Warner's TheoBlog

Thoughts from a disciple who writes


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Love

In recent times I have heard of a friend of mine who is suffering from rather advanced cancer. They did not have any hint that it might be there and simply found a lump one day. Within just a few weeks, they have found themselves in hospital, too ill even for chemo therapy. My heart breaks for them and their family.

This friend has many Christian friends who have been made aware of the situation and it has been wonderful, in a melancholy manner, to witness the outpouring for love and concern for my friend. Believers have been fasting and praying, committing themselves to pursue God for my friends healing and wholeness. I too have committed myself to fast and pray for my friend, in the hope that they will be healed and we will witness a true miracle of God.

The Bible reassures us that we will see healing in Jesus’ name and there also have been many words of prophecy and encouragement for our church and for Braintree, telling us that we will see an outpouring of healing in Jesus’ name and to Jesus glory. I believe. We believe. And we pursue God for the life and the healing of our friend, claiming the promises of God. “You have said… so please, we want to see it!”

Praise God for this move and passion for healing in our church and in Braintree, and for our friend who we hold before God. It is utterly correct to do so and the outpouring of love is brilliant and fantastic to witness. More, Lord, more.

Yet… it has raised a question in my heart that is an itch that I think too serious to overlook.

What about the stranger? What about the struggle of the person that I and my friends do not know personally? How do I feel when I hear of a stranger’s struggle, illness, hurt or pain? What is my response when I am not their friend and they are simply another stranger among thousands that I see every day? Does my heart break for them? Do I feel the motivation to fast and pray and fall to my knees before God on their behalf as I do for my friend?

No. I am sorry to say that I do not.

For my friend I am driven to my knees to pray and seek God on their behalf. For the stranger… I feel sorry for them, compassion for their struggle, but no heart break or desire to fall to my knees and pray! No drive to pursue God on their behalf with the intensity and passion as I do my friend.

What about God? Does God care more for my friend than for the stranger? No. I know that the answer to this questions is a simple and resounding NO! God loves them both. Equally, sacrificially, overwhelmingly, passionately; God loves them both so much that he sent Jesus to die in their place. My heavenly Father’s heart breaks at their struggles and his love is boundless for their circumstances. When my Father God hears of the cancer of my friend and the cancer of the stranger, I believe that my Father is moved to heal and transform.

Yet, I have to admit that I have far less passion to pray and pursue God’s healing for the stranger than I have for my friend. Oh yes, I want to them to be healed because I want to see a miracle… but I am not sure I want the stranger healed out of a sense of overwhelming love for them. Who will ask for their healing and weep for their circumstances and bang on God’s door for their rescue? If not me, who?

I am ashamed to say that it is unlikely to be me, because I simply do not beat with the heart beat of God for the lives of the people I do not know. My friends and family… easy. I love them and want to see God move with a passion that overwhelms me in prayer. For the stranger… I just don’t feel it. I am ashamed that I simply do not love them as my Father God loves them.

Jesus said in Luke 12:31, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and all of the other things will be added to it.”

Somehow, I have to seek the heartbeat of God for His Kingdom. I have to know God and move to the beat of His heart. Loving the people he loves, whether I know them or not. I have to pray for my friend… but I also have to pray for the stranger with the same love, passion, intensity and commitment as I pray for my friend. How? That I am not sure of, other than to seek Father God with all my heart.

If I am honest, I find it hard to write such a confession of shortcoming. And it may be that my fellow believers pour scorn on my struggle and callous lack of love for others… but I am not alone. Where is the heart of God in the people of God? If we move so closely to the beat of the heart of God… where is our self-sacrificing, passionate, overwhelming love for the people that God loves. Even those who we do not know?

What are your thoughts?

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Burned out on Religion

In my work as a funeral celebrant, the phrase that I hear most regularly is, “we are not religious”. In fact, almost all of the funerals I officiate at are understood, at least by the families whom I serve, to be non-religious. Yet they request prayers, Bible readings, a brief message of hope in the grace of God, and a hymn with words that give honour and glory to God.

When families tell me that they are “not really very religious”, they do so with a sense of apologetic determination. As if they are saying, “we are not really very religious and we are not going to be persuaded otherwise”. As I dig a little deeper during our discussions, I find that people have often been put off of the church, by their experience as children or by a kind of assumed cynicism. They may not be ‘religious’ but they have a suspicion of faith in God.

 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)

As I sit with them, I tell them the truth. I am not very religious either.

I believe that religion sucks the life out of faith in Jesus. To be religious is as helpful to faith as making formal rules for the conduct of love. As if a love affair can only be a ‘real’ love affair if one uses specific words, visits particular venues and involves only prescribed movements to acceptable pieces of music.

We all know that pretty much every love affair involves certain elements: words that declare love, dates where couples hold hands, sofas where they canoodle, physical touches that send shivers down the spine, all done to a soundtrack that, when one hears it years later, engenders sharp memories of a time of sweetly sharp love. Love affairs do not need to be formalized and controlled, they need to be given space and minimal boundaries.

Religion is rubbish! It is the codification of our relationship with God. Religion turns our relationship with God, that would otherwise be a love affair, into a stuffy meeting over afternoon tea. It takes all of the vibrant reality out of faith in Jesus, telling us that it is only the prescribed methods of spending time with Him that are unacceptable. Religion makes the love of God into something that it should not be… a contract.

Faith in God is supposed to be unfettered, unrestricted, and wonderfully real. We should not dread and avoid our encounters with Him. We should be excited to be early, so that we waste none of the time we spend in His company as possible. Our desire to be with God should be a reflection of the overflow of a forgiven soul. We are the recipients of His grace, welcomed into union with Him by His open arms, desperate to squeeze every moment out of our joyous time together.

Going to church, praying, singing, reading God’s word; none of these should be a bind or a chore. They should be a wonderful overflowing pleasure. And it is almost impossible to make them so, unless one has a very specific taste, through codification and formalization. My time with my beloved wife is not characterized by our prescribed words of devotion and strictly timed liaisons, but by our sheer pleasure in simple having opportunities to sit, laugh, talk, touch and love.

That is not to say that there are not boundaries in both love and faith. The boundaries of a love affair have to do with restricting the expression of passion so that it does not become destructive to ourselves and those who are witnesses to our love. The boundaries of faith expression are similar, having less to do with what we practice and more to do with what might be destructive.

I am not Religious. I am deeply, passionately, breathlessly, sincerely, seriously, amazingly, desperately in love with Jesus who, when I was lost in destructive sin and far away from my Father Creator, paid the price so that I could be reconciled and reunited with Him. I love Him. And I want to tell Him that I love Him. I want to be with Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit and close to my Father. I don’t need prescribed words and movements to do that, although there are times when it is a little help, I need space and opportunity and desire. I WANT to spend time with God, so that is what I do. Freely and lightly, as an overflow of my very forgiven, renewed soul.


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Adoption

I was talking to friends of mine who are a lovely couple who, over 20 years ago, upon finding that they were unable to have children of their own, made the decision to adopt a child.

After all of the tests and paper work were complete, their new 5 year old daughter turned up their doorstep. She burst into the midst of their otherwise calm life together with all of the emotion and energy of any 5 year old. In her case, however, she had already been shaped and altered by the abuse and neglect of her life so far. Through no fault of her own she was, to say the least, a challenge. From that moment on, my friends committed their lives together to love and bless this little girl who was now their daughter.

I heard them share their testimony on Adoption Sunday in the UK, and they were so proud of their daughter. They showed some photos on the screen and talked about how she had come to faith, was baptized and later married. They shed tears of joy that she was grown up, happy and loved. Yet, the journey of parents and child had also been incredibly challenging.

Their daughter’s life before adoption had had some effects on her that were permanent. And the parts that were not permanent have taken years to heal, and will take more years yet. Even as I write this, however, I have a tear in my eye at the awesome love and sacrifice that my friends have given for the sake and good of their beloved daughter.

“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:12)

As we were talking in their kitchen it dawned on me that their action was the same as that of God.

We talked about the fact that by the age of 5 years, the character and experience of a child are already mostly formed. That, in many ways, it is too late for their new parents to form them through nurture. Their adoptive parents might cover their new children in love and devotion, but there is no guarantee that their child will grow to maturity as a healed and balanced person. We talked a little about the parents and marriages that have been wrecked after adopting challenging, hurt children, lives left exposed and attacked by the challenges that come with loving the lost and broken.

My friends, together with so many adoptive parents, made the deliberate choice to lay their lives on the line for the sake of a child in need of love and care. They had none of the run-up of pregnancy to develop a bond. Their child exploded into their life with all of the hurts and pain of their previous life. Every vulnerability in their lives was exposed and all that they could do was trust in Jesus, everyday choosing to love and nurture their daughter simply because that was what she needed. There was no guarantee of a happy ending, only of the challenges and difficulty that would come with each day. That is not to say that there were not joys, only that the life of a parent is not all joy and sweetness and light.

But the price was worth paying. I will write that again, more clearly. THE PRICE WAS WORTH PAYING!

“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” (Romans 8:14-16)

The Bible tells us that those of us who believe in Jesus are children of God, adopted into His family. Men and women, accepted by the Father into the inheritance position of an elder son. Everything that is our Father’s is also ours.

God, our Father, adopts us. We turn up with all of the hurts and anguish, damage and disability, that result from the lives we lived before we come into His home. There is no guarantee to the Father that we will turn out alright, or that the unconditional love that he lavishes upon us will be accepted and bring us to healing and wholeness. The only thing that is guaranteed is that it will cost the Father all of his love.

Our Father loves us, because He chooses to do so. He is willing to deliberately pay the price for our adoption in effort, time, energy, love and, as necessary, in blood. Our growth as children is worth, to Him, His sacrifice of love and devotion.

This is a mind-blowing truth. Father offers us life as a child in His home. Not because we deserve it, but because He gives it to us. I am a child of God. I am a son of God, because he chose to love me.

Adoption is a sacrament. It is an imitation of our Father God who adopts us as his beloved children, despite all of our own issues and damages. He spends a lifetime nurturing us, leading us to healing and maturity. He sacrifices all, including the life of his true son, in order to restore us to wholeness as his beloved and blessed children. Thank you to all of you who adopt as my Father God has adopted me. How ever the situation might have turned out, wherever you and your child has ended up, you are a blessing and an inspiration. As an adopted son of God I bless you in the name of my Father who is also your Father.

“The Father bless you
and keep you; the Father make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Father turn his face towards you
and give you peace.” (my version of Numbers 6:24-26)


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Good faith is good

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1)

I have spent a lot of time in the last week or so cogitating on this verse and the chapter that follows it. I hesitate to blog on it, because I am not entirely sure that I have a proper handle on it. I seem to have a lot of interesting ideas but I am struggling to put them into plain English. (What is the point of an idea if no one except I can understand what I mean?). So let me know if the following is clear.

My first thought is this. Faith is good. Actually, let me put it slightly differently. Good faith is good.

Faith is, according to the verse above, surety of what we hope for and certainty about the things that we do not see. From the perspective of the passage, this is a good thing. All of the people listed in Hebrews 11 stand in faith upon positive promises of God. They hold on to the things that God has said to them and they act in accordance with the future that God has promised, but that is not yet realised.

All of us need to take this on board. What are the promises of God for you? There are many that are clearly general promises in the Bible. That God will bring us into His Kingdom, that those have faith in Jesus will be saved, that the Holy Spirit empowers those who have faith in Jesus, and so on. There are also promises that are specific to us. God speaks to His children (another promise) through the power of the Holy Spirit. What has He said? How we live our lives and the choices that we make point clearly and honestly to where our faith lies.

A specific example of this from my own life is that God called me, 4 years ago now, to leave the church, stay in Braintree and He promised to provide for me and my family. The decision that my wife and I made as a result was to leave our denomination and stay in Braintree. Even though we had no work or home of our own in the town, we put into action the decisions that were in accordance with God’s word to stay in Braintree. We found that, after we had acted in faith, God provided work and, miraculously, the ability to buy a home. God is always faithful to His promises. I have faith in this.

My second thought is similar and, possibly, equally obvious. Bad faith is not good. Faith is the surety and certainty of what is as yet unseen. Therefore, if one is sure that things are going to turn out bad and fearful that the path that might lie ahead could lead to difficulty or pain, then that too is faith (just not a good sort). This kind of faith will also determine our actions and lead us on a path other than God’s.

Fear is not simply the opposite of faith, it is another kind of faith. How many of us who claim to believe in the word of God really, beneath the surface, worry that it is not real or true? Many, many Christians live by fear of what might go wrong rather than faith that God is REALLY all powerful.

For example, how many of us have a stronger belief in our own unworthiness than we have in the grace of God? If we believe, at the heart of things, that we are unworthy of God’s love more strongly than we believe that God offers His grace to us freely and without any need for us to earn it, then we will act accordingly. We will live in fear of God’s punishment rather than assurance of His love. It is so easy to believe that, really, after all is said and done, in the end, I need to be a better person in order to know God. All that this leads to is a guilty conscience and slavery to religious practices that are supposed to purify us for God. When we have faith that God offers free grace then things are very different. It is only after we come to God in Jesus that we change and are transformed into better people because we know God. When we come to God in faith, in humility and submission, then God’s plan unfolds in our lives and we are transformed by it. We are not changed in order to come to God, we are changed because we do come to God.

Fear is a faith that things might not turn out well and it dominates many Christian’s as they try to live in Jesus. Fear ruins the lives of disciples, because it is twisted faith.

I guess the question goes something like this… what do you have faith in most strongly – God or something else? If our faith is in God, then we will act in a way that opens the way for the power of God to move, because we will be in step with the Spirit. If our faith is in something else, then we will act to please or mollify that thing… or we might not act at all. Even then, we will probably try to justify what we do by saying we are doing it for God.

It is hard to think of examples that are simple to give. Yet we all know the competing voices that call for our attention in every area of our lives. The “What if…” question is always loud and it can cripple us as we seek to follow the will of God for our lives. If Noah had listened to what if… he would have drowned in the flood. Had Abraham listened to the what if voice… he would have died in Haran like his father before him.

There is only one voice that matters. The voice of God. When God speaks, there is no what if because we can be sure that He has the what if in hand. Our calling is to walk the path rather than plot the course.

The question I ask myself is this. “What has God said to me and am I acting upon it by faith? If I am not acting in accordance with it then why not?”

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1)


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Why should I listen to you? (a cogitation)

I have long thought that, in the UK at least, Standup Comedians are the new preachers. They stand before an audience and, with the use of comedy, open the minds of their listeners to the ideas and theories that they talk about in their set. There is a plethora of TV and radio shows where these funny people make their audience laugh hysterically whilst sneaking in comments about society and morality.

It is entirely understandable that the Comics would use their platform to express ideas and thoughts that they believe to be of value. The specific ideas and thoughts that they express, however, cause me far more concern because, for the most part, I disagree with them.

The medium is dominated by ideas of liberal sexuality and jokes at the expense of, most often, the Christian faith. The surge in acceptance for what were once alternative lifestyles is, I believe, mostly down to the preaching of comedy. In areas of pornography, family, sexuality and faith in God, comedians ridicule the establishment and preach that anything goes because as human beings we can do what we want.

It has become the commonly accepted norm in Britain that if a person can stand up and make you laugh, then what they have to say must be true. Stephen Fry holds the position of all-knowing authority, and others too speak with authority that derives from laughter. Dara O’Brien speaks for science and against faith, Sandi Toksvig for feminism and against faith, Jeremy Hardy for anything as long as it is against faith, Russell Howard, John Lloyd, and the list can go on. It is not so much that they hold opinions and ideas that are liberal so much as that they see faith as a target for ridicule and as the root of opposition to their own views.

Please do not get me wrong, I am not against comedy. I love comedy and it has affected some really important changes in society. Racism, for example, would never have been opposed effectively without comedians who ridiculed attitudes of racism. What I have an issue with is, what gives these men and women the authority to speak into culture and society? Why is their ideology authoritative?

“By their fruit you will recognise them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit…” (Matt 7:17-18)

This is where things start to get uncomfortable.

I disagree fundamentally with many of the ideas that are presented on TV and radio by comedians, who are culturally leading society in a direction that is un-scriptural and un-godly. Yet, it is not enough for me to say that what they preach is wrong simply because I disagree with them. There comes a point where I have to justify why they are wrong and I am right.

At some point there has to be a line by which we can come to a judgment on the authority of a speaker. It cannot be preference, because I might be wrong or deluded or misguided. It cannot even be scripture because, whilst I hold it as the foundation of my own action and authority, many others would not agree with it at all.

As I think about it, I can think of nothing better than fruit. The visible evidence of people’s live is their fruit. The question that lies beneath any claim for authority is, “what fruit is visible in the lives of the people who tell us what to believe and think?

This is uncomfortable because it is true for all points of view. There are celebrities who speak about female equality whilst simultaneously proclaiming their passion for pornography, which is almost certainly exploiting the people that they are claiming to stand for. There are also those who preach the love of Jesus who act in the most unloving and unforgiving ways. In both cases, their fruit is not consistent with their words. Their authority is seriously undermined.

What sets Jesus apart is that he preached a gospel of freedom through submission to God the Father, and lived a life that was evidence to his words. More impressively, his preaching led millions of other people into lives of freedom through faith if the Father. The fruit of his life and teaching gives overwhelming authority to the very thing he taught.

A problem comes when human beings take the teachings of the Bible and use it to justify their own opinions rather than allowing them to shape their lives. It is no wonder that the established Christian Church has lost authority to speak into society when there are scandals of sexual abuse and investment in weapons and tobacco. The life of the Church in this case is not consistent with its teaching. No wonder the ridicule of comedians hits so hard.

The truths of Jesus in scripture, however, simply transform lives. They bring freedom and life and healing. They might not be wholly acceptable to our liberal society, but the power that they display in the transformation of society cannot be ridiculed. The gospel of Jesus is simply too powerful to be challenged by the opinions of an individual. It is the power of God and it saves.

As a disciple of Jesus, the message I preach must be true and seen to be true. I am not perfect, but the fruit of my life is evidence to the truth of my faith. If I am judged on perfection then I will always fall short. If a person looks at my life and sees no evidence of the power of Holy Spirit then there is a serious problem.

What gives a person authority to speak is not the persuasiveness of the argument, or the position they hold, or the size of their audience, or that they speak words that are agreed with… Authority resides in the fruit that they put forward. Do they bring life and freedom and transformation and light and love?

This is simply my cogitation, but what do you think?


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Weird Family

It really is a good thing that the decision as to who can be a disciple and who cannot is not up to me. I think I would make decisions based upon my assumptions and prejudices. If it were up to me there would be no Bolton Wonderers supporters for a start. Jesus sees things in a very different way than I do.

We can choose our friends, but we cannot choose our family.

I thank God that I was not able to choose my family! There are some of them who I would never have spent the time to get to know, because they are very different to me. I am sure that they would say the same about me too. The simple matter that they are family, however, means that I have been very blessed to have had the opportunity to spend time with them and get to know them. I love them. They are a strange bunch, some more than others (you know who you are!) but they are pretty amazing people. I am far, far richer as a result of knowing them.

The community of disciples, those who call Jesus master and follow Him, is not just like a family. It is a family.

He replied to him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’ (Matt 12:48-50)

Jesus did not call people to follow him because they were similar to him or one another. He called them because they all had the same bloodline. The disciples of Jesus are unified…

  • By sin – All people, prior to knowing Jesus, are helpless sufferers from sin (Romans 3:23).
  • By call – All people are called by Jesus to follow (Rev 3:20). No one is refused, but all people have the free will to refuse.
  • By grace – All of those who accept the invitation to follow are saved as a gift. Not because they deserve it, but because Jesus loves us (Eph. 2:8-9).
  • By adoption – All who follow Jesus are adopted into the family of God. They are sons and daughters, children of the same Father (1 John 3:1).

Every disciple of Jesus is part of the family of God. It is made up of some weird and wonderful people (I am the weirdest and my wife is probably the most wonderful), but each and every one of them is a mother, brother, father, daughter, brother and sister. Both the New Testament and our daily experience tell us that we are exactly like a family. With the same disagreements and dramas, loves and likes. But united by belonging and blood.

We cannot choose our family… we can only choose to love them as the Father loves us.


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Who is my neighbour?

I was interested to hear about a new UK government initiative to help the lonely and isolated people in our communities. The Social Care Minister, Norman Lamb, wants neighbourhood watch groups to practice ‘neighbourliness” in connection with those who are older and housebound.

Leaving aside questions of budgets, priorities, and resources (important though they are, this is not a blog to rant about politics), it seems to me that there is a far more fundamental issue at question here. When government has to encourage the citizens of its country to do something that has previously been a present reality, there is a problem.

What has happened in the UK that has led us to a place where loving the people in our street is an exception?

As our society has become increasingly secular and individualistic, the lonely and the lost are overlooked. Evangelical atheists bemoan the influence of the Christian faith and speak about the ‘essential goodness of humanity’, only to witness the marginalized made increasingly marginal and the gap between rich and poor widen all of the time. Our society loves less than it used to. I believe that this situation has a great deal to do with the waning influence of the Christian faith.

‘Jesus replied: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’

It is a fundamental part of the Christian faith to be a good neighbour. Offering love and support to those around us, not just to our family and friends. Time and again the Bible commands us to care for foreigners, strangers and people who live around us. To offer love and hospitality, whether we know a person or not.

This seems a very obvious point, but a vital that we consider it.

As Christians, we should love our neighbour.

Not because we are told to, but because it is the natural overflow of discipleship. If we do not have love for our neighbour, then there is something very wrong with the root of our faith in Jesus.

The Bible commands love for our neighbour.

Love is not a gift to be practiced, it is a fruit that results from good roots and healthy growth. We are not encouraged to interact with our neighbour, we are commanded to interact with them. Love is what flows in to the relationships that we have with those around us because it flows out of the relationship we have with our Father God.

As Christians, there is no greater opportunity to show the truth of the power of God’s love than through the relationships we have with those around us. There is no excuse, claiming that one is too busy with church work to drink a glass of wine with the people next door or a cup of tea with the lonely older person. To claim ‘busy-ness’ as a justification for being disconnected with the people around us is a disgusting travesty of righteousness.

Jesus commands us… Love one another as I love you.

Lets talk to our neighbours. Eat with them. Drink with them. Talk and share with them. Then they will become friends. Perhaps they will become friends of Jesus. Everyone is a winner!