Feeling a little deflated

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So, here’s what happened.

I had been at a wonderful meeting with local Baptist Ministers.  It had been a really special time and, to be honest, they are a great bunch and I count it a privilege to know them.  As I left the meeting, I was feeling pretty good and all was right with the world.

Then it happened.

I noticed, on the drive home, the car wasn’t handling quite as well as it did. There was a bit of a rumbling noise coming from it. I pulled over and noticed the rear nearside tyre  was running flat.

It had been fine when I left home earlier.  I am fairly sure it was okay when I pulled off from the meeting.  But, somewhere between leaving the meeting and the road home something had gone wrong. The tyre was deflated.

Okay I admit, my first thought was not “oh goody, here is the perfect illustration.  It was later, when I got chance to reflect, I thought life has a habit of doing that.

It seems that, in life, we go through a sort of cycle.  Good times, bad times.  On top of things, below things, Inflated, deflated.  The “inflating” of the meeting was suddenly (and literally) deflating in front of my eyes.

The car had to be taken to a nearby garage and a nail was discovered in the tyre which had, somehow, in my travelling driven deeper into the tyre and caused a loss of pressure – the garage, very kindly, gave me the nail as a souvenir of my visit!

 

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One of the things that I have noticed about life’s deflating times is that everything seems so much more exhausting and it’s harder to just keep going.  If you like, I need re-inflating as life deflates me!  I need Gods Holy Spirit to breath in me and fill me afresh.

In the letter to the Church in Rome, Paul writes

Oh! May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope! (Romans 15 vs. 13 –  The Message)

I think that is a wonderful prayer and one I am asking God to fulfill in my life.

 

 

 

 

All powerful?

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I have been reflecting on the nature of “power”.

The word “power” has many different connotations to it.  We may think of it as strength, force, energy.  We may see a leader, national or local, exercise power as they motivate or direct.  Power can be used for good or ill in the lives of people.

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How do you get power?

In our society, power is often conferred on people through their education, status, position or election.  The powerful may have some perceived talent or ability that sets them apart from the rest of us and gives them an authority.  In some societies, power is something to be seized and grasped.  Manipulation, fear are the weapons that power wields in order to maintain its position. Perhaps the most famous quote on power is attributed to John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, first Baron Acton (1834–1902).  In a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887 said;

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

So, why have I been reflecting on the nature of power?

Like many ministers, at the moment, I am preparing for Easter.  It’s that time when we focus upon Jesus passion, death and resurrection.  Throughout it all, we are presented with the God who challenges what the world teaches about power and true power.

Jesus, sometimes referred to in the Gospels, as The Master kneels and washes His disciple feet.  The role that would have been taken by the lowest of the low is done by the Lord.

For the Son of Man himself has not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life to set many others free                                                                                                                                    (Mark 10 vs. 45 – JB Philips)

What Jesus shows us is the correct usage of power.  It is not to demand obedience but, rather, it is to be used to serve.

Jesus, could have overthrown those who wanted to destroy Him.  He could have called angel armies to His aid and given an incredible demonstration of power.  Instead;

who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death –
even death on a cross!                                                                                                           
(Philippians 2 vs. 6 – 8)

I believe that, for us all, there needs to be a re-discovery of the power of service.  When we serve, in Jesus name, we demonstrate the power of the Kingdom of God at work in us.

What might that power look like for you today?

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London Terror

 

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I have struggled to get my head round the horrific events of Wednesday.  But, I wanted to offer this to you as a reflection of where my thinking has been leading me.

Firstly, my heart goes out to the families of all those who lost their lives in Wednesdays attack on London.  My thoughts and prayers are with the injured. 

I know I am not the only one who admired the professionalism of the emergency services.  If you don’t already, please uphold these women and men in your prayers.

There will, no doubt, be a lot of speculation as to the motivation behind the attack.  I cannot begin to imagine what can possibly lay behind somebody thinking that the taking of another’s life can be a good thing.  In fact, the effect is more likely to have a negative.

Let me explain what I mean…

There are times when an event that takes place in one nation has a worldwide effect.  One of those times was the tearing down of the Berlin Wall (9th November 1989).  For many years nations had been engaged in a “Cold War” and the Berlin Wall was a powerful symbol.

With the collapse of the wall, a divided nation became one. It was a time of hope, the world suddenly felt safer there was a real sense of people coming together and reaching out to each other in new understanding.

As a nation, we stand at a crossroads.  Wednesdays events could divide communities and build a wall of hostility. Or, we could take the alternative road, and not allow these events to divide us but, unite us as we stand against the forces that want to drag us down the road of destruction.

As a Christian, I take the Bible as my inspiration and guide.  In it I learn that Jesus call is to love one another, even those we who would we regard as our enemies (Matthew 5 vs. 44).  Jesus also said “blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5 vs. 9).

But, the words that have really spoken to me over these last few days were written by the Apostle Paul.  He said;

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.                                                                                                                                        (Galatians 3 vs. 28)

Jesus breaks down the barriers that we are so good at building.  Jesus can speak over all that divides and unite us.  Today, and every day He calls us to follow Him and walk in His ways.

What might that look like for you today?

A crushing illness

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Pressure pushing down on me
Pressing down on you, no man ask for
Under pressure that burns a building down
Splits a family in two
Puts people on streets

It’s the terror of knowing
What this world is about
Watching some good friends
Screaming, “Let me out!”
Tomorrow gets me higher
Pressure on people – people on streets

(Writer(s): Brian Harold May, John Richard Deacon, David Bowie, Frederick Mercury, Roger Meddows Taylor)

 I could certainly identify with the lyrics of that song by Queen and David Bowie.  Please, don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining about the pressures that ministers face or, even suggesting, that ministers have life harder than their congregations – I don’t, even for a second, consider that to be remotely true.

 What I am suggesting is that our society is suffering from a very modern disease called “hurry sickness”.  Its symptoms manifest themselves in stress, too much to do and little time in which to do it, unreasonable demands we place upon ourselves, and loss of perspective.

 I know that can be true for me, at times. 

 Dont-panic-Thinkstock-290pxWhat I find, when I am afflicted by this terrible disease, is that the smallest things suddenly get blown out of all proportion and I enter panic mode very easily.

 

 

So, what is the cure for this malady?  Well, the bad news is there is only one known cure.

 

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That’s it, slow down!

Somebody once told me that the word BUSY is an acronym

B – burdened

U – under

S – Satan’s

Y – Yoke

 

In order to slow down, I need to swap yokes.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

(Matthew 11 vs. 28 – 30 The Message)

That’s what I did, yesterday.  I pulled aside for a little while and slowed down.  I spent time with God in prayer.  I spent time in the Bible and in reflection.

 What I found was, a miracle took place.  No, my desk did not miraculously clear itself.  My diary did not empty itself. 

The miracle took place in me.   

As my heart calmed, perspective returned the pressure was not nearly as bad as it had felt, I stopped being unreasonable with myself and I had just the right amount of time for what had to be done.

If you are a fellow sufferer of “hurry sickness”, I hope you learn to swap yokes too.

 

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Yes, I have some banana’s

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It’s the classic, slapstick, silent comedy film moment.

One man walking down the street eating a banana.  He peels it, throws the skin (peel) over his shoulder.  Second man walks along the street, steps on the banana skin and slips over. Laughter ensues, or not as the case may be.

I don’t know how realistic it is. I don’t know how fresh the skin has to be, or even if it is possible to slip on a banana skin.  But, I do know, spiritually speaking, I have slipped on a few banana skins in my time.

Life seems to be progressing well. Family life, work life, walk with Jesus progressing nicely and then oops, there is a banana skin!  The apostle Paul was right when he said;

If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall.                                                                              (1 Corinthians 10 vs.12)

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Our banana skins come in different forms.  

Criticism,                                                                                                                                   discouragement,                                                                                                                             loneliness,                                                                                                                                                     isolation,                                                                                                                                                         poor choices,                                                                                                                                                 loss of perspective 

and so on and so on.  If I am honest about it, the most embarrassing banana skins I slip on, are the ones that I have put in my own path!

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So, we slip on the banana skin and, as we lay on the floor, we feel hurt and defeated we can find ourselves wondering “can I go on?” I would like to encourage you today – yes you can!  

Here are some things you need to know

Know – there is a way back

I love the story of Jonah.  There was a man who knew how to slip on a banana skin.  He is called by God to go to Nineveh and so, he runs in the opposite direction.  You may remember he ends up inside a big fish.  Whilst he is in there he comes to his senses (for a short while at least) and realizes God will give him a new beginning

I said, ‘I have been banished
    from your sight;
yet I will look again
    toward your holy temple.’                                                                                                                              (Jonah 2 vs. 4)

Know – this is not the end

Our banana skins do not represent the end of the line for us.  God is a God of new hope.  Even when our situations seem totally hopeless, God can do far more than we can imagine.  Job was a man who slipped on a few banana skins and none of it was his fault!  Even when his friends tried to help him, they end up supplying even more banana skins.  He said this;

“At least there is hope for a tree: If it is cut down, it will sprout again, and its new shoots will not fail.                                                                                                                                                                                (Job 14 vs. 7)

As Job was to discover, there was hope for him and, despite the banana skins, he found this was not the end, God did not give up on him or, let him down.

Know – who you are

When we hit the banana skin, we can end up feeling lost and confused and we may even think that we are of no use to God.  Let me say this, God loves you because you are you and not because of what you or may not do for Him.  You are His child and no matter what, He continues to love you;

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith,                                                                   (Galatians 3 vs. 26)

 

The reality of life, for all of us, is that we will all slip on the odd banana skin along the way.  However, I hope, the next time you slip you will remember it is not the end of the road for you.  It is an opportunity to begin again.

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I am the greatest!

I AM THE GREATEST!!!!

What do you think when you read those words?

Over inflated ego?  Got a high opinion of himself?  What planet is he living on?  I am greater than him! Of course, they are not my words (nor my opinion of myself) but, they are the words of legendary boxer Muhammad Ali (1942-2016). 

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I have never been into boxing but, I had tremendous respect for Muhammad Ali.  I will never forget the sight of him fighting against Parkinsons Disease and lighting the Olympic Torch at the Atlanta Games in 1996.  What I particularly liked about him was his ability with a phrase “floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee”. With 56 wins recorded to his name, you could almost think he was the greatest.  However, standing against those 56 wins, are his 5 losses.  Was he truly the greatest?

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In 2002, the BBC presented a program called “The Greatest Briton” and a list was presented for public to vote upon.  Included in that list were names such as, Nelson, Shakespeare, Charles Darwin, John Lennon and Diana Princess of Wales.  The one who was voted the Greatest Briton was, Winston Churchill.  But, was he truly the greatest?

Recently, the idea of greatness has risen to the forefront in our thinking because, over the pond, a certain person has run with a slogan “Making America Great Again”.  Now, my purpose in writing this is not political, but it has interested me how this slogan has really caught the imaginations of people throughout the world.

It’s an interesting thought, how do we measure greatness?  Is it measured by your reputation? By the amount of money in the bank? In measuring your own greatness do you compare yourself to others? Do you try to impress your peers? Or are you attempting to live up to someone else’s expectations of you?  Perhaps it is, as Shakespeare says;

Some are born great,                                                                                                                                             some achieve greatness,                                                                                                                                          and some have greatness thrust upon them.   

So, why all this thinking about greatness at this time?

We are in the period of the Church Calendar known as Lent.  In my own reflections, I have been following the story of Jesus as prepares Himself for the ordeal of the cross and the triumph of the resurrection.  In my reading yesterday, these words really spoke to me;

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

(Matthew 20 vs. 25 – 28)

The kingdom of God takes the standards and values of the world and turns them upon their heads. 

Greatest to lowest,

first to last,

master to servant. 

Jesus Himself was to demonstrate this so powerfully as, at the Last Supper, He would kneel and wash His disciples’ feet (read John 13 for this).

I wonder, if we took Jesus standard, what would a great nation truly look like?  If we took Jesus standard, would I be a truly great person, would you be a truly great person?

I wrote this prayer :-

Dear Lord,

In Jesus, you were willing to take upon yourself the very nature of a servant.  You undertook the lowliest of jobs, and reached out to those that the world had rejected.

Forgive me, for those times, when I have sought affirmation from others, rather than offering encouragement.

Forgive me, for those times, when I have sought to preserve my image and my status, rather than seeking to demonstrate Jesus love to others.

Forgive me, for those times, when I have sought to be served, rather than being willing to serve others.

Lord, in Jesus, you showed the world the full extent of your love.  In me, may the name of Jesus be honoured by my words, thoughts and deeds. 

This day and always

AMEN

 

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Caught

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Have you ever been caught?  I was, yesterday , let me explain what happened….

My wife and I were enjoying a bit of piece and quiet.  There was trash on the TV and a mug of tea in my hand.  The kids were out.  It was a lovely moment of relaxation. Suddenly, my wife said “have we any chocolate in the house”.  I replied that we had none.  Then Paula said “what about your secret stash?”

I had been caught.  

How did she know that I keep a bit of chocolate squirrelled away?  

Just in case you are wondering, the secret stash does not exist, anymore (honest!).  I was caught, it was cleared.

But, it got me thinking.  

At the end of each day, I reflect back over what has happened.  I reflect back over my reactions, feelings, those things that I have worked out well and those that have not. Sometimes, I acknowledge that there are things that need to be brought to God and forgiveness sought.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. …

(1 John 1:8-9 NIV)

I don’t think there is any of us who is perfect, we all make mistakes in life.  Even some of the great figures of the Bible make horrendous mistakes.  But, last night, as I was reflecting back over the day some words of a Psalm came to my mind

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

(Psalm 139 vs. 23 -24)

To me, it was as though these words were Gods prompting “and what about your secret stash?” 

I believe that God wants us to be completely honest with Him and doesn’t want us to carry a “secret stash” of guilt in our hearts.  If we are honest with Him, He will forgive us and help us to walk out our freedom in Him.

So, do you have a secret stash at needs to be dealt with?

Psalm 139

 

Oh No!!!!

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It’s been a difficult few days in the Fountain household.

It began with my birthday last Saturday (I am still young enough to celebrate birthdays). During the course of the celebration, the electric failed.  Investigating the problem we discovered that the washing machine had flooded, beyond repair, and that was the cause of the tripped electrics.

On the Sunday I got into the car, to discover that (to cut a very long story short) the car has an electrical problem.  Devices that used to work, no longer do.

There followed a few days of heavy commitments and, in my rush, I needed to use my laptop on Wednesday morning.  I pressed the on button and nothing worked.  My laptop was doing a really good reenactment of Monty Pythons “Dead Parrot” (this is an ex laptop – bereft of life it rests in peace).

I did the only thing I could do in the circumstances- PANIC!

My laptop contains information for work.  Sermon notes, funeral services, policies, funding applications, minutes of meetings, agendas etc etc etc.

My laptop contains personal information.  Family history research, photographs, music, videos etc etc etc.

What was I to do, it was all gone?!?!?

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Now, the smart ones amongst you will be saying “no problem, it’s all backed up to the cloud, just pull it down”.  My response?   I know that NOW but, to me, “the cloud” is something that drops rain on the gentle earth!

Thankfully, I have a son who is a genius.  He was able to recover my documents, back up to the cloud, put a new hard drive into my laptop (thanks Dan) and get his old dad functioning again.

So, where is this leading?  

I had a few days of no computer, and plenty of worry.  I trusted my laptop, I kept vital information on it.  But, when it failed, I was lost for a few days.  It’s a sad fact of life that we do get failed from time to time and many of us carry that sense of being let down into life with us.  

As we are in the period of Lent I re-read a well known passage and some words really interested me;

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. 

(Luke 4:1-2 NIV)

 

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This comes straight after Jesus baptism.  His baptism was a “high point” moment, the voice of God had declared that Jesus was God’s son and He was well pleased with Him (Luke 3 vs. 22) and yet, almost instantly, Jesus is led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit.  When we read the term “wilderness” we can picture it as being an unpleasant, difficult place and, for Jesus, it is the place where the devil tempts Him. Surely, for Jesus, life should have been easier.  God should have let His ministry begin.  There were people to heal, disciples to train, teaching to give and yet God leads Jesus into the wilderness.

Perhaps you are familiar with this verse;

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 … (some versions “direct your paths”)

(Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV)

The danger with reading this verse as a “proof text” is that we can end up concluding that either “God doesn’t love me” , “I am being punished” or “God has let me down and I therefore cannot trust Him” when we find ourselves in the wilderness places. If we expect smooth roads, easy paths we will be disappointed, life isn’t like that, we live in a damaged and fallen world.   Jesus didn’t have a smooth ride!  In fact, His path will lead to the cross before the resurrection.

I really like The Message version translation which says;

Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
he’s the one who will keep you on track.

I like to think of “the path” a little like hill walking or climbing.  Sometimes the path is great, sometimes it’s hard going but, the view when we reach the top is absolutely breath taking and  really worth it.  The wonder of all of this is, that we don’t journey alone God wants to journey with us.  In fact, the word “trust” here means, to lean your whole weight upon.  Therefore, we can lean our whole weight upon God.

Jesus, in the wilderness, leans His whole weight upon The Father and comes through the struggle with the devil.  In our trials, wildernesses (is that a word?), difficulties, God invites us to lean our whole weight on Him and keep leaning on Him because, in the end it will truly be worth it.  We can trust Him because, unlike my laptop, He will never fail.

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