Jesus: Completely Innocent, Totally Condemned

Jesus: Completely Innocent, Totally Condemned

In the Bible, the number three signifies ‘completeness’. When things are said three times, that’s considered the last word.

Innocent

Yesterday as I was reading Luke 23 I noticed that three times it is mentioned that Jesus is guilty of nothing:

  • v4 – Pilate: “I don’t find him guilty of anything.”
  • v15 – Pilate: “Herod didn’t find him guilty either and sent him back.”
  • v22 – Pilate: “I have not found him guilty of anything…”

Three times Jesus is declared innocent by those in authority who had examined Him: He was found to be completely innocent.

Condemned

But three times there were calls for Jesus to be put to death:

  • v18 – But the whole crowd shouted, “Kill Jesus!”
  • v21 – But they [the crowd] kept shouting, “Nail him to a cross! Nail him to a cross!”
  • v23 – The people kept on shouting as loud as they could for Jesus to be put to death.

Three times there are demands for Jesus to be condemned to death: He was totally condemned.

Innocent Yet Condemned

As we read on, verse 24 reveals that Pilate ‘gave in’ to the demands of the crowd. A known murderer is granted the freedom he doesn’t deserve, whilst the King of kings is condemned to the death He doesn’t deserve. And yet, this is all part of God’s plan for salvation. Truly the last word…

Happy Easter!

The Only Way…

Yesterday was quite a day, and in many ways was the culmination of a big year. A year of trusting God and seeking His way forward; a year of getting frustrated, of doubting, and of messing up occasionally (but pretty spectacularly). But God has been faithful throughout, and His leading has been evident, His provision amazing, and His plan & timing perfect (as ever).

Last April I was given a year’s notice of the end of my post at Spurgeon Baptist Church [SBC]. A post which was anticipated to last only 3 years, but has actually lasted 7 and a half (only in God’s economy!).

Yesterday was the end of a process with another church which began last October, via a little ‘detour’ on the way. Beginning with an informal meeting with the ministry team, then an interview with a panel from across the church, then last weekend a family visit to as many church groups as possible before preaching on Sunday evening. Yesterday they had a church meeting to discern if they felt God had sent them the right person to fill their role.

I’m pleased to say that they were very clear about their approval. So yesterday I received & accepted the call to be the Minister for Children & Youth at Rayleigh Baptist Church [RBC] in Essex. We are so grateful to God for His clear leading, His patience & persistence. We are grateful to RBC for their warm, enthusiastic welcome, and to our church family at SBC for their love, prayers & support.

There are lots of details for be worked out & plans to be made, but we are excited about our new family adventure in Essex – apparently, it’s the only way… [theologically questionable though]

Windmill Reflections

Having started by reflecting on the art of sailing and being led to the work of the Holy Spirit, I now come to some reflections on the nature & purpose of a windmill. [if you’ve not read the first post, I recommend you do so before continuing]

This weekend I visited the windmill mentioned in the earlier post. – see the photos included right & below…

[These are personal reflections, representative of my own particular circumstances, offered here in case they’re useful to anyone else.]

There are some similarities between a sailing boat and a windmill, as both have sails to catch the wind and both convert the power of the wind to put it to use. There are many distinctions between them, but the one which has proved most significant to me is this: a sailing boat is about a journey & having a destination in mind, whereas windmills are about industry & productivity.

I felt God challenge me about the work of the Holy Spirit, then lead me to further reflect on the Windmill. So what message did He have for me? What did He want me to understand?

A windmill harnesses the power of the wind, but just as with a sailing boat, the sails must be ready to catch it – so I believe the first lesson is about preparation; be expectant & prepared.

In order for the windmill to be effective when the wind comes, it is important to ensure that the machinery is in good working order – so the second lesson is about systems; ensure the right systems are in place.

In anticipation of the arrival of the wind, with the sails set correctly and the internal systems in place, for the windmill to be productive, you must have a plentiful supply of wheat. The mill only turns when the wind blows, you can’t store the energy for later. So the third lesson is about the product; gather in the harvest.

One final thought which has felt significant as I’ve been reflecting, that is that once the corn has been milled, the product of the milling is pretty useless on its own (though it makes a pretty good explosive!); the milling is not the end of the process, the product of the milling then needs to be added to other ingredients to find its purpose. So perhaps the fourth lesson is about commission [specifically, ‘co-mission’]; there is still work to be done.

As one period of ministry comes to an end, I believe this is a lesson & a challenge for the next season. More on that in a few weeks…

Bradwell Windmill

Bradwell Windmill

Sails Safely Stowed

A few months ago, whilst on a retreat day, I was out walking, thinking, praying, listening to God, and taking photos. I was less than a mile from my childhood home, but in an area I’d not explored previously*.

[* I had tried to explore it previously, but had been shot at by a farmer – it has since become open park land]

I stumbled upon a sailing club, and was struck by the boats, which were moored with the masts still erected, but their sails safely stowed away.

Haversham Sailing Club at rest...

Haversham Sailing Club at rest…

I felt God challenge me about the Holy Spirit, and started to reflect on the boats and what it takes to sail them. Of course they are powered by the wind, totally reliant on it, but there was more than that. In order for the wind to be of any use the sails must be unfurled, raised and kept trim. To sail is an intentional act. Though sailing is for pleasure, there is usually a destination in mind and a course planned to reach it (more true in open water, less true on a sailing lake).

Scripture refers to the Spirit of God as ‘ruach’ meaning breath or wind. So I continued my reflection, specifically considering the Holy Spirit as the wind and the sailing boat representing individual Christians or the church corporately. If we are to harness the power of the Holy Spirit, we must be ready. We need to be intentional about preparing & we must be expectant.

Initially my thoughts were that the wind determined the direction, and therefore the destination. But of course there are constant adjustments being made to the sails to make best use of the power, and it is possible to correct the course using the rudder too. We cannot simply prepare & await the arrival of the Holy Spirit then sit back and expect to arrive at our planned destination.

This may all seem very simple and very obvious stuff to you. But it was a helpful reflection for me, as I seek not just what God has in store for me & my family, but where the destination might be. It felt worthy of further reflection. Am I anticipating the coming wind, and are my sails unfurled and ready to harness the power?

I didn’t realise it at the time, but this was just a preamble to a further challenge to come.

Bradwell Windmill

Bradwell Windmill

As I turned around, away from the view of the boats, I noticed a windmill in the distance. It is a windmill I remember well from my childhood (though since restored), but I was still surprised when I saw it.

God stirred me once more, but I couldn’t put my finger on why. I was left with a strong sense that the windmill was significant.

I moved on to two further locations along the north of Milton Keynes, and caught a glimpse of the windmill again from each, the feeling of significance grew each time.

In the month which followed I reflected on the windmill and the wind of God. Those reflections will follow…

Peace Pagoda

The PointRecently I’ve been challenged about the use of an inappropriate image for a Christian project. What follows are my reflections on whether or not using the image was wise or appropriate.

When setting up a new project recently (Hope MK) and putting together the website, I selected a number of images which unmistakeably represented Milton Keynes. These each featured iconic scenes or landmarks from across the city: Xscape building, the Point, the central railway station, road signs, inside the shopping centre, the Stadium:MK (home to MK Dons).

However, one of the images caused a bit of a stir: the Peace Pagoda at Willen. I had selected this as the main image which was to feature on our earliest promotional material.

When our first ‘teaser’ cards were handed out at one youth group they asked why we were using a Buddhist Temple to promote a Christian event. An interesting question. We had a brief discussion within the core planning team and didn’t see a huge problem with it. Then a few weeks later we received an email in relation to the project which, whilst otherwise supportive, made it clear that they didn’t agree with the use of the Peace Pagoda image as it ‘portrays the wrong image for a Christian event’. At a later meeting we discovered that another individual had reservations about the image, and had initially dismissed being involved in the project as they assumed (based on the image) that it was an ‘inter-faith’ project.

All this led to lots of discussion and a great deal of reflection.

Initially the ‘problem’ image was chosen without much thought to the fact that the Peace Pagoda is a Buddhist monument. It was selected because it is one of the most iconic MK landmarks, with a beautiful sunrise which I felt inspires awe towards the Creator God & signifies the coming Hope (light of the world). It was that simple. A little naive perhaps – but as a lifelong resident of MK, to me the Peace Pagoda is simply a landmark and has no strong religious connection.

I had almost dismissed the earliest comments on the basis that the pagoda is not a Buddhist Temple (as had been stated) but just a monument. As I thought about the issue further, I also did a little research and realised that the pagoda is symbolically significant in relation to the Hope MK initiative too: being the first Peace Pagoda in the Western world, it was ground-breaking and a powerful unifying symbol (both things we aspire to for Hope MK). Of further significance is the fact that behind the pagoda is the ‘one world tree’ which is covered in prayers and messages of hope – a symbol of people’s faith and hope for a better world.

Xscape MK Central

After plenty of reflection & discussion, I decided that personally I don’t have an issue with the use of the image. The fact that it’s a Buddhist monument doesn’t cause me any alarm. A Peace Pagoda is a monument designed to inspire all races, colours & creeds towards peace – that seems to me to be something that Jesus, Prince of Peace, encouraged and indeed prayed for (John 17).

The creator of the pagoda was committed to non-violence & reconciliation – a man of peace. He campaigns against nuclear weapons, for world peace and social and moral justice in the world. He sounds to me like the kind of man who is working towards Kingdom goals without even knowing the King. In Mark 9 Jesus said ‘whoever is not against us is for us’ (v38-41). Admittedly Jesus wasn’t specifically referring to a Buddhist monument – but I think it is applicable in this situation. We’re hoping to work in partnership with some non-Christian organisations in order to serve the city. On other projects, I’m happy to be associated with people & organisations who don’t share my faith, but believe we can work together towards a common goal.

There’s one final Biblical precedent which came to mind as I’ve been reflecting on this issue, and which more directly relates. In Acts 17 the Apostle Paul uses a secular statue to communicate the Gospel. Paul refers to a statue which has been dedicated to ‘the unknown god’. He had no fear of affording the statue power or credibility by using it/referring to it. He seems absolutely convinced of the sovereignty of God, and instead uses the statue to point the ‘locals’ to the God that he knows instead.

But whilst I didn’t have a problem with the use of the image, we still had to discuss and resolve the issue of the misunderstandings the image had caused about Hope MK. As a result we decided to stop using the image (once pre-printed materials had been used).

Stadium MKOn a slightly flippant note, I suggested that if we rule out the peace pagoda on the grounds that it doesn’t give the right impression to use a non-Christian religious symbol to represent/promote a Christian event, we should probably also stop using the Stadium:MK image (on the grounds that football is practised as a religion by many), the Xscape image as it is a shrine to Capitalism , and the image of The Point as it is home to a bingo hall.

What do you think?

Reflections on an Adventure with the Holy Spirit

A few weeks ago I went on an adventure with the Holy Spirit. It still excites me to think about it… [read about it before you go on…] Since the adventure, I’ve been reflecting on and processing a number of aspects of it. In fact, for the first few days I could do little else! Here are some of those reflections…

Imago Dei

I like to engage in a little informal ethnography from time to time. By which I mean I’m a people-watcher. Not in a creepy way you understand. I like to observe people as they go about their business. Whether I’m enjoying a coffee and watching people outside, or at the next table, I’m fascinated by people. As I observe I try to build up ‘their story’ from what I see: sometimes their interactions with others, sometimes their appearance. I find it fascinating.

Big HeartedOne thing we were reminded of during the the Big Hearted event was that every individual is made in the image of God (imago Dei). As we were sent out into the town to seek people we were reminded of truth. It is amazing how that one fact changes the way you see people, and the way you respond to them. It shouldn’t – but it absolutely does. I need to remember that not just as I’m walking down the street, or sitting in a coffee shop, but also when I’m in difficult situations with ‘difficult’ people. It can change your perspective and your attitude – if you’ll let it.

Conservative Charismatic

I said previously that I stepped way outside my comfort zone on that Saturday afternoon, but I didn’t really explain why.  As you may have gathered from my ‘people watching’ habit mentioned above, I’m an introvert rather than an extrovert. I’m much happier in my own company or that of friends, than I am trying to engage with people I don’t know (however ‘nice’ they might be). Small talk is not a spiritual gift I possess, which makes things even harder. So to head out onto the streets to deliberately engage with people I don’t know (especially with such a ‘strange’ motive & message) was a huge challenge for me. Honestly, if it wasn’t for my team members I’d probably have bottled it and not engaged with anyone.

But the greater challenge & discomfort came from the necessary reliance on the voice & guidance of the Holy Spirit. My background is in fairly conservative churches, where the Holy Spirit’s presence is understood but rarely exhibited (I think that’s a fair comment – if not, I’m sure I’ll be corrected). Don’t misunderstand me though, I believe that the Holy Spirit speaks to me & guides. I very clearly feel His leading as I work, as I minister, as I study and even as I do various bits of administration. But it is very much according to His timing and not mine. But with this exercise we had just 5 minutes to pray and hear from the Spirit. I felt a huge weight of pressure from that.

But my main reflection on this aspect of the day is to note that none of the clues which led to our ‘treasure’ were from my list. I’ll admit that I wasn’t hugely confident when I wrote my clues down (not least ‘Top Hat’) but they were all I felt I’d received, so had to go with it. I absolutely believe that the Spirit was at work that afternoon, and in the way it was described He would be by Chris Duffett. But I need to be more in tune with and attentive to the Spirit’s voice. I’ve learned over time, and through painful mistakes, to recognise and be obedient to His leading, but I pray He’ll open my ears to hear His voice too.

Greater Things

I was secretly pleased with myself that afternoon; pleased that I signed up for what (for me at least) was the most difficult & uncomfortable workshop option, and pleased that I didn’t bottle it. However nervous I felt, I still went, trusting in God all the way. Well, doubting just a little at times, but broadly stepping out in faith. As I’ve reflected on this and the previous point, I’ve come to the conclusion that greater confidence leads to greater courage. A greater confidence that the Spirit is at work, is interested in *everyone*, and is willing to speak and direct us to them for ‘divine appointments’, leads to a greater courage to step out beyond our comfort zone. And as that courage is rewarded with story after story of God at work, so the confidence and courage increase.

Scripture

As I’ve thought back to what happened with our group that afternoon, one piece of Scripture keeps coming to mind. It’s the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-42). Towards the end of a conversation during which He treats her with the kind of love & respect she deserves but doesn’t often receive, He reveals knowledge of this woman that no stranger could possibly know. She runs away saying to anyone who will listen ‘come and see a man who told me everything I ever did – could He be the Messiah?‘.

This phrase came to me as we were talking to Den. We’d approached him with this strange story of looking for treasure, guided by the Holy Spirit, and as we shared the clues one by one, his face changed. Suddenly he realised that God was interested in him, and knew all about him.

As far as I’m aware Den & David still haven’t made it to church, which is a little disappointing. But it doesn’t cause me to doubt the power of what happened. I’m confident that the Holy Spirit was at work that afternoon, through the obedience of three men walking around town feeling slightly awkward, and in the life of a man called Den. Even though he’s not come through on his promise to go to church*, he will always have the knowledge that God knows him (and knows more about him than he’d care to admit), loves him, and sought him out. [*let’s not pretend that we can only ‘do business’ with God in church – that’s for another day!]

And Finally…

Chris DuffettI’ll close with one further reflection on that passage which I hope will be encouraging to Chris as he  continues the Big Hearted tour & his year as Baptist Union President. The woman goes away changed from her experience with Jesus. He revealed to her in word & deed that He was the long-promised Messiah. She ran away and told others about Him (the first female evangelist!), and they believed because of what she told them. And others came to see Him for themselves, and put their faith in Him too.

I pray that today, tomorrow or in a years time, something about Den’s experience will cause him to share it with others, and that through him, others will come to put their faith in Jesus.

Chris started the day by saying that it was about ‘looking at how others can get what we’ve got through the Holy Spirit‘. It’s probably too early to say ‘mission accomplished‘ – but it’s a step along the way.

 

 

 

Treasure Hunting…

Have you ever stepped out of your comfort zone? Today I felt like I’d jumped out of a plane without a parachute. It wasn’t the talk of ‘moobs’ and ‘pretty pants’ which was uncomfortable…

Big HeartedI attended the Big Hearted Tour event hosted by Stony Stratford Community Church. This year’s Baptist Union President, Chris Duffett, is travelling the country with the aim of encouraging and equipping Christians to get outside the church and share God’s love with those who don’t know Him. Today’s event was a day to train & equip people, but more importantly, a hands-on challenge to get on and do it – to get outside the church and get stuck in.

He declared the aim of the day as ‘looking at how others can get what we’ve got through the Holy Spirit’, with the focus on the Spirit absolutely central. The day was packed with encouraging stories (Chris’ own and those of others who work with him) of the way God has met with individuals through seemingly simple & sometimes ridiculous means. But Chris was honest enough to point out that often ‘nothing’ significant happens and that there is a need to persist.

The teaching was biblical and yet simple, not an academic approach, but just the practical application of some key texts. Even the coffee break included some practical application. We were told to go and grab a coffee from any local coffee shop, and whilst there to ask two questions and to respond however we felt appropriate:

  • Jesus, where are you already at work?
  • Is there anyone hurting here?

But the real adventure started in the afternoon when we met for different seminars/workshops. I had signed up for ‘Treasure Hunting’ «gulp». It doesn’t immediately sound like an adventure does it. So let me explain what it is, before sharing what happened.

Treasure hunting is, as the name suggests, about following clues and seeking ‘treasure’. But the clues are supplied by the Holy Spirit, and the ‘treasure’ is people with whom God wants you to meet (Chris uses the phrase ‘keeping Divine appointments’). After a brief introduction to the practice and some helpful dos and don’ts we each grabbed a piece of paper and a pen. We spent just five minutes praying and asking God to give us ‘clues’ under five headings: location, names, appearance, prayer needs & extra clues. Then we were on our way in teams of three out onto the streets to attempt to keep these Divine appointments. As we went we discussed our clues with the others in our group, as we were working as a team and not doing this alone.

I’ll be honest and say that I was massively sceptical – not of Chris, or of God’s sovereignty. But sceptical that the Spirit would speak to me in this way, and that the Spirit would use this method to reach people. Chris had prepared us well for disappointment, stating that the first 20 or so times he’d done it there had been little ‘success’. If I was sceptical before, I was even more so when I felt the Spirit giving me the clue ‘top hat’ for appearance!

My scepticism diminished slightly when the first charity shop we passed appeared to have a top hat box in the window. So we ventured inside, but there was no sign of a top hat (phew!). There was, however, a sign for a ‘vintage’ pop-up shop upstairs. I headed up the stairs into a room which contained lots of vintage clothes, and hats – but no top hat (double phew!). But I have to admit that I started to get excited at this point – it felt like we were so close and that God might actually have a hand in this madness.

We continued, and before long came across a fancy dress shop. Outside there was a poster of a man wearing a top hat, and a blue coat (which was one of my colleague’s clues). The poster was on a gate at the entrance to a yard (one of my clues) with some car parking spaces within (car park being another of my clues). We went inside and after a brief, good-natured conversation with a young assistant and then the owner (who both looked utterly bemused), we made no further connections and they weren’t keen to share anything for prayer, so we shook hands and went on our way.

After much wandering around the town (high street, side streets and back alleys) we were becoming a little aimless and naturally heading back to the church. One of my colleagues (Chris P.) saw someone he recognised but hadn’t seen in years and stopped for a chat. The young man, David, was stood with his older friend, Den, at the door of a pub. David and Chris started chatting and Den asked how they knew each other. David replied that he used to attend the church which Chris attends. Den asked if Chris is a preacher, but before Chris could answer, Den said ‘…because I need to get to know Jesus – I’ve got sins in my life I need to sort out’. Wow – forget the treasure hunting – this seemed like a Divinely orchestrated opportunity.

Chris explained what we were doing, but said that neither David nor Den really seemed to fit with any of the clues. Den asked to see them, and saw that one of the names on the list was John and said ‘that’s my name’. He produced his NHS card which revealed his name to be ‘John Dennis’. Chris pointed out that another clue was ‘hotel’ and that they were standing in the door of an Inn – a pub/hotel – and that it was white, another of our clues was ‘white house’. At this point Den was a little surprised.

Another clue on the list under prayer needs was ‘hands’ and David told us how he’d sliced his fingers open the day before and showed us the dressings. Another clue under physical appearance was ‘little finger, right hand’. When we showed this to Den he almost fell over – but instead showed us the little finger on his right hand which had been severed in an accident years before and successfully reattached. We were all shocked & surprised. Those of us treasure hunting were also delighted – Den was absolutely astounded! But it didn’t end there.

Chris said one of his clues was ‘Salvation Army’ but that didn’t seem to fit either, but Den said he’d been in the Salvation Army for 10 years earlier in his life. Then the final, and in some ways for Den, most convincing element was the word ‘holiday’ under extra clues. Den revealed that he and David has just booked a holiday one hour earlier (exactly at the time we were praying and seeking clues). Den was incredibly emotional & hardly able to speak. David took over and we said that we’d also got the name ‘Sarah’ and asked if that meant anything to them. Den confidently shook his head (I think secretly relieved) but David roared with incredulous laughter before rebuking Den and reminding him that Den’s ex-wife is called Sarah.

What followed were two separate amazing conversations with the two guys. David discussed how he has a faith but not a strong one, but recognises that he needs to get back to church in order to sort a few issues out in his life. Den was honestly just gob-smacked, but he commented about how Chris hadn’t preached at him but had simply listened. He said that we had an energy around us which he could feel and it was incredibly reassuring, peaceful & warm (we pointed out that it was the Holy Spirit, and not from us). Chris told him that God had wanted us to meet with him this afternoon and made sure we did;  that God knows not only his name, but his every need, and loves him more than he can know.

Both men are excited to be going to church tomorrow morning and intend to carry on the conversation.

As we left the two guys in the pub doorway there was, by then, a woman standing next to us who was listening to the conversations and giggling to herself. She had waved at a friend of Chris, so he asked how she knew the friend and she replied proudly ‘I am her treasure!’. That’s just awesome!

I’m still processing the enormity of what happened this afternoon. My scepticism has gone and my excitement level has soared. Praise God!

I’m praying for Den & David as they go to church tomorrow – would you join me?