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?