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Happy Birthday, now open your present!

What really makes you want to cheer and shout? Does the wedding of Harry and Meghan? What about the FA Cup final between Manchester United or Chelsea? When have you been really excited? A school sports day? Exam results day?

I’m not an overexcited sort of person, but I have been excited by many things. I wanted to cheer and shout when my daughter graduated – a proud Dad moment! I was excited the first time I flew; even more so because it was a small light aircraft so you felt far more. I was excited and terrified when I was confirmed and then again when I was ordained. I used to get really excited about my birthdays, but not so much now the numbers are getting bigger.

I remember the excitement with which I first read my Bible. I had just become a Christian and I just couldn’t get enough of this amazing story of God loving people. I had almost forgotten about that. I had forgotten until I listened to a talk by the Bishop of Norwich. He asked the question, “Why don’t we cheer when we hear the Gospel read?” Why? Why indeed?

As he pointed out, the things being said are truly amazing and wonderful. Just think about that account of the first coming of the Holy Spirit, the disciples were so overcome with joy and excitement some people thought that they must be drunk! (see Acts 2.13)

This Sunday I celebrate the Church’s birthday. I celebrate the day when the Holy Spirit was given to Jesus’ friends. But the Spirit came in power 2,000 years ago and I am still too like those disciples hiding in a locked room. I’m sure I’m not alone when I too often keep my faith in Jesus to myself; locked up inside me for fear, for fear of ridicule or of simply being thought of as a bit odd. But then I’m English and for us religion is a private matter. Religion has caused too many divisions and wars in my country for us to want to make it anything other than a private matter. Put like this, even asking the question, “How do I bring myself to leave our locked room?” or “How do I manage to share my faith?” feels threatening, it makes me uncomfortable. It’s as though the Church has received an amazing birthday present but has decided to put it back in the box!

I remember growing up that my Dad would never make a fuss. He would rather eat a cold meal at a restaurant that make a scene. My Mam was the opposite. Some things were worth making a fuss about; being short-changed in a shop, poor food or rude service would not be allowed to pass. I can see my Dad cringing even now. I can also see my Church cringing in the same way, every time it is called upon to speak confidently about Jesus.

The Church doesn’t want to offend anyone – so we say nothing. We say nothing offensive. We say nothing of any great note either:

Nothing exciting.

Nothing life changing.

Nothing challenging.

People say, “Good old Church of England”, they perhaps feel a warm sense of national nostalgia but that is all.

When the Holy Spirit first touched and filled me with power, it was like all the lights went on at once. The world was suddenly a different place. It was a little like that first Pentecost. Christianity may have been many things to me then but it certainly wasn’t warm and cosy! I suddenly realised that I was indeed worshipping the God who created heaven and earth. I felt alive with that divine power. I was filled with the one who gives life or death – The source of love, joy, peace, kindness, self-control and so much more – The one who made sense of my pretty mixed up life.

In that moment I realised that Christianity is not a faith of half measures. Christ demands everything and in a miracle gives even more back.

I know that I don’t have the luxury of pretending that Jesus isn’t lord of my life. Jesus is lord, so I need to follow where he commands or stop calling him lord. I must trust everything to him and obey. Or at least I try to. The amazing thing is that even when I fail, I’m not court-martialled as I deserve. When I fall my lord becomes my loving brother, he helps me up and cares for me. Each time I fall I learn again that nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

The problem is that I am too often ready to fall when the Spirit has given me the strength to stand. I trust the loving safety net when I should be bold. I’m learning now to strive more for Jesus and use that safety net as it was meant to be – as a last resort.

I am learning that if I am not committed to Christ, how can I expect to invite anyone else to commitment. I have learned too that in trusting the Spirit in me I find meaning and contentment – I find healing and strength – I find love and joy too. In short I am finding the more I give, the more I receive. The more I receive the more I can live a godly life. The more I live a godly life the more I find myself sharing and giving. Then the more I give… and round I go again.

There are plenty of other creeds and faiths shouting to be heard. This year I need to open my birthday present, not leave it in it’s box. I need to remember the power of God; stand up, be counted and let the love and power of the Spirit flow.

Happy Birthday, now open your present!

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Thy Kingdom Come

I like new things, new innovations, ideas and technologies. I love my laptop and my smart phone. I love the way I can get to all of my music anywhere that I can reach the internet. I love the new, but that doesn’t mean that everything old is no longer of value. I look out of my window at a tree towering into the sky. That oak tree is many times taller than me and much older. It is old and it’s kind are far older. The age and long history of the oak in England, just make that oak tree, and others like it, more valuable and precious, not less. I think that this world needs both the old and the new. The new drives the world forward with excitement, the old gives the foundation and the values that can ensure that the future is worth moving to.

One of the oldest prayers in the Church is Jesus’ prayer, that most know as “The Lord’s Prayer”. At the moment the Church here and around the world, is trying to pray and live one line of that prayer, “Thy Kingdom Come”. This special time of prayer has spread from the Church of England to almost every other denomination that I can think of. Each adapting it to their own needs and culture.

Thy Kingdom Come is a famous phrase from the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer. Words that many of us will have learned at school, as the children in the primary schools here are learning those words. It is great to know those words, but what do they mean?

They mean many things but they are a cry from the heart to a loving God, taught to us by Jesus himself. They are words to pray when things are good. When I am celebrating I pray “Thy Kingdom Come”, because I want God to join me in the party. I want to see him in the good things of this world; in the good things in my life. I pray Thy Kingdom Come when I see the world full of pain or hate or corruption. In those times I am calling out for healing now, and a better future. I am also praying for the time when all things will be made whole.

There are lots of materials to help get involved. When I visited the website: https://www.thykingdomcome.global/, I was almost overwhelmed by the variety. I can’t share everything here but I will share just two short videos, where Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, talks to two very different people about what “Thy Kingdom Come” means to them.

 

The sun is shining

I woke up this morning with a smile on my face. As I write this, I keep being distracted by the sun shining brightly, by the birds and the business of the natural world outside of my window. I can smell the coffee brewing too. On mornings like this I feel on top of the world. It’s a great feeling.

There are though mornings that are far less bright. Mornings of grey cloud and drizzle. Sometimes, the sun can be shining outside, but inside all is still grey. Sadness, is a fact of life. Sometimes, I’ve messed up and feel the weight of my stupidity, particularly if my foolishness has hurt another. Sometimes, there is nothing that I can put my finger on, the greyness just is.

It is days like that when I need encouragement. I look for that encouragement from God, directly through his Spirit. I often find that when I have troubles I can offer them to him, and I feel them lifted, completely, or just a little. Sometimes, I know that I just have to hold that unseen hand and carry on, encouraged by those around me.

Then I’m in the sunshine again. When I am, I try to remember the feel of the grey. I want to remember so that I can be encouragement for someone who is feeling far from bright and cheerful. Perhaps with a word, perhaps just sitting beside someone and being company in a hard time.

This Country has Deep Roots

This country has deep roots: A rich history. Yesterday I visited the city of St. Albans. I looked around and felt as though I was being pulled into the deep waters of time. I soaked up the Roman Museum and then visited the Roman Amphitheatre. It was amazing to look down onto the stage where plays entertained the crowds almost two thousand years ago. I then marvelled at the modern Medieval Abbey.

We have the same deep roots, here in Norfolk; with Roman villas and towns, and the wonderful medieval city of Norwich. I love walking around the ruined Roman walls at Caister St. Edmund, imagining the sights, sounds and smells of the long gone town.

Looking at the marks of history I notice a pattern. I notice that what was built reflected what people believed and felt to be important.

I see churches dedicated to a power and hope greater than that of the builders. I see schools, church and secular, dedicated to learning and growing. I feel the Christian heritage of this country, and county.

I feel the effect of people trying to live Jesus’ words, “I came so that everyone would have life, and have it in its fullest.” (John 10.10I hear, “I came so that everyone would have life, and have it in its fullest” and I wonder what we value today, and what our legacy might be…

God bless.

Deep Roots…

Hi,

I’m on Park Radio again at 7.45 am on Sunday morning and my post this week is the short talk I’ve prepared for that. I don’t feel right about posting it before I spoken on the radio so it will not go out here until 8am tomorrow. If you want to follow it life instead you can tune in on 107.6 FM (Diss & Eye) or 105.2 FM (Harleston), or online at  http://www.parkradio.co.uk/

God bless…

It feels good to be alive!

I’ve been enjoying the sunny weather. It is great to have warmth and light after the cold, wet and grey weather for only a few weeks ago. I look out of my window and see the forsythia in full bloom, the hyacinths are everywhere and together with the magnolia, the garden is bathed in a warm heady scent. The birds are singing and darting and I can already hear the first high pitched cheeping of chicks.

It feels good to be alive! I sat out and ate in the warmth and even the feral cat that lives in the garden came to sit by me, just out of reach. It feels good to be alive!

I know that there is so much happening in the world. My post of only yesterday was about gathering clothes for Syrian refugees and an ongoing campaign to make sure that Syrian refugee children get the education they deserve, so that one day they can rebuild their ancient country. If you missed it, please have a read here: https://nigeltuffnell.wordpress.com/2018/04/20/help-for-syrian-refugees/

Even with that I still can’t help feeling happy to be alive.

That made me wonder, “Am I wrong?”, “Am I wrong to be happy, when so many are not?” I pondered for a while, and firstly, whatever the answer, I still feel happy. Secondly, I don’t think that it is wrong. What good would my being miserable do for those in Syria? I would probably just give up and do nothing! Then I thought some more and went online. There I saw the problems in Syria, and in the refugee camps. But I also saw children playing and laughing, at least some of the time. I saw those who have a place at school loving their lessons. I even saw young people using Alepo for parkour; running and jumping up and over the ruined buildings.

I thought some more and I realised that the people who have fled war or are still caught up in it, they don’t want to be sad and miserable. They want to be happy. They want to be able to enjoy life, even just a little bit, even in a refugee camp. Tomorrow I may be sad. But today I’m happy. I will make that happiness a prayer to the Father who gives life to all. I hear again the say, “I came so that everyone would have life, and have it in its fullest.” (John 10.10)  I want those people who have been traumatised by war to discover again that “It feels good to be alive!”

I hear that and I’m thankful that today I am happy to be alive, with no guilt, none at all.

I hear that and pray for some joy and happiness to break through the shadow of the war in Syria; for the light to shine, and faces to smile.

Help for Syrian Refugees

Hi,

The call for clothes for Syrian refugees has come again.

Clothes: The next shipment to Syria goes out in May, with a cut off date for donations of 18th May. All clothing in good condition would be greatly appreciated including, bedding, towels, sleeping bags, shoes, handbags. If you live in the Harleston area you can leave your donations in St. John’s (open during the day), or contact me.

Money: If anybody would like to donate money to help with the transport costs that would be most welcome as each banana box costs approximately £5 to ship! Please follow this link to donate: https://mydonate.bt.com/events/samarasaidappeal/436868

Education: Also, please follow the link below, watch the video, and support an urgent campaign to encourage world leaders to keep their promise to provide education for Syrian refugee children: https://theirworld.org/news/magician-dynamo-film-highlights-broken-promise-on-schooling-for-syrian-refugee-children

Are we just violent apes, or can we be more?

I experienced something very disturbing recently. I was close by when a driver completely ‘lost it’ in heavy traffic in Norwich. He was shouting and screaming and swearing at another driver who had tried to filter in ahead of him. When the traffic started moving the other driver just let him through, and off he went. But it was deeply unsettling to see a middle-aged man so angry over almost nothing at all. It just reminds me how seemingly reasonable people can descend into being little more than angry apes, so very easily. Anger and violence seem to be hard wired in us and I thought, “Are we just violent apes, or can we be more?”

This morning (Saturday), I woke up to the news that the USA, supported by the UK, and France had carried out air strikes in Syria in response to a chemical weapons attack. Followed by news reporters speculating on the parallels to the run up to earlier wars, like the World War I, and asking how close we are to all out war with Russia. Again violence, and more violence. I thought again, “Are we just violent apes, or can we be more?”

I listen to the news and look around me and I’m tempted to the answer, “We are just violent apes, and can never be more!” Then part of me thinks, “Would it be better if some idiot with a nuclear trigger got rid of the plague of humanity from this planet?” Thankfully, that is not the end of it. I’m drawn to Psalm 42.5, “Why are you downcast , O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.”

I reflect on those ancient words and I’m dragged out of my dark thoughts into a reflection on God’s patience with his creatures. I reflect on how God made a beautiful world, a perfect and peaceful world, and look what we have done to it. But unlike me, God’s reaction was one of love and only love. God saw the mess and cared. He sent Jesus to give us a better way, a way of peace.

As I remember this, any thoughts of violence or despair drain away from me. I need that peace from God. I need flooding with that peace, just to have the strength to overcome the temptation to be all too human. I need God’s peace, and thankfully he gives his love and peace to me freely. I look around me and have a sneaky feeling that I’m not the only one who needs it too.

I remember, and I recall the 1,000 peace cranes made by children in and around Harleston. I remember their trip to the United Nations in New York, to the edge of space and finally I remember them being laid by Robin Twigge with thousands  of other colourful cranes in the Peace Memorial Park, Hiroshima, Japan (thanks Robin, for the picture below).

I reflect on peace and know that I need to rest in the peace of God to have any chance of being a good person, never mind a Godly person. That’s why I lead a meditation group. That’s why I teach meditation from my own Christian tradition. I have found that experience of peace essential to coping in this rushed and often violent world. It may not be for everyone but I offer what I’ve found in the hope that it will at least help some.

I go back to my question, “Are we just violent apes, or can we be more?” I ponder, and despite so much evidence to the contrary I know that the answer is, “Yes, yes we can be more.” .

I hear again those ancient words echo down the centuries, “Why are you downcast , O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.” (Psalm 42.5) I hear and can hope once again.

Am I wrong?

Do you sometimes have doubts? Honestly, do you sometimes wonder? … Am I wrong? Do you? Then the story of Thomas is for you. Thomas, who was one of the 12, was not there when Jesus came to the other apostles. Thomas didn’t see Jesus so he refused to believe the others. It just couldn’t be true. The others must have been having him on: Laughing at gullible Thomas. So Thomas didn’t believe. (see John 20.19-end)

It seems strange to us. Then we know the rest of the story. Thomas was grief stricken and in shock from all that had happened to Jesus and the mission that they had all shared with Jesus. Thomas, like the others had given up everything to follow Jesus but all their hopes and dreams had died with Jesus on the Cross. Thomas had let himself believe the impossible once, and that hope had been brutally ripped away. Thomas was not going to make the same mistake twice. Now wasn’t the time for fanciful stories. No, now was the time for slipping quietly away and maybe, just maybe, he and the other followers of Jesus could escape from Jerusalem with their lives.

I have a lot of sympathy for Thomas. He, like Peter, is shown to be human with human weaknesses. Peter denied Jesus, the other disciples ran away, and now Thomas doubts the resurrection of Jesus. These stories give me hope. Hope for myself, because I know myself to be far from a perfect disciple of Jesus. Hope also for most of the people that I meet, those who try but fail: Those who believe but also doubt.

The story of Thomas, allows me to be honest with God about my doubts. I do not have to pretend. Indeed, it is crucial that I am honest about these things because it is only when I am honest that Jesus can sort me out. When I bring my honest doubts and my weaknesses to Jesus, then he can cure them, just as he cured Thomas’ doubt. Thomas believed and later died willingly for that belief.

It is like a story told by the late Jesuit Priest, Anthony de Mello in his book The Song of the Bird:

A preacher put this question to a class of children: “If all good people were red and all bad people were green, what colour would you be?”

Little Mary Jane replied, “I’d be streaky!”

I am streaky, you are streaky, Thomas, Peter, and the other disciples were all streaky. That is how I am, because that is how God made me. I might want to be something else, but that isn’t God’s plan for me; at least not yet. Perhaps I’m streaky so that God’s wisdom and power can be all the more obvious through my weakness. I am not the important one, God is.

Happy Easter

I can hear the birds beginning to sing as I head out to the 6am Sunrise Service.

Happy Easter!