A Little More off the Top, Sir?

What truer friend is there than one who will tell you if you’re looking rubbish?

Have you noticed how even the most familiar people seen out of their usual context can seem total strangers?  I once met my hairdresser in the  Continue reading “A Little More off the Top, Sir?”

Dress-down Sunday?

People? … clothes? … what puts you off church?

I haven’t conducted a survey but, over the years, I’ve heard many reasons why people don’t go to church;  Here are three of them.

“I don’t like the vicar/this week’s preacher” … It’s quite natural that not everyone pleases us, but this shouldn’t be allowed to deter us from drawing near to God and His people.  I knew a woman who, realising that she didn’t like the vicar, stopped attending church. priest 2 As soon as a new vicar arrived, she was again seen there every week.  She had missed a whole slice of parish life!  The writer to the Hebrews encouraged his readers in “not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another” (Heb. 10:25).  We should keep going to church despite the people we’ll meet there!

“I’m not good enough to go to church” … Some of us who were brought up on the Book of Common Prayer will remember the service beginning with the plea, ‘O Lord, open Thou our lips’.  The words come from Psalm 51, and have been part of liturgy since before the Reformation.  They remind us all that, of ourselves, none of us is worthy to come before God.  But, during his earthly ministry, Jesus declared, “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but those who are ill … I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matt. 9:12-13).

Isaiah expressed this unworthiness very concisely: “I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips” (Isa. 6:5).  Fortunately we don’t have to suffer the remedy that he reported (see verses 6-7), but can claim the redemption won for us by Jesus on the Cross.

“I haven’t anything decent to wear.” … I blame the Victorians for the tradition of wearing one’s best clothes for church-going.  Many working men would only have two sets of clothes, one that they wore every day for work and the other that was kept for church.  If only they had read more closely the story of Samuel’s selection of David, the shepherd-boy-come-king!  Samuel was told, “Don’t consider his appearance or his height, … people look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7).

Many people are put off church by the thought of appearing inferior; I’m very glad that the church I attend welcomes all, whatever their appearance.  I heard an excellent sermon on Good Friday from a minister wearing jeans and a rugby shirt.

If you want to worship in God’s house, don’t be put off by mere people and their misguided traditions!

When Diaries Disagree

When the reminder on your phone says ‘go’, and the book says ‘it’s on’, but your memory tells you it’s cancelled …

A few weekends ago, I looked at my diary to see what I should be doing in the coming days, and found an entry that I wasn’t expecting for a committee meeting.  After a few moments’ thought, I remembered an e-mail from the chairman saying that there was little to discuss, and asking if we would agree to leave getting together until the next month.  We all did, of course, but somehow deleting the entry in my diary had slipped off my to-do list.day-planner-828611_1920

The incident brought to mind a Bible verse, “No one can serve two masters …”.  It occurs in two Gospels, at Matthew 6:24 and Luke 16:13.  The idea of loving my memory and hating the diary that got it wrong seemed a bit bizarre, but when I looked up these two references I found a deeper truth, which I’ll share with you today.

When two sources disagree, e.g. in research, what do we do?  The first thought is to consult a third source, and take a majority view; a second idea might be to consider the sources we’ve looked at so far, and see what each is based on: whether one or other is the more reliable.  In my personal interest, the field of family history, such a difference might occur between a person’s year of birth as expressed on a census versus looking at a birth registration index.  An age could easily be falsified, or mis-remembered, but the law requires registration within six weeks of birth.  We might also consider whether the  conflicting details that have been found are really significant: in my example, is a birth within a five-year range good enough?

If you look at the two verses I’ve quoted above, you’ll see that the words are identical.  But their contexts are totally different.  Matthew places them in the Sermon on the Mount, at the end of a chapter that falls into four parts, teaching about alms-giving, prayer, fasting and the necessities of life.  Each section leads to consideration of God’s loving care, for “… your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” (v. 32).

Luke, however, has been narrating a series of parables – the lost sheep, lost coin and lost son (ch. 15), all illustrative of a caring father – and he begins chapter 16 with this one addressed to the disciples, but clearly pointed at, and possibly overheard by, the Pharisees.  It is variously labelled as the ‘unjust steward’ or ‘dishonest manager’, although the NIV describes it as ‘the shrewd manager’, taking account of Jesus’ follow-up remarks about using our money (which, in common with all our possessions, is only held in trust and really belongs to God) for the good of others rather than ourselves, thereby earning us a heavenly reward.  His remarks lead up to the verse we started with, about serving two masters.

So the same key verse is appropriate in either situation.  Does it matter that one Gospel-writer places it in one place and the other somewhere else?  If we take a step back, we can see the same underlying message, telling us to focus our attention on God, rather than on our possessions.

When two authorities differ, we shouldn’t just toss a coin, but look for a common truth that overcomes the difference of detail.  The same applies whether it’s in our diaries, our research, or when it comes to applying our Faith.