Living in the struggles – Look, See, Pray

Camellias have a tough time in British winters. They often set bud early, and can flower from January onward. Luscious blooms glow gorgeously in the low-angled sunlight, and the bushes bring vibrant colour to dark days.

013spring180318crop

Then the snow comes, and the frost bites.  Today’s pictures were taken in the garden just a few hours apart. A beautiful golden evening led into a freezing cold night and a smattering of fine snow. Harsh conditions for a delicate-looking flower. Despite the cold, the plants survive. Blooms may turn brown and drop (always a sad sight) but the bush fights on. Next year it will flower again.

A life lesson from camellias. Keep on with the struggles- as a wise person once said “This too shall pass.”  We can’t “give” a bush human qualities, but if vegetation can keep going, surely so too can we- or at least, we can try.

001camellia0218faithfulness

We can choose to exercise trust.

God shows himself to be good, holy, and loving. The supreme revelation of His character is seen in the character and actions of Jesus.

Now then: Jesus may have lived perfectly but He still struggled with the “winter” of hostility. Warm words and appreciation turned to damning lies and yells of hatred.  The truly Beautiful was scarred, betrayed, judged unfairly, and executed brutally.

On the third day… Resurrection!

Even more wonderful, Jesus overcame the power of Death for all. Because He died and rose, we have a hope that is everlasting.

When all seems lost, when the fight is on, the frost is biting… remember the faithfulness of God.

Hold onto what you know. This too shall pass. We may have questions, doubts, tears. But we still have hope- the confident expectation that Jesus will do as He has promised.

Apparently next Monday, the 21st January, is called “Blue Monday” because the scientists have calculated that is when we are most miserable after Christmas:  we are short of cash, overloaded with calories, and regretting the resolution to join the gym.

Try this instead- go and look for a camellia, or snowdrops, or an early daffodil. Gaze at it, appreciate it, value it- and take it as a marker of hope. Remind yourself to actively choose to trust God’s love and faithfulness, His compassion and mercy.

May the God of hope grant peace, joy, and eternal blessing to you today.

 

Come to the Quiet- Look, See, Pray

Quietness found beside the restless sea… The weather forecast had suggested a heavy swell propelled by a cold front moving down from the north, but here on the south coast  all was calm and the slow, low ripples scarcely made a sound.

Cold? Oh yes, it was cold. The breeze blowing off the land betrayed its parentage, slicing through my thin jacket. A distant, bundled dog-walker moved faster than the dog wanted to go! Central heating and a cup of hot tea was the desire of a thick-coated human, whereas a thin-coated dog explored sand, seaweed, and sea-strand with pleasure.

My imagination kicked in. Did Jesus stand on the sea shore on a cold morning, watching the sky-veil torn asunder? Do the angels pause on their journeying, taking in the fresh beauty at the start of a new day?

When the world began, and the Spirit of the Lord hovered broodily over the waters, was it this quiet and peace that drew the morning words “It is good…”

Here is a short prayer, an invitation to rest in the shalom-presence of the Eternal Lord.

come to the quiet p1020140ed1

May the Peace of Christ be with us, always. Amen.

Christ, as a light – Look, See, Pray

A prayer for the beginning of a New Year- a prayer suitable for any day. It is taken from the Daily Office of the Northumbria Community, and published in their beautiful “Celtic Daily Prayer” collection.

2018 has been a year of confusion and darkness. Beginning this new year with an invocation of the Light of Christ offers a fresh start with our vision centred on Jesus is important. It isn’t about asking God to “be on our side” … rather it is a statement of intent that we wish to be on His side, and serve the kingdom of heaven here on Earth.

May Christ be with us in 2019.

Christ, as a light
illumine and guide me.
Christ, as a shield
overshadow me.
Christ under me;
Christ over me;
Christ beside me
on my left and my right.
This day be within and without me,
lowly and meek, yet all-powerful.
Be in the heart of each to whom I speak;
in the mouth of each who speaks unto me.
This day be within and without me,
lowly and meek, yet all-powerful.
Christ as a light;
Christ as a shield;
Christ beside me
on my left and my right.

 

Celtic Daily Prayer, (c) The Northumbria Community Trust Ltd.
https://www.northumbriacommunity.org/

 

 

Stony Road

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA
MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

So close to Christmas. One more Advent theme to remember: Advent Love.

We can lose sight of Christmas in all the jollity and feasting. There’s nothing wrong with jollity, and feasting is always good to share. Advent lays the foundation for the feast by reminding us of the true cost of Christmas.

Singing sweet carols and looking at antiseptically clean manger scenes may prevent us thinking about the mess, the agony of labour, the presence of animals in the delivery room. The stony road up to Bethlehem giving sore feet and an aching back. No soft option existed for Mary, Joseph or Jesus. A new chapter was written in tears that began to wash away the sins of the world.

God prepared the Way. God paid the biggest bills. Love came down at Christmas… into a mucky confusion of noise and smells and threats. The stony road to Bethlehem foretold a stony road from Jerusalem to Golgotha. Birth and brutal execution begin and end the chapter. Love was willing to pay. Love turns Advent into Incarnation.

The steel Cross in the photograph is on a peak in the Austrian Alps, standing bold over the valley below. Walking up to the Cross is hard and stony- but the view is magnificent from the foot of the Cross. All the world is spread out below- and those who live in the valley look up and see the Cross watching over their village. God loved the world so much He gave His Son. This is Advent Love.

As the final hours of Advent slip away, walk that stony road of love. Walk with Mary & Joseph, walk with those journeying, walk with the shepherds who will shortly be summoned to take a rough road to see a Baby. Love remembers all things, and can see past the tinsel to touch a heavenly Crown. May God bless our journey, and our arising to greet the new-born Son.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Grasping at Straws? Or sharing hope?

I’ve been thinking about life in this world where so much is chaotic and painful. Feeling deeply grateful that faith in Christ reminds us that we can have a hope that transcends the weight of the news, politics, homelessness and lovelessness that bombards our senses every day.
 
Every year the farmer sows in hope of a harvest. Those seeds experience dirt, cold, heat, rain, drought, storms, bugs, light and darkness. Yet still they grow and bring comfort and sustenance… after being bashed, threshed and baked! They give life to others: and some seeds who avoid the baker will be re-sown for the harvest the year after. Life wins!
 
Quote from Henri Nouwen: “Our mortal bodies, flesh and bones, will return to the earth. As the writer of Ecclesiastes says: “Everything goes to the same place, everything comes from the dust, everything returns to the dust” (Ecclesiastes 3:20). Still, all that we have lived in our bodies will be honoured in the resurrection, when we receive new bodies from God.
What sorts of bodies will we have in the resurrection? Paul sees our mortal bodies as the seeds for our resurrected bodies: “What you sow must die before it is given new life; and what you sow is not the body that is to be, but only a bare grain, of wheat I dare say, or some other kind; it is God who gives it the sort of body that he has chosen for it, and for each kind of seed its own kind of body” (1 Corinthians 15:36-38). We will be as unique in the resurrection as we are in our mortal bodies, because God, who loves each of us in our individuality, will give us bodies in which our most unique relationship with God will gloriously shine.”
 
Love wins.
Those who hold to this hope can make a difference in this life for those who are desperate for any harvest. Nations with wealth have responsibility to help those who have nothing. A real hope of eternity surely leads to working towards positive change.

That Loving Feeling…

Halfway through our worship service this morning I realised that I was feeling very happy and content. We were being led by musicians and singers from our youth group and they played well and sensitively.  Jamie engaged us in discovering who we are, and what God thinks of us, and my smile widened.

Please don’t jump to the conclusion that on the other weeks at church I have been miserable! Nothing could be further from the truth. Today was simply a special moment.

I didn’t just know my faith was true- I felt strangely comforted in my heart of hearts, the centre of my being.  Can I explain it? No, not really.  Can I depend on my feelings as a measure of my faith or the truth of Christian belief? No, my feelings can go up and down because of health, tiredness, weather or something that goes wrong and annoys me.

Are “loving feelings” good? YES! If my faith is only knowledge about God, or some hope of a better life after this miserable one… then something is wrong with me!  To know God is to love Him, and to experience REAL love is a distinctive way. Paul writes in Ephesians:

Ephesians 1:3-4 (Message)
How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love.

God’s love is His divine choice. He has set his heart on us. Today was one of those moments where it seemed that he whispered in my ear… “You are loved, and chosen, and I wanted to remind you!”

That loving feeling may not stay forever. But God’s love WILL last forever. Chosen before He dug the trenches for the foundation of the Universe, he has set his heart on little old Earth and those amazing yet exasperating human beings. Jesus came to this world so that we can be reconciled to the Creator, Lover, Sustainer, Provider and Redeemer- the Lord of All. No wonder there was a loving feeling involved! Whatever tomorrow brings, and however this uncertain life unfolds… God has loved US so we can love Him.

That’s the best feeling and the deepest Truth I know. May God whisper love in your ear today!

014HamertonZoo1017crop1nef
The cutest and most lovable Meerkat…

 

Eugene said “Slow Down…”

Eugene Peterson had a stated purpose to “change the pastoral imagination of pastors today,” to urge them “to slow down and to be present to their lives” so that they could help their congregations do the same. Eugene died this week.

There are some people I would love to have met. He is definitely one of them. Quite probably I would have been reduced to embarrassed mumbling and shamefaced excuses, because Eugene Peterson had a way of getting to the heart of big issues. That encounter would have exposed my shortcomings and excuses. Alongside that dread, I get the strong impression he would have been gracious and understanding: and would have done his best to help and encourage me. Peterson knew God and His ways: and he would have blessed me as I know he blessed many who did encounter him directly. He lived to bring Christ to many. His books helped me.

026wildflower 0718crop

I first read his book “Contemplative Pastor” at a time when the crazy pressures of ministry were burning out my soul. Complex problems needed solutions I couldn’t find, and rushing from A to B to X was grinding my heart to dust.

It wasn’t about losing faith, and there were blessings around in plenty. But… there was just too much of everything, and I needed help. Christian ministry is a calling that draws on the deepest part of the heart, and if we are not wise we can find that we are drying up on the inside. Preaching in the name of Jesus is a joy and a heavy responsibility. Pastoring people is a huge privilege and challenge. You get to share the whole gamut of human experience.

The emotional and spiritual cost of pouring yourself into the blender where real life mixes with heavenly Truth, and then trying to distil precious living words so others may draw closer to the Lord, is terribly high. Faced with the expectations of the congregation, the community, yourself, and what you think God expects- the spirit reels in shock and dread. I needed to learn that God is more gentle and patient than expected. He is also utterly Holy, amazingly gracious, and awesome beyond words.

There is a very unfunny “joke” about ministers only working one day a week. If people only knew how much that “joke” makes pastors want to throttle the jester! It is an act of grace to smile gently and refrain from applying the “right knee of fellowship.” (Let the reader understand!)

Most ministers I know work too long, too often, and too hard. It’s because we know that our words can be life or death. We don’t want to let anyone down. God called us, and we said “Yes.” It demands commitment of a high order.

“Slow down.” Recover the heart of your calling. Seek God for Himself; seek God because of love given and received. Seek God, because apart from Him we can do nothing.

Jesus took time out to be with his Heavenly Father. Jesus went into the wild places, the mountains, the lakeside. When He came back to the disciples and the crowds He knew His Father’s will- and obeyed it totally.

Reading “Contemplative Pastor” was refreshing if challenging. It was a lifeline to a weary soul because it put my hand back into the hand of Jesus. My mind was opened again to the dynamic rhythm of the Psalms and the Gospels. I re-learned the importance of retreat, of quiet, of silence and solitude. I discovered that there is a loving Father awaiting the “prodigal pastors” who run off to do God’s work for Him… and then find out they can’t and weren’t intended to. (I realise I have to be careful here- please don’t think I intended to draw a parallel between pastoring a church and tending the pigs!!!) 

Eugene’s life work taught many of us to slow down, not to be caught up in the folly of rushing, competing, or manipulating. He pointed me to Jesus again. Through Jesus, the Open Gate, I was able to come into the Presence of Holy Almighty God, Father, Son and Spirit.

One day I hope to thank Eugene Peterson. It will be a long queue!  Thank God for this fellow-servant, this deep well of Spirit-filled wisdom, and for the writings that still point to Jesus.

Oh yes- this advice to “slow down” doesn’t just apply to pastors. How is your rush-ometer doing? Seek God. Here is Eugene’s paraphrase of  Matthew 11:28-30 (Message)
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest.  Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” 

Slowing down… sounds good to me!