The Monument that was always there: A Parable about God being with us.

I find that God speaks to and guides me through things that happen in everyday life. In this short video I tell the story of how God reminded me that he is with us always through a Monument that was always there.

Thanks to my wife Tracey for recreating the journey with me. I hope you find the video helpful.

I’m sorry that the zoom shot isn’t perfect but to be fair I was zooming into something a few miles away which is pretty difficult with a fairly standard camera.

 

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Black Lives Matter: How can we be a part of the change that is needed?

The Baptists Together General Secretary Lynn Green has made this helpful and challenging statement that I wholeheartedly agree with.
“The inhumane and merciless brutality demonstrated towards George Floyd last week was an appalling act of injustice and reveals yet again the ugly reality of deeply ingrained institutional racism in the USA.  The authentic response of a people who follow a God who delights in justice and righteousness is to stand together in solidarity and protest in the face of such insidious evil.  The death of George Floyd must also drive us to some serious heart-searching of our own. The spotlight is not simply shining on ‘them over there’ but also on us here in our own context.  Baptists Together hold a common value; that we are a Movement which shares a hunger for God’s coming Kingdom and seeks to confront evil, injustice and hypocrisy and challenges worldly attitudes to power, wealth, status and security both within and beyond our Union.  Right now, God is presenting us with the opportunity to grow more deeply into this value and, in doing so, to unleash a prophetic call and presence in our communities and nations.” https://www.baptist.org.uk/Publisher/Article.aspx?ID=579501

As I have been considering my response to the changes that we need to be a part of, I have been reflecting on Mark 5.21-43. In the passage, we read about Jairus who asked Jesus to come and heal his dying daughter and then a woman who touched the edge of Jesus’ robe so she could be healed and the way that Jesus stops to speak with her.

Jairus was in a privileged position as a community leader. The crowd parted to allow him to get to Jesus and he would have had every expectation that Jesus would serve him, after all isn’t that what happens when important people ask for things? The religious leaders were the group who were the most critical of Jesus and so it must have been hard for Jairus to ask Jesus for help. Asking for help is also hard for people who are privileged because we instinctively feel we should be able to cope because we have so much.

The woman, whose name we aren’t even given, had suffered with constant bleeding for 12 years and she had spent everything she had trying to find a cure. She was an outcast, someone who would have been considered unclean and unworthy by those around her in that society. This woman wasn’t privileged enough to have the crowd part for her, rather she had to force and fight to get to Jesus who was so easy for the privileged Jairus to access.

People in the crowd wouldn’t have seen this woman as someone who mattered greatly. She had no money and so she must have received charity from some but while she was deemed worthy of a handout, she doesn’t appear to have been valued in any deep way by those around her. I can’t imagine how painful it must have been for her to clamber through the crowd, watching people recoil from her as they realized who it was that was touching them.

I can imagine a little more about how Jairus might have felt as he looked on. He was desperate to get Jesus to his daughter as quickly as possible and for him to watch while Jesus stopped for a conversation must have been agonizing.

Jesus knew that the woman had been healed and he could have moved on and left it at that, but he made a point of stopping and talking with her instead. Jesus wanted her to know that she mattered to him and I think that this is something that Jesus still wants all people who have been oppressed and mistreated people to know.

It seems clear to me that if Jesus was on the Earth today that he would have been shouting Black Lives Matter along with so many other people.

Watching the video footage that captured the moments leading up to George Floyd’s death is shocking and it is no wonder that this horrendous act of violence has resulted in the outpouring of anger that we are seeing. Some people are wondering why there has been violence in some of the protests but if I’m honest I’m astonished there has been so little. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not condoning violence, I’m just acknowledging that I understand why people are so angry.

For those of us who relate more to Jairus than the woman in the passage, I would like to make these suggestions about how we can respond.

  1. Conversation: Jesus makes time to speak with the woman.

The first thing that we should do if we have not done so already is to listen. In the past few weeks, I have made the time to speak with some of my black friends and have listened to their stories in a way that I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t done before. I grew up in multicultural Wolverhampton and I have many friends from different ethnic backgrounds, but I have been shocked at some of the stories I am hearing from people at what has confronted them in everyday life. I was also struck by something that Will Smith said in an interview, “Racism is not getting worse, it’s getting filmed”. This public evidence of racism may be one of the factors that is encouraging people to speak up about their experiences which largely aren’t seen.

  1. Care: Jesus wanted the woman to know that she mattered

When someone says that ‘Black Lives Matter’, we need to realise that saying ‘All Lives Matter’ is an offensive response. When we talk with someone in pain, the most appropriate thing that you can do is to show care and love for their pain, not to point out that other people are in pain as well.

  1. Be willing to act in a way that won’t be popular with the privileged and the crowd around you: Jesus makes time to treat the woman with respect.

Would you have stopped to speak with the woman as Jesus did or would we be just focused on the dignitary who had asked for help? Are we willing to lay aside the demands of others (however worthy they may be?) in order to acknowledge, to care for and to speak up for the oppressed?

  1. Take Action: The life of this woman was transformed in her meeting with Jesus

In conversation with others (remember we need to listen first!), let’s consider if there are ways that we can act both by changing the way we treat people where necessary and advocating for the change that is needed. Two stories that come to my mind as I think about change that is needed in the church:

As a teenager, a visiting speaker to the church I was a part of said that although we were one of the many multicultural churches in Wolverhampton that we were the only one with a multicultural leadership. If we are part of churches with different ethnicities and that isn’t reflected in the leadership of the church or in who leads and preaches, then will we speak up and advocate for change?

I remember a South Korean by the name of Kwangsun Kim joining a church in rural Oxfordshire where I was the pastor. He insisted that we called him Sammy as his name would be too hard for us to pronounce but I insisted that we call him by his name and we even worked on pronouncing it together as a church. It felt important to me that we welcomed Kwangsun for who he was rather than expecting him to change to make things more comfortable for some in the church.

  1. Believe that all things are possible: Jesus raises Jairus’ daughter from the dead

As I look out on the scale of the problem and the injustices in society, it’s hard to believe that things can change. I know that God hates racism and injustice and I want to join him in his work so that we would see his Kingdom come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

The spotlight is not simply shining on ‘them over there’ but also on us here in our own context.  Baptists Together hold a common value; that we are a Movement which shares a hunger for God’s coming Kingdom and seeks to confront evil, injustice and hypocrisy and challenges worldly attitudes to power, wealth, status and security both within and beyond our Union.  Right now, God is presenting us with the opportunity to grow more deeply into this value and, in doing so, to unleash a prophetic call and presence in our communities and nations.”

If you want to read and consider further:

Kate Colemans blog ‘Are you M.A.D. with the world?’ is excellent and it also has links to further resources https://nextleadership.org/blog/are-you-m-a-d-with-the-world?fbclid=IwAR2MVgoecURThyx5YVx_2-pq-EuzlbMLTd-NrT8NUGnZ50JDe0rWYiDhJpE

The ‘George Floyd: our responses’ page on the Baptists Together website  has lots of material https://www.baptist.org.uk/Articles/579501/George_Floyd_our.aspx

If you want to learn more about the experiences of black people in church life then I would suggest you watch ‘Dear White Church’ https://youtu.be/8M5aBzgQljM

 

Photo credit Vince Fleming on Unsplash

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Are we full and overflowing with the presence of God? A Pentecost Sermon

This is a talk I have put together using a variety of Bible passages, visuals and video clips that thinks about how we need to be overflowing with rather than just being full of and content with the presence of God.

You are welcome to share it or to use it in any online church services by downloading it and including it in your broadcasts. I hope and pray that it challenges you as much as I was challenged in preparing it.

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God is with us but are we with him?

People often say that ‘God is with us’ but I’ve rarely heard anyone ask whether we are with God.

Have you ever been with someone and they seem distant? Perhaps you have had someone say to you ‘you feel like you are somewhere else’ or ‘you seem miles away’. We all know that it’s possible to be right next to someone but not really with them at all becasue our or their mind is elsewhere. Is that what our relationship with God is sometimes/often/always* like? (*delete as appropriate) 

God is with us! It makes me sad at the beginning of our church services when people talk about coming into God’s presence, because I don’t think that that is possible for Christians, I believe that God is with us always. (Take a look at God is closer than you think to find out why).

Are we with God? My desire is to look to, talk with and connect with God more consistently each day. How about you?

God says:

I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people. (Leviticus 26.12)

God is with us but will we be with him?

One of the many wonderful things about God is that he is always accepting. Whether this is the first time you are trying to talk with him or whether you are trying to get back into talking with him more, go ahead he is with you and waiting.

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The Church is like a Piece of Elastic

Someone recently said to me ‘churches are like a piece of elastic. However much you stretch them, they always ping back into place’. This made me chuckle but I hope that it isn’t necessarily true.

As we have been stretched in recent months, adjusting to life in lockdown will we just ping back to the exact way things were when we can meet again.? You can hear my thoughts on this in this four minute video.

 

 

 

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A Prayer for the UK

I wrote this just over a year ago but it still feels relevant today

Jesus, may we see your light shining even brighter in these coming days
May all those who are walking in darkness find the hope and salvation that only you can bring.
Help us, your people, to let your light shine in us and through us.
Amen

Honest about my faith

They lived in a time of despair and uncertainty, a people looking for hope and to these people, God makes a promise:

The people who walk in darknesswill see a great light.
For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine. (Isaiah 9.2)

The Jews who first heard this message through Isaiah hundreds of years ago would almost certainly have taken it to be a promise of a military leader who would come and defeat all of their enemies. Their hope was to become a secure and sovereign nation again and they longed for God to make this a reality.

We now know that these words spoke of Jesus who was the Messiah but in an unexpected way, he rescued us all, not from other nations but rather from separation from God.

Jesus came into this world and the people who…

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God, Help us to See more Clearly – A Prayer

Have I been looking in the wrong place? If I am honest, I been struggling to comprehend the complexities of the fast changing circumstances that we are living in and at times everything feels quite frantic.

As I considered this, I realized that I have been so busy looking at information about what is happening that I have not been looking to God consistently.

I am a visual thinker and so as I tried to make sense of what I was thinking I did an image search for keywords like ‘focus’ and ‘lens’ and I came across a great picture by Steven Wright on Unsplash.

As I looked at the picture and prayed I wrote this prayer as a summary of what I wanted to ask God and it felt fitting to combine it with the image I had found so inspirational. I hope you find it as helpful as I have.

God, help us to see more clearly so that we can discover more of who you are and see more consistently the ways that you are at work each day.

For me, this prayer is not about burying our heads in the sand and turning away from the world. As we see more clearly who God is and the ways he is working then this will give us the insight that we need to engage with the world around us. 

Perhaps I wasn’t looking in the wrong place. It was my perspective that needed to change and I pray that I will continually look to God that I might see the world a little more like he does each day.

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Goodbye Darkness My Old Friend?

Imagine that you were sat at home at night (that’s probably not too hard at the moment) and all the lights in your house went out, what would you do? 

a. Turn your phone on and use the light, perhaps to find some candles to create more light?

or

b. Stumble around in the darkness?

This may seem like a no brainer unless of course you don’t have a phone! I don’t imagine that many of us would choose to live in the dark if we had the option of light!

Hello darkness my old friend?

This famous opening line from Simon and Garfunkel’s song ‘The Sound of Silence’ sounds incredibly depressing and in recent years it has been used as a meme to communicate despair. There is so much to be sad about as we look at the world, particularly as we are live with the Covid-19 Pandemic. We hear about death rates daily, people are feeling the loss of not being able to be with people they care about and the time when this is all behind us seems a very, very long way off.

When we are living with the sense of things being dark and we are spiralling towards despair, how do we cope?

Goodbye darkness my old friend?

Jesus said “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8.12)

As I was thinking about living in dark times, it struck me that we can either choose to focus on the darkness or to look to the light. God’s light will not remove the darkness but his presence with us will provide us with hope and comfort as we look for a way forward.

Night vision and the light

Many years ago I remember walking in the pitch black. My eyes had began to adjust and I could see around me to some extent, I was walking cautiously but I was managing to find my way along the path I was on. As I stumbled along, I became aware of a small  light moving towards me and I soon realized that someone with a torch was headed my way. As they were about to walk past, they raised their torch and shone it in my face and in that moment the light felt blinding! Once they had gone past I realized that the night vision that had developed was now completely gone and the darkness felt very uncomfortable again.

God has called us out of darkness

The Bible describes disciples of Jesus as people who have been ‘called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.’ (1 Peter 2.9)

If you are struggling with life and things feel dark then I want you to know that Jesus wants to offer you light and hope. As I prayed about this, this phrase came to me:

If your eyes are closed you are still living in the dark

How often do we close our eyes to the light of Jesus? His light will not help unless we open our eyes and focus on him.

What will we choose today, the darkness or Jesus as a friend?

A prayer:

Jesus, light of the world, sometimes this world feels like it’s a very dark place.
In these moments anxiety, we ask that you would help us as we open our eyes and look to your light.
Forgive us if we have become comfortable with the darkness,
help us to be willing to have the courage to let go of our despair, bitterness and pain
Thank you that you are with us offering friendship, healing and hope
May each of us receive your light afresh now and may your light bring transformation to our lives and the lives of those around us.
Amen.

Image Dmitry Ratushny Unsplash

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Who you gonna call?

Is anyone else struggling?

Let’s be honest, life has been turned upside down and inside out in recent times in ways that we never could have imagined. Like me you may well be feeling like you are stumbling along, trying to work out how to live well in this new normal.

For me, I still feel that Hosanna is the word that we need these troubling times. Hosanna is both a shout of hope and a cry for help at the same time and that is exactly how I (and perhaps many of us??) feel. I can honestly say that my hope is in God and I trust in and am confident that he is working but life is also a struggle at the moment and I am learning to hold these things in tension as Hosanna moments.

At some stage soon, things are going to change again as the UK Government is going to make an announcement about easing lockdown restrictions at some point this week. As we head towards this newer new normal, we may feel an even greater sense of bewilderment as we try to make sense of the changes happening around us. 

In these times, who are you gonna call?

If you just shouted Ghostbusters then you really are in trouble!

I thank God for family and friends who support me but ultimately they too are living with circumstances that we have never faced before.

For me, the only person who I can trust in who has a unique perspective is God. In Proverbs 3.5-6 we are encouraged to trust in Him with all of our heart and to seek His will in all we do and if we do this, then He will show us which path to take.

It’s really isn’t rocket science! As we head into the unknown, who are you gonna call? This is a time when we should be crying out to and looking to God for his help, hope and leading. For some of us this will involve slowing down and acknowledging that we don’t have the answers. If this is true for us, are we willing to do this or do we like it a bit too much when people put their trust in us?

I wanted to highlight these posts that have challenged and stretched my thinking in this area of learning to instinctively call on God more consistently in the whole of life. I hope that you will fine them helpful.

Nobody should put Jesus in the Corner: In a storm, the disciples are afraid but Jesus is asleep in the corner of the boat. Everything changes when they cry out to him.

The experiences that triggered Holding On and Being Held and The one about the blind trail really spoke to me about the reality of what it means to have God with us.

As we continue to head into the unknown, who are you gonna call?

As we are make space to call on and to listen to God, he will guide us. This short video is an example of the sort of thing that I think that God is trying to say to us, if we will only stop and listen.

The image in this post has been made by me using a picture posted by Daniel Gonzalez on unsplash, you are free to reuse this picture but please include a link to this post in any online use. There is no need to provide any credit for use in presentations.

Posted in Bible, depression, Faith, God is with us, hope, Life experiences, Relationship with God, trust | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

People are searching for Prayer during the Coronavirus Pandemic

Google searches for the word prayer have increased dramatically in the past few weeks as we face this global Pandemic. hen I read this, I looked up the data at trends.google.com  and this chart shows the increased growth of the use of the word Prayer in the past few months across the world and in the UK.

Google defines interest over time as ‘Numbers represent search interest relative to the highest point on the chart for the given region and time. A value of 100 is the peak popularity for the term. A value of 50 means that the term is half as popular. A score of 0 means there was not enough data for this term.’

This increase in the search for prayer was highlighted by Jeanet Sinding Bentzen’s research land you might be interested to look at this.

If people are searching about prayer, how can we engage and share what prayer is and what it means to us? 

For me, prayer is really simple, it is a conversation with God where we can tell him how we feel and talk with him. As we pause, I believe that we can be guided and receive from God and for me this is invaluable in life.

If you don’t know where to start, you might find these words from Psalm 62 helpful to listen to and reflect upon.

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