Are We Nearly There Yet?

There was one phrase my kids used to use all the time when they were little and I could guarantee it would drive me nuts every time I heard it “are we nearly there yet!”

Every parent has heard it.

You are going out for a nice day.  You have packed the picnic, the first aid kit, the road maps, the alternatives in case of rain, the alternatives in case of closures, the games to play en-route.  It would be simpler taking the British Army on full scale military manoeuvres than the kids out for the day.

With the kids strapped in, you start to reverse off the drive and that whinging voice begins in the back ;

“Are we nearly there yet!”

It seems to me that speed and hurry are encouraged in our lives from a very early age.

We prize speed.  There is a land speed record. Gold medals are awarded to the fastest athletes. If you finish this job quickly, you can get onto something much nicer!  Eat your dinner quickly, you can have pudding.

One of the biggest challenges I have faced in my spiritual journey is learning to slow down and to trust in the slow work of God.  I am not claiming perfection in this!  God has to frequently remind me that my ways and His ways are not always the same.  Sometimes, God needs to pull me back and remind me that I have to;

Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything.” 

(Psalm 46 vs. 10 – The Message)

He had to do that this morning.

I came into the office, I saw the mountains of papers that were covering my desk.  I thought “I don’t have time to spend long in prayer, I will have to be quick”.  I grabbed my Bible, read a short passage said a quick prayer and got on with the work.  As I started to sort my in tray I found a copy of a poem by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin called Patient Trust;

Patient Trust

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.

—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin,

 

I left the in tray.

Picked up my Bible

and I spent some time doing the most important thing of all, I sat aware of the loving presence of God

 

 

The best advice I have ever been given

 

The best piece of advice I have ever been given, was shared with me when I moved to my current pastorate a little over 10 years ago.  It has proved to be so useful that, I have often shared it with new ministers that have moved into the town. I was reflecting on it this week as I wrote a card to welcome the new Salvation Army officers who begin their ministry here this week.  Should I or shouldn’t I write it in?

That piece of advice?  Let me set the scene for you…

It was my induction.  I had got through the service and I was surrounded by a sea of faces, many of whom I hadn’t got a clue who they were. There was one chap approached me and, as we chatted, he explained he worked in the motor industry and then he said

“my advice to you is, whenever you drive around here and approach a roundabout, always watch out for the traffic on the left.”

 

I did a double take.

I may not be the worlds best driver but, even I know, that the British Highway code instructs drivers to give way to traffic on the right at a roundabout.  I laughed because he was obviously joking.

There was no trace of humour on his face.  “I am serious” he said and he certainly looked it.

 

“People round here don’t understand roundabouts.  If you want your car to stay in one piece, watch out for the traffic on the left.”

 

His advice has proved to be invaluable.  I have, thankfully, never been hit but I have had plenty of near misses!!!

I wish that advice had been given to me when I first became a Christian.  In fact, I think that advice should be given to anybody who steps out in faith to “have a go for God”.

Watch out for what comes at you from left field

The Apostle Peter writes;

 

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.

(1 Peter 5 vs. 8 – NLT)

 

The roaring lion is a great image and often in this verse, that is what I am drawn to.  But it is the words “stay alert!” that are the most important ones in this verse.  I think, if Peter were writing today, he might just say “at roundabouts, watch out for the traffic on the left”

The fact is that the Christian life is not always plain sailing.  There are struggles, challenges, temptations and frustrations  somewhere along the line.  In my experience, it is often the attacks that come at us from “left field” that hurt the most.  Even when we brace ourselves for difficulty, it comes from the quarter we least expect.The colleague who we thought a friend, who bad-mouths us.   The person we believed would stand with us who lets us down.  Dare I even use the phrase “friendly fire” that comes from other Christians?

The more I think about it the more I realise, I have had a few near misses in the car but, when it comes to life, I have had plenty of head on collisions!

I have sometimes ended up feeling as though I have had the stuffing well and truly knocked out of me and I find myself wondering how I will ever be able to stand again.  The Apostle Peter goes on to say;

Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

(1 Peter 5 vs. 9 – NIV)

 

This is what real Christian fellowship looks like.  I am not on my own in my struggle.  Other Christians are going through the same sort of thing I am.  Other Christians are hurting.  Other Christians can empathise because they have either been there or are there.  Other Christians can give encouragement because they have the experience.

I am absolutely convinced that this is part of the role of the Christian Church, we are to be givers as well as receivers.

I believe that the church needs to open it’s eyes to each other.  We live in a self-centred society and that is not God’s intention or God’s way.

 

Peter then goes on to say;

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.

(1 Peter 5 vs. 10)

 Somewhere in the midst of it all, is God.  He can work in the toughest and hardest of situations to reveal something of Himself to us.  The Jesuits teach that God is in all things.  If I am honest, I struggle with that.  I would like to see God in all things but, sometimes that just isn’t easy.   When I am hurting, those are the times that God can feel far away

 

What these words have come to mean to me is that the pressure of the world, the flesh and the devil are inevitable.  They are part of life.  Part of what it means to live as human in a fallen and damaged world.

God will be there somewhere in the midst of it helping us to stand.  Teaching us and blessing us too, somehow whether I can see it or not

So, what I must do is trust and keep trusting

It may be only years later that we will be able to look back and see what God has done how God has guided.  It may be only years later we will look back and say, God gave me the strength to stand firm in the face of that situation

Where ever you are today, whatever you face.  My friend, I want you to know what I also need to hear

God is in the midst of this, somewhere

Ducks in the baptistery

 

Yesterday was a very special day at Pier Avenue.  We celebrated two people being baptised.  I love a good baptism and, I have to say, it is one of the greatest privileges of being a Baptist Minister.  I get to hear the stories and share in something the joy of the baptizees (not convinced that is a word but it will do).

The atmosphere in Church was wonderful, almost party like.  Somebody had even put two rubber ducks in the baptistery!

Many people have an expectation of Church they expect “Wesley and Weirdo’s” and yet, yesterday’s service was anything but!   I love it when those who are not used to Church, tell me how much they enjoyed being in the service and it wasn’t what they expected.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  There is a time when it is right to be serious in Church.  There are times when we should “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12 vs. 15).  But equally, there are times when we should rejoice, celebrate and have fun too.  In fact, it is scriptural read Luke 15 there are parties galore as those that were lost are found again!

When the time came Archbishop Duck-a-lot and his “bath store buddy” were lifted out of the water and we put them on the side to enjoy the view as we celebrated two lives transformed by the love of Jesus.

Today, I stood beside the emptying baptistery and couldn’t help smiling as I reflected on what happened yesterday.  I feel very honoured and humbled to have taken part in such a service.  Like every baptism, I will remember it as a very special occasion.  As I walked away I thought to myself “I may have got very wet but, not as wet as those who were baptized!”

 

 

 

How can I believe?

 

I wonder of you have ever had the experience of turning to a well-known passage in the Bible, recognizing it and then skim reading it quickly because you know what happens next?

That was my experience this morning as I looked at a really familiar passage from John’s Gospel.  It was the story of “doubting Thomas” John 20 vs. 24 – 29.  All of the other disciples had been present when the resurrected Jesus had appeared.  For some reason, unexplained, Thomas had been elsewhere.  Jesus appears to the others, they are full of joy and excitement about who and what they had experienced.  Thomas pours cold water upon it;

“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

(John 20 vs. 24)

Over the years, I have heard many different sermons on this scene (preached quite a few myself).  It was one of those passages that held no surprises for me – or so I thought.

As I quickly read the passage, I felt God invite me to step into the scene.  I imagined what it would have been like to have been there.  I imagined the room, the feelings of the disciples and I imagined them trying to convince Thomas of what had happened.  I heard Thomas make his statement of disbelief but, as he spoke, I heard different words;

“How can I believe unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, how can I believe?”

Thomas asks a very fair question.  It is a question that we have all asked at one time or another.  The brokenness and tragedy of the world causes us to ask the question “how can I believe?”  The brokenness in our own lives causes us to ask the question “how can I believe?”

I think it is healthy to ask questions.  It is human to ask questions.  As a pastor, if I see people “smiling through” all of their struggles without a moments’ hesitation, I worry about their grasp on reality!

Why does Thomas seem so keen to see the physical evidence of the cross?  Why is seeing the nail prints so important?  Partly because they are proof positive that it is Jesus.  But, I also think, there is something deeper going on here.  I think it is to do with identification at a much deeper level.  The pagan gods were remote, isolated from humanity.  In Jesus, God became fully human.  He experienced the full joy and sorrow that we all experience.  In Jesus, He bore our suffering on the cross and carries the marks of that suffering.

A week later, Jesus invites Thomas to see the marks of the crucifixion.  Jesus doesn’t shy away from Thomas questions, He understands them and helps him move forward in faith.

I cannot pretend, in this short thought, to fully understand the joys and the struggles you are experiencing in your life nor can I explain to you the things that I face. What I believe is that Jesus still carries the marks of crucifixion and if you, like Thomas, are asking “how can I believe?” then He welcomes your question.