Monthly Archives: September 2013

Paraphernalia

Paraphernalia. Another fun word, like Misnomers. Rolls off the tongue. Para-pher-nal-i-a. Someone should write a song about it.

Before taking up my current job nearly 10 years ago, paraphernalia probably wasn’t a word I would have immediately associated with drug use, as I do now. Syringes, foil, spoons, filters, etc…all the bits of equipment that go with injecting drug use, are often termed ‘paraphernalia’.

  1. 1.    par·a·pher·na·lia  

/ˌparəfə(r)ˈnālyə/

Noun

  • Miscellaneous articles, esp. the equipment needed for a particular activity.
  • Trappings associated with a particular institution or activity that are regarded as superfluous.

(Google definitions)

Any activity, hobby or institution has its paraphernalia. The other day I saw a leaflet advertising cycling gear and almost salivated as I thought, “Mm, I wouldn’t mind some new cycling gear”. I love cycling and would get a buzz from buying some new equipment, with good intentions about getting back into cycling.

Thing is, though, I haven’t used my bike for months, won’t realistically get round to cycling again till next summer at the earliest, and have all the equipment I need anyway. I engaged my brain and resisted the temptation to make an unnecessary purchase.

Unlike my sporadic cycling, I do run regularly, and there’s nothing like the purchase of new running shoes to thrill my soul.

The buzz of paraphernalia.

But those shoes would be an expensive waste of money if I didn’t run.

In the same way, drug users can sometimes develop a ‘needle fixation’ – an obsession with the injecting equipment because of its psychological association with the drug itself – leading to an urge to inject, with or without the drug. To inject for the sake of injecting.

The buzz of paraphernalia.

Isn’t it strange how, with any activity, we can become attached to peripheral, unimportant things and lose sight of the one central thing without which those peripheral things are useless, irrelevant, worthless.

But if you know me or my blog, you’ll know by now that this post is not about cycling or running. And although I’ve written before about addiction, this is not even about drug use.

I’m one of those many Christians who have spent (and maybe wasted) countless hours over the years discussing different worship styles and why one way may be better than another.

Some churches have endured debates about chairs vs pews. Or encountered divisions over service books and dissension over music styles.

Some Christians will get excited about the latest Matt Redman or Hillsong album. Others will become animated with eager anticipation about going to hear some famous, ‘anointed’ speaker. We might even catch a buzz from buying a brand-new Bible.

The buzz of paraphernalia.

OK, that’s not all bad. It’s natural to get excited about minor things. And it’s OK to be passionate about issues close to our hearts.

The problem comes when we rely on the next CD / event / book etc, or on church being how we want it to be, for our next spiritual ‘fix’.

Getting our buzz

from Christian paraphernalia.

Peripheries.

Or making the superficialities more important than the central thing. Being over-bothered about styles of service, ways of worship or versions of books.

Obsession with Christian paraphernalia creates resistance to change, diverting us from the central mission Jesus calls us to, so that churches remain inward-focused and ultimately implode.

As someone once said, “The main thing is to make the main thing the main thing”.

Attachment to church peripheries, like any dependency, erodes relationships.

In fact, maybe you’ve experienced hurt through someone else’s obsession with Christian paraphernalia – offended and damaged as a result of someone else’s skewed priorities. Then the solution, for you too, is to make the main thing the main thing.

So…

For us who call ourselves Christians, what is the main thing? What is the central thing?

My teenage son tells me that when he was younger, answering questions in Sunday School was easy, because the answer was always ‘Jesus’!

So the answer is ‘Jesus’. But what does that mean – making Jesus the main thing?

If this were an evangelical preacher’s sermon, there would now follow 3 points, all beginning with the same letter, as if the Christian life were that neat and easy!

The Bible isn’t that neat, and your answer will be different from mine. But here are a few of my suggestions, as to what it might mean to make the main thing the main thing:

Treating our Christian brothers and sisters with respect, kindness, forgiveness and generosity, no matter how much we disagree with them. Especially over worship styles, service formats or any other peripheral thing!

Doing the same for those who wouldn’t call themselves Christians, showing them how great God’s grace is.

Putting the needs of others before our own. Especially, if we’re married, those of our spouse.

Caring for those who are poor, struggling, suffering with mental or physical ill health, or in some other way marginalised.

Achieving this by drawing on Jesus’ love and strength, through prayer.

Growing in knowing and being shaped by God, through prayer, reflecting on his words, etc.

Creatively, with the Holy Spirit’s guidance, finding ways to share the good news of Jesus with others.

When we get either excited or discontented by Christian paraphernalia, perhaps we could ask ourselves:

“Does this argument / debate / purchase / activity promote the main thing, or do I have the Christian equivalent of a needle fixation, obsessed with peripheral things?”

What are you passionate about? What animates you? Is it the main thing, or paraphernalia?

And (a hint to my family) will I get that new Matt Redman album – Your Grace Finds Me – for my birthday?

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The Source

I went to a wedding, recently, of two beautiful young people. The bride, Katy, is my wife’s goddaughter.

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I love weddings. Like most people probably, I enjoy seeing love being celebrated and of course I can’t resist a slap-up meal! This couple put on a hog roast. I’d never had a hog roast before and, although I’m not much of a carnivore (I’m no vegetarian but nor do I have the cravings that many people have for bacon sandwiches or KFC, and I’ll often go for veggie options), I have to say that the hog roast was delicious!

But it wasn’t just an enjoyable service and a quality meal. It wasn’t even just the celebration of two people committing their lives to each other with sincerity and adoration that was so special.

All those things are a justifiable source of joy, but there was a far more significant ingredient to this wedding. A fourth dimension, you might say.

These two young friends, Katy and Darach, exude the joy of an active faith in God. The service emphasised that the love they have for each other is rooted in their love for God and his love for them. The Source of their love was recognised, celebrated and worshipped.

Couples who have this 3-way relationship (i.e. with God at the centre) tend to have longer, happier marriages. As one writer put it, a cord of three strands is not easily broken. 1

He is the glue that holds Christian marriages together. His love sustains couples who pray and worship together, through the years. A common bond, stronger than any shared hobby or grudging tolerance. A love divine, filtered through human hearts, that doesn’t always prevent arguments and disagreements, but overcomes them, and selflessly gives and forgives.

At the wedding, one of the readings contained these words:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 2

Whoa, hang on! What does that mean?

Don’t Christians claim that only Christians are children of God and know God?

And yet aren’t there lots of really loving atheists, Muslims, and people of other faiths who love their partners and children generously, forgivingly, adoringly?

And don’t these words from the Bible – the Christians’ book – suggest that anyone who loves is a child of God? Not just Christians?

Have we been mis-sold the Bible’s words?

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the Bible is a rather special book (or collection of books). Its words have the power to transform lives. To open up hearts to the reality and love of God. To set people free from emotional and spiritual chains.

It’s also a book of mystery, of surprise, of wonder. It’s not a text book of systematic theology. That’s one of the things I love about it. It’s like walking through a wild, picturesque, mountain scene – one of magical majesty, of inspiration, and even danger. It’s not neat, clean and tidy. Not ordered. There are hazards, twists and turns, but you wouldn’t miss it for the world.

The Bible is this incredible array of poetry, history, songs, letters, metaphors and, yes, teaching. There’s even an ancient version of Fifty Shades of Grey (Song of Songs) in there. All pointing us towards knowing this Creator, this Saviour, this Lover.

Just as the Bible contains mystery, surprise and wonder, so does God. You know what us Christians are like – we sometimes think we know God’s mind, and we write books systematising the Bible and God. Ha ha! But God won’t be tied down like that – nor will his book.

What we do find as we read through the Bible, is that it’s often the most surprising people who are closer to God than the religious people – time after time after pagan time!

An atheist who cares about his neighbour, an agnostic who loves her husband with reklentless devotion, a gay person volunteering at a homeless shelter – these may be closer to God than a ‘Christian’ who has all the ‘right’ theology but whose heart is hard and cold to the people around him.

During the wedding service, as we worshipped this Lover, I pondered the words that had been read from the apostle John’s letter, and thought about how extensively this love flows throughout our world. How this love turns up in the most surprising places.

And yet this love is not always recognised. People let it slip through their fingers – before their eyes. They may dismiss it. They may be afraid of it. They may not recognise it as God, as Jesus. Perhaps they think that religious people are hypocrites, so why bother with it? Or they may say ‘it’s just not for me’.

Others, like Katy and Darach, recognise this love as Jesus. They follow him. They hold on to the Source of love, and let him hold on to them.

They worship him, they receive his Spirit. He will keep their love alive. He will enable them to overcome their disagreements that will inevitably arise. He will heal the difficulties in their relationship that will undoubtedly come their way. His love will enable them to laugh, to cry, with each other and with others. His love will cause their love to grow. Because he is the Source.

One final thought…

Towards the end of the Address, the preacher (whose first name was Israel – great name , eh?) began to say, “I don’t know what you think about Christianity….”

And I thought, “OK, he’s going to appeal directly to non-Christians – that’s good, but I hope he’s not going to be too long or cringe-worthy”.

What he said was this: “God loves you just as you are, and he wants you to come to him”. That was it. That was all. The one sentence. Finito. End of Address.

Have you ever heard such a brief gospel!! Imagine Billy Graham addressing thousands of people at some big stadium, after months of planning and preparation, and all he says is:

“God loves you just as you are, and he wants you to come to him”.

You can imagine the organisers fretting and stressing. “What, is that it?!!” We’ve booked this stadium for that?!!

“God loves you just as you are, and he wants you to come to him”.

Couldn’t have put it better myself.

IMG_1026a

1. Ecc 4:12

2. 1 John 4:7-8

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FLY

The first poem I’ve written since I was 19. Inspired by a fly that was distracting me when I was trying to write my next post…

Normal blog service will be resumed soon…

 

FLY

O fly,

Sorry I’m not a Buddhist

Or even a Hindu

Or else you’d be safe

From my pesticidal spray.

 

I’m after you

You who can fly

But cannot hide.

 

Fly, oh fly

Why oh why

Do you

Continue

To fly?

 

You’re not fly

Not even cool

Just a pesky

Annoying

Germ-carrying

Fly.

 

I’m after you

You who can fly

But cannot hide.

 

You never stop

Or drop like a fly

My aims are a flop

However I try.

 

With your three-sixty vision

And your jump-jet take-off

You think you’re so…

Fly.

 

And maybe you are…

 

But I’m after you

You who can fly

But cannot hide.

 

My blog is not being written

Oh fly

Are you a red herring

Or just a black housefly

You with the personality crisis?

 

My nemesis

In the kitchen

Despicable fly

I’m after you

You who can fly

But cannot…

 

Where have you hidden

While I’ve written

This silliness?

 

 

Fly (adjective) = very good, excellent; “cool; “awesome” (The Online Slang Dictionary)