Finding Hope

 

I had a lovely passage as part of my daily quiet time this morning.  It came from Isaiah 65;

“Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.  But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.                                                                                                                               (Isaiah 65 vs. 17 – 19)

 

I took some real encouragement from these words.

Yes, they are spoken to the nations of Israel and Judah and they give hope of a restoration of the restoration of the people after the exile and they reveal something about the nature of God.   They also say something of how God treats us.  God is forgiving, creative, re-creating and rejoices over us and, within these words, there is the promise of hope for the future.

As I thought about this, I reflected that we all need hope.

If we are ill, we hope that we get stronger

If our team does badly, we hope they will improve

If we lose our job, we hope to find a new one

If we are in a time of waiting, we hope the answer will come quickly

The problem with hope is, that it can sometimes let down.  Circumstances can work against us, people fail us and some hope can prove false.  We can even find ourselves in a position where we lose hope all together and feel “hope-less” and that can cause us to not live stunted lives in the present.  As Henri Nouwen observed;

A man or woman without hope in the future cannot live creatively in the present

 You see, it is not hope itself that is the problem, it is what we place our hope in.  The words that were spoken by Isaiah are words from God.  When we put our hope in the promises of God, He will not let us down or fail us, some more words from Isaiah;

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. 31)

It’s good to receive hope.  I like it when I am encouraged and hopeful (or hope-filled).  But, I know that many people are struggling and have lost their hope.

My reading had a bit of a sting in the tail today! 

I felt that God was saying to me “yes receive hope but, what are you doing to give hope to others?” 

Perhaps that is a question we all need to think about

 

 

 

Some Thoughts About Spam

This morning, I switched my computer on and did a bit of clearing up. 

I was amazed at how much rubbish had got on there.  We have a name for that rubbish, it is known as “Spam”.

I remember Spam (I think you can still buy it in) and I used to quite like it, when I was a kid, the name is supposed to have come from either Shoulder Pork and hAM or SPiced hAM.  Nobody is really that sure.  I can remember having to peal open the can using a key hoping against hope that the tin  strip would peal back and not snap.  Then I could enjoy a really healthy meal of “spam fritters and chips” or putting it into sandwiches extra thick!

I suppose spam lost something of its magic for me when the Monty Python team did their famous sketch.  The restaurant where every meal contained Spam and the Vikings in the background singing

Spam spam spam spam

Wonderful spam lovely Spam

If you haven’t got a clue what I am talking about, I suggest you search it on the internet!

It’s this constant repetition of the word spam that is thought to be the origins of the computer term for the constant repetition of e-mails or comments posted (usually by a bot).  They want to entice you to click on a link to goodness knows where on the internet, although I suspect goodness has little to do with it!

This got me thinking about the way that our lives are constantly bombarded with information and messages that demand our attention.  I think there are so many that, we almost become oblivious to them.  In some cases, the temptation to “click on the link” is so strong that we have been dragged into places that it would be better that we did not go.

Perhaps, like me cleaning up my computer, we need to do that with our lives at times.  The Psalmist says;

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts.                                                       See if there is any wicked way in me,                                                                                                                      and lead me in the way everlasting.                                                                                                                  (Psalm 139 vs. 23 – 24)

Why not take the opportunity today, to come to God and clear away some of the Spam in your life?

 

 

The Beast From The East

Like many people, we are having a visit from a weather condition known as “The Beast From The East”.  It’s been quite an interesting few days.  A very slippy drive into work this morning proved very challenging!

In our Church, we run a group that supports the homeless vulnerably housed.  We were very busy this morning with hungry, cold folk.  Many were surprised to find us open given that so many services are really struggling to run in the present conditions.

During the morning, when things quietened down, I got chance to go and do a quick walk round of the Church building.  Given conditions, I just wanted to check all was well.  On my tour I found this in the entrance porch of the main Church building;

 

The main doors have a small gap at the bottom and the snow had blown through!  It made me think, how such a small gap could lead to something unwanted getting in.

In a strange way, I think the same can happen in our lives too.

I am going to use an old fashioned word here, the word is “sin”.  There is a danger that we can end up categorizing sins as “big sins” and “little sins”.  For most of us, we wouldn’t dream of committing “Big sins”.  But, when it comes to the “little sins” well, they don’t really matter, or do they?

Interestingly, the Bible doesn’t categorize sins in this way.  Sin is simply sin.  I think the reason why the Bible doesn’t differentiate is because God recognizes that even a little gap can allow the unwanted to get in.

How did I deal with the unwanted result of “The Beast from The East”?  A brush soon cleared it.

How can we deal with the unwanted in our lives?  Because Jesus paid the price for our sin, we can receive Gods grace, love and forgiveness.  All we have to do is ask

Schools, guns and all that….

 

 

I wanted, some time ago, to write a blog about the recent tragic events in America.  I have held back simply because, I was not too sure what to say and how to put it.

In some respects it is none of my business because, I am not an American, I have never been to America and none of the victims are known to me in any way shape or form.  However, through news media, social media and the fact that what happens in one part of our world has an effect on the whole world, I feel that I have as much right as anyone to add my voice to the rest.

On hearing the news I was tempted to join the thousands of others with the comment “thoughts and prayers”.  I chose to remain silent at that time and, having seen the reaction, I realized that many who commented with”thoughts and prayers” were well meaning but,the emotions being felt were too raw.

I have no love for Donald Trump and I believe that allowing the general public to carry guns is ridiculous, expecting teachers to carry firearms in school is unbelievable!  I would support those people who are calling for gun control and the sooner the NRA is stripped of power the better.

But, in the aftermath and the shock, we all need to ask ourselves some very serious questions.  There is something fundamentally wrong in the world and that is what needs to be addressed.

Where young people feel disenfranchised and older people are afraid, something is wrong.  Where hatred and violence are allowed to flourish unchallenged, something is wrong.  Where people in the majority world are left to starve and fight for existence and some nations produce more and more food waste, something is wrong.

Jesus said some words that I have been reflecting on today;

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful                                          (Luke 6 vs. 37)

Jesus draws our attention to one of God’s prime characteristics, He is full of mercy.

God is loving and God is merciful and calls on us to show love and mercy not just to each other but, the whole of His creation.  We cannot live in isolation from each other, putting barriers up and creating obstacles.

As I read these words, I began to think about what they addressed in me.  I felt that they were saying “be like Jesus”.  Not easy but, essential!

What needs to change in me so that I can become more like Jesus?

What needs to change in you so that you can become more like Jesus?

Disconnect

 

I rushed into my office this morning with the urgent need to print something off ready for our morning service.  I started my computer, switched on the printer and found the document.  I hit the print icon, and waited.

I waited for a little while, yet nothing seemed to emerge from the printer.

I carried out the usual checks, printer on, icon pressed.  I made sure there wasn’t a spooling error.  There was still no sign of my document.  Perhaps, I thought, perhaps the printer needs to warm up.  So I waited.

Eventually, I accepted that nothing was going to happen.  There was nothing else for it, I needed to get some help because, there was clearly something seriously wrong.  Before plucking up the courage to ask, I decided to get a cup of tea.  On my return to the desk I spotted the source of the problem.  You guessed it, I had forgotten to plug the printer into the computer!

It was so obvious, so simple and yet I missed it.

 

It’s often the simple things we forget isn’t it?

If I wanted my computer and my printer to work, I had to plug it in.  The cable enabled communication to take place.

This served as a powerful nudge to remind me of something very important.  If I want to serve God, speak God’s word and bring God’s encouragement then, I need to be plugged into God and in communication with Him.

How do I do that?

There is an old chorus that has the refrain “Did you think to pray”.  We face difficulties and try to solve it in our own ability, and forget to pray.  We try and make key decisions in our lives, and for forget to seek God’s will.  We rush ahead with our plans and forget to ask if it is what God wants us to do.  Prayer is not only about speaking and listening to God, it is also about submitting ourselves to God.  There is a well-known verse in the book of Proverbs that says;

 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
 in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

(Proverbs 3 vs. 5 – 6)

Too often our prayers run along the lines “this is what I am doing Lord, please bless it”.  Instead, I think we should be praying “here I am Lord, send me” (Isaiah 6 vs. 8)

It may seem simple but, it’s often the simple things we forget isn’t it?

 

 

Now Wash Your Hands

There was something in my quiet time this morning that really challenged me.

The passage came from Mark 7 where the Pharisees complain that Jesus’ disciples were eating with “defiled hands”.  Simply, the disciples had forgotten to wash their hands before eating food.  For the Pharisees, this was a big deal and they wanted to challenge Jesus about it.

I found it a difficult passage to understand. 

I couldn’t see why Jesus argued with the Pharisees.  To my way of thinking, washing hands is common sense.  From an early age, I was trained that you wash your hands after using the bathroom, before eating food, when you have been in the garden or handling pets etc. etc. etc.  I can even remember seeing signs in public washrooms that read “Now Wash Your Hands”.

So surely, I am okay.  I wash my hands regularly.  I know the rules and I keep the rules. 

So why does Jesus make this an issue to confront the Pharisees on?  Surely, Jesus cannot be against personal hygiene?  Isn’t cleanliness next to Godliness (not a Biblical quote but, has been attributed to John Wesley)?

As I reflected on this passage I remembered just how important “purity” was to the Pharisees.  They had God’s laws and understood the value that God placed on purity but, they had missed the point of what God was truly saying.  They had become so keen on keeping the outward rules (and had created even more rules in order to keep rules about rules) that they had lost the what lay in God’s heart. 

In challenging the Pharisees, Jesus was challenging the attitude of their hearts and that is why I felt challenged.  I read some words by Henri Nouwen;

God’s house has no dividing walls or closed doors.

The rules the Pharisees put in place were acting as dividing walls and closed doors.  They were deciding who was acceptable and who was not.

I may not have quite the same rules as the Pharisees but I still have my unwritten rules, codes and standards.  The danger is that I could be building dividing walls or closing doors.  Sometimes, we need to take a look at our hearts and ask God to show us where our, unwritten, rules are causing us to build dividing walls. 

Name Badge

Let me tell you something about me you may not know.

I have a real hatred of wearing name badges!  I cannot give you a rational reason for this or an insight into my psychological make-up but, for some reason, whenever I am on a training course or exhibition or conference and the name badges are handed out my heart sinks. 

One time, my wife and I were on a training course and found a number of other people who had the same feeling.  We spent the week swapping names with each other just to irritate the trainers!  The church where I minister, at one time, wanted us to wear name badges.  Miraculously, mine all seemed to vanish (I wonder how that happened!!??!!)

I don’t have a phobia of badges, nor do I like to keep my identity a secret but, I just don’t like wearing them!

I was reflecting on this during the week when I attended a training course organised by a group outside of my denomination.  I was relieved to discover that we could just introduce ourselves and identify where in the country we came from and there wasn’t a name badge in sight!

An incident took place at lunch time that shed some light on my dislike of badges.

As we took our lunch break and I sat chatting at the table with a few people, there were two people at a nearby table who were engaging in what I can only describe as “evangelical bashing”.  They were ministers from their denomination (I am not saying that all ministers in that denomination would accept their views) and it was hard to avoid their comments because, they were quite animated in their discussions.

As their conversation and views unfolded I began to find that my hackles were beginning to rise and I was in two minds whether to go over and speak to them.  I will not repeat their comments but, dear reader, I was reaching the point where I wanted to go over and bless them with the laying on of fists.

I chose not to, to keep my mouth shut.  It was only later in the car home I began to reflect.  Why did my hackles rise and why did I not challenge?  Perhaps it was because an intervention would not have helped.  Perhaps it was because I knew there were elements of truth in what they were saying.  Perhaps, dear reader, I was simply a coward (don’t worry if that’s what you think, I wont be offended!).

I think my hackles rose because, if I had to wear a theological label, it would be Evangelical Charismatic.  I know that there many things about that label that I don’t like and there are some evangelicals who hold views that I struggle with.

In the main, however, my hackles rose because I really dislike the process of labelling.  If I put a label on myself, that is my choice and I choose what label I wear.  If somebody puts a label on me, I have no say within that and I can become a target for their prejudice, expectations or demands.  To try and either live up too or escape from the label placed upon us is almost impossible and certainly not good for our well-being.

Are there labels that are put on us that could be helpful for us? Does God ever label us?  I believe that God created us as individuals, loves us as individuals and longs to bless us as individuals and, therefore, anything that God says of us is done out of His love for us. 

Recently, some kind friend sent me some words in the form of a poem by Henri Nouwen;

Beloved

I have called you by name, from the very beginning.                                                                                         You are mine and I am yours.

You are my Beloved, on you my favour rests.

I have moulded you in the depths of the earth and knitted you together in your mother’s womb.                I have carved you in the palms of my hands and hidden you in the shadow of my embrace.

I look at you with infinite tenderness and care for you with a care more intimate than that of a mother for her child.

I have counted every hair on your head and guided you at every step.

Wherever you go, I go with you, and whenever you rest, I keep watch.

I will give you food that will satisfy all your hunger and drink that will quench all your thirst.

I will not hide my face from you.  You know me as your own as I know you as my own. You belong to me.

I am your father, your mother, your brother, your sister, your lover and your spouse… yes, even your child… wherever you are I will be.

Nothing will ever separate us.  We are one.”

 

This is a label that I not only am I prepared to wear but, I am happy to do so and I hope you can wear it too.

 

 

 

 

Stick with it

 

This morning, in our Church service, I used some green garden canes to help make a point.

I had a volunteer join me in front of the congregation and handed him a single stick.  I got him to snap it.  This wasn’t much of a challenge for him.  In a few seconds, one stick became two in his hands.  I then got him to put the two sticks side by side and again, snap them.  It took a little more effort but, again, it wasn’t exactly a difficult challenge.  Two sticks soon became four.

As my volunteer had shown his strength and ability I decided to up the stakes (no pun intended) and handed him a bundle of 50 garden canes.  Try as he might, it was impossible for him to break them.

What was the point of this illustration?  I was using it to show the truth behind passage from Ecclesiastes that says;

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

(Ecclesiastes 4 vs. 12)

The more sticks we put together, the harder they were to break and, by the time we reached 50 it was impossible to even flex them.

We are stronger, if we stand together.

One of the best things about being a Christian is that I don’t have to be “on my own” anymore. I have a relationship with God which is life transforming and I also have a relationship with those around me in a Church family – the Bible calls this fellowship.

When our fellowship stands together we are able to support each other, help each other, bless each other and we are able to resist the pressure that comes our way.

If I am truthful with you, I really love the Church fellowship that I am involved with.  However, being part of a fellowship is not always easy.  There are times when relationships are difficult and have to be worked on.  There are, equally, times when I am not always easy to get on with.

If you are struggling with Church or not, my advice to you is “stick at it”, it will help you stand!

 

 

Words words words or, brush up your Shakespeare

 

We had our Church Meeting last night.  As is our practice, Church Meeting begins with a service of Holy Communion and during it, I share some thoughts on a Bible passage.  Last night, I read some verses from Psalm 19.  As the reading reached the end, I said “I just have to read this verse because, it’s an important one to me”;

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)

Why did I say that verse was important to me?

I didn’t give any explanation at the time but, I have been reflecting on it over night

So, here goes…..

Words are important to me.  Yes, a conversation without words is impossible but, words are more than just sounds that come from our mouth.  They are part of communication, and we all know how important what we communicate and how we communicate can be.

 

Words carry with them incredible power

I can remember the first time that the English language took on a whole new depth to me.  I was about 14 or 15 and I was given an opportunity to go on a school trip to Stratford upon Avon and then a visit to the Shakespeare theatre to see “the Scottish play”.  I wanted to go, I have no idea why, I just wanted to be there.

My parents tried to dissuade me with comments about not being able to follow it, outdated, not being part of any course I was doing at school etc. etc.  Pester power won, in the end, and I got on the trip!

In all honesty, I didn’t understand every last word spoken.  I struggled, at some points, with the subtleties of the plot and the political significance of the story (written just after Guy Fawkes had tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament – which is what the “Porter” scene is all about).  But, what came over to me was the power of the language.  The power of the words

Those words in “The Scottish Play” had the power to move me to laughter, bring tears to my eyes, to scare me witless, to make me jump!  They had such an impact on me that, even to this day, I can still quote some of the lines I heard that night!

That night, I fell in love with the plays of Shakespeare and have had the privilege of sitting through and taking part in many of his works over the years.  (yes, I did am-dram and we were used by the BBC and Japanese breakfast TV as extras  – autographs are available!!!)

Although I wouldn’t claim to have the eloquence of Shakespeare I suppose, at one level, words are my “stock in trade”.  Words are important to me, as a preacher and pastor the words I use are significant in various situations that I find myself in.  I am aware that the words I use can bring consolation or desolation.  The words I use can also bring hope where hope is lost (my good friend Chris Duffett has written about this recently, and you can read about it here https://chrisduffett.com/2018/01/24/words-of-light-for-a-dark-day)

Often, as I sit to prepare the words that I will use in a service, act of worship, sermon I will pray;

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)

And as I prepare to deliver what my heart has been meditating on, I will pray those words again.

Thinking wider than my working life, what about my daily life are the words I use, bringing glory to God?  The Psalmist prays that the words he uses, will be pleasing to God.  I know, at times, I have used words that are less than pleasing to me, let alone God.  

The old phrase “sticks and stones may break my bones but, names can never hurt me” is a lie.  Words can bring with them destruction, damage and pain.  In fact, many of us live still with the sound of cruel words, spoken to us in childhood, ringing in our ears. This is why I think the Psalmist doesn’t just speak about the words he uses in this verse, he also speaks about the intention behind those words.  The intention of our heart needs to be right before God. 

And so, as I reflected on this verse today, I have made the words of this Psalm, and the intention behind the words my prayer for this day.  What is your prayer for today?

Pearl of Hope

 

There are some places that mean a tremendous amount to me.

One of those places is The House of Retreat in Pleshey (you can find out about it here www.retreathousepleshey.com).  It means a lot to me because, when I am there, I spend with a wonderful group of people who hold a special place in my heart but also because it is a place of prayer.

I had the joy of spending a couple of days at Pleshey this week and during that time we had some very noisy, high powered winds that hit during the night (confession time, I was doing my well known impression of a pneumatic drill and missed the whole thing).  In the local area, trees were brought down, branches and rubbish were strewn all over the place.  In my own town, chimneys were damaged and a roof was blown off a pub!

The following morning, I was walking in the garden at Pleshey and snapped the quick photo of the snowdrops.  As I did, I heard God whisper to me “pearls of hope” and that set me thinking…

I wanted to know what a pearl really is and so I asked a well- known search engine whose name rhymes with frugal and discovered that

Natural Pearls form when an irritant – usually a parasite and not the proverbial grain of sand – works its way into an oyster, mussel, or clam. As a defense mechanism, a fluid is used to coat the irritant. Layer upon layer of this coating, called ‘nacre’, is deposited until a lustrous pearl is formed.

(https://pearls.com/pages/how-pearls-are-formed)

It really hit me that something, so beautiful, is formed out of an irritant!  God can do the same, those things that hurt and are painful in our lives can, if placed into God’s hands, produce something incredible and beautiful.  My own pain, hurts whether “big” or “small” can be used by God to produce something amazing.

The other thing that I began to think about was the state of the garden itself.

January can feel a bit bleak.  Not much colour or variety and yet, in the midst of this barrenness God plants his little pearls of hope.  Sometimes we have to stop and really look for them, other times they leap out at us.  In those bleak times of our lives, God plants his little pearls of hope. Sometimes we have to stop and ask God to open our eyes so that we can see them.

After the storm the other night, I went out into my own garden and surveyed the damage!  Thankfully, not much damage but you can tell that there has been some disruption.  Lids off water barrels, shed door looking worse for wear, next doors fence is looking decidedly dodgy now.

Sometimes, major storms can hit our lives too.  Major disruption and big damage.  But, just like the snowdrops, God always plant his little pearls of hope.  We just have to look for them.

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.

(Romans 12 vs. 12)