Schools, guns and all that….

 

 

I wanted, some time ago, to write a blog about the recent tragic events in America.  I have held back simply because, I was not too sure what to say and how to put it.

In some respects it is none of my business because, I am not an American, I have never been to America and none of the victims are known to me in any way shape or form.  However, through news media, social media and the fact that what happens in one part of our world has an effect on the whole world, I feel that I have as much right as anyone to add my voice to the rest.

On hearing the news I was tempted to join the thousands of others with the comment “thoughts and prayers”.  I chose to remain silent at that time and, having seen the reaction, I realized that many who commented with”thoughts and prayers” were well meaning but,the emotions being felt were too raw.

I have no love for Donald Trump and I believe that allowing the general public to carry guns is ridiculous, expecting teachers to carry firearms in school is unbelievable!  I would support those people who are calling for gun control and the sooner the NRA is stripped of power the better.

But, in the aftermath and the shock, we all need to ask ourselves some very serious questions.  There is something fundamentally wrong in the world and that is what needs to be addressed.

Where young people feel disenfranchised and older people are afraid, something is wrong.  Where hatred and violence are allowed to flourish unchallenged, something is wrong.  Where people in the majority world are left to starve and fight for existence and some nations produce more and more food waste, something is wrong.

Jesus said some words that I have been reflecting on today;

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful                                          (Luke 6 vs. 37)

Jesus draws our attention to one of God’s prime characteristics, He is full of mercy.

God is loving and God is merciful and calls on us to show love and mercy not just to each other but, the whole of His creation.  We cannot live in isolation from each other, putting barriers up and creating obstacles.

As I read these words, I began to think about what they addressed in me.  I felt that they were saying “be like Jesus”.  Not easy but, essential!

What needs to change in me so that I can become more like Jesus?

What needs to change in you so that you can become more like Jesus?

Disconnect

 

I rushed into my office this morning with the urgent need to print something off ready for our morning service.  I started my computer, switched on the printer and found the document.  I hit the print icon, and waited.

I waited for a little while, yet nothing seemed to emerge from the printer.

I carried out the usual checks, printer on, icon pressed.  I made sure there wasn’t a spooling error.  There was still no sign of my document.  Perhaps, I thought, perhaps the printer needs to warm up.  So I waited.

Eventually, I accepted that nothing was going to happen.  There was nothing else for it, I needed to get some help because, there was clearly something seriously wrong.  Before plucking up the courage to ask, I decided to get a cup of tea.  On my return to the desk I spotted the source of the problem.  You guessed it, I had forgotten to plug the printer into the computer!

It was so obvious, so simple and yet I missed it.

 

It’s often the simple things we forget isn’t it?

If I wanted my computer and my printer to work, I had to plug it in.  The cable enabled communication to take place.

This served as a powerful nudge to remind me of something very important.  If I want to serve God, speak God’s word and bring God’s encouragement then, I need to be plugged into God and in communication with Him.

How do I do that?

There is an old chorus that has the refrain “Did you think to pray”.  We face difficulties and try to solve it in our own ability, and forget to pray.  We try and make key decisions in our lives, and for forget to seek God’s will.  We rush ahead with our plans and forget to ask if it is what God wants us to do.  Prayer is not only about speaking and listening to God, it is also about submitting ourselves to God.  There is a well-known verse in the book of Proverbs that says;

 

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.

(Proverbs 3 vs. 5 – 6)

Too often our prayers run along the lines “this is what I am doing Lord, please bless it”.  Instead, I think we should be praying “here I am Lord, send me” (Isaiah 6 vs. 8)

It may seem simple but, it’s often the simple things we forget isn’t it?

 

 

Now Wash Your Hands

There was something in my quiet time this morning that really challenged me.

The passage came from Mark 7 where the Pharisees complain that Jesus’ disciples were eating with “defiled hands”.  Simply, the disciples had forgotten to wash their hands before eating food.  For the Pharisees, this was a big deal and they wanted to challenge Jesus about it.

I found it a difficult passage to understand. 

I couldn’t see why Jesus argued with the Pharisees.  To my way of thinking, washing hands is common sense.  From an early age, I was trained that you wash your hands after using the bathroom, before eating food, when you have been in the garden or handling pets etc. etc. etc.  I can even remember seeing signs in public washrooms that read “Now Wash Your Hands”.

So surely, I am okay.  I wash my hands regularly.  I know the rules and I keep the rules. 

So why does Jesus make this an issue to confront the Pharisees on?  Surely, Jesus cannot be against personal hygiene?  Isn’t cleanliness next to Godliness (not a Biblical quote but, has been attributed to John Wesley)?

As I reflected on this passage I remembered just how important “purity” was to the Pharisees.  They had God’s laws and understood the value that God placed on purity but, they had missed the point of what God was truly saying.  They had become so keen on keeping the outward rules (and had created even more rules in order to keep rules about rules) that they had lost the what lay in God’s heart. 

In challenging the Pharisees, Jesus was challenging the attitude of their hearts and that is why I felt challenged.  I read some words by Henri Nouwen;

God’s house has no dividing walls or closed doors.

The rules the Pharisees put in place were acting as dividing walls and closed doors.  They were deciding who was acceptable and who was not.

I may not have quite the same rules as the Pharisees but I still have my unwritten rules, codes and standards.  The danger is that I could be building dividing walls or closing doors.  Sometimes, we need to take a look at our hearts and ask God to show us where our, unwritten, rules are causing us to build dividing walls. 

Name Badge

Let me tell you something about me you may not know.

I have a real hatred of wearing name badges!  I cannot give you a rational reason for this or an insight into my psychological make-up but, for some reason, whenever I am on a training course or exhibition or conference and the name badges are handed out my heart sinks. 

One time, my wife and I were on a training course and found a number of other people who had the same feeling.  We spent the week swapping names with each other just to irritate the trainers!  The church where I minister, at one time, wanted us to wear name badges.  Miraculously, mine all seemed to vanish (I wonder how that happened!!??!!)

I don’t have a phobia of badges, nor do I like to keep my identity a secret but, I just don’t like wearing them!

I was reflecting on this during the week when I attended a training course organised by a group outside of my denomination.  I was relieved to discover that we could just introduce ourselves and identify where in the country we came from and there wasn’t a name badge in sight!

An incident took place at lunch time that shed some light on my dislike of badges.

As we took our lunch break and I sat chatting at the table with a few people, there were two people at a nearby table who were engaging in what I can only describe as “evangelical bashing”.  They were ministers from their denomination (I am not saying that all ministers in that denomination would accept their views) and it was hard to avoid their comments because, they were quite animated in their discussions.

As their conversation and views unfolded I began to find that my hackles were beginning to rise and I was in two minds whether to go over and speak to them.  I will not repeat their comments but, dear reader, I was reaching the point where I wanted to go over and bless them with the laying on of fists.

I chose not to, to keep my mouth shut.  It was only later in the car home I began to reflect.  Why did my hackles rise and why did I not challenge?  Perhaps it was because an intervention would not have helped.  Perhaps it was because I knew there were elements of truth in what they were saying.  Perhaps, dear reader, I was simply a coward (don’t worry if that’s what you think, I wont be offended!).

I think my hackles rose because, if I had to wear a theological label, it would be Evangelical Charismatic.  I know that there many things about that label that I don’t like and there are some evangelicals who hold views that I struggle with.

In the main, however, my hackles rose because I really dislike the process of labelling.  If I put a label on myself, that is my choice and I choose what label I wear.  If somebody puts a label on me, I have no say within that and I can become a target for their prejudice, expectations or demands.  To try and either live up too or escape from the label placed upon us is almost impossible and certainly not good for our well-being.

Are there labels that are put on us that could be helpful for us? Does God ever label us?  I believe that God created us as individuals, loves us as individuals and longs to bless us as individuals and, therefore, anything that God says of us is done out of His love for us. 

Recently, some kind friend sent me some words in the form of a poem by Henri Nouwen;

Beloved

I have called you by name, from the very beginning.                                                                                         You are mine and I am yours.

You are my Beloved, on you my favour rests.

I have moulded you in the depths of the earth and knitted you together in your mother’s womb.                I have carved you in the palms of my hands and hidden you in the shadow of my embrace.

I look at you with infinite tenderness and care for you with a care more intimate than that of a mother for her child.

I have counted every hair on your head and guided you at every step.

Wherever you go, I go with you, and whenever you rest, I keep watch.

I will give you food that will satisfy all your hunger and drink that will quench all your thirst.

I will not hide my face from you.  You know me as your own as I know you as my own. You belong to me.

I am your father, your mother, your brother, your sister, your lover and your spouse… yes, even your child… wherever you are I will be.

Nothing will ever separate us.  We are one.”

 

This is a label that I not only am I prepared to wear but, I am happy to do so and I hope you can wear it too.