Our search for a hero is expressed in so many ways… making idols of sporting teams, flirting with extremist politics, or obsession with the Hollywood myths- like Superman.
What a fabulous kite! Dipping and soaring on the wind, brightly coloured, ingeniously designed- but powerless. Much like the comic book universe that puts our longings into the box office. At one level, much religious activity is based on unfulfilled wishes- so “gods” were manufactured out of wood, stone, or precious metals. The forces of nature are seen as divine: spirits of trees, water, and fire. Even animals can be worshipped. Bulls are strong, lions are courageous, eagles are majestic…
In the 20th century, two colossal wars caused awful loss of life and dreadful destruction. No wonder fictional heroes gained even more attraction. Add the incredible “special effects” of modern film-making, and the impossible happens before our eyes.
Is it surprising that many have abandoned “faith” as hollow and powerless? We have lost trust in politics, church, and morality. Give us Superman! If nothing else, Superman would lift responsibility and guilt from our shoulders… we could leave everything to the superhero.
Now, if Jesus had worn a red cape and Y-fronts over a jumpsuit… Would everybody have thronged to follow Him instead of crucifying Him?
The way of Jesus is the opposite of acting out a superhero fantasy.
Love, grace, life-transforming teaching, some miracles; but embracing Death in order the shatter the power of Death forever.
He could have called 10,000 angels- but instead He chose the path of willing obedience. Out of that humility, new life was birthed through Resurrection- the Father’s “Amen” to the self-giving of Jesus. WE are called to make Jesus our model, inspiration, and goal- not to yearn for “superhero myths” but to walk in humble Love.
“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.“ (Phil. 2:5)
Dying rose… “Raspberry Ripple” is melting away. Should I be sad?
Just one flower. It lived its life, shared its beautiful colour, and promises more roses next summer.
It’s unusual to post a photo of an imperfect failing flower. Yet many of us in Britain and beyond have been impacted by the passing of Queen Elizabeth- and Death is something we are thinking of and talking about. Hence a tragic rose…
Gardening gives frequent reminders of mortality! We do our best to tend our plants, experiment with new ones, and enjoy successes. The flip side is losing plants to pests, accident, old age, or frost. Our attempts to “control” a garden are destined to (at least) partial failure: and some of us provide the kiss of death to any green growth!
Death is the gateway at the end of a season or a life. It may be delayed, but cannot be cheated. But it can be overcome; and the fear of death need not hold us in its grip.
It is coming up for three years since I was diagnosed with cancer. The horrible moment when the doctor breaks the bad news and explains what (if any) treatment is possible… Then the haste to perform surgery. My surgeon walked me down to the operating theatre, meeting the highly competent team- and I wasn’t feeling scared. That day I fully understood the promise of Jesus of “a peace that passes human understanding.” I now have a nice big physical scar- but not emotional/spiritual ones.
Somewhen in the next two months I will be going for scans to check my health and (hopefully) confirm the cancer is gone. Watch this space…
There will be a day when time runs out for my body, one way or another! God’s promises will still hold good. “He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The LORD has spoken.” (Isaiah 25 v8)
In Revelation 21:4 is a vision of a perfect existence with God when the fears and tears of death will have lost all their power: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Our rose is dead- long live the Rose!
The final Word is from Jesus Himself: John 11:25-26
“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though they die. Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?“
It wasn’t that we were “lost”, exactly… But reading and understanding the signs was tricky. To make it more urgent, an Alpine thunderstorm was heading our way: and we were up an Alp looking for the way back to Scheffau. Scheffau wasn’t on the signpost as a destination.
A little bit of guidance would be nice! By the way- we made it down OK.
“We spend too long in our life trying to figure out where God wants us to be … instead of just allowing God to do something with our life where we are.”(Author unknown)
Christians agonise over finding God’s guidance, and we worry so much that we don’t actually DO anything until we are certain of God’s Will. At the risk of upsetting some fellow believers, I’m going to say that when we live like that we may be getting it wrong!
Does God have a perfect plan for our lives? Yes- but not necessarily in the way we think. Our life purpose is wrapped up in something much bigger: God’s purpose. Consider the Book of Esther in the Old Testament. Esther, the Queen, faces a dilemma. The Israelites are threatened with death. But for Esther to help, she has to take an enormous risk. Esther 4:14 is interesting. “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”
We usually quote the last part of the verse: note it says “Who knows?” It’s a question. They weren’t sure. They knew God wanted to save the people- His larger purpose. They knew Esther had been told of the plot. But did they know for sure what Esther was supposed to do? Apparently not!
There will be times when you’ve gathered all the information, you’ve prayed as well as you know how, you’ve sought godly advice; what you are doing is not sinful … but there is something inside of you that’s still not sure. WE have to trust that if we are following God and seeking His purpose, HE will work out the rest! Don’t wait to be 100% convinced: just be 100% available.
The most familiar words can become filled with greater meaning when they are placed in a new setting. As I looked at the photo taken in a remote fjord in Norway, the morning tranquility reminded me of that well-known Psalm “The Lord is my Shepherd.” So as I thought about the ancient truth of David’s song of faith, I tried to put it in my own words- not to “improve” it (!) but to make it personal. Perhaps my effort will bring ancient Truth alive through these new words.
It still is a stunning memory. I glided above the tops of unknown mountains. Far ahead, the sun rose splendidly, and it felt as though I was being kept in the air by God himself. According to my memory, I was about 12 and this is the earliest dream that I have ever remembered. What a psychologist might say about an interpretation is best left to the imagination!
Enjoying a lovely childhood in a loving family, with few things likely to cause lasting trauma, I suspect that I was as ordinary as most 12-year-olds. Perhaps a bit more imaginative and expressive than some, and certainly cheeky. This was the year when I made my first conscious choice to believe in Jesus Christ and begin a life as a follower of his Way.
If my dream was a kind of vision-dream holding out the prospect of a straightforward and glorious life full of beauty and wonder (and no problems) then it has failed. Life isn’t like that- at least in my experience. That doesn’t make it valueless.
Ever since that dream, I have felt drawn to mountains: photos or paintings, word-pictures in books of adventures, and even the black and white TV trying to do justice to a world inherently colourful. The first time I saw a real mountain was in my late teens when a group of friends travelled in a knackered old Commer minibus all the way to North Wales. Here we climbed through mist and rain up the slopes of Tryfan to the summit. Damp and weary we looked out and the clouds concealing Snowden unfurled.
The reality of mountains is far more awe-inspiringly wonderful than any dream.
In the same way, the reality of fulfilled faith will exceed my best hopes- even my best imagination. My faith isn’t built on that 12-year-olds dream, though sometimes I wish everything would go as smoothly as my first “flight…”
I dreamed I was flying.
The Apostle Paul made an obscure reference to “being caught up to the third heaven” (see 2 Corinthians 12 v2). Bible interpreters and scholars have been wondering about that ever since. Really, we don’t know what Paul meant or experienced: the most likely explanation is that Paul felt lifted into the very presence of God himself. (That ties in with the known beliefs of the period.)
Paul refused to boast about this revelation, even speaking in the third person as if it had happened to somebody else: and he even talks about being given “a thorn in the flesh” (v7) to keep him humble. Annoyingly, we don’t know what this thorn was either. Suggestions have ranged from some form of chronic illness right the way through to a crabby mother-in-law!
It seems the Corinthians were fascinated by visions and dreams, and Paul does his best to stop them from fastening onto an exciting tale. Paul uses his own experience to point them to an important truth. Whatever our knowledge, gifting, or experience, whatever our strengths or our weaknesses, we are called to be servants of Christ and to love others in every way we can.
When we are young, we often behave as if we were immortal, acting without regard to risks and dangers. Then comes that moment in life where the first serious illness, accident or loss invades our being. We suddenly must grow up. Christian faith isn’t a divine insurance policy against the unpleasantness of life. Knowing “God is with us” is not the same thing as saying that “only good things should happen to us.”
Since I started with my dream, I want to finish with a snapshot of my experience in Christian ministry.
As a newly-trained pastor I rather hoped the Kingdom of God would be demonstrated forthwith through me! I am glad that my first church was full of patient and kind Christians. During the 30 years of active ministry there were times of blessing, times of difficulty, and occasionally we all wondered where God had gone. Part of my life became learning how to deal with chronic illness, and how to develop a lifestyle that had some rhythm and grace evident in it.
Dreaming of flying is all very well, but there can be bumpy landings.
Without in any sense wanting to equate my life or ministry with that of the Apostle Paul, I think I have learned one of the lessons he did. Perhaps this will be an encouragement to some of you reading today: yes, “God is with us…” and the words of Jesus to Paul and the Corinthian church remain equally true now. Jesus said: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (v9)
Three days in- so far, so good. Yesterday I enjoyed the privilege of preaching in our local church, speaking about the difference Christmas makes to every New Year. Simply put, it’s the description of Jesus as Immanuel, “God is with us.” Simple words, but deep, deep meaning.
I don’t know what 2022 will bring. But I’m confident that God is with us- whatever will be. That, in turn, means I expect to keep a sense of wonder and hope every day.
The wonder of seeing the frosted leaves, the snowfall, the sunrises and settings… the first signs of snowdrops, crocii, and daffodils… cherry blossom and roses… Restless seas and cloud-paintings, seagulls stunt-flying, the field mice and squirrels…
Stormy days and dark skies, the Milky Way like a chandelier over the sea. Gentle dew and charming streams, trees standing bold before our wondering eyes.
People living in kindness, sharing love and community.
Change. I’m hoping for change in politics and public life, with integrity and compassion displacing greed and sleaze. Change in the ways people behave and believe, learn and persuade. Truth becoming important, with a reaction against shallow sound-bites, dodgy websites, and manipulative extremists.
Health. I’m hoping for an end to this pandemic, and for respect and gratitude to be shown to good medicine and good science.
Ecology: for responsibility from all of us, doing what we can to look after the planet we’ve been given, with hope of reversing some of the damage.
Some hopes, eh?
God is with us. With that fact to hold onto, we can have high hopes indeed! Don’t lose the wonder. Every wondrous thing we see inspires true hope. I won’t see everything on my wish list happen in 2022 – but God is with us, therefore NOTHING good is impossible (even if it will be difficult).
The first frosty morning may be the first day of wonder- and hope.
I never know what I will find on the beach. Low tide is my favourite: as the sea retreats, the sand is sculpted into sinuous shapes by shifting waves. Shellfish leave their mark. Plants of strange forms and unexpected colours are there to admire- like this white “tree” standing out boldly against the sand and sky-painted rivulets.
Some tides bring in rubbish, old tins and perennial plastics. I suppose we might say the flotsam and jetsam of 2021 has largely been junk!
When the opposite happens, though, we have memories of beauty, love, courage, and service.
Concentrating only on the rubbish is unhealthy. Most people have found 2021 hard and hostile, and we’re glad to see the back of it. Whatever your experiences this year, will you try to find one (at least) moment of joy and life to remember- and give thanks God for that?
Looking ahead… no-one is master of tide or weather. But a simple prayer for us all:
“May you find life in unexpected places.”
Keeping our hearts, eyes, and ears open for those special life-affirming moments, we may meet a person, embrace an opportunity, fulfil a hope… and may the God of Hope grant you inner peace and an everlasting love.
There’s a verse in Ecclesiastes Ch. 3 that states “God has put eternity in our hearts.” May the year 2022 bring us hope, peace and joy- and may we find life where we don’t expect it.