Grace and peace

A humble cartoon takes my experience in this world – in the great pretzel that is 2020/2021 – and renders it perfectly in the visual.

We live in an age of Byzantine technicalities…this must be certified, reference number please, this must come from your registered e-mail address, that attested to, each page initialed, more passwords and legislation than sand on the seashore in Dubai.

I’m trying to get all the technical and proper things done, getting my deliveries from ACME, and like Wile Coyote, just cannot get my hands on the Road Runner. Compliance is always out of reach, because there is always something else that has to be done. Obstacles, money, time, research.

I know how the coyote felt, hair singed from boom sticks, whistling through the air to the hard desert floor, and making a hole.

Its amazing the talent of cartoon artists, drawing the coyote with a look of exasperation and self pity that would be familiar to the rest of the human race.

Obviously, this is not a place of peace.

It hasn’t been for some time.

And yet, what peace there is, what snippets and brief moments of it lay down in my weary brain, come from Scripture…reading it, listening to it preached, or put into lyrics and sung.

Reading through the book of Acts this week, I read of Paul, Silas and Timothy in the city of Corinth. In the middle of a missionary journey, Paul puts down roots in Corinth because the Lord spoke to him in a vision.

A lot of people will listen to the message of the gospel, but equally, a lot of people will get their knickers in a knot.

Now, it wasn’t just because Paul elicited a response from people, it was the Message that he preached (the gospel) and as happened in many previous towns, Paul was brought before authorities by local Jews who just could not deal with him.

They brought him before the proconsul Gallio, who as a Gentile, had no interest in the accusations they were levelling at Paul. It wasn’t Roman law that they were going on about, but ‘questions about words and names’ and the Jewish law, religious things that were of no interest to Rome.

Paul didn’t even get a chance to speak, because Gallio had them ejected from the court. They tried to get a reaction out of Gallio by beating up the synagogue leader Sosthenes in front of him. To which the response was a yawn.

Violence seems to be of only detached concern to authorities until there is a riot, and therefore a threat to their hegemony.

All the setbacks (and the highs as well as the lows) experienced by Paul, and Sosthenes, and everybody in the church in Corinth. Paul writes:

“Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Maybe its the same when the setbacks aren’t personal or in opposition to the gospel. Maybe, when you’re the coyote and the Road Runner is running circles around you, there is no peace apart from the grace (and from that grace, the peace) that come from the Father and the Son.

“Grace is always first, peace always second. This is due to the fact that grace is the source of peace. Without grace there is and can be no peace, but when grace is ours, peace must of necessity follow.”

1 Corinthians Chapter 1


Everyone knows the axiom of two people who view a glass differently. What’s in the glass…water? wine? soda?

An overused metaphor, and if the glass is half full or empty, the metaphor is at least whole.

2019 through 2021 has taken a big gulp out of the already half filled glass, a glass with the liquid version of people I trust, and assumption of good will toward strangers.

The circle of trust has tightened, the liquid in the glass has gone down some. But I don’t want to dump too heavily on human beings, I’m one too.

Speaking of things near empty, if I were a motor vehicle, the tank is in the red. The gasoline is a 95 octane blend of brain power, available funds, compassion, submission, to-do lists.

Unfinished tasks held together by duct tape, scratches and wounds patched with band-aids, unfinished thoughts, unfinished blog posts, meandering prayers, a blizzard of demands without the ability to identify which snowflake should be attended to first.

I bet I’m not the only one.

As I was walking the black dog on a Stygian, cold morning this week, it occurred to me that one of the big differences between me and God (and there is a veritable encyclopedia of entries as to how more elevated God is than me), is that He finishes what he starts.

He is the Alpha and the Omega. I mean, apropos the Greek alphabet, the hysteria about corona virus is hyping the lambda variant. I doubt corona would get to the designation ‘omega’ in a meaningful form.

But God finishes things, and finishing is important to Him. He doesn’t say to the servant ‘well half-done’ or ‘well almost-done’. He says ‘well done’.

Of course we can never earn that acknowledgement from God on our own.

My powerelessness is never on more obvious display to me than when I pray for needs. What to do about the list of problems? Ill health, grief, brethren in despair or suffering under persecution, loss of income, curtailment of freedoms, unsaved human beings, and the list goes on.

Its a cold day in July, not a soul around except for the dog nosing around the nearest tree.

Suddenly a verse, a song: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits upon the throne!’

Salvation is probably the thing I’m most unable to do, for myself, or anyone else. That is the whole point of the gospel of grace.

And I think of Paul’s letter to the Believers in Philippi, and his introduction where he assures them that God started a good work in them, and will finish it. The late Eugene Peterson styled it that God will do it with a flourish. With style.

I’m half.


“Let us live and strive for freedom, in South Africa our land!”

Those and other words will be sung in the coming weeks as the British & Irish Lions face off against South Africa in a tournament that only happens once every 12 years (from the South African perspective).

Untrue words. Mere rhetoric.

Freedom. Free speech. Free thought. Is that Biblical? Is that Christian?

Beyond just an American perspective this 4th of July, yes, I believe that freedom, free speech and free thought is of God. The framers of the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness…”

In the beginning, when God created the universe and then man, before the fall, before creation was marred by sin, He gave Adam dominion over the earth and the animals.

There was no hint that mankind should have dominion over his fellow man, and rule over him. Of course, the original state of things is changed somewhat since the Fall.

Spiritually, I long for fellowship with God.

Experientially, I long for freedom, as much freedom as I can get.

470 days of enforced lockdown is more injurious to me, my family, and my countrymen than any pathogen could ever be. Not quite the same as 450 years of slavery in Egypt, but I was reading this week of the children of Israel. Giddy with the freshness of liberty after leaving Egypt (kind of like their independence day), only to be confronted with the pursuing Egyptian army and ‘certain’ death.

They cried out to the Lord (good) and then immediately turned on Moses (not good), sarcastically asking whether there weren’t enough graves in Egypt, whether Moses’ plan was to take them out to the middle of nowhere so as to establish a new cemetery. Egypt was synonymous with graves, crypts and burial chambers, so their sarcasm came across pretty thick.

Moses told them: “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

Honestly, would I have refrained from dishing out sarcasm to Moses? Probably not.

Would I have called out to the Lord? Probably. Would I have been still and just trusted Him? Not unless this were a sanitised version of reality.

I would have smart-mouthed the Egyptians if they were in earshot.

I long for my birthright of liberty. I long to be out from under Pharaoh’s decrees, conceived in spite and indifference.

But I have no weapon except a sharp, sinful, very sarcastic tongue. But on the other hand I do have a God who will do what is right.

And I must trust Him.

Literally onward

Stick a fork in me, I’m done.

Not with God (to whom else would I go?). The body ages by degrees, the intellect is clouded by grief and weariness.

Doctors, lawyers, call centre agents, fear mongers, the man on the street. I don’t even want to engage with a mosquito.

I don’t want to be broken hearted. I don’t want to know what’s going on in the world. I refuse to engage with the inappropriately named ‘family meetings’.

Although, we’ll have to take the fork out of me as it seems I’m not done. Not quite yet.

Engagement is what God calls for, with Himself, with others (even though doing so feels like a constant bad Monday sometimes), with other Believers.

I’m reading through the book of Acts, and something is always happening. In Antioch where Believers were first called Christians, there were prophets and teachers worshiping and fasting and praying, and the Holy Spirit told them to set apart Barnabas and Saul for a work.

“So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.” (Acts 13:3).

I’ve seen this happen recently at church, a family set apart by the Holy Spirit to go and engage with people far away.

For Saul (Paul) this is his first missionary journey, one of three. Barnabas and Saul go from Antioch to Salamis, Paphos, Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe and back again through most of those same places to Antioch.

The small town of Lystra is where Paul and Barnabas get in a spot of bother. The nearest I can figure, Lystra doesn’t exist today, although the hill near the town is still there.

By the power of God, Paul healed a man and the reaction of the crowd and a pagan priest was to prepare to sacrifice bulls to Paul and Barnabas. Which caused Paul and Barnabas to tear their clothes in frustration. Nobody was happy. Not the apostles, not the crowd or the confused priest. Maybe the bulls lived another day, as Paul and Barnabas ‘had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them.’ (14:18, NIV)

The situation did not improve.

“Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead.” (14:19, NIV)

Its not easy to fool people familiar with violence and death by playing possum. And yet like some terminator rerouting its power source, Paul got back in the fight.

“But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe.” (14:20, NIV)

For me, Paul is almost a scary figure.

I’ve had to attend several memorials or funerals for close family, and facing death every time knocks me on my backside, and with each new one it feels like it takes longer to get back up. I’ve endured years of a political climate where its fashionable and quite legal to condemn white males. I experience setbacks constantly.

And then I read about Paul (2 Corinthians 11), who itemises his sufferings: given 39 lashes five times, beaten with rods three times, stoned once (in Lystra), shipwrecked three times, spent a day and night on the open sea, in constant danger from bandits, Jews and Gentiles, lost countless sleep, gone without food, been cold and naked.

This is not just the randomness of tragedy, or the scheme of an enemy, like all of us experience. Paul faced all of this because of standing for Christ.

Paul is scary because he makes me feel like a poser. Like, there’s a fork in you? Tough! Pull it out and keep going.

So, after Lystra, and after they have finished their first missionary journey and had reached their most outward point, they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Pisidian Antioch where they had established brand new churches, “strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said.” (14:22, NIV)

I can’t even. Paul’s attitude to suffering is like, come at me bro! This is not Hallmark, or Instagram with a slick bromide.

Sure, I’ve been knocked on my backside. I don’t want to really get up. I feel like I’m done, but apparently I’m not. God decides that.

I want to keep my eyes on what Paul talked about as beyond the suffering: the kingdom of God.

Literally, Onward Christian Soldier.

Judge Jefferies

I got to see with my own eyes something I never thought I’d see: a grown man of 70 at the foot of the cross.

Pops was a navy man, his friends called him ‘Judge Jefferies’, a man familiar with the corporate environment, a man who found himself at ease practising the principles of Dale Carnegie’s ‘How to win friends and influence people’.

It was at Pops’ feet that I learned how to socialise, how to be a husband and a father, how to make sense of the world.

As I heard it told, he plucked me from a backwash going out to sea when I was a sprite. I remember getting into some trouble and hiding from his righteous wrath in a tree, which only prolonged the inevitable. Without remembering the specifics, I’m quite sure I was justifiably in trouble.

I remember safari suits, navy ‘tats, a Fiat with a faulty accelerator one morning on the way to school.

I remember I would pray for the salvation of my family. And I remember in that awful season of June 2011 when we mourned as a family for my sister. My Pops got the moment right, and went to the foot of the cross, and gave his heart to the Lord.

You could just tell, God was at work in the midst of our mourning.

He always had a liking for Psalm 103, which begins: Bless the Lord O my soul.

Bless the Lord O my soul. The Psalmist tells his soul to get in on the act, to praise God. Who feels like praising God at a memorial service? Or when life has pounded us like a pugilist? We have to because its right to praise God.

Because even this tragedy serves His purpose, and if God can do that, then he deserves our praise.

Because Pops is alive as he’s ever been, in the presence of the Lord, and surely I can take a good guess at what his soul is doing.

All the days

The path of the pathogen began for me on a mid-week day, building from an indefinable something to the familiar splitting headache along with fever and chills in the evening with disorientation.

How many times have I had the flu? A quick glance across the search engine DuckDuckGo estimates that children get the flu (not a mere cold) around every 2 years, dropping until the point where the average adult only picks up the flu once every five years.

That’s actually not a lot. The corona virus feels similar to a bad flu.

The headaches and fever were then joined by lethargy and excessive sleep which gave way to sleeplessness and no appetite, despite the feeling that the body should eat.

Pretty soon, the appetite built up, sleep normalized, the headache lessened and a feeling developed in the kidneys that reminded the human, I’m here, and a little uncomfortable.

Almost a week later, I have a runny nose, but that could actually be allergies.

I could still smell, and I never worried that this particular beastie would be the end of me. Not everyone else has been so fortunate though.

Prayer enjoyed something of a Renaissance. It just felt natural. Not for myself, but for my family whom I could infect, for those hospitalised, for those who have endured loss.

Another flu to add to the RNA strands making their way through my bloodstream. I got the sense that:

I’m praying to a God who listens;
I’m no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God;
All the days ordained for me were written in His book, before one of them came to be.

Bratwurst and Bacon

The first time I heard the sound, I had no idea what it might be.

It was like someone was tinkering with something outside in the yard.

Following the sound I could tell it wasn’t someone, but a couple of birds taking turns to observe themselves in a mirror perched on the wall, swooping in rhythmically to tap their beaks on the glass.

When you hear the sound but have no context, and finally see the sound happening, it all makes sense.

Reading through the book of Acts last week, the sound of tapping (the times I had read this passage before) took on a new dimension when I saw it afresh.

I like how God is very specific and has such divine knowledge about people, places (including an address we could probably find if we were in that time) and motivations.

Acts 9:11 – 15: God tells Ananias, a Believer, exactly where to find Saul (the house of Judas on Straight Street), what Saul is doing (praying), what he has seen (a vision of Ananias), what he will do (His chosen instrument to proclaim His name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel) and the suffering he must endure.

Meanwhile, the apostle Peter goes on his way to Joppa to heal a well loved Christian woman who had died.

Acts 10:3 – 6: The angel of God tells a Gentile centurion, Cornelius, that his prayers have been noticed by God, to go fetch a particular man (Simon who is called Peter) at a particular place in Joppa (staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea).

Acts 10:9 – 20: God gives Peter a vision (when he’s hungry) of a pagan smorgasbord on a sheet (may I picture a picnic blanket with bratwurst and bacon?), and tells him that he needs to go along with the guys who will come looking for him.

Neither Peter, nor Cornelius knew exactly why God arranged this get-together, and it worked out as a good surprise for the both of them.

I’ve read this passage so many times on the way through the book. Familiar with Acts chapter 2 and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. But here, God is including Gentiles. They are receiving the gospel, they are speaking in tongues.

Peter realised that he hadn’t really realised something that he should have realised before then: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism”. In other words, God makes Gentiles clean in the same way he makes Jews clean, through Christ.

The circumcised Believers (with Peter) “were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles”.

What a privilege for Cornelius, for his house having been chosen as the place where the Holy Spirit would fall on the Gentiles.

I wonder what Paul may have thought of this. Newly saved, with his frame of reference having been radically shifted, I think he may have appreciated it.

I bet there are many ways that God can surprise me when it comes to which people he chooses to work in.

I’m waiting for the day my Israeli and Palestinian brothers have the Holy Spirit poured out on them.

Cloaks, boots and sandals

Like facing up to a buzz-saw, a wood-chipper, or a phalanx of Wehrmacht soldiers at the Atlantic wall, Stephen testified to the truth of the gospel before the Sanhedrin, in whose hands lay life and death.

The church was growing in Jerusalem. The Believers needed men of wisdom and filled with the Spirit to give their attention to the distribution of food to widows, to make sure that there was no favouritism and that everything was fair. Stephen was recognised as being highly qualified and was commissioned to serve in the church.

Stephen also captured the attention of some bad hombres. Opposition from the Synagogue of the Freedmen. For those who know what cancel culture is in 2021, these guys targeted Stephen to be cancelled.

They couldn’t stop the wonders he performed by God’s power. They couldn’t refute the wisdom that he spoke by God’s Spirit. So they targeted the man.

The same tactic that they had used against Christ. A set-up. A sandbag operation. Accusations of blasphemy.

There they were, gnashing their teeth, enraged at what Stephen was saying. And they took off their cloaks.

When guys take of their cloaks and its not because its a hot day or they’re going for a swim, its because stuff is about to get real. Violence is loading. Action is imminent.

If you’re really angry, perhaps a cloak is the last thing you think about, but they took off their cloaks and laid them down at the feet of young Saul of Tarsus.

Many years later, a changed man, the apostle Paul is in Jerusalem, speaking before a crowd of his fellow Jews. He’s telling them what God is doing, and he actually references Stephen.

“20 And when the blood of your martyr[a] Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.’

21 “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ”

22 The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, “Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!”” (Acts 22: 20 – 22, NIV).

God sending His word to the Gentiles? Again the cloaks come flying off.

Paul had been there, done that, but on the other side of the distribution of rage and violence. I’m certain Paul appreciated the irony.

There’s an image I think of when I read about Paul and what he did. When Stephen was murdered, we read that it was on that same day that ‘a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem’ (Acts 8:1). And Saul ‘began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.’ (Acts 8:3)

I’m sure Paul never forgot the way he had behaved. Dragging people off to prison while little children begged for him not to take away their Mom or Dad.

Although he meant it in a different context (of tyrannical fascist governments in the future) George Orwell spoke about imagining a ‘boot stamping on the human face’.

At one time, that was Saul. Or at least that was probably the way he saw himself.

What a difference between Saul and Paul, persecutor and apostle after his encounter with Christ on the way to Damascus…

Paul had this verse in mind (the feet of those who bring good news) when he wrote to the church at Ephesus about spiritual warfare.

The Christian response to the boot of the oppressor is not to strike back. Paul writes that people are not the enemy, but spiritual forces of evil.

We are prepared with the armour of God…the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness…feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.

“The gospel provides the footing for everything we do. However powerful the rest of your body is, if you are wounded in your feet you are easy prey for the enemy.”

Ephesians Chapter 6

Standing on the Word is not just a charming saying. Without it, we are literally hamstrung in the thick of the fight.

In conclusion

The conclusion of Paul’s letter to the Romans rings so true. He easily lists the names of people who have been a blessing to him, those who have laboured and put their hands up for the gospel.

Then you have those fifth-columnists who wish to sabotage things for their own purposes. Those who cause divisions and are contrarian.

People who have an agenda that attempts to undo all the work that faithful Believers have put into advancing the kingdom.

Those types of people are inevitable, no matter where you are.

Some people just like to see things burn, or stir up controversy and step back and watch the fur fly.

Paul knows the church at Rome has done okay with nipping that sort of thing in the bud: “Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I rejoice because of you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.” (16:19, NIV).

They’ve managed to keep things right and go forward in obedience to the gospel, but Paul writes to them to make sure they don’t fixate on the evil that some are spreading in the community, but to remain resolute and anchored to the gospel.

The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing.

Basically, they should know the truth so intimately that they would easily be able to spot the fake. Kind of like the US Secret Service who don’t study fake dollar bills, but study genuine dollar bills with such thoroughness that fakes are easy to spot.

Be excellent at what is good, and innocent of evil.

Paul writes that God will soon cruch Satan and his deception under their feet.

The church should do what Adam and Eve didn’t do in the garden. When confronted with falsehood and doubt, to refer back to the gospel and affirm it. A regained innocence as it were.

Paul concludes reminding the Romans – and us – that God is able to establish us in accordance with the gospel. He will make us able to stand firm in Christ.

The church shouldn’t be distracted by controversies and divisions. The gospel is what unites us but is also the purpose of the church: to reach out to those who will be saved in the purpose of God.

How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news. The sound of the church on the move spreading the gospel.

Boston Strong

Which city’s iconography, history and brand is number one?

Whenever people think of the United States and the iconography of great cities, New York probably ranks up high with the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street, and the Chrysler building, just a few of the many landmarks.

[Taps microphone] The city of Boston would like to go ahead and disagree. When it comes to baseball, New York and Boston are fierce rivals, in the best tradition of sport rivalries.

The New York Yankee versus the Boston Red Sox.

There’s a little pub under the stands at Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox with the unimaginative name of ‘Bleacher Bar’ where the customer can sit and enjoy and brat or a burger with an ale and watch the action through a window.

This April 15th, it will be 8 years since the infamous bombings that took place at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

The people of Boston are a resilient bunch. And stubborn in the best traditions of colonial resistance to old King George.

In December 1773, the Sons of Liberty, in protest of excessive taxation without representation, dumped tea belonging to the Dutch East India company into the harbour.

A little thing that history came to call the Boston Tea Party. One of the key factors that led to the Revolutionary war a short while later.

Which the British went on to lose.

This April 15th, I’m thinking about the resilient people of Boston, generously sprinkled with Irish.

I’m thinking about St Paddy’s day festivities which are best revelled in without lockdown restrictions.

I’m thinking about simple pleasures like enjoying a burger while watching live sport.

Something called living.