'Whoever has the Son has life. Whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.' So wrote the apostle John in his first letter. What could be simpler? And what could be more inviting than the promise of life in all its fulness.
I shall be preaching on this on Sunday, although it hardly needs a sermon to explain it.
One of our Readers was reflecting yesterday in church about the MPs' expenses scandal. He wondered if they are not actually true representatives of the electorate in the sense that given the opportunity, most people would probably exaggerate their expense claims if they thought they could get away with it. This is no excuse, but when we talk about standards we have to make sure that if we criticize others we are not being hypocritical. Would I claim more on my expenses if they were paid from public coffers rather than the cash-strapped church? I might be tempted to. (In case you are interested, I have claimed for carpets to be cleaned in the part of my house where I host church meetings.)
So perhaps we get the representatives we deserve - men and women who are no better and no worse than we are.
Whatever the case, I'm sure many of the people of Zimbabwe would wish for a government such as ours, even with all its shortcomings. The lavish opulence that Robert Mugabe lives in compared with the majority of the population makes our MPs' claims seem trivial, and the fear which his government spreads around supporters of the opposition makes our political shortcomings seem small. I guess that if people were brave enough to question the expenses of government ministers in Zimbabwe they might get severely punished.
Thank God that we live in a country where government is still relatively open and honest, and that we have the freedom to call politicians to account in the media and through the ballot box. I really hope that the main political parties haven't damaged their reputations so much that some of the the minority extremist parties gain at their expense in the European elections.
I know music shouldn't really be used just to raise money, but that's what we're doing tonight at church as we start our 24 hour sponsored music marathon to raise funds for the redecoration of the church.
We've got people signed up till at least 4 am tomorrow morning, and then starting again at 6 am.
Nicy and I are doing the slot from midnight to 2 am as our daughter has her after-prom party and we'll be awake anyway. I'll probably fill in the gaps tomorrow and play all my favourite music.
I tend to get a bit grumpy if I'm deprived of sleep, but it's all in a good cause!
Is it heresy to say that God is incomplete? Reading from the first letter of John again on Sunday we were reminded that 'if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.' Can it be possible that God needs us in order to be fully complete? That he needs us to love another in order for his love to be complete? What sort of God is it that needs people in this way? Some might say, "He can't be much of a god if he is so needy." But John seems to be saying that he is SO loving he is even prepared to risk his own omnipotence in order to show and share his love.
One thing that a powerful person cannot do is to make you love them. No matter how powerful - even if they have the power of life and death. The opposite of love is not hate, but fear. Love encourages growth and more love, but power - with the possibility of punishment - will only lead to fear. Fear makes people wither and turn in on themselves.
So here is the paradox: God, the all-powerful, the almighty, the all-loving needs people to take the love that is at his heart and express in 'actions and truth', as John says, in order to make it complete.
I spent two-and-a-half days in Harrogate this week at a conference for church leaders run by New Wine. My goodness, it was stimulating, encouraging, challenging, releasing and motivating. The underlying and overarching message was simple: 'get out and get going'. In other words, get on with talking to people about Jesus, get on with mission. We heard from a speaker - Carl Medearis - who has worked for many years in the middle east with Muslims about he speaks about Jesus with them. A good Muslim loves Jesus and tries to follow his teaching as much as a good Christian does. This was quite challenging for those who have a negative view of Muslims and see them as 'the enemy'. So why haven't we twigged this earlier and just talk with Muslims about Jesus, rather than Christianity or religion? I suppose our view of Islam as a religion is as negative as many people's view of Christianity. But when you talk about Jesus, that's different.
We heard from Archbishop Henry Orombi about being equipped for mission. The Archbishop is a godly leader who has come up the hard way. He is a man of integrity and wisdom and of stature - literally as he is well over 6 feet tall. Listening to him speak speaking unequivocally about Jesus and about leadership left me with a great respect and admiration for this man of God.
I was personally challenged to spend less time in front of my computer - so perhaps less blogging - and more time with people talking about Jesus. Those of us, like me, who are more introverted find this hard work, but there is a place for disciplining yourself to do, just as extroverts have to discipline themselves to spend time alone quietly with God.
The great thing about this New Wine conference was that it was not just about ministered to for its own sake, but about being equipped, motivated and set free for mission. The success will be seen in the fruit, but for myself - and the colleagues I travelled with - I'm going to actively look for ways to talk to people about the greatest good news that there is. Maybe even this blog might start some conversations.
Giles Frazer, in The Church Times, refers to Ruth Gledhill's blog in The Times in which she criticizes Christians who are so nasty to each other on the internet in their own blogs. It's a fair point as it is very easy to post comments that are far more negative and vitriolic than you would use to someone's face. The same is true of e-mails. More than once I have fired off an e-mail in anger and then regretted it. The government has nearly come unstuck through the careless use of e-mails and blogs in recent weeks.
The thing is that it's possible to post almost anything on the internet without contradiction or comment. I know from this blog that more people read it than comment on it, though a few who know me have made verbal comments.
The ability to post at ease on the internet has made Wikipedia probably the most popular place to go to find out anything about anything or anyone, but I always wonder: Who validates it? I know it's supposed to be self-validating, but I will only really trust a source of knowledge if I know it has come from someone with a proven reputation. I suppose this is one of the big differences between 'modern' and post-modern' thinking. The 'modern' scientific approach to life is concerned with objective truth - truth that is the same everywhere and all the time. For the post-modern person 'truth' is subjective: it may be true for you, but it doesn't have to be true for me; it may work for you, but it doesn't work for me.
I wonder if the church, in its attempt to connect with contemporary culture, has accepted too much post-modern thinking and hasn't challenged it enough. I'm sure truth has to be universal, or it simply isn't the truth. But how is objective universal truth presented in a way that attracts rather than repels? Jesus was described as being 'full of grace and truth', and it seems to me that this is the perfect winsome combination.
None of us is perfect; I'm sure we would all want to be better people. Grace without truth leaves you with no reason to change; truth without grace does not help you to change - it's like the law in that it simply shows you where you are wrong. But grace and truth together hold out both reason and help to change. Thank God that in Jesus grace and truth go together and that he is the one who gives us a reason and the help to change.