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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...

During the clear up of Coventry cathedral after it was destroyed during world war 2, 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...

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Disclaimer: the opinions and comments expressed in this blog are personal and do not necessarily represent the views and policies of the Salvation Army

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...

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."

I would love to hear your feedback and comments on this blog, and of course feel free to sign up with your email address to avoid missing new posts (if viewing on a mobile device you may need to click on 'view web version')

I would love to hear your feedback and comments on this blog, and of course feel free to sign up with your email address to avoid missing new posts (if viewing on a mobile device you may need to click on 'view web version')

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Take a look at Inspired by Faith on Twitter: (@InspiredFaith88):

Disclaimer: the opinions and comments expressed in this blog are personal and do not necessarily represent the views and policies of the Salvation Army

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

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 work 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 and a real Place to call home...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.

I would love to hear your feedback and comments on this blog, and of course feel free to sign up with your email address to avoid missing new posts (if viewing on a mobile device you may need to click on 'view web version')

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Disclaimer: the opinions and comments expressed in this blog are personal and do not necessarily represent the views and policies of the Salvation Army