An Obvious Symbol

Some things are obvious. So are some people, and their legacy stands out clearly. High above the valley of the Stubaital in the Austrian Tyrol stands a stainless steel Cross. It is anchored in concrete, and supported by steel hawsers to resist the savage winds and storms that strike the Alps. This cross can be seen for miles and miles; there is a pathway from the Schlick cable-car, and walkers can sit and gaze out over a glorious panorama.

It is an obvious symbol of the Christianity that has influenced Europe for untold generations. The cross cannot be missed. People may ask for an explanation or reflect on its message- but if they come here, they cannot miss it.

Today another obvious symbol, a 99 year-old preacher, has died. Billy Graham spent his entire adult life pointing to Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. His words were clear, his character transparent, and his reputation unsullied. Billy Graham preached to more people than anyone else in history; untold numbers of people were challenged about their life-purpose and their need for the forgiving and accepting love of God. Many who are now Christians were converted under Billy’s ministry.

His faith and assurance have been a wonderful witness to God’s grace. Billy once said:  “Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.” – Billy Graham

Billy Graham has been a man I admire greatly, whose courage and obedience to the Lord make him a hero in my eyes. His whole life was spent shining the Light of Jesus Christ to anybody he could reach, anywhere he could go.

I thank God for Billy Graham. I will try to let my light shine just as boldly and as obviously as I can. I hope others will take courage from Billy’s example of active faith.

Rest in peace- and Rise in Glory!  For Billy Graham and for us: a blessing of peace, guidance, and hope.

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Celtic Christian stone Cross on Dartmoor, near Moretonhampstead.

It’s so ANNOYING!!!

It’s so frustrating. I’d even go so far as to say ANNOYING. I want to be cross. Grrrr…
 
I am quite a peaceable bloke. I don’t often want to kick things (or people) but I could make an exception in this case. Am I allowed? Aren’t I supposed to be nice? Even meek?
 
Hang on. Peaceful waterfall photograph… Steaming stroppy writer. What’s going on?Norway25th_0258cropQ
 
I am trying to get one of the big energy suppliers to do the decent thing (well, I do believe in miracles!). It’s proving difficult. I’m glad it’s not my supplier: but they really are the limit. For the umpteenth time I have been writing a friendly… er, no, a polite letter that is expressing frustration and anger at the way the company are trying to bully a customer and avoid responsibility for the company’s own failings. I hope this one works. Two pages of A4, typed politely and logically and OBSTINATELY and making some forceful points to a Jobsworth. Next letter goes to the Managing Director and Ombudsman.
 
The waterfall reminds me of the power of persistence. Water carves through the rock by refusing to stop flowing. It doesn’t give up.
 
It’s also calming. Remembering the day, standing and watching the beautiful curtain of white brushing across the surface of the cliff.
 
It reminds me of God’s patience too. His love has been gradually wearing down my resistance over the last fifty years- job not done yet, but this boulder is getting shaped by the power of love.
 
Why post this on a page about prayer? Because too often we Christians don’t know what to do with our anger, frustration and angst. What we should do is include it in our communion with Christ, as part of our prayer. To be quite honest I don’t feel like being particularly holy. I am raging at an injustice and the attempt to cover it up. But if I don’t express it in my praying, the turmoil of my mind will infect my spirit with unease, and my “prayer” would be a sham. Hey, Lord, I’m worked up about this!
 
I know I am in good company. Many of the great men and women in the Bible get hacked off and stroppy, and their prayers get real. God doesn’t smack then down for insolence or impiety.
 
Perhaps the value of the prayer is that it may change ME. No way can I ask God to strike down the offenders! Someone important said “LOVE your enemies.” I suppose my prayer is about needing strength to persist in fighting injustice… but not to become bitter or unjust myself. And not to yield to the temptation to kick some butt.
 
If only prayer was a simple formula of words. The One who offers Living Water wants to purify my heart, cleanse me of my annoyance, and teach me forgiveness. My heart is pretty hardened in this instance. Lord, please persist in wearing me down so I can forgive those who trespass against me and my “client” … and learn how to be justly, righteously, passionate about even the hardest boulders in life’s path. Teach me patience and persistence.
 
Persist. Living Water, flow through me. Amen.

Frost that chills the Soul

Frost that chills the soul Lent 2018The period from now until Easter is known as Lent. It is traditionally a time to consider our hearts as a preparation for the festival that follows.

In the U.K., Lent fits into the transition between winter and Spring. The weather changes daily. Yesterday was gale and driving rain; today is gloriously and warmly bathed in sunshine. A few days ago we had a sharp frost. I took this photo of frost-encrusted bramble leaves before the rising sun melted the icing. Frost enhances the shape and pattern of each leaf, and adorns it with a delicate sculpture of tiny ice crystals. Beautiful… but bitterly cold.

Taking this shock of icy cold as a starter, imagine what the Twelve felt like as Jesus spoke boldly and confrontationally about the true cost of discipleship. As He spoke, I suspect that a frost chilled their souls… “What have we let ourselves in for?”

Reflect on the following Bible passage- Mark 8:34-38 (NLT)

Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Immediately after this came the Transfiguration. After that, Good Friday looms. Then will come Resurrection.

Lent reminds us that before we get to the glory and celebration, first comes the frost that chills our souls. Only when we fully understand the cost can we fully enjoy Resurrection Life.

Take the time to feel the chill… and then embrace the hope.

Heavy weather

There’s always heavy weather. As the south-westerly gale brought the breakers crashing against Portland Bill, one feature stood out. Pulpit Rock stands four-square against the elements, unshakeable and solid. The conditions were, in typical British understatement, “bracing.” A few of us had braved the rain and gales to stand in awe at the ferocity of the sea. One brave soul climbed to the top of Pulpit Rock (using the carved footholds) and looked out to sea. Then, shortly afterwards, a small lobster fishing boat lurched into view, rolling and plunging in alarming fashion. The photo cannot do it justice!

I expect the crew thought it was a normal February day’s work. I thought “I hope they didn’t have greasy bacon for breakfast!”

Behind us stood one large and two smaller lighthouses, put there to warn and guide passing ships. The rocks of Portland Bill are hard and dangerous. Sailors must be warned, and if that fails, rescued.

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I feel rather like the climber. If the Rock represents my faith in God, much of my time for over 30 years has been spend on a solid foundation- looking out for and encouraging those going through the storms. The wind buffets me, but I am safe above the raging seas. Part of my responsibility has been to watch over and pray for the ones caught up in the storm.

I haven’t always succeeded. May God forgive me, and bless the ones that I failed.

Even when I have faithfully kept to my task, I can claim no credit for the help given, or even for the rescue of those caught in the heavy weather of life. What can I say to people, or even pray to God, when:

  • A much-loved child is ill, or is being bullied.
  • When work is so hard and the rewards are too few.
  • When the BBC News has only bad news and stark warnings.
  • Their diagnosis is serious, possibly even terminal.
  • A couple have reached the end of a marriage and want only to divorce.
  • God seems distant, and the storm is too strong.
  • At the graveside when deep love collides head-on with deep grief.

I have no easy answers.  I have learned some lessons, though.

  • Being there matters more than what I say.
  • God can do things that I cannot do. It doesn’t all depend on me (thank goodness!).
  • For me to stand on the Rock of truth means I am seen, a witness and herald, and recognised as one who depends on God. Then my faith in Jesus brings comfort to those who struggle to hold onto their own belief and trust in the crisis.

There will be stormy days.  Being caught at sea is dangerous. But our call is to go to those in peril, whatever the risk or cost. This is the motivation for Christians to go to wild places, and to look for those in danger of drowning; to give up their own hopes and ambitions so others might find solid ground on which to stand. Even standing on the rock can be cold and hazardous. That at least we can do!

Remember there are things that cannot be achieved without risk. Someone has to sail the boats. Who are you going to call? Who is watching out for you? Here’s a prayer of trust:

O LORD, I have come to you for protection; don’t let me be disgraced. Save me and rescue me, for you do what is right. Turn your ear to listen to me, and set me free. Be my rock of safety where I can always hide. Give the order to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.   Psalm 71:1-3 (NLT)

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Focus on the crocus!

Today has been good. Cold, but sunny- so I went for a walk round the green spaces near home.  At last, Spring is nearly here. Crocus blooming, a few daffodils waving merrily, snowdrops nodding.

It isn’t just the flowers that cheered me up. It was being able to go for a walk (or slow ramble, if you like). I set no records for distance or number of steps- but I did get out for a walk. That’s a win in my book.

Focus on the crocus! A simple thing, but gorgeous.

Seeing simply in a complicated world is a great discipline to learn. I could have stayed home in the warm, but I ventured out and in the simplicity of spring flowers I sensed the joy of God!  I didn’t sort out any problems, or solve a world crisis. But I was aware of God, and He is able to look after everything beyond my scope. As someone put it, as Christians we “are in sales, not management.”  We are walking adverts for grace and love- God must handle the big stuff.  If me walking round with a smile on my face and a prayer in my heart made any difference to anyone I met, that’s all I can take credit for. All because of a crocus or two.

Today- focus on ONE simple delight. Be grateful, and thank God. Leave the rest to Him.

 

Filling a Vacuum

“Nature abhors a vacuum.” This saying is traced back to the ancient Greek philosophers, probably Aristotle. It has become a statement of fact and observation. Whenever a vacuum exists, it seems that “nature” insists on filling it with something, even it is only air (a colourless, odourless, invisible mixture of gases).

My schoolboy physics is pretty limited but I have seen this in action. On a field trip, my Thermos flask knocked against a tree branch. As the glass inner vacuum tube shattered, air rushed in, chasing the coffee out and making a right mess. Now I have a stainless steel vacuum flask, and that works perfectly.

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Adult life sees more proof in the existence of Hoovers (other brands of vacuum cleaners are available). They suck up the dirt so well. Didn’t Mr Hoover do well to nick the name- even when using a Dyson we say we’re doing the hoovering.

I’ve been thinking about “vacuum” because life-changes make vacuums. I used to have certain obligations and responsibilities at work. Paper round- must deliver. Digging graves for the council as a summer job- they have to be a set size and shape, and in those days it was done with a pickaxe and a spade. Office work… college course… Christian ministry… There were always expectations, timetables, diaries, accountability.

Now I am “retired” and my time is my own (mostly… Juliet has some ideas!).

I’ve started to notice there is a pressure. How will that time be filled? Horror of horrors- if not used profitably, there is daytime television to leach away the will to live… Honestly, I don’t need a funeral plan, I won’t borrow at 1,295%, and I’ve seen those shows before… Save me!

There is time to explore new possibilities. There are many things I could do; and many others that I have had to give up. I’m writing this as part of my response, to find useful ways of using gifts and energy.  I love words, I love pictures. Rather than watch “Homes under the Hammer” I am using this blog as a kind of journal, exploring me-in-my-new-world and hoping somebody else may find common interest.

To leave my life as a vacuum is dangerous. Unless I choose what to fill myself with, something else will take up the space.  “We put forth our best effort to defeat our worst habits. But every attempt to get rid of unclean thoughts, attitudes, and desires is destined to fail because getting rid of one creates a vacuum in our souls. As soon as we empty ourselves of one vice, others move in to take its place, and we end up just as bad or worse than when we started.” – Julie Ackerman, Daily Bread

I need help to fill my vacuum. Writing this is a way of building a structure that can contain the wealth of grace that is available if I make time for God and choose to focus on Christ-like attitudes and actions. Writing helps me think and therefore to pray. Balancing writing with silence and contemplation, and allowing time to seek Presence in Creation and beauty… that will fill the vacuum with what is good, holy, and true.

My photo today was taken down at the beach as a storm was clearing away. A sky full of rain emptied… and sunlight turned it into a double rainbow. A sign of Hope, of Promise, and of Presence. May the Light shine in me; may I be filled with Christ-Light.

Ephesians 3:14-19 (NLT)  When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. 

Seeing with the eyes of the heart

Changes beget changes.

I didn’t expect to be doing this. My calling was to be a local church pastor.  You may find that odd- do normal people still do stuff like that? (Depends on how you define normal.)  Life changed in unforeseen ways. That’s why I now have the time to write- I was moving too fast before.

Thirty years in different communities, discovering how interesting people can be and what surprising things they have done; discovering more of my own centre, and the diverting experiences that made life so varied. Being a pastor isn’t all about Sundays. Much of my time has been spent on encouraging and managing change in others. Change for others also means change for me.

I have been learning how to see better. When I rushed busily around, I only skimmed the surface- the obvious things. Having been forced to slow down, I am discovering the more I look the more I see.  The more I see, the more I pray. The more I pray, the more I know about myself, about God, and what makes sense.

Look at the photo. An early morning in a misty Norwegian fjord. At first glance, it was a dull and disappointing day. Then I began to look harder- I had the time, nowhere else to be.  The perfect reflection on the mirror-like water, subtle changes of the colours in the soft light,  and the sense of amazing peace. No-one else was up. Work hadn’t started for most of us, and there was no traffic noise. It was almost silent.

Quietness is an invitation to see more deeply.  Time spent “looking” opens the eyes of the heart- and that opens the spirit to the revelation of love and grace that is God.

My hope is that pictures can be worth a thousand words: and with a few chosen words we can explore together so we see, think, and feel more deeply. No longer blinded by busyness… may God open the eyes of my heart.

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