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An Advent Meditation

December 13, 2015 Leave a comment

Still me Lord and calm me. You’ll be with me throughout today. I know it. Let peace rule in my heart. Let calmness rule in my soul. #Advent

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Enfold me Lord. You love me and you’ll love me all through today. I know it. Let love rage in my heart. Let God rule in my soul. #Advent

Forgive me Lord and cleanse me. You’ll be with me throughout today. I know it. Let forgiveness rule in my soul. You are in my soul. #Advent

You Lord are Mystery. I cannot know you fully. Yet you’ll be with me throughout today. I know it. Let me awaken to your glory all around. #Advent

You Lord are my strength. You’ll be with me throughout today. You are my joy. Lord you are my life. You are my salvation. I know it. #Advent

The Lord is my Light and my Salvation – Jesus Christ is the Light of the World.

 

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Reflection – Enjoy Today ….

September 13, 2015 1 comment

Like so many of us, I’m guilty of living way too much in the future – planning, thinking, dreaming, hurrying – and today somehow can seem far less significant. This attitude can be like; let’s just get through today as, in our heads, it’s already past, and move urgently onto the next thing!

Living like this means I have almost certainly missed some of the key events in the life of our family, something I now regret. Mother Teresa is quoted as saying, ‘Yesterday has gone, tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today’. 

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This is what the Bible has to say in James 4:

‘Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that’.

It’s ‘WHO’ you are today that counts. It’s ‘WHAT’ you do today that matters.

Do enjoy TODAY.

The Parable of the Four Soils – Mark 4: 1-20

May 24, 2015 1 comment

V1Jesus began to teach beside the Sea of Galilee’.

Galilee was an inland lake. The crowds were so big that Jesus had to get into a boat and teach from it. The boat was his pulpit. It doesn’t matter where you speak from. Buildings are not that necessary! Look at John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, who like Jesus preached to the crowds wherever he went. Don’t get hung up on buildings, they are not the Church. We are the church – the people, not the buildings.

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Jesus made much use of ‘parables’: ‘Earthly stories with Heavenly meanings’ or a simple story that holds a spiritual truth. Note: Mark records fewer parables than Matthew.

Four types of soil described in this ‘Parable of the Sower’

  1. Hard soil on the path edge. Seed remains on the surface
  2. Rocky ground without much soil – little depth for growth
  3. Thorny ground – good soil but infested with weeds
  4. Good soil – fruitful and yielding a variable harvest

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V10 – Jesus was now alone with his disciples. They were confused and didn’t understand his words to them. He speaks of the ‘mystery’ of the Kingdom: The powerful manifestation of the reign of God in human lives, often attended by mighty works. This is Good News – the Gospel.

V13f – Jesus explains the parable to his disciples:  It’s about the sower, it’s about the seed and it’s about the soil.

Seed is the promise of a future harvest. This was an agricultural economy. Life itself depended on the seed that was sown. The sower depicted here is Jesus himself. The seed is the Word of God – the gospel, the message of the good news from God himself. The ground described here is people – you and I – our hearts and our lives. Jesus is asking how we receive the word of God into our lives.

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V15 Hard path = Unresponsive person – someone guilty of being frivolous with God’s word. Treating it lightly and of little value. A spirit of indifference, and sometimes of hostility to God.

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V16-17 Rocky soil = Impulsive person – acting on the spur of the moment without fully thinking through the implications. Note the word ‘immediately’. Their enthusiasm soon wanes. The presence of trouble and persecution badly affects them. Tom Wright translates this as ‘short-term enthusiasts’ or fair-weather folk, unwilling to suffer and persevere. It’s striking how trials and hardships can confirm the faith of some but then dent that of others?

NB: Plants need the sun to grow but that same sun can kill if they have very shallow roots.

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V18-19 Thorny ground = Preoccupied person – Good but infested soil is a danger to plants and to the harvest. The same is true of our hearts and lives. Worries and wealth can thwart the impact of the gospel message. Notethe desire for other things’. Addiction – some things in our lives are entirely legitimate but the ‘desire’ for them can be at the expense of everything else. Thorns choke. We all struggle at some level with this issue. Possessions, prestige and pleasure can all choke us spiritually.

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V20 Responsive person – good fertile soil, well prepared hearts. Neither shallow, hard or preoccupied, but receptive. These people hear because they want to hear. They reflect on what they hear. They put the gospel into practice and bear fruit. Gradually, the Kingdom of God comes in their lives. Spiritual fruit-bearing is the mark of a true believer in Jesus. Do note there are differences in the degree of fruitfulness here. We are not all equally patient, caring, loving, loyal, courageous and prayerful. We are all different.

Do not put pressure on yourself to produce more than you are able. You cannot be another Christian. You are you. You are accepted in God for who you are. He loves you – very much. Be fruitful and you will grow deeper into God. Spirituality is a journey we are all on. Be unwavering to the cause of Christ. Desire to grow.

The growth in fruitfulness – 30x, 60x, 100x – is all about maturity. As we develop in God, so we grow spiritually. You will not be the same tomorrow as you are today. Yes, there is the probability of going backwards as well, but if we stick close to Jesus, we will continue to grow in Him. You cannot see yourself developing Christianly, but others see it in you.

A farmer friend of mine said that he stores enough seed potatoes in his barns in NE Scotland – without planting them – to feed his whole family and his local community for a year, but if he plants them, he is then a major supplier of salad potatoes to the major supermarkets – and thus can help feed a nation!  It’s like that with us. We must sow the seed of the word of God in order to feed our nation. It needs to hear the word of God and to understand more about Jesus and his Kingdom.

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Not everyone we speak to will respond positively, but do not keep the message of the Kingdom to yourself.

In Isaiah 55:11God says … so is my word that goes out from of my mouth. It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it’.

This passage is not just about people outside of the church. This passage is about all of us. Every time we hear the word of God – or read the scriptures – we each have these same four options. What kind of soil will God’s word find in our lives? This is a daily choice for every one of us here today. We must face the fact that keeping our faith alive is a matter of clearing the weeds and tending the soil – every day.

Let’s pray for grace – and for God to help us to grow daily.

This sermon was given on Sunday 24th May 2015 at the Church Centre, Liphook in Hampshire. 

Reflection – Iraq, ISIS, Islam and Saint Francis

September 27, 2014 3 comments

Spirituality writer, Richard Rohr’s books are always eagerly awaited. In this new hardback, Rohr, himself a Franciscan friar, looks closely at ‘the alternative way’ of St Francis of Assisi, one of the Christian church’s most popular saints. All in all, this is an attractive package with a stunning cover.

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Hodder Faith recently sent a reading copy of Richard Rohr’s latest book, Eager to Love. In fact, I selected it as one of my ’10 to Watch’ titles in the September/October issue of Together magazine.

Eager to Love is not a difficult book, but it’s far from an easy read. Words tend to pop up and shout, and phrases seem to have specific resonance for a given situation.

I read this during the massacres and genocide of Christian and other religious minorities across the Middle East and was stopped in my tracks by one very short 4-page chapter, ‘Entering the world of another’, a timely cameo of St Francis of Assisi and his two-week visit to the Muslim Saladin in Egypt.

The record of this extraordinary encounter in 1219 between the apparently powerless Christian monk and the all-powerful Islamic ruler sends a clear echo down through the centuries of just how costly it is to ‘love your enemies’.

Parallels between the nine Crusades and now in our own day, ISIS, are plain.

Reading Rohr’s words, it seems a case of ‘plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose’. He writes of how Saint Francis spoke at great personal cost against the Crusades, telling the Christian soldiers that ‘this was not of God’. Rohr comments on how the Sultan honoured Francis for his courage, sending him away with his protection and a gift of a prayer horn, which to this day is kept in Assisi.

St Francis’s view of how the Christian Church, in supporting the Crusades, actually caused the greater sin of damage to the wider principles of the Kingdom of God is one for us to ponder again for ourselves.

Today, in returning violence with violence, do we once again negate the values of the Kingdom? Good writing has the ability to challenge our assumptions and make us more thoughtful people.

Hodder and Stoughton – 9781473604018  – Published 14-Aug-2014 

Reflection – After the Call

August 27, 2014 Leave a comment

Many Christians are familiar with the veracity of a ‘Call of God’, and although this idea may be interpreted sometimes differently by the various wings of the church, most groupings would view it as a bona-fide spiritual experience; albeit one that requires further checks by wise and mature confidantes. I myself would say that I have experienced such a phenomenon.

What’s harder to deal with is the prospect of failure when following such a call. Fear can so often remain as a continuing reality. It feels that there is still the possibility of being laid low or being set aside.

Yet we remain open to God. He is the Lord. He is committed to His call. So too must we be. We continue to be confident in God even when our path seems blocked. Sometimes we receive glimpses of the way ahead, only to be frustrated and cast down again.

The solution in such times is a resolute trust in God.

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Jeremiah 17:7-8 and Psalm 43: 3-5 are key to this:

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,

    whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.

Send out your light and your truth;

    let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy hill
and to your dwelling!
Then I will go to the altar of God,
to God my exceeding joy,
and I will praise you with the lyre,
O God, my God.

 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God. (ESV)

There is always the danger of looking other than to God for our solutions. It’s quite a natural reaction – and therein lies the problem and the point. It’s natural, not spiritual. True trust occurs deep within our spirit: ‘Has God said?’ We can soulfully answer, ‘emphatically yes’. Such clear and certain knowledge is crucial to our ‘resting’ in His sovereign call. If God is for me, who can be against me? (Note my emphases).

Sometimes the call of God is to oblivion in the eyes of the world. Even the Church aspires to the cult of personality and lifts its heroes high – pastors, musicians, evangelists, music leaders, organisations et al. It wrongly equates calling and vocation with worldly success and influence. These are not Kingdom values but just more of the world inside the church. Care needs to be exercised as such occurrences can be insidious and appear perfectly fine at the time. They are not – and they will be found sadly wanting in due course. Even very recent church history shows us this quite clearly.

Those of us blessed with a sense of a divine calling must show great care. Ours is a holy calling and one not to be taken lightly, even when the way ahead seems dark, confused and unclear to us. I’m reminded that Romans 11:29 says,

’For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable’

And in I Corinthians 1: 25-27,

‘For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong’.

This Scripture is quite clear – to give it Richard Rohr’s expression – ‘the upside-downness’ of the spiritual life and its values. The juxtaposition seems contrary to everything we aspire to and is very hard for us to accept, let alone practise – but live it this way we must.

Reflection – Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem

May 23, 2014 1 comment

I am not long back from a tour of Israel. I last went in 1988. The country has developed massively in that time but the politics remain complex. With a population of 8 million, contradictions and conundrums appear at every turn. Instinctively, as a Christian, I want to love Israel but they themselves make this far from easy. The national character is likened to the ‘sabre’, or prickly pear. The visit left me saddened, and with a deep disquiet of whether the present situation can ever truly be resolved. How can such divided peoples live side-by-side, even if a two state solution were to prove possible?

Jerusalem from Mount Scopus

Whilst there I read through Psalms 120-134, ‘The Songs of Ascent’; songs sung by the Jews travelling up to Jerusalem. Psalm 122:6 exhorts us to ‘Pray for the peace of Jerusalem’. Peace is never more needed than it is today. Hostilities and injustice abound across Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Even the Christian denominations add to the sense of tension. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a travesty of all that the gospels teach. Discord and disharmony lie at the centre of one of the most important Christian sites on earth!

A visit to the Holy Land is far from straightforward. It throws up thorny issues of land ownership, disputed borders and national security; concepts which in the UK we are rarely forced to consider. We Brits have our own issues to face as our history from the Mandate period has left bitter memories in Israel. I fully support Israel’s right to exist, but how does its antagonistic policies toward the Palestinians sit with the scriptural injunction to take care of the stranger and neighbour?

There are no simple answers. The situation would appear intractable. What we can and must do, however, is to continue to ‘Pray for the peace of Jerusalem’; an anguished city over which Jesus himself wept.

This reflection was published in Together Magazine (May to June 2014).

Reflection: All shall be well and all shall be well …

March 28, 2014 Leave a comment

I am, by nature, an optimist. I tend to approach life and spirituality through the lens of hopefulness, which is why I am very fond of these faith-filled words written by someone known to history as Julian of Norwich, probably not her actual name which may have been unknown. These words have the ability to change the atmosphere of faith. They are a reminder of just how important words are in dealing with life’s challenges and circumstances.

 ‘It is true that sin is the cause of all this pain; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well’.

Revelations of Divine Love, recorded by Julian, Anchoress of Norwich.

Revelations of Divine Love - Hodder Faith

The Lady Julian, an English mystic from the 14th Century, was an anchoress, a type of nun, living in East Anglia. An anchoress (or recluse) was someone who had withdrawn from the world into the life of prayer, often spending that time in solitude. Born c. 1343, Julian lived possibly into her 70’s, a good age for that time. She spent much of her life in a timber or stone cell nearby to the church at Conisford near Norwich, and was a source of spiritual counsel and advice for local people. The Lady Julian was clearly an educated woman with a good understanding of languages and theology. From what we read, she was well regarded in the Norfolk area, but little else is known of her life, except from her own writings which have passed down through the years, and which are still read and widely appreciated today.

The turning point in her life came on 13th May 1373. Whilst seriously ill and very possibly dying, she received sixteen ‘shewings’ or visions over two days, which she attributed to God. She recovered and was restored to full health. These showings became the basis of her own contemplative life. Twenty years later she set down her account of the event. Her book, ‘Revelations of Divine Love’ is delightful; full of spiritual truth, hope and thoughtful reflection. There are shades here of Thomas a Kempis and his ‘Imitation of Christ.’

Incredibly, Lady Julian’s book has the distinction of being the earliest surviving book written in English by a woman. The earlier book – or the ‘short text’ – was later expanded by Lady Julian into a much longer volume, consisting of some 86 chapters and known as the ‘Long Text’. The short text exists in only one 15th century manuscript, copied from an original written in 1413 and now held in the British Library. The first printed version of the long text was made in 1670, and this is the volume that most of us have access to in the updated English editions.

In ‘Revelations of Divine Love’, The Lady Julian tells of how God, ‘our courteous Lord’ showed her,

a little thing, and the size of a hazelnut, on the palm of my hand’. God tells her that, ‘it is all that is made’.

From this, Julian realises that, just as this small object exists because God loves it, so each individual is created and loved by God himself.  She was clearly troubled, as we all are at times, by the mystery of how such a loving God could have allowed sin and evil to enter the world. She came to see that sin is known in our lives through the pain that it causes us. God uses this pain to move us towards him for mercy and to receive his love. In this He assures us that,

All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well’.

When bad ‘stuff’ happens, it will often (not always, I realise) push us closer to God himself. This is surely the essence of Christianity, as summed up by another writer in the final chapter of the Revelation of St John: at the end of time, God will bring all things together under Christ the son; there will be a new reality. All shall be well …

Lady Julian died c. 1420 and was contemporary with another English mystic and eccentric, Margery Kempe, herself the author of the first known autobiography written in English. This was quite an extraordinary period for English literature and for written spiritual meditation.

Hopefulness or a confident expectation is an empowering quality and a Christian virtue. God loves and God forgives. He knows the end from the beginning. No matter what is happening to us, no matter the magnitude or the origin of the disasters around us, ultimately all shall be well. I sometimes think the great sin of our age is the need to know everything, to be like God himself.

Lady Julian reminds us that some things will only be known to us in heaven. It’s a matter of our trust; it’s also a matter of divine love.

Julian of Norwich again;

We hope that God has forgiven our sins, and that is true. Then our courteous Lord shows himself to the soulmost merrily and with a glad expression’.

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