Love is the meaning ...

A blog by Rev'd John Allen


27 June 2021 – Trinity 4


It seems to me that there are two kinds of certainty.  There is the knowledge you have acquired for yourself and there is true love which is a sheer gift.  Absolute love that transcends everything else is that gift and it comes to you from God.

It is the sure and certain experience of letting go of yourself in unconditional response to that which you just know is true.  If this experience is distorted on your part by pride, arrogance or intolerance then your experience is blighted.  The only response to love is unconditional love and this makes you vulnerable, gentle and humble.

As the knowledge of the love of God grows in me, my self-centred life becomes God-centred.  This is the human experience of those who unreservedly encounter God in Jesus.  It is the experience described in the Bible.  It is the longed-for experience of all of us who, like those first disciples of Jesus, in God’s strength (not our own) simply let go and let God live in our lives here and now in our present circumstances.

I think this poses a big problem for churches but also gives us an incredibly wonderful opportunity.  The Church, like every human organization attracts followers who, in varying degrees, hover on the outer fringes.  People are interested, curious and hopeful that they might find something worthwhile.  But there is usually a “but”.  “I don’t want to get too involved”.  People are wary of commitment.  I suppose it’s a bit like a nervous non-swimmer who would like to learn to swim, but doesn’t like cold water or deep water.  Taking the plunge of faith is a challenge.

When you cross the threshold of a church and begin to attend services, agree to take instruction, offer yourself for baptism and become a communicant, you are cautiously moving towards the edge of the deep water of faith.  Once you are in you have to keep swimming or you will flounder.  The fact is there are believers who commit themselves unreservedly to the deep water of faith, and many more who only hover on the edge of faith.  This does not mean that people can be divided into categories of faith and commitment.  It is not for us to judge others or ourselves.  In all kinds of swimming you simply have to let yourself go and to trust in the buoyancy of faith.  Like those simple fishermen, if it happens to you or me, we may be surprised and perplexed but we have been given the golden opportunity of new life in God through Jesus.

© John Allen 2021

20 June 2021 – Trinity 3


How can you believe and trust in anyone?  The things people say, the things you read or think about – can you be sure?  Are you being misled or are you deceiving yourself?

Many of us experience this dilemma when the crunch point comes when we have to decide about committing ourselves to a relationship.  Do I love her so much that I dare entrust my future happiness to her?  My family may say, “You have only just met her, you hardly know her.  How can you be sure”.  And I simply reply, “I just know that I love her”.

When Jesus came into the lives of simple fishermen and invited them to follow Him they just did.  Their families probably thought they were mad.  They were prepared to give up their livelihood and walk away from it all.  They were putting their lives on the line.  Something similar if, for us less risky, happens when we take the plunge and begin to believe in God.  Some of our friends might mock us, “He’s got religion.  I always thought he was more sensible”.  Others might be a little envious, “I wish I could find a faith like that”.

This experience is known as conversion.  Life is changed round.  It is as if our sight has clicked into proper focus.  St Paul described it as like looking into a dirty mirror.  You can only see a blur.  Then suddenly the glass is cleaned and polished and for the first time you see a pristine reflection.  Other people may think you’re crazy but you feel that at long last you have been set free to become your true self.

But there is a problem.  If you allow yourself to become over-excited, your ego is in danger of becoming inflated and this experience gets deflected from God and becomes bogged down in a false sense of your own self importance, then you become a bore and a pain to other people.  It is this all too human weakness that puts people off religion.  Genuine conversion is the opposite.  You willingly let go of your ego and lose yourself in your unselfconscious devotion to God.  This makes you into a much more attractive human being.

People were attracted to Jesus.  They were eager to be in His presence.  They wanted to listen to Him and to touch Him.  The innate character of Jesus authenticated all that He said and did.

If you have the good fortune of getting to get to know a truly committed and genuine Christian, you will just know God’s love is what life is all about.

© John Allen 2021

13 June 2021 – Trinity 2


In the Jesus story, there is the ancient tradition of wise men following a unique and luminous star that led them to the new born saviour.  I think this provides a helpful model for the way we lead our lives.  It makes all the difference when we have a star to follow.  We need a guiding light and a personal philosophy of life.

But, if our guiding light is false, we are in deep trouble.  Our world today which is propelled by rapid change, is prone to temporary fixations, to fads and fashions, to a celebrity culture.  Those in the limelight are for a time lauded till their imperfections are revealed and then they are lambasted.  Early affairs blossom and fade and, after that, what are we left with?

I suggest that in fact we are born with a deep instinct to seek and hold on to the one thing that is sure and certain and will never let us down.  But what is it?  For me and for so many others the answer is God.  Jesus is not a human celebrity, nor is Christian faith a passing fancy.  As we dare not gaze directly at the sun so, in our present situation, we cannot comprehend God.  What we can do is to grow in friendship with Jesus who for us is “the human face of God”.

Jesus was born in an obscure part of the world and He lived a life which until His last years on earth was relatively obscure.  He mingled with obscure people.  He was not associated with the celebrities of his day.  His focus was not on Himself but a deeply compassionate concern for others.  He did not defend Himself from the malice or contempt of others.  But there was also something about Him which was not of this world.

The more perceptive people noticed it.  Who is this man?  He does all things well.  He speaks with authority.  He heals.  But most striking of all was His relationship with God.  It was intimate.  He called God His father.  Some people even dared to believe they heard God say “This is my Son”.

Ever since His lifetime on earth the argument has gone on.  “Who are You, Lord”?  The writers of the New Testament wrestled with the question as to the true identity of Jesus.  In our own time, non-religious people, even outright unbelievers, are prepared to acknowledge Jesus as one of the finest examples of a good person.  Many church members, if they are honest, find it hard to accept that the human Jesus is also God.  It seems to be a leap too far.

© John Allen 2021

6 June 2021 – Trinity 1


We come to know Jesus through the story of His life conveyed to us in the New Testament of the Bible.  The function of a story is to make real an essential fact which, without a story, would be incommunicable to a finite human mind.  It is in our nature to love a story and to relate to it.  If it is a poor story, we cannot relate to it and we jettison it.

For millions of people down the centuries the story of Jesus has become real.  They believe it to be essentially true, if not literally historically accurate.  They have experienced friendship with Jesus which has become a relationship of love and a source of inner strength, peace and joy.  They know the reassuring presence of Jesus travelling alongside them on the journey of life through this world.  This has changed their lives for the better.  Such people are usually drawn towards other fellow believers and so Christian communities and churches have been formed. 

At the beginning of a journey we need to know and respect the one who is leading us and begin to get a clear idea about the purpose of our journey and how we shall accomplish it.  For Christians this means a close and detailed study of the life of Jesus and what the Christian way entails.  To some this might sound like a juvenile Sunday school class, but in reality it is a life class.  Who am I?  What do I believe?  How do I live my life?  I suspect that there are many people in our world today who feel confused and baffled by life and its purpose and would welcome the opportunity to make some sense out of it and to re-discover hope in the future.

Where do we start?  “Great Expectations” is the name of a famous novel, but it also sums up the hope each individual has as he or she sets out on the journey of a lifetime.  Looking back through the mists of history, it seems people became aware of a shared expectation that from beyond them in the spiritual realm God would send a saviour.  The Jews (and Jesus was a Jew) were expecting the one they called the Messiah. 

Part of the Jesus story tells us about shepherds who abandoned their sheep, not because they were irresponsible, but because their faith was that God would send the Messiah.  Told about the birth of the baby in Bethlehem they went straight to the child to welcome Him.  Probably most people of that time would consider them mad, guilty of dereliction of duty.  Something drew them to go and worship Jesus and so it is today for so many of us.

© John Allen 2021

30 May 2021 – Trinity Sunday


How can a mere human being be at one with God?  I think it is only possible because God has revealed that He has entered into an intimate and loving relationship with each person born into this world.  An awareness of this amazing fact of life is usually conveyed to an individual consciousness through means of a religious faith community.  It often takes a lifetime for this to be accepted, assimilated and to burst into life.  For some people it seems that God comes directly into their hearts and minds, even though they have not as yet come into contact with any religious group.

I have ascertained this in the course of conversation with so many who have had a similar experience.  Together we agree this is not simply day-dreaming and wishful thinking.  This is tried and tested reality.  People who respond to this friendship which God offers are vindicated by the way this relationship transforms their lives.  Of course it is seldom plain sailing.  Most of us know we are continually having to wrestle with our loyalty to God and our innate self-centred desire to please ourselves and to turn away from God.

The Bible, and many other religious writings, are full of such human stories.  Sometimes out of nowhere God comes into a person’s life and calls him or her, and a lifetime’s wrestle begins.  For many it is a slow and gradual dawning awareness.  Sadly for some the awareness seems to fade; sometimes it is crowded out by worldly attractions and temptations.  God’s love seems to be patient and persistent.  But He waits for the willing response of each person.

This may sound too introspective.  God does not call people to become self-engrossed.  In fact it is the very opposite.  We learn to forget ourselves, to lose ourselves out of concern for others and, in this way of outgoing generous living, to find our true selves for the first time.

But human friendship is embodied.  We need to see our friend, to touch and to be alongside, to listen, to feel, to speak, but most of all to be happily content simply to be together.  God is far beyond this.  He is a mystery we cannot comprehend.  The religious experience is that, for us, God is embodied in the man Jesus Christ.  For us, friendship with God is friendship with Jesus Christ.

So, in these early stages of our journey, we need to get to know Jesus.

© John Allen 2021

23 May 2021 – Pentecost


We all discover that the reality of living in this world is that we have been born into a world of conflict.  For our distant ancestors life was a fight for survival.  You needed food, you had first to hunt or forage for it and when you realised you could grow it, you had to defend your land from those who would rob you and threaten your survival.

The long unfolding human story is one in which people, communities and nations are at war with one another.  The crucial fact seems to be that if people are to survive they have to fight one another.  This results in a world of winners and losers.  This is fine if you are on the winning side but what about the losers?  This basic principle of winners and losers influences nearly everything we think about and do and is worked out in commerce, trade politics and finance but also in our personal lives.  We have to strive and be competitive, and to aim at success and shun failure.  It is the basis of sport.  Years ago as a small boy I was taught that the purpose of sport was to learn how to be a good loser.  I think that today this is less acceptable.  There seems to be a compulsive drive to win at all costs to avoid relegation.

The commemoration of the centenary of the end of the First World War evoked a renewed sense of the madness and futility of war.  War does not solve a problem, only peace and reconciliation can enable the long process of healing and renewal.  There is no solution to be found in war.  Surely the only answer is not to fight but to share.  But this is facile unless the vast cost and huge pain is accepted.  Yet the final result is the real Good News.

This is the faith of Christians.  God, at the extreme cost of everything God is, has embraced His world which has become trapped in remorseless conflict, and taken to Himself the pain and through the life of Jesus Christ has redeemed the situation.  Jesus did not fight but shared Himself, in order to set the world free again for the eternal life and joy that God intends.

All people live in one world and for this world to thrive as God intends we need to become one with our world and one with one another.  The word is “at one-ment”.  But it seems this is only possible when we are one with God.  If this seems unrealistically high flown, the only miserable alternative seems to be cynicism and despair.  That appears to be the choice for a secular atheistic world.  Christian faith alone offers a better way.  In my personal experience this is the way along which I feel God is calling me.  In these reflections I am attempting to share this Christian conviction.

© John Allen 2021

16 May 2021 – Easter 7


The virtue that is essential is that of hope and it seems that most of us are born with this capacity.  The human story which we read in history can seem to be deeply depressing.  There is so much hope, but over and over again the hopes are dashed.

Civilizations rise and fall.  There are some great leaders who inspire others to work for a better world.  We naturally aspire to the creation of some kind of utopia.  There is success.  In many ways the world is improving yet over and over again things go wrong.  Utopia continues to be beyond our grasp.

Religious people believe God’s creation is the expression of His love.  The Bible story states, “God saw all that He had made and it was good”.  But loving goodness has to be fulfilled and that is through the response of answering love and without this God’s perfect creation is defiled.  Human capacity alone falls far short.  Our love unaided is not strong enough.  Hope is not in vain solely because God so loves the world that He gives Himself to save the world.

At the heart of the Christian story is the love of God which humanity experiences in the love of Jesus Christ.  He alone is the one without the fatal flaw.  God’s love has no limits.  He gives himself wholly and entirely, granting each individual the capacity to love as He loves us and it is this spiritual reality which saves, transforms and heals the world.

This is no fairy story.  God does not do magic.  It is supreme, costly, pure love.  God so loves the world that He gives His son.  This love transforms our suffering and bewildered world because it is love that dies to itself that through sheer devotion, loyalty and generosity life thus given becomes new life.  It seems hard to make sense of the story of the good man Jesus Christ suffering so horribly and dying so needlessly.  Why did a loving God let this happen?  Christians find it impossible to explain in worldly terms but what we do know is this.

Sheer love alone is the only power that can save existence and, as we each come to accept our tiny share of this, by growing in the capacity for unconditional self giving, we find ourselves travelling towards the one true dawn that awaits our sorrowing world.  The hope we are born with is not in vain.

© John Allen 2021

9 May 2021 - Rogation Sunday


Through the many years of human history people have discovered that all life is a matter of making choices.  Some choices are forced on people – such as our race and the culture and environment into which we have been born.  Choices lead to consequences, some good and some bad and so life seems to be a mixture of happiness and misery.

We in the West are among the fortunate people who are still free to make personal choices.  We need to be alert and perceptive and well informed so that we can make wise choices.  What are these choices?  Educational, moral, our chosen way of living, political, religious?

We can only make wise choices if we have some understanding and appreciation of the way of living we are choosing.  To live well we need to wake up – to listen and engage with other people, to read and think and to come to know ourselves.  Who am I?  What do I want to do?  Where do I want to go?

It dawns on many people that this is a religious choice.  Do I believe in God?  If I do or wish I did, what must I do?  Would-be Christians are asked to declare themselves in church and make affirmative replies to these questions.  Do you believe in God?  Do you turn to Jesus Christ?  Do you renounce evil?  Do you follow Christ?

It is a huge and utterly life changing choice.  It is understandable that many people hesitate before taking the plunge.  It is a plunge of faith because being realistic we each know our personal weakness.  We are flawed people.  We have inherited the all too human tendency to want the best but to fail to live up to it.  Some of us get so discouraged.   It is all too hard and impossible, so we kick over the traces, go our own way which seems to be the way of most of the world.  We shrug our shoulders and say “What the hell” and sadly it seems that a world which says no to God and is a world on the brink of hellish consequences.

To make a choice you need to believe you have the capacity to sustain that choice.  My sad experience is that so many people are full of sincere and good intentions but when their choice is put to the test their capacity is weak, they buckle and fail.  We should not be surprised.  This is the human condition we have all inherited.  The good news is that God Himself gives us the necessary capacity.

© John Allen 2021