Manchester Memories

Just a quick note today….

25 years ago some brave followers of Jesus Christ dropped everything and went to start a church in Manchester.  It was our good fortune that Penny & I were asked to lead that church for almost 5 years in the ’90s.

It is a very great privilege to have been asked to come to the 25th anniversary service this coming Sunday, 2nd November. I’ll be speaking on the love that God has lavished on us from 1 John 3.

If you are or were connected with the church, please come along and join us for a session of Manchester memories. Lunch is provided, and so is a warm welcome.

All the location details are here: Manchester

I hope to see you there,

Malcolm

Malcolm’s Monday Meditation: “Hidden Beauty”

Sometimes beauty is a surprise.

No one is surprised when the bride looks beautiful as she walks down the aisle (sometimes we’re a surprised that the groom looks half-decent – but that’s another story!).  A spectacular sunset, an iridescent hummingbird, a baby’s first smile are all beautiful – but no one is surprised when they happen.

There is something extra-special about an unexpected beauty.

Such a point came home to me this week. We’ve had significant building work done on our home. The builders have finished, and it is now up to us to do the decorating. Our funds were more or less used up on the construction phase, so we’re being as innovative as we can regarding the cost of the decoration and furnishings.

The kitchen lights needed lampshades. What did we do? My wife went to Tesco, bought three colanders for £4 each, drilled a hole in the bottom using her jigsaw, and attached them to the light fittings. £12 total cost – a bargain!

But there’s more. You see, we put them up in the daylight. When night came we turned on the lights and what did we observe? An unexpected beauty. The pattern on the ceiling was a delightful surprise.

Such surprising beauty added to the already considerable joy we felt from simply saving money!

The source of beauty was unexpected (a £4 metal colander from a supermarket!), but we recognised it when we saw it. Do we always recognise the beauty of what God is doing around us, I wonder? Some of the people in Jesus’ day did not.  For example in the Gospel of Mark we read about the woman who “came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.” (Mark 14:3 NIV11). 

The onlookers did not see anything beautiful in this action. Instead they gave her a hard time, “Why this waste of perfume?…..” And they rebuked her harshly.” (Mark 14:4–5 NIV11). But Jesus saw it differently. He saw beauty.

“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.” (Mark 14:6 NIV11)

The beauty the audience missed is the beauty that endures. Jesus said, “wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Mark 14:9 NIV11), and he was right! We tell the story today, as indeed I have in this blog.

What might be the lesson for us? Perhaps it is that Jesus valued the people others devalued. He saw beauty in them, and that is why they did beautiful things for him. If we accept that we are beautiful to God, we will be correctly motivated to do beautiful things. And, crucially, we will begin to notice the beauty in people around us.

Have a beauty-noticing day. As for me, I’m off to see to what else we can do with colanders.

I hope you have a wonderful week, and God bless.

Malcolm

Malcolm’s Monday Meditation: “Dealing with Dust”

A little while ago I wrote a post called, “People are not washing machines“.  It’s time for another washing-machine-related-post (an WMRP).

We moved into a new home last year. It was, in the words of my wife, a “fixer-upper”. It had been empty for 18 months, and rented out for the previous two years. Let’s just say that maintenance had not been high on the agenda during that time.

An unexpected blessing was that the fridge and washing machine had been left behind. Both were newer than the ones we brought with us. Ours went to needy friends, and we kept the in situ appliances.

A year on and it was time to fix up and improve the house. Part of the renovations involved the kitchen, and so this week I pulled the washing machine out from its slot under the kitchen counter. What did I find, but an instruction booklet.

We don’t know how long it had been there. Long enough for a thick layer of dust to accumulate!

Dust is not delightful. As someone who has lived in a designated dust zone for three months while building work has gone on around us, I can tell you that dust was not designed to be in our hair, our eyes or our dinner. I took a sponge to the manual and wiped the dust off.  The colour came to life, the text became readable and a sneezing fit was avoided. All good things.

Did you realise that dust was an essential part of the evangelism strategy of Jesus? No? Well, have a look here,

“If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” (Luke 9:5 NIV11)

There it is. Are you shaking the dust off of your feet, shoes, or flip-flops? What does Jesus have in mind? If people are not interested in the good news, why isn’t simply leaving the area enough? Why shake off the dust? In the context of the time it seems to have been a symbol of judgment. Jewish travelers might perform this action when they came back from a visit to pagan territory.

But might there be another reason? Not only does Jesus ask his disciples to let the unreceptive town know they have rejected their opportunity to be part of true Israel, but I wonder if the action reminded his followers that there is a time to move on. We can get sentimental. We can become fixed to a false hope. How do we know when it is time to move on? Let me suggest four ways, which will, conveniently, spell “D.U.S.T”.

  1. Deaf. In a parallel passage Jesus said, “If anyone will not…listen to your words,” (Matthew 10:14 NIV11). If your sharing is falling on deaf ears it is time to move on. Are your friends prepared to at least listen?
  2. Unfriendly. Jesus said, “If people do not welcome you…”. He’s not talking about first impressions, since the disciples are to stay in the house. But if unfriendliness persists, the heart is not open.
  3. Stubborn. Jesus became “distressed at their stubborn hearts” (Mark 3:5 NIV11) because some people around him would not listen to him even though he did miracles. If the fruit of the Spirit in your life does not cause people to open their hearts to God, it may be time to move on.
  4. Testers. Some people occupy our time simply to test us – and not in a good way! Jesus found this with the Pharisees who “came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven.” (Mark 8:11 NIV11). He gives them a brief answer, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.” – which is really no answer at all, and then “he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side.” (Mark 8:13 NIV11-GK) – he got out of there!

There is more that could be said on the subject, of course, but this will do for now. What are your thoughts on this topic? Is some dust gathering on your shoes which needs to be shaken off? Are you in the company of the deaf, the unfriendly, the stubborn or the testers? Perhaps it’s time to seek some new company!

Until the next time, I hope you have a wonderful week.

God bless,

Malcolm

Malcolm’s Monday Meditation: “Perfect is Problematic”

“Emotions” conference at St Mary’s church,
Wyndham Place, London

Have you ever heard the phrase, “I want to be just like Jesus.”? Perhaps you’ve said it yourself. Sounds good, right? Very holy.

But is there a problem with it? Perhaps. Why might this be? Well, let me tell you what happened last Saturday.

Penny & I attended the “emotions” conference. The focus was on how Christians deal with mental health challenges and issues such as guilt, worry and perfectionism. Around 600 were there. People are looking for good Bible teaching and practical help.

I think we got both, and, judging by the atmosphere in the room, we were not alone in that assessment. Every talk was illuminating, but, for the purpose of this article, I’ll focus on just one matter – that of perfectionism.

Jesus does not expect perfection of his followers. What? That sounds like heresy! Doesn’t he say, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”? He does, in Matthew 5.48. But what does he mean? Let’s think about the context. Up on the mountain he has laid out a metaphorical table spread with sayings and examples – some sweet, some sour. These teachings make it clear what having a relationship with God is like in the kingdom – under the New Covenant. In summary – the law is inadequate; if you love God you will treat people completely different to the way you otherwise might (women, enemies, troublesome brothers, wife and the like). But not because this is a new law. These instructions cannot be a new law. The old law was hard enough to keep – this one is impossible! Never look at a woman lustfully. Is he kidding?!

No, instead we are being driven to seek Jesus. He must be our all-in-all (he gets to that in chapter 7, but that’s for another day). Our call is to have a relationship with Jesus that is desired above all others. That’s where the “perfect” word comes in. The Greek uses “teleios”, which means “complete”. As it says in the NICNT, “Jesus is demanding a different approach, not via laws read as simply rules of conduct but rather by looking behind those laws to the mind and character of God himself.” (1)

In other words, it’s all about relationship.

Relationship rules out perfectionism. If you’ve ever had a friendship with an un-reformed perfectionist you will know that it is exhausting, distancing and, often, short-lived.  Perhaps you have been that perfectionist yourself!  The good news of the gospel is that we no longer need to be enslaved to perfectionism.  We are complete in Christ – “For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (Hebrews 10:14 NIV11).  My deeds, works, obedience may not be completely perfect (they are not and never will be), but my Jesus is perfect, and he has donated his perfection to me.

Desiring and planning to grow to be more like Jesus is good, and the Spirit helps us along (2 Cor 3.18). But that’s very different from setting a standard of being exactly like him which implies that human effort is the key. No, we’re simply not going to get there in this life, which means that perfectionism is anti-grace. We cannot have humanly-attained perfection and grace. We must either believe we have the power to be perfect (which we do not), or believe that Jesus has the grace to cover our imperfection. It’s our choice. Which one sounds more like freedom in Christ (Gal 2.4, 5.1)?

Does this lie behind why it can be hard to find volunteers in church?  Perhaps the reason people do not respond to the call to help is not because they are unwilling, but because they believe themselves to be inadequate. They don’t feel good enough to serve.  The life and teachings of Jesus confirm that he is interested in the “not-good-enough” far more than those who think they are adequate. It is the former who respond to his love, and enjoy his grace.

This leads to a closing question. Do we speak about “standards” in the church, in our Christian relationships and in our families in a helpful way, or a burdensome way? Let’s watch our language and do our best not to reinforce active or latent perfectionism in one another. Rather, let’s make our best effort (not a “perfect” effort!) to inspire one another with the grace that is offered to all of us perfectionists.

I hope you have a wonderful week.

God bless,

Malcolm Cox

Footnotes:
(1). France, R. T. The Gospel of Matthew. New International Commentary on the New Testament. Accordance electronic edition, version 1.2. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007.