Age, cost, Depression, Disappointment, Discouragement, doubt, Dreams, expectations, Experience, faithfulness, Grit, hope, Hopes and Dreams, Humanity, Risk and Change, self awareness, Spiritual Warfare, Step of faith, Suffering., Testimony, vocation

Looking back over my 30’s!

I remember 10 years ago about to turn 30!

30 -I couldn’t believe I was going to be 30!

30?!

I remember sat in a pub on the Quay -and called the Quay- in Poole.

I was all full of hope and excitement about life…

I was about to get married.

I was a year(ish) into my curacy and was about to be ordained Priest/Presbyter.

I was full of audacious dreams of the adventure God had planned for us in somewhere we did not yet know.

Today I’m feeling much more melancholy.

Looking back over the past 10 years have had some wonderful moments, particularly marrying Allana and our fantastic daughter.

But, I am asking myself 40? -How did that happen?

40,that can’t be right?

40!?

There have been some wonderful moments, seeing people pray prayers of commitment to Christ and meaning them, baptising adults, planting a Church -and a few new congregations-, seeing friends step into what God has for them especially those ordained (especially Sam)and seeing some wonderful Kingdom signs and wonders along the way too.

Yet there have been some tough moments too.

To be honest it feels a little like half way through a boxing match where you are dabbing your eye with a wet sponge and spitting blood into the bucket.

Sometimes when we stop we sometimes realise what a fight a season has been, how far you’ve come -and even if it doesn’t feel far, it is worth remembering that sometimes the shortest distances sometimes can be the toughest of drags. One clergy friend that had a tough time talked about “I ran with the ball and I made the 9 yards”. It might not feel a long way, but they were significant steps hard won and costly.

As I slipped into sulky mood, I began to have a bit of a self pity party with the people that let me down, the mean stuff people have said, the times plans didn’t go right and all sorts of bumps and bruises along the way.

Yet in it all I am sure I have learned stuff.

And despite sometimes feeling very confused, and even sometimes asking “God where are you?”, why is this happening” and “why did this door close?” I can still say (even though this has probably been the toughest decade of my life) that God has been, and is, faithful.

As I thought of that young thirty year old dreamer, I’m now a bit more gnarled and wrinkled, but we are standing on another new season.

The dream for God to take us, now the three of us (four if you include the dog) into new adventures into the unknown, with expectancy, again not knowing what the future holds, but knowing who it is that holds the future.

As I sit here, a bit battered, but still want that same dream to stay alive.

I think there is nothing spiritually mature about becoming jaded and downsizing our expectations of God. There is nothing Godly about playing it safe and going through the motions. There is nothing wise about allowing dreams to die and reducing and minimising your vision.

I love the C.S. Lewis quote that says “You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream”.

why should the future look boring and safe? An adventure with Jesus might be tougher and harder than most of us thought when we surrendered our lives to him, but it is still the greatest calling we have.

It would have been so easy to keep on doing what we have been doing and just slowly die under the moany pessimistic emails, the endless cycle of harvest festivals and other annual events and preaching to people who have heard it all a million times but longing to preach to someone who has not heard it at all.

It is so easy to be safe keep your head down grit your teeth and think about your pension, yet I believe that God has so much more for all of us than our 9-5 prisons.

As we get older, sometimes the risks feels bigger (especially those of us with families) and the jumps feel further, and the costs seem greater and yet the truth of God’s faithfulness remains the same, constant.

So, looking back and looking forward, however it looks I want to pledge one thing, it will be about Jesus, the one who is the same today, yesterday and forever.

It will be uncertain although it is in the service of the only truly certain thing in this universe -Jesus is this life’s only true certainty.

So, although I feel like I’m sat on a stall, it’s time to return the gum-shield, step into a different ring and listen to the bell and see what God ahs in store for the next decade.

It’s not about how much it cost -although sometimes that does feel quite in your face at times- but rather it is about how great is the prize, the Kingdom, the pearl of great price, the one worth it all.

“were the whole realm of nature mine that were an offering far too small, love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all”.

Advertisements
Standard
doubt, faith, Falibility, Fear, Holy Saturday, Pain, Suffering.

Holy Saturday.

Good Friday is an easy blog to write about, the fallen-ness of human nature (after-all “all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God” and the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord”).

It would be easy too, to write about our need of a Saviour and the amazing action of God who left the glories of heaven to step down to the earth he created to suffer and die, in our place, for our sins.

In fact I’m sure many Christians blogged this sort of stuff yesterday.

Tomorrow, I’m sure the internet will be awash with blogs talking about Jesus’ resurrection shows that death has been defeated, sin has been conquered and relationship with the Father restored for those who choose to put their faith in Christ.

But I want to blog about today, Holy Saturday, the day after Good Friday, with the body of God incarnate dead and sealed in a stone cold tomb. The day before the resurrection, when tragedy was turned to victory.

Today is a day of doubts, we see the disciples run and hide in upper-rooms, or quit it all together and return to the fishing trade, or walk off from Jerusalem to Emmaus (remember Jesus had instructed them to stay in Jerusalem). A day when dreams died, an disappointment reigned, questions hung unanswered in the air.

The first Holy Saturday was a pessimistic day, the  only people who had any faith for a resurrection were the Chief Priests, the scribes and the Pharisees -those who feared it the most, I wonder if their doubts were rising? “Perhaps Jesus really was who he said he was?”  Maybe in the depth of their hearts they might have been asking whether they had just made a terrible, terrible mistake?” -I wonder?

I wonder if our lives sometimes feel a bit like a Holy Saturday?

where we look back at our own surrendering of our lives to Christ, and look forward to his return, but now sometimes we get plagued with doubts? Perhaps we are disappointed about how things have worked out? Maybe deep down we worry we have got it all wrong?

And maybe our Holy Saturday hasn’t just been 24 hours, perhaps it has been a long time, perhaps even years?

In my life, I have had some wonderful mountain top experiences, but I have had some valley times too.  I believe Holy Saturday feels like a day of a spiritual desert, and deserts are tough places, but places in which God often does his deepest and most profound work within us, but most of us want to escape the desert, just as most Christians want to either rewind to Good Friday or fast forward to Easter Day, but to do this misses out on what we can learn in the from Holy Saturday.

If we rush past Holy Saturday, often our Easter Message often sounds glib and insincere.

If we have just an Easter Sunday Morning faith, we have a great theology of victory and power -which is great- but we also (I believe) need to have a faith that can cope with the pain, suffering, complex questions and difficulties of following Jesus in a world that is broken.

I have heard people talk about the “already and not yet” of the Kingdom of God, meaning that the Kingdom of God can -and does- break into real peoples lives but the fullness of this in its entirety has still yet to be seen.

Recently I read Pete Greig’s books “Red Moon Rising” and “Dirty Glory” and was struck by how he started an international prayer ministry whilst it looked like his wife might die of a brain tumour.

I remember reading about David watson and John wimber both taught the Church to expect God’s miraculous healing miracles in the here and now -and have seen many, many people pray and receive miraculous healing- and yet both of these great men died of cancer.

I struggle with Holy Saturday.

I struggle with waiting.

I wonder why it took 7 years after first meeting Allana to end up marrying her, why the wait and the pain?

Mike Pilivachi talked  about waiting around 17 years to leave his job and become a Pastor, why the wait and the frustration?

why didn’t Jesus rise a day earlier on Holy Saturday? why the wait?

Actually I don’t know why God waited 24 hours, nor do I know about any other waits, but I do wonder if one day I’ll understand? The resurrection, like all waits, we have to trust God’s goodness, even when sometimes that takes what can feel like ore faith than we have at the time.

I wonder, the disciples must have remembered Jesus talking about rising from the dead, I wonder if deep within them there was a small flickering light of hope burning away in the depth of a disciples heart?

Perhaps there is something you are faithfully clinging onto God for, and you can identify with this picture of Holy Saturday when you are believing for something even though the wait might be tough.

Perhaps as we wait for Easter Day, Holy Saturday can teach us that one day every doubt will be resolved, every question answered, problem solved as the King of Glory will return with his rule and reign.

I remember hearing Delirous play “every little thing is going to be all right” and at first I objected, Jesus said “in this life you will have trouble”, but then Martin Smith (the lead singer) said “It will be all-right in the end, and if its not all-right its  not the end”… A former vicar friend of mine used to say of the book of revelation “I’ve read the end of the book and we win”.

Yet today is Holy Saturday, we are not without hope, Jesus will rise, but at the moment the Sun has yet to rise, and sometimes the night is darkest before the dawn, but the dawn will come.

 

 

 

 

Standard
Holocaust, Pain, Remembering, sin, Suffering.

Holocaust Memorial Day.

Today is holocaust Memorial Day, more than 70 years since the liberation by the soviets of Auschwitz extermination camp.

Today we remember those murdered in the Nazi Genocide, Jews, Gypsies, the disabled, gays and anyone not fitting the Aryan ideal.

for me this is something I feel something of a connection with as my Grandfather, George Mason, guarded the prisoners at the Nuremburg trials, and must have heard and seen evidence that must have been truly horrific.

Often, we think of this type of evil as very distant from ourselves, we are civilised and educated, we think “it could never happen here”, but the holocaust reminds us that Germany a ‘civilised’ nation of ‘educated’ people right on our doorstep, people just like you and me, did horrific things. Evil on our doorstep. Evil with a face like ours.

The truth is, that it could happen here, it could happen again.

Although many have said: “never again” many of us, especially those of us with kids, fear that “history could repeat itself”.

President John F. Kennedy said “those who forget the past are deemed to relive it”.

There is a famous picture and quote that says “it didn’t start with the gas chambers”, gradually unchallenged hate and vile lies slowly took hold of a nation inch by inch causing unimaginable human suffering and pain.

Scripture calls us to be aware of the times, that’s not talking about simply ‘end of the world’ stuff but rather understanding the what is happening in the world and how to respond in a Christ-like way, seeking his Kingdoms advance.

 “For evil to triumph it takes good people to do nothing” Edmund Berk reminded us, watching question-time last night I was scared by the rhetoric which kept saying that Teresa May should not mention Trumps desire to “ban all Muslims from coming into the USA” or “continuing the torture of waterboarding” so as not to jeopardise the trade deal.

I have heard people saying they don’t vote because “it doesn’t change anything”, however, today reminds us that for the marginalised and disenfranchised it matters very much. A chilling poster has a picture of SS officers standing in front of Extermination Camp victims with the words “just because you are not interested in politics does not mean that politics might be interested in you”.

I have been reading the book of Esther recently, realising that anti-Semitism tragically is not a new phenomenon, Mordecai was aware of the times and went to Esther who in turn went to the King. A picture of engaging with the people of peace who can speak and be heard by the people of power.

Listening to the immigration debate the unsaid message that must come across to minority groups is that they must feel as though the nation is saying “there are too many of you here” -frightening rhetoric when we think of today.

Although many know my political persuasions are somewhat left wing, my challenge is to think what a Kingdom world view looks like, listen to the call for justice and compassion, listen to the marginalised and disenfranchised and say “Lord what would you have me do”. It may lead you to a different place to me, but my question is “is it spirit led?” as sadly I fear that too many of us keep our faith and our politics separate and I believe Christ is asking us to make him Lord of both.

I’ll end with a poem which has massively challenged me over the years:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” Martin Niemoller.

 

Today, on Holocaust Memorial Day, it is a reminder to be people of the light, walking in the light, people who drive back darkness, “salty people” who combat the decay in the world.

People who “Do justice, Love Mercy and Walk humbly before our God”.

People who pray “Lord, let your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” and live in line with that awesome prayer.

And what we do for the least of these, especially the persecuted minorities, we do for Christ the Jewish rabbi, the political prisoner, the child refugee, the homeless preacher without anywhere to lay his head.

Standard
brokenness, Christmas, incarnation, Pain, Servanthood., Suffering.

In the Poo.

At our nativity service I got everyone to come up and put newspaper headlines into the manager with baby Jesus as a prayer activity but also as a sign and symbol of Jesus coming down amid and amongst the brokenness of this world.

to illustrate this I really wanted to bring into Church a bucket of manure, a really stinky bucket, to show the smell that the Creator of the universe was born into, Jesus was literally born surrounded by crap.  Jesus was born how he lived, surrounded by the world at is vilest, messiness and most broken, and yet amid all that he wasn’t tainted by it, rather he overcame it, he brought beauty out of his brokenness, bringing hope to the hopeless, bringing salvation, restoration, tranformation from gutter right accross every stratosphere of human divide, with even the Roman Emperor, the most powerful man on earth came to bow the knee to the babe of Bethlehem.

As we think about the image of crap, I was struck by two images:

Firstly, from my time working in a nursing home, whereby if a patient soiled themselves we came in with rubber gloves, plastic aprons and air freshener… Arms length and trying not to gag.

Secondly, of seeing many babies and their mums at our parent and toddler group, dealing with horrific smells from down bellow, with crying babies held close, comforted and loved despite the stench.

Love does not hold back at arms length, but embraces amid the filth and stench and sees beyond it all the person who is loved more than anything.

Jesus is the latter, the second image, drawing close and loving even when the world was at its most vile and disgusting.

All the way through his life Jesus “touched untouchables with love and washed the guilty clean”… A women with “an issue of blood” ritually unclean, defiled, banned from the temple touched the hem of his garment and rather then her defilement tainting Christ as she touched him but she was both healed andcleansed no longer unclean, untouchable and defiled, instead purified, his holiness was bigger and greater than her condition.

We don’t need a lecture here to know the world is not as it should be, the newspaper headlines scream it out to us all the time.

Nor do we need a rant here talking about how people are screwed up and broken, we probably know this too loud and clear.

We know the problem.

We know the world is defiled and full of crap, our lives are at time much the same, the good news is that there is a solution and rescue amid the mess, the baby Jesus who grew up to take all the vilest depravity humanity could throw at him, and carried them on his shoulders as he was crucified for you and for me.

He took the crap for you and for me.

All my sin, the junk and the skeletons in the closet, brought into the light and washed away by his death and resurrection.

Jesus once spoke to a guy with leaprocy and asked him “What do you want me to do for you?” And the guy replied “I want to be clean” and with that Jesus reached out and touched him, again like the woman with the issue of blood, Jesus was defiled but rather his touch made the leaper clean.

In many ways we are like that leaper before Christ, he asks us “What do you want us to do for you?” Will we echo the leapers statement of faith and say to Jesus, I want to be clean?

In the book of Isaiah it talks of our sins being like scarlet but becoming as white as snow, let’s come to him afresh for cleansing, we can’t pretend there isn’t a problem anymore like the stinking teenager trying to mask a ton of BO by spraying their clothes with Lynx deoderant, instead it is saying “I know my need of cleansing for God, I know you are a God who meets me in the gutter at my lowest point”.

As I type this I am reminded of a old hymn which says “Foul I to the fountain fly wash me saviour lest I die”… Knowing that the stench of our sin is more than just a bit unpleasant, but is actually fatal, and our cleansing and purification is not just life saving but life giving and life transforming.

Yet Jesus’ decent from heaven to the gutter is I believe actual a model and a picture we as Christians are supposed the emulate.

Jesus called us to be people of salt and light, light that drives away darkness and most most needed in the darkest placesm and salt that combats decay. In fact the Romans used to put salt on their poo to combat the smell and the germs, so when Jesus is talks of being the salt of the earth, it is a call to the darkest, smelliest, vilest places that need the transforming good news the most.

So, Jesus descended into the worst of the world’s crap, we are called to do like wise.

Mother Teresa once famously challenged of us as CHristians to “find their Calcutta” -I believe there will be somewhere we are called to serve, to wash off the dirt -the crap- of the feet of that place, and rather than letting it change and taint us, instead lets be the ones bringing the change and the transformation, for the glory of God which is unstoppable despite the unmentionable things this world throws in our path and I’m our way.

 

 

 

Standard
Suffering., The Book of Job., Theology

OUCH!

Read any commentary on Job and there is lots of discussion about whether Job is historical or pictorial.

Actually I think this misses the point, the story of Job is at times our story, an is the story of those all around us.

Why do bad things happen to good people?

Or why do good things happen to bad people?

Most of us have asked that question, or at least felt it, the psalms are full of this ‘God, why do you permit this?’ –God, why don’t you smite evil people? Asking if God is really a God of love, why do we see unloving actions getting the upper hand

Is God really a God of power, when bad things happen?

Is God really a God of justice when bad people appear to get away with?

When I take a funeral I often tell the story of the footprints poem;

“At the end of his life a man walking on the beach looked back, and he saw his life flash before him, and he saw his footprints, and there next to him where the foot prints of Christ. Then he noticed at the hardest and darkest times there was only one set of footprints and this worried the man, he turned to Jesus and said “Lord, why when I needed you the most, did you leave me on my own…” Jesus replied, ‘my son, I would never leave you or forsake you, those times when you see only one set of footprints that is when I carried you”…

I believe this is true, and ties in with the promises of God from scripture, “I will never leave you or abandon you”, Jesus said “I will be with you always”, “Can a mother abandon her baby at her breast, even though she may, I will not abandon you… see I have engraved your name in the palm of my hands”… yet despite being true, it doesn’t always feel true in the midst of a tough situation.

Jennifer Rees Larcombe wrote a best seller called “where have you gone God?” Philip Yancey wrote another book which asked “where is God when it hurts?” the fact that these two books flew off the shelves prove that this is a live issue for many of us at some stage in our Christian life.

So, here we have Job, probably the first book to be written (and also featuring a monster that sounds like it could be a dinosaur, ask Sam about this!) asking and wrestling with the biggest question of the universe, which isn’t is God real, (the Bible doesn’t even bother to put up an argument for his existence) but rather if God is good (which he is), if he loves us (which he does) and if he is a God of justice (which he is) and if he is powerful (which he is) how come suffering exists…

Actually I’m not sure if Job every actually fully answers these questions, it is too profounder book to pass us off with trite answers or simplistic platitudes…

Yet I think it does give us a really uncomfortable challenge about our pastoral care, sometimes our badly judged words that are meant to bring comfort don’t bring healing but cause hurt…  No wonder the epistle of James and the book of proverbs talk so much about being wise with our words.

It is interesting how false teaching such as Karma is still prevalent in our culture where the victim is blamed for their suffering; karma an grace cannot sit together as it is like mixing oil and water together.

Yet even though we can’t understand suffering fully we do learn that God is not absent from us, that God is powerful –Job shows clearly that the devil is not God’s equal, but significantly less powerful than God, and is answerable to God and is limited by him. Our end picture of God is vast and powerful, and our attempts to put him in a box fail.

A God I can understand, probably won’t be God.

The big picture of Job is someone who lost everything, and yet it is fully restored to him (although that can never make up for the pain of the initial loss and suffering)… Yet something God understands a picture of the resurrected and glorified Christ shows us with the marks on his hands remaining.

The remarkable truth of Christianity is a God who understands suffering from personal experience, as Graham Kendrick once wrote “Hands that flung stars into space to cruel nails surrendered”, which Job doesn’t cover (because it hadn’t happened then) but Job  is a book we have to take to the cross to fully understand it.

As we read Job in the shadow of the cross we see a God who loves and never leaves, a God where justice and mercy kiss, a God who is powerful and beyond our understanding and yet draws close to us as Christ, the suffering servant and glorified King.

Standard
Habakkuk 3, Spiritual Health, Spirituality, Suffering., The Book of Job.

Life is a Rollacosta…

A friend posted this on Facebook just a moment ago… “Our greatest test may be that we must trust Gods goodness even though we don’t understand why our lives are going a certain way. We must learn to trust God, who is good, and not in the goodness of life.”

It is easy to trust that God is good and faithful when (to quote Matt Redman) “the sun is shining down on me, and the world is all as it should be” but much harder when “I’m found in the desert place, when I walk through the wilderness… On the road marked with suffering, though there is pain in the offering”.

We live in a broken and fallen world, and yet despite the worlds mess, broken-ness and grot Jesus is still King, and he’s still on the throne.

Sometimes what is true, and what feels true, are not the same thing…

Although we may feel abandon, God tells us “he will never leave us or forsake us”…

Although our sin may leave us feeling guilty and condemned, God says “as far as the East is from the West so far have I removed your transgressions from you”…

Although some days we feel worthless, scripture says our value is beyond rubies.

Sometimes when we look at messy and difficult situations we forget that God can work all things for the good of those who love him.

I don’t believe that this means he sends bad things, but rather he is able to hijack and redeem the bad to bring good from bad.

There is no person or problem that is beyond the redemptive love of God in Christ Jesus.  That’s true, but sometimes knowing its true in our heads and feeling it is true in our hearts are not the same thing.

Satan distorts our vision at times, plays with our emotions, messes with our heads, anything he can to drive a wedge between us and our heavenly Father, because Satan is ‘the Father of lies’.

Sometimes we do feel tested, sometimes things are a struggle, sometimes God feels silent, and yet despite this the book of Job reminds us that God never lets us go, never stops loving us, never encounters a problem that is too big for him.

One of the greatest poems of faith was etched on the wall of Auschwitz:

“I believe in the sun, even when it is not shining.

“I believe in love, even though I don’t feel it.

“I believe in God, even when he is silent.”

Which reminds me of the verses from Habakkuk 3.

17Though the fig tree should not blossom And there be no fruit on the vines, Though the yield of the olive should fail And the fields produce no food, Though the flock should be cut off from the fold And there be no cattle in the stalls,

Yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.…Yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.…

Whether we are on top of the world, or feel the bottom has dropped out of our world, God’s faithfulness to us won’t alter at all.

In the midst of even the toughest storms he is there for us.

When I take a funeral I find that the poem about the footsteps often helpful, and I reminded that at first the person on seeing one set of footsteps at the toughest and hardest cry initially shouts out to God, “God why did you leave me when I needed you the most”… and then hears the whisper of the Lord telling him that he is loved and he realises that actually in those moments that is where God carried him.

Hugged with invisible arms… anonymously loving even at the darkest times.

So, in the darkness, in pain, in confusion… lets remember that our God does not abandon us, his arm is not too short to save, or his ear deaf to our call.

He is faithful and true.

He will uphold us with his righteous right hand.

Standard
Depression, Pain, Spiritual Warfare, Suffering.

Splatted by a Pooing Seagull

It was the of the holiday, and something went wrong and Allana (my wife) and I were feeling a bit upset about something, and somewhat confused at God.
I took a couple of minutes to walk along the seafront just to clear my head…
I was hoping for one of those moments where suddenly you get enveloped with a sense of peace, or a fresh revelation of God’s love, or maybe a sign, wonder or blessing,
but no…
instead a large seagull singled me out to poo on my head!
It felt a bit like that scene from Bruce Almighty, and I felt like Jim Carrey shaking my puny fist at God… Or Jonah after the plant died… Now I knew an know in the grand scheme of things a couple of disappointments and some seagull poo aren’t the end of the world, but at times they can feel like it!
I guess I was asking God can I/we really go on?
Do I/we have the oomph for another set of challenges or mountains to climb?
…At that moment the answer felt like a pretty clear “no”.
Talking to Allana afterwards, all the biblical truths came out about trusting God for the future, he has a plan, he is faithful and blar blar blar, all the things we are supposed to know and ought to say and think, but sometimes even though it is true, there are occasions when it simply doesn’t FEEL true.
Sometimes all that is left is to say to God, I understand that I don’t understand, I know I ought to trust you, but today it feels a bit harder than usual, but I’m still here and you are still here and ultimately that’s what matters the most. There is a verse, which says “after you have endured remain standing” and sometimes to remain standing (even with Seagull poo in your hair) is not just an achievement but in a weird kind of way is also an act of worship!
Maybe one day I’ll understand, maybe one day I’ll praise you for what was a disappointment today, and maybe even we will smile about the pooing seagull? Who knows?
Standard