Joy Filled?

The English Language is weird!

No two ways about it.  For as long as I have spoken, my language has always been English.  To my shame, I have always struggled when it comes to learning other languages.  Over the years I have tackled French (c’est une catastrophe), I was hopeless at Hebrew and Greek was all Greek to me.  English is the only language I have ever mastered and English is weird!

This fact has really been brought home to me over the last few months.  We have a young German youth worker on placement in our Church at the moment.  I am, effectively, his line manager and we meet regularly for chats as well as developing his work.  I can say something that makes perfect sense to me, however to him, it means something entirely different.  I now have to think carefully about the words I use and the context in which I set them.

So take, for example, the sermon I preached in Church yesterday morning.  I used as the key word “Joy”.  The sermon was based around Ezra chapter 6 where the Bible says;

Then the people of Israel—the priests, the Levites and the rest of the exiles—celebrated the dedication of the house of God with joy.

(Ezra 6 vs. 16)

What does “joy” mean?  Are you the sort of person that could be described as “joyful”?

In much popular thinking, joy is equated with happiness.  Some people would describe joy as exceedingly happy or happiness over an extended period.  For some Christians joy is characterized as a “hallelujah anyway” and the ability to smile through whatever difficulty life throws at us.

I have come to the conclusion that is wrong!

The Bible is not silent about the difficulties of life and the Messiah is described by Isaiah as;

 

…a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.

(Isaiah 53 vs. 3 NLT)

But I do believe that Jesus was a man who was full of joy.  Let’s face it, nobody wants to follow a misery guts, yet people must have seen something in Jesus that was worth following.  I think that, in part, it was the joy that Jesus had and still has.

To help me get to grips with happiness and joy I read this in www.psychologies.co.uk/joy-vs-happiness

Joy and happiness are wonderful feelings to experience, but are very different. Joy is more consistent and is cultivated internally. It comes when you make peace with who you are, why you are and how you are, whereas happiness tends to be externally triggered and is based on other people, things, places, thoughts and events. 

Christian joy is not grounded in ourselves, it is grounded in Jesus and in all that He has done for us.  Because of Jesus, we have can have peace and confidence in the relationship with God we were created to live in.  Jesus joy was grounded in His relationship with His Father.  That is what, I believe, people saw in Him and wanted to find out more.

Rather controversially, I did suggest in my sermon that there were two things that should characterize a Christian.

The first is love. Love of God, of each other and even our love for ourselves (see Matthew 22 vs. 39, Mark 12 vs. 31, Luke 10 vs. 25 – 28)

The second characteristic is joy!

Perhaps, I need to do some more work on both of these.  How about you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gift of Hospitality

I read a quote this morning that really made me stop and think, it comes from Henri Nouwen;

To pray for others means to offer others a hospitable place where I can really listen to their needs and pains.  Compassion, therefore, calls for a self-scrutiny that can lead to inner gentleness

(Henri Nouwen – The Genesee Diary)

There were three words that lept out at me from this quote.

The firstly word was hospitality.  I wonder if many Christians today are losing touch with this most important of gifts.  We expect our Churches to be places of welcome (especially toward us) but, what about our homes?  Think about it, when was the last time you invited somebody you do not know so well to come and have coffee with you?

One of the sad facts in our society today is that community is slowly dying.  We, as a society, are becoming more self-absorbed and focused upon the individual.  I am sad to say I see this trend entering the Christian Church.   One of the reasons, I think, that there is an increase in isolation, loneliness and fear is as a result of the loss of community.

I believe that Christians have a unique form of community based on and around the person of Jesus Christ.  However, too many in the Church have a “come to us” mentality when, in fact, Jesus tells us to go to them (see Matthew 28 vs. 19).

The second word that challenged me was the word listen.  Listening is part of the gift of hospitality.  We do not invite people to come in without creating space to listen.  I think that is part of what the story of Martha and Mary is about (Luke 10 vs. 38 – 42).  Martha is concerned with the mechanics of hospitality , Mary is concerned with the listening of hospitality.  I think that’s why Jesus said that Mary had chosen the better way.  If you look at the painting by Velazquez (from 1618) I think Martha’s expression says it all!

To really listen to somebody is one of the greatest gifts we can give them.

The final word was “compassion”.  The listening we do must not just be surface only but, it must be listening with our hearts.  Our hearts need to be touched by the stories we hear so that we can truly pray for those we give hospitality too.

The quote from Henri Nouwen really made me think today about what part hospitality plays in my life and ministry.  How about you, will you look around you today and ask “who can I show hospitality to?”

The Good Shepherd

 

This morning, I sat down for my quiet time with my Bible, journal and reading notes.  I have been working through the section in the Gospel of John where Jesus talks of Himself as “the good shepherd” (John 10 vs. 1 – 30).  The particular verse that I was focusing on this morning was verse 27;

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

In our modern western culture, we are aware that sheep are driven and guided.  We may marvel at the skill of our modern shepherds controlling their sheep dogs to guide the sheep where they need to be.  However, there is something special about the image that Jesus presents us with, a shepherd walking ahead of his sheep calling for them to follow.

Of course, these verses and images are familiar to those of us who have been a round church circles for a little while.  However, my notes encouraged me to think of things in a slightly different way this morning.  I found that, what they suggested, was profoundly helpful.

Let me explain.

I am used, at the end of the day, to stopping and reflecting back.  I reflect on my whole day.  I think about those things that went well, those things that did not.  I will ask myself if there were times that I felt especially close to God or, were there times when God felt absent.  I ask myself if I have encountered God in places, or people, where I did not expect Him.  It’s a good thing to do and is part of my daily routine.  When I have done this, I take the opportunity to hand the day over to God complete with its successes and failures.

My notes today suggested that, as well as doing this at the end of the day, why not do this also at the start of the day?  I sat with my diary in front of me and looked at the list of appointments, the tasks that needed to be done.  I was aware of the things that I will accomplish, those things that needed to be put aside.  I was aware of the pastoral visits and how I would seek to bring the comfort of God in various situations.  I thought about the conversations of celebration and those that would be a little harder.  Most of all, I became aware of the clamor of voices that would fill my day and I thought of Jesus words;

My sheep listen to my voice

I then used my imagination and tried to picture Jesus in my day.  What did He look like?  What was He doing?  What was He saying?

I had, at that point, what I can only describe as a really profound experience. The picture I saw was of an outstretched hand.  It was almost as if I was being invited to reach out and hold Jesus hand!

As my prayer time came to a close, I was left with this real assurance that, whatever today holds, I do not journey through it alone.  I can reach out and put my hand into the hand of Jesus and travel with Him.

Why don’t you give it a go and see what Jesus says to you?

 

 

 

Light into Darkness

It was a time of feasting in the city of Jerusalem.

The feast of Tabernacles and 8-day festival of music and dancing, food and friendship.  An 8-day party!

A time when the Jewish people remembered God’s provision in the wilderness and looked forward to the day when all people will flow into Jerusalem to worship God.

It was at the end of the first day of the feast and the whole city was in darkness apart from one lamp in the heart of the great temple.  Gradually, one by one, torches and lamps were lit from this one source until the light spread out across the city until the whole place was illuminated. A blaze of light and colour.

And then a silence fell over the people as a controversial teacher stood in front of them and declared

“I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but, will have the light of life.”

 The crowd were stunned, shocked, amazed and angry.  Who was this man who could dare to say this?

Okay, to be honest, I don’t know if that is exactly what happened or not.  There is, perhaps a bit of artistic license in my telling of the story but the basis of it, is what happened at that Feast of Tabernacles and Jesus said those words, they are recorded in John’s Gospel, chapter 8.

I was thinking about them today.

As I drove into my office this morning I was listening to the news on the radio.  It was full of the atrocities in Syria, the problems in London and the political difficulties that are happening in the world.  As I listened to the radio, I was acutely aware of the power and strength of the darkness that is in the world at the moment.

As I sat with my Bible I re-read John 8 and I also read some, familiar, words from John 1

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 

(John 1 vs. 5)

I said in Church, on Sunday, that one of the major problems in our world today is not so much the presence of evil but, the loss of hope.  As a Christian, I should not only be aware of the hope that Christ brings into my life but I should, must, be willing to carry that light out into the darkness of the world.  The famous prayer of St. Francis of Assisi says;

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy. 

 

Those words became my prayer today, may they be yours too.

Feeling Neglected

 

Something interesting happened this morning which, sadly, my photo does not do justice too.

My wife, Paula, was setting up the song and reading boards (yes, we still have them) when she called me to come from my office to look at something, “just look at that” she said.  I took a look at it and, in the half light of the building, I was amazed to see that the white card background stood out brightly in contrast to other cards used.  Paula then explained to me how difficult it had been to put the name card into the runners “I don’t think it has ever been used before”, she commented.

I don’t know the age of the cards but, I do know that it has not been used for at least 10 years because, that’s how long I have been in Clacton and I have never preached on the book of Ezra before.

I first began to think about Ezra at the end of last year and, at first, I just couldn’t get my head around what we could possibly learn from that book.  From a historical point of view I could see that it was contemporary to Nehemiah.  I could see the overall picture of the book but, what I could not see was how this could possibly fit with the context in which I am called to preach.

Eventually, after a lot of prayer and study, a few ideas began to emerge and I saw something within the book of Ezra that I had not seen before.  Over the next couple of weeks, I am going to be sharing that with the folk who attend the fellowship where I minister.

Like many preachers, I draw inspiration from different sources. However, I guess I am not alone, when I say there is always the temptation to preach from those bits of the Bible that I like and leave aside those parts that I struggle with.  The Apostle Paul, writing to Timothy says;

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.                                                                                                                                                                     (2 Timothy 3 vs. 16 – 17)

 

All means the bits I like and the bits I don’t!

As I write this I am painfully aware of the damage that people can do with the Bible too.  Some, seek to use parts of scripture as a justification in holding onto certain attitudes and values and I believe this is an abuse of scripture.  I use that strong word, deliberately. 

To read the Bible as a text book and leave aside the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit, is a dangerous thing to do.  You see, Paul talks about “God-Breathed” and we need that breath of God blowing into our hearts and minds as we look at scripture. We need to not only read words on the page but, to know the heart of Him who inspired them to be written.