Tag Archives: God

Methodists

Methodist! A nickname? A reputation? A methodical people? There are two volumes of Standing Orders and Agendas to prove it – The Constitution and Discipline of the Methodist Church. (All good Methodists know all about it!) I can write about it but, happily, I have no longer to contend with it professionally. In fact I have forgotten most of it. To tell the truth, I never was an avid reader! (How did I survive?) Some people live happily with chaos. I have visited more than one minister’s study with the floor, desk and window ledge littered with books – all sorts of books, manifold sorts of papers, magazines – and they knew, amid the apparent disorder, where to find what they wanted. Somewhere there must be a Bible! It worked for them – genius?? Most of us like some order: we prefer the predictable, especially in church affairs. The cynics among us may be of the opinion that the purpose of our fixed agendas is to ensure that we do things in the way we have always done them. They may succeed in that but, you know, I think their true purpose is to ensure the items essential to our missionary task are there to guide us and keep us on the straight and narrow.

George Whitefield preach

George Whitefield. See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

We call ourselves Methodist because John Wesley, George Whitefield, and other friends in their time at Oxford University were known to be most methodical in life and practice and, most of all, in their prescribed religious exercises. It WAS a nickname. That is it in a nutshell – a big subject well and truly documented, so that one wonders how many more books and PhD theses can be written about it. A fascinating study. The danger of being methodical and orderly is that we can stifle the Spirit of God at work among us. A great pity, because the story of the Book of Faith is about the unpredictable. The most surprising – that God should come to share our life in a child born to a lowly, embarrassed ordinary couple; not to a palace but to a dirty, unhygienic stable. Come to us in the form of a servant – Son of the God of surprises. In all our endeavours to be neat and tidy we have to remember that we are not an institution, we are the children of the Living God.

Where is the space in the agenda of our life, the agenda of the church, the agendas of the dull routine business meetings, to give God the chance to surprise us?

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Love is…

The grace of the Lord, Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you.

Love – what is love? Not a silly question. How we answer determines what we mean when we talk of the love of God. Love is a much used, and a greatly misused, word in common currency. “Would you like a coffee?” the man at the next table asks the young lady when she joins him. “I would love a coffee” she replies. She means – I am dying for a drink. “I love cream”: in other words – I cannot resist it. “I love a good long walk” – I enjoy taking exercise. “I love Arran.” – Arran is my favourite holiday resort. Surely not the way we would want to speak of God’s love.

In the early summer of 1956, on the Guild trip from one of my charge churches towards the end of my three-year probation period, we went to Inverness. Before going home we had time to visit a local cinema. The film was the award-winning Love is a many splendored thing. Matt Monroe made a big hit in the charts with the film’s song of the same title. As I recall, the film was about a young couple very much in love, for whom circumstances decreed a parting of the ways. It looked as though it was forever but, undaunted by the pain of forced separation, their love never died. And, Hollywood being Hollywood, there was a happy ending. Years later they met again and fell into one another’s arms. “True love,” the song declares, “A many splendored thing.” Translated less poetically: “True love – brilliant; magnificent.” And that brings us closer to our understanding of God’s love for us. Leaf through the pages of Scripture and they tell us that God’s love is persistent; God’s love is consistent; God’s love is all-embracing: it tells us the width of God’s love – it is not just for you and me or the faithful few: “God so loved the world that he gave us his son. . . . .” Behind everything, those pages tell us, is the love of God.

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn - The Return of the Prodigal Son

The Return of the Prodigal Son: Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Jesus tells a story of a father and his two sons, all three living at home, working together on the family estate. One of those sons, disgruntled and fed-up, wants to flutter his wings, and asks to be given his share of the family inheritance there and then. In spite of the potential pain of loss, and because he loves his sons, the father accedes to the boy’s request. This younger son takes it, departs, and wastes it on riotous living. We are told that when he regains his senses, impoverished, demoralised, he crawls back home hoping his father will receive him back as a servant. Far from it – his father, his heart full of pity, does the unconventional thing: he runs out to meet his boy, throws his arms around him, kisses him, and welcomes him home with a lavish party. The boy who stayed at home could not believe it and was greatly offended. More than that, he would take no part in the celebration despite the father’s pleading and his being given the assurance that he too was loved and cherished. The story is the Parable of the Prodigal Son. It could just as easily be called The Parable of the Loving Father. When Jesus speaks of the love of God, it is of a father’s love he speaks: our Heavenly Father.

The love of God be with you, always.

What a friend

James Tissot: Jesus discourses with his disciples. Image credit: Brooklyn Museum via Wikimedia

James Tissot: Jesus discourses with his disciples.
Image credit: Brooklyn Museum via Wikimedia

The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch”; but it was Jesus who named them disciples and he named some of them apostles and he called them Friends. Jesus said, “No longer do I call you servants . . . .instead I call you friends.” (John 15: 15)

A saying with a greater significance for those who actually heard Jesus say it than for us. In those days to be a servant of God was a great privilege – a title of honour. But Jesus says “there is something greater still for those who follow me, you are my friends.” And I think he is telling us in the same breath that friendship with him brings us closer to God or more accurately, brings God nearer to us. A God who is no remote, distant potentate, away far beyond the human scene – up there alone with the stars. There is a relationship with God that is denied us with the Queen. If you are of the privileged few invited to a Palace Garden Party, you cannot reciprocate as you would with an ordinary acquaintance and invite the Queen to come to your house for tea and scones. On the other hand, God in Christ is our companion on the journey.

When you think of the motley crew Jesus chose to be his friends, God is no snob. Jesus mixed with all kinds of people. If others looked down their noses at any of them, Jesus certainly did not. There is no evidence of hurt or annoyance on his part as his contemporaries accused him of being a socialite, a party-goer, the friend of outsiders with whom no decent person would have anything to do. Or, as the gospel puts it, “a glutton and a wine drinker, friend of corrupt tax-men and outcasts”. What may be more difficult to accept is that if we are friends of Jesus, his friends become our friends – the scruffy, smelly, homeless alcoholics straight from a night’s refuge under the bridge down by the riverside; getting in the way as you try to pass them on the pavement, waiting for the off-licence to open to become even more helpless or repulsive. There are others of like ilk, you will have little difficulty in identifying them, Jesus’ friends. In the course of ministry I have been privileged to be the friend of truly, saintly folk. Alas ministry has brought me into contact some odd characters, who would not consider themselves to be friends of Jesus. I have to confess that whatever Jesus said on the friendship scene, I have found it difficult, nigh impossible to envisage then becoming my friends! A real test of faith, a test of vocation and a challenge to discipleship. Following Jesus would be easier if one could ignore the maxim that He came not to bolster the ego of the pious and self-righteous, but for the despised and rejected. We cannot ignore one important word of Jesus, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.”

A true story . . . . A church was engaged in a mission to the community, conducted by a visiting preacher. One afternoon the missioner and the local pastor set out on a house to house canvas, by car. The visitor noted from the map that there were three housing estates adjacent to the main road on which they were travelling. On the completion of their visit to the first community they drove on in the direction of the second estate, only to pass by it at speed to do the rounds of the third community. To the astonishment of the evangelist there was no suggestion of a return to the neglected area and no explanation given,. So the visiting preacher asked the pastor why they had not visited – and, the reply? “Oh! They are not our kind of people!”

No comment . . . . .

Behind his back

Robert Runcie: Photo Credit Wikimedia

Robert Runcie: Photo Credit Wikimedia

John Mortimer, in an interview with the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Doctor Robert Runcie, asked the question, “To get back to God . . . . would you like Him, if you were really to know all about Him?” To which Robert Runcie candidly replied, “Jeremiah shook his fist at God and asked Him what He was about. I do not believe that prayer is necessarily peaceful. It may mean arguing with God.” Harry Williams in Someday I’ll find you tells of his struggle with God and in the course of the battle being reminded of Yeats’ line: Hatred with God may bring the soul to God. “God,” Williams says in language less refined, “will never push off, however much you tell Him to, even if He remains in the wings and returns every now and then with His filthy magic.”

As the Old Testament Book of Exodus tells it, God warns Moses he will not see “the dazzling light of His presence”: in other words, God’s face. God does not allow such an intimacy, does not permit what Moses seeks – to see His glory. The privilege is confined to seeing only His back, not because we might drop dead at the sight of his face, but because we are following Him. From that position we feel free to express our rebellious emotions, to shake our fist at Him, thumb our nose at Him, tell Him to push off!

Reference: Exodus 33: 18–23

A rebel’s prayer

Lord God, it helps us to know you understand us, even in our dark and rebellious moods. If you didn’t we might as well let go the little faith to which we cling. Just as well you are patient with us. The mood affects our attitude to you and you do not always come off best.

In spite of our good intentions and our promises to love you, to be true to you, never to doubt you, sometimes we hate you, turn our backs to you – curse you.

God we are a bundle of contradictions trying hard to please you; failing miserably, sometimes hating ourselves for it, at times indifferent – couldn’t care less.

Praise be! You don’t hold it against us, never abandon us, always love us. Be patient, absorb our anger and never let us go. Amen.

God believes in us

Shell seekersIn her book The Shell Seekers, which became a best seller after it was featured on television, Rosamunde Pitcher tells of the death of Penelope, a principal character in the story. Olivia, Penelope’s daughter, is responsible for the funeral arrangements. She finds the visit of the vicar who is to conduct the service much easier than feared. She thanks him for his kindness and care, especially, as she explains, because her mother was not a religious person and possibly did not believe in God. “I wouldn’t worry too much about that,” the vicar assures Olivia, “she may not have believed in God, but I’m certain God believed in her.”

The story reminds me of a saying of William Barclay which I once found difficult to accept. He said: “Without us, and without what we can do, God is totally helpless.” I ought to have known better having read John of the 4th Gospel’s account of the post-resurrection lakeside meeting of Peter, one of the Twelve fellow travellers with Jesus. Peter’s circumstances and those of Penelope were different. Peter did believe. He was a disciple who had cause to consider himself a failure. His behaviour was despicable, unforgivable in his eyes, he had betrayed the Master. In all probability Peter could be remembering the evening when he told Jesus in no uncertain terms: “If everyone else runs away from you, I will never desert you” – but he did. Three times courage failed him; three times he denied all knowledge of his Master. In his gracious restoration by Jesus at the lakeside, not only was he restored and forgiven, he was entrusted with an important and responsible task. Here is the affirmation, the assurance that in spite of ourselves, God believes in us:

 Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

“Yes Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said to him, Take care of my sheep”. (John 21:15–17)

When I am gone take care of my flock: for Peter this would turn out to be a life of continuous care for Christ’s sheep. What a privilege; what a responsibility, a clear signal that God believes in us.