Does it REALLY matter?

Does it really matter?

It’s a great question and one that I have been thinking about a lot at the moment.

Without wanting to get to heavy or depressing, we are living in very disruptive times within our nation and within the world.  There are many cultural shifts happening.  With that, comes a great deal of uncertainty.  At times like this, people begin to question the motivation behind others and the ideals they represent.

As I began to mull this over, I found myself asking of the Church I attend “what are our values?  What do we represent?”  One dictionary definition of “values” says;

The principles that help you to decide what is right and wrong, and how to act in various situations

This was not something I could explore by myself, in isolation.  So, a few weeks ago, the Church leadership team aided by our better halves and our Regional Minister took some time out to explore this.

I have never seen so many post it notes in my life!!!

By the end of the day, we had done some great work together.  We had identified those things that mattered to us.  One of the participants on the day wrote these as our values statement

  • We want to WORSHIP God through prayer and learning together.
  • We want to be REAL with God and each other.
  • We want to ENCOURAGE everyone and enable them to develop their skills and abilities and their spiritual gifts and fruits.
  • We want to be a WELCOMING and friendly church that grows together as a family.
  • We have a great MESSAGE OF HOPE that we want to SHARE.

And that was all encapsulated in one single word WELCOME

Worship God

Encourage Each other

Love Everyone

Continue to Grow

Openness with God and with each other

Messages of Hope to share

Enable and Equip people to serve God

Now, the hard work really begins!!!  This looks and sounds good but, the danger is, we can regard this as an interesting exercise and file it away – soon forgotten.  If we are saying these REALLY matter to us, then we need to look at how we demonstrate them, how we live them.  These should set our agenda for the coming years.

In stating them we are not claiming any form of perfection.  We not perfect.  What we are doing is saying “this matters to us” and we acknowledge that we may need to challenge ourselves in certain areas/

I have taken the opportunity to invite our Church fellowship to be part of this journey with us.  There are a series of Bible studies I have put together to explore each of the letters of WELCOME and we ask for feedback so that we can, together, say “This REALLY does matter.  This is what we stand for”

Expanding Our Horizons

 

This afternoon I took the opportunity to do some Pastoral Visiting.  As one of my visits finished a little earlier than planned and it was too early for my next, I sat on sea front and enjoyed the view.

I found myself looking at and thinking about the horizon.  We can see it as a line, marking the point where the sea and the sky meet in our line of vision.  Or, we can see it as the marker of between what is known and what is unknown.

Everything that is before the horizon I can see, understand and rationalize.  But what lays beyond the line of the horizon?  I can only guess, unless my vision is expanded.

The writer of Proverbs says;

Where there is no vision, the people perish

(Proverbs 29 vs. 18 – KJV)

I have heard it said, in some Churches, that it is the leader’s role to bring God’s vision and that will then set the direction that the Church moves in.  I believe this approach is fundamentally wrong.

I firmly believe that God’s vision for a Church is already within that Church fellowship. There have been good, faithful Christian folk who have worked and prayed for the life of the fellowship long before the leader arrived.  There are good, faithful Christian folk who will be working and praying for that fellowship long after that leader has moved on.

I believe it is the leaders role to help the congregation to work out the vision for the fellowship and to help them to move forward with God’s vision for that Church.

At Pier Avenue we have just launched our Values Document.  It is not a “solo” piece of work by me.  I was really excited that the leaders, their “other halves” and our Regional Minister were involved with it.

It isn’t finished yet

It is now in the hands of the congregation.  We are working through some studies, preparing feedback and looking at ways in which we can, together, expand our horizons for the coming years

 

 

Catching my breath

You have bedded me down in lush meadows, you find me quiet pools to drink from. 
True to your word, you let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction.

(Psalm 23 vs. 2 – 3 The Message) 

As some of my regular readers will know, our family have been going through a bit of a turbulent time of late. As some of you may be aware, things have moved on a little and whilst my immediate cancer scare has passed, there are still some things rumbling in the background.

What has surprised me is, just how tired both physically and emotionally I feel. I was reflecting on this as I set out to work today. I was exceptionally tired and as I faced a hot, sticky drive along the beloved A12 which was something I could do without – I thought

Why was I making this journey?  Well, one of the privileges I have is that I am a volunteer chaplain at the House of Retreat in Pleshey (not far from Chelmsford).  Pleshey has become a very special place for me and I look forward to my sessions there. I am not sure if I have helped many people but, it always seems to help me.

When I arrived at the house I was a little,surprised to find notices all over the place declaring “House in Silence” – I was supposed to be available to pray and talk, how could I possibly do this whilst respecting the silence?

Strangely enough, it felt as though God had arranged all for this for my benefit. I have no idea how the guests felt but, I found it restorative, refreshing. An opportunity to be with my thoughts before God and that, in its own way, is healing.

For a short time I found myself “sitting beside still waters” and finding the refreshment that God gives.

Difficult News

Today I shared some difficult news with the fellowship at Pier Avenue and, I think it is only right to share it with you.

Over the past few weeks, things have been coming to a bit of head for me.  During this time, I read a passage from the Bible that really made me angry.  The passage is one that is really well known, Jesus stilling the storm on the lake.  It is found in Mark 4 vs. 35 – 41.

Ironically, our Regional Minister chose to preach on this passage when he was with us a couple of weeks ago.  My preaching on this was not an attempt to “put his sermon right” because, his was an excellent sermon!  But, I needed to address my own struggle with it and explain why I find this a difficult story, at the moment.  The reason for my struggle is found in verse 40;

He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

(Mark 4 vs. 40)

When I read those words, part of me wants to grab Jesus, shake him and say “of course they are afraid, I would be more worried if they were not.  They have just come through this incredible storm which has terrified experienced sailors.  Their lives were on the line.  They were face to face with death and you ask why are you so afraid?”

I have, in the past, sat through those sermons that have told me fear and worry are a sin.  I have been told that fear is about faithlessness and, by implication, if you worry and if you have fears then you cannot be trusting God.  If you are not whole-heartedly trusting God then, you must be in sin.

Eugene Peterson, rather unhelpfully, in the Message translates this verse as

Jesus reprimanded His disciples “why are you such cowards?”

And that really angered me!

Not wishing to lack grace here but, those sermons and those kind of comments have not helped.  All they have done is piled on guilt on top of the fear and the worry and told me what a poor Christian I am.

So, why is this passage so sensitive for me at the moment?

We are living through an “annus horribilis” – if I may borrow the Queens phraseology.  My son has had major health problems.  My, as yet unborn, grandchild has had shown on a scan that he is going to be born with a cleft lip – the same condition I was born with.  Although there is, according to the medical staff, no genetic link I am sure you can imagine what is going through my mind.

As if all this wasn’t enough, I have recently had an accident at home.  My prayer became “come on Lord, give us a break!”

Then came some news from left field.

Following the accident, I made a trip to A&E.  I was convinced that I must have broken ribs.  The doctor came to see me after the scan and advised me that there was “good news and bad news”.  The good news was, no broken bones.  The bad news was they had found a growth in my pancreas.

I needed to see my GP urgently and had an emergency referral to see a Gastro Intestinal Surgeon.  As yet, I do not know if this growth is benign or malignant and I will be returning to hospital for further tests this week.  We are in that awful “this may be something or this may be nothing” phase.  I think our family is living proof of the truth of Shakespeare’s words in Hamlet;

When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions

What amazed me was the fears that began to surface in me.  Life or death is not a major issue but, I am a fairly private person.  My biggest fears centred around me becoming “the centre of attention”.  I cannot explain why but I became terrified that, if people knew, I would have people laying hands on me and praying for me in front of the church (in private is a different matter altogether).  I didn’t want people to fuss!

I have come to realise and believe that God created us to be people with feelings and emotions.  I think Jesus understood the fact that His disciples were afraid.

So, what if, this question is not a criticism?

The word rebuke or reprimand does not appear hear.  So, what if this is not reprimand but, an invitation?

You see God wants us to trust Him.  God wants us to grow in our faith and the starting point for this growth isn’t criticism or condemnation; it is honesty. That is what I have come to believe Jesus is saying here in this verse.

Be honest about it.  No false bravado.  No mask.  No hiding behind your religiosity – be truthful and together we can deal with this.

 

 

 

Dashed Hopes

One of those passages I love to read at this time of year is known as the Road to Emmaus, you can find it in Luke’s Gospel chapter 24 vs. 13 – 35.  That was my daily reading today.

There are so many ideas that come out of this passage it is incredible but, there comes with it, a familiarity.  The saying goes “familiarity breeds contempt”.  I think would be better translated as “familiarity causes us to miss”. That is always a danger with well-loved Bible passages, we can miss what God wants to say to us because we think we know it. 

So, as I approached Luke 24 this morning, I prayed that God would give me fresh eyes to see something new. 

He didn’t.

Instead, I felt drawn to verse 21 and felt that God was reminding me of something that I knew but, needed to revisit;

But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place.   (Luke 24 vs. 21 – NRSV)

In just those few short words, the disciples speak of their feelings of being let down; having their hopes dashed.  They had hoped that Jesus was the one who was going to set Israel free and rebuild it’s sense of nationhood and national pride. Now their hopes lay in a tomb following the horrific crucifixion.  Even if they had truly believed that he could rise from the dead on the third day, other than the wishful thinking of a few of their number, they had no evidence to back this claim up. 

Instead of victorious living they had hoped for, they were now running away in fear needing to get as far away as possible from those forces that may track them down and crucify them too.

All of their pain, hurt and anguish is expressed in a few short words

But we had hoped….

As I thought about those words, I began to think back over the times in my own life when my hopes and dreams have been dashed.

It happens to all of us.  The relationship that doesn’t work out.  The job we worked so hard to get turns out not to be what we thought it would be.  The friends we trusted, let us down.

Yes, it even happens to Church leaders.  You have hopes and dreams for your ministry, for the congregations you serve, for the communities where you live and then you face opposition, disquiet, complaints and grumbling.  As one of my friends once commented “Church would be great if it wasn’t for the people”

I can remember one time (not in my current post – I hasten to add) that I got so worn down by the constant grumbling, it seriously affected my walk with God.  When we eventually moved on, I felt a real sense of failure and despondency

But I had hoped…  

It wasn’t that Cleopas and the unnamed disciple had placed their hopes in the wrong thing, it was in Jesus after all. What they had done was try to confine Jesus to their way of thinking, of fitting in with their understanding, wants and desires.  Jesus view was different.

I love the way, in the story, how Jesus draws alongside and without criticism or condemnation lets them talk.  He lets them put voice to their inner feelings.  Once they have spoken, He leads them to a great depth of understanding by showing them that there is more going on here. 

As you may think that Jesus work is done (and the disciples still haven’t realised that it is Jesus with them),

he walked ahead as if he were going on.  (Luke 24 vs. 25)

They urge him to stay and the penny drops as they break bread together.

So I took the opportunity, in the peace and place of prayer to share with Jesus those times when I felt that my hopes and dreams had been dashed.  I found, as I told Him, there was no criticism, or condemnation but instead His gentle love and the warmth of His healing touch.

Is it time you had a chat with Jesus?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting in the way

It’s Holy Week.

A time, usually, of rush and hurry for those of us involved in leading Churches. This year, I have been well prepared. Sermons are written and services are planned. Just for the record, I am not sat with my feet up! There are appointments in the diary

What I really wanted to do this week was devote some of my time to prayer and the Bible. To focus in and reflect upon this incredible week. As I have done so, I have been amazed at what God has been saying to me through it.

The passage I looked at this morning is one I have preached from many times before and quoted many times before. John 13 vs. 31 – 38. It contains Jesus famous saying;

A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13 vs. 34 – 35)

I fully expected to focus on those verses, instead, I felt that curious nudge of God to read on. Simon Peter, full of bluff and bluster promising to lay down his life for Jesus and the stark words of Jesus;

Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!  (John 13 vs. 38)

I find it quite easy to relate to Simon Peter. He is straight in there, he is keen and enthusiastic holds nothing back.  He is all or nothing.   The downside is, that his ego often gets in the way of what Jesus is doing. I found myself wondering if, at times. my own ego gets in the way of what Jesus wants to do. Richard Rohr says;

The only problem is that our culture teaches that ego is the only game in town. We take it a little too seriously and take the private ego as if it is full reality. The nature of the ego is that it tries to fix, name, control and insure everything for itself (Richard Rohr – Everything Belongs page 62)

When Jesus washes his disciples feet, Peter wants to be “completely washed” (John 13 vs. 9) – I read this as “I take am more religious than….”. When he offers to lay down his life for Jesus, what Simon Peter is effectively saying is “I am more committed than……”.

Jesus warning is one we all need to hear. If you live out of your ego only, it is not long before you will fall and that fall can be devastating.

Jesus operates very differently to Peter in this situation. Instead of ego He offers His vulnerability and in that vulnerability we encounter the reality of His love. In His vulnerability we see the real Jesus. He lowers Himself as He kneels and washes His disciples feet. He shares the meal with the disciples who would betray, run away and deny Him. He gives love without demanding a return.

Our ego can blind us to love.  Vulnerability leads us towards love.

There are times when the ego has to go, we have to be truly vulnerable and allow so that the true us emerges. That is a scary thought. Of course, at one level, there are only a limited few I can really do that with, for obvious reasons.

It is, in prayer, I can be “safely vulnerable” because it is in that place I can find the full, wonderful and gracious love of God.

Are you prepared to let go of your ego, be vulnerable and find the love God gives?

 

Walking a dark path

Over these past few weeks, our family has been travelling down some pretty dark paths and, if I am brutally honest, I have found life to be a bit of a struggle.  My biggest frustration as a parent and grandparent is that I would do anything to protect my children and, in our current situation, I feel so powerless to help.

As a minister, I suppose I wear a kind of “mask”.  I have a “public persona”, the me I am expected to be and the me I want others to see.  The real me only emerges when I am in private and I am faced with the doubts and fears that lie deep within.

Of course, questions of faith emerge at times like this. I can appreciate the Psalmists Lament;

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Why are you so far from saving me,

so far from the words of my groaning?

(Psalm 22)

 

Of course, there are many well-meaning Christians who will trot out well-worn Bible verses and seek to assure that “God will use this for good”.  Whilst, ultimately, I believe God will, this kind of comment produces in me an anger that just wants to punch their lights out – in love of course!

So, why do I feel like this?  When we focus on “the good that will come, sometime, eventually, in the future” we deny the pain of the present moment. 

To see somebody in pain can be an uncomfortable experience and produces disquiet in the person seeing the pain.  So, like Jobs comforters, we want the quick fix, the easy answer.  We want to rationalise the unexplainable whilst denying one inescapable truth 

The pain is real.

I read some words this morning, quoted by Richard Rhor, that really spoke to me at the present time;

Something in you dies when you bear the unbearable. And it is only in that dark night of the soul that you are prepared to see as God sees and to love as God loves.

(Ram Das)

In many respects the message of the cross doesn’t make sense to me.  A loving God allowing His sinless Son to bear the sins of the world.  However, it begins to make more sense when we look at it through the eyes of pain.  In Jesus, God does not deny the pain of humanity but stands alongside us in our hurt and our suffering.  That, for me, is part of the message of the cross.

So, in this current struggle, there is hope.  Not that “one day we will look on this and see all the good things” but, that we are not alone in our pain, God is there.  God doesn’t deny the reality of what we face and He doesn’t walk away from us.      

 

 

Having A Duvet Day

(Icon of the Transfiguration by Theophanes 15th Century)

 

I awoke yesterday morning with a splitting headache and feeling really groggy.  The past few days had been very busy and I was feeling quite jaded.  There was nothing else for it, I awarded myself a duvet day!

Just so you are clear, it was my day off, I was not skiving.  Also, for clarities sake, I did not lounge around wrapped in a duvet wearing my PJ’s for the day.  I did, however, take the opportunity to “veg out” and catch up on some TV programs I had recorded.  I drank lots of tea and enjoyed some treats in front of the telly!

Sometimes, we all need a bit of a duvet day.  A time when we rest both our mind and our body.  Do nothing.  I felt much better as a result.  I returned to work this morning and was able to tackle a large part of my to-do list.  Had I not had my duvet day yesterday, I doubt I would have been able to do it.

The Bible sets a pattern of work and rest, that is partly what Sabbath is about. When we have a Sabbath we cease from activity and rest so that we can worship God fully. Many of us work, in order to rest.  Or we rest, in order to work.

I began to think about this slightly differently this morning as I turned to my time with God.  The passage, if you would like to read it, was Luke 9 vs. 28 – 36.  The story of the Transfiguration when the splendour of God is seen by His disciples shining through Jesus.  Those disciples began to see Jesus differently.  It was verse 32 that caught my attention;

Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 

(Luke 9 vs. 32 – NRSV)

I felt that God was speaking to me about this way in which I, so often, sleep walk through life.  I am so weighed down with all that I have to do, so focussed, that I can miss His splendour and glory shining through.  What if my rest was not so that I can work but, so that I can be fully awake?

What if your rest was not so that you can work but, so that you can be fully awake?

Think about it.  How often do you go through routines and patterns of life without even thinking about what you are doing?  I know I am guilty of that.  When I am not fully awake, am I missing the things God wants me to see, or the things God wants to say to me?

Why not ask God to help you rest so that you can be fully awake?  What do you see that is different now, to what you saw before?

 

 

 

 

Perform a U-Turn

 

I believe that one of the greatest inventions of all time is the Sat-Nav.  I tend to do a fair amount of driving and the Sat-Nav has proved invaluable in getting me from point A to point B in an efficient and quick manner.  I remember the good old days when you had to get the map out and plan your route to unfamiliar places well in advance.  With the Sat-Nav I jump into the car, program the post code and off we go.

I do, however, have a little grumble from time to time with my Sat-Nav.  Sometimes, I know the general route it’s the finding my specific destination that causes the trouble.  I program in my destination and then I drive the route I prefer wanting my Sat-Nav to guide me in the city or town of the address.  If I go one way, sometimes the Sat-Nav wants to take me another direction and the little voice chimes out;

“perform a u turn when possible”

My response to this voice is often to argue with it (I know it cannot hear me but, I still argue).  I know the general route, I have driven this before, I know the roads I like and the one’s I don’t.  Why not give me helpful advice when I need it?  Still the Sat-Nav keeps on;

“perform a u turn when possible”

I heard that same voice today as I spent some time in prayer and with the Bible.  As it is Ash Wednesday, the passage chosen was the traditional passage from Joel 2;

“Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

(Joel 2 vs. 12)

If I was to paraphrase this verse, I would translate it as “perform a u turn”.  Instead of arguing this time, I realised I needed to listen to this instruction.

Let me explain why.

It dawned on me yesterday that I have been very distracted of late. There are lots of reasons I could trot out at this point but, they would just be poor excuses. 

The phrase that I have heard some people use is “I have a monkey mind”.  I could relate to that. 

I sit down for my quiet time and thoughts are popping into my head and instead of focussing on what I am doing, I am scanning the bookshelves for that volume I put somewhere safe because it would come in handy one day.  Within a couple of minutes, I am working on something else, checking emails and I am not paying any attention to what I started out doing. 

I have even found I was having a conversation, and find I am not concentrating on what somebody else is saying because my mind elsewhere.  Goodness only knows what I have agreed to do because, I haven’t got a clue.  My mind was on other things.

This morning, through the prophet Joel I heard God say;

Perform a u turn and seek me with an undivided heart.  Focus on what you should be doing not on the things you shouldn’t.

(Joel 2 vs. 12 – my paraphrase)

 

Perhaps there is something we can all learn from this.  Do you need to make a u turn?

Specks, Planks, Smudges and Sneers

 

 

Judgments.  We all make them.  There are times in life we have to.  I need to judge which products I buy, which route I take and how I tackle a particular task.

There is another kind of judgement.  We all make them.  There are times in life when, I look at another and make a decision about them.  Our judgment can be based on many things clothes, accent even the location of where we see that person.  Sometimes, we cannot even define it, a subconscious decision.

We make our judgments based on previous experience, fear, self-preservation and assumptions.  Before we meet an individual, without even knowing we can “pre-judge” them.  Our judgments may prove to be right or wrong.

Jesus warned His hearers about the danger of judging others on what you think you know about them;

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”

(Matthew 7 vs. 1)

The judgement that, I think, Jesus talks about here is not the judgement that comes from wisdom.  Jesus does tell His disciples to be “as wise as serpents and gentle as doves” (Matthew 10 vs. 16).  I believe that the judgement Jesus speaks out against is the one that says “because you do… I am better than you”.  Or, the judgement that is willing to point out somebody’s faults and failings, whilst ignoring our own “Have you seen what …. is doing, I don’t do that sort of thing”.

I think we sometimes miss the humour of Jesus when He says;

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”

(Matthew 7 vs. 3)

Eugene Peterson, in The Message, calls this “smudges and sneers”.  We see the chaos in another’s life, and pretend that there is no chaos in our own.

So, why is Jesus so concerned about not judging people.  Firstly, I think it has to do with the barriers that it creates.  When we judge somebody else we, instantly, erect a barrier which stops us reaching them and them reaching us.  We create an “other”.  In our world at the moment we see all kinds of examples of division.  As a human race, we need to bring barriers down in order to work together for the good of the whole of humanity.  There should be no “us and them”, there should only be “us”.

Secondly, I think Jesus challenges judgement because it creates a false impression of what God is looking for.  God is not interested in our “performance” or where we come on a “league table” of faith.  He is interested in our hearts being open and receptive to Him.

We do not know the chaos that there is in another persons’ life.  We must be willing to allow God to work through the chaos in our life.  One story I came across comes from the tradition of The Desert Fathers, it really spoke to me;

A brother at Scetis committed a fault.  A council was called to which Abba Moses was invited, but he refused to go to it.  Then the priest sent someone to say to him, “Come for everyone is waiting for you.” So he got up and went.  He took a leaking jug, filled it with water and carried it with him.  The others came out to meet him and said to him, “What is this, Father?”  The old man said to them, “My sins run out behind me, and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the errors of another.” When they heard that they said no more to the brother but forgave him.

(quoted from “The Monastic Way” edited by Hannah Ward and Jennifer Wild)