Look Behind the Fridge

An aroma of death clouded the fridge this week. I put off investigating. It might just be the ripe Brie. Should I look behind the fridge?  Such a nuisance!

Our fridge is wedged into a space which makes it hard to pull out. And then there is the need to remove the heavy items before moving it.  Plus, it may scratch the floor. No, moving the fridge is a last resort.

However, the aroma persisted and became more pungent. My son helped me, and the fridge was removed from its slot. And what was revealed? The picture says it all.  One dead mouse.
It reminds me that Christian relationships are not about the face, but the heart. The outside interests us far less than the inside. Perhaps this is what is behind Peter’s exhortation: 
“Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.” (1 Peter 1:22 NIV11-GK)
If we are going to love from the heart it means we are interested in the heart, and in connecting our hearts one to another. This cannot be done without depth.  It means looking behind the fridge.  Is there an aroma of death around a friend? Rather than ignore it, or be put off by the effort, why not ask a few questions, and offer a listening ear. 
You may be surprised by what you find, but what you find – you find. It is already there, and anything unsavoury, if brought into the light, can be removed, repented of and cleaned up by the love of Christ. Christian relationships are characterised by joy, but it is a deep joy brought about by knowing we are known and that we know one another deeply.
Look behind the fridge.
Malcolm Cox

Creating Hospitality Hotspots at Church

The delight I felt at having a whole row to myself on the plane to Tokyo was duplicated on the return journey. Three seats were all mine again – bliss! I think the Lord knew what I needed. The schedule in Japan was intense, but inspiring. The sleep was mostly adequate, but only 1 hour on the final night. The ability to lay across three seats was a sanity-saviour.

Such unexpected grace is always more refreshing than something expected. I saw much of this in the Tokyo church. Any Christian visiting another congregation can reasonably expect to be welcomed and looked after (“Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” Romans 12:13 NIV11). But it is a special joy when you receive more. Such was my experience in Tokyo.

One example of this was what happened during the singing at the services. The songs were in Japanese, and the songbooks contained the words – in Japanese. No surprise there. But as the first song began someone thrust a songbook in my hand. I did not expect it to be of much help (I do not read Japanese script). But the person found the correct page for me and I realised that the songs were in Western alphabet lettering.

Now I could sing with gusto! I knew all the songs we sang at the services pretty much by heart, and I could have sung in English while the congregation sang in Japanese around me. On occasion I have done this in India and Indonesia. but it never feels quite right. Instead I sang in Japanese with my mouth, while singing in English in my head. A rather surreal experience, but infinitely better than just listening. I felt I was able to properly join my Japanese brethren in their worship of God.

Someone took the time to put the songs into the western alphabet and collate them into a songbook for the few occasions when someone like me would visit. I thank that anonymous hero for their labour of love.  I also wonder what God would have me do for those who visit our services and find it hard to worship with us effectively because of language barriers? Please send me your suggestions.

“Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (1 Peter 4:9 NIV11-GK)

Let’s make our churches hospitality hotspots!

Malcolm Cox

Sending Sendai

The Sendai church took to the stage on Sunday morning in Tokyo. They welcomed us and led the service in prayer. I am so impressed. Why?

You may remember the earthquake and tsunami that hit that part of Japan. Intrepid members of the Tokyo church travelled there to help the survivors. Despite the chaos and personal dangers (no one was sure of the extent of potential radiation poisoning at that time), they served the homeless, injured and bereaved.

HOPE worldwide made a supreme effort with limited resources. As things developed a conviction grew that a church was needed in the area. Brave men and women volunteered and the church was born. Out of disaster came a new hope. God is always able to bring vision into the darkest areas.

It reminds me of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They “had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” (Luke 24:21 NIV11-GK), but now Jesus was, as they thought, dead. Hope was gone. They had no idea that he was alive, and present with them. Hope was with them, but they were blind to it because of their sorrow and dashed expectations.

How often we forget to recognise that Jesus is with us in the most difficult times. He always accompanies us, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20 NIV11-GK), and is always available, “he always lives to intercede for them” (Hebrews 7:25 NIV11-GK).

I am so glad to have met these heroic men and women of Sendai. They went where I would never have gone because they believed God would go with them. Please pray for them, and remember that Jesus is always with you – even in the darkest times.

Malcolm Cox

Sweet Seat Surprises and the Joy of Jesus

Eleven hours in economy is unlikely to excite the soul. However, Thursday’s flight to Tokyo had 100 empty seats. Not only that, but no one sat next to me in the exit aisle. Hallelujah! I had three seats all to myself and unlimited legroom. Boy, was I happy!

I know our joy shouldn’t be dependant on circumstances. Jesus was filled with joy at an anticipated reward, “For the joy set before him he endured the cross,” (Hebrews 12:2 NIV11-GK).

There wasn’t much in his earthly situation to give him joy: thick-headed disciples, fickle crowds, aggressive authorities and unbelieving family to mention just a few. He was a man of sorrow (“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” Matthew 26:38 NIV11) and of joy (“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” John 15:11 NIV11).

There is a distinction between joy and happiness. Joy is the settled acceptance that God is with me no matter what happens on this earth, and that He loves me without reservation, and that the rewards of the next life are going to put all the suffering into perspective. No one will enter eternity with God and discover the pain of the previous life not to have been worth it.

Happiness is different. It is temporary, and very much effected by our circumstances. That’s OK. Just don’t hold out for it. Extra legroom makes me happy, but it has nothing to do with my joy.

Malcolm Cox

Rising Tension, Rising Sun & Thessalonika

Mount Fuji

Thursday marks a new adventure for me. I’ll be on a plane headed to Japan. The nerves are more frayed than usual. Why should this be, I wonder? 

Flying doesn’t normally make me nervous. Perhaps it’s simply the excitement of going somewhere I’ve never been. Or could it be that  I’m apprehensive about teaching the Word of God through an interpreter. Maybe I’ve got the jitters because I don’t know the church in Tokyo very well and worried about not meeting the needs accurately.
No. It’s time to be honest. It is none of these things. The real source of my nerves is concern about the security situation in the region. Apparently a less-than-friendly neighbour has ballistic missiles pointed at Japan. 
The questions in my head are: 
  • Will my flight be cancelled? 
  • Will it be targeted? 
  • Will the missiles contain nuclear material?
  • Have I made a will? 
Such fears are natural enough, I suppose, but it is time for a self-rebuke when reflecting on last Friday’s lesson on 1 Thessalonians chapter 1 – which I taught. We looked at the founding of the church recorded in Acts 17.  What was that like? Some of the words used to describe the scene include: ‘jealous’, ‘bad characters’, ‘mob’, ‘riot’, ‘dragged’, ‘trouble’ and ‘turmoil’.
The baby Christians had to get Paul & Silas out of the city – and quick. Doubtless if they stayed they were in for a beating – or worse. And I’m worried about a possible threat from a distant dictatorship? Where is my Pauline spirit?  Where is my trust in God? And, just as importantly, where is my zeal for teaching the Bible? Surely threats (real or imaginary) are of no consequence when I have the opportunity to realise a dream?
Paul and Silas started a church that was born in tough times, but whose faith became an inspiration to a whole region: 
“You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere.” (1 Thessalonians 1:5–8 NIV11-GK)
I do not know that my visit will result in anything as dramatic, but I hope at the very least, that it will remind me of the privilege it is to teach the Gospel whenever, wherever and whatever the context.
Malcolm Cox

Sir Ben Kingsley and the Footsteps of Christ

© Mary Lane

Sir Ben Kingsley was on the radio this morning. His portrayal of Ghandi in the film of the same name is hugely memorable. It was one of the first films my wife and I saw together when we were at university in Birmingham.

Sir Ben told the story of the filming of the assassination scene. He walked the exact path Ghandi himself took that fateful day. The footprints of the Mahatma are now set in clay and fenced off from the public. No one is allowed to step on them. However, the authorities carefully turfed over the imprints and allowed the actor to walk over them.  He regarded it, rightly, as a great honour. All these 30 years later it still had an effect on him – and me as I listened to the tale.

Christians are highly privileged people because we also walk in the steps of our Lord. This is comforting and inspiring, but there is a caution. Do we realise the significance of this calling?  Walking in his way is never likely to be easy while we walk this earth. The context of the verse that talks about this is, well, take a look ….

“For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” (1 Peter 2:19–21 NIV11-GK)

Following Jesus in his steps means walking into and through suffering. In the context above it is unjust suffering – the hardest kind to bear. When Sir Ben walked the same steps as Ghandi he was going to a recreation of the events. He was not going to die. The difference for us is that, as we follow in Jesus’ steps, we die to sin and serve others in the same way he served us. Let’s walk that way eagerly, but soberly. The way of his steps leads to eternal joy with him for ever, but for the meantime it leads us through a valley shadowed by evil.  Despair not – it is temporary.

Malcolm Cox

Little Red Box and a Magical Mystery.

Life is full of mysteries. Why is music a universal human language? Why are snowflakes so beautiful? And why do people watch reality TV? Life without mystery would be dull.

Walking in the woods I came across a red plastic container (in the picture). Shaped like a charity collection box, it resolutely refused to reveal its purpose. No writing adorned its casing, and no gaps allowed exploration of its interior. The puzzle persists.

The purpose of the mystery, at least for me, is the continued sense of curiosity. As you can see, I am still thinking about it some two or three weeks  later. Is that part of the purpose of the puzzles in life that God leaves unresolved? It may be that “Why?” is the most important word. Parents tire of hearing young children ask it, but without the question nothing is learned.

Psalm 42 is a ‘why?’ Psalm. 

“Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.” (Psalms 42:5)

“I say to God my Rock,
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
oppressed by the enemy?”” (Psalms 42:9)

“Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.” (Psalms 42:11 NIV11-GK)

The mystery is troubling. There is no specific answer as to why the writer is downcast and disturbed. Nor is there a solution to the feelings of abandonment and suffering. Yet this musician is taken on a journey of remembrance by his troubles. He recalls previous times of joyful worship, and reflects on God’s patient love for him. As the mystery deepens so does his respect for God. In the moments of mystery he is taken back to his need for a relationship with his creator. There is something about mystery that connects us with the divine.

In this life not all questions will be answered. But in the next they will not need to be. In the meantime, enjoy the curiosity they create. I must go back and have another look at that red box…..!

Malcolm Cox