It’s Complicated – Look, See, Pray

wise old owl 0190Falconry2014_cropowl

“It’s complicated” said the Wise old Owl.

When I was in my twenties, most questions had simple answers. Except for a few that I preferred not to think about- thinking is hard work.

Thirty years old and I was becoming wiser (and probably less aggravating). But I discovered more and more issues couldn’t be resolved with a simple pat answer. I remember one lovely guy who looked me in the eye and said “Yes or no?” Um….

Books of great length had been written about this particular “hot potato” and even they didn’t have a definitive answer!

Passing years have seen the number of “simple” questions get smaller. The battle became one of understanding enough of the complications to be able to set out a simpler solution which still did justice to the broader topic and stayed true to God as He has disclosed Himself and His ways.

When these questions apply to our faith and behaviour as Christian disciples, we want simple straightforward answers “like it says in the Bible…”

Trouble is that on some things Christians interpret and understand parts of the Bible differently.

Most of the big themes are clear enough. God has revealed Himself as Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer: also as the One who balances justice with mercy, judgement with grace.

Our “backdrop” to the human drama is vast and full of mystery yet illuminated by flashes of revelation. A better disciple and theologian than me spoke of “seeing as in a cloudy mirror… but one day we will see Him face to face.” (Thanks, Paul!)

In this area of theology we have all been shaped by our background, education, family, life experiences, and the unspoken assumptions that are built in to “our” culture and projected onto our view of society. Race, nationality, skin colour, gender- these all affect our assumptions about what is the natural order of things. Our society benefits when we will learn from each other, and can hold our principles with conviction whilst accepting difference exists.

So then- what about Covid-19 ? Is it God’s direct judgement on a sinful humanity? Or might it be a symptom of the broken fallenness of the world, that has consequences built in? Plagues have happened throughout history. Some, God says, are direct judgement against wrong: Moses passed on the command of God to “Let my People go!” with Pharoah’s refusal being met with the Plagues of Egypt. Some find that difficult but there is little room for wriggling. God said, it happened, and then by grace Israel was delivered through the Exodus.

Judgement is promised at the Return of Jesus Christ. That is a statement of faith based on the character of God and His promises. In many ways, “creation is groaning” waiting for that time of deliverance and glory.

My Grandma kept a tin of sweets on a shelf out of the reach of six-year-old boys (me!). When I managed to climb on a chair and sneak one out… she laughed and laughed when she saw my anguished face as I chewed a piece of (hot) crystallized ginger. “Be sure your sins will find you out!” she chortled.

However, my youthful errors aside, what about Covid-19?
Can we say confidently it is an act of direct judgement? Do we not risk presuming on God’s prerogative if we say that? There have been too many “prophets” willing to put words in God’s mouth- those who truly prophesy do so from humble hearts and a Spirit-given conviction.

We can say, I believe, that God has permitted our world to exist in such a way that sickness, natural disaster, war and famine are part of our reality. These ills should cause us to turn back to God; to pray for all those caught up in the crisis, and to proclaim their existence as “signposts” in a lost world that point us to the consequences of our separation from the Lord- OR draw us closer to Him to seek hope, mercy, healing and ultimately eternal life.

Like Owl said, it’s complicated.

Today I will rejoice that I am alive, I will give thanks that God is both my Sovereign and my Saviour, and I will seek to be as Christ-like as I can with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Lord, deliver us today from the evil of this virus- and may Your Spirit open the hearts and minds of all peoples so that we may love and worship at Your throne. May Jesus be acknowledged by every man, woman, and child as Lord and Redeemer, who reconciles us and will reconcile all things in due time. In the meantime, help us to be wise, loving, and gracious in what we say and how we live. Amen.

Faithfulness and Grace- Look, See, Pray

Today was a GOOD NEWS day- for me. I want to shout out “God is good!” which is, of course, true… but I must restrict myself a bit and say only that God has been good to me at this moment in time. This is not to be boastful or claim any special “holy” status, but because God is in His essential nature faithful and loving: and He gives grace not because “we deserve it” but because He CHOOSES to love the unfaithful.

I was diagnosed with bowel cancer this autumn. It was serious enough to require urgent major surgery, and our wonderful N.H.S. acted swiftly and effectively. Getting over the surgery has been painful and seems slow. But today I visited the oncologist about follow up treatment (chemotherapy). My expectation was six months of chemo.

Chemotherapy not required… the doctors think I am 85% likely to be clear of cancer; annual scans will look out for any possible regrowth. You can imagine the relief… the sense of getting your life back, the lifting of the gloomy shadow of fear and doubt.

Many people have prayed for me (I am truly grateful) and practical support and love has been showered on my life. I have felt a sense of God’s presence; and known other dark moments where faith felt like a mouse squeaking in the cellar waiting for the cat to pounce.

This evening I have sent the good news round to friends and family. I looked in the book of Psalms hoping to find a good “praise verse”… and I found this.

Psalm 91:14-16 (NLT)
The LORD says, “I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name. When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue and honour them. I will reward them with a long life and give them my salvation.”

God is faithful. I do love Him, I trust Him, and I need Him. It’s just that I’m not as faithful in my faith as He is. Do I have any right to say God has blessed me? No, if I am trading with God… “Hey, God, if you scratch my back… and I’ll try to be nice and be good…”

It doesn’t work like that.

I know my own weaknesses, and the things that trip me up. I wish I was 100% perfect but I’m not (yet).

Father God has reminded me this evening that He IS faithful, the One of eternal loving-kindness. He has also reminded me that GRACE is what is given when my faithfulness falls flat on its face. A namesake of mine, St Richard, was Bishop of Chichester from 1244 to 1253 and gave us a prayer that I treasure. It’s my faith-response to the gap between God’s faithfulness and my own.

Thanks be to you, our Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits which you have given us, for all the pains and insults which you have borne for us. Most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother, may we know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, day by day. Amen.

God has been good to me- and I really want to love Him better, and be more like Jesus. I’m depending on His faithfulness- AND still on His grace. Left to myself, I can, do, and will fail. The reason God has “been good to me” today is that HE won’t take my weakness and failures as the last word. I’m proud of having a Father like that. My hope is that more and more of us will come to know and understand and experience that Fatherly Love.

 

Light Breaks Through

Not a promising sort of day. Cloudy, showery, and cool. Then the light broke through. Dark clouds ripped apart, silver swathe across the sea horizon, and our boat trip suddenly became much more enticing!

That’s the thing about Light. It has immense power to overcome darkness. It is the light and energy of the Sun that powers the weather on the planet, not the clouds that shroud and dull our days. Sooner or later, Light breaks through.

It is less than two weeks to Christmas. The familiar Bible stories and Christmas carols will remind us of angels, of a mysterious Star, of a lamp breaking the darkness as a baby takes breath- and the cosmos celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ.

I was awake early, and sitting with a cuppa waiting for daybreak. Picking up a Bible, and turning to the Letter to the Philippians, I found myself marvelling at the words that Paul used to describe unity and Christlike-living, setting it against the background of the attitude of Jesus. Son of God, yet born in total humility, and living a selfless life of obedient faith. The Light broke through for me- THIS is the message of Christmas!

Philippians 2:1-14 (ANIV)
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed— not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence— continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Do everything without complaining or arguing…

Walk the Margins – Look, See, Pray

Mysterious and always changing. The light, the tide, the time, the temperature: all impose their weight on the margin of land and sea. Shorelines are places of constant movement and change, yet remain substantially the same for many years.

To walk here is to enter a theatre where the scenery changes yet the script is written without words. Except, perhaps, for the words we bring with us: the thoughts and cares, the questions and the yearning for that which is truly Other. This is a panorama of meditation, a palace of prayer, a cauldron of wonder.

Where is God? He is here. The question is really “How do I become aware of Him?”

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).

014beach 040719margins

Lord God, source of all Holiness and Purity, make my heart clean. As I confess my need of a Saviour, I acknowledge that I need to honour a Lord.  You alone are worthy of such devotion, You alone are Good and full of loving-kindness.

Meet me in the private place of inner truth, walk with me along the margins of this world and the heavenly realms. Open my eyes that I may see; open my heart that I may believe and trust; and open my mind to be renewed through Your Holy Spirit. Then, O Lord Jesus Christ, I will be aware of You and worship You in spirit and in truth. Amen.

 

Simply Love- Look, See, Pray

Father Pedro Arrupe’s prayer about falling in love with God was shared with me this week. Here it is- enjoy. 

Nothing is more practical than

finding God,

than falling in Love

in a quite absolute, final way.

What you are in love with,

what seizes your imagination,

will affect everything.

It will decide

what will get you out of bed in the morning,

what you do with your evenings,

how you spend your weekends,

what you read, whom you know,

what breaks your heart,

and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.

Fall in Love,

stay in love,

and it will decide everything.

022150219 Aldwick crop2

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…

 

Countless, not pointless

I love walking along the beach at low tide. This morning was bright with silver light and blue sky. Calm weather meant the sea was just rippling in gently across the hidden life of the sand. Uncloaked and glistening, the miniature sand dunes gave up their secrets for a brief while- even as I watched the tide turned and the sea began to reclaim its margins, and hide its secrets again.

Sand ripples stood in stark relief as low sun-rays skipped from peak to peak. Evidence of sand worms was everywhere: cast like sculptures, and gulls probed, looking for breakfast while they could. Stranded seaweed sprawled sunburned, out of its element, mute witness to the storms that passed just days ago. This frond of abandoned oarweed curled, translucent as light glowed through its soft tissues. The colour made a strong contrast to the greyish brown sand, and the regularity of the patterns appealed to my eye.

Then I looked closely at the sand. I could see and feel the grains of sand: but I couldn’t count them. Billions of tiny pieces. The sand stretched as far as I could see in both directions. Tiny lives existed in every pool, every patch. Beyond my ken, but opened out for my wonder. I thought I’d share that wonder with you, though my words and photo do it scant justice.

Here are some words from the pen of the Bible’s best songwriter:

Psalm 139:17-18 (NLT) “How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me!”

God’s love for us is as incalculable as totalling the sands of the seashore or the stars of the galaxies. Some moments we can see love more clearly. Pause, and think about that!

countless 065Seaweed_beach

Flourishing

Dear God,
It was sunny today- quite warm, actually.
That was nice- thank you for a lovely day.
The garden is looking better.
Even the shrubs & trees have new shoots,
even the scruffy ones. Here’s a picture of one.

017Garden180418We complain about the rain, or the cold,
even though we know we need rain to survive.
We’ll probably moan “It’s too hot” before long!
King David wrote about people whose lives
have what they need to flourish.

Psalm 1:3 says “They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.”

That sounds rather good. Lovely, in fact.
Please, Father God, help us to put our roots
where they draw the Living Water of Life.
Help us to flourish, to show the life within us,
and growing the fruit of the Spirit
so everyone we meet is blessed
with the grace and love of Jesus.

That’s a good life, with new life showing.

In the Name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- Amen.

Blue Ice, Red Canoe

Courage- knowing the risks, and taking action anyway.

Visiting Glacier Bay is breath-taking.  Huge rivers of frozen time slide majestically to the sea and the ice displays the strata where debris has been compacted year after year. Noise from the constant stressing and shattering of the ice reverberates in the still air. Regular “calving” of icebergs from tiny to house-sized attract the wonder of onlookers.

Some get closer than others.

Red Canoe Blue Ice 219Glcr Bay July16editThis bold adventurer in a bold scarlet kayak glided through freezing ice-mush and milky water, getting an incredible view- and taking a considered risk. Too close, too bold, and tons of ice could crush the fragile craft.

As the ice rears above, the fissures reveal the deep clear blues of highly pressured, frozen snow that fell perhaps 200 years ago.

The canoeist experienced Glacier Bay in a far deeper way, and was certainly less warm and far less comfortable! I envy that experience.

I like to think that, if given the opportunity, I’d ship out on a kayak and experience this myself.

There’s a little joke about this… A canoeist wanted to go kayaking in Glacier Bay: but decided the chill factor was too extreme for comfort. So he installed a paraffin heater to keep the kayak warmer. Sadly, the paraffin leaked and the kayak caught fire… which goes to prove that you can’t have your kayak and heat it.

I really should apologise for that! Christianity is sometimes accused of being dull, humourless, and a soft option for people without the guts to face up to life. I disagree. To follow Christ takes courage. Believers can be criticised, ignored, laughed at, or even attacked. Living the way of Christ requires self-sacrifice, obedience, humility and a radically different set of values and purpose. We should stand out from the crowd.

Jesus sends us into a world that is beautiful and damaged, wonderful and terrifying. “Go into all the world… tell them…” Follow the Way of the Cross… love your neighbour, your enemy, even yourself. It is a challenge worthy of our best response and determination.

Jesus also said we would not be alone on the journey… He will be with us. Up for it? It will take courage, even with such a Friend. Courage is knowing the risks, and taking action anyway. Go on, be bold today!

Margerie Glacier 221Glcr Bay Starling small file

Snow hope?

Two outbreaks of snow in mid-March is quite unusual. The “Beast from the East” and its smaller cousin, the Lesser Beast, have been and are now almost gone. In my part of Sussex the snow was an inconvenience rather than a major threat- but we’re still happy to see the thaw.

I remember years ago- probably 40 years ago- that a small group of keen friends decided it would be OK to go camping at an early Easter. Despite the forecast, we went anyway; taking a group of about 25 teenage boys. We had proper gear, and a small marquee to cook in. We had a whale of a time! Snow that is two inches thick on the tents is quite good insulation.

One unforgettable memory: I was cooking breakfast. There is nothing like the smell of frying bacon to get people up on a cold morning. I sat in my big greatcoat, on one of those fold-up camping chairs with metal tubing as the frame, and set the big frying tray on the gas burners in front of me. Sizzling is such a satisfying sound. Slurping tea from my big orange mug, I stirred the bacon thinking “What a great job…”

Strangely, the bacon seemed to be getting taller and harder to reach. This became puzzling as I couldn’t reach the pan to stir the bacon! Looking down, I discovered the chair frame was sinking six inches deep into the mud. Oh the joy of roughing it!

One reason we went camping was to share our Christian faith with the young men in the group. We drank tea, and shivered in the marquee, and talked. We sang a bit- trying to play guitar wearing gloves is tricky- and described what Christianity was all about. Our focus was on Jesus, and since it was Easter, the cross and resurrection were central. Several of those young men decided to become Christians. I wonder where they are now…

snowdrop edit 016spring160318

Our message was one of hope. A better love, freely given by Christ, leading to a better way of life. A purpose and a challenge. Some answers, but also loads of questions to wrestle with throughout life. Some truth revealed, some mysteries left open. My photo is of a snowdrop near to home. It survived the first cold blast, and was poking out of the snow that came this weekend. Snowdrops are a sign of hope: winter is leaving.

Psalm 62:5 (NLT)
“Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him.

That’s a good Bible verse to ponder on a chilly day. Patience and hope often go together. Soon it will be full Spring and we will celebrate life. Let’s remember to look for the signs and reminders that life is stirring- and the Life-Giver is still faithfully loving us all.