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Will You Hold My Hand?

On Palm Sunday I won’t be preaching. I will be leading a dramatised reading of the passion story, and letting that drama speak for itself. As I look forward to the week ahead, I know that I am in for a roller-coaster ride of emotions as Holy Week unfolds. This week will end with utter despair. With Jesus humiliated, dead and buried, waiting and hoping for the light to shine again. I want to rush past, to skip the pain and jump to the celebration to come. But that is to cheat myself of all that God wants to show me of his love. I must stop, sit and wait. As I wait I know that I need company, someone to hold my hand…

Will You Hold My Hand? ~ a poem for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday – by Vivienne Tuffnell

Will you hold my hand?
Will you hold my hand
As I sit in the darkness?
Will you sit with me,
Make darkness less lonely?
Will you give my hand
A gentle squeeze,
Warm my cold flesh
With warmer skin?
Please do not tell me
About a light I cannot see.
I will not believe you
And the dark will be denser
For the lies I think
You tell me then.
My eyes are wide open
And I am not blind.
Will you hear my words
As we sit the long night out
Without disputing my right
To voice my thoughts?
Will you let me speak
My soul’s story aloud
Without interrupting
With unneeded reassurance?
Just take my hand
Sit with me in silence
Let the darkness be dark
And wait with me.

If I’m mad, then sanity is overrated!

Announcements are so common. At the moment I seem to be bombarded with political announcements – on the tv, the radio, the papers, online, it’s everywhere – “They promise that but we’ll do this!” – “You’d be mad to vote for them!” Lots and lots of hot air. I wonder how many promises there would be if party manifestos were legally binding!? There are so many political announcements that I have already started to filter them out, and the official election campaign hasn’t even started yet.

But some announcements are useful. I find the ones that direct you to a numbered till a little irritating but they are practical. There are announcements at the doctors – announcements at the station, sometimes they are even understandable! I remember having to travel through the Brussels Metro when there was a strike on. 2/3 of trains had been cancelled so it was crucial to listen to the announcements. Unfortunately, these were in French and Dutch not English. My French is poor and my Dutch non-existent, so I had to listen very carefully and be ready to take a risk on what I thought I had heard: Very confusing but I got through in the end.

God makes announcements too. Throughout the ages God has made announcements through the prophets. Occasionally, I read in the Bible of God speaking to kings like king David and less famous kings like Ahaz (Isaiah 7.10-14). But reading through the Bible it is odd to hear of God speaking to a teenage girl, like Mary (Luke 1.26-38). And this was no voice whispered in a dream. When God spoke to Mary he sent a royal messenger too – No ordinary royal messenger either – No God sent the Archangel Gabriel himself to deliver this message!

To think of an angel I need to remind myself to forget about sweet creatures with wings watching over little children. Angels are God’s incredibly powerful warrior messengers. So the arrival of the Archangel Gabriel would have been more like stealth helicopters appearing out of nowhere. Then a top general walking out to give me a message crucial to the future of the world. Waiting there for my answer – would I say ‘yes’, it might cost me my life! Could I say ‘no’, with everyone’s life depending upon it?

That is the position that Mary was in. She said, ‘yes’ and the new course of the world was set. An amazing woman, even as a teenager.

All of those stories were thousands of years ago. But the amazing thing is that because of Mary’s ‘yes’, Jesus came and through Jesus I can have personal access to God, right now; even me. Right now, God can speak to me through the Holy Spirit living in me. I’ve heard his voice so many times:

In big things – “Leave your good job and train to be a minister”, “I know you’re happy here but it’s time to move on to another place to minister”, “you need to sell your motorbike”, “you need to leave full time ministry”, “now give up your good job and come back full time again”…
In little things: “speak to her – she needs a kind word right now”, “help them”, “step back from that – trust me, it will be OK”, “he is in pain, pray with him”…

God speaks to me through his Spirit as I look at the work of the Creator all around me. God speaks to me, all because I belong to Jesus. God speaks to me, and I know that I’m not special and I’m pretty sure I’m not barking mad! Well if I am mad, then sanity is overrated!

What is God announcing to me now? What is He announcing to his people? What is he announcing to my church, my town, my country, this world?

Speak Lord, I pray your servants are listening!

A hobbit-style birthday gift

kungfupreacherman:

A Birthday gift from my favourite author!

Originally posted on Zen and the art of tightrope walking:

It’s a well-known thing that hobbits give others gifts on their birthday, rather than get them.

Since today is my birthday, I am offering all my novels and my poetry for a reduced price. This is for a very limited time so if you were thinking of grabbing them, now is a good moment.

Happy Birthday to me!

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Vivienne-Tuffnell/e/B00766135C/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

http://www.amazon.com/Vivienne-Tuffnell/e/B00766135C/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

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Happy Mothering Sunday!

As some of you know, mine was a difficult birth. I’m told there were lots of complications and I was a very long time in coming. My Mam obviously made me too comfortable!

When I finally arrived I was handed to my exhausted and traumatised mother with the words, “Here you are Mrs. Tuffnell, you have a lovely baby boy.” To which my mother replied, “I don’t care if its a rabbit, so long as its out!”

So I know that being a mother isn’t always easy, but sometimes all the love that a mother gives to a child can be turned into deep and bitter pain. The sort of pain that Mary must have suffered when she saw Jesus on the cross.

I have a memory that haunts me. It is the memory of sitting with a mother who had just lost her 6 month old baby. There was no real warning. They were in church one Sunday for her baptism and the little girl wasn’t too well, but nothing really alarming. Then I got a phone call to get to the hospital fast. I went as fast as I could, and when I arrived she had just died. What can I or anyone say to that mother and father; to the little brother and the two grandparents standing there?

I hugged them. I prayed over the little girl, commending her to God. I prayed with the family asking for the Spirit to fill them with the strength of faith that they would now need, to sustain them, even in the midst of that horror. The faith to know the promises of God that she was His child too and that she was safe with him. I prayed for comfort and peace.

What haunts me most is the empty look in her mother’s eyes.

That is how I imagine Mary to have looked as she watched Jesus slowly die on the cross. When Jesus was presented in the Temple as a small child, Simeon told Mary “and a sword shall pierce your own soul too” (NRSV Luke 2.35), now 30 odd years later that ‘blessing’ had come true.

When pain hits or tragedy strikes, we ask, ‘where is God’. We can’t see him anywhere around. He is not ‘around’ because he is in us. God is in us ‘laughing with in when we laugh’, and now, ‘weeping in us as we weep’ (see Romans 12.15). That is what we together discovered in that hospital room: God was in us. That is a hugely powerful thing for those with faith. But inevitably the question will come, ‘Why’, ‘Why didn’t You stop it happening’? From experience there is rarely an answer to why a specific tragedy happened at that particular time. But our Father God, our Mother God, has acted, and it cost Him dear.

Each pain in this world is a response to the sickness running through this world, as it groans waiting to be transformed, healed, made new (Romans 8.22-23). It is this sickness that Jesus came to cure. It is this sickness that the Spirit heals in us each day. It is this sickness that will go forever when the Father’s kingdom is fully recognised. It is a sickness that will be healed when our God gathers us like a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wings.

Part of me is sorry for sharing these thoughts on Mothering Sunday. But a greater part knows that without hope in the pain, Mothering Sunday is just escapism. It is unreal. It has no roots deep enough for the difficult times. So I need to face the pain. And as I do I find that it hollows out more of me to be filled by love: Just as Mary was hollowed out by God so that she became the loving mother of our Lord who is famous even to today.

I know from experience that God weeps with me – it is an absolute Truth. And knowing that I can be confident that he also laughs with me, celebrates with me, parties with me, rejoices with me – makes it possible for me to say happy Mothering Sunday from the very depth of my soul.

Waiting to welcome?

I was born in an industrial town called Middlesbrough and came back their after I got married. Middlesbrough has some good points but it is not a pretty place. I remember waiting late at night on Middlesbrough train station for a friend. He was coming down from Scotland to stay the weekend with us so I was there to greet him. I wanted to greet him with a hug and a smile to take away a little of the grey of the town. I waited, and his train arrived, but no friend (name is deleted to protect the innocent!). ‘Perhaps he missed it and is on the next one’, I thought. So I sat down to waiting again.

The next train came but no friend. It was getting very late but I wasn’t worried. These things happen, he must be on the last train out of Edinburgh. About midnight I think it was when the last train finally arrived. But no friend. Now I was getting worried, what could have happened to him? This was before everyone had mobiles so I decided to dash home to find out whether there was a message on the phone.

I just turned to go when his face appeared out of the entrance tunnel. I was so glad to see him, explanations could wait, I was just pleased to see that I was OK. I ran, hugged him and spun him round. He was so embarrassed, it took him a long time to forgive me for that welcome! It turned out that when he missed his train he didn’t wait for the next, he simply hired a car and drove down!

Before Jesus the Jewish people were waiting for someone special. They were waiting for the Chosen One, the Messiah, the Christ. They knew to expect him and they were looking where they expected him to turn up. They expected a war leader who would make Judea great again, kick out the Romans and show the world that the temple in Jerusalem was THE place to meet God. They were looking so hard but like me they were looking in the wrong direction. They were looking the wrong way so they didn’t recognise Jesus when he arrived.

But that is where the similarity with my story ends. Unlike me, when they saw Jesus they didn’t run to welcome their Messiah, their friend, who had arrived after the long wait. No they weren’t willing to accept that the Messiah could arrive how and when he chose. They had banked on the Messiah supporting the religious structure of the day. They weren’t ready for someone who would challenge all of that.

Jesus arrived and wasn’t impressed by what he found in the Temple at Jerusalem. They had got it so wrong that he lost his temper completely and drove out the animals being sold for sacrifice and threw over the tables of the money changers (John 2.13-22). He saw people getting rich at the expense of the devout pilgrims coming to Jerusalem to worship God – As he saw this he recognised that evil had corrupted the very heart of Jewish worship. The very place were God was supposed to meet with his people had been turned in a place where crooks make a bit of easy money. What was worse the religious leaders were in on it too, taking their cut of all the profits!

No wonder he lost it!

That anger of Jesus wasn’t wrong, it was essential. Some things should make God’s people angry. I get angry when I see religious people hiding Jesus today, or making money out of other people’s desire to meet with God. I get angry when I see cathedrals charging an entrance fee. Each is the house of God how can we have the nerve to charge people to come in? I know most will be just wanting to look at the fine building, but even so, how can anyone in all conscience charge people to come in?

I get angry. Then I look at myself and wonder. I wonder, “Am I any better”. I’m a full time, paid minister – do I live off other people’s desire to meet God? On behalf of the church I charge each time I take a funeral or conduct a wedding – Am I just making money out of people’s desire to come close to God at key times in their life?

I look hard and I pray. I think that I’m not quite the same. I earn a modest living, freely given by my flock. I have earned my own money and ministered; I could do the same again. The fees are generally designed to cover costs, and set centrally – I have no control over the amounts. Sometimes I think – the fees are OK, modest even when compared to the cost of a wedding reception or funeral director’s fees. Then I see some people paying more than they can really afford and I feel sick inside. I see Jesus twisting the cords and I fear that there is trouble to come!..

On balance I think Jesus understands, so far at least. But I need the fright. I need the warning. It is so easy to slip and become a modern day Pharisee or money changer. So very easy. I need to look closely at myself every day, open myself up to the Spirit, and be ready to welcome Jesus, however and whenever he appears.

Sleepwalking

I have a good and happy life. I want for very little. I have all the food that I need, and plenty more besides! I have a comfortable car and a fun motorbike. I have a lovely house, bees, ducks in the pond, warmth and the wonder of the internet. I have a family that loves me and I live in a civilised and safe country. I think I also live in one of the most welcoming and genuinely ‘nice’ towns in England. I am healthy and reasonably fit. Life is good!

Each day I start my prayers with thanks for all of these good things that God has given. I end each day in the same way and try to hold something of this thankfulness in between. These are wonderful blessings and I thank my Father for each one. There is nothing wrong with enjoying the good things of this world. Each one is a gift and as such should be cherished and celebrated, even in Lent.

All of these things are given to me as gifts, they are not earned, they are simply gifts. Yes, I work hard but I am no more deserving of luxury than some person struggling every day to live a life with profound disability, or someone working hard all day picking through a rubbish dump to find something to sell. I work partly because I must to pay the bills, but mostly I work because I love my work as a minister of Christ. It is a huge privilege to do what I do, it brings contentment and deep joy. Thank you Jesus!

All these good things are gifts from God to be celebrated. But each one can also be a trap. I know that the jaws of this trap are close when I read:

‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?’ (Mark 8.34-36)

I read and I shout, I love my life as it is, I don’t want to lose it! I find myself putting my fingers in my ears and singing “La, la, la” so I can’t hear Jesus’ words. I want the bright things around me to dazzle my eyes so I can’t read the words. Maybe if I keep this up, Jesus will start to talk about love and peace and joy. My nice life will be safe then!

All the good things in my life are to be enjoyed as presents from God, but how easily they become a trap. How quickly they can become the foundation for my life: of my happiness. I blink and suddenly all these things are THE reason I get up on a morning. It’s dramatic but it all happens so subtly, gently even. I get used to a certain level of comfort. I then take this for granted. I then can’t imagine living without these things. My nice lifestyle become my gospel, my good news, my god. I find that I become addicted to my nice life. I am being drugged into a lifeless sleep, one from which, in the end, there is no waking up.

If you’ve ever watched the Disney version of The Jungle Book then its like having the huge snake Kaa, singing softly in my ear, “go to sleep… go to sleep… sleep… sleep”, as the coils slowly, gently even begin to wrap and tighten. A real and present danger. That is why I think Jesus shouts at Peter and calls him Satan (The Tempter):

(Jesus) then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ he said. ‘You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.’ Mark 8.31-33.

Peter was falling under the spell and needed a good shake to wake him up. So Jesus does just that, effectively Jesus shouts, “Peter watch out! Wake up!”. Jesus loved Peter enough to be a little rough with him: Jesus loves me just the same so sometimes I need a jolt too. I need to be reminded that my only true source of contentment or happiness is Jesus. The only way I can be sure of being safe is by letting go and letting the Holy Spirit have his way. I need to let Jesus shake me and shout “Wake up!”, “Wake up and smell the sulphur!”.

I know this. I know it to be true but it’s though I’m half in a dream and can’t quite wake up. I know that I’m in danger but as I struggle to wake the soft words work even harder to send me to sleep again: “go to sleep… sleep… be a good boy… dream of your bike… running… nice food… family… have a drink… go to sleep… you’re so tired… just for a little while… go to sleep… that’s right…”

I’m sleepwalking to Satan. Then I feel the Spirit shaking me. I wake some more and laugh at the Tempter.  He can try but he can never win! I laugh again, thank God for his generosity, for the good things that he gives. I thank him too for loving me enough to give me a good shake to wake me up and I pray:

Lead me not into temptation but deliver me from evil. Amen

Eeyore, Tigger, and Mark as the March Hare

Texts and emails, twitter, Facebook, instant message and all the rest, they’re all are great things. They allow us to communicate simple messages almost instantly to people anywhere in the world. Instant communication has its faults but there is nothing like instant communication when you’re excited. To see successful students texting and phoning friends and family with their results is a real joy. From people who live alone I’ve heard that the biggest sadness is not, as I would have expected, not having someone there to tell problems to when they get home, no, it’s not having someone to spin you round with excitement when something great has happened. Instant, is great for joy and excitement, sadness can usually take its time.

Mark’s Gospel is the email or text gospel. It is short, curt even, and you’re left to fill in the blanks. Matthew and John add lots of colour and texture but Mark is short and sharp. Matthew loves to tell stories where Mark seems to fire out events and sayings like bullets.

Just look at Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Mark says, “At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.” Mark 1.12-13 – 2 short verses. Matthew takes his time over 25 verses to paint the same story.

Mark is also breathless in the way he tells the story of Jesus, “At once” or “Straight away” are favourite phrases. I read Matthew for the detail. But I read Mark to get the real sense of urgency about Jesus’ mission. There is a breathless urgency about Mark’s writing. I can almost smell the excitement:

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’ (Mark 1.9-11)

The Heaven’s are torn apart! But there’s no time to stop – Mark rushes on:

At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. (Mark 1.12-13)

Jesus meets Satan and wild animals and angels serve him – I want to know more. But Mark grabs my hand – “No Time for that, there’s so much more to show you”, and Mark rushes on again:

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’ (Mark 1.14-15)

Heaven torn apart – Satan brushed aside, wild animals and angels, then I hear “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near.”

My head’s spinning, there’s so much to take in, so I let go of Mark’s hand to think a little before rushing on. I can almost see Mark, impatient, hopping from foot to foot, sparking with excitement. I never thought of Mark as the March Hare before, but now I look the resemblance is startling.

Mark’s Gospel may miss out so much wonderful detail, so many amazing facts, but he has just what I need right now. Mark is just what the doctor ordered! After all the miserable weather, the rain and the cold I’ve been feeling a little, well, jaded. I know Christ, I feel the Spirit in me, I know I’m loved, but the grey leaches away some of the excitement.

If you know the Winnie the Pooh books by AA Milne, then you’ll know what I mean when I say that my wife, Viv, tends to think of me as a ‘Tigger’, bouncing up the stairs to hug people. But recently I’ve been feeling more like Eeyore.

So there was me pottering along in the stream of the Spirit, when I open the Bible, turn to Mark 1 and I’m hit with a tidal wave of excitement. I may not be sure which way is up but wow does it feel good. I’m buzzing with the Gospel, grinning from ear to ear with excitement, the Spirit has hit and it is better than any roller coaster!

Then there’s a voice inside, ‘It’s Lent, should you be so happy and excited in Lent?! Lent is a serious sober time’. Part of me just wants to shrug my shoulders and say, ‘Whatever’. But, still buzzing I turn back to Mark 1. I read ‘temptation’, ‘wilderness’ and ‘repentance’. All serious words but I realise that I’m still being called to be excited about this Gospel, this Good News.

I spin back to ‘temptation’ and find that in Jesus I have all I need to overcome them. Indeed, each time I’m tempted Jesus can show me more about myself and the Spirit can work with me to make me whole.

I jump over to ‘wilderness’ and I know that I need to book a time away on retreat. Time to be quiet and pray. In the greyness I just couldn’t get round to it, but now I know I must.

I skip back to ‘repentance’ and see the wonder of the Christian life. I am far from perfect, I do things wrong but that doesn’t have to be me forever! I have a loving Father who through Jesus forgives me, and forgives me, and forgives me some more. Each time I’m shown a fault and say ‘sorry’, I’m forgiven and the Spirit can work to heal me a little more. The Spirit gives me a little more of Himself to make me stronger against temptations to come. But when I fall again, toddler that I am, then I’m lifted up into loving arms and off we go again.

I know that excitement isn’t everything. There are times and seasons for a whole rang of emotions to be right in God. But at the start of this Lent I am being shown that I need to rediscover my excitement in God. To feel joy of knowing Jesus. To be blown off my feet by the Spirit. To give myself whole heartedly to my heavenly Father.

I hear, “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near.” Then Mark grabs my arm and we’re off…

Love – What is love?

‘I love you’ – it trips off the tongue so easily, but do I really mean it? What is love?

‘I love you’ – Such a short phrase but one packed with so much meaning. What does it mean? Who is it addressed to? Who is it from?

‘I love you’ – For human beings that phrase can be the turning point from a relationship to the relationship. ‘Love’ is such a powerful word, one used well and one abused.

‘Love’ can mean despite my interests I want the very best for you – unconditionally, without limits and forever.

‘Love’ can also mean, whatever your best interests, I want to control you and possess you for myself – unconditionally, without limits and forever.

‘Love’ is such a powerful concept that we human beings can’t really be trusted with it. Not on our own. Being imperfect I know that I layer imperfect intentions into that perfect ‘Love’.

‘Love’, true love is at the heart of all things. The central nature of all creation. ‘God is love, and those who live in love, live in God and God lives in them’ (1 John 4.16). I know this to be true but I also know that despite my best efforts my love is not so great. My love is finite and the more I experience God the more finite I realise my love to be. So much so that I no longer trust my capacity to love. I cannot trust my human ability to love, it is far too caught up with ifs and buts: ‘I will love you unconditionally, unless you… say this, do that, believe that!’ then all deals are off.

I find that my human love, no matter how passionate I can be, is more of a contract than anything else. No matter how hard I try, I keep putting limits on my love. I can love kittens but not cockroaches… motorbikes but not scooters… and so on.

To learn to love I need to turn to God. I have found that it is only in the presence of the Spirit that I truly learn what unconditional love really is. It is only in the presence of the Spirit that I really become able to love, where my ‘love’ becomes true ‘Love’, the sort of love that I read about in 1 Corinthians 13:

  • ‘Love’ that is patient and kind (I’m naturally so impatient and my kindness is limited).

  • ‘Love’ that is never jealous or boastful – It is only in Christ that I can even start to let go of jealousy. It is only in the Spirit’s power that I truly know that all is from God, and there is absolutely nothing for me to boast about.

  • ‘Love’ that is not proud or rude – Pride creeps in so subtly that I need the bright light of the Spirit to search it out and wither it away. Rudeness, well rudeness comes out of not valuing people and it is only in the Spirit that I can ever hope to see Christ in all people and value them as I should.

  • ‘Love’ that isn’t selfish or quick tempered. I’m OK with these until I’m tired or stressed, then I naturally turn into a little child and scream, “I want!” and “mine!” and lose my temper when I don’t get my own way. When I am tired and weak then it is only Christ that can save me from myself.

  • ‘Love’ that keeps no record of wrongs. It is only in the power of the Spirit that I can ever truly forgive and forget.

Then I turned back to the Bible again and found, ‘ There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear’ (1 John 4.18). I am afraid of so many things; of my own shadow sometimes. But when I wake up afraid I’ve found that if I ask the Spirit to pour divine love onto my fears, they crumble away. It is as though they were scary figures made of salt, and the water of the Spirit is washing them away.

It is this kind of love, this true love, that I so desperately need. It is this true love that this world so desperately needs. Without a truly selfless love, a truly giving love that keeps no record of wrongs, there can be no true forgiveness, no reconciliation, no peace and ultimately no hope. Without the true love that never fails then every effort is doomed to failure.

Without true Love I too am doomed to fear and failure, sadness and loss. With Love all is healed, transformed and beautiful.

I am… Who am I? Who am I really?..

Who am I? Who are you? Who am I really?

The cold weather has made me a bit, well not so much confused as reflective. I’ve been wondering who I am. No I haven’t completely lost it – I still know my name, where I live and all the rest – but who am I, who am I really? To try and answer this question, I started like most people with the things that I do, the things that in some way define me to others.

So, who am I? Well, I am a husband and I am a father. I am a minster. I am a biker. I am a martial artist (a rather rusty one now but it has changed who I now am), I am… well the list goes on and on. But even if I wrote down 100, 200 or more ‘I am’ statements like that it wouldn’t really tell you who I am, not really. You would have to meet me and spend time with me for that.

Then I thought of Jesus: The Jesus described by Paul in that wonderful poem from Colossians 1.15-20:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Colossians 1.15-17 – NIV).

Jesus is all things. So if my ‘I am’ list is long then Jesus’ ‘I am’ list must be be beyond long; Jesus’ ‘I am’ list must be infinite. In fact Jesus could shorten the whole thing and just say, “I am” – that would do it. Maybe that’s why the Gospels are littered with so many ‘I am’ sayings from Jesus. Even one where he owns up to who he truly is and says to the people in the Jerusalem temple, “‘Very truly I tell you,’ … ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’” (John 8.58). This clearly echoed Exodus 3.14 where “God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: “I am has sent me to you.”’ So much so that the people in the temple had no doubt that he was claiming to be God himself and went to kill Jesus there and then.

So I have lots of ‘I am’ statements but Jesus has an infinite number, he is God, so is simply, “I am”. But, just like my ‘I am’ statements don’t really get you to know me, so all the 100s of ‘I am’ statements about Jesus that I could list won’t really get me to know Jesus. They are useful, they help me to know ‘about’ Jesus but they don’t help me to really know him. For that I need to spend time with him. I need to talk with Jesus, why not, the Spirit makes that possible?

I need to spend time pondering over the things that Jesus said, and the things said about him in the Bible. I need to ponder and open myself to the presence of Jesus now. Then I can start to learn to feel who Jesus is rather than just know facts about him, even beautiful poetic facts, like, “He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1.17) or “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (John 1.14). Even beautiful facts like these are no substitute for spending time in Jesus’ company.

There’s lots more to be said about this, even more to be experienced. So, I’m going to finish here, to sit with Jesus for a while, listen and ponder…

Daydreams of Warmer Days and Learning…

I’ve been looking at the snow and ice, then going into the garage and looking at the motorbike. I’d like to get out on two wheels but it would be cold, uncomfortable and often dangerous. I’m like a little boy who can’t go out to play. So, all I can do is sit, look, and dream of warmer days. Days when I can just point the bike in a direction and go. When I get the chance (and time) I love to just head of in a direction and take what ever roads I fancy. I’m not trying to get anywhere, I’m just enjoying the ride. I’m learning new routes between places and discovering new sights. Sometimes I find places worth stopping and exploring further. I have a great time and learn all sorts of new things.

That made me think about how I learn things. Daydreams are like that, they lead all over the place. Sometimes I learn things by simply sitting and watching, but mostly I learn from other people. Even when out on my bike I’m following routes others have made, using skills others have taught me.

Going back to my start in life, I learned about love, security and affection from my Mam when I was a tiny baby. I can’t remember but I will have learned to walk and talk from my Mam and Dad, and others close to me like my grandparents. I learned to read and write a little bit at home but mostly at school. I learned to play and fight and shout and climb and how to catch snails and dam streams and search rock pools and so many other things that made me a kid – mostly from other kids.

Looking back all through my life I have learned things from other people: Either directly from being with them or from books or recordings or films that they have made. I’ve needed to be involved in my learning but nearly all of it has come from someone else or at least is based on what I have learned from other human beings.

So what about my faith? Here again I have learned so much from other people. From friends at University who put up with my endless questions as I discovered the reality of God, from David Wills my vicar in Liverpool, from Nick McKinnell my chaplain and so many others. But when I really think about it I have learned about God from one particular person, Jesus. How could I really get anywhere trying to understand who God is without God becoming the man we call Jesus?

It completely blows my mind that the all powerful creator God could and would become a human being to save the human beings He had made from the mess they had got themselves into. I often think about the enormity of Jesus’ sacrifice for me on the cross. But it is just as amazing that God allowed himself to be born as a tiny helpless human baby; to grow up in this world like any of us.

So through learning from Jesus I know that God fully understands all that I go through, good and bad. He had to be fully human for the cross I turn to so often to mean anything at all. He had to be a real man for the resurrection to be anything other than a parlour trick. The eternal God cannot die, but a human being can. If Jesus was just God pretending to be a human being then rising from an apparent death is no big deal, it’s what you would expect of someone who is immortal. But if Jesus is fully human I can look at him and learn everything that I need about being a godly human being. Learning from Jesus I learn that I can die with confidence that I too will rise again when Jesus calls me.

I have learned so much from my fellow human beings, and if I include Jesus, I have even begun to learn who God is!

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