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Scotland says No

I woke up this morning with Scotland still part of my national family. It was a close thing but I was relieved. I also recognise that there will be many who are bitterly disappointed this morning. This is not a time for wild celebrations, but a time for sober reflection. This whole process was however a triumph for Scotland. A record 84.5% of Scottish voters turned out to vote showing their love of their country. For the first time 16 and 17 year olds were able to vote and they showed that they are old enough to have a genuine say in how their country is run. This is also likely to have huge implications across the other countries of the UK, particularly here in England. Interesting times lie ahead but I hope that this vote in Scotland marks the beginning of a new period of cooperation and celebration of our differences, within the Union.

I hope that my church, The Church of England, can learn from this too. Maybe even the churches across the UK can give a lead for once. I hope and pray that we who claim to be one body in Christ can learn to behave as such. This means that we need to support and love one another, even though we are as different from one another as an eye is different from a foot (1 Corinthians 12). What a witness to Jesus we could give if we could really live this message from the Spirit through Paul.

I pray that the Church of England, and our sister churches, can move forward as a loving family rather than as competing authoritarian structures. Again I pray that we really take our Bible seriously and listen to Paul in Ephesians 4.1-6, “…I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

As children of God, if we truly believe this how can we do anything but celebrate our differences as we live together, love together, learn from one another and show the love of Christ to the world. I pray that Spirit filled we can show out country that it is possible to disagree and still work together as one.

The Holy Cross – Do you want a plain one or one with a little man on?

The cross is a symbol that is everywhere but has it lost its meaning? For me, and most Christians, it is the symbol of the lengths to which God would go to save me, my fellow human beings, and to save this world. A world which is groaning for God to put it right (Romans 8.22). The cross is The sign of hope but so few see that.

A friend over heard a conversation in a jewellers: A young woman asked the assistant for a cross pendent and the assistant replied – “do you want a plain one or one with a little man on?” That was a few years ago and the level of knowledge about Christianity has only gone down since then. Many people in England do not even know who Jesus is. I don’t mean that they can’t remember much about him, no, I mean that they have never heard that name before.

It should be different in the area I now live in, at least for anyone who went to school here. But many who have moved in from other areas may well never have heard the name of Jesus.

So when I’m talking about my faith I can’t assume any common ground. I can’t assume that the person I’m talking to knows anything about religion. Everything needs to be explained without Christian jargon. So words like ‘sin’, ‘God’, and ‘Jesus’ need using with care. ‘Religion’ is a risky word to use too. So many people have no experience of a lived religion so that the word ‘religion’ just means scary fanatics wanting to kill people.

It is so hard, but if I do use the words of religion I might feel good and safe; I feel good but at best I’m just speaking to myself – at worst I’m saying to someone that I’m a dangerous lunatic out to kill people.

That is why at a baptism service I take the time to explain what even the simplest things mean, like the 3 questions right at the beginning:

  1. Do you turn to Christ?
  2. Do you repent of your sins?
  3. Do you renounce evil?

The parents know what I mean because we’ve talked and prayed about it long before they came to the baptism service itself. But it’s quite normal for most of their family and friends not to have a clue what I’m on about. I have to use simple words and concepts and usually use the analogy of good parents bringing up a child. That allows me to bring in a heavenly Father. Bringing up a child involves teaching them the difference between right and wrong – so turning to God’s son (Jesus) is turning to what is right – renouncing evil is turning away from all that’s wrong.

‘Repenting of sins’ is about a positive way of life for people who aren’t perfect. I’m not perfect so like any child I’m naughty, I need to say sorry and I know that my Father will forgive me because he loves me. I’m forgiven and with God try to be better. Then when I fail again, I say sorry again … and so on. This is God’s way of helping me to be the best I can be – This is also the way a good parent helps any child to be the best they can be.

If their eyes haven’t completely glazed over by that point I may say a little more, but even those simple explanations can easily be too much. I’m not having a dig at these people. Why should they know, if no one has ever bothered to explain things before? All that I’m trying to say is that I need to remember not to assume that the people that I meet, even those coming to special church events, know very much about Jesus.

I consider it a huge success if at the end of a baptism service the vast majority of guests at least have some understanding of what has just happened and that they leave with a sense of God’s love for them shown through the warmth of the Christians there to pray for the child, parents and godparents. Then a tiny seed of God’s love has been sown.

This is a huge challenge to me and all Christians in England. We have assumed that we are in a Christian country but we are not: We are actually in a country that has a Christian history and heritage, but a secular present. I for one need to remember this all of the time. I need to be ready at all times to explain the hope I have and to explain that hope in words that can be understood to the person I’m speaking to. But the right words are not enough. I need to be changed inside so that all that is not loving dies, making room for the person God is making me into. I need to remember my own baptism, turn to Christ every moment of every day, say sorry for my mistakes and allow the Spirit to heal me. Then perhaps, with the constant work of the Spirit, my life can say all that my words cannot.

Be miserable for Jesus!

“Do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh” Romans 13.14 – In other words, “Be miserable for Jesus!”

But I like the desires of the flesh – I don’t want to be miserable! I like good food, nice wine or good beer. I like films and entertainment. I like being married to my wife and all that that means. I like so much about this life, and relish all the good things that come my way – I’ve always seen these as gifts from God.

Each time I read these sorts of passages I remember someone I used to know; someone who seemed to hate the good things of life – I’ll call him John (not his real name). John saw it as his Christian duty to be miserable and to hate everything physical, everything ‘of the flesh’. John was very much the puritan. John didn’t smile, or at least I can’t remember him doing so. He made a virtue out of being miserable, and encouraging others to be miserable too. I like being happy, not miserable so I tried to avoid him. I would see John preaching on the street corner and would make sure that he didn’t see me.

I tried to persuade him that life with Jesus could be good, but he wouldn’t have it. Each time he would turn to passages like the second half of Romans 13.14: “do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh”.

Each time I hear Bible passages like these I feel uncomfortable, and despite myself I feel a little guilty. I picture John with a miserable face, turning away from all the pleasures of this world, all because of passages like this. I don’t like that image, but I have to ask, ‘Am I wrong?’. I don’t want that sort of life, but is this what Jesus wants for me?

I question and pray, and I go back to the passage, and read the whole of verse 14 this time; it begins with “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ,” before going on to say, “and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.”

Clothing myself with Jesus does mean surrendering everything to him, allowing him to direct my life as he wills and to let him make me more and more like him. So perhaps, I am supposed to be miserable. But then I think of the Jesus shown in the Gospels. So clothing myself with Jesus must also mean enjoying meals and company, the good things of life, when given by God.

Looking again at Romans 13.14 I find far more balanced advice: “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh”. The meaning of this verse now changes. It no longer says, ‘avoid all the good things of this world and be miserable for Christ’. No, this passage now tells me to do all that I can to be like Jesus, even to the point of being utterly ‘clothed’ with him. This passage tells me that, when clothed with Christ, I should naturally shun all that would corrupt me, all that is not loving.

This interpretation fits with the context. Before this verse Paul has just reminded the Romans of Jesus’ one commandment – to LOVE; to love like Jesus. So, if I am ‘clothed with Christ’ I will not wish to harm my neighbour, those closest to me, or myself. I will not want to commit adultery or murder or covet, because these would not be loving to the people concerned. How can I love my wife and also betray her? Paul reminds me that all of these non-loving things are the things that my ‘flesh’ can lead me to. Paul is using ‘flesh’ to mean my fallen, imperfect human nature. This is what I shouldn’t give in to, I should turn away from hate and corruption, and turn to Christ and love and peace and contentment… and HAPPINESS.

It’s all there in the text, if only I’d bothered to read it properly: “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.” Romans 13.8-10

“Love does no harm to a neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.” – Phew! I don’t have to be miserable for Christ – I have to be loving, and accept whatever living in love may bring.

I’m glad, after all I just can’t see “Be miserable for Jesus!” taking off as a bumper sticker!

A Wedding Address for Phil and Catherine

I had the privileged today of taking part or officiating at two weddings. Both were expressions of hope and joy, but I want to focus on just one of them here. I preached at the wedding of our Christian Pastoral Support Worker at Archbishop Sancroft High School. Catherine does a wonderful job. She is an inspiration and has a real gift at being able to draw along side young people who do not give their trust easily.

Both Catherine and her new husband have a living faith and so I want to share the notes I prepared for their Wedding Address in the hope that it might say something to others too:

A Wedding Address for Phil and Catherine

You all know about the fairy-story version of marriage. A beautiful princess goes into a forest and sees a frog. She kisses the frog. He turns into a prince. They get married, and all live happily ever after. But we’re not here to consider fairy stories. We’re here to celebrate Phil and Catherine’s wedding day.

Our Bible reading (1 Corinthians 13) made it clear that all relationships but especially marriage are based on the foundation of Love. Real, practical love. And our standard for Love is God’s love. Firstly God’s love is unconditional and limitless – ideals to strive for even if we never achieve them. But God doesn’t ask us to achieve a perfect standard before He accepts us. He loves his people as they are. I’m so grateful that my relationship to Jesus is not dependent on my feelings which vary from day to day, but on God’s commitment to love me unconditionally.

By getting married today, Phil and Catherine are saying, in front of all those people: “I am making a commitment to unconditionally love this person in the way that Christ loves me.”

I suspect that unconditional love has always been unpopular, but in our society, conditional love has become acceptable. I was saddened by watching a television programme about a couple undergoing treatment for fertility. The husband said on screen that if the programme was unsuccessful, he would have to consider whether he would stay in the relationship because he wanted children. Imagine how that made his wife feel? Where was the commitment to love unconditionally?

So, Phil and Catherine, you are about to commit yourselves to try to love each other unconditionally for the rest of your lives. That should be a thrill. It will also be hard work as I’m sure you know. But keep reading 1 Corinthians 13.

Read St. Paul’s advice. Let the Holy Spirit work in you to give you a love that is patient, and kind without envy. A love that leads you away from being boastful or proud. A love that does not dishonour others, is not self-seeking, not easily angered, and keeps no record of wrongs.

Finally, Catherine and Phil, live your love, and through your love let your God steadily transform you both into the new person he created you to be.

Bartholomew: On being a forgotten saint

Bartholomew is one of the 12 apostles that isn’t mentioned that much. We do not hear much about him in the Gospels and he as no letters recorded in our New Testament. We remember Peter, Andrew and John, and even Paul who was not one of the 12. But poor old Bartholomew so easily gets forgotten.

Christians may forget Bartholomew but God has not. This reminds me of a very important spiritual lesson: fame on earth does not equate to eternal fame. Which, in turn, reminds me of another saint who did not die quite so long ago but is now with Bartholomew in heaven. It reminds me of St. Alphonsus Rodriguez.

The poetry lovers may know of him from Gerard Manly Hopkins’ poem, “In Honour of St. Alphonsus Rodriquez” – a poem that I’ve quoted once before on this blog but it’s such a wonderful poem that here it is again:

In Honour Of St. Alphonsus Rodriguez
(Laybrother of the Society of Jesus)

Honour is flashed off exploit, so we say;
And those strokes once that gashed flesh or galled shield
Should tongue that time now, trumpet now that field,
And, on the fighter, forge his glorious day.
On Christ they do and on the martyr may;
But be the war within, the brand we wield
Unseen, the heroic breast not outward-steeled,
Earth hears no hurtle then from fiercest fray.

Yet God (that hews mountain and continent,
Earth, all, out; who, with trickling increment,
Veins violets and tall trees makes more and more)
Could crowd career with conquest while there went
Those years and years by of world without event
That in Majorca Alfonso watched the door.

The thing that made Alfonsus special was his devotion to his simple duty, as a Jesuit lay brother and doorman for their house in Majorca. Alphonsus represents all of the ordinary, devoted Christians who, by the world’s standards have done nothing noteworthy. But who are nevertheless great in the eyes of God.

Getting back to Bartholomew, we know little of his life. We have traditions that say he became a missionary in India and Turkey. But, we know so little about him and the earthly things that he did. I know so little, but I do know the most important thing of all – that he is great in God’s eyes.

So what does all this mean for me?

Well I’m unlikely to be great or famous. But that doesn’t mean that I cannot be great – that I cannot be a saint.

It is my devotion to the little things, often the mundane things, that may be my road to fulfilling God’s purpose for me and I need to hold that in mind. No matter what the world might think of the things that I do – I too can be great in God’s eyes. I know that God has a purpose for me; just as much as God had a purpose for St. Bartholomew, St. Alphonsus, St. Peter, St. Paul and all the rest.

The Father lavishes no less attention on you than on me, or than he did on the great saints like Bartholomew. It’s amazing: God loves me and cares for me, as though I were his only child, because Jesus has brought me into God’s family. That’s enough for me.

‘Theotokos’ just dropped into my mind, uninvited

Friday was the feast of Mary, Jesus’ mother. Which made me think, why does the mention of Mary make so many protestants uneasy? Should it make me uneasy too? I started to ponder these things in my heart and the word ‘theotokos’ just dropped into my mind, uninvited. I don’t know about you but theotokos is not the sort of word that I use every day. I’ve never used it in casual conversation. I can just imagine the strange looks I’d get if I used it in the pub or petrol station. I even think I’d get a few puzzled looks if I used it in Church.

Theotokos came into my mind for one obvious reason – Mary is theotokos. Mary is theotokos which is Greek for ‘God bearer’, or as in the Hail Mary prayer, ‘mother of God’. Many non-Catholic Christians find this phrase difficult but we need to get used to it. It’s almost a test of how Catholic you are: how comfortable do you feel about saying ‘Mary mother of God’?

Many non-Catholic Christians find this phrase difficult but we need to get used to it. Either that or stop calling Jesus ‘God’. Either Mary carried and gave birth to Jesus, God incarnate, or she did not – we can’t have it both ways! So let’s get used to saying ‘Mary mother of God’.

I for one am happy to call Mary any of these names because by doing this I shout out that God became Incarnate – God become flesh (and blood) like me, to show me and everyone what God would be like as a human.

Mary is special in so many ways but she is uniquely special for being the means by which God chose to become part of his own creation. The concept alone is mind-blowing – How can God who is timeless and creator of all things enter time and become a tiny part of all that he had made? I don’t know how, I just know that he did it.

By entering into creation God in Jesus made all of creation holy, or at least started that process. A small chain reaction was started in 1st Century Palestine that is still spreading out in every direction through time and space. God has acted to restore and make right his creation. Thinking of Gaza, Syria and Iraq and so many other places of pain and horror – Thinking of these places there is a real need for creation to be put right so it is good to know that this process has already started.

In a small way the incarnation started earlier (or spread back in time from the incarnation of Jesus – mind blowing again!). Each time an Old Testament prophet received a prophesy or worked a miracle through God’s Spirit, God had become flesh in this world. These isolated events pre-shadowed what was to happen later when Jesus would be born as God and human, God’s own son. Now that Jesus has returned to the Father the incarnation has carried on – God now becomes incarnate through the work of the Holy Spirit.

That is a scary thought. I have the Holy Spirit in me, so God is incarnate in me too. Through the Spirit living in me, in a tiny, secondary way Christ (God and human) is living in me – in and through my flesh and blood. This is the wonder of what all Christians are. We are not just followers of Jesus Christ – we, through the Spirit, are Christ incarnate today.

A scary thought but before I get too big headed about it, I need to remember that it is through the Spirit alone that this is possible. God only becomes incarnate in me when I let go and let the Spirit work in me, only then. Like Mary I need to say ‘Yes’ to God first – then anything is possible.

I’m on the toilet – Please advise

An older couple finally learned how to send and receive texts on their mobile phones.

The wife, being a romantic at heart, decided one day that she’d send her husband a text while she was out having coffee with a friend. She texted:

If you are sleeping, send me your dreams.
If you are laughing, send me your smile.
If you are eating, send me a bite.
If you are drinking, send me a sip.
If you are crying, send me your tears. I love you.

The husband, being a no-nonsense sort of guy, texted back:

I’m on the toilet.
Please advise.

Thanks Grove Books (http://www.grovebooks.co.uk/).

Now, I’ve been teaching about the Holy Spirit, and last Monday I organised a very special Holy Spirit day led by Ian Bentley from St. Mark’s, Oulton Broad, that was informative, challenging, and inspiring. So I obviously wanted to speak about the Holy Spirit today. Then I read that wonderful passage from the end of Romans 8 (Romans 8.26-end). So my prayers up to God, in the Spirit of course, felt very like those lovely verses sent by that wife to her husband: Poetic, warm and full of love.

And what seemed to come back felt more like the husband’s reply – I felt the Spirit saying, ‘Yes – talk about me’ but no great inspiration about what to say!

Then I realised why – he’d already answered. I just had to look back to Romans 8.26: The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. The Spirit had already given me the answer, but in my defence I wasn’t expecting the answer to be almost 2000 years old.

The Holy Spirit wasn’t going to give me nice words to write down. The Spirit wanted me, in my weakness, to spend time with him and let him speak for me. But in my pride, I wanted to say my nice words to my God, my nice words to you, so I was resisting. What a change when I stopped fighting and let the Spirit speak for me with sighs too deep for words. These are perhaps very poor words, but hopefully that of the Spirit will shine through.

That’s what I needed to remember. I needed to know that the Spirit is working in and through me. When I’m not so sure about all that ‘Holy Spirit stuff’, and I’m not being too thick and too stubborn to stop for a moment, then I look for the signs: the signs of the Holy Spirit are simple; even if I feel weak and useless I know that the Spirit is working in me, if: I’m becoming more loving, more forgiving, more patient, kind, with more self-control, when I don’t judge people. That’s what the Spirit of God does in me. That’s what Paul says the Spirit does in anyone that will let him (1 Corinthians 13). The sign of a Spirit filled church is God’s love – shared. Then special gifts and healing and prophecy and all the rest can come. But, to nick Paul’s words again, “without love I am nothing” and without love we are nothing.

I learn that with Love we are ready to receive more from God. With his love in us we are ready to receive gifts of healing, or prophecy or wisdom; we are ready to receive the whole variety of gifts that the Holy Spirit can give.

Then I see the love, and I’m comforted. But, I have a terrible memory and I keep forgetting. So pretty soon I don’t feel good enough again, or I’m afraid. For those times I have made myself memorise Romans 8.28: We know that all things work together for good for those who love God and Romans 3.38-39: I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I read those workds and smile. I read those words and remember that the Spirit seems to cope with me being forgetful. The Holy Spirit reminds me that he will help when I don’t feel good enough. I remember and I give thanks and I try harder: then, especially then, I need the Spirits help again. I’ll explain with a story:

A man dies and goes to heaven. St. Peter meets him says, “Here’s how it works. You need 100 points to make it into heaven. You tell me all the good things you’ve done and I give you a certain number of points for each item, depending on how good it was. When you reach 100 points, you get in.”

“Okay,” the man says, “I was married to the same woman for 50 years and never cheated on her and loved her deep in my heart.”

“That’s wonderful,” says St.Peter, “that’s worth two points.”

“Two points!?” he says. “Well, I attended church all my life and supported its ministry with my money and service.”

“Terrific!” says St.Peter. “That”s certainly worth a point.”

“One point!?!! Well, I started a soup kitchen in my city and worked in a shelter for the homeless.”

“Fantastic, that”s good for two more points,” he says.

“Two points!?!! Exasperated, the man cries, “I’ll never be good enough to get into heaven.”

“Bingo! 100 points! Come on in!”

Thanks again to Grove Books (http://www.grovebooks.co.uk/).

I told that joke against myself. As I said, the Spirit will help when I don’t feel good enough, the Spirit will help me when things get hard. I remember and I give thanks and then I try harder. The Spirit helps and I try harder; I try to take over again. It’s not possible, when I try I get nowhere. I need to let the Spirit help, then surrender more to him. Then things get better and only then.

I need to remember, and surrender to God. To help me remember I prayer a simple prayer which goes something like this: Father, fill me afresh with your Holy Spirit, do what you need to do to make me more like your Son Jesus – Father, help me to let you fill me with your Spirit, in Jesus name. Amen.

Maranatha – Come, Lord Jesus

“It was hit by a rocket: MH17’s final moments – The attack Thursday afternoon killed 298 people from nearly a dozen nations — including vacationers, students and a large contingent of scientists heading to an AIDS conference in Australia.”

“U.N. accuses Islamic State of executions, rape, forced child recruitment in Iraq”

“’Cannibal nurse’ trial jury retires”

“Inside Gaza: Constant Airstrikes And Shelling”

They were just a few news headlines that I picked up quickly on this morning. I could have picked up similar headlines at almost any time. The names and places might be different, perhaps based in Africa rather than the Middle East, or about kidnapping in South America, or care homes in the UK, but the ‘song’ would be the same. It is not hard to find plenty of symptoms of this world’s sickness.

Paul’s words in Romans 8 are as true now as they were then, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains” (Romans 8.22).

It is with all of this in mind that I read passages in the Bible about the end times. The sort of passages that I find in Romans 8 and story of the wheat and the weeds in Matthew 13. I all see the horrors that are part of this world: human horrors like rape and war, and natural horrors like cancer and Alzheimer’s – I see these horrors and I cry out ‘why?’ I cry out ‘stop!’

It’s not just me, Christians and non-Christians are just as outraged. We all want a better, peaceful, world: A world of love and joy. I want it, most people want it; but we don’t like the sound of the medicine.

I want a better world, but I get nervous when I hear God’s plan to sort it, “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!” (Matthew 13.41-43)

I think, “I want a better world, but will I be righteous enough to be part of it?”

I think, “It will be great to get rid of the men and women of hate and violence’. But then I think, “there but for the grace of God go I”.

I think, “What chance does a boy have growing up in a violent or abusive home”.

But still I want a better world. I want a world without pain, or crying, or mourning (Revelation 21), so I pray for Jesus to return and for the whole of creation to be set free from its pain. I know that the God I worship is loving and wise beyond any wisdom that I could ever posses. I know that God is to be trusted: So I trust God with my future and that of all things. I do all that I can to be a more holy person, and encourage others to do the same, then I trust the rest to God.

I can’t figure out quite how he will do it, but I do know that it will be alright. I know that because I know I know the Father and the Son now, through the Holy Spirit.

I hear:

“It was hit by a rocket: MH17’s final moments – The attack Thursday afternoon killed 298 people from nearly a dozen nations — including vacationers, students and a large contingent of scientists heading to an AIDS conference in Australia.”

“U.N. accuses Islamic State of executions, rape, forced child recruitment in Iraq”

“’Cannibal nurse’ trial jury retires”

“Inside Gaza: Constant Airstrikes And Shelling”

I also hear these words from the Revelation 21: “‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’”

I then know that there is a better way, a better world; and pray with tears, “Maranatha – Come, Lord Jesus”

Dreaming of Dormice, and the Wind in the Reeds

I have been reading the parable of the sower from Matthew 13, hoping that the Spirit would bring it alive for me. But the parable of the sower is so well know, over-used even, that it’s not that easy to find inspiration. It is the subject of Sunday School colouring, and school presentations. I tried to think about sowers but failed. So I thought some more and all that came to mind were dormice!

Dormice have a real charm to them and they are very rare in England. But what kept bringing them to mind was seeing a poster about them at Lopham Fen near where I live in Norfolk. Aparently, a new colony of these cute furry bundles have been found on that reserve. Another attaction to somewhere already imensely beautiful and precious; packed with wildlife, common and increadilby rare. It is also a place of real peace. If the cares of the world are starting to choke you like thorns then you could do much worse than to go down there and listen to the wind in the reeds for a while. Listen and let the cares fall away.

If you’re like me you know what you need to do. I hear Jesus’ words and set out to do them but I so easily get distracted, particularly when I’m really busy. Pervesely often that business is business being a Christian minister. I can stop and read my Bible. I can stop and pray or wait silently for God. But sometimes I find that I really need to get away. Sometimes physically being at home will lead me into more distractions and more business. So I need to get out.

A walk or a few winding lanes on my motorbike often hit the spot, but sometimes I need to sit awhile somewere quiet and beautiful. I had a favourite spot up on the North York Moors, but that is a little far to go now. So I am constantly on the look out for new special places; places that I can get to when I need them. On Friday I discovered Lopham Fen and added it to my little collection of special places.

Having been led by doormice to a special place for me to be close to God, I now can go back to the parable of the sower. I can hear the warnings there. My mind is a little clearer, and my spiritual glasses cleaner. I can return to the business of living my life for Christ alert for anything seeking to snatch away what has been sown in me. I know even more clearly that I have to let my faith grow into every part of my life so that it has strong roots and cannot be pulled out.

I know again that I need to be on my guard for all the things that would crowd out the Spirit’s light and choke my contentment. But the whispers keep coming, “He’s earning more than you”, “bet he doesn’t work half as hard” – “You’d love a bike like that – why haven’t you bought one then?” So subtle, but so powerful in the way that those sneeking thoughts slither under my guard. I know that I have all I need or really want, but part of me always wants more. So I can be fertile ground for the thorns and need to weed them out, pulling them up by the roots.

Then I can try and be fruitful, for a little while at least, until the next time. I know the whispers will be back, the subtle temptations will return, but for now I just see dormice and hear the rustling of the wind in the reeds.

God bless.

A little story of death and life

I want to tell you a little story that was sent to me last week (If you know who originally wrote it could you let me know so I can’t give them the credit?):

A minister had been to see a sick man. As he was leaving the sick man turned and said to him, ‘I am afraid to die. Tell me what lies on the other side..’

Very quietly, the minister said, ‘I don’t know..’

‘You don’t know? You’re, a Christian minister, and don’t know what’s on the other side?’

The minister was holding the handle of the door; on the other side came a sound of scratching and whining, and as he opened the door, a dog sprang into the room and leaped on him with an eager show of gladness.

Turning to the man, the minister said, ‘Did you notice my dog? He’s been waiting outside. He’s never been in this room before. He didn’t know what was inside. He knew nothing except that his master was here, and when the door opened, he sprang in without fear. I know little of what is on the other side of death, but I do know one thing: I know my Master is there and that is enough.’

That story arrived at just the right time. I have been taking lots of funerals lately, and on Monday I have the funeral a friend who is also one of my ministers. With all of these services and all of the talking with bereaved relatives it’s not surprising that I’ve been thinking about death and life.

Death is the final enemy of all living things, at least that is how it appears from here. Talking about the sheepfold Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10.10) If Jesus has come to give us life to the full, then life is indeed precious, a gift to be treasured, and the only life that we are sure of is this one.

We only know this earthly life, so the natural reaction to death is to be afraid. It is mine and the theif wants to steal it away. Will there be anything on the other side? If there is something on the other side, will it be good? How will I know? How can I be really sure?

Like that little story I don’t find descriptions of heaven all that helpful. What helps me is what I learn hear and now. I try and spend my time getting to know my master better. The Holy Spirit makes that job a bit easier. I keep finding that there is more to learn and to love. But what I have mostly learned so far is that I’m loved, and loved, and loved some more. I can completely trust Jesus to have a place for me, wherever that may be. My main hope now is that when the time comes, I will be as eager as that dog to get through the door!

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