I like to Laugh

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. 

I am not sure who Jack was, but he worked all the time and he was dull.

“Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place,” Ephesians 5 v 4

Again the word only occurs here in the New Testament, eutrapelia, joking.

Have you ever met a Christian who looks like they have never laughed in their life?

Their joy is deep not shallow like ours. It is deep joy. Beyond facial recognition into the deepest recesses of their heart. So deep that only they can see it. They are the barometers of joy. They are fellowship-busters. The ones who turn the lights off and pull the music because nothing good happens after 9pm. They are frivolous-finishers. The decorum brigade. One of my first Annual General Meetings a Church member stood up during question time and gave an opinion, “You are too frivolous Pastor.” I wasn’t actually sure what frivolous meant so it didn’t really hurt me. I hadn’t taken the module on that at Bible College. But I did realise this man wasn’t for too much of anything really.

Throughout history the Church has had appeals to lighten up. To not be so serious. Aquinas, a disciple of Aristotle said, “just as the body needs rest when it is weary, so too does the soul when it becomes overburdened.” Some people are so weighed down with burdens of their life that they really do need to laugh. They should watch the film Patch Adams! It is the true story of Hunter ‘Patch’ Adams who was so determined to become a doctor but who ventured along a different path that others hadn’t, that of using humour.

We need to become like children again and learn to dance and play with creation. A child picks up a dandelion and the adult says the truth, ‘hey you’ve not picked up a flower you’ve picked up a weed.’ And the child throws it down not realising the amazing fun-game of blowing through the dandelion and seeing the explosion of the balls of seeds in the air!

The Apostle is not against eutrapelia but against coarse or crude joking set in the sentence of immorality and impurity.

It is wit which is vulgar. Obscene.

The humour-killing fellowship will use this to gauge what is clean and what is not. In many ways they are right as we live in this world we need to be different, we need to stand out, we need to be seen as changed by Christ.

But I think this is more than a joke which has sexual overtones. In the context which Paul says Put off and Put on and which he will be saying put on thankfulness it is so much more than what kind of ‘knock-knock’ jokes you tell. It is about whether your joking is hurtful or destructive to others. It is not just innuendo but it is to ridicule someone. We should be funny but not hurtful. Wit is wonderful but has boundaries called love and grace. It does not make fun at others expense so that it hurts or embarrasses or abuses them. That is coarse, crude, not fitting for you and me.

I and my words

Morologia is the word that the Apostle uses. It is used only once in the New Testament and it means this: Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk … Ephesians 5 v 4

There is a language of the world and a language of the Christian and it needs to be different.

Remember the story of the Hunchback of Notre Dame. At one point he carries the beautiful maiden high into the towers. They are talking to each other and he begins to weep. She asks him, “What’s wrong?” He replies, “I never knew how ugly I was until I saw how beautiful you are.” The vocabulary of a Christian can expose the empty words of a non-believer.

The words that flow from the Spirit-filled believer is like honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones (Proverbs 16 v24).

When you speak, Jesus speaks. When people listen to you, they listen to Jesus.

Our responsibility is to choose words to use.

  • Foolish Words really do count and they can hurt, it is not just sticks and stones.
  • Foolish Words that are slurs outweigh the over-sensitivity of people.
  • Foolish Words lead to consequences.
  • Foolish Words build on sand where nothing of substance is formed.
  • Foolish Words come from fools who live to regret their words.

I am NAk-erd

I’m not sure how old I was, maybe 9 or 10 years but I remember exactly where I was and who I was with. I was at the back of the gang of young people and walking with my youth leader up the biggest hill imaginable. The leader asked me how I was doing and then I said a word I had only ever heard the older youth say. (I won’t write it correctly so that anyone reading this cannot write in and complain!), “I am nak-erd”. The leader told me off in such a way that even today I can remember it so well. I had said a word that I hadn’t fully understood which had brought huge offence to him. Strange thing is that 40-50 years later I hear it being said all the time by people with huge Christian respect. Was it obscene? Is it obscene? In my past it seems so.  Even when I’ve used it now as a grown-up adult I feel like a naughty child.

Nor should there be obscenity, Ephesians 5 v 4

Did the Apostle have a list of words which were obscene?

The minister was driving home from the village church, he had been under so much pressure to be all that he should be, but his parishioners were driving him mad! Ahead of him coming from the opposite direction there she was. He could see that member, the one that gave him so much grief, in her fancy car, but she seemed to be slowing down, so he did. As they passed each other the woman rolled down her window and shouted at him, “PIG!!” That was it, the minister had taken enough, how dare she! So as she speeded away he shouted from his window, “FAT OLD COW!!” He sped off too so angry with this member and drove round the bend and crashed head-on into the biggest pig he had ever seen.

Some may think that was a coarse joke which the Apostle also warns about and which we will get to in a couple of days.

It seems that the Bible translators have certainly made the newer versions more palatable to be read in Church.

Can you imagine asking someone to read this in a church service?

“But Rabshakeh said, Hath my master sent me to thy master and to thee to speak these words? Hath he not sent me to the men that sit upon the wall, that they may eat their own dung, and drink their own piss with you?” (Isaiah 36:12 KJV) Maybe we need to be thankful that the translators used the word ‘dung’!

Or what about … “A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 23:2 KJV)

I am so pleased that I’ve never had to read such verses! Though I was reminiscing with a friend yesterday how when I was organising his wedding I had chosen a passage from the Song of Songs where the word ‘breasts’ is used and the reader had pleaded that I may change the passage as he didn’t feel comfortable reading the word publicly. I remember preaching my first series from that book to my church and spent most of the week practicing in the mirror saying the word ‘breasts’ over and over again which was quite concerning looking back.

The Apostle says put off obscenity. The word means ‘ugly or filthy’.

Maybe facemasks are not a bad idea?!

In Bible College there was a student who would continually swear during the matches. So after many complaints he came out onto the football pitch wearing a sticking plaster over his mouth!

The filtering of what comes out of our mouth is needed. Jesus said out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. Unclean words from our mouth extinguishes the light from the world.

Maybe it is a good thing that the Bible doesn’t supply a list of words and how could it anyway? In any generation and every culture of the world there are words that are culturally acceptable and words that are not. There are words that relate to sexuality or which try to destroy and harm others. They are there, introduced into our language, slang words created by a new generation.

Whatever words are obscene, the Apostle says, don’t use them. Be an example. Be different.

I and Greed

In 1731 John Wesley began to limit his expenses so he would have more money to give to the poor. He records that one year his income was £30, and his living expenses £28, so he had £2 to give away. The next year, his income doubled, but he still lived on £28 and gave £32 away. In the third year, his income jumped to £90; again he lived on £28, giving £62 away. The fourth year, he made £120, lived again on £28, and gave £92 to the poor.

And we wonder why we haven’t seen a revival for a while?!

The Apostle is commanding we put off immorality and impurity and then what seems to be a curve-ball he says greed.

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Ephesians 5:3

The Message has ‘bullying greed’ and other translations use ‘covetousness’.

Here are 7 sins of greed:

  1. It’s about me, me and me.
  2. It’s about me and having what is yours.
  3. It’s about me getting what I want with no thought to the pain I may cause you in getting it.
  4. It’s about me not having enough or what me deserves.
  5. It’s about me and my ego.
  6. It’s about me regardless of any consequences.
  7. It’s about me taking short-cuts.

Rick warren of Saddleback Church, America’s 8th largest Church lives on 10 percent of his income and donates the rest to charity. “I drive a 12-year-old Ford, have lived in the same house for the last 22 years, bought my watch at Wal-Mart, and I don’t own a boat or a jet.” 

Jesus said he had no place to lay his head. We all want an open heaven. Out of that open heaven we want everything we can possibly get, a blessing of finance, promotion, this and that. When Jesus experienced an open heaven as he was standing in the Jordan being baptised he received a bird. We all want to be like Jesus but maybe if all we got was a bird perhaps we would be disappointed!

It’s not about me. Put it off.

I and Porn

A young orphan girl was raised by her cousin, her name was Esther. The King got rid of his wife and Esther was made queen of the Empire via a beauty contest, hiding the fact she was a Jewess. At the King’s banquets the Queen was meant to display herself immodestly in front of lustful men. The Queen refused to be paraded. She preserved wisdom and modesty.

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, Ephesians 5 v3

‘Impurity’ is not an activity, this is deeper than immorality; it is an internal disposition. It is inside. The word is akatharsia.

Akatharsia means a filth of heart and mind. It is what you see and imagine.

It was used by Jesus to describe the decaying bodies in a tomb (Matthew 23:27) and then in the other 10 times it is used in the New Testament it is used for thoughts, passions, ideas or fantasies that are filth or rubbish or like pus around an open wound and it specifically refers to sexual sin.

It is difficult to spot impurity. It hides behind masks of purity, pews and pulpits. Eventually it seeps through and takes over, defiles more than ‘it is just this’ and takes over like a cancer that then breaks out into activity.

One of the saddest verses in the Old Testament is this:

From his vantage point on the roof King David saw a woman bathing (2 Samuel 11:2)

No one else saw him, but he from his vantage point, alone, was able to see what was for him beautiful.

The world’s most successful industry is the porn industry and yet it is the most destructive in a person’s life and on those involved.

When I was a teenager – only vantage point was on the highest shelf of the newsagents. You would have to stand on the Readers Digest and puzzle shelf to have any chance of reaching it and then risk causing a collapse of the whole shelving unit. It wasn’t worth it. It was left to the diagrams in the human biology books!

Today it is so different. The vantage points are all around and so easily accessible.

A recent survey published by Psychologies magazine in the UK found that a third of 14-16yr olds had first seen sexual images online when they were 10 or younger; 81% looked at porn online at home and 63% from their mobile phones. The effect of porn in our culture is that men are devoid of any knowledge and understanding of having relationships with real women. Women themselves find that this porn-obsessed culture we live in means their true identity is affected and for many they are robbed of their own sexual desire in fear of aligning themselves with those that men lust after.

The voice of the Christian should be NO to the plight of what porn is doing to our children and our families. Whatever the consequence is for the Church, no matter what people think of us as being old-fashioned etc. The truth is PORN is not innocent, it is destructive.

And if you are hooked into it then you must seek counsel, accountability and help whether you sit hiding in the pew or preaching from the pulpit. It will destroy you. There are many Christian websites that will be the first step to recovery, for example, https://www.covenanteyes.com or buy this book by one of my Pastors, https://www.amazon.co.uk/Better-Kind-Intimacy-Price-Overcome/dp/1909728810

I was going to title my blog, “I when no one sees me” but I decided on using the word Porn to shock those who think it should never be mentioned (perhaps that’s the reason why the Church has so many broken people because it is silenced) and to bring it into the light for those who have no one to talk to. But when no one is around you then that is who you are. When no one sees you that is the real you. Of course there is always one who sees you all that happens in your heart and mind and He loves you more than you could possibly know. But you should try and find out more about that!

The Apostle speaks about sex quite a lot and it has led some to believe he had some kind of phobia about it whereas others have argued over words he used and their meaning with regards certain activities and lifestyles. Here he is in prison speaking about impurity, it must be important to him and to us. It is. Put it off. Don’t let the inside of your life become filth as it will destroy you.

I and Sex

The vicar decided to do something a little different one Sunday morning. He said, “Today, I am going to say a single word and you are going to help me preach. Whatever single word I say, I want you to sing whatever hymn that comes to your mind.”

So he shouted out CROSS. Immediately, the congregation started singing in unison THE OLD RUGGED CROSS.

He shouted out GRACE. The congregation began to sing AMAZING GRACE.

He said POWER. The congregation sang THERE IS POWER ,POWER WONDER WORKING POWER.

The vicar finally said SEX. The congregation fell in total silence. Everyone was in shock. They all nervously began to look around at each other afraid to say anything.

Then all of a sudden, from way back in the church, a little 88 year old grandmother stood up and began to sing MEMORIES LIKE THE CORNERS OF MY MIND.

Maybe you think it is too early to think about such a topic and why is this Apostle suddenly now talking about sexual immorality when he is in prison. Is he running out of ideas?

He uses the word porneia.

The original meaning of the Greek word porneia is “to prostitute” or “to sell.” But it came to mean a whole list of sexual activity that broke social or cultural norms.

The Church throughout its history has created new lists in every generation of what this word porneia refers to. It is definitely connected to activity and not what is looked at. However if the Church just focuses on the activity it only pushes porneia further into the recesses of the heart. For porneia is definitely an issue of the heart.

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, Ephesians 5 v 3

The Message has it like this, “Don’t allow love to turn into lust …”

Having just spoken of the love of Christ as the fragrance of God and how we should copy Him by loving each other, the Apostle clearly tells us that this love is not a love that takes for self-gratification.

Self-less, sacrificial, pure love is unconditional. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” If you have found such love then don’t let go of it. If you had such love then be thankful for it. If you have an opportunity to give this love then do it.

Porneia is not that. Porneia grabs and takes and goes for what it can receive from that other person not what it can give. It has an agenda which is to gain for its own pleasure. It will pay for it or manipulate or deceive the other or themselves to ultimately get what it wants. It will appear as activity but it commences in the heart and that is why the Apostle says “not even a hint”.

There is more to say and that will come in the next word Paul uses ….

I smell a rat

“Can you smell that?”

A number of noses joined in with their sniffing powers we all agreed we could smell something horrid. This smell wasn’t meant to be in our house. It wasn’t there before and we could not carry on regardless of it. We had to locate it and deal with it. By the end of this smelly chapter of our life we had ripped partition walls down, pulled out all the loft insulation, filled in every cracked hole wherever it was, sent cameras down the drains and repaired the broken pipes that the extension of our house had been built upon. We laboured hard and it cost us a lot but we caught him and his family! Apparently we are only 10 feet away from a rat at any one time in the UK. Is it possible to get used to the smell of a rat?

Well, it is possible to get used to your own smell.

I went into a church building before lockdown and it hit me as I walked in, the smell. It was that damp, stale odour of a building that perhaps hadn’t been opened for years, except they had just met the day before. They had got used to the smell. I said to the Pastor, “What’s that smell?” he said, “What smell?”

You wouldn’t dream of leaving your home without first washing, would you? You would never go to a friend’s house stinking to high heaven because you couldn’t be bothered to have a wash that day, would you?

The problem is people who don’t wash get used to their own smell. Their stinky, pongy, stained smell becomes to them au naturel. Everyone needs someone who will say ‘My friend, I love you so much I need to tell you, you stink.’

Let’s see what the Apostle says, “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5 v1-2

Pause for a moment. Think of the fragrant offering in relation to the Old Testament system. When a sacrifice was offered on an altar, the odour of the burning meat went up to heaven and the god to whom the sacrifice was offered was supposed to feast upon that odour. In the Jewish Synagogues they too used this system and a sacrifice which had the odour of a fragrance was especially pleasing and acceptable to God.

Paul uses this of the sacrifice Jesus brought to God. It was a life of perfect obedience to the Father and perfect love to men, so perfect that he went to the cross.

The Apostle says, ‘Copy God’. And if you wish to imitate God and to imitate the sacrifice which Jesus made, you can only do it by loving people in the same way Jesus loved at the cross.

Love is fragrant.

A building may have a stale smell and that can be fixed but what of the smell of the Church’s heart? Do they love each other? Do they love their community?

There are smells in churches that should never be there.

Is there bickering? Divisions and fall-outs? I wonder how many people would say they got hurt by Church?

Everyone needs a friend to say, ‘my friend you stink, stop it, tone it down, shut your mouth.’

The Church coming out of lockdown needs to smell better than when it went into this strange season.

So climb down from the high horse.

Humble yourselves.

Lay your life down.

Pay the price.

Where is the sacrifice gone from the Church?

Let’s love and love loud.

I Carry Nails

The only God who is broken, who surrenders, who lays His life down, who dies is the only God.

Islam cannot accept a God would do such a thing. God is powerful and mighty not a Suffering Servant. He is all those things.

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children, Ephesians 5 v 1

The Message: “Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behaviour from their parents.”

This is almost a breather, a break within the 50 commandments the Apostle lists for the conduct of Christians.

In a nutshell it is this: Copy God, be like Him.

As you begin a new day in whatever circumstance of your life there is an opportunity to imitate Him.

From the temptations of the desert to the teaching of disciples; to working out the will of your Father to following its cause; we have an opportunity to look like Him.

Children copy their parents.

God on earth carried nails in his hands for us and His resurrected body showed the nail prints as proof of that.

Why is God seen more in suffering than any place in the world? The nails.

Step into suffering today, surrender, let go, give your life for others, step down from lofty places no matter how justified you feel. Rather feel the pain again. Choose nails. Copy Him. There will come a day, a resurrection day when you will be able to lift up your nail printed hands and say I paid the price, I lived the life; I copied God.

I Forgive

The world wakes this morning to more sad stories. Every day is the same. A 17 year old boy is stabbed to death, a woman hit by a van has died was what popped up on my newsfeed.

Maybe you wake to the hurt of yesterday.

Every day there are wrongs done to people. You may be reading this carrying such a horrible weight of wrong that has been done against you.

There are unbelievable tragedies today. There are many victims. Since the beginning of time God has seen what mankind can to each other. “The LORD said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.” (Genesis 4:10).

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you, Ephesians 4 v 32

The Apostle, in the present tense, says keep on forgiving just as He keeps on forgiving us!

God has given mankind the freedom to choose.

We choose to love which blesses or we choose to sin which hurts.

Today you may be the victim because someone made the wrong choice.

When we are the sinner we cry for mercy. But the natural response when we are sinned against is to cry for justice.

The blood of Abel in Genesis 4 cried for justice. It was a prayer of ‘Get him God.’

The blood of Jesus is not ‘Father get these murderers’ but “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

What name needs to be mentioned that would cause you to react with? They may have died years ago. The event is not far from you. Is there unforgiveness still there?

Eva Mozes Kor died in June of last year as she was once again visiting Poland. She was a survivor of Auschwitz. “Forgive your worst enemies,” Kor said in a video recording of her last visit to the Auschwitz Museum posted to its official Facebook page. “The moment I forgave the Nazis, I felt free from Auschwitz and from all the tragedy that had occurred to me,” she added. Eva and her twin Miriam were cruelly experimented on by the ‘Angel of Death’ Josef Mengele but survived until the liberation of the camp in January of 1945. They lost their parents and two other sisters there. Before she died Eva was filmed at the site and she told of how she forgave Mengele:

“After we were set free I went home, closed the door and picked up a dictionary. I wrote all the nasty words I could find from the dictionary and spoke them out clear and loud. I then said “In spite of all that I forgive you.” I found that as a little victim I had power over the Angel of Death and I wasn’t hurting anybody. I had an interesting thought that he could never change my forgiving him. I am in charge of it. It was a very powerful feeling. If I can forgive him I can forgive anyone who ever hurt me.”

Who still needs your forgiveness?

Do it now as you ask the Father to forgive you your sins.

I am Compassionate

Compassion is the attitude behind the act. The word comes from the words to ‘suffer with’.

Be kind and compassionate to one another, Ephesians 4 v32

Today may God open our eyes to see.
Today may our heart be broken for the broken.
Today may we not give up until those around us and beyond us are helped.

God loves and defends those with the least economic and social power and so should we. This is compassion.

Why should we care about slavery which still exists today?

Why should we be concerned about those who are hurting?

It is because God is compassionate and we encouraged by the Apostle are called to be like Him.

Deuteronomy10:17-18 “The Lord your God …defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow and loves the immigrant giving him food and clothing.”

So often God is introduced as the defender of the vulnerable. This is so significant.

This is one of the main things he does in the world. He identifies with the powerless, he takes up their cause.

This sets our Compassionate God apart from all the other ancient gods whose power was always channelled through and identified with the elite of society. Our God was and is always on the side of the powerless and of justice for the poor, needy and vulnerable.

If we don’t respond to the cries of the hurting we dishonour God and we hide God from the world.

It’s time for me, and for us to get bothered about what really bothers God. It is time to ‘suffer with’.

Oh! to be like Thee, full of compassion,
Loving, forgiving, tender and kind,
Helping the helpless, cheering the fainting,
Seeking the wand’ring sinner to find.