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Thy Kingdom Come

I have been sharing Thy Kingdom Come posts on the church Facebook page but didn’t think to post it here! So I’m starting with today – Better late than never…

 

Monday, 29th May – #Pledge2Pray #Offer

The Rt. Rev. Griselda Delgado del Carpio
Bishop of Cuba

‘God loves a cheerful giver.’
Let us offer our whole selves and work for the purposes of God.

(Two Videos Below)

A short video from Bishop Griselda: https://vimeo.com/218623586

A short Thy Kingdom Come video: https://vimeo.com/217821068

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Sleepwalking 2

I’ve been looking at the Lent Materials that we’ve been using here. They are called “Mapping Lent” and the one for the week to come is called, “Rock.” Them materials have lots of thoughts, prayers and ideas. But one that has really got under my skin is the passages about the Tempter. Christ is tempted. I am tempted, but am I up to it?

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

Taste for yourself…

Repent!

What a word! For me it conjures up for me a picture of some wide-eyed crazy person shouting at people as they pass by. I tend to think of an older person foaming at the mouth, with a placard but I saw something even scarier online. I found a picture of ‘that’ person; they were young but just as judgemental, but way more scary.

I still see that picture above, I close my eyes and I see it in my mind; I see it and shudder. What is worst is a sense of smugness, of superiority. It is as if he wants everyone to burn. I get the feeling that he would be the first to volunteer to stoke the fire. There is no sense of love, just contempt.

I pause, go away from the screen, then look again. I see that young man and I no longer shudder. Now I weep. I weep for him. Everything he is doing is designed to push people away. I cannot see anything of the love of God. I do not see a call to come to the God who is love. I may be wrong, that young man may be loving. He may be giving his warning out of love. I hope so, I hope I’m wrong, maybe I am.

But the fact remains that, well meaning or not, that posture, that placard and that message, push people away from God.

So do I ditch repentance? Well, I tend to ditch the word, except perhaps in very Christian groups, where I’m confident that everyone knows what it is and what it isn’t. I ditch the word everywhere it can be misunderstood. I’m inspired by the way the Contemporary English Version of the Bible translates Mark 1.15 as;

“He (Jesus) said, “The time has come! God’s kingdom will soon be here. Turn back to God and believe the good news!”

Now I know ‘Repent’ means more than “Turn back to God”. But I think that phrase gets most of it in a way that most people can grasp.

Now all of this must just sound like me having a little moan to myself; me being a bit snobby about a fancy word. A bit like when people get really upset about the misuse of an apostrophe on a fruit stall. It may be a moan but Jesus’ good news is, for me at least, far more important that someone writing “Apple’s” when they should have written “Apples”.

I get agitated about this because I see well meaning Christians chasing people away from Jesus by using language they think should welcome them in. There is so much jargon that I use as a Christian. Even the word ‘Christian’ can be a barrier. I am proud to be a Christian but I am careful when I use that bit of Christian jargon, and the word ‘Repent’ is far more loaded.

I want to introduce people to the living Jesus who lives in me and through me. I want people to get to know God who is my ‘Father’, my ‘Dad’ even. I long for people to experience the presence and work of God’s Spirit in their life. Like those words of Jesus that I used earlier, I want to lead people back to God, to come to know that the God is in control. I want everyone and anyone to discover that they can turn back to God, the one who has always been there, hovering at the edge of their life, just waiting to be recognised.

Then, I won’t need to tell anyone about the ‘Gospel’ or ‘Good News’. I don’t need to say it because they have discovered God, and realised that letting God in is good news. They have ‘tasted’ for themselves and found that God is good (Psalm 34.8).

Getting lost

It had been a long drive and I’d finally arrived in Norwich. It was my first time in the city, I needed to see +Graham, and I didn’t have a sat nav. I’d looked at the map, I’d memorised the route, so what could possibly go wrong? Half and hour later I was lost. Nothing looked like it was supposed to. I certainly wasn’t in a city centre, I was out in a housing estate. So I did what any man would do, I drove round some more assuming I would figure it out in the end. I ended up in another housing estate, then I was driving along a road with fields on either side. Now, I knew that Norfolk was rural but I was pretty sure there were no fields in the centre of Norwich.

Finally, I did the unthinkable… I asked for directions. I’d turned round and going back into yet another housing estate I saw a man walking along with his dog. I stopped and asked directions to the Cathedral. He was brilliant. He knew the way exactly, he was even generous enough to offer me a few alternative routes, just to make my journey more interesting. Now I was already tired and confused. The sounds were coming out of his mouth that I recognised as words and phrases, like “straight on”, and “keep left” but they all kept swimming in my head. He asked me to repeat the directions back to him. I did, and got it wrong. I could see the frustration on his face as he repeated the most obvious directions to this foreign idiot from Yorkshire. But try as I might I couldn’t take them in.

I asked him to draw them for me. Then I set off. I got lost again but finally the mist lifted from my eyes and I saw first a sign for the, “City Centre”, then a brown sign saying, “Cathedral”, and I arrived; with no time for the relaxing coffee I’d been looking forward to but thankfully just in time for my meeting.

I’ve noticed that most people have times when things are just not going in. I’ve seen it in schools during maths lessons; there’s that tell tale glazed look in the eyes. I’ve seen it when I’ve been preaching, that glazed look. It’s a sure sign that now is the time to change tack and try something different. It is just a feature of being human that sometimes, things that may be simple to you, just don’t compute for the person you’re talking to. It doesn’t make them thick; not necessarily.

That story made me think about one of those confusing passages from the Bible, “The god who rules this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers. They cannot see the light, which is the good news about our glorious Christ, who shows what God is like.” (2 Corinthians 4.4) That is exactly how I felt when I was trying to take in those directions. It is exactly how it feels when I do my best to show people what God is like. Some things go in, then the eyes go blank.

Then I remembered how I came to recognise that God was real and that I could find out about him through Jesus. At first all those fine meaning words from friends at university just didn’t make sense. They were offering directions but I just couldn’t figure out how to follow them. Until suddenly I found that I was following those instructions, I was finding my way, I found that I was being guided. I’ve been following those directions for a long time now, and I still get lost at times, but less often than I used to. I’m also less likely to panic when I am lost, because I’m beginning to trust the guide that goes with me everywhere. Strange to think of the Holy Spirit as a ‘divine sat nav’; it fits but he’s a lot more personal than that. I’ve also found that a sat nav is far easier to control. I find that I ask the Spirit to take me to one place and He takes me to where I should have been going.

I still get confused at times, so I pray that everyone who is blinded to who God is may be able to see. I remember what it feels like not to be able to follow directions, no matter how hard I try. I remember and I’m able to stop worrying when someone just can’t see, can’t “get God”. I do my bit, and let the light shine. I then leave God to deal with the one who blinds eyes.

Utterly Alone

I’ve been thinking back to when I used to travel as part of my job. I remember being alone, very alone. To say my French and German were poor would be a huge compliment to my language skills. So abroad I was in a bubble of isolation. I could be in a crowd and be utterly alone.

Now I like my own company. I like to be able to hear my own thoughts and perhaps to hear God. But remember that it was strange to physically be among so many people while still being so isolated, cut off from my fellow humanity. I could say “hello”, “please” and “thank you”, but not have a proper conversation. I could smile, and sometimes I relied on my multi-lingual finger that could point at hotel and street names. But still I was alone.

Now I hear that loneliness is huge problem for people in this country. Loneliness is one of the most serious health problems for people as they get older. Family move away, friends die or become too infirm to meet regularly. Loneliness, I heard, can be a killer. Loneliness though is not confined to those that are old. Many young people find themselves very much alone. A move for work away from family, being the only one of your friends without a job, having a new baby, or the children leaving home, can all be reasons for people feeling cut off from their fellow humanity. Loneliness blights lives and I am so pleased to see people in my churches doing what they can to help.

We seem created to be social. To talk, and laugh and cry with other people. Something deep in our humanity yearns for company. The more I think about it, the more I realise that the problem is huge. I also realise that it is not only human company that we crave. We all suffer when separated from our creator.

In Colossians 1.16 I read that, “All things were created by God’s Son, and everything was made for him.”

That is the wisdom of God. We are created to be part of our creator. Even more than that we are created to be one with our creator. We are created with an inbuilt drive for a relationship with that creator, revealed through Jesus. This drive, is basic to who we are as human beings; As basic as the drive, to eat, and to reproduce. It is hard-wired into us. Whether we realise it or not we are programmed to search for what we instinctively know we need: God.

Without that relationship we are less than we should be. We are spiritually and socially malnourished. Starved of the relationship with our creator that can make sense of all the rest. It is only in that deep relationship with our creator that we can ever make real sense of the created world in which we live.

Looking at the Bible again I find “with this Word (Jesus), God created all things. Nothing was made without the Word. Everything that was created received its life from him, and his life gave light to everyone. The light keeps shining in the dark, and darkness has never put it out.” (John 1.3-5).

All things get their life from God through Jesus: even you – even me – even the awkward neighbour – even the crazy person on the train who insists on sitting next to you. Even the idiot who tipped my own coffee over me! They all came into being through the God we know as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Because, without Jesus not one thing came into being. Not one thing, not a person, not a dog, cat, bird, tree, house, train, hotel…. nothing came into being without the Creator God. But so many people are blind to this fact. Blind to their basic nature as human beings. The basic nature that knows, instinctively knows, that we can never be whole, without a relationship with our creator. We can never find meaning, without a relationship with our creator.

So many people are blind to this knowledge, this wisdom at the heart of the universe. But they are not ignorant of its effects. They still feel a yearning – a pull towards something – but they don’t know what that something is. And so that yearning is filled with so many other things. But other things, distract, they ease the pain, but they do not treat the basic underlying condition. Nothing but a knowledge and a relationship with the creator can ever truly satisfy. And even there we are are still drawn further and further into the mystery that is God. That basic inbuilt need for God, drives us to need more.

I don’t travel for work any more. But even if I did, I would never be truly alone, never truly lonely. I can never be truly isolated from the Creator, in whom I live and move and have my being.

What’s your God?

I’m getting twitchy and impatient. I’ve been looking out of my window. The sun is shining, the roads are drying and I’m longing for the good riding days to return. That is just a silly example of having to wait; of having to be patient. Patience is a gift of the Spirit, one I pray for every day, “God give me patience; and make it quick!”

That said, my need for patience is nothing compared to the Jewish people at the time of Jesus. They had been given a promise. A promise from God that he would send someone to lead them back to him: The chosen one, the Messiah, the Christ. People had lived and died. Hundreds of years had passed and they were still waiting. They had been waiting for so long I can’t imagine just how impatient they must have been. Many were impatient, they lived, longing for the Messiah to come. They built mental pictures of their new leader. They made stories of what he would do. Of course, he would do all the things they wanted him to do. The Messiah would change all the things they wanted changing, and punish all those they wanted punishing.

They were looking forward to the Messiah kicking out the Romans who were oppressing them. But they also imagined the Messiah sorting all their petty problems out too. It was a bit like a group of men propping up the bar, putting the world to rights. Imagining it now the hopes would include, the Messiah sorting out all unemployment, and benefit fraud and immigration and speeding and theft, that annoying neighbour, those young people that scare, the very old, those clogging beds, the woman who insulted me, the man with an untidy garden… The list would go on and on, getting both more and more petty and more and more sinister.

All these expectations, swirling around for centuries. Then comes Jesus, the Messiah, God’s chosen one. He came with an answer to war and offering peace, but not the way people expected him to; he didn’t raise an army and slaughter all Romans and butcher all Jewish collaborators like tax collectors.

Jesus came with God’s message. A message of reconciliation and peace and the crowds came. But they seem to have come in their thousands for a free lunch, or to have Jesus cure their sick friends. Very human reasons for coming to see Jesus, but very few seem to have really taken in what he was saying. It was as though they had built up such a solid idea of what their Messiah would look like and what their Messiah would do and say, that they weren’t able to recognise the true Messiah when God sent him.

Jesus didn’t do what the crowds wanted, he didn’t give them the vengeance and the blood bath that they wanted. Jesus called them to be God’s people again, not by being the great military power or by worshipping in the right way. Jesus called them to be God’s people by loving, forgiving, by being generous, and patient. Jesus brought a revolution, but not the one that the crowds bayed for.

So in the end they turned on him. They were so desperate to follow the God they had made up in their head that they rejected the one sent by the true God of heaven and earth. They used the hated Romans to get rid of God’s Messiah. The had him tortured and murdered, and thought that they had got rid of him.

If Jesus had just been a good man they would have succeeded. But the chosen one, the Messiah, the Christ, was God as well as a man. They killed the man but they couldn’t kill God, no matter how hard they tried.

It is so like today. Jesus calls us to turn to God, to live lives transformed by God, and people reject him because he isn’t like the picture in their head. He calls us to love, and forgive and to bring people together, to be self-controlled and patient. This is a call that I need to respond to. I need to let God change me inside: To inspire the things that I say and do: To change my life for good: To work in me so that I can be more patient, more kind, loving, generous, forgiving and self-controlled.

I need to stop worrying whether or not people will like me or follow me. I need to look to Jesus, and him alone, and trust that God knows what he is doing!

A very human God

I wish I had a free pint for every time someone has demanded that I change water into wine! It happens in the pub, at parties, well almost anywhere. I now have a stock answer for those sort of demands, “Sorry, I’m in sales, not management!”

I have a love-hate relationship with John’s account of Jesus turning water into wine (John 2.1-11). Generally, though I really like the story and even the jokey demands for me to do the same. At least it breaks the ice, it gives them something to say to the vicar. After all, it’s far better than that old favourite, “More tea vicar?”

Read more…

Come and see

Life can change so much but if you’re like me it can be so hard to spot the new turnings that appear, at least it’s so hard to spot them in time to take them. Sometimes it’s such an unlikely turning that I wouldn’t normally even give it a second look. The trick I’ve learned is not to look – to feel: To feel my way forward, asking not, “Does this look right?” but “Does this feel right?”

That took me back to crossing streams in the North York Moors as a boy. The streams are fast and cold, and can be dangerous at times if you lose your footing. The trick is not to look to closely but to test the depth with a stick, and each step carefully with your foot before putting your weight on the next stone. Those streams are so clear that your sight deceives you. I remember seeing this lovely little stream, shallow and calm. I took off my boots and socks and stepped in. The next thing I knew I was under water and travelling down stream at quite a speed. The water was so clear that a six foot depth looked less than a foot. Neither was there anything floating by to show me how fast it was flowing! I spluttered, came to the surface and managed to get to the bank. I never trusted just my eyes and common sense again! I learned to test things and to ask, “does this feel right?” before plunging in.

Read more…

Wise Men?

Today I’ve been thinking about those wise men that we stick on the edge of the crib scene. Today is when they are supposed to turn up, not Christmas, but usually I’m glad just to see them at all. Those strange men from the east, in strange clothes, they are feel so familiar but we know very little about them. What we do know is that they were well-educated and that they came from the east. They had noticed a star in the sky and understood this to be a sign that a new king had been born. Not just any king, but a king special enough for them to decide to take a long journey and bring expensive gifts. The rest is us filling in the gaps.

The whole story is strange (see Matthew 2.1-12). There is no prophecy in the Old Testament that I know of that speaks about a new star in the sky that will mark the birth of the Messiah, neither do I know of any prophecy that speaks about wise men coming to see the new child king*. The story of the wise men doesn’t fit neatly anywhere. They arrived sometime up to two years after Jesus was born, so they don’t fit in the stable scene. They make me ask questions. They break God out of the box that I like to put him in.

Read more…

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year one and all.

God bless,

Nigel.

Happy Christmas and a Peaceful New Year!

Christmas Day has passed and I’ve been plunged into frantic activity once again. I’ve been celebrating the birth of a child, but now I seem to have been thrown into a sea of funerals. I really just wanted to stay for a little while longer with the joy of a baby, with angels and messages of hope. But that was not to be. Read more…