Wednesday, 15 November 2017

God can pick up the pieces

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate… And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? 1 Corinthians 5:1-2

Crisis at Corinth! It sounds like a cheapo paper-back, doesn’t it? Or a headline from a trashy newspaper: Sex Scandal Rocks Corinth Church!

Well, it is a scandal, and Paul is horrified when he hears about it. Never mind the details, let’s just say it was a case of gross sexual immorality – gross enough, it seems, to shock even the non-Christian people of this ancient, far-from-holy, Roman city, never mind God’s holy people.

I hope this is the kind of situation you and your church never have to deal with. For Paul tells his readers that the guilty person should be thrown out of the church (“excommunicated”, if you want the technical term). In verses 4-5 he sets out some kind of solemn ceremony for the Corinth Christians to carry out, in which the man will be “handed over to Satan” – which presumably means something like “expelled from the light of God’s church and thrust back into the darkness of this fallen world”.

Paul’s hope, it’s true, is that this severe treatment will result in the man being restored (verse 5); but whatever, this was obviously a grim and unhappy episode.

Sadly, there are times when churches need to exert discipline on their members. I was still in my teens, just a new-born Christian, when there was a church meeting that had to deal with the wrong-doing of one of the leaders. He was a taxi-driver, and the headlines of the local paper declared one day that he had been found guilty of fiddling his fares. There were strong opinions aired about what, if anything, the church should do – kick him out? turn a blind eye? or somewhere in between?

The decision to discipline a fellow-Christian is especially difficult, of course, because – well, aren’t the rest of us sinners too? Of course! So true humility is vital, not to mention sensitivity and compassion. And the ultimate aim, as here in Corinth, must always be not to crush or destroy the wayward person, but in the long run to bring them back into fellowship.

Paul himself knew this only too well. He offers wise words to his fellow-Christians in Galatia: “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently…” And then he adds: “But watch yourselves or you also may be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).

I haven’t the slightest doubt that if the immoral man in Corinth had been truly sorry, Paul would have felt no need to suggest expulsion.

The point, though, is this: there are times when this difficult duty has to be carried out; the alternative is to let sin continue unchecked, and thus the purity of the church (such as it is; of course it’s far from perfect) is jeopardised.

But it’s not easy! Paul says the people in the Corinth church were “proud” of their complacent attitude, suggesting that there were those who were actually on the man’s side, and who presumably wouldn’t like Paul’s advice one little bit. So… Would the church split? Would people leave in protest? Would there be a succession of angry church meetings? Oh dear!

What if, having been expelled the previous week, the man had turned up as usual, bold as brass, the next Sunday? Should there be a heavy brigade of spiritual bouncers guarding the door? And if there were, would they even be expected to resort to violence? Surely not! Again, oh dear!

Well, we can only speculate how events panned out in Corinth.

But I must add that, while my own experience of this kind of tension has, thankfully, been very limited over my many years in ministry, there have been times when things have got a little tricky and uncomfortable. Dark rumours have swirled around: “If such-and-such happens, I’m afraid Fred and Jacky will leave the church…” “If Fred and Jacky leave, I’m told they’ll take half the church with them…”

Things never once turned out remotely as badly as the doom-mongers liked to think, and I trust the same will be true of any awkward church situation you find yourself in.

But my experience has left me with two rock-solid principles that I think can be applied in any tricky area of life, not just church life.

First, never swing into action until you are absolutely sure you are right. If you do, it could lead to untold harm and damage.

And second, if you really are sure action is necessary, just make it your business to do what is right – and let God pick up the pieces.

He can. He will. Trust him.

O God, you hate sin but love sinners. Help me to be the same. And help your church always to get the balance right in such circumstances. Amen.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

When God seems silent

O God, do not remain silent; do not turn a deaf ear, do not stand aloof, O God. Psalm 83:1

God speaks.

That simple statement is at the very heart of Christianity. We believe in a God who, down through history, has spoken to men and women “at many times and in various ways”.

He speaks through Jesus, the word of God: he “has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2). He speaks through creation. He speaks through our consciences. He speaks through other people. Whatever anybody may doubt about the Christian faith, this is one thing about which there cannot be any doubt: our God is a God with a voice.

Ah, but what about times when he doesn’t speak? – or, at least, seems not to speak. What about times when God seems to be silent?

This is the situation the psalmist is in here: “O God, do not remain silent.” And it is a situation where many of us may very well say, “Yes, I have been there too.” Situations where the silence of God seems far more real than the voice of God.

My wife and I heard today from a friend for whom this has been a harsh reality for several years. There is sickness in the family. It is not, I think, life-threatening, but it is certainly life-changing, even life-dominating. And the fact is that, in spite of intense, sustained prayer plus the best medical skills available, nothing has changed. If anything things seem almost to be getting worse. God seems silent.

What, in general, are the possible reasons for God’s silence? Let’s run through the options.

First, God doesn’t speak because he just isn’t there. There is no God, and we are deluded if we think there is.

This is the conclusion many people feel driven to, especially in the godless world in which we live. Obviously, it isn’t a route we as Christians can take. But I think we need to be careful not to condemn or criticise those who do, especially those who are humble and genuine. They aren’t all hard-hearted, cynical atheists, and they need our love, sympathy and prayers.

Second, God doesn’t speak because he is unable to help. Oh, he exists all right – but that is about as much as you can say. He may have created this world, but now it seems to be beyond his control. He is feeble.

Again, we as Christians obviously cannot go this way. Our God is “almighty God.” He can do all things; his power and might are infinite. He created the world! He raised Jesus from the dead! But we must be honest and recognise that, well, it doesn’t always seem that way.

Third, he doesn’t speak because he doesn’t care. This is an option the psalmist does seem to toy with. Is God “turning a deaf ear” or “standing aloof”?

I don’t think he really believes this to be the case. But again, we can only respect his honesty in asking the question. And let us be honest too: there are times – let’s put it quite brutally – when God seems to be not so much “our heavenly Father” as “our cruel creator”; for is it not cruel to turn away from someone crying out for help?

If we rule those three options out, as Christians surely must, only one possibility remains: God is continuing in silence, and allowing our suffering to continue, in order to do us ultimate good. He loves us and has purposes for us which we can’t even begin to imagine, and those purposes are glorious. For the moment we can only pray for the gift of faith to be able to see the hard times through.

I personally have had a very trouble-free life – I have no idea why; I certainly don’t deserve it – so I’m hardly in a position to hand out advice to those experiencing things I know little of. But one or two suggestions occur to me, so I dare to offer them, even if very hesitantly. (You’re probably already doing them anyway.)

First, muster as much prayer support as you can. You may feel as if you yourself are “prayed out”, so the more of your brothers and sisters who are praying the better.

Second, take courage from the testimony of other Christians who have been where you are – and who have indeed come through. There are good books on the market which tell wonderful stories – not to mention many “ordinary” fellow-Christians.

Third, look for areas of your life where you can see the hand of God at work, and where you do hear his voice. Hopefully, this might put the dark side of things into a clearer perspective.

Fourth, look back to the times when God was unmistakably present in your life, working his work and speaking clearly. Were those times all illusions?

If Christianity is true, then a day of glory and rejoicing is on the way. Cling to that, remembering faithful Job.

And remembering above all the One who, on the cross, felt not just that God was “silent” or “had turned a deaf ear”, but had actually abandoned him: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

O God, do not remain silent; do not turn a deaf ear… Please hear this prayer, not just on my own behalf, but on behalf of all those who feel today that you are standing aloof from them. Amen.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Can Christians ever fight wars?

Many peoples will come and say… “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob…” He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many people. They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning-hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war any more. Isaiah 2:3-4

Jesus said, “When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen…” Mark 13:7

Will you (assuming you are British) be wearing a poppy this coming weekend, in remembrance of those who died for their country in various wars? Or will you feel uncomfortable about doing so, afraid of seeming to join in an act which glorifies war?

It’s a tricky one, isn’t it?

I assume that every Christian hates the very idea of war. Isn’t Jesus, the one to whom we give our loyalty and promise our obedience, “the Prince of Peace”? Doesn’t he call us to be “peace-makers” (Matthew 5:9)?

Doesn’t the Bible hold out for us the truly wonderful vision of Isaiah 2? – a picture of people (as I imagine it – bear with me!) finding in some forgotten corner of their home an old sword, and laughing, and thinking, “Goodness, I didn’t know I still had this! Well, I certainly won’t need it again. Shall I throw it away, or see if someone will buy it? No! – it would be a shame to get rid of it – there’s good metal there, even if it’s a bit rusty. I know – let’s hammer it into a plough-share for the oxen…”

“Nation will not take up war against nation, nor will they train for war any more.” A mouth-watering vision indeed for our troubled world. No more war. And that is the way it one day will be.

But then there is Jesus himself, stating very bluntly that there will be “wars and rumours of wars”, and that “such things must happen.”

He is, of course, simply predicting what is to come, not suggesting that this is something he welcomes or takes any pleasure in.

This is typical of the Bible in many places: it is both gloriously idealistic and also starkly realistic. And we who believe in the Bible must hold the two strands in balance, for both are true and both are important.

So… how should we view the grim subject of war? Should a Christian ever be willing to fight for his or her country?

The strict pacifist takes a very clear line: it is grotesque to imagine Jesus holding a rifle, sitting at the controls of a war-plane, or operating a grenade-launcher – so, if we claim to be his followers, shouldn’t it be impossible for us too?

Put like that, it’s hard to disagree. There is just one place in the New Testament where Jesus is portrayed as a warrior leading his army into battle – but it’s hard to imagine any thoughtful Christian treating Revelation 19 as remotely literal.

Yet many Christians feel they must disagree.

They point out that, whether we like it or not, we Christians are citizens not only of God’s heavenly kingdom, but also of a country here on earth. We have a foot in two camps, and will until the day we die. And the fact is – as Jesus explicitly said – wars will continue until the end of time, when he returns in glory to wind up the affairs of this world. So the question is: if/when war breaks out, what should we do?

A key question is: Is this a just war? – that is, a war which aims to right a great wrong, and to prevent evil spreading and growing? Assuming that to be the case, is it then right for Christians to stand back and, in effect, allow others to do the fighting for them? – you could even say, to do their dirty work for them? Putting it another way, if all Christians agree that war is always an evil, are there times, nonetheless, when it is the lesser of two evils, as the time-honoured expression puts it?

It is up to each of us to think and pray it through and make up our own minds.

I hope it goes without saying that when Jesus says “Don’t be alarmed, for these things must happen”, he is not suggesting that when it comes to war we can simply shrug our shoulders and treat it with indifference. War means suffering – immense suffering, terrible trauma. And how can we be indifferent to that?

No. He is telling us that we mustn’t let these things undermine or wobble our faith. God is ultimately in control. 
So whatever conclusion we come to regarding war and peace, it goes without saying too that we must both work for it and pray for it.

However peace is to be achieved and, hopefully, maintained, Christians can only ever be “peace people”.

Lord God, look with mercy and compassion upon our troubled, warring world, and cause the name of Jesus the Prince of Peace to be lifted high. Amen.

Saturday, 4 November 2017


Jesus said, “Give, and it shall be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Luke 6:38

As you look at your life, can you think of people who have shown you great generosity?

I certainly can. In fact, I find myself wondering how I would have managed without them. I thank God for them.

Generosity can take many forms. The most obvious one is money, or material things in general: people who give or lend when our need is great. But there are other types too: generosity with time, with emotional support, with sympathy and understanding, with hospitality, with forgiveness when we’ve behaved badly. To this day I still shake my head with gratitude as I think of people who were generous to me for no particular reason even many years ago.

When we think of the generosity of others we’re bound (I hope, anyway) to ask ourselves how generous we are. Well, if Jesus’ words here mean anything at all, an ungenerous Christian is a contradiction in terms. “Give,” he says, and then adds some words to encourage us to do so.

He uses an illustration which perhaps for many of us today doesn’t immediately connect. He talks about a “measure”, presumably of grain, “pressed down, shaken together and running over” being poured into our “lap”. (Wouldn’t it all just fall to the ground? – especially if we are wearing trousers.)

We have to imagine, perhaps, a Palestinian market-place in the ancient world – or, indeed, a market-place in many parts of the modern world. Your “lap” was a kind of pouch formed by a flap on the front of your tunic (the older versions translate lap as “bosom”). Think kangaroo.

A modern equivalent might be a large sum of money transferred electronically into your bank account – or a home-cooked meal in a bag on your doorstep.

Whatever, Jesus tells us to be generous. And he adds that word of encouragement. Putting it crudely, it’s in your own interest, because you will get back even more in return: “Give, and it shall be given to you… with the measure you use, it will be measured to you”.

Great stuff! But I think we need to be careful as we read this. For two reasons…

First, we mustn’t think that Jesus is encouraging us to give in a calculating way: “Right, I suppose I had better be generous, then, because if I’m not I won’t get anything back in return.”

No! the Bible tells us that “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). Perhaps Paul here is drawing on the Old Testament. In Exodus 25:2 we read that offerings should be received from “everyone whose heart prompts them”, not from anyone who’s looking after their own interests. In the same way, the people of Israel are told to give “without a grudging heart” (Deuteronomy 15:10).

Generosity brings rich rewards, yes. But those rewards are a spin-off, a by-product, not a conscious incentive. We give, if we give at all, “asking for no reward, save that of knowing that we do God’s will”, as the Anglican prayer book put it.

Second, we mustn’t imagine, anyway, that what we get back will be in the same form as what we gave – that if we give lots of money, say, then we are bound to get even more money back.

Again, no (in spite of what some preachers are heard to say)! Material generosity might very well result in spiritual rewards. Christian history gives us examples of people who gave away even large fortunes – and who remained poor for the rest of their lives. But they never regretted it.

Sum it up like this… To get right to the heart of what Jesus is saying we need to stop thinking about acts of generosity alone; what he is really talking about is a whole attitude, a whole life-style.

We live in a world which emphasises getting, getting, getting. But Jesus calls us to a whole new life of giving, giving, giving. And that results in a happy, cheerful, joyful, care-free, adventurous mind-set.

Come to think of it, aren’t those the very characteristics which make the memories of the generous people I mentioned earlier so precious to us?

Let’s be generous, then! – not because of what we hope to get out of it, but simply because this is the way of Jesus, our generous Saviour.

Lord Jesus, please take away the fear of loss, please show me the misery that comes from being mean-spirited and tight-fisted, and so teach me the joy of generosity. Amen.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

No condemnation

Jesus… asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no-one condemned you?” “No-one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” John 8:10-11

Condemnation… It’s an ugly word, isn’t it? But its meaning is familiar to all of us.

Being found guilty of something can take various forms.

A person in court, if the charge against them is proved, is condemned to suffer some punishment. Somebody in the workplace who offends his or her colleagues and gets cold-shouldered as a result, may say “I felt everyone was condemning me.” There was a time (still is, in some cultures) where a woman who became pregnant outside marriage, was condemned by her community (quite likely including her church).

Especially painful is when it’s our own conscience that does the job. We have a dark secret. But no-one knows about it, so that’s all right – except, of course, that it’s not all right, because we can’t shrug it off or wipe it out. Deep down we feel we deserve condemnation; we are self-condemned.

If you believe in God, that makes it even worse. The Bible tells us clearly that, while God hates to condemn, there are times when he has no choice. Because he is holy, he cannot turn a blind eye to our sins; a sin overlooked is a sin condoned, and what kind of God would that make him?

Just reading this might stir up in your mind uncomfortable thoughts – thoughts of guilt and shame. But there is good news…

The woman in John 8 was condemned by the religious leaders for her adultery. They bring her before Jesus (where was the guilty man, we wonder?) to expose and humiliate her. She stands there, alone, her head bowed, enduring the harsh gaze of her accusers.

They invite Jesus to join them in their condemnation. But he refuses. He bends down and writes something in the dust with his finger (what was it he wrote! – wouldn’t we love to know?). His silence as they keep badgering him becomes embarrassing, and in the end he stands up straight and says, in effect, “All right, she’s guilty; adultery is indeed a grave sin. Stoning to death is a just penalty, so go right ahead…” But then he pauses, fixes the crowd with his eye and adds: “But you will make sure, won’t you, that the first stone is thrown by someone who has never sinned…”

And then? Silence. Not a stone is thrown; and that angry crowd slowly melts away. When it’s just the two of them, this little conversation about condemnation takes place between Jesus and the woman.

I wonder what happened to her? Did she indeed “leave her life of sin”? Or was she sucked back into it? We aren’t told – and that’s because it’s not what matters. What matters is how we respond to this beautiful story. What about our condemnation, our guilt, our shame?

The German poet Heinrich Heine famously said: “Dieu me pardonnera, c’est son metier” – “God will forgive me; that’s his job.” (I’ve no idea why, being German, he said it in French; but never mind.)

Very witty, Herr Heine. Ha-very-ha. But wrong, totally wrong. It’s not God’s “job” to forgive, and anyone taking that kind of casual attitude is in for a rude awakening. Sin matters, because it wrecks our relationship with God, damages our human relationships, destroys our peace of mind, and jeopardises our eternal well-being.

But having said that, we must immediately add: “But it is God’s delight to forgive!” Nothing gives God greater pleasure than to pour out his forgiveness on the person who is honestly, truly, humbly sorry. Jesus said that when that happens the very vaults of heaven echo with the sound of rejoicing (Luke 15:3-7).

This is the wonder of God’s grace. Grace means God giving us what we don’t deserve – instead of condemnation, love and acceptance; instead of rejection, welcome, hope and a whole new life.

Are you bowed under a weight of condemnation? Well, if so then it’s my joy to be a bringer of good news – I hope I’ve said enough for you to know what to do!

To hammer the point home even deeper, here are a couple of other wonderful statements from the New Testament…

“God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:17).

“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

“No condemnation”! Why not? Because Jesus, by dying on the cross, has taken it on our behalf.

Thank God for that!

Lord Jesus, thank you that “in my place condemned you stood”. Help me to understand and to delight in the wonder of forgiveness – but never to take it for granted. Amen.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

When faith gives way to sight

… we shall see him as he is… 1 John 3:2

Just seven little words, snatched from a tiny passage (verses 1-3) – a passage which is one of the richest, most comforting and most challenging in the whole New Testament.

We shall see him as he is. I must have read those words hundreds of times in my Christian life, but, to my shame, it was only quite recently that their full impact dawned on me. One day I will see Jesus!

Most of us, reading those great Bible stories where men or women are suddenly confronted by the sheerly supernatural, have felt, perhaps, a little envious. Why have I never had such an experience?

Moses at the burning bush… Isaiah in the temple… Mary visited by the angel… the disciples watching Jesus walking on the water and stilling the storm… Peter, James and John on the mountain of transfiguration… Mary Magdalene in the garden of resurrection… Paul “caught up to the third heaven”… John on Patmos falling “as though dead” at the feet of the risen Christ…

What stories these are! They make the spiritual experience of most of us – our daily “quiet time” and our humdrum efforts to walk by faith – seem pretty anaemic.

But John here tells us that one day such an experience will indeed be ours.

I wonder what it will be like? “Wait and see!” is probably the best answer to that question. But it’s hard not to try and imagine it.

I once attended a service in St Paul’s Cathedral when the Queen was present. There we were, a large crowd of people, and of course everyone wanted to see her (whether they also wanted to worship God – well, it’s not for me to judge on that…). Now the Queen is really quite short, and you couldn’t help but notice how everyone seemed to be craning their neck to catch a glimpse of her as she processed down the aisle.

Will it be like that when we get to heaven? “Oh, look, there he is, just to the right of those angels…!” or “He’s so different from what I imagined!”

Er, no, I don’t think so. “We will see his face” suggests something much more intimate.

Will it be frightening? Perhaps “Yes and no” is the best answer. Certainly it will be awesome – using that word in its literal meaning: that we will be awestruck. Some of the experiences in the Bible that I mentioned earlier were like that. And how could that not be the case? Can mortal human beings look on the face of God and not be overwhelmed?

But not frightening in a bad sense, surely. No, infinitely wonderful, comforting and fulfilling: after all, this, deep down, is what we have spent our lives waiting for, even when we weren’t particularly conscious of doing so.

In the Narnia stories C S Lewis’ child heroes find Aslan the lion to be both disturbingly strange and gloriously tender. So, perhaps, it will be for us.

I don’t know if all the doubts and questionings that trouble us in this earthly life will be immediately resolved; but I’m pretty sure they just won’t matter any more. And I’m also sure that all the pains and sorrows, all the hurts and wounds, will be gone for ever. Indeed, this is explicitly stated in Revelation 21:4: God “will wipe every tear from their eyes (yes! isn’t he our father!). There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain…”

And, of course, no more sin. Just think of that…

Mind you, it seems that not every memory of our earthly existence will be blotted out. Even the glorified body of Jesus will still have the nail-holes in his hands and feet, and the sword-thrust in his side: he will appear to us, we are told, like “a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain” (Revelation 5:6).

Just speculation? Perhaps so. But it needn’t be idle speculation – for shouldn’t thinking like this make a difference to the kind of people we are now, and the way we live our lives now? John himself makes this point in the very next verse: “All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.”

Yes. If this kind of speculation doesn’t make us better people – more Christlike people – then something, surely, is seriously wrong.

Lord God, help me to live this earthly life like one who will one day look into the perfectly holy face of Jesus. Amen.

If you aren’t familiar with the Bible stories I mentioned earlier, here’s where to find them…

Exodus 3.
Isaiah 6.
Luke 1.
Matthew 14.
Mark 4.
Mark 9.
John 20.
2 Corinthians 12.
Revelation 1.

Why not take half an hour to read them through?

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

You can't have it both ways

Jesus said, “Come, follow me...” Matthew 4:19

Chatting recently to a friend I hadn’t seen for a long time, the subject of vegetarianism came up. “Are you a vegetarian, then?” I asked. He hesitated for a moment, and then said, “Er, yes and no.”  

At which we both burst out laughing. He realised as well as me that his answer was ridiculous: either you’re a vegetarian or you’re not. It has to be either Yes or No; it can’t be Yes and No.

Some things demand decisions. You can’t go to a football match and support both Manchester City and Manchester United. You have to make a choice. You can’t go into a polling station and vote for both Conservative and Labour. You have to make a choice. You can’t turn up on your wedding day and marry both Mary and Jane, or both Harry and Joe. You have to make a choice.

And Jesus calls us to make a choice.

In the Gospels, again and again he calls people to respond to his words and deeds. He calls the first disciples to leave their fishing-nets and follow him (Mark 1:17). He calls Zacchaeus to come down from the fig-tree and welcome him into his home (Luke 19:1-10). He tells the rich young ruler to give away his wealth and follow him (Mark 10:17-21). 

When people met Jesus they were called to do something as a result; it wasn’t enough to go away just thinking about him - even if their thoughts were good thoughts: “What a wonderful man!” or “How interesting his words are!” or “That really is challenging!” No. The question was “What must I do?”

Perhaps the most extreme demand Jesus made was one based on the age-old pages of the Old Testament: that his hearers should “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). That’s some ask! - and you can’t say yes to it without making a clear, thought-through decision. It’s not something you can vaguely drift into. 

Put it another way: with Jesus it’s either all or nothing at all. You may be whole-heartedly for him or whole-heartedly against him; but the one thing you can’t be is indifferent towards him.

Go back to my not-quite-vegetarian friend. What he said was absurd, but I think we both knew what he meant. He was convinced by the case for vegetarianism, and abstained from meat most of the time. But he couldn’t quite carry it through, and so, particularly on special occasions, he allowed himself to lapse. A half-vegetarian - except that that’s impossible.

Many of us, I fear, are half-Christians. Except that that’s impossible too. 

We admire Jesus. We are moved by his life, death and resurrection. We find that his words drill right down into our hearts and play havoc with our consciences. Here, we sense, is life, truth, love, purity, power. Here is God!

We know that we should follow and obey him. As his friend Simon Peter put it to him, when Jesus suggested that the twelve might be tempted to leave him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” To whom indeed? Who else is there? Can you think of anyone? He went on: “You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). Exactly!

But somehow we hold back. And we don’t realise that in doing so we are not only failing him, but also being, as they say, our own worst enemy. 

Suppose those first fishermen had turned down Jesus’ request to become “fishers of men”, and just carried on doing their routine job. Nothing wrong with being a fishermen of course; but think what they would have missed.

Suppose Zacchaeus had stayed up that tree till the crowds dispersed, refusing to come down and eat humble pie - and be remade as a new man. His petty, mean, cramped little life might have continued till the day he died.

And suppose that rich young man hadn’t rejected the request Jesus made of him. Yes, it would have been hard - but he wouldn’t, surely, have “gone away sad”. I think that sadness must only have deepened as his life - really, a wasted life - went on.

The message is simple: if we are going to be Christians, well, let’s be Christians.

As we look into our own hearts, are any of us, in truth, fence-sitting, wanting the name and comfort of being a follower of Jesus, but failing to give him our all? Make no mistake, the day will come when we will be sorry.

Is it decision-day for you?

Lord God, help me not to waste my precious life on earth by being a half-follower of Jesus. Amen.