If God was Bono…

I doubt God has bad days, given He’s who He is and can see that His plan is unfolding, even when I can’t. But let’s imagine, just for a moment, He does. When suddenly his patience snaps, He turns to Jesus and says, “I’ve had enough.” images-1

I can imagine Jesus looking somewhat taken aback. “You have? Are we going to have to talk to someone about an ark again? Or, do you mean Me? Countdown to Revelation?”

“No, not Revelation yet,” answers God. “But I’m getting a little impatient with how The Great Commission numbers are stacking up. So I’m borrowing an idea from that Bono fellow. Well, actually he got it from Me. I’m just taking it up a notch.”

Jesus by now is cottoning on. “Dad! Brilliant. So generous.”

God: “Well, if U2 can give away over 500 million copies of Songs Of Innocence in one day, just by dropping it into people’s iTunes accounts, I’m going to do the same with the Holy Spirit (HS) straight into people’s hearts. Got to move with the times. Will download HS from the cloud tomorrow.”

Jesus: “There’s going to be a lot of really surprised people. So You’re not going to worry about everyone having to say ‘the prayer’, ‘accepting me as Lord’ ‘letting Me into their life’ being ‘born again’ etc?

God shakes His head. He and Jesus understand that many are put off by the ‘shiny Christian language’ too often employed by church-goers.

“No need. You know what HS is like once He’s in there. It’s a complete system override. I know We told Matthew, Mark, Luke and John it was about one soul at a time, through You to Me, but I’ve a hankering to perform a serious miracle.”

Can you imagine?

Now some readers, like a few iTunes account holders when they got their new, free U2 album, may be imagining how horrified they’d feel over the invasion of privacy: “It’s MY heart!”

But, if for one day, God put aside His gift of free-will to us, and instead went into global HS download? The self-led, selfish aspects of our world would grind to a joyful halt. Dancing in the streets. Peace on earth. Goodwill to all humanity. We’d not be worried about it being our heart anymore. Hell, I doubt we’d be worrying about anything.

How an apostrophe saved my soul

It must be a tough gig being a pastor. As someone reminded me, “terrible pay, but the retirement benefits are eternal.” Working weekends and a Godly number of public holidays. Possibly less time with your own family than you’d hope, given you’ve the whole family of Christ you’re ministering to and, like most families, we can probably be pushy, demanding buggers on occasion. images-1

You probably get less thanks than you’d like, and, when you do, you have to do the modest, Christian thing and allow that it is God’s Holy Spirit at work, and nothing remotely to do with you.

Politely, I would like to advise all pastors, in fact anyone at all involved in pastoral care, that that is bollocks.

Accept all compliments gracefully when you receive them, but, please, accept them. Don’t brush them off. God may be working through you, but, boy, you have to allow it and, I sincerely pray, you are good at it.

Most caring flock members will let you know when we love a sermon because we want you to be encouraged. We want you to know that what you are doing makes a difference. Deflecting the compliment diminishes the grace in which it is intended.

Please, look us in the eye, say thank-you, then, if it makes if easier for you to deal with, throw a few mental words up to Him along the lines of, “Thanks for Your help, I think they got it. Don’t let me get all puffed up about it, but, wow, how encouraging to be complimented.” You can blush, too, if it helps.

Plus, not to put too much pressure on you, it’s the smallest, tiniest things that make the difference. Like me. A writer. Who, quietly impressed by my first phone call with the psychic, confident smart-alec pastor (SAP), let loose with a flurry of questioning emails.

The SAP replied, punctuation perfect.

To a writer, the correct use of an apostrophe can make or break a relationship. Imagine if the SAP, horrors, had replied, ‘Gr8 2 here from u.’ I’d have pressed delete, rolling my eyes.

When the SAP correctly used ’round for around, it was that perfect, tiny, correctly-used bit of typography that kept me reading.

Saved by an apostrophe. Good going God. And SAP.

Jaysus. There’s three of them?

Watching the British BBC series, Rev. recently, a scene between the local Imam, Yussef Hasan (played by Kayvan Novak) and the Reverend Adam Smallbone (Tom Hollander), Anglican priest, made me chuckle. As the pair walk around inner-city London, the Imam comments about Rev. Adam’s, “three Gods.” 2illt93

The script is cleverly referring to the Christian trinity: God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit (G, J & HS). Three, yes. But one. The Holy Trinity. Which can be sort of confusing, even to someone who thinks they may have a slight inkling about Christianity.

Before I’d ever met the long-suffering SAP, I was firing him inquisitive emails about what I thought I knew about the Trinity from school, compared to the overlay of eastern philosophies and research into religious teachers that had formed in the intervening years. Like this one, drawing on my years of yoga and striving for non-attachment:

Do all the religious teachers get together at the end and say, “oops, you picked the wrong one?” Or do you say, so long as you make a choice, choose a way of life following ONE religious teaching, then it’s OK? That there’s a kind of traffic control at the final light, with all the Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists etc shunted off in different directions?

The SAP’s reply:

All religions really aren’t the same…Morally, there are certain similarities here and there between some aspects of Buddhism and Christianity – as in basically be nice to each other.  But the essential claim of Buddhism is that you can make it to ‘Nirvana’ on your own – and when you get there you are unconscious and unaware of anything or anyone around you because you’ve let go of all the attachments you have with people and places and experiences.

Jesus offers us something completely different.  Sure, He says basically be nice to people.  But…there are some massive claims Jesus makes that no one else makes.  He keeps saying He’s God – that’s why they killed Him in the end.  He keeps saying that He can forgive sin – no other ‘religious’ figure in history said that. 

I recall the paragraph above striking me hard. I’d either forgotten or had never made the connection. I’d spent years happily justifying my position by saying Jesus was just another religious teacher. But He isn’t.

This is why I call Jesus the lightening rod. He is not simply another religious teacher who delivers a message from God. He is God. Made flesh. Who fulfils prophecy after Old Testament prophecy. Who performed miracles.

CS Lewis, atheist/agnostic turned theologian, whose book Mere Christianity was adapted from his series of BBC radio talks made between 1942 and 1944, while Lewis was at Oxford University, describes it well:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

Which brings us to…spirit.

So God is Jesus. Jesus is God. The Holy Spirit is their unique brand of….umm…aftershave? Not the most elegant of metaphors. One image used in the Bible comes from nature. The word often translated “spirit” from Hebrew and Greek, the original languages of the Bible, also means “breath” or “wind.”

Another image is advocate or helper. When Jesus was teaching his disciples, he said, “All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14: 23-26)

An advocate is a person who stands beside you, works with you, and supports your cause. Christians believe the Holy Spirit can live within, filling hearts and minds with freedom, joy, purpose, and grace. In this way, the Holy Spirit is the presence of Jesus in our lives. Or, as I seem to experience it, smoothing out my rough edges.

My personal experience of the Holy Spirit hasn’t been as explicit as that of the disciples in Acts 2:3-4: They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

No disrespect to Pentecostal Christians, but I suspect God is clever enough to know if He tried anything like that with me I’d be reaching for a few shots of flaming Sambuca. Shoving me awake at 3am with repetitive song lines? That’s enough.