Shedding the weight

Obesity 1

Don’t panic!  This is not a reflection on dietary demands and reducing your BMI!!!

I was reading the Bible the other day, and I read something that really spoke to me.  Jesus is preparing His disciples to go out into the big-wide world to share His gospel message.  He gives them some advice and it was that advice that really challenged me.  In Matthew 10 verse 10 I read these words;

You don’t need a lot of equipment. You are the equipment, and all you need to keep that going is three meals a day. Travel light.  (Matthew 10 vs. 10 – The Message)

 Travel light

I am not good at packing.  Just recently, I went on retreat for a couple of days and I was determined to make a better job of it than usual.  I decided before hand just what I would need.  What was essential, what would be handy and what was not required.

I began well.  I sorted the absolutely essential and put it in my case.  Then, some sort of panic set in!  I started to put into my case everything that I could think of, and then I demanded a bigger case!!!! 

My wife tried to ease my worries by reminding me that it was ONLY two nights away.  She was sure that if I had discovered that I needed a mosquito net in Chelmsford, the retreat centre would have one (okay, I made that bit up) But, by the end of my packing I had the distinct impression that, if I could have got the kitchen sink in, I would have done! 

When I arrived at the centre, I struggled to carry my bags (yes I had packed so much, I needed two cases!) up to my room.  Over the course of my two nights I discovered that the majority of what I had packed was not needed! 

Next time, I promised myself, I will travel light!

Overpacked-luggage

(not quite an accurate illustration but, you get the point)

It made me think.  Do we always travel light in life or, are we in danger of carrying a bit of excess baggage with us?

It occurred to me that, as Jesus prepared His disciples to go out into the world, He would be fully aware that they would not always be welcome.  They would face hardships, persecution, misunderstandings, challenges and criticism.  If they held onto these things, they were in danger of carrying excess baggage.

What do we do with the hurts we carry, the mistakes we make, the times we deliberately mess up, the anger that builds up?  It sometimes feels as though we pack them away tight in the suitcase of life. 

Dare I say it?  Some of us have been lugging around excess baggage for years!  We need to hear those words of Jesus

Travel light

Then it struck me, this is not a command, it is an invitation.  Jesus invites His disciples to travel light just as He gives us the invitation to travel light.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

(Matthew 11 vs. 28 – 30)

We can come to Him and give Him our excess baggage, we don’t have to carry it anymore.

 

Bully

bully-cartoon-2015-2

I have debated long and hard about whether or not to write this down and share it on the interweb.  I am not one who goes in for bearing my soul for all and sundry but, I have done this in the hope that it helps somebody out there in blogland!

I have not written this to elicit sympathy or to create speculation as to who, what, when, where.  If you ask me, I will decline to answer!

So (mentally I take a deep breath)….

For most of my life, I have suffered from bullying.

I was bullied at school

I was bullied at work

And yes, I have even been bullied in Church too.

At school and work this bullying took the form of intimidation, threats and violence (I recall coming home school dripping in spit), or being struck by my manager at work because I didn’t get some work done in his time scale.  At Church it was mainly in threats to accommodation, job, family security and (on one occasion) my life.  

Bullying is not something that is confined to the world of school playgrounds and teasing.  Nor is bullying “a bit of banter”.  I have friends who I can banter with and enjoy a good laugh with – I certainly don’t lack a sense of humour. 

Bullying is nasty, vicious, and destroys human life.  It undermines people and crushes their spirit.  When I have suffered from bullying I have felt so utterly alone, abandoned, powerless and I have felt pathetic for putting up with it.  It can lead to depression and other mental health issues and, in the most extreme cases, can lead to suicide.  

I really struggled when it comes to talking about bullying in Church and it’s only because I am in a good and caring Church now (where bullying does not take place), that I can write about it and seek the inner healing that I need.

I also struggled because, I love the Church.  I believe that the local Church is the hope of the world and I consider it an absolute privilege to serve within a congregation, to the glory of God.  I struggled because, I don’t want anyone to think badly of Churches.  There are many excellent congregations out there with some wonderful people within them doing incredible things.

I suppose the nub of the problem is, we expect better of Christians.  Somehow, the Church should be a place where people are affirmed, loved, treated with respect and grace.  It comes as a nasty shock to discover that Christians are frail human beings too.  I don’t doubt that those who bullied me had a faith (that is between them and God) but, I really struggle to understand how they could divorce their faith from their actions.  I also struggle with the knowledge that some of those who bullied me, are still in positions of authority in their Church fellowship and their behaviour goes unchallenged.

The main issue I have found is that the bullying I have suffered over my life runs very deep.  It isn’t that I haven’t forgiven, I have.  But, there are occasions when the hurt rises to the surface and my emotions are stirred again and I feel the turmoil that I thought had long gone.  What I have learnt about forgiveness is that when our hurts are deep, forgiveness is like peeling an onion.  Layer upon layer.  Forgiveness is not a “one off” event, it is an on-going process.

The classic Psalm that I often turn to when I feel the emotions rising within me is Psalm 22;

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?                                                                           Why are you so far from saving me,                                                                                                So far from the cries of my anguish                                                                        (Psalm 22 vs. 1)

 It’s an amazing Psalm and carries with it some very powerful images.  As I sat before God this morning, I didn’t just confine myself to the opening parts of that Psalm, I read it through.  As the Psalm progresses, the message of it changes from despair to hope and it finishes with a hope that lasts beyond the years.  For those who have faced bullying, whether school, work, Church, or anywhere one of the things we lack is hope.  Bullying has a way of knocking the hope out of us.

The God we proclaim is the God of hope.

The God we proclaim is the God of resurrection

The God we proclaim is the God who is the restorer of life.

My prayer for you, if you are facing the bullies, is that in it all you will know that as you cry out to God, He will hear you. May hope arise in you today.

 

 

 

 

 

Shut up!

silence-please-238x238

The scene is an incredibly dramatic one.  A woman caught in the very act of adultery is dragged into the temple and brought before Jesus.  The Pharisees demand that Jesus makes a decision.  The Jewish law says she (and the man – there had to be one) are stoned to death, however, only the occupying power of Rome could pass a death sentence. 

For the Pharisees, this is a moment of triumph.  At last they have trapped Jesus because, whatever He says now, is going to put completely destroy Him.  If He agrees and endorses the Law of Moses, then He is on collision course with Rome.  If He endorses the rights of the occupying power, He will undermine the Jewish law and be seen as a quisling. 

Perfect or, as Mr Burns may say, “excellent”

Well, if you know the story, you will know what happens next.  Jesus turns the whole situation round and suggests that those who have no sin have the right to stone her.  You can read this story in John’s Gospel chapter 8 verses 1 – 10

 

jesus-woman-in-adultery

I preached on this passage last week in our current sermon series “Grace is Greater”.  But, it’s been a story that I have been re-visiting this week.  The more I have reflected on it, the more I can see that it is not what Jesus says and does that speaks to me, it is what He doesn’t say and do that challenges me.  As I looked at different translations of the story I found one version that said;

But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. (John 8 vs. 6 – New King James Version)

Do you see it too?

Jesus was silent!

And this has led me to reflect on the power of silence.  That is what really challenges me in this story.  The power of silence. 

Jesus is silent at this point and later as He waits for those without sin to “cast the first stone”. 

Now, you don’t need me to give you a long ramble on how noisy the world is, you can hear it for yourselves!  But, I found myself wondering, why do we find silence so difficult?

Silence can feel oppressive almost to the point when it can be deafening.  I have sat in prayer meetings and felt awkward, in those moments of silence when I almost feel as though I have to say something.

Sometimes, we can see silence as an opportunity.  A chance to get our voices heard.  We can set the tone of a discussion if we grasp the silence.

Perhaps, silence makes us uncomfortable because, we cannot escape the one voice that we all struggle with, our own. It is only in the silence that we can truly hear ourselves and do not always like what we hear.

In the silence we can hear our fears, our weaknesses, our insecurities that have built up through the events of our lives.

But there is something else about silence.

Silence can also be companionable.  Comforting.  No pressure to speak, or “prove yourself”.  It’s in the silence that we can meet our Companion God.  He can and does journey with us in the silence of our hearts and takes us deeper into Him;

Deep calls to deep                                                                     (Psalm 42 vs. 7)

 As somebody, very wisely, said;

silence

So, I mean this in the friendliest way possible, shut up!

On Piers Morgan and being heard!

Piers_Morgan_at_PaleyFest_2013

It happened again this morning. 

I was just flicking through the TV channels to catch the news headlines and I caught just a few seconds of Piers Morgan verbally attacking somebody, I heard the raised voice and the word “bigot” and I switched over.

I don’t know what the interview was about.  Nor do I know what had upset Piers Morgan this time.  It seems every time I catch a brief part of the ITV morning offering Mr Morgan is venting his spleen at someone. As I hurriedly passed over his anger and aggression I found myself thinking “whatever happened to grace?”

Grace has been in my thinking a lot recently because, it is the main theme I am preaching on at the moment.  I want to make absolutely clear, I am not pointing the finger at Piers Morgan (that would be a lack of grace on my part, as I don’t know the full facts of what it was about).  What I am questioning, however, is the lack of grace within society as a whole.

I suggested, on Sunday, that one of the first steps in discovering grace comes from a heart of compassion.  Jesus was a man of tremendous compassion, in the Bible we read these words;

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.                                                    (Matthew 9 vs. 36)

Are we a less compassionate society than we used to be? 

Are we more critical of others than we used to be?

Are we more willing to complain about others rather than compliment others?

As I reflected on the part of the interview this morning, I remembered seeing the person that Piers Morgan was angry with trying to explain his point of view and not being able to get a word in. 

I wondered about myself, how often do I want to get my voice heard, score points, be seen to be right and not allow others to be heard?  Some words from the book of James really spoke to me;

Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear.                                         (James 1 vs. 19)

Sometimes, we will not like what we hear but, if we are to have compassion which leads to grace we MUST learn to listen.

Oh Lord                                                                                                                                       Unblock my ears                                                                                                                                     And                                                                                                                                                             Close my mouth                                                                                                                                     That compassion and grace                                                                                                           May grow in me                                                                                                                                     AMEN