Holy Week: What is it all about?

Christians often call the week leading up to Easter Sunday, Holy week. So many things happened during that week that are amazing and inspiring but also confusing and odd. With these things in mind I have written a series of blog posts that can be used to help think through Holy week. I hope that you find them useful.

Honest about my faith

Happy-Easter-HD-Wallpaper-2015Christians call the week before Easter Sunday Holy week. This week coming is a time when we especially remember the days leading up to Jesus’ death and resurrection.

I have written two different set of reflections. The first looks at the events of Holy week in order asking what was going on at each one. The second considers questions and thoughts that arise out of the Easter story.

The Events of Holy Week: ‘What were they all about?’

You may already know about the events that happened, but have you ever wondered what was really going on? What were all these things really about?

You can read through all of these together or you can use them on each day during Holy week as a series of reflections.

Palm Sunday: Palm Sunday: What was that all about?

Monday: Trashing the Temple Courts: What was that all about?

Tuesday: Trying to…

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A Million Dreams or Making Do?

In the film ‘The Greatest Showman’, a young Barnum sings the song ‘A Million Dreams’ to Charity. He has a terrible start in life, living in poverty and coping with the death of his father but despite this he sings:

Every night I lie in bed
The brightest colors fill my head
A million dreams are keeping me awake
I think of what the world could be
A vision of the one I see
A million dreams is all it’s gonna take
A million dreams for the world we’re gonna make

(You can listen to the song through the YouTube link below)

Confronted with tragedy and pain, Barnum chooses to dream and to believe that there can be something better and in the film he does achieve great success.

I really enjoyed the way that the plot asked questions about what this ‘world we’re gonna make’ was really all about? The film is a great exploration of whether success is about having the most money or the biggest crowds or whether is it about people and relationships?

I was at a meeting recently when someone said ‘we’re all having to make do with less resources‘ and this got me thinking about our attitude to life.

Barnum has nothing, he has no resources and yet he dreams of the possibilities and sets out to pursue them.

Most of us have some resources and yet we can all too easily focus on what we don’t have rather than on what we do! Instead of dreaming dreams and imagining possibilities, we can end up looking down before we have even tried.

How about us? Do we know what it is to dream of the possibilities or do we feel stuck and trapped?

Jesus said,

‘Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 18.3)

Children know what it is to dream and the dream that is the Kingdom of God is the biggest, and wildest dream of them all. The Kingdom of God is a place where there is no suffering, crying or pain and as we look at the world around us it feels unlikely if not impossible.

As I learn to believe with the faith of a child though I can believe that the Kingdom of God is ‘the world God’s gonna make’.

Is our faith really in God or is it in the Resources that we do or don’t have?

Do we lie awake at night seeing the dreams and possibilities that God has for us? Or do we lie awake at night worrying about what we don’t have?

May God give us a childlike faith again that we might see what he is calling us to and that we might be inspired to step into it whether we have the resources or not!

The opening lines to the song are:

I close my eyes and I can see
The world that’s waiting up for me

May God give us a vision of the Kingdom of God as we look to him in prayer.

As we see the possibilities, may God give us the courage and the faith to work with him to help build his Kingdom.

As he thinks of his dreams, Barnum sings:

They can say, they can say it all sounds crazy
They can say, they can say I’ve lost my mind
I don’t care, I don’t care, so call me crazy
We can live in a world that we design

God, may your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. We believe that your Kingdom is real and we look forward to sharing in it as we build it wth you.

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There’s a hole in my roof

Sadly we have had some vandalism at the church and a part of this has involved some tiles being ripped off the roof. This vandalism has resulted in a lot of time and effort being spent on repairs and securing the grounds to try to prevent access to the roof for the young people who  have caused the damage.

As I was pondering this hassle recently, I remembered the home owner who offered Jesus a place to stay (read Mark 2). Pretty soon, his house was packed with people who had come to see Jesus and to hear what he had to say but then things suddenly got weird!

We can only imagine the shock that those gathered felt as they  sat listening to Jesus only to realize that parts of the ceiling were crumbling and falling around them.

Some people had brought a paralyzed man to Jesus so that he could be healed but when they couldn’t get him into the house, these resourceful friends made a hole in the roof and lowered him in.

It’s an amazing story where Jesus heals the man and also talks about forgiveness and the new start that he offers to us all.  The crowd must have been astonished and the man and his friends were ecstatic but how did the home owner feel?

Was he frustrated? He had welcomed the Messiah but instead of receiving blessing, peace and prosperity he had ended up with a hole in his roof!

There is a disneyfied version of Christianity that says that if we follow Jesus then all of our dreams will come true and only nice things will happen. Bizarrely the gospels show us that the opposite is often true!

If you follow Jesus then he will turn your life upside down and you might even end up with a hole in your roof!

Christianity isn’t about us being wrapped in cotton wool by God, it is about God wrapping us in his love as we follow him in a broken, messy and fragile world.

When things go wrong in life, do we feel let down by a disneyfied god that some people have created in their minds or do we look to God to lead us forward?

That home owner had a hole in his roof but he had also experienced a healing and had been promised forgiveness which would lead to a new start in life.

We don’t know if he was just frustrated and angry or whether he was ready to follow Jesus in a great adventure whatever the consequences!

How about us? Are we really ready to follow our Lord and Saviour or are we just looking for a calm and quiet life?

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As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you

There is a special bond between a mother and a child and God wants us to know that he loves us with that same intensity, passion and devotion.

God says:

‘As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you’ (Isaiah 66.13)

God offers us love, comfort and care, but how will we respond?

Will we be like the stroppy toddler who throws a tantrum rather than seeking comfort?

Will we go off and cry alone feeling far from God?

Will we turn to God and allow him to give us the comfort and love that we need?

It starts with surrender.

God wants to love and to comfort us but will we open up ourselves to receive these things?

You might also like to read Tissues for Mothers Day

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The Shock of Finding Snow after we thought that all the Snow had Melted

Yesterday my wife and I went for a walk and we were astonished to come across snow. Most of the snow where we live has melted and most of the places we went on our walk were also snow free. There were however one or two spots where the snow was being stubborn and was persisting and was apparently refusing to melt.

As we trudged through the snow along the edge of one field I felt like it was hard work and so when I came to a gap in the hedge with a snow free path on the other side I tried to walk through the gap.

As I stepped forward I sank and my leg ended up knee-deep in a snow drift. It turns out that there was a ditch between the field we were in and the path on the edge of the next field.

When Tracey had finished laughing at me, she took this photo and then helped me out.

I was astonished that on a day when virtually all of the nearby snow had melted that there was this patch of snow that was so deep that I could sink up to my knee in it.

As I walked along I pondered this and it occurred to me that because the snow had filled the ditch so deeply that it would take longer to melt.

As I continued along, I remembered God’s words:

I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. (Ezekiel 36.26 NLT)

Like a large amount of snow which takes a long time to melt, we can have hard hearts that seem like they are never going to soften.

When we are negative about something, it is all too tempting to surround ourselves with like-minded people to ensure that we remain in our negative state of mind together.

God doesn’t want that for us though, he longs to melt our hard hearts  and to give us tender responsive hearts in exchange.

Life can wear us down leaving us cynical and pessimistic. If this is how we are feeling, are we willing to surrender these feelings to God and to allow him to bring about a change n our lives by his Spirit? Are we willing to discover the life and vitality of the child like faith that Jesus wants us to live with?

Perhaps our hardheartedness is to do with unforgiveness? Someone has deeply hurt us and as much as we know that we should forgive, our hearts have become increasingly hard over time.

God, would you melt our hearts.

Perhaps our hard hardheartedness is to do with fear? Perhaps something went wrong in our past and it stops us from taking risks and stepping out in faith for God today.

God, would you melt our hearts.

Perhaps our hardheartedness is to do with a resentment towards God? Was there a prayer he didn’t answer in the way that he wanted? Perhaps we feel let down by God because he didn’t do specifically what we asked? As we confess these feelings to God I pray that we would gain something more of his perspective.

God, would you melt our hearts.

Perhaps our hardheartedness is to do with independence? We are quite happy to pray to God and to hear what he says as advice but we don’t really want him to be our Lord in every area of our lives. We would rather stay in control.

God, would you melt our hearts.

I could go on with examples but it is probably more constructive if we all pause and consider if you are hardhearted in any way?

If you are, there is good news! God wants to melt your hard heart and to replace it with a tender responsive heart that is open to him!

You can explore this in a reflective activity by freezing a tub of water with some string/rope in it. This will result in an ice block with string that can be suspended from a  tripod or something similar. Place tea light candles on a tray or dish (with raised edged to catch the water as the ice melts) and invite people to consider the ice block and what is making their hearts hard. When they have talked with God about this they can light a candle as a prayer that God would melt their hearts.

You could also use a video such as this one or make your own. As you watch the ice melt, pray that God would melt our hearts and replace them with tender and responsive hearts by his spirit.

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Mothers Day Gift ideas from Churches

Looking for ideas? for gifts from your church for #MothersDay #MothersDayGifts #mothersdaygift Here are some ideas and all age service outlines.

Honest about my faith

Many churches choose to give gifts to ladies on Mothers Day and this is usually a few flowers or a small plant. These flowers can be very beautiful or a bit wilted depending on your budget and the person who goes to buy them.

A few years ago, we started trying to think of alternatives to flowers and these are some of the gits we have given.

Last year we gave tissues. The pocket-sized packets of tissues were bought locally and one of our members made the covers. If you don’t have someone who can make the covers (you can google for a design) then you can also buy personalized or patterned tissues online

If visit Tissues for Mothers day you can also find a copy of the poem and some thoughts for how this fitted into the service.

This was the first time we have managed to link the actual…

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The one about the Doll

When they were younger, one of my children owned a doll that they took everywhere.

Towards the end of her stay with us the Doll was fairly broken. She had seen better days, her hair was matted and one of her eyes was permanently half closed.

The doll was damaged, tired and dated but she was still my child’s most precious possession.

One day we lost the doll while on a family picnic and after hours of searching we gave up and drove home. We went back to our picnic spot several times over the next few days to search for the Doll but sadly she was never found.

My child was brokenhearted.

The Doll was faded and broken, she had no value and if we had have been giving her away I doubt if we could have got a charity shop to accept her.

To everyone else she was worthless but to my child she was precious.

Isn’t this a beautiful picture of how God feels about us?

God doesn’t need us and our lives our far from perfect but to Him we are precious.

God says that he loves us with an everlasting love but do we believe him?

The picnic spot was around a 30 minute drive from where we lived but my child was desperate to find their beloved Doll and so we drove there each day.

God loves us and he is seeking us and longing that we might come to know him but how will we respond?

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The Kingdom of God is like a tiny mustard seed planted in a field

It’s amazing that something as small and seemingly insignificant as an acorn can produce something as large and majestic as an oak tree.

Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed planted in a field. Although it is the smallest of all seeds it grows into a large tree where birds can nest in its branches (Matthew 13.31-32).

We prefer things to be large, exciting and powerful to begin with but God offers us a kingdom that is born out of meekness and humility.

When serving God, we like to know we have all the resources before we start but God often wants to plant small seeds and for us to take risks as we step out in following him. Watching something grow and seeing life develop is incredibly exciting!

In the fairy tale ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’, Jack’s mother is furious that he sells their cow for some magic beans. She can’t understand why Jack has sold something of value for seeds that appear worthless.

Seeds have such potential and power but the trouble is that many of us want quick fixes and instant success rather than waiting for things to grow.

Next time you see or hold an acorn, remind yourself of its potential for growth and that if it is planted and nurtured then it is a picture of what the Kingdom of God is like!

At times it can seem like God’s influence in this world is limited, but don’t be fooled. God’s influence and power are at work and they are GROWING more and more each day.

If you want to think some more about this parable then you can read Growth Is Happening Even When We Can’t See It.

As preparation for a meeting next month, I have been given 19 readings that contain things that Jesus said about the Kingdom of God and I’m hoping to write something about each one as I read through them.

Have you got any thoughts about the kingdom being like a tiny mustard seed planted in a field? If so I would love it if you could share them below in the comments section.

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The Kingdom of God is like a Farmer Growing Crops

Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is like a farmer who planted seeds in a field but as he slept his enemy planted weeds among the wheat.

As the crop grew, so did the weeds and the farmer was faced with a dilemma. Should he rip out the weeds that were spoiling his good and perfect crop knowing that to remove the weeds would be to damage or to destroy his crop?   (Matthew 13.24-30).

The farmer must have been so frustrated! He had done everything right, he had worked hard and planted good seeds carefully. He deserved a good and perfect crop and instead his work had been spoiled by the weeds which had now intertwined themselves with his wheat.

In the end the farmer decided to let everything grow together until it was time for the harvest and at that point the weeds could be destroyed.

These are the things that occurred to me about the parable:

The farmer loves his crop more than he hates the weeds

When you think about God (who the farmer represents) and how much he hates sin and evil (what the weeds represent) then it is amazing to be reminded just how much that God loves his people (what the crop represents) more.

Some people want to portray God as angry and vengeful but God is love!

God has the power to end evil today but he doesn’t because he loves you!

I’m not sure that we will really ever know how frustrating it must be to have the power to change everything but to have to stop yourself from using it because of your love for your people.

God loves his people more than he hates evil!

The crop is more important to the farmer than his desire for his work to appear perfect

Don’t you hate it when you have worked hard on something and it is really good and then somehow the presentation gets spoiled?

In the parable, the farmer could have ripped everything out of the field so it didn’t reflect badly on him (even though the weeds weren’t his fault). Instead, he is willing to be accused of being a poor farmer (even if this isn’t true) because of his love for his crop.

God believes that the wheat can grow even under difficult circumstances

God has confidence in his people. If we rely on him and draw on his strength, perseverance and power then we can grow despite the weeds that are trying to choke us

In the parable of the sower Jesus talked about the things that choke faith:

The seed that fell among the thorns represents those who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth, so no fruit is produced.

Worry takes our attention away from God and in fact it is the opposite of trust in Him. When we find ourselves worrying we have the option of turning to God to receive his peace, presence and perspective. I’m not sure if we can ever be 100% worry free on this earth but if we can, it will be because we are so focused on trusting in God rather than because we tried really hard.

Wealth takes our focus away from God because we come to trust in it rather than in him. If wealth is our god then we will always feel like we want More for Me but if God is our God then we will become more like him with love at the heart of who we are.

It’s ironic that two of the things that are so dominant in church life are worry (what if it doesn’t work?) and money (worrying if we have enough). In some church meetings I have been in, it feels like people want to focus on these things more than on God!

Do you believe you can grow despite the pressures and challenges of life? God believes that you can!

As we grow amongst weeds, let’s Grow Towards the Light rather than focusing on the difficulties and the darkness.

God is interested in the long-term rather than quick fixes that won’t last

Over the years I have heard so many people ask: ‘If there is a God of love, why does he allow evil?’

The parable of the farmer growing crops reminds us that God allows evil because he loves us. As the influence of evil grows, so does his love which gives more opportunity for people to turn to him and to be saved.

One day there will be justice and God will destroy the powers of evil forever and I long for that day.

As preparation for a meeting next month, I have been given 19 readings that contain things that Jesus said about the Kingdom of God and I’m hoping to write something about each one as I read through them.

Next time I’ll be thinking about ‘The kingdom is like a mustard seed’ (Matthew 13.31-32)

Have you got any thoughts about the kingdom being like a farmer growing crops? If so I would love it if you could share them below in the comments section.

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The Kingdom of God is Near

Have you ever really, really looked forward to something?

I was once in a school staff room where there was a white board with a series of marks that were being crossed off to remind everyone how many days were left to the school holidays.

I remember one of my children pacing around their room on Christmas eve because they were too excited to sleep.

Then there was the excited conversation with a friend whose husband was returning home the next day after months away with work.

I have a friend who has been desperate to see ‘The last Jedi’ since the end of ‘The Force Awakens’ two years ago.

When we adopted our eldest daughter our boys were upset because we got to meet her before they did. They couldn’t wait to meet their new sister!

When we look forward to something it consumes our thoughts and energy.

We have probably all known what it is to look forward to and to long for something to happen really soon rather than having to wait. To wish that we were already experiencing it rather than living in just our ordinary and everyday lives.

Jesus went into Galilee, where he preached God’s Good News. “The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” (mark 1.14-15)

Jesus went around telling people that the Kingdom of God is near and that this was really good news!

The Jews were living under Roman occupation and they would have been so excited about the Kingdom of God appearing anytime because they were expecting a superhero type of Messiah who would defeat all of their enemies. They longed for the Kingdom of God because they thought that it meant freedom from their oppressors and enemies.

Jesus did bring freedom, just not the sort of freedom that the Jews were expecting.

Jesus died on the cross to reconcile the world to God to himself (2 Corinthians 5.18-21). The Kingdom of God and most life on this planet had largely been separated but God’s aim is to reconcile those things to the point where God will reign on a new earth. In this future moment, the Kingdom of God and life on Earth will become completely synchronized and this is a description of what it will be like:

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” (Revelation 21.3-4)

As I watch the news and I see pain, death and turmoil, it’s hard not to long for the Kingdom of God where these things will be non-existent. The kingdom of God is a place of righteousness, peace and joy (Romans 14.17), rather than evil, stress and depression.

The Kingdom of God is breaking in to life on our planet but one day God will rule on a new earth and those who choose to follow Jesus can spend eternity in the Kingdom of God.

What’s not to look forward to?

One of the questions this raises for those of us who follow Jesus is what our priorities really are. It may be that we would like a world without sickness, death and pain but that we also have a relatively comfortable existence and other things that we are focused on we are not in such a rush for it to happen.

When we think about the Kingdom of God being near it challenges us to consider whether we want to live life in a completely new way or whether we are more comfortable as we are?

Is Jesus really our King or do we see him more as a consultant who we turn to for advice when it suits us?

Is Jesus really leading us through life or do we simply make our life choices in a way that suits us?

Is Jesus really first in our lives or does he only get a look in when we have finished what is important to us?

The Kingdom of God is near, how does that make you feel?

This is the first in a series of posts about the Kingdom of God.

As preparation for a meeting next month, I have been given 19 readings that contain things that Jesus said about the Kingdom of God and I’m hoping to write something about each one as I read through them.

Next time I’ll be thinking about ‘The kingdom is like a farmer growing crops’ (Matthew 13.24-30)

Have you got any thoughts about the kingdom being near? If so I would love it if you could share them below in the comments section.

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