Friday, 18 April 2014

Crown of Thorns

Crown of Thorns

We shrink at every swing of the hammer,

We cry with every thrust of the nail.

These soldiers know their business of torture,

The panic rises it never fails.

The crosses rise and fall with a judder,

Into the holes filled with blood and rain.

Come crashing down, making me shudder.

My heart is bursting now with the pain.


Crown of thorns, crown of thorns,

They made me their king with a crown of thorns

Crown of thorns, crown of thorns,

They made me their king with a crown of thorns


The joker on my left started laughing.

Hysteria had a hold on his soul.

“If you’re the king get us out of this place,

‘cause brother right now we’re in a hole.”

While on my right a voice started crying,

“You fool; we’re getting what we deserve.

This man’s done nothing, Lord please remember

Me in your kingdom, I’m ready to serve.”


Crown of thorns, crown of thorns,

They made me their king with a crown of thorns

Crown of thorns, crown of thorns,

They made me their king with a crown of thorns


The men drew lots to see who inherits

My worldly goods though they were so few.

If they’d looked up they’d see heaven waiting,

But they looked down at the dice they threw.


Crown of thorns, crown of thorns,

They made me their king with a crown of thorns

Crown of thorns, crown of thorns,

They made me their king with a crown of thorns


At noonday midnight fell like a judgement,

Heaven’s thunder roared and punishment fell.

“My God, my God how could you forsake me?

And leave me here in this living hell.”


Crown of thorns, crown of thorns,

You  made me their king with a crown of thorns

Crown of thorns, crown of thorns,

You made me their king with a crown of thorns


It wasn’t soldiers hung me on this tree.

It wasn’t priests condemned me to death.

It wasn’t nails that held me here bleeding.

For love of you I gave my last breath.


Crown of thorns, crown of thorns,

You made me your king with a crown of thorns

Crown of thorns, crown of thorns,

You made me your king with a crown of thorns

Copyright Michael Thomas 2008

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Easter Changes Everything

There is a decidedly worldly approach to Easter that even those who are comfortable with Easter eggs, Easter Bunnies, and the seasonal food and drink blow-out it has become find they regret. “Its too commercial,” people tell me, demonstrating at some level an emotional insight they can’t explain to themselves that the season might have a true meaning. They know somehow all this is wrong and yet, what does it look like when its right?

That is when some might find their way to a church come Good Friday, or Easter Sunday, searching for they know not what. There is simply a restlessness to have things other than the way they are. As is so often the case, they romanticise the different, the unfamiliar, convincing themselves that there is some formula to be found that makes everything good again. But they soon find that the church is less than perfect, some might say it is dysfunctional. Christians have their problems and struggle, themselves, with an imperfect faith.

Where is the religious formula that is meant to give everything meaning, to make a positive difference in my life? Other religions teach about peace and transcendence, ritual, form, and duty. mystical practices and contemplative disciplines. What about the Sermon on the Mount, or the Ten Commandments? Aren’t they a sort of formula, a pattern for the good life? Well, sort of…

You see, when a member of this vast dysfunctional family, the human race looks admiringly at the moral and ethical laws of the Christian faith he may well yearn to live by the Christian code, but he will immediately discover a problem; he can’t do it.

Have you ever noticed that no sooner is a law created than someone wants to break it? Put a hole in a fence and hang a sign saying, “Don’t Look in Here,” and what do people do? Put up a sign, “Wet Paint, Do Not Touch,” and what do people do? Erect a “No Parking” sign and what will people do?

Paul sums up the dilemma very well:

“So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Ro.7:20-24)

We see a code to live by and find it attractive (delight in the law of God in our inner being) but then find we, for some reason, compromise (see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind) This is the conflict everyone faces in their life. A frustrated Paul confesses, “I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.”

No wonder he cries in frustration, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”

So what is happening? Some religious people of Jesus’ day thought following a code of ritual cleanliness would put them right with God. Jesus said:

“What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."  (Mk.7:20-23)

We all have a heart problem. So we can yearn to be different, agree emotionally with the highest standards, want to do right, but “another law” in us fights against this impulse to good, making us do the opposite of what we intended. This is what the Bible calls sin. James describes sin’s progress in our lives:

“Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers.” (Js.1:14-16)

We have a heart problem and Easter is the story of how God stepped in, fixed the problem of the human heart, and changed everything.

The Bible puts it like this:

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates  his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Ro.5:6-8)

Good Friday is when we remember that Jesus died for our sins, took the punishment we deserved, so that we could have our hearts changed, from hearts that issue in sin and rebellion to hearts that rejoice in righteousness and obedience.

The Christian’s life is one of learning to walk in the good of what God has done in Christ for sinners who turn to him in faith. But nothing of this is possible until our hearts are changed. That is why its important to know that Easter changes everything.

So the only question is, are you wise, or otherwise?

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Familiarity Breeds…?

There are two things that stand as obstacles to people hearing, understanding, and seriously considering the good news of Jesus Christ. (There are more than two of course, but there are two I want to talk about) The first is ignorance.

A  pastor recently spoke of his work in sports chaplaincy. He related how he led a sports team in prayer, sharing some thoughts from the Bible. After the match a young player asked him, “What’s that book you were reading from?” That’s how unfamiliar many are with Christianity these days and, if we are to share the message of Jesus, we must start much further back than was necessary in previous generations.

The second obstacle, strangely enough, is familiarity, or at least a perceived familiarity.The Swedish-born American philosopher and Nobel prize winner, Sissela Bok, in her book Lying, observed:

“To be given false information about important choices in [our lives] is to be rendered powerless. [Our] very autonomy may be at stake”

Many today have been rendered powerless by a misleading perception of what it is to be a Christian. People think they know all about it when church is mentioned and, on the basis of what they think they know, they make ill-informed decisions about some of the most important questions of life and faith.

The Christian Church, some think, is a comfortable club for the virtuous, a congregation of the pious, a crowd of the well-intentioned but out of touch. Further, rather like many of Jesus’ day, they equate piety and virtue with good fortune and, like Job’s comforters, insist that ill fortune is a sign of a life not lived well. This is basically blind superstition but it is the world’s picture of church.

But the Bible unties our lives from the worldly way of hanging every value judgement on good, or ill fortune, of thinking of our own piety and self-righteousness as essential in the race to some imagined heavenly pinnacle of achievement. There is no heavenly “greasy pole,” no career path to sainthood -  a much misunderstood word in itself.

Christian believers are urged to be a countercultural community. You see this in Paul’s contrasting the wisdom of the world with the wisdom of God.

“For the message of the cross,” he writes, “is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” He goes on to insist that, “the foolishness of |God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” 1 Cor.1:18&25)

He is not ascribing to God foolishness, nor is he saying God is somehow weak but he is drawing a stark contrast between the way man sees things and the way God sees things. When everyone seems to have a solution to the world’s problems, yet nothing seems to change, God has determined that the world’s wisdom will not be the means of knowing him, of putting things right. In the world’s “wise” estimation the message of the cross is foolish but in God’s wisdom people will come to know him through the message of Easter, through his crucified Son.

In his letter James insists that this “upside-down thinking” should work out in the everyday lives of Christians.

“The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pas away like a wild flower.” (Js.1:9-10)

Now, I like rich people, they can be and often are a blessing to the church and to society. I am also uncomfortably familiar with poverty and know the trials it brings. The trouble with both these states is that they pressurise us into concentrating on the world, either worrying about where our next million is coming from, or our next meal.

The rich, James insists, need to realise the temporary nature of worldly wealth and the fact  that it will not matter a jot when they stand before God. The poor, on the other hand, should find great consolation and encouragement in the fact that, in Christ, they enjoy high status, seated with him in heavenly realms (Eph.2:6) because of the life-changing message of Easter.

Both rich and poor may be saved but each faces trials in different ways that tempt them to think the way the world thinks. Christians, whatever their worldly status, will in God’s wisdom (Js.1:5) hold lightly both the riches and the cares of this world while holding firmly the sure promises of God in Christ.

Think about this; we could end up thinking quite differently about God, mankind, this world, this life, our inevitable departure from it, as well as the life to come. With such a radically different outlook how might our lives and the way we live them change? Where are to get the power to live this way? How might this impact the world around us, our neighbours, friends and family?

People think they know what they are dismissing when they dismiss the Christian message. I suggest they need to think again. If you are sick of this world’s wisdom that ends in conflict, complications, and injustice, if you are looking for values that actually make a difference, if you are seeking something countercultural that will release you from the way the world around you thinks. More than that, if you are seeking something that will make a profound difference in your own life, maybe you should find a good Bible-believing church this Easter and take another look at Jesus.

Familiarity needn’t breed contempt. It might breed respect and admiration, even awe and worship for the God who did what this world could never do – change everything forever. How radical do you want to get?

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Wise and Otherwise

100_0029There is something of wisdom that seems to elude us, no matter our intentions, as we step out into the word. We will sometimes say that wisdom comes with hindsight, that great gift of the armchair philosopher, the bar stool lawyer,the coffee shop counsellor. We like to think that with age comes wisdom and sometimes bemoan the fact that “you can’t put an old head on young shoulders.” Yet the truth is that youth has not yet cornered the market on folly, as many of us slightly older folk can testify.

The Bible has much to say about wisdom, especially the proverbs:

“Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who finds understanding…” (Prov.3:13) Wisdom is said to be better than jewels (8:11) and the one who loves wisdom is said to bring joy (29:3) Who is wise? The Bible tells us it is those who take advice (13:10) And how do we judge wisdom’s true worth, whether we are even in the presence of wisdom? How do we judge anything but by outcomes? Jesus tells us, wisdom is proved right by her actions (Mt.11:19)

It is easy to look at the other fellow and declare him a fool but aren’t we all guilty of  a nodding recognition of the claims of wisdom, rather as we would nod and tip our hat respectfully to the priest, or pastor across the road before continuing on our way untouched by the brief encounter?

In the same way, many will find their way to a church this Easter to pay their respects, do what somehow feels the right thing, perhaps to satisfy a nagging conscience. And glad we are to see them, may I add. For, whatever the reason, it is always good to see some coming within the sound of the great gospel message of Easter.

But let me tell you something about what happens after Easter. You see, the Easter story is the story of how the Son of God came into the world and, by his sacrifice, made it possible for we who are separated from God by sin to gain access to God through him. Paul describes very well what this means when he declares that those who put their trust in Christ have peace with God:

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.”" (Ro.5:1-2)

Grace is a gift from God, an expression of his mercy in the work of his Son. In his mercy he sent his Son to mend the relationship between you and God.  The exciting thing about this good news is that we now have access to God the Father. The writer to the Hebrews encourages us, Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Heb.4:16)

Did you get that? To help us in our time of need. Now where were we? Oh, yes, wisdom. Now, if there is anything this world seems to be short of, in desperate need of, it is wisdom. You would have a hard job finding anyone who would disagree with this claim. Frankly, it is hard to believe most of the time that it is being run by grown-ups, and the same situation will prevail in lives across the world after Easter. Now where on earth will we find the wisdom we need  to save us from – ourselves?

James tells us:

If any of you lacks wisdom , he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given him (Js.1:5)

Christ came to die for our sins and make peace between us and God. That peace is available to all who will trust in Jesus and it gives us access to God who is ready to give wisdom generously to anyone who asks. Whatever the rest of the world does, your life and my life can be different, better, wiser after Easter, because of Easter. Its not exactly rocket science. yet many still nod respectfully from a distance while others come ready to fill their boots with the wisdom of a scandalously generous God.

I guess Tobias Smollett was right when he said, Some folks are wise, and some are otherwise.  I hope and pray today will find you in the former category because Easter is coming, a gentle reminder of what it cost to make all this available. Any takers?

Monday, 14 April 2014

My Imperfect Faith

James, the half-brother of Jesus, and leader of the Jerusalem church has one letter preserved in our New Testament, but what a practical, challenging letter. It begins:

“Consider it pure joy, whenever you face trials of many kinds…”

Who writes stuff like that? Who would welcome such a letter? Can you imagine someone saying, “Is that the postman? I do hope there’s a letter from Uncle James?” Yet James has good and exciting reasons for writing like this, reasons why we should welcome such a letter:

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know the testing of your faith brings perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (Js.1:2-4)

Did you get that? Trials bring perseverance and perseverance makes us mature, completes us, so we lack nothing. There is a process here, a work being done in a Christian’s heart and life and it has the purpose of bringing us to Christian maturity.

Paul says something about this maturity in his letter to Christians in Ephesus:

It was [Christ] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Eph.4:11-13)

The ministries of the church exist to prepare and equip us for maturity. Maturity looks like Christ, so Paul talks about us “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” We were never meant to be a congregation of the sanctimonious, an audience of pew-sitters, a fidget of duty-bound Sunday clock-watchers, a gathering of the guilt-ridden.

The message of the gospel, the good news about Jesus Christ, is that he died for our sins so we could be a fully like him, “not lacking anything,” as James puts it, fully equipped and “prepared for works of service,” writes Paul. That equipping, that maturing, the growth into that state comes the same way every process of development comes, by perseverance in the face of trials and obstacles. So why are we so impatient with each other and with ourselves?

The truth is, we believe imperfectly (see through a glass darkly to quote a great phrase from Paul) and so should expect to experience frustration and disappointment as we learn to see, walk and live properly.

In this process our trust is not in what we know but in who we know. Our faith is not in what we can do but in what he has done. The lamp of our way is not in our own “self-realisation” but our Christ realisation.

We endure to the end, not consistently but determinedly because we know his plan for us. We are not good at  this Christian thing all time but we get better at it with the passing of time because he doesn’t give up on us and continues to work in us to bring us to maturity. It doesn’t depend on the strength of our faith but on our faith in his strength.

Of course, in our dealings with others, we are to be discerning but we are also to be forgiving because we are forgiven and know what it cost him and what a work he has done and continues to do in us. As we anticipate Good Friday we might consider how readily he forgives and how grudging we can be in our forgiving.

God’s plan is to bring all who trust in his Son to maturity and if the process we see in others looks a little messy we might remember that we were not promising material when he picked us up and set us on the path of perseverance to Christian maturity either.

I am so thankful today for the forgiveness of God, and for the forgiveness of God’s people, a sign of true maturity in his church.

Crucifixon picture Fred Holland

Sunday, 13 April 2014

A Dysfunctional Church: Where’s the Hope in That?

Today is Palm Sunday and, like billions all around the world, we spent our morning gathered with the church in fellowship. Many who don’t normally go to church will have been, or soon will be, invited to join with us in celebration of the great good news that Easter brings us.

There will be those, however, who will look on the church with some degree of cynicism and question the integrity of its claims, not so much for Jesus perhaps, whom they might admire, but for the church itself.

One correspondent this week frankly commented, “I have concluded that the Church is the largest disfunctional (sic) family that has ever existed.” He ended with, “Hopefully I may get a reply. However, I am not holding my breath!”

Well, he got his reply and I thought I might share it here.

Lets start with the idea of dysfunctionality. I see where you are coming from but suggest the problem is even greater. The largest dysfunctional family that has ever existed is the human race. No wonder, then, that the church faithfully reflects that dysfunctionality among its members since they are drawn from humanity itself. Two things stand out about the church that might be worth considering in this respect.

1. The difficulties of the church seem greater because they reflect the fact that the church is a particular refuge for people who want to flee this dysfunctional world and all its problems and they find refuge in the church. It is the church that a) is prepared to have them when often no one else will and b) offers any real hope for change.

2. The lives of countless Christians bear testimony to the fact that those who are seeking something better find real hope and consolation in the church, something usually overlooked in the rush to judge an imperfect church.

I acknowledge that the church is not perfect but then it is made up of people and people are not perfect. Indeed, the old adage stands, that if you find a perfect church don’t join it because you will only spoil it. With respect, this is true of you as much as it is true of me.

As to the “true church” [something we are discussing] I can only give you my own considered view on the subject. The best definition I have ever heard is “the people of God, gathered around the word of God, ready to do the will of God.”

This makes the church all faithful saints, or followers of the Way, in all ages, living or dead, past present and future who look to Jesus and trust his promises found in the Bible. This is not…a position arrived at by chance, or default but by reason, thought and careful investigation.

If you think you see otherwise I would draw your attention to Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the weeds.

Jesus told them another parable:

"The Kingdom of heaven is like this. A man sowed good seed in his field.
One night, when everyone was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. When the plants grew and the heads of grain began to form, then the weeds showed up.
The man's servants came to him and said, 'Sir, it was good seed you sowed in your field; where did the weeds come from?'  'It was some enemy who did this,' he answered. 'Do you want us to go and pull up the weeds?' they asked him. 
'No,' he answered, 'because as you gather the weeds you might pull up some of the wheat along with them.  Let the wheat and the weeds both grow together until harvest. Then I will tell the harvest workers to pull up the weeds first, tie them in bundles and burn them, and then to gather in the wheat and put it in my barn.' "

The “weeds” referred to here is a particular kind of weed called darnel, false grain, a member of the rye grass family and is only identified when the plants have sprung up and the differences are clearly seen. By this time it is too late because the weed winds its roots around the roots of the wheat, making it impossible to pull the weeds without pulling the wheat. I suggest sometimes we think we are looking at Christians when we are actually looking at darnel. The parable stands strong as a picture of God’s church.

Does this mean “true Christians” are perfect? Of course not but, while the “weeds” are usurpers with no productive purpose true Christians have life that has been imparted to them by grace through faith in Christ, the life-giver. These, whatever their dysfunctional background, will eventually grow to be Christ-like and it is this hope we hold onto as we celebrate the good news of Easter.

Unlike the weeds in the field, of course, these ‘cultural Christians,’ those who follow the ritual without really knowing the life, can come to know that life for and in themselves. For this we pray as we do all we can in Christ’s strength to be an example of saving faith. It is well to remember that Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Eph.5:25) We love what he loves and so, by his grace, we walk with the patience he shows, even to those who appear to the world to be dysfunctional.

Easter is good news indeed and I hope this coming Easter will find you meeting with the church where you are. Happy Easter…


Thursday, 10 April 2014


Well, its that time of year again. Here in the UK children and teachers are looking forward to the half-term break while parents are juggling their work/home time and worrying about how they will manage if they can’t get someone to help with childcare.

The sales of chocolate eggs will get confectioners excited and eggs will be carefully compared to see who got a Cadbury’s egg, who got something from Thornton’s and who got those eggs Lidl keep trying to tell us are just as good. The more prudent, of course, will wait until after Easter and pick up some bargains, while the even more sensible ones will realise that a big bar of chocolate costs a fraction of the price and you get more chocolate for your money.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses are already knocking doors and spoiling everyone’s fun by pointing out this is a pagan festival celebrating the Assyrian and Babylonian goddess of fertility, as though that would be uppermost in anyone’s mind as they wander the aisles of Wilkinson’s looking for chocolate eggs (sorry kids but your lucky to get Cadbury’s).

Family will come around at some point over the weekend of course and food has to be laid on. A home delivery would be good but a leaflet just came through the door promising meat joints (chicken is traditional, or should we have lamb?) at low prices at Lidl, as long as you are prepared to go and fetch it. Anyway, the wine there is a bargain and what’s Easter without a little tipple?

I suppose we’ll get an Easter card from Mike and Ann, though why they have to bring religion into it God knows! I mean, we might slope into a church Easter morning just to show our faces, show God we haven’t altogether forgotten him and, well, you never know, do you? Now where did I put that shopping list?