All in


Okay, let me get a bit personal. 

 If you think that the Christian makes things easy, here is a bit of news for you. It doesn’t! Sometimes, being a Christian is a tough thing. Being a minister doesn’t give you instant access to all the answers to all your struggles.There is a verse that I have been thinking about recently;

So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. (Genesis 32 vs. 24)

The (simple form) background is that Jacob had conned his brother Esau out of his inheritance and then, did a runner. Years later, Jacob returns home to face the music and he is terrified of Esau. Perhaps you can picture him sat there alone and frightened.

Suddenly, somebody jumps onto his back and wrestles him to the ground. His back must have been agony, his face is ground into the dirt, mouth full of mud! His first thought must have been “it’s Esau, I’m dead!”

The good news is, it isn’t Esau. The bad news, there is a wrestling contest to win!

Now, for people of my generation wrestling brings to mind old ladies watching Grandstand or World of Sport on a Saturday afternoon with colourful characters like “Big Daddy” and “Giant Haystacks”. But (now for the personal bit), I am a wrestler too – although “Smasher Sean” doesn’t sound very intimidating!

You see Jacob was wrestling God and (building on personal bit), that’s who I wrestle with too. Yes I believe God is sovereign, yes I believe that Gods ways are the best ways, yes I believe God intends to bless me but……

Most of my wrestling is because Gods ways are not my ways and there are times when I want God to do it MY way.  

So why did you do…..?

Why do I have to….?

Why haven’t you….?

Sometimes, it isn’t easy. 

 Sometimes it is a wrestle. 

 Sometimes I wish I could pin God down and get what I want when I want it!!!!

So let me share with you what I have learnt.

You see, I don’t think God minds the wrestling! It’s one of the ways we can learn and grow. God is big enough to take all of our questions, all of our fears and all of mistakes. God isn’t threatened by us but, longs for us to be in relationship with Him. Part of a growing relationship is the wrestling

Also, I think God wants us to wrestle with Him. He doesn’t want us to be mindless automatons. He has created us with personality, intellect and will. He wants us to use what He has given us.

As the passage draws to a close, Jacob wins the wrestle but, refuses to let his “opponent” go until he has blessed Him. It’s then that God reveals Himself to Jacob.

I know that in my wrestling, in my struggles, somehow, some way, somewhere God will reveal Himself and bless me. So “smasher Sean” will keep on wrestling! And you, dear reader, if you are wrestling I pray that somehow, some way, somewhere God will reveal Himself to you

I don’t believe it!

This morning, in Church I shared this painting with the congregation.  No, I didn’t paint it!  My drawing is pathetic.  This was done by an artist called Caravagio in the 17th Century.  Just take a moment and look at the expression on the faces.  Take a look at where Thomas has placed his hand, imagine what his going through his mind. 

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Incredible isn’t it?

This painting is commonly called “Doubting Thomas”, however, Caravagio called it “The Incredulity of St Thomas”.  I like that word “incredulity”, I like the way it sounds.  It means;

The state of being unwilling or unable to believe something

 So was Thomas unwilling or unable to believe?

The story is well known. 

Jesus has been raised from the dead and has appeared to the disciples (all apart from Thomas, for some reason he wasn’t with them).  For a whole week Thomas has heard “Jesus said this”, “I saw Jesus”, “so did I”.  For a whole week he has heard nothing but resurrection encounters and, he is on the outside of it all.  Jesus had not appeared to him!

So, Thomas is incredulous – unwilling or unable to believe.

I wonder if he felt rejected because, he was the only one who was uncertain in a world where others were so sure?

I have a bit of a soft spot for Thomas.  You see, there are times when I can be incredulous, I become the Victor Meldrew of the Church “I don’t believe it”.

Victor 

When others experience God in a particular way that I don’t – I can be incredulous

When God answers other peoples’ prayers and not mine – I can be incredulous

When God speaks to or through others and not me – I can be incredulous

When I beg and beg and beg God and nothing seems to happen – I can be incredulous

The story ends on a good note.  Jesus appears and speaks to Thomas’ incredulity.  Thomas experiences Jesus presence and is transformed by Him.  But, I think Jesus also speaks to my incredulity in this story too;

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”                                                                                                  (John 20 vs. 29)

Those who have not seen and yet believe must include people just like me! 

To believe in Jesus is a choice to trust Him and take Him at His word whether I see the evidence for it, or not.  It’s about trusting and keeping on trusting, no matter what.  One verse from the Bible that really speaks to my incredulity is;

“Then I believe. Help me with my doubts!”                                                                              (Mark 9 vs. 24 – The Message)

 

DIY Disaster

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Is there anybody else out there who remembers Meccano?

As a small child, I was given a Meccano set complete with spanner, screwdriver and set of instructions.  With a set of drawings and ambition on my side.  I turned to the back of the book, skipping all the boring simple models and set out to build a model of a Harrier Jump Jet!

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There were a few problems with my attempts. 

Firstly, I lacked the skill required to build it – I had the blueprint but, I had never built Meccano before.  Instead of starting with something more straightforward, I got consumed by my ambition to build something that I wanted and I wasn’t patient enough to learn.

Secondly, I didn’t have the right tools.  To build the model of the jump jet, I needed a hammer, vice and pliers in order to twist the Meccano into the desired shape.  They did not come with the Meccano set.  Thirdly, I did not have enough components.  If I had read the instructions properly, I would have understood that I needed more sheets and struts of Meccano steel than I had.

My attempts at building my Harrier Jump Jet Model never really got off the drawing board and I soon became frustrated with Meccano!

I wonder if you can identify with that?  Oh it need not necessarily be a Meccano model.  We try and build a DIY bookcase, or wardrobe or anything really and make a mess of it – I tried a coffee table once (just the once – never again).  We try and build friendships, or relationships with people and find ourselves being hurt.  We try and build trust with people, only to discover they are not trustworthy.

There is a song we sing in Church that I have been thinking about today :-

Let us build a house where love can dwell                                                                                    and all can safely live,                                                                                                                           a place where saints and children tell                                                                                           how hearts learn to forgive.                                                                                                           Built of hopes and dreams and visions,                                                                                       rock of faith and vault of grace;                                                                                                     here the love of Christ shall end divisions:


All are welcome,
all are welcome,                                                                                                      all are welcome in this place.                                                                                                            (Marty Haugen)

I truly believe that this is what Church should be about.  But, like my Meccano set, it can be more than a little frustrating!

I suppose I could use a variety of analogies from my Meccano experience and liken that to Church.  However, I missed one crucial element out of my Meccano failure.  You see, the fourth (and main reason) why I failed was, I never asked my dad for help!  If I had asked him, I am certain he could have built it and he would have given me the great joy of being able to work alongside him.

I think this is a lesson we need to learn in Churches. 

We cannot build this wonderful, grace filled and grace fuelled community on our own.  So many have tried in the past, and got frustrated.  We need to start asking our Heavenly Father for help.  As we do, not only will He help us, He will also give us the great joy of letting us work alongside Him.

It’s a cliché, I know

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But that doesn’t make it any less true!

 

Jesus in Birmingham?

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Good Friday, this year, for me will be a little different.  I usually join with other Christians in Clacton on “Christmas Tree Island” and take part in the open air service and walk of witness and then onto one of the town Churches for the united service.

As I am leading the united service, I will not make it to Christmas Tree Island (even I cannot manage to be in two places at once!).  At the risk of causing major controversy, I am never sure about the Good Friday walk of witness.  On the one hand, it shows the numbers of Christians, for whom, this particular day holds something unique and special.  On the other hand, as it is a silent sombre walk we don’t really communicate the vibrancy of our Christian life to a world that regards this day as nothing more than part of a “long weekend”.

The words of Geoffrey Anketel Studdert Kennedys’ poem “Indifference” certainly come to mind

When Jesus came to Golgotha, they hanged Him on a tree, 
They drove great nails through hands and feet, and made a Calvary; 
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns, red were His wounds and deep, 
For those were crude and cruel days, and human flesh was cheap. 

When Jesus came to Birmingham, they simply passed Him by                                           They would not hurt a hair of Him, they only let Him die;                                                       For men had grown more tender, and they would not give Him pain, 
They only just passed down the street, and left Him in the rain. 

Still Jesus cried, ‘Forgive them, for they know not what they do, ‘ 
And still it rained the winter rain that drenched Him through and through; 
The crowds went home and left the streets without a soul to see, 
And Jesus crouched against a wall, and cried for Calvary. 

(G. A. Studdert-Kennedy)

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 Well, let me share with you two stories.

Firstly, from a few years ago in Clacton.  It was a cool but bright Good Friday and I had never seen so many people gathered for the Good Friday Walk of Witness.  The service had been ably led by one of my Church of England colleagues and, at the appropriate time, we set off on our “silent” walk.

 There were so many of us, even to get going took a little while.  I ended up walking with a retired Pentecostal minister toward the end middle of the procession.  We got just by a Greggs the Bakers shop and there were people stood on the paths watching us and one woman turned to her friend (in the shop) “look at this, there are loads of them!” 

 She was right.  There are loads of us who recognize this day as significant in God’s story of His love for humanity.  My Pentecostal friend couldn’t resist it, he shouted “yes there are, and you really should come and join us!”  Perhaps this Good Friday would be a Good opportunity for you to come and join us, recognizing what God has done for you through Jesus Christ.

 My second story?  Not quite Birmingham.  I used to live just north of Birmingham in a place called Bilston.  We had a Good Friday walk of witness that took us through the town and at various points we would stop, read part of the story and sing and then move on.  Like many parts of the West Midlands at that time, Bilston was going through major refurbishment and we had to pick our way through shoppers, road works, builders and workmen.  It was a push and a shove to keep up that year.

 As we reached one point, the passage simply said “they crucified Him” we could hear the sound of somebody hammering nails into wood in the background.  It seemed that the whole town became silent, all we could hear was hammering.  I don’t mind admitting it, I couldn’t help it but, the tears started to fall – and I wasn’t the only one!

In words of John’s Gospel

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

(John 3 vs. 16 – 17)

That’s why Good Friday is significant.  God loves you and sent His son, Jesus into this world to live the perfect life and to lay His life down in order that nothing can separate us from God.  All we need to do is ask Jesus to come into our lives, it’s as simple as that!

However you are planning to mark Good Friday, why not take an opportunity to thank God for Jesus and for the cross.

 

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What are you praying for?

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What are you praying for?

Bit of an intrusive start to a blog but, think about it for a moment, what do you pray for?

Perhaps health or wealth.  Peace and security in your personal life, or the world.  Maybe that a loved one will keep on the straight and narrow.  Or, maybe, it’s a question you cannot answer because, well just because….

I read some words this morning that really spoke to me and set my prayer for today. 

Keep steady my steps according to your promise,
    and let no iniquity get dominion over me.

(Psalm 119 vs. 133 – ESV)

Different translations, of course, have a different way of recording it.  From “direct my paths” to “order my steps”. But, it was the words from the ESV that particularly struck me.

“Keep steady my steps…”

Have you ever watched a child learning to walk?  At first they take their tentative steps and then, they go through a phase, where to keep their balance they go faster and faster until they run and their bodies cannot keep up with the speed, they lose balance and fall!

“keep steady my steps…”

Last week, I had some time off.  During the course of the week I went on a trip to London and, as my visit drew to a close, I sat on a bench opposite the RBS building right in the heart of the City.  I don’t know about you but, I find people watching fascinating!  What amazed me was the speed of the people as they rushed from one thing to the next, talking on their phones, as they negotiated their way through the crowd bumping and jostling.

 

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Am I so very different?  Sadly, no I am not! 

In my day to day life I can get so wrapped up in what I am doing and my need to complete more, rush from one challenge to the next that, before I know it, I can so easily be going so fast that my soul cannot keep up with my speed and I fall.

“keep steady my steps…”

So, what are you praying for?  I was challenged today to pray

Keep steady my steps Lord, according to your word and promises

Let nothing get hold of me that you don’t want in my life.

Keep steady my steps O Lord

AMEN

 

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