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Sunday, 29 November 2015

'Preparation and Distraction' (Part 1 of 4): 'Preparing the Way'

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."
This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: "A voice of one calling in the desert, 'prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.' " Matthew 3:1-3

This is the first of a four part series focusing on the season of Advent as we prepare our hearts and homes to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus. This first week is about 'preparing the way' I'm intending to publish the other parts on the remaining 3 Sundays in Advent.

I must admit that I love Christmas, the lights, the movies and of course the food... I love the fact that Jesus' name is everywhere, talked about and sung about it's fantastic that often without even realising it people are glorifying Him.

Of course many who do not believe in Christ seek to remove Him from Christmas, to pervert a wonderful time of year...but what upsets me more is when we as Christians somehow through our own busyness and rush to prepare concerts and Christmas fetes etc manage to remove Christ and replace Him with all the trappings of the season. Sometimes our busyness and stress become the cornerstone of this time of year.

Advent is one of the busiest times of the year...there's presents to buy, decorations to put up food to cook, family to invite... The list is endless; some people start getting ready months in advance others like myself are a lot less organised and rush around at the last minute and usually forget most of what I need to do...what should be a time of celebration and togetherness can become a time of stress and arguments, additionally, for millions, Christmas comes and goes and leaves them no richer, no happier and still mired in sorrow, they see a world celebrating while they are left in the cold either literally through homelessness or figuratively through loneliness. I don't say that to make people feel guilty but to help us recognise that in the midst of our joy, there is still darkness and need in our world.

I love the picture above, and I would love to say that's how I prepare for Christmas...Through prayer and meditation; but often it can be an afterthought, but remember, the things that we do and how we do them can sow seeds in others...Will you sow seeds of joy and hope or will you be just another stressed out shopper on the high street fighting over the latest bargain or 'must have' item? Our mission is still to 'prepare the way for the Lord' we cannot save anyone...It is Christ who does that, but by our actions we can show people what it is like to be with Christ; we can plant the seed and give God room to grow and work in their lives.

So to finish, let me ask how will you prepare yourself and your home for Christ and for Christmas? Will you fight, argue and stress over decorations and food and all this inconsequential stuff? Or will you help 'prepare the way for the Lord' by praying for and ministering to those who need Christ even more at this time of year, will you be a stumbling block or a road sign? Finally remember that our hearts and souls are far more precious and important than our homes so however much time we spend decorating our homes, we should spend far more time preparing them.

Look out for part 2....of 'Preparation and Distraction' next Sunday

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Rebuilding a world at war... (Nehemiah 2:2,3)

so the king asked me, "Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart." I was very much afraid,
but I said to the king, "May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my fathers are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?" - Nehemiah 2:2,3

I'm trying not to politicise this blog, but after recent events in Paris, Nigeria and Beirut among others I've felt the need to say something about the things that have happened, the horrors of war and what I think is the appropriate response from Christians when faced with such unbridled and unrestrained hatred and destruction.

Syria and particularly the city of Aleppo currently face a humanitarian nightmare, the city is in danger of complete destruction as it suffers attack from Isis, the Syrian government and western bombing strikes and drone attacks. Destruction not seen since the second world war. I wrote in a previous blog about the destruction of Coventry cathedral during WWII and how it was rebuilt and became a symbol of hope and rebirth; this is all well and good looking back after the reconstruction, but where does that leave us when faced with the destruction? How do we pick ourselves up and carry on?

We pick ourselves up, not because there is a secret formula or magic spell to moving forward, we pick ourselves up because we have to...
We choose to allow hatred and despair to spur us on to further hatred or violence; or we choose hope to spur us on to goodness and grace...but regardless we still must pick ourselves up...

Once again using Coventry cathedral as an example... During the clear up, two metal nails were found together in the shape of a cross; this 'cross of nails' has become an international symbol of peace and reconciliation.

Now I am not going to give an opinion on solutions for the current refugee crisis currently facing Europe, but I will say that these people are just that... People, they are not 'animals' or 'cockroaches' as I've heard them called. They are ordinary people fleeing war and chaos, and I will not allow hatred and fear to erase my compassion for my fellow human beings, I accept that not all are innocent and I understand people wanting checks and controls etc but that is another debate for another time and not the purpose of this blog.

Returning to the bible verse, we see the prophet Nehemiah serving as cup bearer to king Artaxerxes, while Israel lies in ruins, Nehemiah feels weak and powerless to do anything about it; this leaves him completely devastated and obviously very sad. This is how I believe the refugees and citizens of Aleppo must be feeling, but this could equally apply to anyone distanced from friends and loved ones, but there is hope...out of the ruins of Coventry cathedral came peace, reconciliation and rebirth, out of 9/11 came unity and now the one world trade centre as a beacon of hope, Jerusalem was rebuilt and restored...there will be an end to hatred and war but the road may be long and full of hardship, but our God is equal to the task, if we trust and hope in Him, we will not be disappointed.

'And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." Revelations 21:3,4

Please don't forget those in your lives and communities that are struggling... It may be big things like the dispossessed refugees or anything that those around you are struggling with; they need you to be God's hands and hearts in their lives, that is our challenge and our mission; even more so when faced as we are, with the current climate of fear and hatred...

Sunday, 15 November 2015

You can take the Christian out of the church; and maybe you should... (John 17:18)

'As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.' - John 17:18

For a while now, I've been wondering if perhaps in the church we have had our priorities a little skewed in regards to attracting new members to our congregations....we like to organise many different programmes and initiatives designed to make ourselves attractive to those from outside our church families...we try anything from musical programmes and 'messy church' maybe car washing events... The list is endless.

I'm not saying all these are bad things... Far from it, these ideas can give people a reason to enter our churches and expose them to the love of God through encounters with Christians; but is there a possibility that we have begun to use the church as an excuse to lock ourselves away from the world?...I can certainly understand why we sometimes want to do this, this world can be a hostile place for Christians, people sometimes treat us like there's something wrong with us or that we're deluded trouble makers that don't fit in...people can be deliberately disrespectful or hurtful sometimes we can be mocked or insulted; but should we be surprised at this?

"If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.
If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.
Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.' - John 15:18-20

So we may understand why we are sometimes treated badly; and of course we want to guard ourselves against it, we have built these great churches that inspire us and make us feel accepted and safe, but have we become too safe, too guarded and too shut away? Have we somehow managed to isolate ourselves from the very people that need us, and to whom we are commissioned, and empowered to reach out to, have we begun to unintentionally hide the light of God from those who need it? Have our churches become fortresses, which shun outsiders? Have we developed our own traditions and languages that make us into a 'members only club' that makes no sense to others?

I heard the metaphor at a training event last week of the church being like a betting shop...I know where my local betting shop is, I walk past it most days; but to look in the window is to see a strange world that I don't understand or have any interest in, I wouldn't know what to do if I went in, I would feel lost and out of that how we appear to outsiders???

So what's my point in all this? Well it's not really a point, more of a ramble or just something to ponder... Have we spent too much time trying to get outsiders into church and not enough time and effort trying to get Christians out of church and on to the streets and into the hearts of communities where people are? Perhaps we need to create programmes and events that encourage us to leave our safe fortresses and fulfill our mission to be 'sent out' instead of being shut away...

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

The devoted and disciplined servant (Titus 1:7-9)

'Since an overseer is entrusted with God's work, he must be blameless--not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain.
Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.
He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.' - Titus 1:7-9

Any fans of science fiction reading this blog will notice an obvious and serious problem with the picture above...
If you haven't spotted it then, it is the mixture of Spock from Star Trek and a Jedi from Star wars... For some of us a very serious mistake indeed...
The two do go together though and just to very briefly explain who they are Spock is a scientist and a believer in repressing emotions in favour of pure reason, logic and discipline; whereas the Jedi are focused on similar values but make themselves guardians of justice using powers they gain and develop through their training and discipline to fight against evil and injustice... So enough for the geekiness and science fiction lesson... How does this effect our own lives?

The verse from Titus calls us to be disciplined and focused, 'not quick tempered' etc
And this is important... I'm certainly not advocating complete emotional repression; this is not good or healthy, and besides the gospel accounts are littered with examples of Jesus' human emotions... He laughs, weeps, gets angry etc. We cannot shut ourselves down or lock ourselves away but we must be able to control and discipline ourselves and our emotions... We must be diligent and focused in prayer and study, so we can ground ourselves in the Spirit and in the Word, then be ready to take all that we are and all that we know out into the world.
This is what we believe Christ did, and what we should also do.

For those with busy lives and jobs particularly for anyone introverted like me, the end of the working week or just any free time I unexpectedly have can be a release and a time to relax and recharge... I guard my free time perhaps a little too selfishly; time to myself is how I relax and recharge, and this is important... But it's even more important to recognise when my time and service are required by someone, or when an opportunity presents itself to be what someone needs right at that moment... Because it might not come again, a simple request to 'hang out' with a friend might sometimes seem an inconvenience to us, but actually it may be that particular persons way of asking for help, or they may feel lonely and just need someone to be with them; ultimately God has given us the free will to choose what we do with our time and energy but also the responsibility to answer for someone we haven't helped... Remember: whatever we don't do for others; we don't do for God...
Christ often went out alone to recharge and reflect and of course to pray; but he never made that an excuse not to serve and help others, even after the death of John the baptist, His cousin and contemporary:

'Prompted by her mother, she said, "Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist."
The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted
and had John beheaded in the prison.
His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother.
John's disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.
When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns.
When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.' - Matthew 14:8-14

So the challenge to finish on is to do our best to be focused and disciplined, calm and diligent, but to also remember that in order to serve well we must not completely forget our emotions and passions, because without them we won't be truly human and be able to truly empathise with others... That is why Christ's emotions; His Love, His joy, and His compassion...are what make Him truly human and truly God.

Friday, 6 November 2015

We all make mistakes... (Romans 3:23,24)

For anyone following this blog so far, one thing will probably be glaringly obvious... I'm very good at making typos!!!

Sometimes typos or mistakes can be funny. Like this little gem I stumbled across, apparently a real mistake from a church bulletin:

"The pastor would appreciate it if the ladies of the Congregation would lend him their electric girdles for the pancake breakfast next Sunday."

This came from a website including lots of other funny church bulletin mistakes... I've included the link for your amusement:

Usually after a quick scan through the blog I'm convinced that all is as it should be and mistake free; but it seems as soon as I hit the publish button...I notice all these ridiculously silly mistakes and omissions...fortunately the Good Lord (and the folks at blog spot) saw fit to include an edit button/option. So once spotted, these mistakes can be quickly and efficiently dealt with and corrected.

Sometimes, our mistakes are not so easy to deal with, a harsh word spoken in anger can have lasting consequences, once something has been said it can't always be easily, forgotten, we can cause so much hurt and heartache with a few poorly chosen words:

'Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.
The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man,
but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness.
Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.' James 3:5-10

Some mistakes can be amusing, some hurtful, but praise God we serve a risen saviour who has paid for all of our mistakes many times over; and He waits for those who will come to Him and ask for His forgiveness and will gladly and joyfully restore our soul...none of is better, or greater than anyone else so don't hold grudges, have a loving and forgiving heart within you and of course remember that we are all weak and imperfect, we will all make mistakes and hurt each other, no one is greater or more perfect than another:

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. - Romans 3:23,24

So please forgive and love each other (and please forgive the occasional typo)

Thursday, 5 November 2015

A phoenix from the Ashes...

From darkness and defeat...light can return... Even when all seems hopeless God has a way of showing us that He hasn't left us, and can always be counted on to shine brightest when the night seems darkest... It's always worth remembering that the night is darkest just before the dawn...

To try and emphasise this I thought I would share something of the story of Coventry Cathedral and it's transformation from ruins to A beautiful phoenix...

The picture above is one that will stick in the minds of the people of Coventry forever.
It is a picture of the old cathedral of St Michael, built in the late 14th and early 15th centuries; and elevated to cathedral status in remained this way until the night of the 14th November 1940, when during the 2nd world war during the infamous blitz, it was destroyed by the Luftwaffe and was left in the state you see above.
Buy this was not the end of the story...on the 25th May 1962 the newly rebuilt Cathedral was consecrated, and stands next to the ruins of the old cathedral like a phoenix from the ashes....

So how does this affect us and more importantly how does it affect our spiritual lives?
The obvious example is the death and resurrection of Jesus....The scriptures tell of fear and hopelessness at His death... But then an unbelievable victory and hope when 3 days later He rose again in glory.

If He can do that how much more can he take our problems, our fears and our failures and turn them into acts of great victory, where His glory can shine magnificently...

2 Corinthians 12:9
But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

'Through a mirror darkly'

Yesterday (02/11/15) the UK seemed obsessed by one thing... Something that it never gives a second thought to...THE WEATHER...ok, I give in...we're ALWAYS obsessed by the weather...

But even for us there was something new to talk about regarding the weather... FOG!!!

London seemed to grind to a halt because of it; all everyone seemed to talk about was how much this fog had bought the UK to a stand still, stopped everyone going about their daily business; it got me thinking about my spiritual life and how often it feels like a spiritual fog has descended on everything.

Martin Luther King said: 'Take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step'

This is a great truth... Sometimes it may feel that our future is so clouded we can't see our hands in front of our faces but we have to trust that even though we may feel terrified about what lies ahead and the uncertainty of what the future may hold, we serve a God and King who will always be with us and walk with us  whether the way seems clear and straight or whether it feels shrouded in fog, uneven and terrifying.

The truth I guess to finish on is that even though we may not see our way ahead now... In time, God will make it clear to us, our unseen God will justify our faith when we meet Him face to face

'Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.' 1Corinthians 13:12

Monday, 2 November 2015

'You know better than I'

I love this is a true song of acceptance and obedience to God.

How often do we feel like we've done everything right, everything we can to reach God and fulfill our destinies, only to end up frustrated and disappointed by what's happened, where we are etc?

The truth is that often the best thing we can all do is put our trust in God and recognise that "maybe knowing I don't know, is part of getting through."
If we try and second guess what's asked of us and run ahead thinking we're further on than we are, or better than we are... We end up somewhere down the line leaving the path God has set out for us and having to backtrack.

Once we recognise and say to God 'you know better than I' we will find the pressure off, and a closer walk with God can begin, this obviously doesn't stop us trying to discover what God wants of us but we always remember that it is and always will be God who's in charge, and God who calls us, and God who knows what, where, when, and how we will serve and grow.

I've felt like that so many times in my life, God has always been faithful, always ready to help me get back on track, and occasionally to 'give me that look' and perhaps have a little chuckle when I've spent so long focusing and worrying about things that are just so frivolous and nonsensical...eventually I laugh at myself and wonder why I was so silly... God is good and will always Be ready to bring us back into the fold... Sometimes though it requires us to be humble and risk looking silly and ridiculous in front of those we love and care about... Sometimes our pride must be the First casualty of war...

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Sunday morning.....

This is an old post that I really felt needed building up, expanding and was really worth reposting in this more complete and developed form (24/06/2017)

We're finally at the end of another week, which I think begs the question of how we will respond to another Sunday morning, and the challenge of rising early and getting ready for Church. Will you be happy, eager, excited, reluctant, challenged, or just plain tired?

When I'm fortunate to have the day off on a Sunday, sometimes the greatest challenge is dragging myself out of bed in time for Church and in the right frame of mind to show a loving and generous spirit... Rather than a grouchy, short tempered and 'I'd rather go back to bed' spirit. In fact Sunday mornings have almost become a game between myself and my wife of who can stay in bed the longest and still get out of the house in time for Church... I think I'm currently winning!

I love my Church fellowship, they are loving people who care about each other and the Lord, it is a great place of love and inspiration...sometimes though, it can be a challenge to put aside my own desire for my bed or selfish wants and make that effort to go. After a long and busy week at work it might seem like a good idea to use the 'day of rest' to do just that.

These are just excuses, and bad ones at that, is it too much for God to ask for a few hours of our time and perhaps an early start, to spend time with Him and His people?

Well it shouldn't be a sacrifice, or an order... It should be something we truly want to do... Which despite my occasional grumbling and moaning, it is; it is a joy and a privilege to be able to meet with my brothers and sisters in Christ and spend time with God...but sometimes, just sometimes, I wonder if a lie-in wouldn't be more conducive to a less grouchy me... But then I remember that it is God that inspires me to be better, to be more gracious and forgiving... Even when I'm shattered...any excuses to not get up and go to Church when I'm not working come from my own weakness and the enemy's lies.

"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 10:25

And if I need a reminder of the greatness of God, and how no matter how tired I am...he will never tire:

"Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom." - Isaiah 40:28

Now I know that you don't technically have to go to Church to be a Christian... But Church is not just about the benefits we can get, it's about encouraging and building each other up, it's about being a community that watches over each other with love and prayer. You may feel able to be strong and remain faithful at home, by yourself, but others may not, and will look to those around them for guidance, encouragement and example.

Be the Church...drag yourself out of bed if that's what it takes...even when you'd rather sleep in. You may not feel that you have a place in the Church, or that you don't matter... but you do, your place, purpose, mission and gifts are what makes the Church what it is, without them it much, much poorer.

I recently wrote a post that focuses on this in greater detail, which you might find helpful:

'The one and only you!'

"Your Church, wherever it is, whatever form it takes; is unique. It has one thing that no other Church in the world has you!"

So finally and as a summary:
Be the Church, be yourself, be the very best you can be, for yourself, for others and first and foremost for God.

'Inspired by Faith'

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