Why was I annoyed? It isn’t My Woodland!

My family and I went to Hanningfield Reservoir yesterday for a quiet day out but it turned out though that it was the Hanningfield Triathlon and so our walk was far from peaceful!

For the first part of our walk, there was a continual thud, thud, thud as someone ran up behind and past us every few seconds. At first I was annoyed about this, after all our peace had been shattered, but then I remembered that the woodland we were walking in didn’t belong to us.

As I thought about this some more, I suddenly became aware of how polite the runners were being as they thanked us for moving out of their way. Many even said don’t worry as we apologized for not moving out of their way fast enough but their attitude was to try to head around us rather than to complain. As my attitude towards these people changed, I saw more clearly who they really were!

These Triathletes didn’t consider that the woodland was theirs and we didn’t consider it to be ours and so we got along fine.

We have been reading some of Wind in the Willows to our girls at bedtime for the past few weeks and we especially wanted to visit the reservoir because they have statues of the Wind in the Willows characters.

I found the Triathletes strange because they all looked exhausted and yet they kept going and they also didn’t stop to look at the amazing sculptures of Toad and his friends. Although I found it hard to relate to the runners, I was glad that it was their woodland as well.

How do you feel about the world around you?

Do you think or act like it is yours?

Are we willing to share our part of the world with others and to be glad that they can live well in it even if we feel like we can’t relate to them?

I am ashamed of the anti immigration rhetoric in Great Britain today. Personally, I am delighted that people of all cultures and backgrounds can share in the life of the UK.

I think that the key issue that defines how we approach immigration is whether we see ourselves primarily as citizens of our country or of the world?

If we see ourselves first and foremost as world citizens then we should have no real problem with immigration and we should actually welcome people freely of all backgrounds.

The Bible says that ‘God so loved the world’ and if God loves every person in this world (yes, that even involves Triathletes!) then part of following must involve me loving and welcoming them as well. When asked ‘who is my neighbour?’ Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan which shows someone helping a fellow human being in need even though they were from different countries, religions and cultures. Jesus taught that we should love our neighbours and the example he gives of what this looks like involves our attitude towards people who we might not find it easy to identify with. Although we might not relate to them easily, Jesus wants  us to consider them our neighbours who we should love.

Many Christians are fearful of immigration because they worry about people from other religions coming and corrupting our country and leading Christians away from their faith. This attitude has always made me sad because it shows such a lack of confidence in God.

Personally, I am delighted that people from other countries and religions are moving to the UK. In some of these countries it is illegal to promote Christianity but here in the UK they can hear the good news about following Jesus. Rather than being afraid of Christianity being diluted, I am actually grateful for the opportunity that God is giving his church and I pray that God’s kingdom would grow and increase.

How will we treat people today?

Are we angry because we can’t relate to them or perhaps because they are stomping too close to us?

Hopefully we are giving thanks for the people around us each day? Hopefully we want to do what we can to live well alongside them to make the world a better place for all of us to live in together.

Are we willing to accept that God loves the whole world and are we willing to follow his lead by loving the people of the world too?

If you want to think some more about immigration then you might find The one about the illegal immigrant from Peru helpful.

Posted in Blessed to be a blessing, discipleship, Faith, Life experiences, Loving one another | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is it time to make God the focus of our prayer lives again?

I’ve had quite a stressful week and so I was looking forward to homegroup last night as an opportunity to share and to receive prayer.

We had a great conversation about Mark 5 and part of our discussion was about the miracles that Jesus did. We read about a chronically ill woman who touched the edge of Jesus’ robe and was healed and how Jesus raised a young girl from the dead.

If you are interested you can read more of my thoughts about this passage in She was so important but we don’t know her name or Who does Jesus value most, the community leader or the outcast? Mark 5.21-43

As we finished talking about the Bible and got to the prayer bit I found myself saying ‘perhaps we should pray about what we had been reading rather than listing and then praying for the needs that we have’.

Now I need to confess that sometimes when my mouth speaks before my brain is engaged I end up in real trouble but this was a real God moment!!

As we prayed and thanked Jesus for his miracles, for the example of the faith of the woman who reached out to Jesus and that nothing is too difficult for God my faith was lifted.

I was longing to tell people of the burdens that I am carrying but instead I was reminded rationally, spiritually and emotionally that God is greater and more powerful than my burdens.

I could have talked at length and we could have said a quick prayer and I might have felt better in myself but instead I connected with God in a fresh way that enabled me to put my faith in Him afresh for some difficult situations.

The prayer wasn’t about telling God what was the matter, it was about seeing more clearly who he is.

Ironically, I’m left wondering when did our prayer times stop being about God?

When did the emphasis switch from him to us?

Don’t misunderstand me, I am not saying that we shouldn’t ever share and pray for specific needs but I am left wondering whether we need to regain a better balance in our prayer lives.

Is it time to make God the focus of our prayer lives again?

Posted in discipleship, encouragement, Faith, God is powerful, Life experiences, Miracles, Power of God, Prayer, Relationship with God, restoration | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Lord is Close to the Brokenhearted

Several times in these past few days I have been reminded of how painful that life can be as I have heard about and seen the struggles faced by others.

As I was praying about this I was reminded of these words from Psalm 34 v18:

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

When we are struggling, we might get supportive cards or e-mails but the thing that we often crave is to have someone who will walk with us in our pain.

I love the way that God especially wants us to know that he is close to us when we are feeling brokenhearted. He walks with his followers always but he wants to remind us that he is close when we are feeling low or are in pain.

If you’re struggling, brokenhearted and in pain then I hope and pray that you will know and experience God’s presence that is with you.

Posted in Bible, Faith, God is with us, God loves us, Life experiences, Listening to God, Relationship with God | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Is Worship about Describing God or Encountering him?

I have been thinking about worship recently and it occurred to me that for some people worship is about describing and focusing on who God is whilst for others it is about meeting with and encountering God.

Sometimes, these two views are talked about like they are opposites that are mutually exclusive but I think that the reality is that we need both elements in worship.

For those who emphasize worship as a description, you need to realize that knowing who God is must lead to the conclusion that he wants to be in a relationship with us. God describes himself as our Father, Jesus says he is with us always and the Holy Spirit lives inside every disciple of Jesus. As we emphasize who God truly is, it should drive us to want to encounter and to have a genuine and real relationship with him.

For those who emphasize worship as an encounter, we need to be sure that we are connecting with who God really is. The church is described as the Bride of Christ, but do we see ourselves in a relationship with God where we are committed ‘for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health’? Do we see our intimacy with God as being in a committed relationship or is it more like a one night stand (or a Sunday morning stand?) where we seek intimacy on or terms to get what we need? Are we willing to encounter the real God rather than just the bits of him that we like?

Jesus said ‘true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way’ (John 4.23).

The Holy Spirit could be simply described as God in relationship with humanity and this relational aspect is half of what Jesus described as true worship.

Focusing on the truth of who God is and also the truth of who we are and how we are in relationship with him is the other half of what Jesus described as true worship.

God wants us to know and encounter him but he wants us to know the real him. He isn’t like Father Christmas who just gives us good stuff once a year, he wants to help us to grow in our faith and as human beings. He isn’t just a divine bodyguard who will always keep us safe from all harm, sickness and suffering. He isn’t a vending machine that we approach to push buttons to get stuff.

God wants us to know who he is. He is a relational God who created humanity to know him but he is also the all powerful creator of the whole universe! He is described as Holy which literally means set apart or different and he lives in unapproachable light (1 Timothy 6.16). When we understand how far above us and far removed from us that God is, it makes his relationship with us all the more meaningful and amazing! The God who wants to know us but who was too far removed sent his son into the world to take on flesh. While Jesus was here on humanity sacrificed him on the cross and God used this act of sacrifice and death to destroy the barrier between us an him. We can approach the unapproachable God because of what Jesus has done!

So what is worship for you?

Is it about describing or encountering God?

If it is strongly one or the other, how will we go about becoming true worshipers as we focus on both.

Oh, and in case you think I am just talking about singing in church you can think again. The Bible teaches us that the offering of the whole of our lives is a spiritual act of worship (Romans 12.1). As we live for Jesus in the real world, we need to know who he really is and we also need to know his presence guiding us.

Sometimes Christians get disappointed with God in life because he our experience doesn’t match up with the PR spun god who is sometimes presented to us in worship. As we live life in the world, things go wrong and we feel pain but in these moments we can know that God is still good and that he is with us. In these moments of confusion and disorientation, we need to seek God that he might be at work in and through us more powerfully which is what he wants to do in every situation.

True worshipers encounter God through the Spirit but they also understand the truth of who he is.

 

Posted in Bible, discipleship, Faith, worship | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Tiredness and finding strength in God

I remembered yesterday that Eagles soar but they don’t flap. Soaring involves harnessing and relying on the power of the wind but flapping would use up all of their energy so they would crash and burn.

God says that if they trust in him that those who are tired ‘Will soar high on wings like eagles’ I wanted to write something about this today but then I realized I already had so here its is 🙂

So remember today, it’s time to soar but not flap!

Honest about my faith

tiredI don’t know if it’s to do with the time of the year or some other reason, but lots of people who I know feel really tired. I know several people who are dreading Christmas and all the preparation it can involve.

Are you tired? Do you feel overloaded? If that is how you feel, then Isaiah 40 has some helpful words.

28 Have you never heard?
    Have you never understood?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
    No one can measure the depths of his understanding.
29 He gives power to the weak
    and strength to the powerless.
30 Even youths will become weak and tired,
    and young men will fall in exhaustion.
31 But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
    They will soar high on wings like eagles.

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What do you want to do with the Prodigal Son?

The voice on the other end of the phone said

‘What do you want to do with the Prodigal Son?’

There was a short pause and then encouragingly they said ‘Save’.

This happened a while ago when I was preaching at a church about the parable of the prodigal son. I had sent through the PowerPoint file and video clips in advance using a cloud based file sharing website and the person downloading the files just wanted to check they were doing so correctly.

When you choose to save a file to a computer, you do so to keep it.

I love the way that this everyday conversation reminded me that when God saves us that he does so to keep us. God wants to welcome us to spend eternity with him.

In the parable, the Father welcomes his son home even though the son had previously rejected and had caused him lots of pain.

The Fathers response might have been to reject or to cause pain in retaliation but instead, in response to the question ‘What do you want to do with the Prodigal Son?’ The Father chose:

SAVE 🙂 🙂 🙂

We have received such grace from God the Father, how will we share that grace with those around us each day?

You can read more about the Prodigal son in these posts:

Do we really believe that we are loved unconditionally by God?

The One About True Love

Prodigal Son Craft Activity

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Peace, Tranquility and Warning Signs

My family and I had a lovely day walking around Alton Water recently.

On the far side of the reservoir I came across this beautiful spot and as I walked along, I thought about this beach being a wonderful place. I began to think about coming back when we had more time so that the children (okay, I) could have fun paddling in the water.

It really is a peaceful, tranquil, idyllic spot.

Around Alton Water at various points are signs that warn people to stay out of the water because of blue or green (I can’t remember the colour) algae which is harmful.

Perhaps on reflection it might not be a good idea to paddle/swim after all?

I woke up thinking about this today and it has prompted me to pray for the world.

The world really is an amazing and wonderful place. There are sights within this planet that will take your breath away and great variety in animal, plant life and food. There are also amazing people who do kind, wonderful and caring things to make the world a better place.

When I watch the news I am reminded that the world is also a harmful place. As I talk and pray with people about the things that trouble them it is so plain how harmful that life in this world can be. There are sights within this planet that cause me to despair and sadly there is great  variety in war, destruction and famine.

In the prayer Jesus taught is disciples he said we should pray

‘Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’.

God’s Kingdom is a place where his way of living is recognized and obeyed. It is a place without evil, suffering death and pain and Jesus said that it is advancing :). In other words, its influence is growing throughout the world and we should pray that it would have even greater influence more quickly.

As I think of a tranquil spot with warning signs I am inspired to pray that God’s Kingdom would come so that this world can become more like the place that he created it to be.

The world has a great hope and his name is Jesus!

Jesus is at work in this world but one day he will return and make everything new and the world will become a wonderful, tranquil place without evil again. Everyone is invited and welcome to this new life, all we have to do is turn to and follow him.

 

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Listening to and Learning from Children in Church

Yesterday we spent the service reflecting on our church values and at one point everyone had some space to draw, write thoughts or to discuss the values.

One of the children (she is 3) drew this picture and asked her mum to write the names in of the other people in her Sunday School class.

Two of our values are ‘God is our leader’ and that we are ‘travelling in a journey of faith’.

This young girl may not be able to articulate our church values, but she drew such a helpful reminder of what it means for Jesus to be with us and of the importance of us keeping him at the centre of what we are doing.

Lots of people drew, wrote comments and said something but the wisdom from this 3 year old provided the highlight of the service for me. 🙂

One of the other children (he is 5) drew this picture of a bird on a nest.

He couldn’t explain why  he had drawn the picture, but it was a helpful illustration of ‘everyone matters’ which is another one of our values. We had also spoken about how we welcome people and show love to one another and this was very much evident in this image.

Another one of the children (she is 5) wrote a list to explain our values rather than to draw something. She said:

  • New people need to know what we are doing (our values talk about being us being accessible)
  • They need to be welcomed
  • You need to share (Part of how you welcome people)
  • Need to be relaxed (another one of our values talks about us being informal and relaxed)
  • Give them nice complements (Part of how you welcome people)
  • They need to know how to understand things about Jesus. (Another one of our values is being honest about our faith).

I love the way that she explained some our values so clearly whilst also challenging us about how we can implement them. I feel that needing to share what we have, was an especially insightful and helpful comment.

Do we have too low expectations of children?

Do we expect children to be able to be inspired by God and to have something worthwhile to say, even if they are only 3?

If we don’t create space for children to share what they are learning and what God is saying with the wider church then we will miss out!

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Our Sins are Washed Away and the Spirit is Poured Out!

God washes away our sins!

This cleansing from sin isn’t just about a ticket to heaven, it’s also about the beginning of a new life in relationship with God.

You see, God isn’t satisfied with just cleansing us from sin, he also goes on to pour out the Spirit (the presence of God) into our lives. Through the Spirit, God is with us and he is at work in us and through us.

Are we celebrating that God washed away our sins?

Are we receiving and being transformed by the Spirit that God has and is generously pouring out on and in us?

When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life. (Titus 3.4-7)

Posted in discipleship, Faith, Following Jesus, freedom, God is with us, Holy Spirit, Life in all it's fullness, Relationship with God, salvation, Saved by Jesus | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Do we relate to Jesus primarily as his Mates or his Minions?

Do we relate to Jesus primarily as his Mates or his Minions?

To put it another way, do you mainly approach Jesus as his friend or as his servant?

Jesus chose disciples ‘that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach’ (Mark 3.14)

It is great that Jesus wants friendship with us! He calls his followers to be with him and to have a friendship with him.

It is a privilege to be servants of Jesus! He calls his followers to take part in his work bringing salvation, hope and restoration to humanity.

Although we should come to Jesus as both servants and friends, it is possible that some of us may be lopsided Christians!

If we come to Jesus just as friends then we could mistakenly think we are his equals and that we can do anything we want. Jesus is the eternal and almighty God and although he calls us friends this doesn’t change who he is.

If we come to Jesus just as servants then we may never grasp how total and complete that his love and acceptance is for us. A servant who falls short of their master’s expectations may expect punishment or disapproval but Jesus treats us with grace and mercy.

So, do we relate to Jesus primarily as his Mates or his Minions?

If it is one or the other, how are we going to get the balance right so that we can discover more fully what being Jesus’ disciple means?

Jesus is my friend and he loves me but he is also my Lord and I serve him.

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