Don’t Put That Light Out!

_67833840_pertwee_bbc

I am a huge fan of the show “Dad’s Army”.  I cannot begin to count how many times I have seen it, in fact, some episodes I can say the lines before the characters on the screen!  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the programme (is that possible?), one of the “nasty” characters in it is the ARP Warden Hodges (portrayed by the magnificent Bill Pertwee) with his catchphrase “put that light out!”

In truth, during the Second World War, the ARP did a valiant job in enforcing blackout restrictions (hence “put that light out!”), they were part of the rescue efforts when the bombs fell and they helped people to find shelter during a raid.

Light is one of those recurring themes in the Bible. Light was the first thing God created “Let there be light” (Genesis 1 vs. 3),and He separates light and dark day and night.  In the Old Testament light is used as a symbol of goodness, righteousness, blessing the presence and the Holiness of God.

In that wonderful prologue of John’s gospel we are reminded that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.  As FF Bruce once said;

A little candle can dispel a roomful of darkness and not be dimmed by it.  Light and darkness are opposites, but they are not opposites of equal power    (FF Bruce)

When Jesus spoke to the people of Israel about who He was and what His role was He describes Himself like this;

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8 vs. 12).

Light can be divided into two sources.  Natural light – sunlight, the light that you see from stars. Artificial light – That is the sort that relies on an external power source.

Artificial light is not the same as natural light.  Have you ever thought that we live in a world of artificiality.  We have food and drinks with artificial sweeteners in them artificial colours in them.  If you look at the list of ingredients in your food you are left wondering how much of it is real food.  When you look at all the E numbers you are left in no doubt as to why the kids get hyper.

We have artificial fabrics, man-made fibres in our clothes.  If the fibres are not man made then think about the colours you are wearing

We have cubic zirconium which is an artificial diamond.  Ask the wife which one she would prefer and I can guarantee the diamond is more popular.  Why?  Because it’s real not fake.

When Jesus talks about being the light of the world He is talking about real light not artificial.

There are so many artificial lights available today. But what we discover is that they never bring us the satisfaction we hope for.  Jesus came to bring us reality with God, not artificiality.

The Christian faith is not wrapped up in propositions and principles but rather in a person, and that person is Jesus; take Him out of the equation, and we have nothing. In Jesus we see what it truly means to live in relationship with God.  In Jesus we see what it truly means to walk in step with the Holy Spirit.

Why settle for the artificial light, when you can have the real light?

But, there is another sense to the word “light” and it’s found in these words of Jesus;

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.”   (Matthew 5 vs. 14)

I saw these words come to life when I was in the Judean desert.  We were travelling on a coach at night and many of my travelling companions were asleep (I just couldn’t get off).  It was absolutely dark outside so it was impossible to see anything, as we rounded a bend in the road up on a hillside you could see a city full of blazing light.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden!

I see these words as an instruction from Jesus.  We, the followers of Jesus, are to reflect the light of Jesus in our dark world.  Our task is to show the difference Jesus can make and, in so doing, bring hope to a world in a world of darkness.

It’s not just about letting our light shine on a Sunday.  We are to let our light shine on Mondays and Tuesdays, even on rotten Wednesday’s (I have always had a problem with Wednesdays!), right through the week.

It’s not just about our light shining when we are in church.  It’s also about letting our light shine when we are in the big wide world too.  You see, Jesus speaks about there being no place for secret discipleship. Matthew 5 vs. 15

No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl; instead it is put on the lampstand, where it gives light for everyone in the house.               (Matthew 5 vs. 15)

 The people that Jesus was speaking to lived in dark one-room houses.  Within the main room a small clay oil lamp would be burning – it would be placed on a fixed lampstand.  The last thing you would do is hide it a light that is covered is no use!

So, rather than “put that light out”, friends, we have to let the light shine and keep on shinning in the darkness.

No more bricks!

31 - old Beijing brick wall

We don’t need no education
We don’t need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone
Hey teacher leave them kids alone
All in all it’s just another brick in the wall
All in all you’re just another brick in the wall

(Roger Waters – Pink Floyd)

I remember it well.  Pink Floyds great album, the unmistakable chant, and the opportunity to upset a few teachers in the playground(yes, I was at school at the time)!

Well, I am all grown up now (most of the time) but, I am an expert when it comes to building walls and I suspect I am not the only one.  Not of the brick variety, you understand, I build walls of the emotional kind.  The sort that keep people out and stop them from finding the real me.

The bricks I use to build my walls are the bricks of Anger, Hurt, Failure, Criticism, Despair, Loneliness and I am sure you could name quite a few bricks that find their way into the walls you build.  The sad thing is that, over the years, I am fairly sure I have contributed some of my bricks to other people’s walls as well.  But each hurt that’s thrown our way each barbed remark we make about others, there goes another brick in the wall.

When the Apostle Paul wrote to the Church in a place called Ephesus, he reminded them about the walls that had been put in their lives.  There was the wall between humanity and God (the wall we call sin) and the wall between people divisions of race, class and culture.  The Apostle Paul takes the opportunity to remind them that all the walls can be broken down because of what Jesus has done on the cross;

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility

(Ephesians 2 vs. 14)

So, what about my walls?  The ones I have spent years building to protect me and to keep people out, what about these?

What I realize is, that yes walls can protect but, they can also keep out the ones that I really want to let in.  They can keep my family, my friends, my colleagues away from me so that they never see the real me and get to know the real me. Ultimately, I can build my walls so strong that I end up keeping God out too.

So brick by brick, prayerfully, I begin to demolish the wall.  It’s a risk, there is the danger of more bricks heading my way but, I am discovering the God who heals and can bring me peace despite the bricks that have headed my way;

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

(Psalm 147 vs. 3)

So, let me ask you, if somebody hands you a brick, are you going to put it in your wall or, hand it to God the wall breaker?

Oh I do like to be beside…..

13934861_893790920726147_7701090500867930237_n

Perhaps you can remember the good old days, when you visited the seaside and heard the brass band playing;

Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside
I do like to be beside the sea!
I do like to stroll upon the Prom, Prom, Prom!
Where the brass bands play:
“Tiddely-om-pom-pom!”

Well, if you strolled along the Clacton prom prom prom yesterday you would have seen something entirely different.  The Churches Together in Clacton celebrated their event, “Praise On The Prom”.

Expertly hosted by BBC Radio Essex presenter, Andrew Merchant, the afternoon featured contributions from many of the Clacton Churches.  We have been running this event for a few years now and, in my opinion, it improves every year.

Yesterday was a little different to the norm.  Instead of “just” an open air worship event with music and drama, around the fringes of the arena you would have found people holding placards saying “I will Listen”, “Free Hugs”, “Free Water”.  I was on the water stand and gave out 96 bottles of water to people!  The Free Hugs and Listening gave people passing by an opportunity for the church to engage “hands on” with them.  Yes, people did stop for a hug or a chat and welcomed the opportunity to be prayed with!

One of the roles that I have is as chair of Churches Together in Clacton and I have seen at first hand just how much effort the organizing team have to put in each year. “Thank you” seems to be such a small thing to say for all your hard work John, Pam, Dan & Hannah but, this event would not happen without you.  Tony and the set up team worked from 8am on the Sunday morning, it was a long day for all of them!

The music group from the Church I have the privilege to minister at, put in a long shift yesterday too!  I hope none of them are suffering too much today!

So, why do we bother?  The Psalmist says;

How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! (Psalm 133 vs. 1)

We come together to show that the Church is UNITED.  We may be different denominations, have different ways of doing things, have different styles but, in the essentials, we are UNITED.  Jesus is Lord, knowing Jesus makes a difference, lives are changed when we live in the relationship we were made to live in – when we know God as our heavenly Father.

We come together to celebrate the freedom we have in this country to worship God.  In many countries of the world, Christians live in fear because they are persecuted.  We must not take our freedom for granted but, use it wisely.

The Psalmist then goes on to say;

It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down upon the collar of his robes.  It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. (Psalm 133 vs. 2 – 3)

I don’t know if you have ever experienced anointing with oil?  I have, I didn’t enjoy it.  It’s a messy experience!  Sometimes, Christian unity can be a messy experience.  During the preparation of this years Praise on the Prom, things did get messy.  I saw many of the committee in tears at times with their frustrations.  I know many of the organizing group wanted to walk away and give up on it.  Some people outside the group just did not grasp the vision and thought the group were doing things wrong!

One of the things that I admired most about the organizing group was the way they worked through the issues.  They pulled together, they did not give up, they kept on.  When John learnt he could not tow his trailer in the carnival, he pulled it by hand instead!

And the result of all this?

For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore. (Psalm 133 vs. 3)

And there were blessings, it was a fantastic afternoon.  People were spoken to, people who would not normally attend church joined in.  Faces were painted.  People were prayed with.  Water was drunk.  One passer-by who took a bottle of water from me asked, “why does the church care?” my reply “because Jesus does”.

So, all in all, I felt really blessed yesterday and I am certain many others did too.

 

 

 

A touch of the Marvin’s

1569872-the_hitchhikers_guide_to_the_galaxy

Oh wondrous news, great rejoicing Radio 4 Extra is repeating a wonderful series that I first listened to years ago, and it still makes me laugh all these years later “The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy”.  For those of you who are scratching your head and thinking, “what on earth is he on about?” let me tell you a little about it. The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy is an electronic book published by Megadodo Publications coming out of the great publishing houses of Ursa Minor Beta.  What makes the Hitchhikers Guide so popular is the comforting words on the cover “Don’t Panic”.

Of course (for those worried that I have finally flipped my lid), it is a work of fiction written by Douglas Adams.  Whilst I do not agree with a lot of what Adams has written, it doesn’t stop it from being a brilliantly inventive comedy with some really well written characters.

One of the characters that I have a soft spot for is Marvin the paranoid android.  Marvin, as he likes to remind everybody, has a brain the size of a planet and, when he is set a menial task, complains about it and usually rounds off his moan with the phrase “life, don’t talk to me about life”.

Well I have been reflecting on life so, I am going to talk to you about life.  Jesus once said to His followers;

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

(John 10 vs. 10)

Life, for many people, is about existence.  Get up, go to work, get home, eat, sleep, repeat. Many find themselves wondering if life really has any meaning or purpose at all.  As one commentator said “you live and learn then you die and forget it all”.

But, I think to hold that view ignores part of what makes us human, you see we were created with a desire to know our creator.  Augustine of Hippo (no that isn’t a joke – it is his name) said; Our hearts are restless until they can find rest in you.

I believe that the Bible teaches that God created us because He loves to create, to love and to bless and that life in all its fullness is to live in the light of that love and blessing.

Of course the world isn’t perfect and life isn’t always perfect. So, how can we live life in all its fullness this side of perfection?

To help me understand this I looked at my garden.  I am a hopeless gardener but, every couple of weeks a gardener comes in and does battle with the weeds, the lawn, and tidies up.  What is amazing is that the work is never ending, weeding, mowing the grass and so on.  She does this not because she has nothing better to do but, because if we are to enjoy the garden she needs to remove all of the obstacles that stops the garden from flourishing.

Day by day, God wants to work in our hearts and remove all of the obstacles, weeds and rubbish that have built up and as He does that, life in all its fullness will begin to flourish in you.

 

Gracious God, keep me close to you today and enable me to walk in your presence.

Lord, may I be close enough to you to feel the beat of your heart and may my eyes see the wonders of your grace.

 

A Trip Down…

Memory-Lane

As somebody once quipped “nostalgia aint what it used to be”.  Well, last week I took a nostalgic trip and visited Swineshead and Boston in Lincolnshire.  I was born in Boston, I have a number of relatives who still live there.  It was lovely to walk down the streets and see how things have changed and, of course, it evoked memories of the past.

Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed my visit, I don’t think it’s healthy to live in the past and mourn over the “good old days”.  You see, when we live only in the past, we are unable to move on or accept that people and life changes.  To live solely in yesterday, makes our ability to live today somewhat more difficult.

The opposite side to this is, as Edmund Burke said that “those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it”.  That is one of the problems that we read over and again in the Bible with the ancient nation of Israel.  They forget the past, and so repeat the mistakes of the past.  When Jesus speaks to the Church in Ephesus in the book of Revelation He says;

Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. (Rev 2 vs. 5)

As one commentator suggests “cultivating spiritual memory leads to spiritual health”.  So, here are some things I am trying to remember which I hope will help you too.

Firstly, I want to remember that I matter to God (you matter to God).  God is not interested in numbers, He is interested in individuals.  Because I (you) matter so much to God, He sent Jesus to die on the cross for me (you).

Secondly, I want to remember that God is concerned with the attitudes of my heart (your heart).  Therefore, how I live today matters to God.  Am I (you)loving, forgiving, compassionate?

Thirdly, I want to remember that God wants me (you) to grow in my (your) relationship with Him.  To do this, He sent His Holy Spirit to work in my (your) heart.  Therefore, I need to remember to listen for the prompting of God’s Holy Spirit.

Fourthly, I want to remember that God has promised to always walk with me (you).  Therefore, no matter how difficult life seems to be, I (you) am not alone no matter what seems to be happening around me.

Now, if I (you) can keep remembering all these things, that would be a trip down memory lane worth taking!

A Fishy Story

free-shipping-font-b-cartoon-b-font-man-fishing-big-font-b-fish-b-font-oil

For the past couple of weeks I have been preaching on one of my favourite books of the Old Testament; Jonah.

Perhaps it’s the fisherman in me that loves the idea of a big fish, or the rebel in me that enjoys the idea of running in the opposite direction to the one being asked to go in!

But, I confess, it’s neither of these.

I was reading that In Jewish synagogues on the day of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, a passage from the story of Jonah is read, and the whole congregation responds with the words “We are Jonah.”

You see, this book is also about us; sometimes the story of Jonah is just like looking into a mirror and sometimes, I don’t always like what I see!

There are times when all of us can be disobedient to God

– there is Jonah,

There are times when all of us are insensitive to others

– there is Jonah,

There are times when all of us are dissatisfied with the way God has worked,

– there is Jonah,

There are times when all of us are selfish.

– there is Jonah,

But, what makes the story so powerful to me is that we also see the compassion of God.  You see, when I look into the mirror of Jonah, I see the compassion of God reaching out to me despite the fact that “I am Jonah”.  The Psalmist says this;

The LORD is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion.

Ps 116:5

It’s in God nature to be compassionate, not a little compassionate but full of compassion.  And this story is about how the compassion of God works to bring about a transformation in the heart and life of one of His people and then in the city of Nineveh.

But, there is another uncomfortable moment.  The story finishes on a rather challenging note when God says;

“But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”

(Jonah 4 vs. 11)

And we are left with a question, do we share God’s concern for those who do not know Him?  What are we doing to share His message with those around us?