Stand back!

mystery

When I was a child (many many moons ago) there was a program called “Ask The Family”.  It was a quiz come general knowledge type program in which two family teams would compete against each other.  It had quite a distinctive theme tune and was presented by Robert Robinson (go on admit it – you remember it too).

There was always one round that interested me in particular.  A picture was shown of a household object taken from up close or, a strange angle and you would have to try and work out what it was.  It was only when the camera panned back, that the image would become clear.

I suppose most of us live our lives without appreciating fully that we are part of a bigger story.  We see our small part in the life of the world without appreciating we are part of much larger picture, we are part of God’s story.  We all have our part to play, we all have our gifts and talents that can be used for the help and for the benefit of others.  If I can mix my images for a moment, try and think of a jigsaw puzzle each of the individual pieces makes a whole picture.  If one piece is missing, the picture is incomplete

Today, God encouraged me to stand back a little and get a glimpse of the bigger picture and I was reminded of a verse in Proverbs that says;

Where there is no vision, the people perish

(Proverbs 29 vs. 18)

Why not ask God to help you see the bigger picture

ps. As for the image above? You would struggle to eat your dinner without it!

 

Smelly feet

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This morning I preached on one of the toughest topics, love.  Jesus said;

 

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

(John 13 vs. 34 – 35)

 Love is difficult because, let’s face it, people can be difficult.

The whole setting of the passage in John’s gospel is the last supper.  Jesus is demonstrating the full extent of His love.  He shows His humility by washing the disciples feet – as Adrian Rodgers once said

You cannot look down on somebody whilst washing their feet

(Adrian Rodgers)

He shows them, in the symbols of broken bread and poured out wine, the price that He paid for our salvation, how He is ready to give up His life for His friends.  Jesus standard of love is high and as our main verse says, Jesus calls His church to follow His example.  Tertullian is famously quoted as saying;

See how these Christian love one another

Earlier on this week, Nicky Gumbel posted this on his Twitter feed

The church should be famous for its love. Unconditional love breaks down barriers, puts people back on their feet, restores and heals.

(Nicky Gumbel)

So, how can we learn to love as Jesus wants us to love?

I think Christians will be at their best once they learn to wash feet.  After all, if it was good enough for Jesus, it should be good enough for us.

What a Load of Rubbish

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It happened this morning.  I had lost a piece of paper with an important reference number on it.  I was convinced it was in my desk drawer.  I opened my drawer and, there before me, was a collection of what can only be described as “stuff”.  For the past 8 years, anything I thought of as important or, “I must not lose that” has gone in my drawer.  As I waded through the drawer I came to realise that, so much of what I thought of as valuable, was little more than rubbish.

It is amazing how much rubbish we collect in life.  We don’t do it on purpose, and some of it has been collected over the years with the best of intentions but, it can ends up masking what it really important.

A few years ago, I had a valuable visual lesson on the powerful effect of rubbish.

I was sat in my, then office, at the church I was pastoring at the time.  It was a beautiful day and my office looked out over the stream.  Before you get a rural idyll image, the stream was little more than a trickle!  Suddenly the skies opened, and one of those April showers came thundering down.  Within a few minutes the stream had gone from “little trickle” to looking as though the banks were about to burst.  What I noticed was that at each of the junctions the stream was blocked with rubbish crisp packets, bits of plastic, paper and all sorts.  The rain had brought it all to the surface and it was now blocking the stream so that it could not flow away.

Sometimes, in life, we need to clear the decks.  There is something satisfying about getting rid of the rubbish and starting afresh.  How much more so, when it comes to the really important thing in life, that which lies within, and that is something that God can offer to each one of us today;

“A clean slate and a fresh start come from God by way of Jesus Christ.” 

(1 Corinthians 1 vs. 30 The Message)

 

Shame!

Galilee Mensa Christi. (1)

There are some Bible stories that really speak to me at several different levels and I would like to share with you one that I have been reflecting on recently.  It’s found in John’s Gospel chapter 21. Basically, this happens after the resurrection.  The disciples had seen Jesus on a couple of occasions, doubting Thomas has touched Jesus, two had come back from Emmaus with a story of how they had had a meal with Jesus.

But, there is a loose end in all of these experiences, Simon Peter.  You see, Simon had really messed up.  He had promised Jesus that he would be with him until the very end and, when push came to shove, Peter had denied even knowing Him.

I suppose Simon Peter thought that, even if, all the others had seen Jesus, experienced His peace, asked questions for him there was no way back.  Jesus knew what Simon Peter had done and the shame must have weighed heavy on him.

Shame has a way of doing that.  It weighs heavy on us, even if we put on a smiley face and pretend nothing has happened, inside there is a dark hole of sadness that just cannot be lifted.

I think Simon Peter must have decided that the way to cover his shame was to return to what he knew best, fishing.  Sometimes, the way we cover shame is to return to the things we understand, the patterns of behaviour we can make sense of.  There is a comfort in routine, we don’t have to think, we can just get on and do.

But, as the Bible tells us, Simon Peter and the others did not have the best nights fishing.  In fact they caught nothing.  It’s then they spot a stranger on the shore who suggests that they fish on the other side of the boat.  When they do as the stranger suggests, they have a miraculous catch of fish – 153.  The penny drops for John, the stranger is Jesus.  Simon Peter jumps overboard and swims to the shore, he just wants things to get back to normal.

Jesus has a breakfast ready for them and a conversation to have with Simon Peter.  Three times He asks  the same question, “do you love me more than these?”.  Three times, mirroring Simon Peter’s denial of Him.  Jesus then speaks the words that He first spoke to Simon Peter “follow me”

A few years ago, I went to the spot where this is meant to have taken place, Mensa Christi (table of Christ), and I sailed on the Sea of Galilee and saw a fishing demonstration.  I will never forget seeing our fisherman catch nothing and hearing 45 clergy shouting in unison “cast your net on the other side”.  He did, and caught nothing, we had chicken for tea!

But what really touched me, as I walked along that beach, was the realisation that no matter how far we think we have fallen, Jesus can forgive us, renew us and invites us to once again “follow Him”.

Now that is GRACE

Wakey, wakey……

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Are you a morning or an evening person?  Are you “up with the lark” or, a “night owl”?  I am a morning person (some of you inwardly groan – I can hear it from here).

I love the start of a new day, an opportunity to start afresh, to begin again.  For me the best, most productive, hours of the day are before noon.  After that, it’s downhill all the way!  By 10 o’clock at night I am like a zombie movie and anything later is just hopeless.

I discovered the reality of this a few years back, when I was reflecting on the words of the Psalmist;

Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn

(Psalm 57 vs. 8)

I was at a minister’s conference, sharing a room with a colleague with whom, unfortunately, I was not well matched.  I am a morning person, he was a night owl.  I was up well before him and he returned the room long after I was snoring!  Try as we might, no matter how quiet we tried to be, we always managed to disturb each other!

I have always been fascinated by the words in the gospel of John’s account of the resurrection;

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark

(John 20 vs.1)

John here is speaking of more than an early morning!  He is using the images of light and dark to speak about hope and hopelessness.  He wants us to enter into the hopelessness of Mary Magdalene seen by the use of the word “dark”.   We all have those dark times in our lives.

But, there is a conflict in this verse, “Early on the first day of the week”.  Yes, it may still be dark but, these words speak about something new is about to happen.  Neither Mary, or the reader, cannot begin to imagine just how exciting the possibilities of this “new week” are.  Mary will meet with the risen Jesus and He will give to her an important job to do (she will be the Apostle to the Apostles – to coin a phrase).

What John wants us to know is that, with Jesus, the darkness does not have the last word because of the new beginning He gives us.

At times, we all need a clean slate and a chance to begin again.  Surely, that is what the message of the cross and resurrection mean.  We can have that fresh start today.

Early on the first day of the week…..

 

 

Now that was Interesting….

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Today is Good Friday and it was my turn to lead the service in the town square this morning.  I am always amazed at how many people turn up from across the churches, and it is a great privilege to take part in the event.

As I was leading today, I got to walk at the front of the procession as we made our way through town toward the Roman Catholic Church for our united service.  It was interesting to see the reaction the cross at the front of the walk received.  There were some, older men, who removed their hats as we walked past.  Several times I heard “oh yeah, it’s Good Friday”.  Once, an older chap, drove past us swore and made a rude gesture.

The most interesting reaction came from a couple of teenagers as we approached our destination.  The stood and discussed in really powerful terms what the message of Good Friday was and what it meant for them.

On that first Good Friday the crowds in Jerusalem had different reactions too.  Some hoped this meant the end for Jesus.  Some were distressed.  Some, it meant nothing at all.

The question is, how do you react to the message of Good Friday?

 

O Christ, the Master Carpenter,

who at the last, through wood and nails,

purchased our whole salvation,

wield well your tools in the workshop of your world,

so that we who come rough-hewn to your bench

may here be fashioned to a truer beauty of your hand.

We ask it for your own name’s sake.

Amen [Traditional]

 

In the Garden

GardenofGethsemane

With Maundy Thursday tomorrow, here is an attempt at a poem what I wrote!

 

What was it like in the garden

When creation first sprang

What was it like in the garden

When God walked along with man

 

What was it like in the garden

Did you feel pain at the loss

Did you know it would lead you

all the way to the cross

What was it like in the garden

When alone you knelt and prayed

What was it like in the garden

The cross on the coming day

 

What was it like in the garden

When the stone was rolled away

What was it like in the garden

Hope forever to stay

 

 

Career Change

 

This morning we had our “Butty and a Prayer” meeting.  It’s our bi-monthly men’s gathering we meet at 8am and share bacon butty’s, have a time of worship, some Bible teaching and prayer.  I have grown to really enjoy these meetings – okay the bacon butty has something to do with that!

Our meeting this morning was a little special though.  We were joined by a man called Simon Pinchbeck.  Simon is a former Police Officer who took a career change and became a criminal.  It’s when he reached rock-bottom, he met Jesus for himself and became a Christian.  Simon has now dedicated his life to sharing his faith with men from all backgrounds.

His story is a fascinating one and, if you get the chance, please go and listen to him speak it’s an experience you will not regret.  It would be easy to recount all of the horrors and mistakes Simon has made in his life and get caught up in them but, to do that, would actually miss the point of his story.  Simon does not try to glamourize his past but faces his mistakes.  You see, it’s not what Simon WAS that matters, it’s what Simon IS that matters.

I believe that within every human being there is the capacity to change and develop.  It’s not what we were that matters it’s what we become that matters.  The Bible is full of people whose lives changed.  A fisherman by the name of Simon was repairing his nets when he heard a young teacher say “come and follow me”, he did and his name and life were changed forever (Peter).  A murderer by the name of Saul encountered the same teacher (albeit different circumstances!) on a road to Damascus, he was so stunned by the experience, he changed his name from Saul to Paul and ended up writing most of what we call The New Testament.  In it he writes;

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come

(2 Corinthians 5 vs. 17 ESV)

So what about my story or, your story?  They may not be like Simon Pinchbeck or Simon the Fisherman or even Saul the Murderer. But, none the less our stories are important too and our lives can be changed forever and for the better.

How do we get this change?  Saul the Murderer tells us that the key to change is being “in Christ”.

How can we be in Christ?  We open our hearts to Him and ask Him to come into our lives and make the changes that He sees need making.  Might I also encourage you to find a Church that will help you to grow into the person that you can be.

It’s not what you WERE that matters, it is who you ARE in Christ that matters and what you can become through His grace that will make all the difference.

 

 

Taxi!

 

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A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Israel.  It is a beautiful country, full of history and fascinating places.  It is also a country of tragedy as we see a land that is divided, suffering and in conflict.

I will never forget my first morning in Jerusalem.  As we drove up the mount of Olives and arrived at this incredible view over the city.  I can remember my reaction as I saw it, all I could say was “wow”.  The person who was sat next to me said “I have been here a few times, and this view never fails to take my breath away”.  As we got down from the coach there were the postcard salesmen, one chap with a camel and one, enterprising man, with a donkey offering rides, he announced his service by shouting “Jesus taxi, Jesus taxi”!

It’s the mount of Olives that is the starting point for the traditional pilgrim route for commemorating Palm Sunday.  Like many churches, this Sunday we will be handing out Palm Crosses and remembering the events that led up to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.  In some traditions this is called Holy Week.

Palm Sunday is one of the Sundays I have always struggled to preach at.  The story is the same, the essential elements Donkey, Palm Branches, Crowds, Pharisees, Jesus, Hosanna.  One year I even preached about “stones crying out” – bit of a rocky sermon that one! (groan)

So, how will I try and wring something new out this story this year?  That’s simple, I am not!

The story of the week that changed the world deserves to be re-visited in all its gory and glorious tragedy and triumph.  So this Sunday we will be joining our “glad hosanna’s”, on Maundy Thursday we are holding a communion service and, on Good Friday we will be joining with other Christians in our town for a joint service to focus on the cross.

As we re-visit the “old old story” may God open our hearts afresh to the wonder of His love for us.

Tell me the old, old story, tell me the old, old story,
Tell me the old, old story, of Jesus and His love.

 

 

 

The “B” Word!

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It’s been one of “those” weeks!  You know the sort, so much to do and so little time in which to do it.  Sometime back, I read a book on time management for Church Ministers and the author suggested that no minister should ever use the word “busy” when describing their week.  So, as I look back over this week it’s certainly been the “B” word – busy (he whispers).

What is wrong with being the “B” word you ask?  I would say nothing provided it is not the only thing we are.  There is a season for every activity (Ecclesiastes 3) including being the “B” word.  If I am honest about it, I actually quite like those times of real busy-ness.  The danger is when we are constantly so busy that we loose sight of God on our busy-ness.

One friend shared with me the idea that Busy could be read as Burdened Under Satan’s Yoke and there are times when my busy-ness isn’t a joy, it is a burden.   When my busy becomes a burden I get irritable (surly not, you cry) prayer becomes a chore and my busy-ness is about me and not about God or others.

You probably know the story of Martha and Mary.  Jesus and His disciples visit their home and Mary sits at Jesus feet whilst Martha runs around doing jobs.  Martha tells Jesus to get Mary to help her and Jesus says that Mary has chosen the better way (you can read this in Luke 1- vs. 38 – 42).  If you are anything like me, and enjoy being busy, this is a story that makes me feel uncomfortable.  But, it does ask important questions.

Firstly, does our busy-ness include or exclude Jesus?  If we are so busy that we just don’t have time for Jesus and our relationship with Him then, burnout will soon follow.  Even Jesus needed that down time to get away with His Father, and so do we.

Secondly, who is our busy-ness for?   Was Martha setting out to impress so that people would speak well of her or, was she busy out of a genuine desire to serve?  Sometimes, in my busy-ness, that can become a line that gets a little cloudy!  May our motivation always to be to serve Jesus and not a bigger audience.

Thirdly, is our busy-ness an excuse?  We can use our busy-ness to keep God and others at arm’s length.  I dread those conversations that begin with the words “sorry to interrupt you, I know you are too busy but…”  I dread them because, at that point I know I have made myself unavailable by telling others “I am too busy for you” or, even worse, “you are not valuable enough for me to pay attention to”.  If there is one thing I see in the life of Jesus it is that He treated all as being people of worth and value.

So, just a few thoughts for you before I rush off and engage in another “B word” day and I will tell you this – I am really enjoying this season of busy-ness but, looking forward to a season when things quieten down too!