Disconnect

 

I rushed into my office this morning with the urgent need to print something off ready for our morning service.  I started my computer, switched on the printer and found the document.  I hit the print icon, and waited.

I waited for a little while, yet nothing seemed to emerge from the printer.

I carried out the usual checks, printer on, icon pressed.  I made sure there wasn’t a spooling error.  There was still no sign of my document.  Perhaps, I thought, perhaps the printer needs to warm up.  So I waited.

Eventually, I accepted that nothing was going to happen.  There was nothing else for it, I needed to get some help because, there was clearly something seriously wrong.  Before plucking up the courage to ask, I decided to get a cup of tea.  On my return to the desk I spotted the source of the problem.  You guessed it, I had forgotten to plug the printer into the computer!

It was so obvious, so simple and yet I missed it.

 

It’s often the simple things we forget isn’t it?

If I wanted my computer and my printer to work, I had to plug it in.  The cable enabled communication to take place.

This served as a powerful nudge to remind me of something very important.  If I want to serve God, speak God’s word and bring God’s encouragement then, I need to be plugged into God and in communication with Him.

How do I do that?

There is an old chorus that has the refrain “Did you think to pray”.  We face difficulties and try to solve it in our own ability, and forget to pray.  We try and make key decisions in our lives, and for forget to seek God’s will.  We rush ahead with our plans and forget to ask if it is what God wants us to do.  Prayer is not only about speaking and listening to God, it is also about submitting ourselves to God.  There is a well-known verse in the book of Proverbs that says;

 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
 in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

(Proverbs 3 vs. 5 – 6)

Too often our prayers run along the lines “this is what I am doing Lord, please bless it”.  Instead, I think we should be praying “here I am Lord, send me” (Isaiah 6 vs. 8)

It may seem simple but, it’s often the simple things we forget isn’t it?

 

 

Now Wash Your Hands

There was something in my quiet time this morning that really challenged me.

The passage came from Mark 7 where the Pharisees complain that Jesus’ disciples were eating with “defiled hands”.  Simply, the disciples had forgotten to wash their hands before eating food.  For the Pharisees, this was a big deal and they wanted to challenge Jesus about it.

I found it a difficult passage to understand. 

I couldn’t see why Jesus argued with the Pharisees.  To my way of thinking, washing hands is common sense.  From an early age, I was trained that you wash your hands after using the bathroom, before eating food, when you have been in the garden or handling pets etc. etc. etc.  I can even remember seeing signs in public washrooms that read “Now Wash Your Hands”.

So surely, I am okay.  I wash my hands regularly.  I know the rules and I keep the rules. 

So why does Jesus make this an issue to confront the Pharisees on?  Surely, Jesus cannot be against personal hygiene?  Isn’t cleanliness next to Godliness (not a Biblical quote but, has been attributed to John Wesley)?

As I reflected on this passage I remembered just how important “purity” was to the Pharisees.  They had God’s laws and understood the value that God placed on purity but, they had missed the point of what God was truly saying.  They had become so keen on keeping the outward rules (and had created even more rules in order to keep rules about rules) that they had lost the what lay in God’s heart. 

In challenging the Pharisees, Jesus was challenging the attitude of their hearts and that is why I felt challenged.  I read some words by Henri Nouwen;

God’s house has no dividing walls or closed doors.

The rules the Pharisees put in place were acting as dividing walls and closed doors.  They were deciding who was acceptable and who was not.

I may not have quite the same rules as the Pharisees but I still have my unwritten rules, codes and standards.  The danger is that I could be building dividing walls or closing doors.  Sometimes, we need to take a look at our hearts and ask God to show us where our, unwritten, rules are causing us to build dividing walls. 

Name Badge

Let me tell you something about me you may not know.

I have a real hatred of wearing name badges!  I cannot give you a rational reason for this or an insight into my psychological make-up but, for some reason, whenever I am on a training course or exhibition or conference and the name badges are handed out my heart sinks. 

One time, my wife and I were on a training course and found a number of other people who had the same feeling.  We spent the week swapping names with each other just to irritate the trainers!  The church where I minister, at one time, wanted us to wear name badges.  Miraculously, mine all seemed to vanish (I wonder how that happened!!??!!)

I don’t have a phobia of badges, nor do I like to keep my identity a secret but, I just don’t like wearing them!

I was reflecting on this during the week when I attended a training course organised by a group outside of my denomination.  I was relieved to discover that we could just introduce ourselves and identify where in the country we came from and there wasn’t a name badge in sight!

An incident took place at lunch time that shed some light on my dislike of badges.

As we took our lunch break and I sat chatting at the table with a few people, there were two people at a nearby table who were engaging in what I can only describe as “evangelical bashing”.  They were ministers from their denomination (I am not saying that all ministers in that denomination would accept their views) and it was hard to avoid their comments because, they were quite animated in their discussions.

As their conversation and views unfolded I began to find that my hackles were beginning to rise and I was in two minds whether to go over and speak to them.  I will not repeat their comments but, dear reader, I was reaching the point where I wanted to go over and bless them with the laying on of fists.

I chose not to, to keep my mouth shut.  It was only later in the car home I began to reflect.  Why did my hackles rise and why did I not challenge?  Perhaps it was because an intervention would not have helped.  Perhaps it was because I knew there were elements of truth in what they were saying.  Perhaps, dear reader, I was simply a coward (don’t worry if that’s what you think, I wont be offended!).

I think my hackles rose because, if I had to wear a theological label, it would be Evangelical Charismatic.  I know that there many things about that label that I don’t like and there are some evangelicals who hold views that I struggle with.

In the main, however, my hackles rose because I really dislike the process of labelling.  If I put a label on myself, that is my choice and I choose what label I wear.  If somebody puts a label on me, I have no say within that and I can become a target for their prejudice, expectations or demands.  To try and either live up too or escape from the label placed upon us is almost impossible and certainly not good for our well-being.

Are there labels that are put on us that could be helpful for us? Does God ever label us?  I believe that God created us as individuals, loves us as individuals and longs to bless us as individuals and, therefore, anything that God says of us is done out of His love for us. 

Recently, some kind friend sent me some words in the form of a poem by Henri Nouwen;

Beloved

I have called you by name, from the very beginning.                                                                                         You are mine and I am yours.

You are my Beloved, on you my favour rests.

I have moulded you in the depths of the earth and knitted you together in your mother’s womb.                I have carved you in the palms of my hands and hidden you in the shadow of my embrace.

I look at you with infinite tenderness and care for you with a care more intimate than that of a mother for her child.

I have counted every hair on your head and guided you at every step.

Wherever you go, I go with you, and whenever you rest, I keep watch.

I will give you food that will satisfy all your hunger and drink that will quench all your thirst.

I will not hide my face from you.  You know me as your own as I know you as my own. You belong to me.

I am your father, your mother, your brother, your sister, your lover and your spouse… yes, even your child… wherever you are I will be.

Nothing will ever separate us.  We are one.”

 

This is a label that I not only am I prepared to wear but, I am happy to do so and I hope you can wear it too.

 

 

 

 

Stick with it

 

This morning, in our Church service, I used some green garden canes to help make a point.

I had a volunteer join me in front of the congregation and handed him a single stick.  I got him to snap it.  This wasn’t much of a challenge for him.  In a few seconds, one stick became two in his hands.  I then got him to put the two sticks side by side and again, snap them.  It took a little more effort but, again, it wasn’t exactly a difficult challenge.  Two sticks soon became four.

As my volunteer had shown his strength and ability I decided to up the stakes (no pun intended) and handed him a bundle of 50 garden canes.  Try as he might, it was impossible for him to break them.

What was the point of this illustration?  I was using it to show the truth behind passage from Ecclesiastes that says;

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

(Ecclesiastes 4 vs. 12)

The more sticks we put together, the harder they were to break and, by the time we reached 50 it was impossible to even flex them.

We are stronger, if we stand together.

One of the best things about being a Christian is that I don’t have to be “on my own” anymore. I have a relationship with God which is life transforming and I also have a relationship with those around me in a Church family – the Bible calls this fellowship.

When our fellowship stands together we are able to support each other, help each other, bless each other and we are able to resist the pressure that comes our way.

If I am truthful with you, I really love the Church fellowship that I am involved with.  However, being part of a fellowship is not always easy.  There are times when relationships are difficult and have to be worked on.  There are, equally, times when I am not always easy to get on with.

If you are struggling with Church or not, my advice to you is “stick at it”, it will help you stand!

 

 

Words words words or, brush up your Shakespeare

 

We had our Church Meeting last night.  As is our practice, Church Meeting begins with a service of Holy Communion and during it, I share some thoughts on a Bible passage.  Last night, I read some verses from Psalm 19.  As the reading reached the end, I said “I just have to read this verse because, it’s an important one to me”;

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

(Psalm 19 vs. 14)

Why did I say that verse was important to me?

I didn’t give any explanation at the time but, I have been reflecting on it over night

So, here goes…..

Words are important to me.  Yes, a conversation without words is impossible but, words are more than just sounds that come from our mouth.  They are part of communication, and we all know how important what we communicate and how we communicate can be.

 

Words carry with them incredible power

I can remember the first time that the English language took on a whole new depth to me.  I was about 14 or 15 and I was given an opportunity to go on a school trip to Stratford upon Avon and then a visit to the Shakespeare theatre to see “the Scottish play”.  I wanted to go, I have no idea why, I just wanted to be there.

My parents tried to dissuade me with comments about not being able to follow it, outdated, not being part of any course I was doing at school etc. etc.  Pester power won, in the end, and I got on the trip!

In all honesty, I didn’t understand every last word spoken.  I struggled, at some points, with the subtleties of the plot and the political significance of the story (written just after Guy Fawkes had tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament – which is what the “Porter” scene is all about).  But, what came over to me was the power of the language.  The power of the words

Those words in “The Scottish Play” had the power to move me to laughter, bring tears to my eyes, to scare me witless, to make me jump!  They had such an impact on me that, even to this day, I can still quote some of the lines I heard that night!

That night, I fell in love with the plays of Shakespeare and have had the privilege of sitting through and taking part in many of his works over the years.  (yes, I did am-dram and we were used by the BBC and Japanese breakfast TV as extras  – autographs are available!!!)

Although I wouldn’t claim to have the eloquence of Shakespeare I suppose, at one level, words are my “stock in trade”.  Words are important to me, as a preacher and pastor the words I use are significant in various situations that I find myself in.  I am aware that the words I use can bring consolation or desolation.  The words I use can also bring hope where hope is lost (my good friend Chris Duffett has written about this recently, and you can read about it here https://chrisduffett.com/2018/01/24/words-of-light-for-a-dark-day)

Often, as I sit to prepare the words that I will use in a service, act of worship, sermon I will pray;

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

(Psalm 19 vs. 14)

And as I prepare to deliver what my heart has been meditating on, I will pray those words again.

Thinking wider than my working life, what about my daily life are the words I use, bringing glory to God?  The Psalmist prays that the words he uses, will be pleasing to God.  I know, at times, I have used words that are less than pleasing to me, let alone God.  

The old phrase “sticks and stones may break my bones but, names can never hurt me” is a lie.  Words can bring with them destruction, damage and pain.  In fact, many of us live still with the sound of cruel words, spoken to us in childhood, ringing in our ears. This is why I think the Psalmist doesn’t just speak about the words he uses in this verse, he also speaks about the intention behind those words.  The intention of our heart needs to be right before God. 

And so, as I reflected on this verse today, I have made the words of this Psalm, and the intention behind the words my prayer for this day.  What is your prayer for today?

Pearl of Hope

 

There are some places that mean a tremendous amount to me.

One of those places is The House of Retreat in Pleshey (you can find out about it here www.retreathousepleshey.com).  It means a lot to me because, when I am there, I spend with a wonderful group of people who hold a special place in my heart but also because it is a place of prayer.

I had the joy of spending a couple of days at Pleshey this week and during that time we had some very noisy, high powered winds that hit during the night (confession time, I was doing my well known impression of a pneumatic drill and missed the whole thing).  In the local area, trees were brought down, branches and rubbish were strewn all over the place.  In my own town, chimneys were damaged and a roof was blown off a pub!

The following morning, I was walking in the garden at Pleshey and snapped the quick photo of the snowdrops.  As I did, I heard God whisper to me “pearls of hope” and that set me thinking…

I wanted to know what a pearl really is and so I asked a well- known search engine whose name rhymes with frugal and discovered that

Natural Pearls form when an irritant – usually a parasite and not the proverbial grain of sand – works its way into an oyster, mussel, or clam. As a defense mechanism, a fluid is used to coat the irritant. Layer upon layer of this coating, called ‘nacre’, is deposited until a lustrous pearl is formed.

(https://pearls.com/pages/how-pearls-are-formed)

It really hit me that something, so beautiful, is formed out of an irritant!  God can do the same, those things that hurt and are painful in our lives can, if placed into God’s hands, produce something incredible and beautiful.  My own pain, hurts whether “big” or “small” can be used by God to produce something amazing.

The other thing that I began to think about was the state of the garden itself.

January can feel a bit bleak.  Not much colour or variety and yet, in the midst of this barrenness God plants his little pearls of hope.  Sometimes we have to stop and really look for them, other times they leap out at us.  In those bleak times of our lives, God plants his little pearls of hope. Sometimes we have to stop and ask God to open our eyes so that we can see them.

After the storm the other night, I went out into my own garden and surveyed the damage!  Thankfully, not much damage but you can tell that there has been some disruption.  Lids off water barrels, shed door looking worse for wear, next doors fence is looking decidedly dodgy now.

Sometimes, major storms can hit our lives too.  Major disruption and big damage.  But, just like the snowdrops, God always plant his little pearls of hope.  We just have to look for them.

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.

(Romans 12 vs. 12)

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