Good news!

Deep inside each of us we know that we ought to be good.  Perhaps it’s stronger than that, and we want to be good.  But we aren’t as good as we’d like to be, and we often disappoint ourselves and perhaps give up trying, and ignore our shortcomings – burying them in a busy and ‘important’ life.

Millions of years of ‘survival of the fittest’ evolution has honed our human nature to make sure that we thrive physically and materially, even if it is at the expense of others.  We want a better house, a better car, more money.  We want our country to be richer and have a better healthcare system than others.  We recognise that there are laws that we must obey, but we will find ways round them if we can if it improves our lot.  We might get angry about world situations; the dreadful behaviour of the Taliban, or Trump, or Putin, or global warming, or social injustice; demanding action from governments but perhaps being unwilling to actually do much, if anything ourselves.

In this environment, what is the relevance of and role of religion?  And what about God? And do They have anything to do with religion, or us?

Reliable historical texts describe that Jesus brought ‘good news’ to the people of Israel, and that he told his followers to take that good news to all nations.  The people he brought the good news to were probably not that different to us, although with less technology and material possessions; they had the same drives and motivations.  They felt the same disillusionments.  Yet many people were changed by the message he brought, transforming their lives and motivated to take his message to the world. 

So what was this ‘good news’ that Jesus brought, and why don’t we hear it today?

Basically, the good news was (and still is) that ‘You can be good, and this is what being good looks like.’

On top of that simple message, he brought us tools and techniques to help us, the primary one being the tool to free us from the ‘badness’ of our past.  Using his tools we can look forward to what we can become rather than being dragged back by our past mistakes. 

The tool that he offered was repentance; sincere regret and remorse.  But repentance alone is clearly not enough and might simply add a feeling of extreme guilt and worthlessness (who would want to subject themselves to that).  The ‘magic’ that Jesus brought was, and still is authoritative forgiveness.

Forgiveness only works if it is offered by someone with the authority to forgive; it doesn’t mean a thing if I forgive you for stealing, it needs a judge to do so.  In Jesus day the religious leaders recognised that ‘only God can forgive sins’ and so were angry that Jesus did so. 

Today, we don’t have the same understanding of God, and perhaps for us it is better to think of ‘infinite love’ or ‘infinite goodness’ instead of the God.  But how ever we look at it, the magic of Jesus clearly worked at the time and has continued to work ever since – if we repent and ask Jesus to forgive us then he does.

As I wrote in my book “Christianity – why bother?”:

“To live a rich and satisfying life in the future we have to accept that we made mistakes in the past.  We have to want to change for the better.  We have to want to wipe the slate clean and start again. And we do that by accepting God’s forgiveness.

It’s about accepting God’s unconditional love, and then working with Him to become who we are meant to be. And it starts with a decision to submit leadership of our life to Christ.

And this is freedom.

Freedom from the guilt of past sins.

Freedom to love God.

Freedom to love one another.

Freedom to stop sinning and to do what is right without worrying about the future.

Freedom to trust Jesus when he tells us that he has come to bring life in abundance.

Freedom from religious ritual.

In essence, that is the Good News of Christianity; that is the Gospel.”

And what is the role of religion?  Well religion should help us find this truth.  Religion should help us to understand who and what God is, and to help us see what ‘good’ looks like.  Unfortunately, much religion today seems to want to show what is good by living the opposite – a perverse sort of reverse psychology.  Nevertheless, there are many good and solid leaders and grass roots members of religions who are simply trying to tread a good path, trying to live graciously with one another.  Being part of such a community can be a great help and encouragement, and can bring companionship on our journey.  Spending an hour or two of ‘spiritual’ reflection once a week helps us maintain focus and direction.  So yes, there is still a role for religion.

Money, Church, Jesus and me.

There is a church which has assets of £8,700,000,000 at the start 2020, at the start of the pandemic.  The nation struggled and many were in financial despair.  What might Jesus have hoped that the church would do?

The church did not ‘hide their gold in the ground’, or put it in a deposit account earning perhaps 1% return. Instead it invested its assets and achieved a growth of 10.4% in the year.  Would Jesus have been happy with that stewardship of the money?

The church spent some of the money that they received, but at the end of 2020 the assets of the church had grown by £500,000,000 to £9,200,000,000.  Is God blessing that church with growth?

“You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.”

Over Christmas, a small church agreed to spend £1000 to make up food hampers for those on Free School Meals.  As a result, fifty families were blessed.  People were inspired to donate towards the cost of the parcels, which meant that it actually cost the church nothing.  Was God rewarding their generous spirit?

I saw a Facebook post recently that made me think:

It is so easy to criticize those who have more money than us.  But we could equally say:

There is a charity, set up by a Christian pastor, which buys and builds houses that are loaned to local churches to house and support vulnerable homeless people.  So far they have housed 1226 people.  They raise the money through people investing in their project rather than by donating money.  They offer a 5% financial return on investment so that investors have the twin benefit of knowing that a homeless person is being housed and loved, and getting an above average return on investment. (https://www.greenpastures.net/)   The charity is growing; does that make Jesus smile?

We may worry about money; it is natural.  Everything today is described by its economic value, or the cost to do it; phrases and a culture used to justified austerity.  In such an environment it is hard not to put a financial value on everything, and to be thrifty.  Consider another quote that I came across said:

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.”  Noam Chomsky

That is today’s truth. Greed is now accepted as good in this country. People simply debate how much greed. But we don’t call it greed, we use phrases like ‘reserves’, ‘savings’, ‘retirement plan’ to avoid confronting whether we should be keeping our money to ourselves.  Jesus said:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Dealing with money is not easy, but it is SO important.  It must not become our treasure, but it is certainly a tool.  It allows us to be a blessing to others in as little time as writing a cheque – and time is a stress for many. It blesses us to bless others, but if we agonise about the smallest financial decision then our worrying steals our time, our energy, and can lead to conflict!  We need to train ourselves to be instinctively generous.  We might reflect on these phrases of Jesus, remembering that he spoke them because he loves us; because they are good for us:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”

“Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.”

“None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”

And as St Paul wrote:

“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”

Seeking adventure?

There is an account in the gospels of Jesus sleeping in a boat while a storm rages and seems about to sink it.  The disciples wake Jesus, he calms the storm and then says to his followers “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

Usually we take from this story that Jesus has the power to calm storms, and that we can ask him to calm the storms in our lives.  i.e. call out to Jesus so that we can live placid boring lives. But I think the message is different. 

I was on a sailing boat in storm force winds when a mast fitting broke. We had to get the sail down whilst being tossed in the massive waves, with wind and rain and spray.  It was exciting, we felt alive and ‘present’, …. and yet safe.  Our skipper was completely calm, and so we were confident that we would come to no harm; and we didn’t.  It was a joyful and exhilarating shared experience which we will all remember and which is a bond between us; so much more than flat seas and a gentle breeze.

So I think that instead of offering calm seas in our lives, Jesus is saying ‘I am in your boat, you are perfectly safe.  Go and enjoy the adventure.’ And it is with sadness that he has to calm our storm because we have so little faith.

Do you want adventure?  ‘Safe’ adventure?  Feel free to get in touch…

The Gifts

An enjoyable, thought provoking adventure. If you like this after reading it, please leave a positive review and rating.

Is Narnia All There Is?

Gifts that are wasted, plans that fail, a world on the brink of war………

The Gifts is now published! With a beautiful, perfect cover designed by Beck Hemsley. Worth buying for the cover alone. Thanks to all those who helped along the way: there are too many of you to mention, but especial thanks go to Edwina Mohtady, all the writers in Rugby, Beck Hemsley and Izzy Jarvis.

I am so happy – and slightly scared…

Available on Amazon as a paperback for £8.99 of the Kindle version for £1.99

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1 John 3:17-18 Beira

In March 2019 Cyclone Idai devastated much of Mozambique.  Local contacts identified that despite humanitarian relief being provided by major aid agencies many people were missing out – particularly the elderly – and in desperate need of help.  Privately sent funds were used by the team in Beira to provide emergency food hampers and water, and then to help repair and rebuild houses. This work highlighted the ongoing need for financial help.

In view of the clear and ongoing need and opportunity, and to build on this initial successful partnership, in the UK we established the charity “1 John 3:17-18 Beira”, and in Mozambique our partners have registered their project with the government: “Associacao Esperanca Aos Vulneravies” (Hope Association for the Vulnerable).

Each month a list of needs is created by the local team of volunteers in Beira (see photo), and those needs which can be funded are agreed.  1 John 3:17-18 Beira then sends the money.  At the end of each month a report is received confirming how the funds were used, and providing photographs of the work, ensuring accountability.

The charity currently supports around seventy of the poorest people with food and fuel.  We have built more than ten houses for those whose homes were demolished, and repaired many more. We support nursing students, apprentices, and those doing short term courses (IT, electrician, baking). We have provided business loans to around ten people. We have provided nearly a hundred fuel efficient stoves and planted over fifty trees.

Members of Associacao Esperanca Aos Vulneravies

The local team are passionate to improve the chances for the poor.  At the most immediate level this involves providing food, fuel and medication for those who simply have no income. Blankets have been given to help keep warm at night in winter. Mosquito nets have been given out too.

Some of the beneficiaries receiving food, oil, soap and blankets

Materials and where necessary labour are provided for repairing houses, adding cyclone protection measures and building new houses where homes have been destroyed.  Innovative and environmentally friendly approaches to construction are being investigated, such as using waste plastic bottles as building material.

Education and training, and earning a living

In addition the project is able to make grants for school fees and uniforms, and for training and apprenticeships. These often cost less than £50 each, but give the beneficiary a future. 

Small start-up business loans are made to pay for initial stock or in one case to buy a small cart to transport goods.  Again these loans are often less than £50, and the recipients pay back as they can so that funds can be used for future loans.

Environmental projects that help the community

The team have worked with a local potter to design and manufacture efficient cooking stoves which not only save the user money by needing less charcoal, but also reduce CO2 emissions.  These cost under £3 each, and are sold to those who can afford them or given freely to those who cannot.

A tree planting project is just beginning, with a first batch of fifty five trees being planted costing a little over £1 each.  The local team would love to launch a programme of planting a million trees in Mozambique, in Beira and outside, and engaging pastors to encourage their members to plant trees.

The future

The Associacao Esperanca Aos Vulneravies members continue to identify people with needs, and since the registration of the project there are more people able to help in the work. 

In addition to continuing and growing the current work, we would like to provide toilets and drill wells for poorer communities.  Many living with HIV refuse to take medication, and so we would like to establish counselling support.

We have reached a state where the funding that we are providing needs to increase to keep pace with the project opportunities, and so we are asking people of goodwill to join us in sending funds to support projects which are making a real difference in the lives of fellow human beings in one of the poorest countries in the world.

If you wish to support the project, please contact us at 1john31718beira@gmail.com

Thank you.

Phil and Cathy Hemsley, and John McCoach.  Trustees, 1 John 3: 17-18 Beira

Our role in tackling climate change

Tackling climate change is not just the job of government.  We all have to do our bit. We all have to change our habits, particularly today when renewable energy is insufficient to meet demand and when demand is growing.

Demand is us.  Growth in demand is us.

Yes, government can offer grants and subsidies for insulation, for improved heating and for solar panels but we have to take up those offers.  And this is one area where the government can and should do more, with pubic information advertising.  We need a culture change.

We need to choose low energy foods, locally sources, less meat, less waste.

We need to think before we drive.  Every mile we drive causes global warming of ten square metres – is that an incentive to walk, or cycle, or take a train?

We need to think before we fly.  Do we really need to go half way round the planet on holiday?  Or to that meeting (I know one example of a business trip comprising a flight to Australia, a one hour meeting, a flight straight back.  And I was summoned to Brussels for a meeting but was bumped off the agenda).  Can we use the train instead, and make that part of the ‘adventure’?

Do we really need to wash our clothes so often, on such a high temperature? Do we really need to wash ourselves so often, on such a high temperature, for such long showers?

Do we really need to heat all of our houses for so long, to such a high temperature?

These are but a few examples.

There is so much that we can do without any detriment to our joy of life, but which will make such a difference.  But we need to accept low energy decisions as the ‘norm’. 

Supreme power and love indwelling all of space and time, or cheerless physics?

We live in an age of information. I know there is fake news, but there is a vast wealth of knowledge. You can find almost anything you need to know on-line.  Yet just a few decades ago nobody could even conceive of the internet.

It didn’t happen spontaneously. We got here through the hard work and inspiration of highly intelligent designers and visionaries.

Imagine now a vast cloud of molecules in space, the debris perhaps of an exploded star.  Just a collection of atoms and molecules: hydrogen, iron, oxygen, beryllium, carbon, nitrogen, silicone … a little bit of everything perhaps.  But a vast, lifeless, formless cloud drifting in space.

Imagine that there are no influences acting on the cloud of molecules apart from the forces of physics; gravity, weak and strong nuclear interaction, and electromagnetic forces.

We can imagine that those inanimate forces are sufficient to cause the molecule cloud to collapse into a star and some planets.  Over billions of years, gravity slowly pulls the gases together to form a solar system.

But can we imagine that those basic forces are sufficient to organise the lifeless cloud into a butterfly,  a magnolia tree or a human being?

Can we imagine that those basic forces are sufficient to organise the matter that they act on into the internet?  That the molecules organise themselves unaided into a smartphone, or the Mona Lisa, or a performance of Beethoven’s seventh symphony?

Take a molecule cloud, leave it completely alone for ten billion years, come back and you will find fitbits, contraceptive pills and life-forms intent on destroying themselves and each other.

Just through the laws of physics?

Intelligence creating itself, life with all its complexity spontaneously initiating and evolving.

Just through the laws of physics?

Love,  joy,  purpose existing without any material form that you can touch or measure.  Great stories and legends; “The Lord of the Rings” expressed in a myriad of forms…

All of these, with the only ingredients of a molecule cloud and the laws of physics.  Really?

Or is there something more? 

Something which indwells all of space and time, sustaining matter and the forces that act on it, imbuing form on the formless,  bestowing intelligence and ‘self’ on lifeforms, giving purpose to material and non-material reality.  Intelligence that gives intelligence.  Life that gives life? An eternal ‘something’, or ‘someone’ without cause but within everything?

If I put my pride aside, it seems to me that the universe, life, and love point to there being a supreme and eternal, creating, sustaining and loving God.

Not cheerless physics.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Why choose a renewable electricity tariff?

Can I really buy renewable electricity, or is the whole renewable tariff thing just a political stunt?

It is to an extent political, and it is to an extent how capitalism works. 

Starting with how the grid and distribution system works:

Imagine instead of electrons, the grid is a big water reservoir (the power pool).  It is essential that the amount of water in the reservoir stays constant. We are on the south side taking out water, so someone needs to put in water to cover what we take out.  We used to just buy water from the ‘pool’, but today we have to buy from someone who is putting water into the reservoir.  Say we agree with someone on the north side that they will put in what we use.  It’s clear that we won’t actually take out the water molecules that they put in.  In fact, if someone next to us is putting in water, we will probably actually take out their molecules.  But one molecule is the same as another and so it doesn’t make any difference.  The point is, we have made an agreement, outside of the reservoir, with someone who is putting water into it.  So we might choose a ‘renewable water’ provider (e.g. a rainwater collector) to put water into it, and then we claim that we are using renewable water – it is as if we had a direct pipe from them to us.

But, if we didn’t make that agreement with the rainwater collector, he would still put his rainwater into the reservoir!  So what’s the benefit of us making the agreement to buy electricity from him?

Well, he had to invest in his rainwater capture system, and he needs to know that he’s going to get his investment back.  If he doesn’t have a specific agreement for the water he captures then he will only be able to sell his water at the price anyone will pay – which may be close to zero!  So by choosing to buy ‘renewable water’ we would be allowing him to know that he can safely invest in his new plant and get his money back.

Buying from a renewable tariff is the mechanism whereby politics and capitalism invests in renewable energy.  And it seems to be working!  The proportion of wind and solar has grown dramatically, at the expense of coal.

(source https://www.ofgem.gov.uk/data-portal/electricity-generation-mix-quarter-and-fuel-source-gb)

So in practice, are we using renewable energy each time we switch on a light? 

No, not at all.  There would be a certain mix of generation producing the power that everyone else is using before we switch on our light.  That would already include all the renewable sources, and ‘carbon free’ nuclear.  Every extra kW that has to be generated would come from fossil fuel.  i.e. every time we switch on a light, the marginal generation will be the highest carbon producer!  Hence we should continue to minimise our usage, even on a renewable tariff. 

And it will be the same if we have solar panels and generate our own electricity – every kW that we don’t use will prevent someone else having to use fossil fuel generated electricity so we should still minimise our use.

As the amount of renewables increases though, we may get to the stage where there is no fossil fuel generation at all.  When we reach that point, we still need to balance the peaks and troughs of demand but with unpredictable renewable supply.  For that reason people are developing ways of storing the overproduced electricity (like if we fit panels, we might fit a battery to save the electricity generated when the sun shines for when we need it).   I recently did a bit of consultancy work for a company developing a compressed air energy storage project – a bit like pumped storage at Dinorwig but using compressed air pumped in to vast salt caverns underground. 

Another way to store the excess electricity is to convert it through electrolysis into hydrogen gas.  And gradually the expectation is that hydrogen will replace natural gas in the grid – hence some organisations who want to fit gas heating are buying ‘hydrogen ready’ equipment.  But to my mind, that will be a long way off, and since hydrolysis process is only around 60% efficient, gas must be less energy efficient that direct use of renewable electricity.

Carbon offsetting is again a mechanism whereby politics and capitalism can lead to the right projects going ahead.  The route is a bit indirect, and it can be an excuse to keep burning fossil fuels and so it should only be the last resort.

Hope this makes things clearer…

Is there place for God and religion in today’s world?

The first thing to realise is that we are all living in a computer generated world, and that we are living in the past.  Nothing exists in the form that we perceive it, and by the time we perceive it, it has already happened.

That steaming cup of coffee that you see is just the result of your eyes, optic nerves and brain processing photons that hit the back of your retina.  You are experiencing a brain (computer) generated model of what you now understand to be a cup of coffee.

Your brain’s processing inherently includes a delay to allow all of the bits of information to ‘catch up’.  It takes longer for visual stimuli to be processed than it does for sounds. When you experience the crash of your cup on the floor your brain has had to delay presenting the event to your consciousness until the signals from both your ears and your eyes have arrived.  Our reaction time is evidence of this, and the fact that we react faster to sounds than to lights.  If you start a sprint race with a gun then the sprinters set off faster than if you start it with a flash of light – although the speed of sound is much slower than the speed of light.

So we do not experience the world as it is, but we experience a three dimensional model created within our brain. 

As a child I used to wonder ‘does the colour green look the same to me as it does to you?’  Today I would answer almost certainly ‘no’.  First of all, we know that some people are colour-blind, and so all colours must be perceived differently by them.  And our eyes all have different sensitivities to shades of colours, and so the raw data that our brain has to process must be different between individuals.

But would we have the same ‘experience’ of the colour of our coffee cup if our brains received identical signals?  That is a hard one, because we can’t really explain what it means to ‘experience’ a colour. (Google ‘qualia’ to find out more).

So although our bodies live in real time, we ‘experience’ a computer generated world that has already happened.

Weird.

But weirder perhaps is to ask what we mean by ‘we’.  What is the ‘me’ that experiences this computer generated world?  Warning – science cannot answer this, it’s the meat and drink of philosophy; the discussion of abstract ideas by bright people who build arguments on certain basic assumptions that they continually disagree about.

My subjective view is that there is a ‘me’ that experiences things.  I interact with my brain (and hence body, and hence world) and can influence but not control what my brain and body does.  I can influence what my consciousness presents to me (ignoring distractions when focused on a task for instance), and I can influence how my body responds to things – but I am not really in control.  Just think of a tennis player returning a 140mph serve; there is no time for them to get directly involved in the process of selecting which direction to go, or what shot to play.  They have to leave the action up to their body. But they can influence what their body’s reaction will be by training, by giving it a strategy such as “don’t try to hit a winner off every shot”, and then they need to get out of the way!  Sportsmen know that consciousness gets in the way of winning; thinking too carefully about how to play a shot at best slows things down and at worst causes us to make a mess of it.

When we think about it we realise that ‘we’ have relatively little influence on what our minds and bodies do, and yet ‘we’ get to experience it all! 

And yet ‘we’ are unexplainable. To try to understand the unexplainable ‘we’, and much to the chagrin of materialistic scientists, we use terms like ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’ to define ‘us’. And we believe that other people have souls and spirit too.  And we spend a lot of time and money trying to find ways to interact with our brain/bodies that will lead to our soul’s wellbeing.  So much advertising money is spent on encouraging us to buy products to bring us ‘peace of mind’ or other palliatives for the soul.

It is natural, and not at all illogical, to imagine that in the same way that you and I are tiny individual souls (that happen to inhabit a bunch of chemicals that we had nothing to do with initiating) there is an overarching bigger ‘soul’ who initiated the material universe of space and time (God).  And if our individual soul ‘experiences’ interaction with this bigger soul then there is all the more reason to believe in its existence.  But of course, this can be frustrating to those souls who have not had similar experience…

So yes, there is a place for God in today’s world.  There is good intellectual reason to believe that there is a God, and this is reinforced by the experience and evidence of many witnesses who report interaction with and experience of God.  These interactions have been documented for millennia and continue today.  And there are many who feel that they have directly experienced such an ‘interaction’ yet believe that there is a larger ‘soul’, or God.   

In response to concluding that there is a God and recognising that our very existence is a gift, it is also natural to want to give thanks for that gift and to want to make best use of the gift.  Hence there is a place for religion too in today’s world.

How about you?  If you haven’t recognised them yet – why not start seeking God for yourself?

Have a blessed day.

How do I live a good life?

Nobody wakes up in the morning and thinks, “I’m going to hurt as many people and do as much damage as I can”, unless they are mentally deranged.  Usually we don’t even think about how we are going to live our day, but if we did we’d think something like “I’m going to try to be nice to people, to do my job well, to keep the environment safe”. 

Yet if we look back at the end of a day we are more than likely to think “I wasn’t very nice to X, I did that bit of work badly, I didn’t need to drive so fast”.   And most like as not, we would then justify our actions in our head to make us feel better, “He caught me at a bad moment,  I was late for lunch and wasn’t given time to do a good job,  that idiot in front of me was dawdling and I needed to get home.”  But we have let ourselves down.  We have not been the person we want to be, or could be.  And when we find ourselves doing the same thing every day we avoid thinking about it, and are likely to get angry if someone points it out to use.

There is a better way.  There is a way to be the people we want to be.  And it starts with understanding what’s going on.  An ancient letter written by Saul of Tarsus helps to enlighten us: 

Within us we have two ‘natures’.  We have our ‘sinful nature’ and we have our ‘spirit’.

Out sinful nature is that part of us which clamours ‘me, me, me’ all the time.  Its roots are in the animal instinct that successfully evolved us to survive when everything else was out to eat us, and where if we didn’t grab something for ourselves then something else would.  It is the instinct which leads a lion to defend its territory, the instinct which leads a gerbil to eat its young if there is not enough food, the instinct that leads the black widow spider to eat its mate.  It is the instinct that leads us to crave riches, to accumulate wealth beyond what we can ever use.  It is the instinct which says that the human beings in my tribe are more important than the human beings in yours.

And then there is our spirit.  Our spirit is revolted by the idea of eating our young; we know that we should not eat our babies.  It is our spirit which leads us to help and to make sacrifices for those who are suffering:  looking out for those shielding in the Covid crisis, giving to food banks, marching in Black Lives Matter rallies, campaigning to save the environment.  Our spirit calls us to love, and to goodness.

The ancient letter describes the consequences of following each ‘nature’.  Obeying the spirit leads to life and peace.  But giving in to our sinful nature leads to death; death of love, death of peace, death of goodness.  We become filled with anger, guilt, bitterness, self-pity, depression and despair.

We are slaves to whatever we choose to obey. But many are not willing to make that choice.  We flip flop between doing what we know is right and good, and giving in to our selfish ‘lusts’.  And we live in a constant state of dissatisfaction and guilt.  We strive for more wealth, but it doesn’t satisfy.  And at the same time we wish that injustice would go away; “how can we have food-banks in our country?”

Even if we were to say ‘I choose to obey the spirit, to love and to be good’ we would still find ourselves failing.  And at the end of the day we would be full of guilt and shame, and like as not we would give up.  “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak”. We need help. 

And there is help available, and hope.  If we have made that decision to obey the spirit, and we do sinful or selfish things then the ancient letter tells us that it is not us that does them, but the sinful nature within us.  It is just that our spirit is not strong enough.  We need to strengthen our spirit, to resist the temptations to give up.  And we can do that. 

The spirit within us is a bit like a battery, it has power but only a limited amount.  We need to plug into the mains.  We need to connect our spirit battery to the mains supply of the spirit that is called the Holy Spirit; an inexhaustible supply of love and goodness – God.   Then the power of sin can be broken.  And how do we connect?  We ask.  We speak with God; we pray.

And we also need to reinforce our decision by focusing on what is good, by giving honour and praise to goodness and love – resisting out sinful nature telling us not to be a ‘goody-goody’.  We remind ourselves of the importance and value of self-sacrificial love.  In a word, we need to worship love and goodness.

We may still do sinful things, but we can plug back in to the mains, pick ourselves up and start again.  We do that by ‘repenting’; an old fashioned word that means wishing that we hadn’t done it and committing to try again. Part of repenting is accepting and confessing that we’ve sinned.  Then we receive forgiveness for what we did wrong and be re-energised to follow the spirit again.  We know that we receive forgiveness because Jesus – God – said that we are to forgive, and so we know that he will forgive us.  And if we are particularly stubborn about accepting that love and goodness (God) would forgive us, then we look at Jesus’s crucifixion; he gave himself as the ritual sacrifice that the Jewish people believed carried off their sins.  And we look at his resurrection – showing that those sins had been dealt with.

When we deliberately choose to obey the spirit, it is empowering.  We do things that please the spirit, and it makes us feel alive.  It brings us peace.  We take joy in the good that we do, and we are able to actively love others.

Think of people you know.  Can you recognise any who are obeying and following the spirit?  It is written that “By their fruit they will be known”.   Fruit that you might look out for are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Wouldn’t we all like to be like that? 

We can be!