I am overwhelmed by the generosity of people who donated clothes and other practical help to aid those internally displaced in Syria:
God is love. That’s the problem with God, He’s not fussy. God takes no notice of my advice of who he should speak to and who he shouldn’t. He goes ahead anyway and speaks to whoever he wants to. He calls the respectable and the definitely not respectable, and has no understanding that there might be a difference; no understanding of standards! God is no respecter of human standards, and I for one am so grateful.
I am nothing special. The son of a sparky, working on Smiths docks in Middlesbrough. I went to a big rough, town comprehensive. I’ve always been awkward and argumentative. I had no time for God when I was growing up. I didn’t see God as a monster; I just didn’t see him at all. I didn’t believe that God did or could exist. I would argue that with anyone. I would argue that the sooner people stopped believing in God the better we all would be. We should grow up from believing in the ridiculous. How could adults believe in an imaginary friend, didn’t sane people stop all that stupidity at infant school?
I laughed, and jeered, and God seemed silent. But then he would, because he didn’t exist, did he?
God let me be and let me argue. God then spoke to me through my teenage obsession – teenage girls. I went to university and there was a girl that I really wanted to get to know better. Then I noticed that she was going to an event at the Student Union building, so I went along too. It was great, there were far more girls than boys!
It turned out to be a Student Chaplaincy event. These were Christians! Everywhere, these were those strange people who were mad enough to believe in a God. But they seemed alright: They seemed, well, how could I put it…, well they seemed ‘normal’. More than that they were more caring and genuinely human than any group of people that I had met. They weren’t perfect, but they were good, kind, generous and caring. They were patient too, patient with all my arguments and questions.
Over time I found that I was beginning to believe too. Looking back, it wasn’t any clever arguments that made the difference. It was one thing only that did it. It was the eloquence of their lives. It was the way that somehow, ordinary people like me could be so different: So much more loving, so much more alive!
So God is no respecter of persons. He took no notice of the fact that I kept bad mouthing him, and kept on loving me anyway. He loved me enough to find me, and introduce himself to me through those young Christians at University.
And did I meet up with that girl? Did we get together? The answer is, “Yes”, but not for long, and that’s another story.
Happy New Year!
Well I hope it is, I really do. My hope that for me and for everyone is that the next 12 months are special; filled with joy and happiness. I hope for more peace and reconciliation and far less war and hatred. I hope too for a better me.
I want a new start. I need one really. I’m not all that good, and I don’t feel very worthy of God, and even less worthy of the honour of wearing my collar the wrong way around. Thankfully, God doesn’t seem too put off by how I feel. New Year can bring a new start. Thankfully, God is on the job. I may not be all that good, but he is. His Spirit is at work in me. I wonder what God’s New Year resolution is for me?
New Year is not a religious feast. It’s a secular celebration. A festival based on the turning of a man-made counting system. But, the theme of beginning again is so attractive. So seductive. The hope of a new start, of a new life with all the muck of the past put behind me IS very much at the heart of the Christian faith. I need it, everyone needs it, because no one is perfect. Indeed, that’s the problem: I can never be perfect but I worship a perfect God.
That’s where Jesus comes in. A way to the perfect God through one of us – a human being and an ordinary one at that. Not a prince, not rich. Just normal, with a mother and family. Very like so many families today, growing up with a step-dad rather than his real father. He was flesh and blood like me, but also fully God. The bridge between humanity and divinity – the way home. The way back to being childlike and innocent once again. But Jesus is more than just a bridge to heaven, as if earth doesn’t matter at all.
Jesus existence shows that earth is good enough even for God, or at least that is how the world was made, that is how me and everything was made – baked to perfection and good enough for God. I am good enough for God to live in. I may not be perfect, or even all that good, but God’s love seems to see right through to a son that he loves.
I fail. Oh, I try to love, to be generous and kind, and the Spirit is making me more of all those things and more. But, I know that there is still so much more to be done. Jesus offers me a chance of a new start, today, with all those who are making New Year’s resolutions. But even better Jesus is there to give me and anyone the chance of a new start anytime. So when so many New Year’s resolutions have been forgotten; February time perhaps, or even Easter; then I can still start over again. The great thing about my Father is that he doesn’t make me wait for January 1st to come around again.
I hope for a truly happy New Year, I really do; for me and for everyone. I hope that the next 12 months are special; that they are made up of 365 days filled with joy and happiness. But whatever is in store, I wish for God’s presence and blessing every second and every step of the way. I pray this old blessing for me and for everyone throughout 2017 (Numbers 6:24-26 (CEV)):
“I pray that the Lord
will bless and protect you,
and that he will show you mercy
May the Lord be good to you
and give you peace.”
I seem to be rushing around so much today, no Christmas peace, at least not yet! Don’t get me wrong, I love the Christmas services, they make Christmas, but they are not peaceful, at least not for the one in charge of making sure that all goes smoothly. No, for me the Christmas peace begins at lunch-time. The worship services are over, and now I can relax with family and friends. I can enjoy the feast, and as I relax all the message of Christmas seeps in. Then the peace comes, along with the love and hope. God’s gift of himself never disappoints.
But all that is yet to come (at least as I write this). So, as I dash, I’ve spotted two videos that I want to share:
and Happy Christmas!
I want a perfect Christmas – The perfect Christmas!
So I look at the adverts. Well, really it’s very hard to miss them. I see the perfect Christmas involves mountains of food and being surrounded by loving family. I see smiles, and joy, and even the long running feuds are dissolved in the good cheer. I confess, it is so attractive. I do want perfection here on earth. Even one day would be amazing. But somehow it all seems hollow.
I start feeling like the Grinch or Scrooge. I think back and I remember the real Christmases. They were good, but they were not perfect. They were not peace on earth and joy to all. I feel all the pressure to buy (I’ve just escaped from Amazon to write this). I feel the pressure and I just want to cry. I want to weep for my lost innocence. I want a perfect Christmas. I want love, joy, peace, kindness and generosity.
The crying takes me to the supermarket and the harassed mother that I saw last night; with so much to get, and a little one who was tired. They both looked tired, and to make it worse the baby was crying, then screaming. Poor mother, poor child, but there was nothing much that I, or anyone, could do, except not tut or complain. I smiled some sympathy, but I’ve no idea whether it did much to help. Then I moved on.
Hassled mother, and crying baby. Perhaps that is part of the Christmas story. Thinking back, I can’t remember a Bible story about Joseph dashing out to get that ‘special present’ before that first Christmas. I also am pretty sure that there was no feast, and that most family were far away or caught up with their own troubles.
So perhaps Christmas is for me, and all of us in this less than perfect world. Perhaps Christmas may bring hope for all, including those maxing out their credit cards, because, “What else can they do?” Perhaps, Christmas is for those far from family, adrift in a cold and uncaring world. Perhaps Christmas is even for a desperate couple like Mary and Joseph, and a crying baby Jesus. A small family far from home, thankful for space to sleep with the animals.
So perhaps Christmas is for me. When I let go of the need for all of that stuff; all of those “Christmas essentials”. Then I can filter out the canned Christmas songs in every shop. There is another sound hidden behind. There is a faint whisper of something more. The song of angels perhaps. Perhaps, the wings of a dove, as the true Spirit of Christmas descends on me once again. The Spirit that says “Peace”, and then gives me the ingredients for my perfect Christmas:
These are all the things being ‘sold’ to me in the adverts, but here they are a free gift. Here is the true generosity of Christmas, the gift of God himself, into this world, so that love, happiness, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control can be in the lives of all people, whether they or me, have a turkey, or a pudding, or a drink.
Now I can finish getting myself ready for my perfect Christmas, knowing that most of the work (all of the important work) is already done.
I’ve written this, so now I’m off to sit, and let the Spirit lift the stress in me. To let me smile, even laugh, as Christmas approaches. My lost innocence can return, it is a gift, the gift from a child who grew up.
Who wants to see a miracle? I know you do! We all like a show. We all like to be entertained. I love to see a magic show. I love to try and figure out how it was done. It is great entertainment. It is fun. I like to be entertained, but no one would say that I should base the way I live on that entertainment. I know that my life values need to be based on something more than shadows and mirrors.
So, again I ask, “Who wants to see a miracle?”
If anyone thinks, “Wow, yes!”, and that includes me, then the next question is, “Why?” Why do I want to see a miracle? Why do you? Why do I?
Do I want to see a miracle for the entertainment? Probably, if I’m honest, I have to say, “Yes”. A major healing, or walking on water, or calming a storm, would be amazing things to see. I could dine out on a miracle like that for the rest of my life. Yes, I would be impressed by whoever seemed to have performed that miracle. Yes, I would definitely go to see them again. But, would I remember what they were saying, would I even care that much? I’m not so sure, I am a weak human being, so part of me would be going for the miracles; for the show.
What would happen if the miracles stopped? If the person, stopped doing the entertaining things and started to demand my attention, to demand that I listen to what they were saying, even that I should start to question the way I was living; what then? Well if that happened, I would probably walk away disgusted at being taken in. I had come for the show, not to be preached at!
Now I see why Jesus so often wanted people to keep quiet about his miracles. People were healed and he told them not to tell anyone. I can see now that the miracles he did were just signs, or perhaps ‘sign posts’, to something far more important. Signs pointing to who he was, and is. Signs pointing to his message of hope.
Don’t get me wrong, I have seen miracles. I have seen them, but I am also glad that they are not so common. That way I’m not distracted by the side show and I can listen to the Spirit. I’m not distracted by the side show, and I can let the real miracle happen: I can learn to love.
I’m writing this with that ache behind my eyes that say that tears are not far away.
Yesterday I heard that a good friend had died. There was no warning. He was in his early 60s (not very old), but he just had a massive heart attack at work. I still feel numb. He was known as “The Gypsy” and he never stayed in one place for long. He would vanish off to some far-flung corner of the world, then a year or so later there would be a tap on the window or a knock on the door, and there he’d be. In later years he learned to give us a little warning from down the road. He would arrive; we would talk. He would stay for a few hours, or perhaps a day or two; perhaps longer. Then off again, but always to return with amazing tales of his adventures. He went to war zones, and the lawless places of this world. He always came back but I had always feared this day. Only, I had never expected him to be ‘safe’ in this country when it happened.
It doesn’t seem real yet. Maybe, it never will. I have a feeling that I will always be waiting for that tap on the window, or that out-of-the-blue phone call from down the road. I know though that that call will never come. But that vain hope has set me to thinking about another caller that I’m expecting but I don’t know when. I remember that I’m to expect that call from Jesus telling me to come home. I am also to long for the return of Jesus in triumph. I hear again those words of Paul, “You know what sort of times we live in, and so you should live properly. It is time to wake up. You know that the day when we will be saved is nearer now than when we first put our faith in the Lord.” (Romans 13.11)
I read that and I recognise my own mortality. I also recognise the times I live in. I only have to look at the news to know that this world can be an evil and corrupt place. Don’t get me wrong, there is also lots of goodness, love, generosity, kindness and wonder in this world. I do though want, desperately want, to see far more of the goodness and love. Indeed, I want to see an end to evil and suffering; for people and for the whole of creation. That is what Jesus has promised. I work for that now and pray constantly for its completion.
My loss has reminded me to focus far more on what is really important and not to let the distractions around me take over. I need to “wake up” and let Jesus work in me to make me more like him, to make me more loving. I need to not lose sight of the wonderful hope that has been given to me to share. As I wake up the division between worlds becomes thin and I can almost taste the air of God’s kingdom.
Then as I look forward this Advent to celebrating the birth of hope at Christmas, I remember where that hope leads. I remember the cost of the cross, the resurrection and I remember the victory over all that binds this world to sickness and death. I pray my Advent prayers and I look forward with joy and hope for Jesus’ return.
I pray, “Come, Lord Jesus. Please come soon!” (see Revelation 22.20)
I then reflect. I’m still sad and those tears are still not far away. I’ve lost a good friend, but I know that I have a hope that is greater than my loss and pain.
For me, for my friend, for all people and for all things, I pray, “Jesus, you’re needed back here.” I pray, “Jesus, please come soon!” Amen.
I’ve been pondering Jesus famous words, “Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called children of God” (Matthew 5.9). I’ve been reading words of peace but I’ve been thinking about war and violence and particularly about the tools of war and violence. As I pondered I realised that I grew up with knives. I was out and about in the woods and hills of Yorkshire, and a knife was a tool for all sorts of things from sharpening sticks to skinning rabbits. A knife was a tool, not a weapon – I even had one on my belt as part of my Scout uniform.
Then I learned to shoot, first airguns, then a rifle, then a shotgun. Again these were fun, but they were tools, not toys. Perhaps this attitude to these deadly weapons comes from my scout leaders, perhaps it comes from my father. My father was PT sergeant; he wouldn’t say much about guns, or knives, except to say that if you are ready to point them at someone, you had better be ready to kill them. A gun, a knife, any weapon is not for show. A serious lesson for which I am very grateful.
But that said I still played commandos with toy guns and knives, but this was always different. They were toys and it never entered my head to play games with my friends with a real knife or a real gun.
As a young child I had already learned the simple lesson of cause and effect – that weapons used on people do terrible things: that weapons kill. I want the same for all children today. I want them to know that war, even wars that aren’t called wars, are brutal.
This is one of the good things that has come out of the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. With all of the media coverage it is hard to turn on the tv without seeing something about the horrors of that conflict – for soldiers, and for those suffering at home. I am not sure I agree with spending so much time remembering the start of a war but I can’t deny that so many children and young adults have been reminded of the seriousness of war – That there is misery and fear and mutilation, as well as death for innocent men, women, children and babies, as well as for soldiers.
I know that young people from our High School go to the First World War battlefields each year, and are never quite the same again. A real lesson has been learned. I know that I still remember my own trip to those battlefields when I was barely into my teens. They remain a haunting reminder of what war can be.
War is horror, not glory. That is why Jesus tells us, “Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called children of God” (Matthew 5.9). So today I commit myself again to working for peace: To working for peace here between my neighbours, and to supporting those working for peace between countries.
There may come a time again when the only right thing is to go to war. But I pray that soldiers are the last resort, and only that.
As you and I remember the bravery and sacrifice of so many who have fought for the freedoms of this country, in two world wars, and in more recent wars; that as we remember and honour their sacrifice, I ask all of you to do all that you can to work for peace. If you share my faith, then work for peace knowing that it is the call of Jesus spoken to you. If you don’t share my faith in God, then still work for peace for the good of all in this country, indeed for the good of all.
Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called the children of God. Whether you believe or not I dare you to be a peacemaker – someone who makes this world a better place.
“My friends the Lord loves you…” That is just one phrase from 2 Thessalonians 2.13, but it probably says all that needs to be said. Said to me, to you, to the people around us, to our world, “My friends the Lord loves you…”
I look around me every day and I see so many people that do not know that they are loved, not really. I go into schools. I look at the happy successful children and almost all of them are children that very clearly know that they are loved and cherished. I look at the children who are disruptive, violent or self-harming and almost every time they are very clearly children who do not know that they are loved. Indeed, they feel unloved, neglected, irrelevant; they are hurting and they need love. Yes, I also agree that they need discipline, but they also need love, real love, and I don’t think that the two are incompatible.
I look into myself and I see both. I see a small child who knows love and is happy and loving. I also see a small child in me that feels unloved and abandoned. Both are there and the whole of me needs to know that I am loved. Sometimes, people show me that they care. However, my ministry also requires me to do and say things that will not always be popular. Everything can just become too much, too much effort, and what’s the point anyway. My life can feel grey and lifeless – that little unloved child in me becomes very real. I’m not moaning or griping, it’s just a fact.
Then it is verses like 2 Thessalonians 2.13 that I need to hear. I need to hear, and feel inside, the truth of Jesus saying to me, “My friend the Lord loves you!” That is the message at the heart of my faith: I have turned to Jesus and I’ve found that God loves me.
A few verses earlier Paul warns that this world is not perfect and the “wicked one” is very real. Going astray is a constant danger, even a reality for most of us. So, I am concerned about the things that I do wrong, not out of guilt, but out of love. Paul’s warning needs to be heard because the wrong things that I say and do cut me off from God, they limit my ability to be loving, they hurt me and they hurt the people around me. It is the love of God, poured into me by the Spirit, that makes me want to be more loving. Paul makes this point better than me a few verses later in verses 16 and 17 where he says, “God our Father loves us. He is kind and has given us eternal comfort and a wonderful hope. We pray that our Lord Jesus Christ and God our Father will encourage you and help you always to do and say the right thing.”
I read again and I see the flow of thought: Love first, love then leads to encouragement and help, finally love results in the hope of always doing and saying the right thing. I really wish that I could always do and say the right thing. Life would be so much better! In reality I can only manage to do and say the right thing for a fraction of the time. But Paul’s words encourage me and help me too. They remind me that it isn’t about me, it is about God. It is about God’s love for me from before I was even born. It is about the love I’ve discovered when I discovered Jesus. It is about the love that is pouring into me from God through the Holy Spirit.
In short, I may not be perfect, but I am perfectly loved. I am loved, loved and loved some more. In return, nothing is asked, nothing is required of me. But I have found that I’ve become very leaky. I’ve found that love poured into me keeps leaking out. It leaks out to the people around me through the things I do and say.
This sort of love isn’t just for nice words and feelings. It has changed my life, so I try to share the love I’ve been given with those I meet, in school, in church, in the street; wherever I am. After all, if I need this love so badly, I’m pretty sure that they do too.
So, for myself and everyone on this planet I say, “My friends the Lord loves you…”, receive it, live it, and you’ll see what I mean.