Saturday, 27 November 2010

Tiger Tiger burning low

One year ago today Tiger Woods drove into a fire hydrant outside his Florida home. Although he wasn't seriously damaged physically his reputation has been tarnished and his marriage to Elin Nordengren is over.

As he tries to rebuild his life,  former sponsors such as AT&T , Accenture and Gatorade have ditched him, whilst Nike, Procter and Gamble and Tag Heuer have 'de-emphaiszed' him. I'm not aware of ever having been de-empasized, but it doesn't sound too good.

After King David committed adultery and murder, he turned to God with great sorrow and a longing to know forgiveness. The Psalm he wrote at that time is a remarkable document. It begins simply and poignantly,
'Have mercy on me O God according to your steadfast love' Psalm 51.1
Paul Tripp has written a very helpful book reflecting on this Psalm, called Whiter then snow. Here's his reflection on verse 1.
Sinners and unafraid 
The older you get the more you move from being an astronaut to an archaeologist. When you're young you're excitedly launching to worlds unknown. You have all of the major decisions of life before you and spending your time assessing your potential and considering opportunities. It's a time of exploration and discovery. It's a time to go where you've never been before and to do what you've never done. It's a time to begin to use your training and gain experience.
But as you get older, you begin to look back at least as much as you look forward. As you look back, you tend to dig through the mound of the civilization that was your past life, looking for pottery shards of thoughts, desires, choices, actions, words, decision, relationships, and situations. And as you do this, you can't help but assess how you have done with what you have been given.
Now let's think about this for a moment. Who would be so arrogant and bold as to look back on their life and say, "In every possible way I was as good as I could have been?" Wouldn't we all hold some of those pottery shards in our hands and experience at least a bit of regret? Wouldn't all of us wish that we could take back words that we have said, decisions that we have made, or actions we have taken?
Here's what all of this means: If you and I are at all willing to humbly and honestly look at our lives, we will be forced to conclude that we are flawed human beings. And yet we don't have to beat ourselves up. We don't have to work to minimize or deny our failures. We don't have to be defensive when our weaknesses are revealed. We don't have to rewrite our own histories to make ourselves look better than we actually were. We don't have to be paralyzed by remorse and regret. We don't have to distract ourselves with busyness or drug ourselves with substances. Isn't it wonderful that we can stare our deepest, darkest failures in the face and be unafraid? Isn't it comforting that we can honestly face our most regretful moments and not be devastated? Isn't it amazing that we can confess that we really are sinners and be neither fearful nor depressed?
Isn't it wonderful that we can do all of these things because we have learned that our hope in life is not in the purity of our character or the perfection of our performance. We can face that we are sinners and rest because we know that God really does exist and He is a God of:
  Unfailing love,
  Great compassion
  Because He is, there is hope-hope of forgiveness and new beginnings!  
Yes we really can fully acknowledge our sin and failure and yet be unafraid.
Thank God he neither ditches  nor de-emphasizes us.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Generous justice

Many Christians like me have a very individualistic view of Christianity, a sort of, 'I'm ok, I am forgiven by God, Jesus Christ is my Saviour and I'm guaranteed a place in heaven'. A caricature perhaps but more than a grain of truth I suspect.

In the church I am a part of we have nearly finished an 8 week course on Sundays and in our home groups called the Gospel In Life. It's been exhilarating and very provocative. The essence of it is that the gospel, or good news from God about what he has done to set the world right, cannot be reduced to, 'believe this and you'll be ok', but rather is,  
the good news that through Christ the power of God’s kingdom has entered history to renew the whole world. When we believe and rely on Jesus’ work and record (rather than ours) for our relationship to God, that kingdom power comes upon us and begins to work through us.” – Tim Keller.
OK that takes a fair bit of unpacking, and the course attemts to do that. This week we looked at the huge Biblical emphasis of God's concern and action for the weak, the poor and the vulnerable.  It's a subject Tim Keller has written about in his book Generous Justice. It's a massive subject and has complexity within it. I was helped however by one of our members, Chris Almond, who was interviewed in our evening meeting. Having worked with Tear Fund, he reminded us of just how much  the Bible has to say on this, and also that we must not hide behind the complexities of the subject but trust Christian organisations like Tear Fund and Micah Challenge who help us understand matters of trade justice and inequalities and urge us to take action such as  writing to our MPs, protesting peacefully, reviewing our own western consumer lifestyle or engaging in local social or political action.

Most telling for me was Tim Keller's comment in the DVD that, we may think we have a close relationship with God, but if we have no concern for the poor and vulnerable in society, and if we don't back that up with action, we may well be fooling ourselves. Our pastor Ray Evans had preached similarly from James' letter in the morning meeting. Perhaps we really don't believe that faith without works is dead.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Core stability

Whilst washing up the breakfast dishes (!!) last Sunday morning I was listening to Radio 2 and Aled Jones' Good morning Sunday. Across the display screen of my digital radio scrolled the words, 'celebrities discuss the spiritual side of their lives'.  Is it possible to just have a spiritual side?

When I reflect on Christianity and the God I have come to believe in, I find it hard to imagine that he could just occupy a spiritual side of my life. The creator God made known to us through the pages of the Bible and through the natural world and our own consciences and supremely through the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth, is not a mere local deity with limited dimensions. Indeed in Old testament times when Solomon was contemplating building a temple for this God, he struggled with the immensity of it all,
But who is able to build him a house, seeing heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain him? who am I then, that I should build him a house, save only to burn incense before him? 2 Chronicles 2.6

That seems an appropriate response, and is why I struggle with the concept of a  spiritual side. When a person becomes a Christian 'a number of remarkable things take place both in heaven and in our bodies' (thus begins The Fight a truly excellent book on the christian life written by John White). That's a tantalising intro, but gives some indication of the  immensity of true Christian experience.

For God to live within us can never be a sideline, a someone fitted in around other more pressing interests.  Our relationship with Christ is at the core and everything springs from that. It's the essence of what we have been learning together at my church over the last 6 weeks  in a course from Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church New York City, called The Gospel in Life.

A friend of mine who has been lately coming to our church wrote to me after last Sunday's meeting,
I was struck by a comment (was so struck by it that I cannot remember the exact words although it made the point that, as Christians, we should not have a 'spiritual side' but a we should have a spiritual core) at the evening service of a community church last night. The general theme of the service was 'work'. I don't seem to engage with topics that stray away from simple 'understanding Christianity' or 'living the Gospel' as these ones talk to me the most. Like some kind of spiritual Dragon's Den panellist "let me tell you where I am", I would currently be unable to define myself.... I was a Christian and when push comes to shove I might just write down 'C of E' on a form because...well I always have and its short and fits in the box.I strayed away from church around the age of 18 although I suspect that I strayed from God and the Gospel some time before that. I have returned to the physical church but perhaps not entirely spiritually... although I am making ground.

I have been trying to squeeze my spiritual journey around these things to fill this jar when in fact what I probably need to do is to try and make the centre of this jar my spiritual journey and let it sort of run in and around the other parts of my life but certainly not exclude religion from the facets of my life but let it embrace them, sort of binding them with a purpose and some motivation.

He's a grown man so I won't say out of the mouth of babes and sucklings!

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

One week late

Last weekend I cycled down to Bedford embankment to enjoy the Autumn colours. I took the camera and realised that I was probably about one week late since there had been some fairly strong winds over the preceding days which had resulted in a number of the trees shedding quite a proportion of their leaves. Still it's been a beautiful Autumn, and even one week late it was still a great sight.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Haiti, cholera and Carnaby Street

The Broad Street Pump memorial
How sad to hear the recent news from Haiti. What suffering the people have endure. And now cholera.

Sadly it took a very long time for the Victorian medical establishment to accept that cholera was a water born infection.  So many theories were advanced for both its causation and cure in mid Victorian Britain from the truly ridiculous to the sublime. One doctor who wrote in to The Lancet calling himself, a tobacco smoker’ suggested that smoking gave excellent protection against cholera, first, by relieving the mind from that most depressing agent, fear, and secondly by 'neutralising the miasm and disgusting noxious effluvia’ in other words purifying the air.

Of causation the ideas  were legion. One medic suggesting that it was the new railways changing the magnetism in the vicinity. The Board of Health set up by the government advised that , ‘vegetables, salads and pickles’ were to be avoided at all costs, leading the Lancet to proclaim, ‘grown up men and women tremble at the Brussel sprout or a gherkin!’.

Thankfully John Snow’s painstaking work was eventually recognised and the contaminated water theory was accepted as fact. I’m somewhat proud of my association with John Snow for he was a product of Westminster Medical School, which alas is no more having been gobbled up first with Charing Cross and then finally by Imperial. I thoroughly enjoyed reading his story and the develoment of his theory in The Medical Detective by Sarah Hempel

His Broad Street pump research and the famous map which is known to epidemiologists the world over is his great legacy. Broad Street no longer exists but the original site of it is only a handful of yards from Carnaby Street. There’s a memorial there now and it’s worth seeing.

Thank God for individuals who are willing to stand against the accepted view. With an explosion of guidelines somewhat suffocating today's doctors, we could do with a few more John Snows. Although of course his work wasn't just a reflection of a maverick temperament, but the result of dedicated and laborious research. 

Painstaking dogged research is so important, as is a willingness not to toe the party line (everyone including Florence Nightingale) and espouse the miasm theory prior to Snow. At a recent GP update course (which I thoroughly enjoyed and heartely recommend) we were reminded that it’s ok to deviate from national guidelines as long as you are aware of the guidelines and give good reasons for doing what you do.

Thank God for modern methods of re-hydration and antibiotics. Lets hope and pray that te suffering of the people of Haita will be short lived.

A message from the other side

No, not that side! But thank God got through surgery ok yesterday. And thanks to all for love support and prayer.