All posts by Tony

The Security of the Past

My friend Phil Drysdale is a man with a remarkable ministry.

He helps people to grow as Christians while giving them permission to allow that growth, in full realisation that sometimes that growth is constrained by the church environment they are in, maybe their circe of friends, maybe their family.

Phil helps these people to realise that it’s ok to grow outside the plant-pot they have been raised in since they were seedlings[1]. Sometimes for the first time, these dear ones see that growth is normal, that it doesn’t always go in the direction that their peers want, and that it’s always healthy even if sometimes (actually usually!) painful. In his seminars and meetings, Phil provides a safe space where people can be open about all aspects of their growth, and realise from meeting others in a similar place that they’re not alone in their travels[2]

And Phil has a lot more patience with naysayers than I do 😉 I don’t have a lot of time for people who try to bring down the Good News to their level, down there in the pits of mud and despair of deadly Religion. Religion that hampers rather than promotes; Religion that steals, kills and destroys rather than giving Life in all its fulness (Jn 10:10). But, more than anyone else I know, Phil also includes these people too in the ‘growth’ framework, because, whether they like it or not, and whether they fight it or not, the growth pressures are almost always still there. He can see it; I can’t.

And so that brings me to today’s gems of wisdom from Phil. I want to learn everything I can from this great little essay, and apply it. How well I will stand up when confronted by the naysayers, I don’t know…but this little piece is golden and I hope that my readers, at least, can be encouraged by it.

Over to Phil:


Many people are victims of their framework. When their rules of engaging with their faith require them to seek to move society backwards they are naturally going to be scared, confused, aggressive, upset etc. when society naturally moves forward.

There is no scenario in which they win, certainly not for more than a few years here or there which end up being blips in history. Any student of history will tell you we are moving gradually forward in remarkably positive ways.

We continue to move forward, society evolves, spirituality evolves. We are more loving, more inclusive, more accepting etc. etc.

These people are fighting a losing battle, they have lost again and again throughout history and while they can still have tremendous negative impacts on society that impact is lessening every single day. Not only that but less and less people are believing the lie that our future is in the past. Every day more and more people wake up and see the future is believe it or not, in the future! And even better, we can bring it about TODAY!

There is a danger that we look down upon such people rooted in the past though. The truth is that they are not inherently bad people but rather good people lost in an old dead system.

We must learn to cease demonising these groups of people intent on dragging the world backwards… rather we need to remember to humanise them. For they very much are human. They are scared, they have no other options for how to see the world. Some in time will wake up. But many won’t. And it is very unsettling to see society moving in the opposite direction from the one you’ve been told since birth we need to move.

The safer you can make them feel in these moments of growth and evolution the less grief we will be creating.

Our goal as we continue to transcend as a society should be to try and minimise the growing pains as much as we can for those not ready for growth. To love people where they are at while not allowing their desire to live in the past to hold society as a whole back.


 

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Oh, I’m so poetic today! 😉
2. Phil hasn’t asked me to do this, but it is possible to support him financially in his ministry. He also runs a network called ‘The Deconstruction Network’ which enables Christians from all over the globe to contact other Christians in a similar growth/deconstruction position. For more details, visit his website where the links to all his great material are available for free. There’s also his other site, ‘The Deconstruction Network‘.  And if you’d like to support his ministry. there are links on both those sites about supporting him, via ‘becoming a partner’ or ‘support us’.

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 🙂

00

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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Proximity Fixes Everything

Here’s a great piece by Michael McElyea:


Prior to 2018 and the awakening within that I had, the place I was running with was the statement that “proximity fixes everything and nothing else will”

I still believe that wholeheartedly, except I see this in an entire new light

I want to say that although I’ve moved past the theology I am so thankful for the Pentecostal world

I adore it with my whole heart

At least they taught and stressed and emphasized that this thing with God is not merely some beliefs to hold sacred, but an invitation into an experience, a communion, a fellowship and a nearness to not only the Father of all of this beautiful creation but the very lover of our souls

But the proximity message was as if God was over there in this holy place that I was not and I had to seek to be there I had to pursue him I had to ascend this mountain….in other words I had to get on this hamster wheel called religion and strive strive strive, I had to do in order to be…..having lost that I am not a human do-ing but that I am a human be-ing

Once the concept of the incarnation became a deep seated revelation in my heart, Jesus destroyed my hamster wheel

Once understanding that there’s never been any objective distance or delay or separation between Him and I, it changed my entire life and is continually changing my life. I’ve been “saved”, from lies, I’m being “saved” as we speak, and I will be “saved”

Proximity fixes everything, the truth that I was joined to him from my conception, never been separate, he’s with me in my darkness as well as on my mountains. And when my life contradicts my true self, it doesn’t take weeks of me condemning myself and grinding out to be a good person and get back into his nearness again, but that he’s always near, closer than anything else, and I’m reminded of who I am, that I am in Christ and Christ is in me. Restoration

And I’m reminded that love is the essence of my being, it’s my DNA, that I’ve been formed and fashioned for love, through love, to love and In the very image and likeness of Love himself…..by the very One who is nothing other than pure Love

He asked me and he received, he sought me and found me, and knocked until my door within opened. He put me on his shoulders as One, clothed me in righteousness, found the image that was lost, and we together are moving forward in this journey called life

Love has the final word

Proximity does fix everything, and we’ve always been woven together. The message is Union. There’s an incarnated human be-ing seated upon the “throne” in “heaven” announcing this perpetual union, as well as your dignity and glory and beauty, forever and fully immersed into the divine dance of the ages

This applies to every single one of you who reads this

Change the way that you think

He’s better than you’ve been taught

– Michael McElyea


Shared with Michael’s enthusiastic permission 🙂10

Except by Me

I’m sorry to say, but, in general, Fundamentalist Evangelical Christianity loves to be exclusive.

Black and white thinking: saved or unsaved; in or out; blessed or cursed.

We are the Chosen Ones; everyone else is wrong to some degree, and we are the only ones who have most of it right at least.

In the Old Testament (OT), so beloved of the more judgmental sectors of Christianity, there are – of course! – lists of people who are ‘excluded from the assembly’; in other words, they’re not allowed to ‘go into the presence of God’. The main list that springs to mind is the one in Deuteronomy 23:1ff[1], but there are others too.

Quite apart from those exclusion lists being part of the Old Covenant, of course, many modern Christians have not only revived the lists but have also enthusiastically gold-plated them by adding people from groups that they personally – or corporately – disapprove of. For instance, LGBTQ+ people, unmarried single parents, men who don’t wear ties 😉 , well, the list goes on and its contents vary depending on whom you ask. Maybe it’s best not to ask then? 😉 But it’s going to be that the main criteria for a given ‘exclusive’ Christian’s exclusion of certain people from the Kingdom of Heaven are: a) (in the wider sense) anyone who is not a ‘Christian’; b) (more narrowly) anyone who is not in their specific denomination; and c) (in the narrowest sense) anyone and everyone who does not believe the exact same things as he does. I suppose it gives them a sense of superiority or something.

But, to be fair, the reasons and the heart behind these actions and attitudes are not my target today; instead, I want to use an excellent piece, by Jacob M. Wright, to show why the main verse normally used to justify exclusiveness – John 14:6 – is actually a really inclusive passage of Scripture, not exclusive as it has of course been twisted to mean. Let’s take another look at it:

(John 14:6)

On the surface, when Jesus says “No-one comes to the father but (except) through Me”, it does look at first sight as if that’s what He’s saying, especially when we see the word ‘except’, which is of itself an exclusive kind of word. Jesus is the only way to the Father. And in a sense, I agree, but for other reasons which are not germane to this present piece. I too have written on this idea before in this blog (but I can’t remember all the places, but one such piece is here 😉 ) There is also Acts 4:12, which appears to say a similar thing, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name [Jesus] under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” But, look, I’m going to stop blathering and let you read Jacob’s piece; it’s a real eye-opener, and will give you a great perspective on this verse. I learned something new from Jacob when I read this.

Here we go:


“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me.” (John 14:6)

Today, I would like to discuss this statement. Typically this statement has been interpreted by many Christians as an exclusive statement, but I would like to show how it can and should be interpreted as an inclusive statement. Usually when you hear this verse, it is a Christian trying to use it to basically say that you must be a Christian by saying the sinners prayer or believing the correct things about Jesus in order to “go to heaven instead of hell.” This is just not what the verse says.

Rather, Jesus says, “No one comes to the Father but through me.” This is the same as saying, “Everyone who comes to the Father, comes through me.” It’s like saying, “No one is alive on earth but through breathing the air.” Yes, and everyone who is alive on earth is breathing air. In other words, everyone who has a relationship with the Creator, has it through the Spirit of Christ at work within them, whether they know it or not. Jesus was simply pointing to himself as the incarnation of this reality.

Christ was a universally ever-present reality before he assumed the body of Jesus of Nazareth, and still is now. As John tells us, he is the divine Logos through whom the universe was made, and his life is the light of all mankind (John 1:3-4), not just Christians. Furthermore, Paul tells us that in him we all live, move, and have our being, as well as that the whole universe exists and is sustained in and through Christ (Col. 1:17).

So, with this in mind, Jesus is simply saying, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. If anyone knows God, they know him through me and my Spirit at work within them.” Jesus was simply saying that he is the embodiment of the universal Christ that John and Paul later attested to. By this, Jesus was both saying he is the inclusive universal reality that everyone can and does access AND putting exclusive importance on his own life, teaching, and person that signifies and clarifies this reality.


– Jacob M. Wright, shared with his kind permission

I’d just add as a final point that there are many other verses that agree with Christian inclusivity (did I just invent a new phrase?? 😉 ). A good place to start would be in the list of Scriptures given by Mo Thomas in the recent post of his that I shared here.

And in any case, if there is no Hell, as I firmly believe, what other conclusion can there be but total inclusion? Even if not in this life, certainly in the Hereafter…but hey, why not start now?

Grace and peace to you 😀10

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Ah, surprise, surprise – good old Deuteronomy again! Don’t you just love it? 😉

Worship to Go

This entry is part 38 of 38 in the series Fiona

A few evenings ago, while driving in my car, I had the most precious and profound worship time, and I thought I would share it with my readers because it illustrates the raw power of real worship, and its ability to change the hearts of those worshipping. This was a very special worship experience for me, and although it will probably not have the same effect on other people, I wanted to share it also because I want to try and show just what happens when the Spirit orchestrates worship – even on an electronic mp3 player – for the building-up of the heart of the believer.[1] Plus of course it will probably bless my readers anyway 😀 For me, Her ‘playlist’, and the order in which the songs appeared on my player, were a deliberate setup in order to maximise the blessing for me. And it was absolutely wonderful! So I am sharing the story, the individual tracks, and (later on) the tracks all spliced into a single continuous piece in order hopefully to let you experience something of the profound time I had the other evening, and to hear how all the tracks flow together. This is worship leading at its best; thank You, Holy Spirit!

So, on this particular evening, I was driving up to Exeter (no, not to go flying! 😉 ) and, as is my usual custom, I had some worship music playing. I’ve done this for years, just so long as there’s no-one else in the car that the music will annoy 😀

Well, my iPod was set to random play, and the first song to come up was ‘Jesus we enthrone You’, segued[2] into ‘Ascribe Greatness’, from the Dales ’82 tape ‘Praise God in His Sanctuary’. These songs, and the way in which the ‘worship session’ went, are the reasons why I have included this piece in my series about my lovely late wife Fiona. These two songs, especially, held great meaning for us in the early part of our lives together and, on this particular day, they led to a tremendous time of healing for me, right there in the car.

Not long after we’d first begun dating, in 1982, we went to several worship evenings together at the Dales Bible Week in Harrogate. These two songs therefore have for me a lot of deep meaning and personal identification, and they bring back many happy memories of those days. In particular, I found that on this journey they actually recreated, in small measure, the feelings I had when we were first dating.

It was Fiona’s first Bible week, and she loved it; the worship especially. Fiona always had the heart of a worshipper, and those were the days where she first experienced what it was like to worship in a huge congregation of 8,000-plus people, using new and exuberant songs like these.

Lyrics are here, in case you want to join in[3]

The sound of the ladies’ voices, when they sing without the men, sounds very much like Fiona’s voice, and whenever I listen to these Dales ’82 songs, I always fancy I can hear her voice. Of course, that’s highly unlikely, given that there will have been about 4,000 ladies singing there each night, but, well, because we were there for most of the meetings that week, we are likely on the recording! Anyway, we learned these songs at Dales, and brought them back to our home congregation at Guiseley Baptist Church. We had them both at our wedding, and Fiona came in to the tune of Ascribe Greatness. Nearly thirty-three years later, we also sang it at Fiona’s funeral.

At this point, then, gratitude and worship were flowing, and the iPod segued into the perfect intro of Terry MacAlmon’s ‘Worship Interlude‘. Even the key transition was seamless, and Terry’s first words on the track, ‘Thank You Lord’, were just what I was feeling: an immense gratitude for Fiona’s life and for all the great times we’d had together. Time for me to sing in my Spirit language, because words were simply not enough to express what I was feeling[4].

The song followed into a mild key-change and then, to my complete amazement, into one of the most healing songs I have ever heard – and in the key that the (unconnected) Worship Interlude had just changed into. Honestly, the transition was simply seamless. But this song? It was My God and King, by Shauna Chanda, accompanied by Terry MacAlmon, and this particular piece holds so much meaning for me, because it was involved in the healing of deep hurts not long after I lost Fiona. Can you see how perfectly these songs were ‘set up’ for me? 😀

Lyrics[5]

Wow. Just, wow. And as you can imagine, at this point I was well aware that the Spirit was orchestrating the randomisation on the iPod!

Next, along came a Vineyard song from our early days as worship leaders and my being Director of Music at my church – again, perfectly seamless with regards to the key (stayed in the same key) – I worship You (I give You all the Honor) by Carl Tuttle:

Lyrics[6]

For so much of our lives together, especially when we lived in Yorkshire, we spent a lot of time living ‘on the breadline’, where we often had to search the house for the last two coins needed to buy a loaf of bread or whatever it was we needed. And I have to say that God has never seen us go short; He has always provided for all our needs – physical, emotional, spiritual. He’s been faithful (a God of faithfulness, as we have already seen above), and this song was the next up – the classic hymn ‘Great is Thy faithfulness‘, and this one is the Hosanna Music version:

Lyrics [7]

…and then leading into the very next song, Brian Doerksen’s Faithful One, another early-90’s Vineyard song which I introduced and led at my old Church in Leeds:

Lyrics[8]

And then, to finish, and perfectly timed as I was reaching my destination, my favourite worship song of all time, When I look into Your Holiness, in its original form (to me, at any rate), from the Harvestime tape ‘Let Your Spirit Rise‘, and preceded, as on the tape, with the classic song ‘As the Deer’. This was how I learned these songs, and this tape, again, was pivotal in my early development as a worship leader, and with Fiona by my side. We used to play this tape all the time when we were decorating our first house 🙂

Lyrics[9]

Well, I mean wow. What an amazing song set, and so well put together with transitions, keys, relevance and dynamics. It was obviously set up to minister healing in me from more of the damage I took when I lost Fiona – and it worked. I arrived at my destination feeling more whole than I have in a long time, and refreshed by the Presence of God[10]. And that night, I dreamed about her again, with yet another healing dream 🙂 This, again, is all part of the healing, which is progressively and each time bringing deeper and deeper wholeness to my shattered soul, to levels I can only guess at. I am definitely in the hands of the Master Physician, and the Spirit is doing Her work through the worship, orchestrated as only She can do it.

Here, for your edification, is the entire set, combined as a single track, with all the transitions left in place just as they were that evening.

While it isn’t possible, nor indeed desirable, to try to recreate the worship experience I had, still I wanted to share the set with you because, at the very least, it shows just how songs can be woven together to produce a remarkably relevant worship experience. And, anyway, this is great music! I hope it blesses you 😀

Grace and Peace to you

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Remember that the Spirit is not ‘caught on tape’ as such, but recordings of worship music have the ability to stir up the spirit of worship in the believer. The same Spirit that was present in those worship meetings is right there with you, right now.
2. A segue (pronounced ‘segway’) is when one song flows into another
3. Jesus, we enthrone You
We proclaim You our King
Standing here in the midst of us
We raise You up with our praise
And as we worship, build Your throne
And as we worship, build Your throne
And as we worship, build Your throne
Come Lord Jesus, and take Your place

Ascribe greatness to our God, the Rock
His work is perfect, and all His ways are just
Ascribe greatness to our God, the Rock
His work is perfect, and all His ways are just
A God of faithfulness, and without injustice
Good and upright is He
A God of faithfulness, and without injustice
Good and upright is He

4. You may rightly be wondering what was happening to my driving while all this was going on! Well, one of the things about worship in the Spirit is  that it takes up very little of my ‘mental resources’; worship is so much of a way of life for me that I find it completely effortless. Sure, there are times when I need to stop singing and give it more concentration, but even then, even if I am only listening and not joining in the singing, still the presence of God burns right there in my heart while I negotiate a roundabout or complex junction or whatever.
5. My God and King
To You alone I sing
You’re the face I seek
For all eternity

My God and King
To You alone I sing
You’re the face I seek
For all eternity

You’d be my dream come true
Just to be with You
How I’d see brand new
With eyes for only You

My God and King
Through the storm I sing
Covered by Your wing
This song of love I bring

You’d be my dream come true
Just to be with You
How I’d see brand new
With eyes for only You

You’d be my dream come true
Just to be with You
How I’d see brand new
With eyes for only You

You are my dream come true
Just to be with You
Now I see brand new
With eyes for only You

With eyes for only You

With eyes for only You

I have eyes for only You

6. I give you all the honour
And praise that’s due Your name
For You are the King of glory
The Creator of all things

And I worship You
I give my life to You
I fall down on my knees
Yes, I worship You
I give my life to You
I fall down on my knees

As Your Spirit moves upon me now
You meet my deepest need
And I lift my hands up to Your throne
Your mercy I’ve received

You have broken chains that bound me
You’ve set this captive free
I will lift my voice to praise Your name
For all eternity

7. (The arrangement is slightly different in that they do a slightly different mashup of the first two verses and refrains. Works for me)

Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou hast been, Thou forever shall be.

Great is thy faithfulness!
Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see:
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided–
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide,
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

8. Faithful One, so unchanging
Ageless One, You’re my Rock of peace
Lord of all I depend on You
I call out to You
Again and again
I call out to You
Again and again

You are my Rock in times of trouble
You lift me up when I fall down
All through the storm, Your love is the anchor
My hope is in You alone

9. As the deer panteth for the water
So my soul longeth after Thee
You alone are my heart’s desire
And I long to worship Thee

You alone are my strength, my shield
To You alone may my spirit yield
You alone are my heart’s desire
And I long to worship You

 

When I look into Your Holiness
When I gaze into Your loveliness
When all things that surround become shadows in the light of You
When I’ve found the joy of reaching Your Heart
When my will becomes enthroned in Your Love
When all things that surround become shadows in the light of You

I worship You, I worship You
The reason I live is to worship You
I worship You, I worship You
The reason I live is to worship You

10. My friends that I was meeting up with maybe noticed the radiance; I really don’t know!

Dip Your Brush in Reality

Over the years of writing this blog, I have often mentioned that there seem to be Christians who will try to squeeze every bit of Bad News out of the Good News that they can.

In reply to that sort of behaviour, here is another great piece by my friend Mo Thomas:

Dip Your Brush in Reality

“God was in Christ, reconciling the WHOLE WORLD to Himself, not counting men’s sins against them.”
– Either this is blasphemy or ultimate reality.

“In God WE live, move and have our being”
– Many say this only applies to some in a particular setting.

“There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father OF ALL, who is OVER ALL, IN ALL, and living THROUGH ALL.”
– There are reasons people find to limit God as Father of only a select few.

“Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for EVERYONE, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for EVERYONE.”
– Most would argue FOR the universality of Adam when he fell, but AGAINST the universality of Christ when Jesus succeeded.

Years ago, I would have quickly dismissed the startling implications of these and hundreds of other passages with rebuttals like:

1. You must first understand context
2. Many other verses frame a different message
3. All doesn’t mean all in these cases, only those who believe
4. It’s more important to focus on receiving Christ into your heart than on Christ receiving you into His

…and then, I would have proudly carpet bombed my own list of proof verses and used them to bolster my exclusive position.

Premise: the WAY we interpret scripture reveals our heart and exposes the lenses we use to see the world.

Response: Abba, show us how You see the world. By Your Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation, dip Your brush in Reality and paint beautiful portraits of God in our imagination, portraits that don’t require fear or manipulation for people to respond and receive Your Great Love.

– Mo Thomas


As an addendum, Mo also compiled this set of Scripture references:

I pull these out every once in awhile to remind us that it’s NOT a stretch to see this theme in scripture:

Genesis 12:3 — All peoples on earth will be blessed through Abraham.
Genesis 22:18 — All nations on earth will be blessed through Abraham’s offspring.

Psalms 22:27 — All the ends of the earth and all the families of the nations will acknowledge God.
Psalms 65:2 — All men will come to God.
Psalms 86:9 — All nations will worship and glorify God.
Psalms 103:8-9 — God is compassionate, will not always accuse and will not be angry forever.
Psalms 145:9-10 — The Lord has compassion on all His creation and all He has made will praise Him.
Psalms 145:13 — The Lord loves all His creation.
Psalms 145:14 — The Lord upholds all who fall.

Isaiah 25:6-8 — God will prepare a feast for all people, He will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers up all nations. He will eliminate death, wipe away the tears from all faces and remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth.
Isaiah 45:22-23 — God has sworn an oath that every knee will bow before Him and every tongue will swear by Him.
Isaiah 49:6 — God’s salvation will be brought to the ends of the earth.
Isaiah 54:8 — Although God will hide His face in a surge of anger, He will also have compassion with everlasting kindness.
Isaiah 57:16-18 — God’s anger is not permanent. Although He punishes man, He will heal, guide and restore comfort to him.

Jeremiah 31:33-34 — All men will know God, from the greatest to the least.

Lamentations 3:31-33 — The Lord does not cast off forever. Although He brings grief, he will also be compassionate.
Ezekiel 18:23 — God does not take any pleasure in the death of the wicked. Rather, He is pleased when they repent.
Micah 7:18 — God does not stay angry forever.

Matthew 18:13 — Like the man who owns a hundred sheep and is not willing to lose even one, God is not willing that any one be lost.
Luke 2:10 — The birth of Jesus is good news for all the people.
Luke 3: 5, 6 — John the Baptist quotes Isaiah’s words that all mankind will see God’s salvation.

John 1:29 — Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
John 3:35 — God sent Jesus to save the world.
John 4:42 — God has committed all things to Christ.
John 5:25 — Even the dead will hear the sound of Christ and all who hear will live.
John 6:37 — Everything that God has given to Christ will come to him.

John 12:32 — When Jesus is lifted up from the earth, he will draw all men to himself.

John 12:47 — Jesus came to save the world.
John 17:2 — God granted Christ authority over all people so that Christ may give eternal life to all that God has given him.
Acts 3:20-21 — Jesus must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything.

Romans 3:3-4 — The unbelief of some will not nullify God’s faithfulness.
Romans 5:18 — The act of obedience of one man (Jesus) will bring life for all men.
Romans 8:19-21 — Creation itself will be liberated and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
Romans 8:38-39 — Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ.
Romans 11:32 — God made all people imprisoned by disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.

1 Corinthians 15:22-28 — All will be made alive in Christ, but each in his own turn and ultimately Christ will subdue all his enemies, eliminate death and God will be all in all.
2 Corinthians 5:15 — Christ died for all.
2 Corinthians 5:19 — Through Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself.

Ephesians 1:11 — God will bring all things under heaven and on earth under Christ.
Ephesians 4:10 — Christ ascended higher then all the heavens to fill the whole universe.

Philippians. 2:9-11 — Every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord (In 1 Corinthians 12:3, Paul writes that no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit)

Colossians 1: 19-20 — God was pleased to reconcile to Himself, all things on earth and in heaven through the blood of Christ.

1 Timothy 2:4-6 — God wants all men to be saved and to know the truth. Can God’s desire be thwarted?

1 Timothy 4:10 — God is the Saviour of all men, especially (not exclusively) those who believe.

Titus 2:11-12 — God’s grace, which brings salvation has appeared to all men.
Hebrews 2:9 — Jesus tasted death for everyone.

1 John 2:2 — Christ is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only ours but of the sins of the whole world.
1 John 3:8 — Christ appeared to destroy the devil’s works.
1 John 4:14 — Christ is the Saviour of the world.

Revelation 5:13 — Every creature in heaven, on earth, under the earth, and on the sea will sing praises to him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb (Christ).

Revelation 21:4-5 — God will dwell with men and he will wipe every tear from their eyes, death, mourning, crying, pain and the old order of things will pass and everything will be made new.”

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