Starting at the start

I’ve written before about the way we seem to think that Holy Spirit needs to wait before coming into our services and joining us.  We have organised our church meetings so that we sing the faster, more upbeat songs first, before getting more contemplative when we are ready for Holy Spirit to come and begin to minister to and through us.

What if if when we walked in to a room, Holy Spirit was there waiting for us? What if we didn’t need to invite Him each time we wanted to have a meeting? What if we started at 100 miles an hour rather than building up to it and just as we get close to top speed have to bring it all to a close because we have run out of the allotted time?

Recently, I walked into a room where it felt like that was exactly what was happening. I was there to worship, minister and listen to teaching, as I have several time before. this time was a bit different though. The chairs had been moved away so that people could move freely. There was already an expectancy in the room.

As I walked around, at times it felt like there were bursts of electricity, like the sort you may get from a van der Graaff generator. It was like heaven was there – all you had to do was to reach out and touch it.

I had a picture of a ‘moving walkway’, like the sort you find between airport terminals or in some large train stations. The whole point of these things is to move large numbers of people in the same direction as quickly as possible. As the distance to be traveled is often large, the effort needed to travel that distance is reduced, as the moving walkway takes the strain. One can move five to ten steps with the effort of just one.  As with the Van der Graaff picture above, I felt that there was an invitation to step onto something that was going to move us a significant distance down our Christian experience, with very little effort from us. All we had to do was to step on to the walkway. Of course, it would be possible to reach the same destination with hard work, dedication and effort, but at least for that evening, I felt that God was saying – let me do the hard work, just come along for the ride. (the walkway in this picture was a bit strange in that it was possible to step onto it wherever one was – the journey and destination were the same)

What I found interesting about this was that we didn’t have to wait for the worship to start for this experience to take place. Holy Spirit was there already, waiting for us. It was as if He had been attracted by the hunger expressed in the building in days leading up to this particular event, and He had remained, waiting, expectant and ready to bless again, in greater measure than before.

The concept that God might simply “be” in a place isn’t a new one. Way back at creation, the Spirit of God was “hovering over the surface of the deep”. The Israelite knew that the Ark of the Covenant was where God could be found and where He met them. Later, the Holy place in the Temple was where the priests would ‘meet’ with God.

I really do believe that we can create an environment that attracts heaven. It really does matter what happens in a space before we meet. When we worship ‘in Spirit and in truth’ heaven comes. Others will notice. What heaven has to offer is attractive. And what happens in a building matters.

The thing is that not everyone has access to their church building before the weekly service. I would love it if ‘life’ meant we could (and would) meet every day to worship, to create an atmosphere that makes heaven turn its head and come to join us, but experience says that isn’t realistic (yet!) The building we can make sure is available for Holy Spirit to invade at all times is ourselves. Imagine what our church services might be like if we turned up on a Sunday, already on the moving walkway, accelerating towards whatever was on heavens heart for that day. What would that look like?

I imagine it would be different for each of us, and different each time we stepped on. It might feel like peace. It might feel like joy, with outrageous laughter. It might feel like courage, and we rush out to tell the world about the Jesus who loves them. There might be a weightiness and we might find ourselves unable to stand. The only thing we could be sure of is that if the destination is heavens heart, it would be worth the ride.

Let’s not wait for the third song this weekend. Let’s arrive ready to experience all that heaven has for us this week. And lets keep the building that hosts Holy Spirit here on earth a hospitable place so that we don’t have to work at church next week either.

All change for 2020?

If previous years are anything to go by, in a day or two there will be a number of statements along the lines of “I’m glad to see the back of 2019, here’s hoping 2020 is an improvement.” I’ve never really jumped on that wagon, but I am very tempted to this year. 2019 has been one of the toughest I have experienced emotionally. Situations far outside my control have, and in some cases continue to challenge me and my faith to breaking point. I long for change. I long to experience a less emotional and testing 12 months.

On one hand I’d rather nothing changed. I just about have things under some sort of control, where if not ideal at least known and manageable. On the other hand, I have no desire at all for things to continue as they are.

I can cope with a bit of variation, but not too much and certainly not too often.

I go to work Monday to Friday, and have a pretty good idea of what I will be faced with. Church on a Sunday follows a tried and tested format. The meals for the week, whilst enjoyed on different days are familiar.

It is often said that the main obstacle to change in our lives is found between our ears. It is definitely an excuse I have (and do) use for lack of exercise. There seems to be a constant battle in my mind between the need to exercise more, and the inability to exercise more because I have neglected it so much in the past. The constant discussion in my mind trying to rationalise each position means that I continue to sit on the sofa rather than simply getting up, putting on a pair of shoes and leaving the house, even if it is just to walk round the block.

If you have spent significant time with me in the past few years, you will know that one of the main prayers I pray for myself, and have others pray for me, is that I will know more of the Fathers love, experience more of the abundance He has for me. To be brave enough to step out in confidence that He really does have my back, and that He wants to use me to change the world. That I would be obedient to His call on my life.

To realise any of that means things will have to change. God can and will use me as I am, but He loves me far too much to leave me there. Try as I might to keep some sort of constant in my life, one of the things that is required of me as a Christian is that I change. One part of me has little control over this. My spirit, the part of me that was made a new when I became a Christian is being transformed from one degree of glory to another. I, you, “ we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18) I am glorious. You are glorious. We are becoming more and more glorious, and it is something we are simply going to have to get used to. It is happening as we are being made more and more like Jesus.

The other part that has to be changed is my mind. As I alluded to earlier, it is the changing of how I think, how I process things that needs to be changed. This is something I have control over. I can choose to believe things. I can make truth statements which will transform my mind. It is important to ensure that the things I transform my mind to believe are Kingdom truths. For that, it is vital that I search for these truths in the right places.

Having already told us that if we are “in Christ” we are a new creation you could be forgiven for struggling with the concept that we still need to change.

Let me try and explain it like this. I believe the bible teaches that we are made up of three parts (just as the Godhead is made up of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.)  We have a body – our external, physical layer. We have a spirit, which is our inner core, the part that is sensitive to God. We also have a soul. This is our mind, our will and our emotions.  It is that part that needs to change. Our spirit man (or woman)  has been made new. Our soul is the part where there is a battle between our new identity and the old one. Winning that battle takes determination on our part. We can’t expect to simply sit back and wait for God to do something. There has to be movement on our part. We need to change, to be transformed, to resolve that we are going to start thinking and acting differently.

For someone that doesn’t do well with change, especially with change happening around me, the thought of having to change me as well can be daunting. Fortunately, we have the assurance that whatever is happening around us or within us there is one thing that doesn’t change. Malachi 3:6 reminds us that God will not change. He will be the one constant throughout whatever 2020 brings. It is because of the confidence we can have in that fact, that we can “risk” allowing ourselves to change. It is precisely because He doesn’t that we must. The thing is, there are clear benefits. Not only will we feel better about ourselves (for which of us doesn’t beat ourselves up when we get it wrong) we will have a much clear vision of what God wants for us, for our family, for our church. The more we are transformed by the renewing of our minds, the more our minds will reflect the truth that Paul tells us “we have the mind of Christ.”

As we head into 2020, I pray that with me you will resolve to allow Holy Spirit to transform us.

Let’s start living in the reality of being a new creation (in our spirit) and taking whatever steps are necessary to allow our minds to catch up. Let’s be brave, knowing that we have the mind of Christ and speak out boldly, knowing that He will catch us if we fail, and love us regardless. Let’s live like we really are glorious, not beating ourselves up for past (or current) failures, seeking out the glory in others.

Let’s make 2020 a year when change doesn’t scare us, its simply a vehicle to discover more of God and His will for us here on planet earth.

Overflow at Christmas

If not a tendency, there is certainly a stereotype that us Brits are good at accepting less than the best. You know the sort of thing I mean – we are British and therefore we don’t expect too much, whether that be from the weather, our friends and family or our general lot in life. Things are just the way they are and with a stiff upper lip, we will just get on with things. The keep calm and carry on spirit is part of British culture that doesn’t show any sign of abatement. I dare say that a good number of otherwise curable ailments are left too long simply because “we don’t want to cause any bother”.

I follow a twitter account called Very British Problems which epitomises this stereotype. They tweet things like “Brit 1: ‘Hope you had a great weekend’. Brit 2: ‘I did thank you! Hope you did too!’  Translation: both had very plain weekends.”

What is said in jest hides a reality that for the Christian can be very restricting.

If there is one thing true about our experience of God thus far it is that there is more to be experienced. It doesn’t matter if you have been a Christian for decades or days, God has abundantly, exceedingly more for us to discover about Him and His love for us.

The danger is that at least for us Brits, we experience a little and become satisfied. It’s as if we don’t believe we are due any more. What if there isn’t enough to go around? I we get too much, others won’t have the same experience, and that simply wouldn’t be fair, or British.

Back in 2001, Paul Oakley wrote a song that has a decidedly unBritish line in it.

“You fill my cup, and when I’m full, You give me more ‘till I overflow.”

I love that. We know from James 1 that “if anyone lacks wisdom he should ask God, who gives generously without reproach and it will be given him.” The truth is that God is in the business of exceeding our expectations. There is more than enough to go around.

Ephesians 5:18 tells us that we shouldn’t get drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit.  The Amplified bible translates the second part of that verse, “but ever be filled and stimulated with the Holy Spirit.

It’s not supposed to be a one time thing that happens when we become Christians. It’s something that should happen on a daily basis. God knows what He is doing. We humans are prone to leak. Some of us leak more than others. The question is what are you leaking over? And perhaps more importantly, is the leak a gush or a trickle?

I think if many of us are honest with ourselves, our “ever filled” situation is restricted to Sunday mornings and the odd mid week meeting. If we miss one of these for some reason, or the preacher “isn’t up to their usual standard” we find ourselves heading into the coming week with less than the ideal amount of fuel to successfully navigate all that life has in store for us.

We then find ourselves woefully unequipped for the opportunity to tell our friends and family about the ‘hope that is within us’(1 Peter 3:15) because we don’t have the words to say.

I think the beautiful thing about being filled to overflowing, and our perpetual leaking is that we often don’t need words. Our overflow is witness enough. That overflow will manifest in a number of different ways, and may be different for each person we encounter. From simply being there and changing an atmosphere, to hugging someone to tell them they are loved, to quietly praying while things go on around us, people will notice the difference. If the overflow from us is a gentle trickle, it may take weeks, months or years for that difference to be noticed. It may even go unnoticed. If however we have taken God at His word and allowed ourselves to be filled on a constant basis it is inevitable that we will spring more leaks. Before we know it, everything we come in contact with will be wet, perhaps even saturated with the presence and love of God.

The capacity for overflow is not restricted to the container. (The amount of overflow may be, but the capacity for it to happen is not.) The only restriction to how much God is able to pour in to us depends on whether we move from the downspout, or place a cap or lid on.

There are a number of ways that we can ensure we are in a position to receive. Perhaps the most important one though is the removal of the lid. To say to God that we are willing to be filled. To allow Him to pour as much as He wants in to us. To be very Un-British about it. To put aside our traditions (those we do for traditions sake rather than because we actually mean them) and allow Him to do whatever He wants through us.

I can’t promise you a smooth ride if you do. You are often going to find yourself in a place where you have no clue what is going on. To quote K in Men in Black, when asked if joining Men in Black was worth it – “Oh yeah – its worth it.”

This Christmas many of us will find ourselves spending time with people who challenge us. Be that Aunt Mabel who always expects everything to be brought to her and never does anything to help, or Uncle Sydney who drinks too much and makes inappropriate comments to your friends who have popped in for a quick Christmas catch up.

If we have taken God seriously at His word and allowed ourselves to be being filled with Holy Spirit, if we have opened ourselves up to overflow and leaking in gushes rather than trickles, we may find that we don’t have to do much to change the atmosphere and spread Truth in our homes, offices and gatherings this Christmas.

May you all know the Presence of God this Christmas – may His Love surround you and those you love at this time.

Is it time to change the Nativity?

Christmas.

A time when the church tells the story of the birth of Jesus.

A time when the world hears of a young girl, travelling over difficult terrain, arrives in the dead of night, can’t find a bed and gives birth that very night in a dirty outbuilding surrounded by animals. If you believe the many depictions of the “stable” that have appeared these animals included cows, pigs, horses and giraffes.

Just after the birth (which we are led to believe was a “silent night”, despite the fact that it is very rare for animals to be silent, the door bursts open, and a load of smelly visitors arrive, closely followed by better smelling visitors with better quality gifts.

And we wonder why the world struggles to believe one of the key messages of the Christian story, that God put skin on and came to dwell with us. That the baby would grow, and eventually give His life to a cruel death by crucifixion in order to give us access to the Father, that we too might live.

We as Christians have a problem.

The world we live in demands a neatly packaged message, with all the key points in one place. So that is what the church has done with the Christmas story. All the key points, Mary and Joseph, unmarried, Mary pregnant, head to Bethlehem, baby born, Angels, visitors and gifts. All presented as the standard nativity. Everything happens within a 24-hr period so we can all get home for hot chocolate and mince pies.

But they also demand a story that makes sense when examined in detail. That is where the church has fallen short. You see, the story, as presented in nativity plays up and down the country has kept to the same basic script, and not really looked at whether it sounds plausible.

Take the stable, manger and inn for example. We all have a mental image of what that looks like. Our brains see these words and we envisage a Travelodge (other hotels are available), a barn on a dirty farm, probably miles from anywhere, and a wooden box, filled with straw. The church has conveniently concocted lessons from each of these, but the story has never quite sat comfortably with me.

The bible says that Mary & Joseph went to Bethlehem, and “while they were there, the time came for her to give birth”. Not on the night they arrived, but some time afterward. Where were they staying? Had they had a booking at the local motel, but had run out of money? Perhaps they had more distinguished guests that needed the room? The fact is that Bethlehem at the time of Jesus birth was not a large enough town to have a requirement for a hotel, or inn. The primary reason for there being no room in the “inn” is that there wasn’t one.

We are told that Joseph was a descendant of King David. That alone would have afforded him access to pretty much any home in the town. Match that with a pregnant fiancée, and there isn’t a community in the world that would not have welcomed them in.  If there really wasn’t room in a house, there would have been plenty of time for Mary & Joseph to travel the short distance to Mary’s relatives Elizabeth and Zechariah. They lived nearby (Mary had visited a few months earlier.)

Houses in Bethlehem at the time of Jesus would have consisted of two rooms. One, the family room, where the entire family lived. They would have eaten, slept and entertained in this room. An attached room would have been at a slightly lower level to house the family animals. The animals would have been brought in at night to keep them safe. Perhaps there would have been small hollows between the two rooms filled with water to allow the animals to drink. Hay would have been held in nets to provide food. Some houses would have had an additional room added – a guest room. The word our bibles translate as “inn” can also mean guest room.

How about this for a paraphrase of events.

Mary and Joseph headed to Bethlehem, because there was to be a census, and Joseph was from Bethlehem. Although Mary was pregnant, there was plenty of time to make the journey and get settled. They stayed with one of Josephs relatives. Lots of people had returned for the census, so all the homes were a bit tight for space. Some people who had arrived early had taken up residence in the guest room, so Mary and Joseph had to squeeze in with the rest of the family.

While they were still there, Mary gave birth, surrounded by friends and family. She would have liked to have been in the guest room, but it was full, and moving the occupants out in the middle of the night wasn’t really practical. Conveniently, there was a small hollow for watering the animals, so they emptied that, and filled it with straw from the nets above and the baby was placed there to sleep.

Shepherds, who were the lowest of the low in Jewish society were watching their sheep that night, but they also had a really important role.

Suddenly an Angel appeared and told them not to be afraid. They thought it was a reasonable emotion, but listened to what the Angel said, and headed down to Bethlehem and found things, just as the Angel had said. They were aware of who they had found. They knew He was the Christ. And they worshipped, and then went back to their fields. Had they felt that the Saviour of the world was living in an inappropriate place, or at the very least less salubrious than their own homes, do you not think they would have offered to rehome the new family?

I mentioned that the shepherds had an important role. It was they that raised the sheep that would be used for sacrifice. It was they that would examine the lamb to ensure it was spotless and acceptable. It was no accident that the shepherds were the first to welcome the baby who would be the lamb that would be offered as a sacrifice for sins for the world.

A couple of years later, astrologers from Arabia came looking for the new King. They brought gifts fit for a King, for they knew the importance of this birth. They had gone to the Palace in Jerusalem initially. They found a King, but not a young child. The King they found was troubled by the request as he knew he didn’t really have any right to be on the throne. He wasn’t a Jew, and the prospect of being overthrown by another filled him with dread.

The Magi kept their gifts, knowing that there was another, worthy recipient.

My concern has long been that in changing the story we present something that can easily be dismissed as myth by the very people we are supposed to be loving into the Kingdom. The Gospel is too important to water down to make it palatable. The beauty of the bible is that it tells the good side and the bad side, not avoiding the mistakes but explaining in graphic detail the consequences of making them. It also beautifully gives us an insight into the blessings that are ours if we do what it says.

We don’t have to embellish the story to make it mysterious. We still find Angels, virgin births, and dreams. Perhaps if we start telling it like it was, rather than how “we have always told it” more people would see the truth of the story, and would want to meet the Jesus that came to earth to dwell with us, to reconcile us to the Father, and who wants to give hope and purpose to our lives.

(I unashamedly used Kenneth Bailey “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, cultural studies in the gospels” as a source for this blog. Any difference in interpretation to his original work as I paraphrased is entirely my own)

Firsts – take 2

This time last year I wrote a blog about firsts (read it here  https://wp.me/s8Y84A-firsts) .

Those of you who know the journey our family have been on will remember that last Christmas was the first that we would spend without mum, as she began her new adventure with Jesus in heaven.

Who would have thought that this Christmas would bring another first – one without dad too? 

I feel a bit different this year.

Although dad was “still with us” he chose to spend Christmas abroad. I remember that it was something he had wanted to do for ages – but knew that mum would never go “and leave the kids (and by that she meant the grandchildren) over Christmas. I totally understand why he went. He was grieving just as we were. He needed space, and didn’t want to spoil Christmas for anyone.

In a sense, last Christmas felt like I’d lost both parents.

If I’m honest I found that incredibly tough. The loss of mum was still very raw. The need to spend as much time as possible with dad weighed heavily on my heart.

However much I wished he was with us last Christmas, it is nothing compared to how I  feel this year.

So, like last year , this will be another one of firsts. The first without both parents, but also the first that both mum and dad get to spend together in the presence of Jesus. They so deserve to rest in His Glory, worshiping with other saints and angels.

I don’t begrudge them that reward at all. This time last year I said I was a little bit jealous. Perhaps doubly so this year.

It is still tough though. It’s the little things that I’ve noticed recently. Things like an easy solution to baby sitting. Like sharing bad “dad jokes” with dad, and trying them out on mum. Like trying to decide which set of parents we will invite for Christmas Day, and which will be on Boxing Day. The first time you find yourself thinking about these things, and you realise that baby sitting needs to be more carefully considered, that no one understands your jokes and that you have two slots over Christmas to fill with one sets of parents can get a bit teary.

If I’m honest, it hasn’t got any easier.

The busyness  if the season means there are other things to fill my mind, so I don’t necessarily ask these questions very often.

If the last year has taught me anything it is that it is vital we spend quality time with those that are here. It’s good to remember those we have lost, but important that we don’t do that at the expense of those who are still with us.

The first Christmas, a baby came that would change history. The story is well known – he grew, and was violently killed on a Roman cross. He rose from the dead and ascended back into heaven. Before He went, He promised to send the Holy Spirit – who would come, fill us and abide with us.

The God who was the baby in the manger will never leave us.

If you know Him, take time to get to know Him better. If not, why not ask Him to make this the first Christmas that you spend with the real reason for the season.

Send the fire

 Lots of the songs we sing at church petition heaven to “send the fire”, or to “rain down”. I’ve often pondered that we would ask for both, when one would naturally cancel out the other. I’ve been thinking a lot more about the fire songs recently.

So often sung, yet so little evidence that our request has been granted. I have no doubt that on a personal level, many have felt the touch of heaven when singing these songs, but in my experience it tends to be limited and localised.

What would it look like if God suddenly sent fire from heaven to the meeting we were in?

Imagine if the fire fell on the whole room, not just one or two. Imagine being in a place so full of the fire of heaven that the fire brigade was called because of the flames, only to find there was nothing that their water jets could do to put it out. (See testimonies of Azusa Street rival)   Imagine what would happen if we really meant some of the words we sing on a Sunday.

 My suspicion is that for many who consider this, the first image that appears in their mind is that of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. A totally impossible situation, miraculously consumed by fire. Many died that day, such was the ferocity of the fire that fell from heaven. It is hardly any wonder that many of us are a little cautious about really meaning it when these words come up on the screen. Sure, we sing them, but only because everyone else is. There will be, for some, and often unconsciously a fear in asking God to send fire from heaven.

Some will be afraid for other reasons. Their image is of Acts 2, when Holy Spirit fell and looked like tongues of fire on the heads of those that were in the building at the time. The result of that heavenly fire was power, authority, supernatural gifts and the Presence of God living inside of each of them. That made a difference to their lives. Things could no longer go on as they had. They had to change. If we are honest, there are few of us that really relish that sort of change in our lives.

Others still will be afraid that He won’t send the fire as we have asked – at least not to them. They are quite happy with realising that fire will fall on others, but they don’t expect it to happen to them.

The sort of experience we expect depends largely on how we view God, and our understanding of our own identity now we are in Christ. If we see ourselves as servants, we will do things out of a sense of duty. There will be  a constant fear of failure, punishment and that “the Master” might be watching. We try to remain inconspicuous by following the rules (often man made ones) and ticking boxes. We don’t want to put ourselves in a position to fail, so we do as little as possible. Every now and again we will offer to help out a little more, just to make up extra credit. Our impression of fire falling from heaven would only be as way of punishment and we’d rather not thank you very much.

If we fully grasp that we are adopted into the family, that we are sons and daughters of the living God, we operate out of relationship and love. We are aware of our inheritance, and that we have access to it now. We live in the assurance that our Father is good and we feel comfortable in His presence. Our impression will be more of Acts 2 – yes there will be some trembling, the house might shake a bit, but the knowledge of His presence throughout the situation makes all that seem insignificant. We will be desperate for more.

There is always something that is destroyed when fire comes. When we experience the fire of Holy Spirit, there is less room for things that are not of Him. The more we hunger after heaven, the more heaven we will experience. The Father will never force His way in though. Heaven is attracted to hunger, but will never force feed us.

A friend recently reminded me of a conversation that happened in the Narnia books of C.S. Lewis. When talking of Aslan,the children were told, “Safe, no, he isn’t safe – BUT, he is good.” The same is true of our Father in heaven. When He comes, we will inevitably be taken out of our comfort zone. We can’t experience Him and stay the same. It will almost certainly be uncomfortable.

It will absolutely be worth it.

Sparrows and lilies

Sometimes life seems to give you lemons. One thing after another, each of them big by themselves, but cumulatively huge.

I can’t pretend that the past year has been easy. I think, most of the time I have coped well, or at least thought I was. There have been more times than I really want to admit to, where I just feel tired. Not so much physically, (although often that too), but emotionally and spiritually. I’ve felt that I have probably given out more than I was receiving, and it seems to be taking its toll.

I have found that the cause of this is often my fault. This isn’t a self depreciating statement, but one of truth. You see, the One who has sustained me thus far on my journey hasn’t changed. He still feels the same way about me. He is still in control. He still has a plan. It is me that has moved. It is me that hasn’t been as attentive to His presence as I perhaps once was. This hasn’t been a deliberate act of course, but one that little by little has resulted in a distance which has created a feeling of loneliness at times.

The wonderful thing about God is that no matter how far we find ourselves drifting, it is only ever one step back to His arms enveloping us in Love and Grace.

I don’t necessarily think that the distance is all that great, it’s just that when one is used to being really close, to being constantly aware of His Pleasure and His Presence even a step away is too far. When one finds oneself even a step away from this, it is lonely.

I’ve found that listening to worship music can be a helpful way to realign my mind, and to reposition my intentions. It can quickly bring me back to a place where I feel His pleasure again.

The song “Sparrows and Lillies” by Pat Barrett brought me back to that place again tonight.

Life has be hard recently. But

“I have seen the sparrow
I have watched it fly
Though she does not worry
Tell me why should I?

So hold on love
Things are gonna get better
Things are gonna get better
I know it’s hard
Hold on love
Things are gonna get better
Things are gonna get better
I know they are”

If you are finding it tough to see His hand in your situation, can I encourage you with these words. In the words of another song “You’ve never failed and You won’t start now.” He really does have it under control. Join me in finding the Gold amongst the dirt of our situations. Sometimes it takes a bit of digging to find it, but I am convinced it’s there, we just have to believe, and keep digging.

Click here to listen to Sparrows and Lillies by Pat Barrett

People versus places

I think it is safe to say that the past year has been tough. Emotions have been all over the place, the sense of loss has never been far from my mind. I’ve done a pretty good job (I think) of holding it together whilst in public, but the reality is that I really miss my parents. It is often said that we don’t realise what we have until its gone, and I can confirm that this is very much the case with parents. I know that regardless of the amount of time I had spent with them, learning from them and just being in their presence it would still not have been enough, but I still wish that I had spent more time with them.

I have found that it is only since they are gone that I am finding out about things that I wish I had had the opportunity to ask them more about it. I hate the fact that much of what I now know about my parents is a result of the memories of others rather than my own memories of them.

I recently had the opportunity to travel to town where I grew up (at least for the first 10 years). The plan was to try and find some emotional closure, by visiting people and places that held a memory of one or both of my parents.  After the turmoil of emotions that the last year has brought, I felt that I would benefit from being there again, talking to people about mum and dad, and immersing myself in the places that they called home.

I found myself sitting outside childhood homes, churches, schools and even chip shops. I found myself searching for the memory that would allow me to move on. What surprised me was I found very little emotion in these places. The memories were free flowing, but there was no emotion.

It was different though when I visited with people from the past. People that remembered mum and dad (and my sisters and I) were full of stories and memories. These memories brought life back into the pictures that I had in my mind. It was wonderful to worship in the building that I had left as an 18yr old but was so much more special to worship with some of the people that had been there back then. We have all changed and our expression of our journey may be different, but the God who holds it and us all together was very much there in the midst of us.

The bible tells us that we shouldn’t “give up the practice of meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.” I know that this guidance is for those that claim to following Christ, but have little time for His people, but I believe it applies to simply keeping in touch and doing life with those that are important to us too. I’ve never been very good at writing letters (the examples I have found amongst my parents ‘memories’ box is testament to that) so I am really grateful for the advent of social media that allows me to reconnect with people that I had previously lost touch with. Its not without its limitations though, and there is nothing quite like meeting someone face to face.

I suppose what I trying to say (and remember that the purpose of this blog is so I can process thoughts, and isn’t a final say on the subject) that “doing life” with people is really important. Places will still be there decades later. Those we love may not be. Take time to talk. Take time just to be with them. Learn from them, laugh with them, cry with them. As much as it depends on you, don’t lose touch. People matter.

I am thankful that I was able to take this trip. Some boxes have been closed forever. Some have been closed, and will be opened again at some point, hopefully with others present. What I find most interesting, is that I have found some boxes that I didn’t know were there, and now I have looked in them I want to keep them open.

I pray that you will find peace as you process the boxes in your life.

Logs in the eye

The moment someone becomes noticed these days it seems to be the practice of the media to dig into their past. The primary purpose for this doesn’t seem to be validate the persons popularity, but to bring them down.

The media, whether traditional or social, wants to hold those we ‘follow’ to higher standards than they can follow themselves.

I saw a (satirical) headline the other day. It read “Prodigal son kicked back out after old tweet surfaces.’ As is so often the case with satire amongst the intended humour was a deep truth to be examined.

I for one am thankful beyond words that social media wasn’t a thing when I was growing up. Not that I did anything illegal, just a bit stupid at times. I don’t wish to remember some of these things nor do I want anyone else to do so. At the time, even if I realised the error of my ways and stopped doing whatever it was, there were inevitably consequences. Some of these persist today. .

The beauty of being a Christian is that we have the same benefits as I do from being a little older than the ‘social media generation.’

My mum used to say, “confession is good for the soul, but bad for the reputation.” It really is. When I confess my sin, He is faithful and just, and will forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9 – emphasis mine)

Confession brings a cleansing that leaves us positionally right with God again, able to approach Him without fear, without risk of being banished. Once sin has been removed from our account we shouldn’t try and apply it again. It is done, it is finished.

The Psalmist reminds us that “as far as the East is from the West, so far does He remove our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12)  If God has removed them that distance, who are we to bring them back?

We have no right to bring back the sins of others either. If a brother or sister in Christ did something, their accountability rests with God, not with us. If they have been forgiven by Him, reminding them of their past indiscretions is of no beneficial value. There are of course situations that we must take account of past misdemeanours. In the same way I live with the consequences of my actions, so must they.  There are those that will be inappropriate for certain positions, but if true repentance has occurred, I believe, these people will understand this.

We seem to have a tendency in the church, certainly in the West to raise up leaders to lead us, only to discover years later that when they were younger they made a mistake. Someone talks to someone else and before we know it we are looking for another leader, just for the process to begin again. I’m not suggesting that we put up with continued sin, but if there has been true repentance, that should be the end of it.

Church, we need to remember the Grace afforded to us personally is the same Grace available for our leaders. Let us support them, love them and remind ourselves that a mistimed comment does not define their positional stature any more than it does ours.

I’m reminded of the verse in Luke 6, Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?

I have enough to worry about with keeping my own life on track without worrying about anyone else. I suppose when I have me sorted, I can start on others.

I pray you do too.

What will you do?

There is a famous speech made by William Wallace in the (documentary) film “Braveheart” as the Scottish Army line up to face the English at Stirling.

Wallace, as he sees the Scots begin to leave, as they see the might of the English approaching rides through and manages to convince his countrymen to stay and to fight. The main thrust of his plea is around the fact that, in spite of their current experience, of oppression and being subject to an English King, that they are in fact free men.

For those who are unfamiliar with the speech, here it is.

“Sons of Scotland, I am William Wallace, and I see a whole army of my countrymen, here, in defiance of tyranny. You have come to fight as free men, and free men you are. What will you do with that freedom? will you fight?

Someone replies – “no, we will run, and we will live.”

Wallace replies, “Aye, fight and you may die, run, and you’ll live, at least a while. and dying from your bed, many years from now,  would you trade all the days from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies, that they can take our lives, but they will never take our freedom.”

Whether this speech actually happened or not, I was struck by the question Wallace asked at the beginning. “What will you do with that freedom?” That the Scots were free was never in question. They may not have felt free, but that is what they were.

The truth of their reality (rather than their experience) required a response. What would they do to demonstrate to their enemies that they were no longer satisfied to be subjected to oppression?

The question is just as relevant for us today as it was for the “Sons of Scotland” centuries ago. The bible tells us that “it is for freedom that we have been set free.” (Galatians 5:1) There is a reason for our freedom. It was bought at a price, a price that none of us can fully appreciate or understand, yet we accept the gift, without realising that it comes with a need to be active in our acceptance. It is not sufficient just to say thank you and wait until we receive the call to heaven.

Too many of us sit back, with our ticket, just waiting. When trials come, we conclude that it is simply human experience and there is little we can do to change things. Yet, Paul tells us that with the freedom we have, we don’t have to be oppressed any more. The chains have been broken. We are free from the shackles than ensnare and hold back, and yet we don’t really try and move off, to try and achieve anything for the Kingdom.

Whilst stating that it is truth that is more important that experience, I firmly believe that we should be experiencing more of the Kingdom here on earth than we currently do. Even those of us who have experienced great things already have more to experience. There is always more. God is eager to show us more. Jesus himself taught us to ask for it. “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, here on earth, as it is in heaven.” He wouldn’t have told us to pray it if it wasn’t possible.

I believe that God is perfectly capable of bringing His Kingdom to earth by Himself. He needs no assistance. I also believe that He chooses to partner with us. 1 Corinthians 3:9 says that “we are God’s fellow workers.” It also tells us that we are God’s field, God’s building. He wants to use us to further His Kingdom here on earth.

Those that understand that they are free and choose to do something with that freedom are those that are most malleable into the people who can be effectively used.

William Wallace understood that there was an action required in response to freedom.

You are free.

What will you do with that freedom?