Inadvertent Frogs!

 

 

I wonder if you have ever had the experience of reading something that made you say “ouch!”.  It happened to me just the other day.  I read a piece written by John Climacus that made me say “ouch!”;

When we draw water from a well, it can happen that we inadvertently also bring up a frog.  When we acquire virtues we can sometimes find ourselves involved in the vices which are imperceptibly interwoven with them.  What I mean is this.  Gluttony can be caught up with hospitality; lust with love; cunning with discernment; malice with prudence; duplicity, procrastination, meekness; refusal to learn with silence; conceit with joy; laziness with hope; hasty condemnation with love again; despondency and indolence with tranquility; sarcasm with chastity; familiarity with lowliness.  And behind all the virtues follows vain glory as a salve, or rather a poison for everything.

(John Climacus – The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 26)

 

Sorry it is a long quote but, I wanted to record it in full so that you can get the full impact of the words.  John Climacus (also known as John of the Ladder) was a Monk at Mount Sinai Monastery in 6th / 7th century.

As I read these ancient words, I had a real “ouch!” moment.  I found myself reflecting on my character, personality and my attitudes.  Sometimes, we need those “ouch” moments to cause us to stop, think and reflect on the question “are we as aware of ourselves as think we are”.  As Robbie Burns said;

O wad some Power the giftie gie us 
To see oursels as ithers see us! 

 

(Translation – O would some Power the gift give us

                         To see ourselves as others see us!)

 

I am not altogether sure I would want that particular gift!  When others look at me, what do they really see and think?  (please do not be tempted to comment!)

John Climacus words ring a loud warning bell. I may have gained some wisdom over the years but, can that come across as arrogance?  I may have gained some experience over the years but, can that make me a little cynical?  I found myself thinking of a verse in the book of Proverbs that says;

Wounds from a friend are better than kisses from an enemy!

(Proverbs 27 vs. 6 The Living Bible)

It’s true!  When God draws our attention to some of the inner things in our lives, it isn’t because He wants to punish us, it isn’t because He wants to see “change or else”.  God draws our attention to it because, He wants to free us to enable us to grow.

Can I encourage you to read the above quote again and ask yourself the question have I, inadvertently, pulled up a frog?

 

 

 

Hope for the Hope-less

Hope is the anchor of our souls. I know of no one who is not in need of hope – young or old, strong or weak, rich or poor.

(James E. Faust)

 

Okay, let me lay my cards on the table.  I have not been feeling too well lately.  One of the consequences is I have been feeling pretty hope-less.  That is to say, I have lacked hope.  I do not say this to elicit sympathy or for warm fuzzy comments.  I say it simply because, it is a fact.

I will also point out (for the sake of honesty) this; it is my own fault.  I cannot point the finger at anybody else, I have done it to myself. 

I have this very bad habit of filling all my moments of my days with unceasing activity.  I see what needs to be done and, I do it.  I see what doesn’t need to be done and I do that too.  The consequence of that is, I get “over tired”.  When I am over tired, I lose vision and perspective and so I work harder to achieve and on and on it goes.

This is nothing new for me.  As my wife pointed out “we have had the same discussion for the last 20 odd years!”  Every year I promise I will do better, I have not managed it yet!

Things have been so “out of kilter” for me recently that my quiet times and devotions have been rushed and have been done more out of habit than anything else. 

This morning was different. 

I had more time available to me (which I wasn’t expecting) so I got to be a bit more leisurely with the Bible and actually listen to what God was saying to me.  The passage came from Mark 2 when Jesus says;

The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath

(Mark 2 vs. 27)

 It was as if God was reminding me of something that we have discussed more often than I care to remember.  Sabbath is not a luxury it is a necessity and it is there for me to stop so that life can be brought back into perspective.  I was feeling hope-less because I was Sabbath-less.  I then turned to a verse in Proverbs which says;

Hope deferred makes the heart sick,

But a longing fulfilled is a tree of life

(Proverbs 13 vs. 12)

 When we lose hope it is almost like toxins are released into our system.  We can become negative, critical, angry, cynical and discouraged.  We can even convince ourselves that God has abandoned us.

It is a lie

God never stops working!

What Sabbath can do is help us to change our vision.  Refocus.  It helps us to see what God is doing rather than what I think God should be doing. 

The Sabbath was made for you, not you for the Sabbath

 I feel a great deal better now!

 

 

 

Fresh Streams and Tree Stumps

 

I have just come back from the Fresh Streams Conference.  This is one of the highlights of my year.  I get a chance to meet up with friends and colleagues, great teaching and amazing worship.  I went with a real sense of expectation that God would speak to me at some point, in some way.

I came back feeling quite disturbed, unsettled, more questions than answers.

Now, before you stop reading, this is not a negative blog nor criticism.  Sometimes, I think, God can use that unsettling feeling to speak to us and, perhaps, feeling a little unsettled was something I needed at this moment in time.

One of the main speakers was somebody I have heard a couple of times before.  He is someone I respect enormously and I was really looking forward to his key note talks.  During his first talk I am sure I heard him say;

The question that God asks of us is, are you growing?

My immediate reaction was to disagree!

I think God does ask questions of us.  I believe He asks questions like “do you love me?”, “are you following me?” and “what have you done with my son and those I have entrusted to you?”  I had never considered “are you growing?” as the type of question that God would ask of me.

I filed the comment away, decided I must have either misheard or, the speaker mis-spoke.  He didn’t quite mean it to “come out that way” – let’s face it, those of us who speak, sometimes come out with things we didn’t quite mean.

However, this thought came tumbling back into my mind later in the week.

It was Thursday morning.  I returned to work.  I was tired.  I had an incredibly busy day and evening ahead.  As I headed toward my office, the road was blocked as a team of Tree Surgeons trimmed and brought under control the tree opposite the Church.

I must confess, I sat in the car for a little while and watched them and, as I watched, that unsettled feeling came again and I believe God was speaking to me.

I appreciate that the pruning, trimming and controlling of a tree is very important for the life and future health of the plant concerned.  As I watched the men performing their task, it struck me just how brutal their arboreal activity seems to the untrained eye.  It was then that God brought to mind a few verses from the book of Job;

At least there is hope for a tree:
    If it is cut down, it will sprout again,
    and its new shoots will not fail.
Its roots may grow old in the ground
    and its stump die in the soil,
yet at the scent of water it will bud
    and put forth shoots like a plant.

(Job 14 vs. 7 – 9)

Sometimes, the most significant growth does not happen on the surface, it happens below the surface.  The part we cannot see. For me, these words speak of a real hope.  Even if all looks dead and finished on the surface, at the move of God’s spirit (scent of water) new life begins to happen.  What we need to be is receptive to it and prepared to engage with where God is calling us now;

Are you growing?

Jesus, famously, used the image of the vine and branches (read John 15) and said that unfruitful branches needed to be cut off in order to bear fruit.  How prepared, or willing, am I for God to do some pruning in my life?

The truth is, some things I would be quite happy for God to prune but, there are some things I want to hold onto, I want to keep, even if they are unhealthy.  However, if I keep them, they could affect the health and growth of the whole.

Are you growing?

I went to look at the tree once work was complete.  I found myself wondering if new life could possibly appear on it.  As I looked with my untrained eyes I thought the Tree Surgeons know exactly how and where to cut to not kill the tree but to help it grow again. 

There are times when I have been through some pretty severe pruning in my life but, I have to trust that God knows what He is doing and, in time, new life will appear.

Are you growing?

 

Overwhelmed!

Have you ever felt overwhelmed?

I was listening to an item on the radio the other day. People were talking about their “to do lists”. There are many reasons why people keep them. For some, it acts as a target tracker, things they want to achieve. For some, it acts as a handy reminder a list of things that they are likely to forget if they haven’t written it down. Some people love their “to do list” they feel as though they have achieved something when they tick off the competed items.

I am one of those people that have to have a “to do list”.  I do, however, have a bit of a love / hate relationship with mine. I need it because I have a forgettery where my memory used to be. I hate it because, when I look at the list of outstanding items, it can make me feel overwhelmed, the list seems ever growing and never shrinking.

That feeling of being overwhelmed can be horrible at times. It’s like drowning under a sea of demands that never seem to ease up. Let’s face it, we can all feel like it at times.

The passage I read in the Bible today was one of those that I found it easy to relate to. The disciples were overwhelmed.

At first, they face a hungry mob of 5000 men (plus women and children). Then, for good measure, Jesus clears off up a mountain to pray whilst they have to fight a storm on the Sea of Galilee on their own.

I found myself getting quite angry.  The disciples are engaged in the task Jesus has set them, a furious storm blows up on the Sea of Galilee.  It really hit me. This is totally unfair.

They are in the boat – exactly where Jesus told them to be

They are in unity – sailing and rowing this kind of boat was a team effort

They are obedient- doing what Jesus said when He told them to do it.

It just is not fair. Surely, God would have made their passage smooth. Surely, God would have made it an easy journey, it was His will after all.

Why is it that, sometimes, we are doing the right thing, the place, the right time and life goes wrong? It has certainly happened to me, doing what I believed God wanted and it’s all blown up in my face.

Why?

There are no easy answers, and I firmly believe that “Christian platitudes” can cause serious damage! Some, well meaning, Christians that trot out their “off pat” answers are a little like cigarette packets, they should come with a health warning attached.

As I read on in the passage, it seems that my worst fears were realised when The gospel writer, Mark says;

He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, (Mark 6 vs. 49)

Even that slight glimmer of hope, the arrival of Jesus, seems to be short lived as He goes to “pass them by”. Isn’t Jesus meant to be with us? Isn’t Jesus meant to care? Yet, he is walking past them.

As I spent time in the passage, I wondered if, maybe, I had got hold of the wrong end of the stick. Maybe, the phrase “pass them by” doesn’t mean quite what I thought it meant.  I did what all good ministers do when confronted with something they don’t understand – I turned to a commentary!

I am so pleased I did because, I found something I hadn’t realised before.

The commentary guided me back to a passage in the Old Testament where Moses asks to see the glory of God.  God tells him that Moses cannot see His face.  God will “pass by” Moses (Exodus 33 vs. 19).  The commentator suggested that is what was happening.  Jesus “passing by” was not about ignoring or not caring it is about Jesus revealing who He is to this precious bunch of disciples.

Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. (Mark 6 vs. 51)

Jesus never intended His disciples to fight on alone.  He was not going to abandon them.  He was going to ensure they came through their time of overwhelming having experienced something more of Him.

Perhaps you are overwhelmed at the moment and perhaps you may feel that Jesus is “passing by”.   Maybe, He is just wanting to show you something more of His glory.