Monthly Archives: September 2020

Ashes

I just wanted to make a plug for my daughter’s new EP that’s just been released today.

It’s a six-track EP/album called ‘Ashes’ and it’s taken her more than a year to create the songs on it. All proceeds go to our local Hospice, Rowcroft Hospice, where Ellie’s Mum was looked after for her last few days on this earth.

It’s priced very reasonably at £3.54 on Amazon, and I am sure it will be on other countries’ Amazon sites too. It’s also avaliable on streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music; just search ‘Ellie Rosie’ to find the links to this and all her other published music.

Click the image below to go to the Amazon UK sales page, where you can also listen to some short preview clips from the tracks on the EP. Ellie is a very talented young lady with a superb singing voice and excellent songwriting skills; even the short clips will send shivers down your spine 🙂

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Did My Dog Arrive in Heaven?

On the back of my last post about pets being with us in Heaven, here’s a lovely piece shared by my friend Mo Thomas, which I think was originally written by a chap called Keith Wilson. It describes a lovely act of human kindness and compassion to a grieving soul. Let it minister to you:


“Our 14-year-old dog Abbey died last month. The day after she passed away, my 4-year-old daughter Meredith was crying and talking about how much she missed Abbey. She asked if we could write a letter to God, so that when Abbey got to heaven, God would recognize her. I told her that I thought we could so, and she dictated these words:

Dear God,

Will you please take care of my dog? She died yesterday and is with you in heaven. I miss her very much. I am happy that you let me have her as my dog even though she got sick.

I hope you will play with her. She likes to swim and play with balls. I am sending a picture of her so when you see her you will know that she is my dog. I really miss her.

Love, Meredith

We put the letter in an envelope with a picture of Abbey and Meredith and addressed it to God/Heaven. We put our return address on it. Then Meredith pasted several stamps on the front of the envelope because she said it would take lots of stamps to get the letter all the way to heaven. That afternoon she dropped it into the letter box at the post office. A few days later, she asked if God had gotten the letter yet. I told her that I thought He had.

Yesterday, there was a package wrapped in gold paper on our front porch addressed, ‘To Meredith’ in an unfamiliar hand. Meredith opened it. Inside was a book by Mr. Rogers called, ‘When a Pet Dies.’ Taped to the inside front cover was the letter we had written to God in its opened envelope. On the opposite page was the picture of Abbey & Meredith and this note:

Dear Meredith,

Abbey arrived safely in heaven. Having the picture was a big help and I recognized her right away.

Abbey isn’t sick anymore. Her spirit is here with me just like it stays in your heart. Abbey loved being your dog. Since we don’t need our bodies in heaven, I don’t have any pockets to keep your picture in so I am sending it back to you in this little book for you to keep and have something to remember Abbey by.

Thank you for the beautiful letter and thank your mother for helping you write it and sending it to me. What a wonderful mother you have. I picked her especially for you. I send my blessings every day and remember that I love you very much. By the way, I’m easy to find. I am wherever there is love.

Love, God
__________________

You will be happy to know this wonderful story is 100% true.

“Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.” “

 

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Merry’s Legacy

Back in 2017, I posted a very popular piece entitled ‘Do Animals Go To Heaven?‘, and a shorter version of it was also republished on the ‘Unfundamentalists’ blog under the title ‘Do Our Pets Go To Heaven?

I would think it likely that most people are familiar with the grief and loss that we feel when a well-beloved pet dies, and so I reckon the piece was so popular because so many people could identify with it, and hopefully many were helped by it too. The essay was particularly well-received on the Unfundamentalists site (possibly because more people saw it), and the ensuing discussion was very touching as I got some lovely comments from people who had been blessed and encouraged by it. Encouragement is what I do, so I was really pleased to see one comment in particular, which I will quote here:

“I lost my best friend, Strudel (German Shepherd), to cancer on Sunday. He was the best person I have ever known, and my heart is broken. Then, this blog showed up in my email box, and I am so grateful to for the comfort it has given me. I write this with tears in my eyes, but I know that he is waiting for me with Jesus in heaven, enjoying plenty of his favorite food (hot dog buns)”

That comment brings tears to my eyes too, even now, years later 🙂

After that comment, the discussion sadly degenerated rather rapidly into some pretty dull theological stuff, which I won’t share here. There are people who, because of their limited theology, believe that pets can’t be in Heaven. They would rather their theology remains intact – which the idea doesn’t really threaten, as animal ‘sin’ is not really an issue – than believe that even they will see their beloved pets again – or that anyone else will see theirs, either. Sad, sad people, without much hope for what Heaven will be like (far, far, better than anything we can imagine!), and who want to drag others down into that mire too. And that’s tragic.

But still the raw emotion of that comment about Strudel demonstrated the point of what my essay was aiming at. The encouragement of the ‘silent listeners’ who don’t get caught up in pointless discussion, who don’t try to argue others out of the real hope they have in the interests of ‘following Scripture’ (whatever happened to ‘following Jesus’?), but who are simply blessed by the things they read that are a million miles away from the harsh, dogmatic and ungentle things that are written on so many faith blogs. That encouragement is what this stuff is all about.

And so, I will share today a couple of things that have really blessed me, in the hope that they will bless you too, my gentle readers.

We begin with the sadness of loss. Gutted to say that, a couple of weeks ago, we lost Merry, who was the oldest of our pet rats.[1] That’s Merry in the header picture for this blog post.

Initially, Merry was a bit of a sad case when we first adopted him. We had four rats already (they were about a year old), and I was in a pet shop buying food and other accessories for them. When in the shop, I always make a habit of going to look at the baby rats (because they are so cute), and there in this cage all by himself was this beautiful white Dumbo rat.[2] And so we rescued him from being condemned to a life of loneliness and isolation, and took him home with us.[3] After displaying some initial behavioural problems, he eventually settled in just fine, after neutering and a caravan holiday (yes we take the rats in the caravan with us), and he turned out to be the sweetest, most lovable little fella you could ever want to meet.

But, like so many rats, he eventually succumbed to a respiratory problem[4] and we had to make the hard decision to have him put to sleep. It was made a little easier because, even as we had him in the car with us waiting outside the vets, we could see him deteriorating: cyanosis (going blue) of the lips, nose and tongue, and no circulation in the ears. It was definitely his time, and having him put to sleep was the compassionate thing to do, primarily because dying of respiratory distress is not a good way to go. Rats only live for two to three years, and Merry was just over two years old, but still, to lose that lovely little character with all his funny habits and his gentle and wise nature – it was terrible.

Merry dozing in his pod

I mentioned in the previous ‘pets/heaven’ essay that my late wife Fiona had really clear and vivid visions from God that brought real comfort to her in times of emotional anguish.

Well, I too had one of Merry after he died. I saw him in Fiona’s hands, having scrambled along her forearms, and sniffing at the ‘camera’ (you know, the dream’s ‘viewpoint’) and Fiona was saying “Where’s your Grandpa?” (that’s me!)[5]. Building once again on my firm belief that our pets go with us into the afterlife, I was greatly encouraged by that vision and I shared it with my daughter too, and it encouraged her.

Pippin

Looking back a couple of years, there was an occasion (when we had four rats) and we went on a caravan holiday (before we’d worked out how to take them with us on a regular basis), and we asked our lovely, kindly neighbours to come in and feed the rats for us in our absence. On our return, the rats went absolutely nuts when they welcomed us back. They came charging over towards us and gave us a right royal welcome, just like if you’d been away from home for a fair while and your dog welcomed you back.

And this brings me to Merry’s Legacy. That vision I had, and like I said above, building on my belief that our pets will be with us in the ‘hereafter’, led me to thinking about what that will be like when we arrive. I mean, I would have liked to have thought that Jesus would be the first to welcome me, followed closely by Fiona. But now I’m not so sure. If I have any dog owners reading this, how often have you noticed your dog hold back behind other humans when he comes to welcome you as you get home from work? It’s never happened once, in my experience. The dogs have always got there first in their enthusiasm and exuberance in welcoming home the humans that they love.

Do you see where I’m going with this? What if the first of our friends to welcome us into Heaven are our pets? What if the dogs come charging ahead and bowl me over with their enthusiastic welcome? How can they not do that; they are dogs! With the humans laughing at their antics, but still left well behind them? So, my dogs Melody, Jasper, Katie, Poppy, Bruno and Zeus. No doubt the cats, Daisy and Tigger, will be off doing their own thing and just being cats. And as for the rats: Zig, Zag, Honey, Rosie, Pepper, Sammy, Toby, Wally, Finn, Obi, Pippin, Merry (Peter and Raven are still with us) – these guys will all be right there and trying to get to me first. Even the chickens, and if you’ve ever seen a flock of chickens charging enthusiastically towards you to see what you’ve got for them, you’ll know what I mean 😀 What a lovely picture that is!

My rat Pepper

All these individual, unique characters – people – in their own right, and precious and beloved by us and by God because of that.

So, with all that competition, maybe Jesus and Fiona might not get to me first, then? 😉

The amazing Sammy. This little guy knew how to do tricks.

You see, I think Heaven is going to be so full of wonderful surprises: things we thought we had lost forever; people we thought we’d never see again; pets who were so much part of our lives. And the reunion is going to be spectacular! Maybe I have even created a spoiler today; I mean who’d have thought that their pets would not only be there in Heaven, but that they would be the first to welcome us? But I think we can be sure that Heaven will be immeasurably greater than any spoiler I can give 🙂

Wally in the caravan. He’s only a baby here, but he grew into the wisest rat I have ever known. His wisdom and intelligence were absolutely phenomenal.

Another one of Wally

I often say that God’s two greatest mistakes were a) putting nerves in teeth, and b) giving our pets such short lifespans. Regarding the pet lifespans, I am sure that there’s a deep reason for it, which I kinda have some inkling of (in fact I am sharing some of the wisdom in this essay) and which God reveals in small amounts as we walk with Him, just as He does with all of Life’s Big Questions. I trust Him fully, I know I’ll understand it all one day. and that’s all good. (But the nerves in teeth thing, well no, just no 😉 )

But still, our pets are amazing animals, who in their own way demonstrate to us God’s love and care. When we get to Heaven, I’m sure that we will more fully understand what their function and role has been for us in this life. They are God’s ministers to us – which is probably why cults ban their members from having them. Can’t have the real God showing up, now can we? 😉 And His ministry through these incredible animals – dogs, rats, cats, chickens – is real and tangible. The healing, unconditional love and acceptance that they display mirrors closely those same characteristics in our healing, loving and accepting Heavenly Father. And why not? Is not God capable of showing His character through all His Creation?

Raven. He’s really inquisitive, very fast, super-affectionate and highly intelligent.

 

This is Peter; he’s very affectionate but also very shy.

Merry’s Legacy has been to show me just what these creatures do for us and how much they enrich our lives; how much they minister God to us. And it’s also shown me a good bit more of what my welcome into Heaven will be like. And I have Merry to thank for that.

The pain of the loss of our dear ones – humans and animals alike – will be nothing when compared to the joy of our reunion with them. Remember that divine ‘judgment’ means that all that was wrong will be put right; all hurts will be healed; everything that ever caused us tears of pain and sadness will become just a dim memory. Now that’s Good News! This is the Gospel! If it doesn’t lead you to believe that everything – everything! – will turn out right in the end, then it isn’t the real Gospel, because nothing other than that, as a final result, will even come close to being God’s best for us. Would God stop at anything short of absolute perfection, when it comes to our eternal home?

Go figure.

Finally, I would say that one of the things that we do when saying goodbye to our pets is that we thank them. We thank them for all the love and heartfelt presence they have ministered to us for the short time we had them, and for all the input they have had into our lives. So, I say thank you, Merry, for all you’ve been to us, your family; all you’ve done for us; and all you’ve taught us about selflessness, self-giving, tolerance and gentleness. And I will see you again soon.

Grace and peace to you all

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Before anyone runs away, please let me say a word in favour of rats as pets! Rats get a really bad press in the public eye; they are seen as dirty, disease-carrying, vicious and bitey creatures with weird tails, and they give a lot of people the shivers. That, and they are regularly used for the ‘Yeuch!’ factor in game shows such as ‘I’m a celebrity, get me out of here!‘ where lots of (tame!) rats are released into some sort of coffin or box along with the contestant. But in actuality, even wild rats are neither dirty (they hate being dirty and wash themselves at every opportunity), and nor are they vicious; they would much rather simply be left alone. And pet rats, or ‘fancy rats’, are different again from wild rats. In addition to having some differences in the ways their bodies work, they too are clean, and are also beautiful, affectionate, gentle, empathetic, intelligent, caring animals with a very high emotional intelligence and, in some cases, a level of real wisdom that I have not seen very often in humans. They all have individual personalities and they really do make great pets. In fact, I know people for whom rats were recommended as ‘assistance animals’ to help with mental illness issues.
2. Dumbo rats have larger, rounder ears which are situated further down the sides of their heads than the usual ear position. ‘Top-eared’ rats are the ‘usual’ ear pattern for rats. Dumbos, however, are bred specifically to make them more ‘cute’ and appealing to humans, essentially so they sell better. It’s actually been quite hard to find top-eared rats in pet shops recently!

Picture shows two baby rats (‘kittens’) of about ten weeks old; the guy on the left is a top-eared rat whereas the little rascal on the right is a Dumbo. The top-eared fellow’s ears will look smaller and better-proportioned once he’s grown up a bit; don’t forget these are babies.

3. It strongly irks me when pet shops will sell a single rat all by itself by removing it from its group, or when they leave a single rat in its sales cage when all its brothers/sisters have been sold. The isolated rat (sold or unsold) will be bewildered and heartbroken, wondering what they have done wrong, feeling lost and in complete despair. Rats are pack animals; they need to be in groups of at least two, and preferably more. And that isolation was what had happened to poor Merry. Sure, a rat will enjoy human company, but having a proper ‘mischief’ (the name for a social group of rats), will be far more beneficial.
4. Rats tend to suffer from two major health problems: tumours and respiratory issues
5. Because the rats belong to my daughter, their ‘mummy’, I of course am ‘Grandpa’

The Genius of the Cross

Whatever you need the Cross of Christ to be, for you, it will meet that need. It’s often been said that at the Cross, God meets all the deepest needs of mankind. Reconciliation with God? Check. Healing? Check. Forgiveness? Check. Putting to death of the ‘old nature’? Check. A sacrifice? Check. Demonstration of God’s love for us? Check. I myself no longer see the Cross as being the place where Jesus was sacrificed as a Lamb to appease a wrathful god. But if you, personally, need the Cross to be the place of sacrifice, then God is big enough, and the work of Christ at Calvary is huge enough, to meet that need. And that’s fine. Others will likely have different needs, and that’s fine too.

For myself, I no longer see the Cross through the lens of ‘penal substitutionary atonement’ (PSA), where Jesus ‘took my place’. I no longer consider PSA to be a viable Biblical concept, although I do understand why people believe that idea. I used to believe it myself, once upon a time. I’m generally not very good at describing what the Cross means to me, because it’s more of an internalised thing for me, although I have expressed some of my ideas in previous blog posts. I know what it means to me, and I know that I am continually learning more about just what Jesus did there. At the bare minimum, if we fix ourselves to just one particular interpretation, or ‘meaning’, of the Cross, we will miss out on learning so much more about what Jesus did there.

And so, for your upbuilding, here is a beautiful piece by the brilliant Jacob M. Wright, where he presents a superbly logical and totally Biblical idea on a particular aspect of the Cross. As usual, Jacob expressess his ideas with clarity and conviction:


Here is a couple lines from a beautiful and scathing critique of Christianity by Sam Harris. Part of his critique is of the superstitiously violent nature of religion throughout history and its nearly universal practice of sacrificing humans in a myriad of different horrific ways to “appease the gods” or satisfy strange superstitions. I fully agree with him in this particular critique and I believe a very different interpretation of the crucifixion which I will briefly go over afterwards.

“Upon seeing Jesus for the first time, John the Baptist is rumored to have said, ‘Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29). For most Christians, this bizarre opinion still stands, and it remains the core of their faith. Christianity is more or less synonymous with the proposition that the crucifixion of Jesus represents a final, sufficient offering of blood to a God who absolutely requires it (Hebrews 9:22-28). Christianity amounts to the claim that we must love and be loved by a God who approves of the scapegoating, torture, and murder of one man—his son, incidentally—in compensation for the misbehavior and thought-crimes of all others.

“Let the good news go forth: we live in a cosmos, the vastness of which we can scarcely even indicate in our thoughts, on a planet teeming with creatures we have only begun to understand, but the whole project was actually brought to a glorious fulfillment over twenty centuries ago, after one species of primate (our own) climbed down out of the trees, invented agriculture and iron tools, glimpsed (as through a glass, darkly) the possibility of keeping its excrement out of its food, and then singled out one among its number to be viciously flogged and nailed to a cross.”

I appreciate Harris’ brilliant words here in so much as he is exposing the wrong way of seeing Christianity. This is why we need to continue to overturn Calvin’s model of the atonement and show that with Christ we do not have what every other religion has in terms of slaughtering a creature to appease its god with blood, but rather we have a subversion of sacrifice and an overturning of normal sacrificial thinking.

I would start by pointing out that if the bloody torture and crucifixion of Jesus was demanded by God to appease his wrath, then why are Jesus torturers and killers considered evil in carrying out this act, if they were merely fulfilling a necessary barbaric human sacrifice ritual unto God and with every drop of blood appeasing him?

Here is the normal sacrificial routine: those bringing the sacrifice are considered righteous and pleasing to God by bringing an offering to slaughter unto God. Now contrast with Christ’s Passion: The ones carrying out the act are evil, not pleasing to God. And the one bringing the offering (“I lay my life down of my own accord”) is God himself who is offering himself to humanity. This is the opposite of a divine wrath-appeasing human sacrifice model. This is completely turned on its head.

If they were carrying out an act that in itself was good and pleasing to the Lord, namely torturing and killing Jesus as a human sacrifice to satisfy God’s wrath, then why did God go about it the way he did? Why didn’t Jesus just explain to his disciples to tie him down to an altar, slaughter him, and burn his flesh as a pleasing sacrificial aroma to God? Instead we have the opposite playing out, that it was an evil act and that it was God offering himself up to the hands of sinful men, rather than humans offering a sacrifice to God. The Passion is a subversion of the sacrificial system.

Furthermore, we have Paul explaining that God offering himself to be killed by the hands of sinful men was an exposure and defeat of the principalities and powers and it was God making peace with humanity, in contrast to a sacrifice where humans try to appease and make peace with God. Usually it was man trying to reconcile God to himself through their offering to God but here we have God reconciling the world to himself through his offering of himself.

To go further, the normal pagan sacrificial ritual was to satiate the bloodlust of the gods with the flesh and blood of the sacrifice. Whereas in the Passion narrative, God’s flesh and blood is offered to us, and we are the ones who eat and drink the flesh and blood of God.

The Passion shows us to be the ones with the bloodlust, not God. God subverts this nearly universal practice of sacrifice to expose something at the heart of humanity and to transform human thinking concerning who God is and who we are. We are thus transformed by coming again and again to remember this act of self-giving, unconditionally forgiving love, remembering the One who does not demand blood but lays down his own life to make peace. We partake in this act, we receive unconditional forgiveness, and we are called to be transformed into peacemakers ourselves.

This is how Jesus’ sacrifice was pleasing to God. Not because God demanded it or was satisfied with a blood offering, but because as the writer of Philippians says, Jesus “emptied himself”, demonstrating the humility of a servant, laying his life down in non-violent forgiveness, dying a victims death at the hands of violent humanity. This was a perfect act of love, and thus God exalts Christ to supreme authority, that at his name, everyone will surrender and every tongue confess that this love is the supreme authority. Within this act of divine love is the reconciliation of all things.

God did this at the risk of being thought of as normal sacrificial thinking, that is, an animal or human being offered to God to satiate his bloodlust and appease his anger. Yet even when people see it that way, it still communicates the final doing away with sacrifice with an act of self-giving and peacemaking which begins to deconstruct these sacrificial paradigms in social thinking. Even when one cannot see the powerful subversion of sacrifice at work in Christ’s act, and they see it through the lens of normal sacrificial thinking, it still begins the necessary deconstruction of sacrificial thinking and begins to end sacrifice once and for all in civilization, and begins to point to a God of self-sacrifice, forgiveness, self-giving love, and reconciliation, which begins working itself through human thinking and overturning our violence and enmity with Christ’s act of peacemaking and reconciliation.

 – Jacob M. Wright, used with his kind permission

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A Good, Good Father

This is a brilliant insight by Jamie Englehart. I need add no more, except to say that it really fits with the general theme of my blog in that God is a good God!

Over to Jamie:


Jesus came to reveal the Father, not the law giver, or judge, or even a King, but a Father who desires relationship with His offspring.

When we view God and scripture through a legal, judicial lens, we will get excited about judgement, justice, punishment, and rendering evil for evil, and like the idea of God sending calamity, especially on those who have hurt us. These are not the days of Job or Elijah or Moses, but of Jesus.

However when we view God and scripture through Jesus which is a new and better covenant lens, we will view through the lens of family, relationship, mercy and grace, love, reconciliation, and the forgiveness for our enemies.

When we realize that His righteous judgements are from the heart of a loving father who is seated on a throne of grace and mercy and not in a courtroom, then we will run to Him and not from Him. He is a holy, righteous, and just Father who does chastise and correct those that are His, but it is from a place of loving correction and not punitive. Mercy triumphs over judgement, and TRUE justice or the God kind of justice is mercy and compassion (Zech 7:9).

If we are more patient, loving and kind as parents than our God, and we would not do to our children what we are ok teaching that He will do to His, then our God is NOT like Jesus. He is a good, good, Father and according to Jesus much better than the best of us.

 – Jamie Englehart, shared with his kind permission

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