Blue Monday

 

As I checked my e-mails this morning, I discovered that today is known as “Blue Monday”.  Apparently this is known as the most depressing day of the year.  Pay day seems a long time ago, and there is still a wait for the next one.  The weather is miserable, even in the normally tropical Clacton on Sea (a touch of irony there!).  Colds, flu and chest infections are making us miserable.

It appears that some scientists have even calculated a formula to help us work out the date of “Blue Monday”

 

The e-mail suggested that today would be a good day to treat myself to cheer me up!  Reflecting that they also suggested that the gap between pay days was a long one, I decided not to take up their kind offer!!!

But, what their e-mail did, was to cause me to think about those things that get us down and those things that can cheer us.  I think we all, from time to time, get a little down and I suppose what I really want to make very clear is, I am talking here about being “down” and NOT about depression which is a really unpleasant condition.  If you suffer from depression, please talk to a doctor or health care professional about your condition.

I have been reflecting on the importance of our mind and our thought world.  As humans, we have the capacity for creative and imaginative thinking.  Our minds are capable of beautiful dreams and dark thoughts.  Joyce Meyer wrote an amazing book a few years ago called “The Battlefield of the Mind” in which she, in my opinion rightly, suggests that the biggest battle takes place in the human mind. 

So does that mean, as a Christian, to feel “down” you are sinning?  In my opinion, no.  To go through times when you feel down doesn’t make you a sinner, it makes you human!

What I have discovered is that whether I am in a good place, or not so good, there is nowhere that God isn’t.  In the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, God is present.  The Psalmist puts it like this;

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,’
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

(Psalm 139 vs. 7 – 12)

So on this “Blue Monday” in whatever I feel, I know that God is somewhere in the midst and all I have to do is look for Him.  My prayer for you is that you will find Him too.

Heartfelt

 

I have been away at a conference recently.

The Fresh Streams conference is an absolute must for me. I have attended this conference for a number of years and, as soon as booking opens, I get my name on the list.  now and I try and get in as soon as booking opens.  I love the values of Fresh Streams, and I love the emphasis on word and spirit.  Along with great teaching, challenging seminars and the opportunity to hear about what is happening all over the UK, I always catch up with friends old and new.and make new friends. You can find out about them here www.freshstreams.net

However, the main reason I go is because somehow, someway, somewhere God always speaks to me during this conference.  God has spoken to me through the teaching in the main sessions, or through ministry as I have been prayed for.  God has spoken to me through conversations with friends and colleagues.  So, I went in eager expectation that God would say something!

I wasn’t disappointed!  God spoke to me in the ‘incidentals’.  What I mean by that is, He spoke through odd words, scripture and phrases that were not necessarily part of the main session or the main thrust of what was being said or  done.

For example, during one of the worship sessions somebody read from Psalm 85.  During that reading there were two verses that “shouted out” to me and really stirred something in my heart.

Restore us again, God our saviour (vs 4)

Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you (vs 6)

Of course, being a good minister (some of the time) I should have looked this up in a commentary but, I didn’t! It seemed to me that it is a prayer of national repentance.  We know, from history, that the nations of Israel and Judah turned their backs on God many times.  The nations went through difficult times and the penny dropped – “look where we are, if we get back on track with God then, we can live in His blessing.”

So why did these words speak to me?

Simply because they resonated with something I have been praying for me, the Church that I have the great privilege to minister in, all the Churches in our community, our town and our nation. 

In fact, it is my heartfelt prayer.  These words spoke at a deeply personal level. 

I believe in repentance.  Admitting to God where we have failed and seeking His Holy Spirit’s empowering to walk right before Him.

What I have also come to realise is that repentance is not just about turning from something, it also about turning to something.

For real repentance to happen, not only are we to turn away from those things that spoil our relationship with God, we have to turn to the God who can bring healing and hope into my life, church, community and country.  Repentance is a change of mindset

As I look at my life, I realise that there are areas that are broken or have taken severe knocks (another incidental at this point (I am sorry cannot remember who said it));

What the devil cannot have, he divides

The challenge I felt was that, perhaps, I am too quick to give up on prayer.  I have prayed about various things for a while. 

Nothing seems to happen. 

I give up. 

I have even written some things off as beyond repair.

These words from Psalm 85 challenged me afresh not to give up but, to keep on praying.  So, I am praying that God will bring renewal and restoration where the devil has sought to divide.  I will keep on praying that God will renew and restore even those things that I thought were beyond repair.

 

Would you join your prayers with mine?

 

A New Year Revolution

I was catching up on a bit of reading the other day when, a passage really caught my imagination and I asked myself the question; shall I make this my resolution for 2018?

I am sure I am not the only one out there who makes New Years Resolutions – I hope!  Over the years I have made many, from the serious to the very silly, from the mundane to the extraordinary.  But, if I am truthful about it, I very rarely keep them.  No, to be really honest I have not kept any!

There was the one year I remember clearly.  I awoke on 1st January and decided “this year, I will not be bad tempered or stressed.  I will be calm, cool and collected”.  It lasted until I got out of bed and it was all down hill from there!

Because of my failure in sticking to my resolutions, for a few years I stopped.  “I am what I am” I said, “people will have to accept me as I am”.  On the face of it, it sounds good.  But, what it denied was the possibility of growth, development and change.  You see, I am what I am but, I am not what I can be.

Life is the process of becoming who we can be.

The reason why I gave up making my resolutions is because of my failure in keeping them.  Failure hurts, failure carries with it a sting, guilt, regrets, worthlessness and many other emotions and feelings besides.  But, failure doesn’t have to have the last word.

My evidence for this comes from The Bible.  You can find many examples of failure, regret and growth from the people that are in there.

One of my favourite stories is found in the Old Testament.  It concerns a prophet who is given a task, by God, to go where he doesn’t want to go to speak to a people he doesn’t like.  He runs away, ends up in the sea and is swallowed by a giant fish.  When he comes to his senses, he does what God has asked him to do and a nation is transformed by it.

You would think that would be the “happy ever after” part but, it isn’t.  Because God has shown mercy to people the prophet didn’t like, he has a major temper tantrum!  How, I wish there was a Jonah chapter 5 just so I could find out what happens next!

But, what I see most of all in that story, is that failure is not the end.  Whether it is failure through our action, inaction or weakness.  God can take our failures, and through them we can grow.

That’s why I am calling for a New Years Revolution (you get it now – the title wasn’t a spelling mistake!)

A New Years Revolution calls for a change of thinking, a turn-a-round in our understanding of failure and mistakes.  What if, instead of seeing failure as the last word, we saw it as part of the learning process, part of the process of growth?  I want us to think instead of, it’s okay to fail, because there are lessons we can learn from our failures.

The nations of Israel and Judah failed many times and, at one point, they were living with some dire consequences to their failures.  The prophet Jeremiah looked ahead and saw what God could do in the face of their failures;

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

 

So why not resolve this year to become a New Years Revolutionary?

What is the key to our revolution?  Well, King George VI in his Christmas speech in 1939 summed it up beautifully when he addressed the nation.  He said;

“A new year is at hand. We cannot tell what it will bring. If it brings peace, how thankful we shall all be. If it brings us continued struggle we shall remain undaunted.”

He then read some lines from a poem written by Minnie Louise Haskins which say;

“I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year,
‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’
And he replied, ‘Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be better than light, and safer than a known way.’”*

What better advice can anyone give than, “put your hand into the Hand of God”?

 

 

How was Christmas for you?

The other day, it occurred to me, that there is a part of the nativity story that we are (perhaps not unsurprisingly) silent about.  It happens just after the Magi have been to see the infant Jesus (I know strictly speaking Epiphany).  Joseph is warned by an angel to flee with Mary and Jesus to Egypt.  The Bible then says;

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

(Matt 2 vs. 16- 18)

I have seen plenty of nativity plays with Magi presenting their gifts but, I have never seen this scene enacted!  I can almost imagine the press reports and parents complaining about their children’s nightmares!

So, how was Christmas for you?

I hope that, for you, Christmas was a time of joy and happiness.  However, experience tells me, Christmas isn’t always a good time for everybody.  Perhaps, for you, Christmas hasn’t been that easy. Although the scene in Matthews Gospel is quite harrowing,  I am glad that Matthew includes it.  The Bible is not silent about the reality of the human condition but, is honest about the good and bad of life.  One verse I have heard quoted often is this;

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

(Romans 8 vs. 28)

Yes I do believe that, ultimately, God’s good purposes will be fulfilled.  However, not every situation we face is good and to tell people “don’t worry, some good will come from this”, although well meaning, doesn’t always help.  Rachel weeping for her children, was not comforted.   Yes, God has the big picture of the situation, but those living in the midst of suffering need love, support, prayer and encouragement that comes from Christian friends.

If, for you, this Christmas didn’t turn out as the joy filled occasion you had hoped for may you find those Christian friends you need at this time.  If your Christmas was joy filled, may you use that joy to be a blessing to others

 

…and the angel danced

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Nativity!

As a minister, of a few years experience, I can tell you quite a few stories of church nativity plays.  I have seen quite a lot over the years!  I have seen Herod have full blown tantrums.  Mary sobbing at the site of an audience.  Baby Jesus dropped in a manger (I must point out – doll, not real baby!).  Toy sheep thrown across the platform.  Some of the things the kids have done have been quite funny too!

We had our nativity play at Pier Avenue this morning.  It was great.  Our puppet ministry team (Reach Up Puppetry) were fantastic, the sheep had real attitude and the songs got the foot tapping.  The Rap with the congregation punching the air and shouting out was great fun.  The younger children with their nativity scene was lovely.  I know the hard work that those organizing it put in, and I know it was appreciated by the congregation.

There was one thing that really spoke to me this year.  It came during the final song (Joy to the World).  One little girl, dressed as an angel, danced away at the front of the church, full of excitement. Eventually, a little boy (also dressed as an angel) came and joined her.  So, I can truly say, we had angels dancing in Church today. 

It spoke to me because, it brought to mind something I have been thinking about recently.  I re-read some familiar words this week, from the Prophet Isaiah;

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.

(Isaiah 9 vs. 6- 7 emphasis mine)

The more I have reflected on it, the more that word ZEAL speaks to me.  The dictionary defines zeal as;

great energy or enthusiasm in pursuit of a cause or an objective.

As I led devotions the other day, I spoke about this as being “the umph of God”.  God’s most eager desire is that we should know Him and His love for us.  So, for us to know this, He put a great deal of energy and enthusiasm into it.

So, I really believe that when the Nativity happened in Bethlehem, all those years ago, the angels really did dance!   

Thank you to the little angels who danced this morning and reminded me.

Over this coming Christmas time, may the Zeal of the Lord Almighty reach into your life and bring you to know and experience more of His love for you

 

 

I wanna be….

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There used to be an advert for a well-known insurance company that began with the words I wanna be… my favourite ones were;

A slug

A tree

A brain surgeon

But my favouritist of all was the couple.  The man said “we wanna be together” and the woman’s face told a different story!

I remember being taken to visit many elderly relatives, as a child, who seemed to want to know what I wanted to be when I “grew up” (it was a train driver, by the way).  But, it seems, as we grow up there is something about ambition that seems to leave us as we find the world isn’t quite as possible as we dreamed or, our focus changes in life. 

But, I wonder if we “grown-ups” are missing something of the joy of dreaming? Perhaps it’s a bit of Christmas sentimentality that has brought this on (please don’t tell anyone, I have a bah humbug reputation to keep up) or, perhaps, it’s that recently, I have been re-visiting some places of my past and I have been reflecting on the feelings and emotions they evoke.

If you were to ask me now what “I wanna be…” it would stump me a bit!  Perhaps because I am doing a job I love.  I live in a place I like.  I have family around me (I know, I don’t look old enough to be a granddad).  I am not a great one for things and my lifestyle is comfortable.

So what do “I wanna be…”?

The answer came as I was preparing for our Advent Services at Church.  I re-read the story of the angel’s announcement to Mary and felt really amazed by Mary’s response.  I then read on in the story.  Mary goes to see her cousin, Elizabeth, who is also miraculously pregnant and will eventually give birth to her son John (we refer to him as John the Baptist) and the interchange that takes place between Mary and Elizabeth really spoke to me;

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?   For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”         (Luke 1 vs. 42 – 45)

For me, it was the word “blessed” that leapt off the page at me in fact, I thought “that’s it.  I wanna be blessed”

I don’t think many people understand what it means to be “blessed”.  I am sure many people equate “blessed” with material success; nice house, car, money in the bank.  I am certain Mary didn’t have any of this! So, how is she “blessed”?

The Greek word that is used here is μακάριος (makarios).  It means to be fully satisfied.  It means receiving God’s favour in spite of the external circumstances.  What I have come to understand is that blessing is anything which draws us closer to God and helps us to hold onto the eternal.

For Mary, her experiences up to this point in the story, would enable her to have confidence in God.  But, as we know, there would be some tough times ahead.  Simeon predicted this when Jesus was presented in the temple;

and a sword will pierce your own soul too.                                                                              (Luke 2 vs. 35)

In all of our lives, we face struggles and challenges.  So, to be blessed means in the heartaches, struggles and disappointments we face we find the presence of God and He reveals Himself more fully to us.

So, on that basis, I wanna be blessed – how about you? 

 

 

Mind Your Language

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Some of my readers may recall a situation comedy that was on TV in the mid to late 1970’s called “Mind Your Language”.  It was about a tutor faced with a class of foreign adult students learning basic English at an evening class.  Thankfully, this sort of program would no longer be made.  It’s racial stereotypes and prejudice are not acceptable.  However, one thing we can learn from it, is that we are all in danger of taking the language we speak for granted.

Let me try and explain what I mean.

I became a Christian in 1983.  I became part of a church and, you soon learn, that there is a language that is peculiar to Church.  Many of the circles I moved in (and still move in) speak a sort of “Christianeese”.  I have heard of “salvation”,”sanctification” and many others besides. Over the years I have learnt what these words mean and I value them and would not want to demean them in any way.

But something really struck me today as I was praying.  I often pray that God would use me in certain situations.  As I prayed about one particular situation, I felt God say to me “what do you mean?”. 

I stopped.

Thought

and prayed “you know Lord, use me”.

God said “I don’t know, do you?”

The truth is, I didn’t know what I meant.  I was using language without fully understanding what it meant to me.  I began to explore what it was I was really asking God and also, how my language reflected my understanding of God. So, I began to play about with the word “use” and it occurred to me that, it is only two letters short of “abuse”.

The more I have mulled it over I realise that God doesn’t “use” people He invites us to work alongside Him.  I read this, written by Benignus O’ Rourke;

God respects the dignity of each one of us.  He respects our freedom.  He does not use people. Rather, he works with us.  His wish is to draw us into partnership with him. God invites.  We respond.  He works alongside us.  His love releases our talents.  In all good things we do in partnership with him our gifts shine, our personality blossoms (Benignus O’Rourke – Finding your hidden treasure – page 146)

That thought, really changed what I prayed for and, maybe, it will,change the way you pray.

Tearing My Hair Out!

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Have you ever felt like tearing your hair out?  I don’t have a great deal left but, this morning, that’s how I felt!  I felt completely overwhelmed by things today.  A lot to do, in fact, I dare not look at my to do list, a full diary and if there is any light at the end of the tunnel, it’s probably going to be a train.

In the book of Psalms, there are some words known as the Deo Profundis

Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD.                                                                                      Lord, hear my voice!                                                                                                                          Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!                                                (Psalm 130 vs. 1 – 2) 

Okay, to be fair, I get like this from time to time.  It’s one of my weaknesses and it’s an indication that I need to take a bit of time off and restore some perspective.  Sometimes this happens because I have said “yes” too many times.  Sometimes, it happens because I am faced with an enormous decision and I don’t want to get it wrong and I become aware of the responsibility I carry.

On this occasion, I think it is because I am facing that enormous decision.  I know that whichever direction I go in, will carry with it some major implications.  This decision is making me feel “out of my depth”.

This led me to think about something that I know worries many people.  What is the right choice and, how do I know I am making it?

There are times when I wish I heard a voice from heaven directing me “choose this way” and I would feel confident that, I was at least in God’s will.  Or, if I threw open the Bible and words “leaped off the page at me”.  I have even prayed that God would send somebody who moved in the prophetic who could come into my office and say “thus says the Lord…”

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None of this has happened so, what am I to do?

I began to wonder, are there times when God doesn’t give us a direct lead?  Are there times when, God doesn’t mind which path we choose?  Are there times when what God is looking at is the attitude of our hearts when we make the choice?

Perhaps, as I face this decision, that is what God is challenging me with “Sean, what is your attitude in this?”

The Deo profundis ends with the words;

O Israel, hope in the LORD!                                                                                                             For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.      (Psalm 130 vs. 7)

As I read these words again, I personalized it.  Maybe you need to hear these words too

O (your name),  hope in the LORD!                                                                                                 For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.      (Psalm 130 vs. 7)

 

 

 

 

Fireworks!

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It’s the 5th November as I sit at my desk to write this reflection.

I love bonfire night!  The big kid in me gets excited by fireworks – sad I know but, I cannot resist the colours and noise of this ‘celebration’.  You see, I am not sure if celebration is the right word when you consider what it is that we commemorate;

Remember remember the 5th of November                                                                            Gunpowder, treason and plot.                                                                                                             I see no reason why gunpowder treason                                                                                 Should ever be forgot.

Guy Fawkes, Robert Catesby and others plotted to blow up the Houses of Parliament in retaliation and protest against the laws that were specifically designed to punish Roman Catholics for their faith.

This week has also seen the commemoration of 500 years since the reformation.  Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of All Saints Church,  Wittenberg and began a chain of events that led, eventually, to the Protestant separation from Rome.

In England, this led to many years of violence by Catholics against Protestants and Protestants against Catholics, all in the name of religion and none of it truly representative of the teachings of Christ Himself.

I come from the Protestant tradition, my particular grouping tracing it’s origins back to the Elizabethan Puritans and Separatists.  Many Baptists suffered from persecution, not only in England but, throughout the world (as many Christians are still persecuted today). 

However, one thing that has always concerned me about the Reformation is the danger of “throwing the baby out with the bath water”.  In our quest for “purity of Church” we have labelled people and ideas as “sound” or “unsound”.  I believe that Christians from the Protestant tradition have a lot to learn from Christians of the Catholic and Orthodox Traditions and vice versa. 

In fact, I am not always comfortable with the labels we are given by the Church we attend and the only label I am content to wear is the one of “Christian” as I simply seek to be a follower of Jesus.

So, why bother with the ‘celebrations’ of bonfire night and the Reformation? 

I, for one, hope that the Christian Church learns the lessons from its, sometimes less than glorious, history.  I hope we learn to discover, accept and encourage Christian thinking from the spectrum that is the Church.  I hope we rediscover some of the great thinking from the past and encourage the following of Christ in our present age for the age yet to come.

I have committed myself, and I encourage you to join me, in praying as Jesus prayed

That they may all be one                                                                            (John 17 vs. 21)

(John 17 vs. 21)

Is Peace Possible?

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I am sure I am not the only one who feels a little nervous when Donald Trump or Kim Jong-un makes an appearance on the news.  Their posturing for position and “greatness” is incredibly disturbing and, I believe, totally at odds with what makes a truly good leader.

In their hands lays immense physical power and the ability to destroy the world.  A truly sobering thought.

However, I was reflecting, is this really any different to situations the world has faced in the past?  Some of my readers may remember the Cold War when Nato countries and the countries of the Warsaw Pact engaged in an Arms Race.  Slightly more senior ones may remember the situation between Krushchev and Kennedy which led to the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Those of you who enjoy your history, could probably trace things even further back!

I think, what makes the current world situation more disturbing, is the apparent “self-belief” that both of the parties have and their ego’s – that’s my opinion, seeing their characters on news broadcasts, not based on personal knowledge!

The sight of the poppy sellers recently, made me ask the question, “is peace really possible in our world?”  In his book Love against hate Karl Menninger says;

The world war of today is a reflection of the multiple wars in the hearts of individuals

I believe he is right. 

If, in my heart, there is conflict and unrest that will be reflected in the way that I live my life.  The way I live my life has an effect on those around me and that can be either to their benefit or, their ill.  Jesus once said;

You don’t get wormy apples off a healthy tree, nor good apples off a diseased tree. The health of the apple tells the health of the tree. You must begin with your own life-giving lives. It’s who you are, not what you say and do, that counts. Your true being brims over into true words and deeds.

(Luke 6 vs. 43 – 45 The Message)

So what I must do, is ensure that what is in my heart and therefore seen in my life is right.  The only way to do that, is to come before God and honestly seek Him and ask Him to renew us from the inside out.  I have been praying with the Psalmist;

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.           (Psalm 139 vs. 23 – 24 NRSV)

I believe that if we do that, there is the beginning of our journey on the pathway of peace. 

On the day I got married, a very wise friend shared with my wife and I a piece of poetical wisdom, I don’t know where it came from but, I often read and reflect on it and it says;

If there is righteousness in the heart, there will be beauty in the character

Beauty in two character brings harmony in the home.

Harmony in each home sees stability in the community and stable communities together, build order in the nation.

When we have order in each nation, then there will be peace in the world.