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!

 

Jerusalem_ViewFromMountofOlives_EveChafarnski_123rf1280

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!

 

Steak sandwich please

 

murillo

“Who was not overjoyed to see the prodigal son back home?” asked the Sunday school teacher. “The fatted calf” came the reply.

I know, it’s an old joke for the story we all know very well The Prodigal Son.  But, if I am honest with you, there is a character in this story that troubles me.  The older brother.  It seems as if life is just unfair to him.  He labours away day by day, faithfully doing everything that is asked of him.  When his younger brother leaves home, he is faced with doing even more work and, as for his father, he just spends his days watching the horizon and not pulling his weight!

You would have thought he would be pleased to see little brother home again.  His guilt would make him work harder and dad would, finally, get back with the program.  But, big brother just cannot hold it in anymore;

But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

(Luke 15 vs. 29 – 30)

 

In some respects, I can sympathise with him.  All he wants is some recognition for what he is and what he has done “some thanks would be nice” is how I read this, at first.  But, his language gives it away “I” “MINE” “ME” as he spits out his frustration.  This has become all about him, and he is not seeing the bigger picture for the family.  His vision is just as narrow and selfish as the younger brothers.

One of the many themes that this story presents is grace.  Gods love and forgiveness is not something we deserve but, something He freely gives because He is gracious.  The younger brother is shown grace as His father freely welcomes him back into the family home.  When I have messed up, I love the idea of grace.  But, what about grace to those who are messing with me?

So, the older brother? Well, I see this as a story of grace.  Grace is not just something we receive, it is something we should give.  No person is perfect, we all need a little grace from time to time.  Perhaps, we need to think who needs us to show them a little grace today?

 

Amazing grace how sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me

I once was lost but now am found

Was blind but now I see

 

Amazing grace how sweet the sound

God’s gift of life is free

To all that are in trouble bound

He makes you truly free

 

Amazing grace how sweet the sound

His grace can change us all

Though sin and strife and hurts abound

His grace can heal them all

 

I’ve Missed It!!!!

trains.PNG-pwrt3

Have you ever missed something really important?  The appointment, the important phone call, the birthday that you promised not to forget, the post with that important letter, the closing date for a job application or something you have been waiting for for a long time?  My heart went out to the train spotter who was waiting to see the Flying Scotsman on the main line, only to miss it courtesy of another main line train!

So, what about God?  I think we all miss God from time to time.  We get so wrapped up in all that we have to do, the pressure of life and responsibilities that we have that we can so easily miss what God is wanting to say to us.  In Psalm 46 vs. 10 (The Message) we read;

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

 I find it hard to step out of the traffic, and it’s something I am trying to learn.  But, what I have found is the more I do it, the less I miss the really important things that God wants to say.

As for the train spotter, Virgin Trains have made a wonderful offer to him and I hope he doesn’t miss the experience.  As for me, I will keep learning to step out of the traffic!

 

Dear Lord,

Forgive me when I become so consumed in what I have to do that I forget you.

Help me to slow down enough to step out of the traffic and take a long look at you.

Open my eyes so that I do not miss what you want to show me

Open my ears so that I can hear what you want to say.

And, when the rush of life crowds in again, help me not to forget you

AMEN

Still in a hole…

5084139_f260

The saga of the Clacton hole continues…..

This morning, I shared this story in our service (one I found on the internet)

A traveller fell into a deep pit and couldn’t get out.  Several people came along and saw him struggling in the pit.

The sensitive person said, “I feel for you down there.”

The reflective person said, “It’s logical that someone would fall into the pit.”

The interior designer said, “I can give you ideas on how to decorate your pit.”

The judgmental person said, “Only bad people fall into pits.”

The curious person said, “Tell me how you fell into the pit.”

The legalist said, “I believe you deserve your pit.”

The government said, “Are you paying taxes on this pit?”

The self-pitying person said, “You should have seen my pit.”

Jesus, seeing the man, took him by the hand and lifted him out of the miserable pit.
The point of the story is—it doesn’t do any good to talk about love and compassion without demonstrating it and God demonstrates His love for us in Jesus.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

(John 3 vs. 16 – 17)

 

 

 

 

God demonstrates His love.

When you are in a hole…

Picture 005
Not the actual hole but, one from the Internet!

The big news in Sunny Clacton yesterday is a hole opened in the ground.

Early reports suggested a sinkhole and later reports suggested a collapsed sewer.  Either way, it’s causing a lot of inconvenience.  A major road is closed and traffic diversions are causing hold ups.

I wonder if you have ever used that phrase “I wish the ground would open up and swallow me” ?  I have, usually when I do something silly or embarrassing (a fairly regular occurrence).  But, did you know, it comes from the Bible?  In the book of Numbers chapter 16 Korah leads a rebellion against God and Moses and the earthed opened up and swallowed him – bit gruesome.

But, there is another kind of hole.  Sometimes we feel as though we are stuck in a hole when we face situations when we just do not know what to do. We try and do the right thing and the situation gets worse or and, no matter how hard we try we cannot lift ourselves out of it.

No matter what hole you are in, it’s not a good place to be and you can end up feeling as though you are abandoned.  One of the Psalms that really helps me, when I am in a hole, is Psalm 139 and The Message version puts it like this;

Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit? to be out of your sight?

If I climb to the sky, you’re there! If I go underground, you’re there!

If I flew on morning’s wings to the far western horizon,

You’d find me in a minute– you’re already there waiting!

(Psalm 139 vs. 7 – 10)

 If, today, you feel as though you are in a hole remember you are not abandoned.  God is there to help and will never leave you

 

Dear Lord,

I am stuck and i just don’t know what to do

I feel as though no matter which way I turn I am going to get it wrong.

It looks as though I will hurt some, and mess it up for others.

I feel so alone today, Lord, and I can find no peace within.

 

Dear God, assure me of your presence.

When the hole is at it’s darkest, remind me that I am still in your light

When I am afraid remind me that I am not alone but, I am in your safe keeping

AMEN

I give up!

give-up-cat2

Go on, admit it, you like the cute kitten don’t you?  But what came to mind when you read the phrase “I give up”.  It is associated with defeat, loss and failure.  Maybe you have said it when you have reached the end of your natural resource and resilience and cannot go on anymore.  However, I want to suggest “I give up” can have a totally different meaning.

We are in the season of Lent and lots of people are “giving up” chocolate, coffee, sugar or social media (noooooo!!!!).  But what does this really mean?

Lent is one of the oldest observations in the Christian calendar. But, like all Christian Holy Days and Seasons, it has changed over the years.  Its purpose has always been the same: self-examination and penitence, demonstrated by self-denial, in preparation for Easter. Early church father Irenaus of Lyons (c.130-c.200) wrote of such a season in the earliest days of the church, but back then it lasted only two or three days, not the 40 observed today.

In 325, the Council of Nicea discussed a 40-day Lenten season of fasting, but it’s unclear whether its original intent was just for new Christians preparing for Baptism, but it soon encompassed the whole Church.

How exactly the churches counted those 40 days varied depending on location. In the East, they fasted on weekdays. The western church’s Lent was one week shorter, but included Saturdays. But in both places, the observance was both strict and serious. Only one meal was taken a day, near the evening. There was to be no meat, fish, or animal products eaten.  Eventually, various foods (like fish) were allowed and, gradually, over the years, the rules have relaxed considerably.

I see Lent as an opportunity to give up bad habits in order to cultivate good habits so, here is my list of what I am giving up for Lent:-

I Give Up criticism and Take Up Encouragement

I Give Up grumbling and Take Up Blessing

I Give Up pointing out faults and Take Up Praying for people instead

So, what have you given up for Lent?

 

 

I’m on the clock guv!

stopwatch

This morning I was leading a devotional time with our volunteers at Enfold (the drop in centre for Homeless and vulnerably housed people) that is run at Church.  It was one of those days when, I had a lot to do and little time in which to do it.

The reflections came from John chapter 7 & 8.  In John 7 Jesus is at the Feast of the Tabernacles in Jerusalem and the Pharisees are trying to catch Him out.  In John 8 a woman is brought to Jesus who has been caught in adultery again, the Pharisees are trying to catch Him out.

The thought that came to me was from verse 53 of John 7 and verse 1 of John 8;

Then each went to his own home.

But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.

 If, like me, you went to Sunday School (or children’s activities) you were probably present with a view of the Pharisees as the villains of the story.  But, I don’t think that is right.  I think the Pharisees were religious men who were trying to do the right thing.  However, they had missed the point!  As I read the words “Then each went to his own home”, a picture formed in my mind of the Pharisees returning to everyday life.  There were jobs to do, rules to keep, tasks to fulfill and advice to give.  They were busy people, trying to do good things.  I could almost imagine their time being so full, that they had no real time for God.  In those circumstances prayer becomes a routine and “religion” creeps in.

In contrast John tells us that Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.  I think He went there to get away and spend some time in the presence of His Heavenly Father.  For Jesus, prayer is not about ritual it is about relationship.  It’s from this relationship that His ministry flowed.  Prayer was the “energizer” and not the “rubber stamp” of His ministry.

I believe that Bishop JC Ryle is right when he said;

No time is so well spent every day

As that which we spend upon our knees

I felt challenged to look at my own prayer life today.  I realized with a full diary, appointments to keep and tasks to fulfill, my own prayer life could become so easily like that of the Pharisees, routine.  What God wants is relationship.  I wrote this prayer which, I hope, will help you as much as it helped me;

 

Dear Lord,

Today is going to be busy

Full of meetings and thinking

And often my prayer becomes routine

When, all you desire of me, is relationship

 

Forgive me Lord, for mechanical habit

Give me a heart that seeks after your will

 

Open my eyes that I may see your grace in others

Open my heart that I may know the move of your Spirit

 

Grant to me a greater love

For you

Your people

And those you have put me among