Sticking Your Tongue Out!

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I read an interesting verse in my time with the Bible this morning;

The tongue has the power of life and death

(Proverbs 18 vs. 21)

I don’t know if they still do but, years ago (in the good old days!) doctors would often tell you to stick out your tongue.  It would seem that the condition of your tongue was a good indicator of the general condition of your health.  However, let me put a little warning on this, it is not advisable, the next time somebody asks how you are for you to stick out your tongue – this could produce unwelcome results!

In ancient times, if you caught a spy or somebody witnessed something that you didn’t want repeating, you would “cut their tongue out – sounds painful and disgusting!

Does the tongue really have the power of life and death as the writer of Proverbs suggests?  Well, our words certainly do have power and can have long lasting and far reaching consequences.  With a single word we can really encourage somebody or, hurt them.  I have read, in the past, that it takes 7 positive words to outweigh 1 negative.  However, I think it would be many more than that!

As I looked through my Bible this morning I found 57 separate verses about the need to learn to control our tongues!

So perhaps, I found myself thinking, it is better to keep silent and never speak again (that would make Sunday’s services a little different!).  But, the more I reflected on it I realised that silence can be just as hurtful and damaging as our words.  When we have the opportunity to show interest, offer comfort, or prayer and do not that can be just as damaging.  The Bible doesn’t tell us to keep silent, it does tells us to learn self- discipline when it comes to our tongues. Try these words from Ephesians;

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

(Ephesians 4 vs. 29)

So, before you say what is on the “tip of your tongue” Pause, Pray then Speak because your words carry real power with them!  As the Psalmist says;

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

(Psalm 19 vs. 14)

 

 

A Special Day

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Today is a very special day, it’s Saint Sean’s Day!

For those of you scratching your heads and wondering why you have never heard of it before, let me be a little clearer.  Saint Sean is the author of this Blog – now that has really confused you!!!!

Okay, before you think I have an over inflated ego, let me explain fully.  Today’s little offering is put together on 1st November which is, in some Christian traditions, All Saints Day.

I would be the first to acknowledge that there have been (and are) Christians who have influenced my own journey with God and I find inspiration in their testimony and life and I am grateful to them and for them.  But, for many years, Christians have had a very strange view of Saints.  We have seen them as some sort of “Super Christian” who has had led an incredible life and done amazing things.  We have elevated them in our thinking and eventually immortalized them in stained glass.

So, let me explain my thinking to you.  The Apostle Paul writes;

To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours

(1 Corinthians 1 vs. 2 – NKJV)

A brief look at the Corinthian Church will soon tell you that these were anything but “super Christians”.  The Church in Corinth was in a bit of a mess and there were disagreements, and struggles going on – hardly the sort of thing Saints are made of!

So, why does Paul call them Saints when they were far from perfect?  There are some keys in this verse that, maybe, you need to investigate (sanctified, called, the Lordship of Jesus).  But, I also think, Paul saw the potential that was in these people, the potential to make a difference if they allowed God to work in them.

I am not sure how true this story is but, I would like to think it is.  The end of the English Civil War saw Oliver Cromwell rise to power but, the nation was bankrupt and the government began to run low on silver for coins.

Cromwell sent his men to the Cathedral’s and Churches to see if they could find any precious metal there. After investigating they reported:

“The only silver we can find is in the statues of the saints standing in the corners.”

To which Cromwell replied:

“Good! We’ll melt down the saints and put them in circulation!”

That brief, but direct order, states the essence of the practical goal of authentic Christianity. Not rows of silver saints crammed into the corners of Cathedrals and Churches, but melted saints circulating throughout humanity where life is lived.

So, today is Saint Sean’s day and Saint _______ (insert your name) day, if you are willing to be melted down by God and put into circulation!

The Duracell Bunny

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Do you remember the “Duracell Bunny”?

For those of you scratching your head, let me explain.  The Duracell Bunny was a piece of advertising that was intended to show that if you used Duracell in your battery driven equipment, it would last longer than other batteries.

The Duracell Bunny would undertake all manner of exciting activities, running, clashing cymbals etc. and would manage to do it faster and for longer than its competitors which would wear out with alarming regularity.  But, what the advertisers don’t tell you is that, eventually, even the Duracell Bunny would run out of energy.

Over the past couple of weeks I began to understand how the Duracell Bunny feels when his batteries run flat.  I am in a really privileged position, I love my job.  I have a great family and a wonderful family life.  I enjoy working hard but, the batteries have begun to run down a bit!

I have been good I have taken time off, but still, the “spiritual batteries” have been running down.

Today, I have undertaken a good spiritual practice for those times when the batteries are running low, I have had a Sabbath.

I wonder what you think of when you read that word?  Perhaps an image of the old fashioned Sunday, everything closed nothing good on the telly and nothing to do.  Maybe the image is one of rules and regulations, the “thou shalt nots”.

I really believe this is a distorted picture of what a Sabbath really is about.  A Sabbath should be a time of “re-creation” a time of meeting with God and being refreshed and refueled by Him.  A Sabbath is a time of reconnecting in our relationship with and to God.

So, my Sabbath began at 6am.  Along with a good friend, I traveled to Lincoln for a fantastic time of worship and teaching.  It was great to see some friends (I was going to say “old friends” but, that could get me into trouble!).  Yes, it was a long day but it was so worth it!  Batteries are re-charged, and I am ready to go again.

O Sabbath rest by Galilee!

O calm of hills above,

Where Jesus knelt to share with Thee

The silence of eternity

Interpreted by love!

(John Greenleaf Whittier)

 

United

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I have always tried to keep politics out of the pulpit but, I couldn’t help reflecting that this summer has been a sad one for the Labour Party.  The infighting between members of Momentum and Progress has led to a bruising leadership contest between Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith.

Whatever your political views, in this country, we need an opposition party to hold our government to account and to raise the awkward questions that need to be asked.  The big challenge now for Labour is can they unite to do this?

The phrase “united we stand, divided we fall” dates back as far as Aesop’s fables (about 6th Century BC) and it holds true today.  Jesus certainly echoes that thought when He said;

If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.

(Mark 3 vs. 24)

How do you take a group of people who, essentially, hold the same “big” values and ideals but disagree on the “smaller” values and ideals and unite them?  This is not a new problem it is a challenge that has faced the Church for centuries.

On the night on which He was betrayed, Jesus spent time in the garden of Gethsemane praying for His disciples and for the generations to come, who would believe in Him (the Church) and this is what He prayed;

I pray that they will all be one

(John 17 vs. 24 NLT)

I want to offer these thoughts to you as I have struggled with the concept of unity.

  1. Unity Is Not The Same As Uniformity

In other words, we don’t have to totally agree with each other.  We can hold differing views, differing opinions.  As long as we believe the same essential truth we can work together.  For Christians, we hold Jesus as Lord and Saviour and the Trinity as our essential truths, those are our points of unity.  Type of music, style of service are things we can hold differing views about.

  1. Unity Cannot Be Imposed

Organizations that try to impose unity “from above” (a top down approach) do not achieve unity.  Unity is achieved when it comes from the “bottom up”.  Unity, a desire to work with others, begins in our own hearts.  We must hear the prayer of Jesus and commit ourselves to fulfill His desire that we should be one.

  1. Unity Takes Commitment

Unity doesn’t just happen, it takes commitment, effort and energy.  We have to be more willing to listen than to speak, in fact the Bible says;

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,

(James 1 vs. 19)

In my own experience, I have found the struggle of unity to be frustrating and disappointing at times but I am committed to Jesus prayer, and so unity is important to me.

Scatter!

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Long ago in a town far far away….. (Okay, it was Immingham and I was 5 years old) I was selected by the headmaster of the school to go with him and a child from the junior’s to deliver harvest produce to the elderly.  I like to think he chose me because I looked cute in my grey school shorts.  He probably chose me because I wasn’t quick enough to avoid him!  I can vividly remember handing over, what seemed to me, giant cauliflowers and marrows to elderly folk who had a bewildered expression on their faces.  I didn’t realise it then but, they were probably thinking they couldn’t refuse this gift but how many days would they be eating it?

Today, we take food for granted.  We wander into our 24 hour supermarkets, we select produce (whether in season or out) from all over the world.  As soon as the shelves are empty, they are re-stocked and we probably don’t give it a second thought.

We celebrated our Harvest Festival in Clacton today, and I suppose I faced that same old question, what is the point?  We are gradually losing touch with the agricultural rhythms of our predecessors, so what is the point of this annual ritual, singing the old favourites “Come ye thankful people come” and “we plough the fields and scatter”.

 My reflections led me to the point where I am convinced now, more than ever, that to celebrate Harvest Festival is probably more important than ever.

Why? (I hear you ask).  Well, in this country, it seems more people need the facilities of Food Banks.  They are not “lazy” or “scroungers”, one set of statistics I saw suggests that the majority of Food Bank users are working on low wages.  The Bible teaches us to “love our neighbour”.

Harvest also reminds us that in the wider world there are many who do not have sufficient to eat or clean water to drink.  I find it a scandal that in our world in the 21st century, where we have resources to spare that there are children dying from preventable diseases.  The prophet Amos said;

 But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!

(Amos 5 vs. 24)     

We need voices like Amos today, challenging world leaders to get their act together!

Finally, harvest reminds me that, ultimately, this world is not mine, or yours, it belongs to God and we are the stewards of it.  The Psalmist says;

The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it;

(Psalm 24 vs. 1)

We are more aware than ever of our environment and environmental needs.  But, more needs to be done to protect the earth for future generations and it’s up to us to do what we can and urge the world leaders to do more.

Consider Yourself….

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Consider yourself at home.
Consider yourself one of the family.
We’ve taken to you so strong.
It’s clear we’re going to get along.
Consider yourself well in
Consider yourself part of the furniture.
There isn’t a lot to spare.
Who cares?..What ever we’ve got we share!

(Lionel Bart)

So sings the Artful Dodger in the musical ‘Oliver’!  I am not a great one for musicals but, I found myself thinking about that song today when, I was reflecting on a verse from the Bible which goes:-

No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

(John 15 vs, 4)

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I lose count how many times people have challenged me on the need to attend Church, “I can worship on my own”, “I don’t have to go to Church to be a Christian”….

The truth is (stand by for a shock) no, you do not HAVE to go to Church.  But (there is always a “but”) consider the risk of not attending Church and that brings me to the verse and the song.

I actually like the old version of this verse which uses the word “abide” because, to me, it conveys so much more than remain.  It’s more than visiting, more than living, it is to continually dwell, in fact, (brace yourself, a bit of Greek coming up) the Greek word used here could be translated as “dwell”.  Or, consider yourself at home in the vine.

So, how do we do that?  Our private and personal journey with God is vital but, so is being in fellowship with others.  In fact, (bit controversial now) I do not believe there is any such thing as a solo Christian – I cannot find it in the Bible.  It’s as we receive and give and serve alongside others that our faith is stretched, we grow and our discipleship develops.  I believe that is why the writer to the Hebrews says;

Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

(Hebrews 10 vs. 25)

Perhaps I can encourage you to think about Church, get involved, give and receive because it’s part of abiding and you need to abide in order to bear fruit.

 

 

Don’t Put That Light Out!

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I am a huge fan of the show “Dad’s Army”.  I cannot begin to count how many times I have seen it, in fact, some episodes I can say the lines before the characters on the screen!  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the programme (is that possible?), one of the “nasty” characters in it is the ARP Warden Hodges (portrayed by the magnificent Bill Pertwee) with his catchphrase “put that light out!”

In truth, during the Second World War, the ARP did a valiant job in enforcing blackout restrictions (hence “put that light out!”), they were part of the rescue efforts when the bombs fell and they helped people to find shelter during a raid.

Light is one of those recurring themes in the Bible. Light was the first thing God created “Let there be light” (Genesis 1 vs. 3),and He separates light and dark day and night.  In the Old Testament light is used as a symbol of goodness, righteousness, blessing the presence and the Holiness of God.

In that wonderful prologue of John’s gospel we are reminded that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.  As FF Bruce once said;

A little candle can dispel a roomful of darkness and not be dimmed by it.  Light and darkness are opposites, but they are not opposites of equal power    (FF Bruce)

When Jesus spoke to the people of Israel about who He was and what His role was He describes Himself like this;

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8 vs. 12).

Light can be divided into two sources.  Natural light – sunlight, the light that you see from stars. Artificial light – That is the sort that relies on an external power source.

Artificial light is not the same as natural light.  Have you ever thought that we live in a world of artificiality.  We have food and drinks with artificial sweeteners in them artificial colours in them.  If you look at the list of ingredients in your food you are left wondering how much of it is real food.  When you look at all the E numbers you are left in no doubt as to why the kids get hyper.

We have artificial fabrics, man-made fibres in our clothes.  If the fibres are not man made then think about the colours you are wearing

We have cubic zirconium which is an artificial diamond.  Ask the wife which one she would prefer and I can guarantee the diamond is more popular.  Why?  Because it’s real not fake.

When Jesus talks about being the light of the world He is talking about real light not artificial.

There are so many artificial lights available today. But what we discover is that they never bring us the satisfaction we hope for.  Jesus came to bring us reality with God, not artificiality.

The Christian faith is not wrapped up in propositions and principles but rather in a person, and that person is Jesus; take Him out of the equation, and we have nothing. In Jesus we see what it truly means to live in relationship with God.  In Jesus we see what it truly means to walk in step with the Holy Spirit.

Why settle for the artificial light, when you can have the real light?

But, there is another sense to the word “light” and it’s found in these words of Jesus;

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.”   (Matthew 5 vs. 14)

I saw these words come to life when I was in the Judean desert.  We were travelling on a coach at night and many of my travelling companions were asleep (I just couldn’t get off).  It was absolutely dark outside so it was impossible to see anything, as we rounded a bend in the road up on a hillside you could see a city full of blazing light.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden!

I see these words as an instruction from Jesus.  We, the followers of Jesus, are to reflect the light of Jesus in our dark world.  Our task is to show the difference Jesus can make and, in so doing, bring hope to a world in a world of darkness.

It’s not just about letting our light shine on a Sunday.  We are to let our light shine on Mondays and Tuesdays, even on rotten Wednesday’s (I have always had a problem with Wednesdays!), right through the week.

It’s not just about our light shining when we are in church.  It’s also about letting our light shine when we are in the big wide world too.  You see, Jesus speaks about there being no place for secret discipleship. Matthew 5 vs. 15

No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl; instead it is put on the lampstand, where it gives light for everyone in the house.               (Matthew 5 vs. 15)

 The people that Jesus was speaking to lived in dark one-room houses.  Within the main room a small clay oil lamp would be burning – it would be placed on a fixed lampstand.  The last thing you would do is hide it a light that is covered is no use!

So, rather than “put that light out”, friends, we have to let the light shine and keep on shinning in the darkness.

No more bricks!

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We don’t need no education
We don’t need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone
Hey teacher leave them kids alone
All in all it’s just another brick in the wall
All in all you’re just another brick in the wall

(Roger Waters – Pink Floyd)

I remember it well.  Pink Floyds great album, the unmistakable chant, and the opportunity to upset a few teachers in the playground(yes, I was at school at the time)!

Well, I am all grown up now (most of the time) but, I am an expert when it comes to building walls and I suspect I am not the only one.  Not of the brick variety, you understand, I build walls of the emotional kind.  The sort that keep people out and stop them from finding the real me.

The bricks I use to build my walls are the bricks of Anger, Hurt, Failure, Criticism, Despair, Loneliness and I am sure you could name quite a few bricks that find their way into the walls you build.  The sad thing is that, over the years, I am fairly sure I have contributed some of my bricks to other people’s walls as well.  But each hurt that’s thrown our way each barbed remark we make about others, there goes another brick in the wall.

When the Apostle Paul wrote to the Church in a place called Ephesus, he reminded them about the walls that had been put in their lives.  There was the wall between humanity and God (the wall we call sin) and the wall between people divisions of race, class and culture.  The Apostle Paul takes the opportunity to remind them that all the walls can be broken down because of what Jesus has done on the cross;

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility

(Ephesians 2 vs. 14)

So, what about my walls?  The ones I have spent years building to protect me and to keep people out, what about these?

What I realize is, that yes walls can protect but, they can also keep out the ones that I really want to let in.  They can keep my family, my friends, my colleagues away from me so that they never see the real me and get to know the real me. Ultimately, I can build my walls so strong that I end up keeping God out too.

So brick by brick, prayerfully, I begin to demolish the wall.  It’s a risk, there is the danger of more bricks heading my way but, I am discovering the God who heals and can bring me peace despite the bricks that have headed my way;

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

(Psalm 147 vs. 3)

So, let me ask you, if somebody hands you a brick, are you going to put it in your wall or, hand it to God the wall breaker?

Oh I do like to be beside…..

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Perhaps you can remember the good old days, when you visited the seaside and heard the brass band playing;

Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside
I do like to be beside the sea!
I do like to stroll upon the Prom, Prom, Prom!
Where the brass bands play:
“Tiddely-om-pom-pom!”

Well, if you strolled along the Clacton prom prom prom yesterday you would have seen something entirely different.  The Churches Together in Clacton celebrated their event, “Praise On The Prom”.

Expertly hosted by BBC Radio Essex presenter, Andrew Merchant, the afternoon featured contributions from many of the Clacton Churches.  We have been running this event for a few years now and, in my opinion, it improves every year.

Yesterday was a little different to the norm.  Instead of “just” an open air worship event with music and drama, around the fringes of the arena you would have found people holding placards saying “I will Listen”, “Free Hugs”, “Free Water”.  I was on the water stand and gave out 96 bottles of water to people!  The Free Hugs and Listening gave people passing by an opportunity for the church to engage “hands on” with them.  Yes, people did stop for a hug or a chat and welcomed the opportunity to be prayed with!

One of the roles that I have is as chair of Churches Together in Clacton and I have seen at first hand just how much effort the organizing team have to put in each year. “Thank you” seems to be such a small thing to say for all your hard work John, Pam, Dan & Hannah but, this event would not happen without you.  Tony and the set up team worked from 8am on the Sunday morning, it was a long day for all of them!

The music group from the Church I have the privilege to minister at, put in a long shift yesterday too!  I hope none of them are suffering too much today!

So, why do we bother?  The Psalmist says;

How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! (Psalm 133 vs. 1)

We come together to show that the Church is UNITED.  We may be different denominations, have different ways of doing things, have different styles but, in the essentials, we are UNITED.  Jesus is Lord, knowing Jesus makes a difference, lives are changed when we live in the relationship we were made to live in – when we know God as our heavenly Father.

We come together to celebrate the freedom we have in this country to worship God.  In many countries of the world, Christians live in fear because they are persecuted.  We must not take our freedom for granted but, use it wisely.

The Psalmist then goes on to say;

It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down upon the collar of his robes.  It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. (Psalm 133 vs. 2 – 3)

I don’t know if you have ever experienced anointing with oil?  I have, I didn’t enjoy it.  It’s a messy experience!  Sometimes, Christian unity can be a messy experience.  During the preparation of this years Praise on the Prom, things did get messy.  I saw many of the committee in tears at times with their frustrations.  I know many of the organizing group wanted to walk away and give up on it.  Some people outside the group just did not grasp the vision and thought the group were doing things wrong!

One of the things that I admired most about the organizing group was the way they worked through the issues.  They pulled together, they did not give up, they kept on.  When John learnt he could not tow his trailer in the carnival, he pulled it by hand instead!

And the result of all this?

For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore. (Psalm 133 vs. 3)

And there were blessings, it was a fantastic afternoon.  People were spoken to, people who would not normally attend church joined in.  Faces were painted.  People were prayed with.  Water was drunk.  One passer-by who took a bottle of water from me asked, “why does the church care?” my reply “because Jesus does”.

So, all in all, I felt really blessed yesterday and I am certain many others did too.

 

 

 

A touch of the Marvin’s

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Oh wondrous news, great rejoicing Radio 4 Extra is repeating a wonderful series that I first listened to years ago, and it still makes me laugh all these years later “The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy”.  For those of you who are scratching your head and thinking, “what on earth is he on about?” let me tell you a little about it. The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy is an electronic book published by Megadodo Publications coming out of the great publishing houses of Ursa Minor Beta.  What makes the Hitchhikers Guide so popular is the comforting words on the cover “Don’t Panic”.

Of course (for those worried that I have finally flipped my lid), it is a work of fiction written by Douglas Adams.  Whilst I do not agree with a lot of what Adams has written, it doesn’t stop it from being a brilliantly inventive comedy with some really well written characters.

One of the characters that I have a soft spot for is Marvin the paranoid android.  Marvin, as he likes to remind everybody, has a brain the size of a planet and, when he is set a menial task, complains about it and usually rounds off his moan with the phrase “life, don’t talk to me about life”.

Well I have been reflecting on life so, I am going to talk to you about life.  Jesus once said to His followers;

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

(John 10 vs. 10)

Life, for many people, is about existence.  Get up, go to work, get home, eat, sleep, repeat. Many find themselves wondering if life really has any meaning or purpose at all.  As one commentator said “you live and learn then you die and forget it all”.

But, I think to hold that view ignores part of what makes us human, you see we were created with a desire to know our creator.  Augustine of Hippo (no that isn’t a joke – it is his name) said; Our hearts are restless until they can find rest in you.

I believe that the Bible teaches that God created us because He loves to create, to love and to bless and that life in all its fullness is to live in the light of that love and blessing.

Of course the world isn’t perfect and life isn’t always perfect. So, how can we live life in all its fullness this side of perfection?

To help me understand this I looked at my garden.  I am a hopeless gardener but, every couple of weeks a gardener comes in and does battle with the weeds, the lawn, and tidies up.  What is amazing is that the work is never ending, weeding, mowing the grass and so on.  She does this not because she has nothing better to do but, because if we are to enjoy the garden she needs to remove all of the obstacles that stops the garden from flourishing.

Day by day, God wants to work in our hearts and remove all of the obstacles, weeds and rubbish that have built up and as He does that, life in all its fullness will begin to flourish in you.

 

Gracious God, keep me close to you today and enable me to walk in your presence.

Lord, may I be close enough to you to feel the beat of your heart and may my eyes see the wonders of your grace.