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


Scratchy heed, Miss

26 05 2012

In a previous life, I was a secondary school teacher in the north east of Scotland.  It was not my home area and at first I struggled with understanding the dialect.  But this little phrase was commonly used, and didn’t need translating – “Scratchy heed, Miss.”  It was used if pupils didn’t understand what they had to do, or if a classmate gave a wrong answer, and probably (under their breath) about my struggles with their dialect.  Something didn’t make sense and needed to be addressed.

A couple of weeks ago, I was pleased to see that my readings were taking me to Mark’s gospel – easy reading, familiar ground, nice stories.  It didn’t pan out as I expected and I was left many times saying, “Scratchy heed, Jesus”,  like when –

  • Crowds are flocking to Jesus for healing.  He’s getting a reputation as a miracle worker who will meet people’s needs, but it’s the “evil spirits” who identify him as “the Son of God”.  Are they the ones who know who he really is?
  • 12 men are chosen to take Jesus’ message “out”, but when things get stormy, they’re not even sure who Jesus is.  They have given up their jobs and changed their lifestyle to follow and are now asking, “who is this man, that even the winds and waves obey him?”  Should they not have checked him out better?  This is scary, but is it scarier to be in the storm, or in the presence of the one who calms the storm?
  • Jesus is misunderstood even by his closest family who think he’s crazy and he doesn’t do anything to persuade them otherwise.  Can a Mum be wrong?!  And when the religious leaders suggest that he is demon-possessed, he replies with stories.  Wouldn’t you want to defend yourself rather than have a “once upon a time” session?
  • And what about the parables?  I supposed that parables are a teaching technique to make what Jesus says easier to understand, but…wrong.  “I am using these stories to conceal everything about [the Kingdom of God] from outsiders.” (Mark 4:11)

Through all my “scratchy heed” moments (and this is only chapters 3 and 4), Jesus’ words to the guys in the boat niggle away.  This time, it’s his question – “Do you still not have faith in me?”  And that sets off a raft of other musings…

Ambushed by grace

7 04 2012

There’s something special about meal times – gathering round a table, sharing food and memories or new experiences, being together with friends and family, talking, laughing – like the “last brownie” scene from the film Notting Hill –

I have had two meals this week which have been memorable though in stark contrast to each other.  The first involved a discussion around the question, “Why did Jesus die?”  My friend Dan had a rant about human sacrifice – how could Christians condone God sacrificing his son?  He was appalled at the idea…and about Christians wearing crosses – “Who wants an instrument of tortune round their necks?”  (I feel an argument with Cardinal O’Brien coming on.)  He’s right to be appalled.  The sanitisation of the death of Jesus does everyone a great disservice, and the call from a senior cleric to wear a symbol of belief in a “simple and discreet” way doesn’t seem to me to fit with Jesus call to his followers to give up their lives for him (Mark 8:34-38).

The second meal was yesterday – Good Friday – when we celebrated lunch and a simple act of family communion round our kitchen table. 

Ali broke bread and recited the words of Jesus from memory, ‘On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and said, “This is my body, which is given for you.Do this to remember me.” In the same way, he took the cup of wine, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this to remember me.” For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again.’  We passed the bread and wine round the table and each paused to thank God for his love.

Jesus message was on display and I wish that Dan had been there to experience it.  I can’t compete with him in clever arguments, but I am praying that he, and you, and me, will be ambushed by God’s grace this Easter.

You’re hired!

31 01 2012

Being an apprentice has been popularised by the aggressive finger-pointing Alan Sugar. Those who fail to do their research about him and his business empire fail in their quest to become his apprentice.

Contrast that with being apprenticed to Jesus. He walks along the seashore and calls to some fishermen; he walks past a tax collector and says “you’re hired”. There is no interview, no CV, just a personal invitation. I’m not sure what surprises me more – that Jesus wants these people to follow him or that they respond to the invitation.

Being an apprentice, a disciple, means following closely. There’s listening, watching, learning the craft – doing as the master craftsman does.  Interestingly, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day don’t offer this kind of training, as Mark tells us later on (Mark 12:38-40). [ Matthew explicitly says not to do as they do because their words and actions are inconsistent (Matthew 23:3).]

And here is the extraordinary thing about apprenticeship to Jesus – apprentices make apprentices, who make apprentices.  Fast forward to the end of the story and see what I mean –

‘Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”’

Now there’s a challenge!

I wonder if the early disciples had any idea what they we’re letting themselves in for. Jesus tells them that it is now their responsibility to apprentice others, to pass on all they have learnt and to cheer them on.  And if we are in the line of apprentices, we have the responsibility not to drop the baton.


29 01 2012

BBC Breakfast presented these chocolate delights to viewers this morning.  Belgian chocolates, right?

Don’t be deceived, not even by the BBC!  They are real, chocolate-coated…sprouts.  A baker in Kent wanted to encourage his son to eat his veg and so developed this little ruse.  WYSI – not – WYG.


Come with Mark to first century Palestine.  Jesus is causing a stir.  Why?  Because he has the audacity to forgive the sins of a paralysed man (see Mark 2:5)  His friends have brought this man for physical healing and have gone to great lengths to present him to Jesus.  And Jesus does heal him so that he, “jumped up, took the mat, and pushed his way through the stunned onlookers.”

But it was so much more than a physical healing; it was a holistic experience, such that the religious leaders who were present couldn’t cope.  They have already heard Jesus’ confident  teaching that questioned their standing with the people.  They have witnessed, or at least heard about other physical healings, but now – this is blasphemy!  Only God can forgive sins! 

Who is this Jesus?

Good question!  He’s not who you think he is.  He’s not merely a carpenter from up north, a persuasive teacher, a strike-it-lucky healer, a crowd pleaser.

He comes preaching God’s good news – “The Kingdom of God is near!   turn from your sins and believe this Good News!” (Mark 1:14-15)


Don’t burn the toast

27 01 2012

Transparency is a much talked of value – we ask for transparency in financial dealings and accounts, transparency in relationships, transparency in – toasters??  (Sorry, I found the image and couldn’t resist it!)

We like to know where we are with people, we don’t like being caught out by the small print, we hanker after truth.

Of course the downside is that others want us to be transparent too and that’s not so comfortable; we all like a degree of opacity, don’t we?

I started reading Mark’s gospel last week and it is an “in your face”, transparent introduction to Jesus.  Mark has no preface of birth narratives, no angels or wise men or genealogies, just right in there – “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

There’s an air of excitement and anticipation that draws the reader into the story.

If Mark is direct about who Jesus is, he is equally direct about what is expected of those who listen to him – “Time’s up! God’s kingdom is here. Change your life and believe the Message.”

It seems that I’m in for a challenging, don’t-burn-the-toast, nowhere-to-hide read.

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