Who’s Fault?

Judge

As we approach the referendum (sorry, you are probably sick of hearing about it), my mind has been turning to what happens post referendum.  I am not qualified to discuss the economy (maths not my strong point), or even the political fallout but, one thing I have observed is that whenever there is a vote the “blame game” begins soon after.

As far back as the Garden of Eden, humanity has played the blame game.  You may remember the story, God finds man hiding in the garden because he has broken the rules by eating the fruit from the tree of good and evil.  When God asks him to own up, he promptly blames the woman and, when God confronts her, she blames the serpent. And on and on the game goes.

One company used to use the slogan “where there’s blame, there’s a claim” you see, the blame game can be quite profitable!  I used a well-known search engine (the one whose name rhymes with frugal) to look up “UK claim companies” and got 86000000 results in less than ½ second!

The problem with playing the “blame game” is that we tend to ignore our own responsibility in a given situation.  The problem with the human heart is, the human heart (cannot remember who said that).  The oft repeated story, The Times sent out enquiries to famous authors asking for their views on “what is wrong with the world today”, GK Chesterton (writer of the Father Brown mysteries among others) replied

Dear sir,

I am

Now, let me make this absolutely clear (sounds a bit like a politician!!!!), I am not advocating that we all walk round in sack cloth and ashes crying “mea culpa” (that’s your actual Latin).  What I am advocating is, that we are honest with ourselves and, most importantly, honest with God.  Why honest with God?  Well, in 1 John it says these words,

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

(1 John 1 vs. 8 -9)

 

When we are honest with God about the reality of our lives, we can receive His forgiveness and discover His peace.

Everything in the garden…

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Not everything in the garden is lovely.  Well, certainly not in mine anyway my fingers have never been green (the photo is a stock one, not my back garden – honest)!  But, this is a truth in life too.  There are good times and there are hard times, a time and a season for every activity under heaven as the writer of Ecclesiastes says.

This was brought home to me very much yesterday.  We had a wonderful service, celebrating our church anniversary.  We had a fabulous fellowship lunch, shared with some really good friends.  Our afternoon was to be spent in the company of some very dear people, and then…

As I came to reflect today on what had happened yesterday, I found myself thinking about the old proverb that says;

All sunshine and no rain makes a desert

The Bible is not silent about the hard times in life, just a quick glance through the book of Job confirms that.  I want to assure you that , if you are in a difficult place right now, God is not punishing you or walking away from you or abandoned you.  There is no easy “off the cuff” answer to hurt, pain or suffering.

So, where is God when we hurt?  I have come to realize that God is right there in the midst of it with us.  You see, God doesn’t isolate Himself from His creation but, in Jesus Christ, God comes to be with us as one of us, in the weakness and suffering of a Saviour who was born in a manger and hung on a cross.  That is the God we know, and we know that God will be with us whatever happens to us, to rejoice with us, and weep with us, and walk with us every day of our lives up to the very last one and beyond.

This morning, all I wanted to do was get into the words and the comfort of scripture and spend some time in God’s presence and I found these verses really helped me

 

Job 5:11: “He sets on high those who are lowly, and those who mourn are lifted to safety.”

Psalm 27:13-14: “I believe I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord; be strong, and may your heart be stout; wait on the Lord.”

Isaiah 41:10: “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, yes, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”

John 16:33: “I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.”

Romans 8:28: “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose”

Romans 8:37-39: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities nor powers, neither things present nor things to come, neither height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 15:13: “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Spirit.”

2 Corinthians 1:3-4: “Blessed be God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble by the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

Philippians 4:6: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with gratitude, make your requests known to God.”

Hebrews 13:5: “Let your lives be without love of money, and be content with the things you have. For He has said: ‘I will never leave you, nor forsake you.'”

 

A good dunking!

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What a wonderful morning we had this morning!  One of the greatest privileges of being a Baptist Minister is that I get to conduct services of Believers Baptism, and that was what I was up to this morning – that’s the picture you can see above.

 

During the service, June (the lady being baptised) told us her story of how God has guided her to this point in her life.  I got to share with the congregation what I believe the Bible teaches us about God’s ongoing love for us.  We were reminded :-

God is aware :- We sometimes wonder if we really count for anything in the world.  But to God, you are not a number, you are a person of value

God is able :- It’s God’s presence in our lives that makes the difference.  He can give us the strength to  keep going and will never let us down.

God is available :- The promises of the Bible are not just for those people hundreds of years ago, they are also for us today.  We can know God’s presence in our lives, all we have to do is ask Him.

As we came to the moment of Baptism we shared with June a special verse from the Bible to remind her of God’s love for her.  I think this verse is for all those who place their trust in God;

Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;  but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

(Isaiah 40 vs. 30 – 31)

 

 

 

 

The body beautiful

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Have you ever stopped to consider how amazing the human body is?  When the Psalmist tells us we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139 vs.14), he certainly knew what he was talking about!

I have been really astounded by the Invictus Games that have been filling our news recently, wounded service personnel with amazing sports talent that just leaves me completely awestruck!  What astounds me is that, even after the trauma these human bodies have suffered, the “ability” to rise above “disability”. As one who is built more for comfort than speed, I have great admiration for any athlete!

The Apostle Paul uses the metaphor of the human body several times in the Bible (for example Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 & Ephesians 5).  It is a powerful image, one that we can easily grasp and understand;

All of you are Christ’s body, and each one is a part of it.

(1 Corinthians 12 vs. 27)

You think about it, the human body is unified yet it is also diverse, hands and feet are different, nose and eyes are different and yet, we need them.  The Christian church should be unified and yet, it is also diverse.  I believe that a healthy Church is one that is made up of all kinds of different people, who have different backgrounds, different life experiences, different skills and abilities placed by God in the ”one body” together. When each part of the body is functioning, the church is an amazing and beautiful body that looks like Christ.

But, as Paul writes to the Church at Corinth, he was writing to a body that was not functioning as well as it might.  That body was facing immense pressure from the world around it and was divided internally.  In short, this was an ill body!

The challenge is, how can the body of Christ be kept healthy?  There are lots of answers to that question but, in the recent church service where we focussed on this, we were offered three commitments

  • Commit to Love One Another

Love is foundational.  Paul goes on in 1 Corinthians 13 to say if I haven’t got love, if I am not motivated by love, if I am not committed to love, then I have nothing.  We become nothing more than a clanging bell and a resounding gong, all noise and nothing gained!

Oh Lord,

Help us to love one another

As Christ Loved the church

May we truly love one another

  • Commit to Forgive One Another

There isn’t one of us who is perfect.  There isn’t one of us who has never made a mistake.  I am sure I am not the only one who, from time to time, engages mouth before brain! (please tell me I am not the only one!!!!)

A book that has really helped me I called Hit by friendly fire – what to do when fellow believers hurt you (the author is Michael Milton).  I was so touched by this book, I bought every copy I could find and passed them out to others.  It helped me to move on in my journey of forgiveness.

Forgiveness is not easy but, forgiveness leads to freedom

  • Commit to Encourage One Another

It’s easy to point the finger and it’s easy to find fault in others Paul writes in Philippians 4 vs. 8;

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

(Philippians 4 vs. 8)

At the risk of being declared ‘heretic’, I would go one step further than Paul, I believe we should not only think on these things but, should share and talk about these things.  I believe we need to do this for each other. Look for the things to encourage.

Look for the things that are a blessing and commit to encourage one another.

I believe if we took on these commitments, we would be moving toward the body beautiful!

 

 

Stand back!

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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!

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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]