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6 ways in which sins are like bug bites

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‘Tis summer, the season of mosquitoes and other bugs stinging and biting us. In many ways, bug bites are like sins:


Photo: Hardo Müller, reused under CC License

1. They can be debilitating and deadening. For some sins, in particular addictions, this is easier to see (but harder to break out of!); while some menial sins do not seem altogether so bad. But, when we sin, there is that part of us that acts as though it were deaf to God. Dull, and numb.

2. Scratching them can be the worst thing to do. Focusing on our sin and responding to them “naturally”, on our own, is likely to only aggravate them. In a few cases, the sting, or the tick, etc., must be removed first and the venom sucked out. Whilst this can often be achieved without outside help, the correct strategy may not be the intuitive one, and external help is definitely beneficial – especially in places that are harder to reach.

3. They are often easy to hide from view. Yet hiding them does not make them go away. We know they’re here, and far more importantly, they are known to God.

4. Mosquito nets are available, but they are only practical in so many situations. Otherwise, we might trip on them! It is easier, and feels safer to remain sheltered from the world, but that also stops us from being effective in mission.

5. Bug repellent is also available, but in order to be effective, it needs to be put up regularly and properly. Disciplines can help avoid sin, but they have to be applied with due diligence.

6. We don’t actively seek to be bitten, yet it does happen. We, individually, bear no responsibility in the bite. But we react to it, even when this is not intentional; and it is that reaction which causes the actual itching.

10 ways stripping wallpaper is like getting rid of sin

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If you’ve ever redecorated, you’ll probably have had to go through the tedious experience of removing the garish wallpaper left by the previous tenants or by yourself. In many ways, this is like getting rid of sin:


1. Some of the wallpaper you remove will have been left as an inheritance: not all of it is a result of your own personal poor taste. However, blaming it on the previous owners/tenants will not mean it’s not there: it needs to be removed even if it’s not there through your own fault.

2. In some spots, the old wallpaper may come away very easily in huge strips. Yet in other spots, you need to use the scraper and work at it more. It would be rather pointless to only remove the wallpaper where it comes off easily. There are some obvious habits that are easier to get rid of than others.

3. In those particular spots where the old wallpaper had been too well glued, it comes away little bit by little bit, through repetitive motion. It’s a slow process and it can be tiring and frustrating, especially when you don’t see the results coming in as fast as they did when that huge pane just came off. But while progress is less visible, it is still there and you gotta keep at it.

4. It is greatly helped by the application of water. But simply applying water, with no resolve to then apply the scraper, is rather useless. This application can come in a variety of forms (steamer, sponge…) which are sufficient to the removal of the stubborn wallpaper.

5. It is easier to do with outside help – friends, family, professionals. Yet this does not mean that you should go into other people’s homes and strip their wallpaper without their say-so, no matter how well-meaning you might be!

6. The whole process is made far more enjoyable with an ample supply of tea. (Come on, this is Ed’s Slipper after all). More seriously, though, removing wallpaper does not have to be sad and solemn: friends, music, conversation: all these can help!

7. Getting rid of the old wallpaper shows the wall to be bare and rough and imperfect. It can reveal some deeply hidden secrets, some glorious, some shameful, and some we weren’t even aware of. If the wall had feelings, it probably would feel exposed and vulnerable.

8. This bare state is not an end in itself: it is preparation for the application of new wallpaper – for a new identity. But it is necessary to remove the old – and to remove it thoroughly – before the new can come in and stick. Otherwise it’s no more than a facade!

9. Once the old wallpaper is removed, there is no point in keeping the strippings as though you were going to reapply them! The old wallpaper is gone, once and for all: no point being sentimental about it!

10. It is a process that is easy to put off until “you have time to deal with it”, or until “you have the right equipment”. So enough with spiritual procrastination already!

11 ways the Bible is like the Tube


London Underground is a major part of British culture – so I was bound to write a silly analogy post at some point! As there are 11 lines, here are 11 ways in which the Bible is like the Tube.


Photo: Elliott Brown, re-used under CC license

1. Some stations have better accessibility than others. Some have more stairs than others to struggle up and down – especially if you’re carrying luggage. But just because you struggled at one point does not mean you cannot take the Tube as a whole! And stations are slowly being made accessible – be on the lookout for study guides!

2. Some stations are less used, and less famous than others. Nearly everybody knows of Monument, far fewer will know of Roding Valley. This does not mean that Roding Valley is useless – or even that it is generally less useful than Monument. To the person who lives or works in the vicinity of Roding Valley, on the contrary, it will be the most useful station.

3. It is the cause for far more anger and resentment than it deserves (link contains rude language) – because we tend to forget the times it’s been useful every time that it seems to make us stumble.

4. It is deeply embedded in the culture of all, even those who do not use it – and in ways that promote self-sacrifice too.

5. Its users make up a very cosmopolitan, and extremely friendly communitywhich has its own codes and jokes, which might be lost on non-users.

6. There are interconnections. Many of them. So a map – or instructions – can be helpful to navigate it at first, but you soon get so used to it you don’t even look at the map.

7. Some lines are really, extremely short (I’m looking at you, Waterloo & City). Others are so long that people have argued they should be considered as separate lines.

8. You can try to move about in the real, above-ground world without using the Tube, but chances are you’ll get lost, especially in those parts you’re not too familiar to! So if you want to find yourself again, best seek a Tube station!

9. Equally, there is no point simply sticking to the Tube, or just going around in circles and leaving the network at the exact same station. Taking the Tube is supposed to move you from one point to another.

10. Individual stations have their own organisation and feel – some of them are even decorated according to a theme (for instance, Baker Street has Sherlock Holmes) – which does not detract from their overall unity, or from their belonging to a single structure.

11. There is some debate as to whether the Overground line should be considered part of the Underground network or not. Now, nobody tries to argue that the Overground is the same as the Underground; it’s just a question of whether they should stand side by side on underground maps or not.

8 things ecumenism is not

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Ecumenism, its purposes and its nature, seem sometimes arcane. But deeply, to me, ecumenism is highly important because it is an attempt to reflect the unity of the Body of Christ in the way we conduct worship: with one another. So here are a few things I’ve found ecumenism is not:


Photo: Yyaroshko (Wikimedia, under CC license)

1. Ecumenism is not a watering down of doctrine. It is not about trying to find the essence of Christianity and venturing no further. See, our faith is (or should be) so pervasive as to tint our every action. Therefore, sticking our ecumenical thought to what we deem essential and not saying anything about the rest is tantamount to restricting ecumenism to a tiny part of who we are.

2. Ecumenism is not about pretending we have no differences, or at least no substantial differences. It is not about burying our head in the sand and inviting others to follow our practice; nor is it about blindly following other practices by pretending they’re all the same anyway. Such an attitude is presumptuous at best, and maybe damaging – especially around issues of communion. The Body of Christ is made up of a variety of organs; that diversity should be embraced at least to some extent, rather than glossed over as “something for another day”.

3. Ecumenism is not about glorifying those differences either. The differences are there, but we are all looking towards God. And in ecumenism, we are looking towards Him together.

3. Ecumenism is not inter-faith. It’s not talking with people who are assumed to be radically different. In “doing” ecumenism, we are joining our brothers and sisters in worshiping the same God: it is joint action, and relies on an ultimately common understanding of God.

4. Ecumenism is not an excuse for evangelism. The only attitude that can be had in ecumenical events is one of brotherhood. Yes, teaching can happen, discussions can happen – and it would be a sad thing if they didn’t! After all, it wouldn’t be much of a congregation if people didn’t talk with one another, or rebuked one another. But while such disagreements and ensuing discussions are welcome, they are not the main thrust of ecumenical action.

5. Ecumenism is not about striving for peace. Peace is far more easily achieved through mutual ignorance anyway!

6. Ecumenism is not done for the sake of being nice. Who cares about niceties? We have plenty of other people to be nice to. It’s not for the sake of looking lovey-dovey and politically correct either! No, it is done because we are one body, one church, and we should sometimes start acting like it.

7. Ecumenism is not about dialogue. It’s not a question of “understanding the other” better, or of debating thorny theological points with one another. Imagine this: Calvinists and Arminians belonging to separate bodies, and joining together – and all the event revolving around predestination! There would be a point in that, granted – any discussion on predestination is welcome – but is it really everything Christians talk about? Surely not! Then why make it the main point of a joint event?

8. Ecumenism is not trumping other church activities. I see ecumenism as an outlook, an attitude which, yes, comes through in some specific events. And in an ideal world, this attitude should shine through regular church activities. But in the event it does not, there is little point going towards the outside at the expense of the inside.

11 ways a hitch-hiking journey is like your faith journey

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Two of my friends are about to do a sponsored hitch-hike, raising money for a charity supporting research against cancer (you can sponsor them!). A hitch-hiking journey is, in many ways, similar to a faith journey:


Photo: Petr Ivanov, re-used under CC License

1. When you’re hitch-hiking, you’re basically surrendering your journey to strangers. In most cases, you know the ultimate destination and know you’re going to get there (although that’s not the case for my friends), but have no idea what detours you might take, or how long it will take you. Much the same is true for your journey of faith: you can look to the final destination, but how it will come about is very much a mystery.

2. There is one major reference book to help you hitch-hiking. And in large friendly letters, that book has, on its cover: “Don’t Panic.”

3. Sometimes, you get stuck. For ages. And that’s discomforting, discouraging, and you can’t look beyond the present stage. But there will usually be a car that comes along. Patience is a great virtue, and one that is necessary in a journey of faith.

4. You need others. Without cars driving along the motorways, any hitch-hiking attempt would be doomed to failure. Crucially, then: you need people who are essentially different from you. Motorists are far more helpful than other hitch-hikers to go from A to B. People with experience and the theological know-how can get you quite a way down the road.

5. You need friends. People like you. Their advice as people who have hitch-hiked in the past is extremely valuable: laminate some card so you can change the destination/direction. Avoid roundabouts. Try service stations along the motorway. Travel in pairs – for your own safety. But the only people you will understand are people whom you know to have been in similar situations as you. Surrounding yourself with wiser people, or simply reading Hooker, Calvin, Augustine or Piper – useful though it may be, will not usually provide you with information you can relate to. It is not sufficient.

6. Some places are better to get lifts than others. But these places are not necessarily the most sheltered ones. When I was hitch-hiking in Wales, it was so windy that an elderly couple took us in – they wouldn’t usually pick up hitch-hikers, but they took pity on us while we were standing in the rain. It is a useful skill to have to be able to work out where those spots are, and to seek them out. They’re not the same for everyone, and they change according to circumstances, so it’s not easy – but it is the one way to move forward.

7. Sometimes, you just have to walk. When I hitch-hiked to Ireland, we got stuck in a little town with barely any cars passing by (that’s the  Welsh border for you), so we had to walk for quite a while to keep progressing. You can’t always expect to have a spiritual IV – there will be times when you will have to feed yourself. For those times, it is good to have a personal discipline of prayer, Bible reading, etc.

8. It is likely to look weird to the outsider. When we got stuck in that little town, a local reporter decided our appearance was weird enough to warrant interviewing us. I don’t think we made it to that local paper – but the fact remains that we looked out of the ordinary. The same should be the case for all Christians: not because standing out is good in  itself, but because it is a by-product of our innermost identity, which is different from what people are used to.

9. You don’t get to choose the ride. A Mercedes going at 120mph, a minivan with no seats in the back, a lorry,  or a friendly couple in an affordable car – I’ve experienced all of them. Of course, you can (and should, sometimes!) always ask to be dropped off, but you cannot demand to hitch-hike in a Jaguar. No church will be perfect, and trying to find exactly the church you’re used to, or looking for, is simply going to leave you stranded.

10. While you can get prepared before you start hitch-hiking (signs, phone chargers, etc.), all you really need is your thumb and willingness. The same goes for embarking on a journey of faith: you can put it off for ages, just getting ready or trying to; but you can always jump in.

11. Tea will get you through the day. And it needs to be shared: motorists and hitch-hikers alike need it. Advice to hitch-hikers: bring a flask.