Ready for a redesign?

16 09 2012

The property programme Grand Designs is about to return to our TV screens. Viewers are captivated by the wonderful buildings that emerge from the wreckage and become dream homes for the participants.  To say that it’s not all plain sailing would be an understatement!  I found these “before” and “after” photos ( of one such redevelopment and thought you might like to see the contrast.

As in property, so in life.  We hold grand designs of what life should look like, only to be disappointed when things get tough.  The redevelopments we want to make take too long, are too costly and ultimately aren’t as perfect as our imagination led us to believe.  What we thought was a quick splash of paint turned out to be a scraping off of cruddy old wallpaper, taking plaster with it. Then a re-plaster, the smell and time that we didn’t factor into the schedule.

Why are we surprised?

Building a life is costly.  There will be some quick fixes – a lick of paint, a polyfilla of a few little holes – but there are big structural factors that go on for a lifetime.

Jesus warned that people should count the cost before following him (Luke 14:28-30). He didn’t and doesn’t want a naive commitment that anticipates only blessings in life.  He expects it to be tough – “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? (Mark 8:34-36)

Why are we surprised?

Earlier in that chapter Jesus talks about his kingdom coming through his own suffering and death so why should life be easy for me?

Following Jesus is costly.  I used to think that I could get away with building a small extension where I could give God his own space and keep him contained.  What a miscalculation!

I’m learning slowly that following Jesus is living by his grand design.  I want my life to be worth his investment, to know that he’s at work and won’t give up on me,  and to be sure, as was the apostle Paul, that-

“God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished.” (Philippians 1:6)

“Did we suppose that the kingdom of God would mean merely a few minor adjustments in our ordinary lives?”

Tom Wright


What is it with kids?

17 10 2011

Jesus points to the children who were following him and tells the people, “I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:17)

I don’t know what kind of children you know, but I seem to have missed out on the traditional irradiated, beatific ones with halos. (Some pictures are just too awful to show, but if you can’t resist seeing “wallpaper” of Jesus with children, you can click here.  But you have been warned – they are BAD!)  Kids I know have a zest for life – have energy, enthusiasm, and fun.  They try new things, fail a lot, and try again.  Little ones are dependent on the adults in their lives, they trust them and are unafraid to express their opinions.

I hope that’s the kind of children that Jesus wants his followers to be like.


Confession – I nicked the pic but if you click on it you can see it in its location.

More or less?

17 10 2011

Sainsbury’s has a new logo.  No longer are they making life taste better, or encouraging us to try something new today.  They are encouraging us to live well for less. 

I’m sure the marketing department was not trying to issue a challenge to Jesus’ teaching but they have done anyway.

Read again what Jesus has to say in Luke 14:25-35 and specially this sentence – “…any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”  That sounds to me like “Live well – for more”.  And Jesus is clear that it is wise to count the cost before embarking on the adventure of following him, not set off on the journey and then wonder if you’ve got the stamina to keep going.


In the early 1900s this advert reputedly appeared inviting men to sign up for an Antarctic Expedition.  Not exactly a “Live well for less” invitation, but they say that over 5000 applied for a place.  (You can engage in the debate about where and when…and indeed if, it appeared.)  There’s something compelling about a high stakes investment…but I’d be cheering from the bench.


Fast forward in Luke to the account of the ruler in Luke 18:18-30.  Here’s a guy who is up for following Jesus, but only if it’s on his terms.  He’s clearly a religious man who has been living well, up to a point.  But now Jesus asks him to “Live well for more” and he can’t hack it.  His morals may be squeaky clean but his heart is turned inwards.  He thinks he has “more” but his perspective is skewed.  He rejects Jesus’ invitation and goes away sad.  I would hate that to be said about me – “She went away sad because following Jesus cost too much.”

And there’s no doubt that it costs.  But there’s something compelling about getting off the bench, getting in the game, and living to the max.  It’s what Jesus promised after all – “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)  Live well for more, and life will taste better!



Two black eyes and a leaky bucket!

13 10 2011

Most people at some time or another pray.  The remarkable thing is not that most people pray, but that some people keep at it.  Why?  Why does anyone keep praying when there’s often so little to show for it? 

“Prayer is a leaky bucket,” writes Eugene Peterson. “You go to the river to get a pail of water and by the time you get home the water is gone, the bucket empty, and all there is left to show for your effort is a damp trail soon to be wiped out by the sun.” 

Does that ring any bells?

Jesus obviously thought that persistence in prayer was something that his followers would struggle with and so he tells the story of the widow with ultimate pester power (Luke 18:1-8).  She nagged and badgered until she got justice from the judge.

The judge is an unsavoury character but in the end the threat of two black eyes forces him to give the widow the justice she demanded. (I’m not great in the Greek department, but apparently “wearing me out” in verse 5 translates as “beating me black and blue”.)

So what’s all this about?  Here are a few thoughts –

  • God’s silence is a common experience for all who pray
  • People who pray ask, “Why?” and “How long?” a lot (check out the Psalms for evidence of this)
  • I don’t know the whole story of my life
  • Persistent prayer is not about my stubborn willfulness trying to bend God’s ear…
  • It is about relationship, a trust that God is good and has my best interests at heart

Is this enough to encourage me to keep praying, to not give up, to not lose heart?  Will Jesus find faith when he comes to visit me?


12 10 2011

I came across a comment on a phrase in Luke 17:21 that helped me get a new perspective on what Jesus was saying to his early followers.  The phrase is sometimes translated as “the Kingdom of God is within you” and that suggests a private, spiritual deal with God.  I rather like that – it’s between me and God and no one need know.

However, Tom Wright points out that God’s Kingdom always refers to things that happen in the public world not in our private experience.  Mmm – snag!

So is the translation, “in your midst” any closer?  Wright says that it is, but it’s not quite there.  Here’s what he says –

“The phrase is more active.  It doesn’t just tell you where the kingdom is; it tells you that you’ve got to do something about it.  It is ‘within your grasp’; it is confronting you with a decision, the decision to believe, trust and follow Jesus.  It isn’t the sort of thing that’s just going to happen, so that you can sit back and watch.  God’s sovereign plan to put the world to rights is waiting for you to sign on.”

 So it’s decision time.

Read the rest of this entry »

Property, prosperity and pension funds

18 09 2011

Property, prosperity and pension funds all have a contemporary ring.  None of them is far from our daily news headlines; the cult of the consumer is everywhere.  But it’s not just a contemprary phenomenon.

Jesus has a lot to say about money and possessions.  (Those who like statistics tell me that about 11% of the words in Luke’s gospel is about money.)  It’s a big deal – for those who have a lot, for those who have little, for those who wish they were in the other group.

It’s easy to assume that those who are well off financially are well off in all of life, but in Luke 12:13-21 Jesus tells a story which challenges his listeners’ perspective.  Pause to read it now.

It’s not the money that’s the problem, it’s the heart-attitude to the money, the greed, the grasping after more.  And misplaced trust and security spells disaster.

John Ortberg in his book It all goes back in the box has modernised this parable.  You can read it here.

Buy the book here

He includes a line which adds another dimension.  He says, “And no one knew him or loved him enough to tell him the truth”.  What a sad indictment of the man and the quality of his relationships!

Bottom line – I need to reconsider my materialistic tendencies.  Am I so concerned with stuff that God and others get sidelined?  How open am I to hearing the truth…or to speaking it?

But I still haven’t found…

15 09 2011

There’s a sense of achievement associated with finding Wally.  He may be difficult to find, but you know what he looks like and once you’ve found him you can’t help but see him clearly.

It’s a bit like that with finding Jesus – he may be difficult to find, but we all know that we’re looking for a kind, peace-loving, healing type…aren’t we?

That’s why Jesus words in Luke 12 strike with such force –

“Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I have come to divide people against each other! From now on families will be split apart, three in favour of me, and two against—or two in favour and three against.” 

Then he illustrates what he’s saying with this quotation from Micah 7 –

 “Father will be divided against son
      and son against father;
   mother against daughter
      and daughter against mother;
   and mother-in-law against daughter-in-law
      and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

Micah warns of an imminent crisis and urges that the only way forward is to have complete trust in God.

Jesus sees the crisis of his death coming and is distressed that so few people “get it”.  They’re good a reading the signs of the weather, but unable to see the signs of what’s happening in “the present times”.

Tough words. Tough love.  Do I really want to find a Jesus like that?

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