No no, it’s alright – I know, he’s a bit big and he looks quite scary, but he doesn’t bite – Down, boy, down! – he just wants to play. He loves old people, he’s always fussing around them wagging his tail, hoping for a treat. And children, too – he just loves children. Actually, now I think about it, maybe he loves children a bit too much…
Anyway, he’s a lovely pet, and really nice to have around. He’s so friendly, and he loves playing. I suppose you could say he’s got a bit of a one-track mind and I don’t think he handles complexity or change very well, but give him a familiar environment and he’s fine. Look, boy – see the relic – go fetch! Fetch it! Good boy. Aren’t you clever? Yes you are. What a clever boy.
He is a little bit needy, though – he always likes to follow you around, and it’s really hard to get some private time for yourself. It’s like he’s making sure we don’t get up to anything! And he does whine if you eat without him. He’s fine if you give him a bit – about a tenth usually shuts him up – but it’s a bit of a nuisance. He just likes to think he runs the house.
And I should warn you, he does have some funny habits. He barks angrily at pictures of Richard Dawkins, for example. Not just a picture, anything that looks like him or sounds like him – I have no idea why, it must be down to some sort of early trauma.
Oh, and while I’m on that subject, don’t use the “G” word. You know the one, don’t make me say it. No, it’ll set him off! Alright, I’ll spell it – G-A-Y. Down boy, sit! Stay! No, he really doesn’t like it – sends him absolutely mental. So it might be best if you don’t let people of the same sex hold hands, or even sit too close to each other, because I don’t know how he’d cope with that.
Apart from that, he’s fine.
I was previously aware of the term “Full Gospel” and the existence of “Full Gospel” churches, fellowships and conferences, but I was reminded of the term today and my mind started to wander in very strange directions. Part of me wants to stroke my beard and explore the implications for ecumenical relations, but mainly I think the idea’s ripe for a spot of mockery.
The obvious (and boring) meaning is that it’s the whole Gospel, wi’ nowt taken out, but that makes me wonder if nasty brown bread’s the right analogy. What if it’s more like most things we consume, such as coffee, and some of the things in the Gospel are bad for you? Then it would probably be more virtuous to order a skinny Gospel instead of the full one, but I’ve never heard of a Partial Gospel Church of Christ, and the Strained Gospel Church sounds quite unpleasant.
Because I like the coffee idea, I’m not going to drop it just yet. You could order your church frothed if you’re Charismatic or Pentecostal, single if you’re a Unitarian, or decaf if you’re an Anglican. Any church can be ordered with hazelnut syrup for extra nuttiness. Okay, I’m done now.
I also wondered if it was possible to order a half portion of Gospel. Children aren’t going to manage that all in one go, and there are days when I don’t think I could manage a whole one because I’ve spent the morning snacking on Christian apologetics. Yes, I know I shouldn’t, but the moment I’ve finished one, I feel empty again and want another.
Or it’s possible that the full bit is their dedication to the Gospel – these churches rarely seem to take half measures (or serve half portions). But it’s not much of an advert really, is it? Just giving 100%? Footballers regularly give 110%, sometimes as much as 120%, and they’re just kicking a ball around – yes, they get paid well, but it’s not like they’re playing for eternal life, is it?
I’d expect nothing less than 150% from any church that was really taking it seriously, with 200% for the really keen ones. The Double Gospel Church of Christ has quite a nice ring to it, I think. And don’t give me any defeatist chat about 100% being the maximum you can achieve. With God, all things are possible, right?
Image courtesy of Flavio Takemoto, used with permission
Good morning, St Stephen’s Day. Apparently, St Stephen is patron saint of headache sufferers among other things, which is presumably something to do with his association with Boxing Day. But the Feast of Stephen is most commonly known as the date when Good King Wenceslas looked out.
I’m happy to let a lot of strange things go in carols, but Good King Wenceslas is more or less a complete and detailed story about a supposed event, and it bothers me, because I don’t think it makes any sense at all.
The King looks out of his castle, and sees a peasant gathering winter fuel, or firewood in other words. So far, so simple. But when he asks his page who the man is, it gets very weird. Apparently, he lives miles away, “right against the forest fence”. So why would he walk “a good league” to gather firewood in the vicinity of the castle when he has such a fine supply on his doorstep? It just doesn’t make sense.
It’s just about conceivable that the forest’s private and he isn’t allowed past the fence, but you’d still think there should be a decent amount of wood around the forest, or at least within a few miles. You wouldn’t expect there to be many trees near the castle, and if there were, he must have gone through them and out the other side to be visible from the window. Very odd.
Normally, I’d assume the page has just got it wrong in an epic way, but he leads the King to the peasant’s house later on, so it appears he knows what he’s talking about. But if the page’s information is right, what’s the peasant doing looking for firewood near the castle?
The only answer I can come up with is that he’s some sort of spy. He’s probably in the pay of a sinister pretender to the throne, watching the castle under the cover of collecting the odd twig to add to his fire. And Wenceslas then goes and personally delivers a massive feast to his house – what an idiot!
Or maybe he’s being very clever – maybe the flesh and wine he brings to make a gift to the peasant is his cover for checking exactly what he’s up to and how much he knows. It’s also possible that he’s already made up his mind to deal with this suspicious type and intends to do so by poisoning him.
If you pay careful attention, there may be a sinister undertone in the King’s instructions:
Bring me flesh and bring me wine,
Bring me pine logs hither.
Thou and I will see him dine
When we bear them thither
The King intends to ensure that the peasant consumes his poisoned food, so that he knows the spy’s been dealt with and will pose no further trouble. He’ll make him eat the poison, watch him die, then return to the castle. Or so it seems to me.
It’s possible that I’ve spent rather too long thinking about this.
Greetings, exalted friend. Kindly pardon me for inconvenience.
Permit me to inform you of my desire of going into business relationship with you. I have the believe you are a reputable and responsible and trustworthy person I can do business with from the little information so far I gathered about you during my search for a partner and by matter of trust I must not hesitate to confide in you for this simple and sincere business.
I am Angel Gabriel from Heaven. The late son of our President was attacked by the opposition force and was killed on Good Friday 33AD. But before his death, he revealed and handed to me the whole of documents covering the deposit of abundant supplies of life. He explained to me that he had wish to see these supplies distributed very widely to all humanity.
I am contacting you with due sence of humanity that you will give it a sympathetic and mutual consideration. Sir, I am honourably seeking your assistance in the following ways.
1. To serve as the guardian of your share of this fund
2. To provide greatest assurance that this fund will be protected
Your share is amounting to an eternity (1 Eternity) of eternal bliss. In order to release these funds, it is required to provide deposit on one soul (1 Soul) by means of Sinner’s Prayer. I have tried my possible best to indicate that this deposit should be unnecessary owing to your honourable nature, but the funds have already been deposited at Bank of Heaven in your name.
Please be understanding that if you do not collect your share I will be held responsible for the loss and this shall invite a penalty of indefinite period of pain and suffering which I will regretfully be forced to pass onto you (the owner of the funds).
I am anxiously waiting to hear from you soonest.
Photo by ninahale, used under Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0
Christianity is facing a grave threat, one that could split the entire church. A combination of a sinfully relaxed attitude from much of the church and the liberalism of secular culture means that this pernicious cancer is spreading, and in danger of destroying everything the church should stand for. In a world where you can now see shameless and outrageous displays of sinful behaviour on TV and in the street, it is vitally important that the church takes a stand and clearly sets out its position on the evils of bigotry.
Do not be deceived – the Bible is clear in its condemnation of bigotry. Some liberals and those who wish to excuse their sin have attempted to confuse the issue by pointing to similar passages which are ignored, and even inventing implausible contextual background to explain why the Bible doesn’t really mean what it says. Nevertheless, despite these efforts, it is clear to anyone who approaches it honestly that the entirety of scripture clearly identifies bigotry as a sin.
It is, of course, inconceivable that practicing bigots could be given any position of leadership in the church – their “lifestyle” alone clearly rules them out. And anyone who has previously been a bigot must expect to undergo a thorough process of repentance and reconciliation before even being considered for further responsibilities. Bigotry is an insidious habit, and the church would not be doing its duty if it didn’t make absolutely sure that reformed bigots have fully changed and pose no further danger.
There should be no suggestion of hatred towards bigots. Even unrepentant bigots are made in God’s image and part of His creation. Christians have a duty to honour that, and to offer them the same love as anyone else. However, it would not be loving to allow them to promote untrue or unBiblical values. Bigots should be kept at a distance by the church, to ensure that there is no doubt as to the church’s position on their sin, and in the hope of eventually leading them to full repentance.
It is also vital that the church campaigns to ensure that the state does nothing to mock its Christian heritage by endorsing such a heinous sin. It is therefore regrettably necessary for Christians to speak out against any move towards giving bigots the same rights and legal standing as others. Bigotry is unnatural, and a perversion of God’s created order, so it would be unthinkable for Christians to support such an idea.
Let me be clear about this – God still loves bigots, and so does the church, but they are in error. The scale of their sin cannot be disregarded, and for the sake of both them and others who might be led astray it is essential that this error is made abundantly clear, and that the state recognises the truth. Sadly, this involves denying them some basic legal rights, for the good of both them and society at large.
It’s the loving thing to do.
Photo by makelessnoise, used under Attribution License
I take as the text for my sermon today:
I do not like them in a box.
I do not like them with a fox
I do not like them in a house
I do not like them with a mouse
I do not like them here or there.
I do not like them anywhere.
I do not like green eggs and ham.
I do not like them, Sam-I-am.
I’m sure we’ve all felt like that from time to time, haven’t we? I know I have.
It’s very easy to dismiss the message of this powerful text; to say it’s confusing, it was written a long time ago, it’s not relevant to my life. But how wrong you would be!
Consider the name of the character – Sam-I-am. Who is the only person we know of who has ever been called “I am”? None other than God. So Sam-I-am clearly represents God in this parable. He is offering a plate of green eggs and ham, surely a significant choice – the ham would make the dish unacceptable under the Law. But God Himself is offering it to us, like Peter’s vision, indicating that the gift is actually the gift of grace, the freedom from the Law. So what are we to make of the green eggs? Well, the eggs represent God’s children – His chosen people, the Jews – and their green colour suggests that they’re rotten. Putting that all together, God is offering His favour and freedom from Law, after the Jews rejected His gift.
Notice that God offers His good gift with no strings attached. There are no restrictions, there is no Law. In fact, when the gift is ungratefully spurned, He persists with His offer, even suggesting ways that the gift might be made more palatable. Clearly, this is unnecessary; gratuitous, even, from the root gratia, the same as grace. Even when we reject Him, God graciously continues to extend the offer, and to find ways of making an already generous gift even more appealing!
So is there any deeper meaning to these offers? Well, I don’t believe God would leave us with just a stream of gibberish – of course there’s a meaning. If we have a look at the different offers he makes, we can see a clear message emerging.
In the first place, he asks whether we would like them here or there – we need not go anywhere different to worship God, but at the same time, we can if we wish. Then he offers them in a house, or with a mouse – these are all contrasting pairs of conditions, so here the contrast is between wealth and poverty, drawing on the proverbial poverty of a church mouse in opposition to the comfortable property ownership of much of the western world. These offers make no difference to the character’s stubborn rejection, so God continues to make the offer.
The next offer is to accept the gift in a box or with a fox. This is a difficult passage to understand, but I’m inclined to believe this relates to martyrdom. The box reference obviously refers to a coffin, and foxes are traditionally associated with slyness and cunning. You can be martyred, or if that doesn’t appeal, you can use your intelligence to avoid difficult situations. We tend to think of martyrdom as the holy course of action, but whichever you choose, God continues to offer His good gift of grace.
The next contrasting pair of offers are slightly separated into two separate questions in the text, but this is simply a rhetorical device, and there is no doubt that they’re intended as opposing positions. The new offer is to accept in a car or in a tree. You can be a petrolhead or a treehugging eco-nut – it’s all the same to God. Just to really hammer this home, He offers a third option, a sort of middle ground between the two, represented by a train – travel without the same scale of environmental damage as a car.
So far, we have seen that we can worship God wherever we are and wherever we go, we can worship Him whether we are rich or poor, brave or cowardly, wedded to the environment or destroying it. Ultimately, none of these matter to God.
Next, the offer is changed once again. Now the gift is offered in the dark or in the rain. This is open to two possible interpretations – either this refers to following God secretly or in the open, or else the contrast is between introverted and extroverted personality types and forms of worship. It’s been the subject of a good deal of academic debate, but I believe this misses the point. It isn’t either/or, but both/and. These options have two meanings, because the entire thrust of this passage is that none of it matters to God – we can all receive His gift of grace anyway.
In fact, the next passage makes a truly shocking offer – you can receive this gift on a boat or with a goat. I have no wish to scandalise, but I have to tell you that sailors are traditionally notorious for certain sexual practices. In this context, without going into too much detail, the significance of the goat is obvious. To avoid leading anyone into sin, I hope it will suffice to say that God’s grace is extended to even the vilest, most reprehensible sinners. But still, the gift is rejected.
And what happens after this repeated rejection? God urges him to try this gift, and he finds that he likes it after all, with clear echoes of Psalm 34: Taste and see that the LORD is good. Furthermore, we can see in his reaction the effect of God’s grace in our lives. He goes out of his way to vow that he will do whatever God asks of him. Having refused the gift even when he was offered so much freedom in many different ways, he now promises that if God were to ask him to relinquish that freedom, he would gladly do it:
I like green eggs and ham!
I do! I like them, Sam-I-am!
And I would eat them in a boat!
And I would eat them with a goat…
And I will eat them in the rain.
And in the dark. And on a train.
And in a car. And in a tree.
They are so good so good you see!
So I will eat them in a box.
And I will eat them with a fox.
And I will eat them in a house.
And I will eat them with a mouse.
And I will eat them here and there.
I will eat them ANYWHERE!
And isn’t this true? We refuse God’s gift, coming up with all sorts of reasons for turning it down, but once we actually experience that wonderful grace of God, it fills every part of our being and we would gladly do anything He asked of us, including things we would never even have considered before. Note the use of “would” instead of “will” in the case of the boat and the goat – these are clearly different from the others, as God would never ask or expect us to do things that are actually sinful in His name.
Maybe some of you disagree with this, but it’s all written down right here, I’m just the mouthpiece. So if you have a problem with what I’ve said, you need to take it up with God.
He who has ears, let him hear.
Okay, I’m basically not a very nice person in many ways, and I’m all too aware of my many faults, but this year, my conscience has been pricked after being pointed towards the words of Jeremiah:
This is what the LORD says:
“Do not learn the ways of the nations
or be terrified by signs in the heavens,
though the nations are terrified by them.
For the practices of the peoples are worthless;
they cut a tree out of the forest,
and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel.
They adorn it with silver and gold;
they fasten it with hammer and nails
so it will not totter.
That seems like a pretty clear denunciation of Christmas trees to me, and prophetic as well, seeing that it was written about 600 years before Jesus was even born. The question is, how much wiggle room is there?
I mean, I have an artificial tree – is that OK? What about if the tree’s real, but is a living tree, or wasn’t grown in a forest? It’s a minefield. Must I have a colour scheme without any silver or gold, is the important point that it shouldn’t contain both silver and gold, or is even that acceptable, as long as it’s balanced with some other colours? I think that would make sense, because just silver and gold can look a bit bland and sterile, but maybe we need some deep thinkers to give some serious theological thought to this. Just as soon as they’ve finished on Ezekiel’s aliens.
(Interestingly, while I was writing this, I discovered that there are some people who genuinely believe this passage prohibits Christmas trees. Or at least, they appear to – Poe’s Law applies as much as ever.)