right across the full spectrum of political persuasion and human emotion. Open letters to Mr Cameron began to fill timelines and various infographics predicted the next five years to varying degrees of tragedy or triumphalism.

My personal reflections are as follows.

Firstly, if you’ve written, or are thinking of writing an open letter to David Cameron, why not actually send him your letter? It strikes me that posting it on Facebook in the vain hope the Prime Minister of the UK will stumble across your Facebook page and hear your concerns is somewhat less effective that sending your views to his house!

Secondly, particularly to my Christian friends, though not exclusively so, we are called to pray for our government and leaders. Regardless of whether we voted for him or his party or not, we should pray for the peace and prosperity of our country and those democratically elected to govern.

But the thought that has challenged me most is this. I think it is excellent that so much discussion has taken, and is taking place amongst communities and on social media. However, the election results are not the final word, they are only the beginning. We need to remain engaged in the political situation of our country (not leave our shores in search of a country with a ‘better’ political/social system according to some ambiguous league table as some have threatened to do). Our politicians and MP’s are elected to represent us. Unless I have fundamentally misunderstood our democratic parliamentary system (in which case, someone please educate me!) our local MP’s need to hear our views, they need to understand what matters to our communities in order to do their job properly and represent us accurately.

If there is an issue that resonates with your heart and beliefs, write or ask to meet with your MP about it. Get involved. “Be the change you want to see” in your community, in your country.

As a pastor of a church, I see the needs in our community and I strive to act in a way I believe Jesus would act – justly, with compassion for all to bring about peace and love for everyone. Some political policies make that task easier, others make it considerably harder. But ultimately, we are called to love one another as we love ourselves. That is not only a task that crosses political divides, racial differences and social backgrounds, but is a vision of hope for every single person to be valued and cared for.

So my prayer is that God would bless David Cameron and his cabinet and government with wisdom to discern what is best for this country as a whole and courage to make the right decisions and to carry out the duties of his office with integrity and compassion.

They don’t write ’em like they used to

Any song that begins with the line “Blessed is the man whose bowels move” is going to struggle to be a classic. However, once my somewhat childish first impression of this hymn eased enough for me to read further I found it quite a poignant piece. See what you think.

Blest is the man whose bowels move
And melt with pity to the poor;
Whose soul, by sympathizing love,
Feels what his fellow saints endure.

His heart contrives for their relief
More good than his own hands can do;
He, in the time of general grief,
Shall find the Lord has bowels, too.

His soul shall live secure on earth,
With secret blessings on his head,
When drought, and pestilence and dearth
Around him multiply their dead.

Or if he languish on his couch,
God will pronounce his sins forgiv’n;
Will save him with a healing touch,
Or take his willing soul to Heav’n.

Isaac Watts 1719