Easter is coming!

How’s Lent going for you? We’re quite a way into the 40 days of Lent as we enter the month of March and the countdown had started to the great Christian festival of Easter. When Lent started did you make any decisions on what perhaps you might like to ‘give up’; biscuits, chocolate or the like. Or maybe you decided to take up something new or doing something a little bit different. Whatever your choice, how are you getting on? Successfully or perhaps could do better!!

When it comes to our Christian journey, we come across many times when we are going great guns, and everything seems to be all steam ahead. But there are other times when we stumble, fall over, even find ourselves going backwards! This is all part of the relationship we can have with Christ. And the most important thing is knowing that whatever the situation we face in life, Christ is there with us. This is what Easter has given us. A Saviour who was human and lived his life just like you and me; but where He was special was that He was willing to fulfil His Father’s plan and become the one who was to die to take away the sins of the world. What was even a greater act, was the way in which He was raised back to life – overcoming even death itself. This is what we are preparing for during this time of Lent. To ready ourselves for the risen Christ to become part of our lives.

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Silence is golden!

I’m sure that there are many of you who recall the very famous hit from the 1960’s, ‘Silence is golden’. For someone like me who is very much a ‘doer’ silence is very difficult and so the time that I write this is proving to be quite challenging!! I am away on retreat with the Probationer ministers from across the District and the theme that is being followed this year is all about ‘living in the silence’. There have been a number of sessions of just silent prayer which has been very interesting. But one thing that I have come to realise is that all too often we live in the here and now; and world that has a 24/7 lifestyle. Everything has to happen immediately if not sooner; we find very little time to simply ‘stand and stare’ as the poet puts it.

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New Year – New Opportunities

A new year is upon us. 2018 looms very close on the horizon. A new year brings new opportunities for each of us, the church and the world.

As a Church we are well used to thinking that our job, our calling, is to reach out to those who are seeking God. Partly this is because of the empty chairs we have got used to seeing around us each Sunday and on weekdays. Partly it is a growing awareness of the deep spiritual hunger of many who have not been brought up to go to church and do not see it as a viable answer to their need. It seems that there is almost a daydream-like quality about us when we are try to imagine crowds and crowds of people from all walks of life, actively seeking us out, in order to find God and spiritual fulfilment.

I do wonder sometimes how the Church would cope with such a situation? Would we be able to help them with their search? Would we understand their questions? Would we be overjoyed to see them pouring through the doors, or would they pose a threat to our traditional way of doing things?

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It’s that time of year again!

Can you believe that we have already reached that time of year that seems to roll around so quickly – Christmas. How many of us as we put the decorations away last year decided that this year things would be different. We wouldn’t get in so much food for the festive season; we won’t buy the same number of presents as we normally do or send as many cards as we have done in past years; the tree doesn’t need any new baubles this year; so the list goes on. And yet, once again we look at all the festive treats on offer and decide on how great that would be have on our table this year. We add that extra pack of cards into our shopping basket for those friends we have forgotten to send cards to last year and yet we got one from them. We dip yet again into the box to find those last few decorations to put on to the, already heavily laden tree. This is what we do. This is what Christmas is all about.

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Remembering

We have arrived at that time of year again when we spend some time in remembering. The month of November starts with ‘All Saints Day’ when we can think about those who have gone before us into glory – the saints of old as well as those who have been close to us in our earthly journey. It’s a time for remembering the memories we have of them and realising the part that they have paid in our lives.

We don’t get too far into the month when we arrive at Bonfire Night. This is a time for remembering the early act of rebellion when Guy Fawkes attempted to kill the king by blowing up the Houses of Parliament. Robert Catesby the instigator and planner of what has come to be known as the ‘Gunpowder Plot’ felt so disgruntled by the way that the country was going and what he saw as the persecution of the Catholic church, that his only recourse was to turn to violence to overthrow the ruling classes.

Then of course, we have the very important time of remembrance that centres around the 11th.

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Intimidation and Worth

No individual, group or nation likes being pushed around. We all like to arrive at our decisions without being intimidated into submissive agreement by a stronger party. Even if our decision turns out to be a blunder, we tend to prefer the freedom to make our own mistakes over being forced to do what others judge to be right. When someone stands at your door and makes you an offer, while his armoured tanks take up position at your gateway, it tends to concentrate your attention and it is usually understood that this is an offer you can't refuse! But some people do refuse. And depending on your point of view, they are either mad or martyrs.

The point is illustrated well in a story about Philip 11, who was king of Macedon around the middle of the fourth century B.C. Philip was a bit of a bully, the kind of leader who always got what he wanted - if he couldn’t get it through diplomacy, he would take it by force. He had managed to subdue all the major Greek city states, all of them that is, except one, the state of Sparta.

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Remembering to forgive

Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, was elected to office on an antislavery ticket, an election that precipitated the Civil War. In 1863 Lincoln issued a proclamation freeing Southern slaves, and two years later masterminded the Thirteenth Amendment, prohibiting slavery anywhere in the United States. Lincoln was opposed to all forms of slavery, not least people becoming slaves of their own anger and resentment.

Lincoln's secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, had some trouble with a major general who accused him, in abusive terms, of favouritism. Stanton complained to Lincoln, who suggested that he write the officer a sharp letter. Stanton did so, and showed the strongly worded statement to the president, who applauded its powerful language. "What are you going to do with it?" he asked. Surprised at the question, Stanton said: "Send it, of course." Lincoln shook his head. "You don't want to send that letter," he said. "Put it in the stove. That's what I do when I've written a letter when I am angry. It's a good letter and you had a good time writing it and feel better. Now, burn it and write another." 

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Difference is a blessing!

As I write this piece, I am seated on the train travelling to a meeting at Church House in London. As usual, the train was late getting into the station, over-running engineering works at Plymouth, but we’re now on our way and the weather is fine, I have a seat which is always a bonus, and so I can settle down to enjoy the journey.

I don’t know about you, but I like to look around at the people on the train and try to guess their story – people watching is a fascinating pastime! There are the businessmen in their dapper suits tapping away on their laptops, juggling the mobile phone and the cup of coffee. There’s the returning student, college now over for the year and looking forward to the long summer holidays. I look on at the flustered young mum trying to keep two very young children happy on a long and boring journey. The old couple – visiting grandchildren perhaps, or starting off on new travels to exotic faraway places. The list goes on, because everyone on this train is different, we all have different reasons for being here, different destinations to reach and different times by which we need to be there. Difference is a blessing, because if we were all the same what a boring world we would live in!!

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Locked doors

The French writer Jean-Paul Sartre wanted to explore the agony of many human beings who feel trapped in the midst of life. He wrote a play about hell, and gave it a suitable title: ‘No Exit’. In this play three people arrive in hell, which consists of a large sitting-room with mirrors around the walls. There is no exit in the room, and no intermission in the action. The three characters are on stage all the time since they are condemned to spend eternity together without leaving the room.

They pass the time reflecting on what has happened in the past, but they cannot use that to change their lives now. As they remain locked within the room, the final line of the play is, "Let's go." But of course, they can go nowhere. For them hell is being tied to a past and a present that cannot be changed. They have no prospect of a future that is different from the present time. All they have is mirrors. And that is hell!

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The Everywhereness of God

This Lent, I have been reading a book entitled ‘God is Closer Than You Think’ which is written by an American author by the name of Jon Ortberg. In the book he writes about how, through his life experiences, he recognises the presence of God in the everyday things of life. He also suggests that God is everywhere where people are – that in many of the situations in life that we find ourselves, God is already there. He is aware of the things that we are facing, the hopes and fears that we meet in our everyday lives are already known to him. Such is the presence of God in our lives and in the world.

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Ashes to Eggs

As I write this piece, we have just celebrated St Valentine’s Day.  I’m sure that there are many mantelpieces adorned with cards to loved ones; waste baskets bursting with discarded chocolate boxes; vases straining under the weight of red roses.  We are bombarded each year by advertisers pushing the latest purchase for our loved ones. All this is just to show how much we love those around us.

As we move into the time we call Lent, we are reminded that this is a time of preparation – getting ourselves ready to celebrate Easter.  With all that unfolds at the Cross of Calvary, we find it hard to see where the love in the sacrifice of Jesus really lies.  But love is at the heart of the Easter story.

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Blessings!

Blessings!

Christmas and New Year are behind us. We have packed away all the decorations for another year. We are in the season of cold, dreary and even wintry weather. People walk around reflecting the dismal time of year that is February!! But, you know, it doesn’t have to be like that!!!

The other day, I had one of those days (rare as they seem to be!), when everything went right. The weather was cold but dry and clear. When I got to where I was going, I had the normal nagging feeling – just how long was I going to have to drive around before I could find somewhere to park but, amazingly, I drove into the car park to find a parking space just waiting for me. I went into the place for the meeting and there on the side was a lovely tray of fresh pastries and some great hot coffee. The day went well. Everything started and finished on time and the journey home was clear of traffic jams and roadworks. You could say it was almost a perfect day!

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Christmas Thoughts for 2016

I just can’t comprehend, sitting here at my desk, that I am writing a piece for yet another year’s newsletter! Where does time go to? You seem to blink and another day has flown by; days soon turn into weeks and before you know it, the year has come full circle!!

But what is time? Do we work in our time or God’s time?

As we approach Christmas again this year, to some it seems to be a time when they feel like saying, ‘oh no, here we go again, why does it come around so quickly?’ Or maybe some say ‘yet another time to spend money we don’t have on things no one needs, for people we don’t really like!’

How different this is from the very first Christmas that was celebrated in Bethlehem. I am sure that for God, the gift he chose to give to the world wasn’t given without much forethought. He had spent so long trying to ensure that the Jewish nation could have that special relationship with Him that He had hoped for when He had made them His chosen people. But it wasn’t to be and what happened on that first Christmas was something that can only be described as truly earth shattering. No wonder there were ‘choirs of angels’ singing from the heavens. God didn’t have the luxury of going down to the local superstore to browse the aisles to see what gift to give. He didn’t have the joy of internet shopping to take all the hassle out of the Christmas present buying blues. He had to make a choice that was going to cost Him far more than we could ever come to realise. His gift was to be His son, Jesus – a gift that the world was given freely and given with love.

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Choosing to love

Before people go for a job interview they usually spruce themselves up, dust themselves down, then check with their family or friends if they look all right. Minor adjustments are made, assurances of "not to worry" are urged. CVs and application forms have already been sent on ahead, advance notice of past accomplishments that are supported by important signatories. The gaps have been covered as well as could be truthfully managed. All these reports now lie on the table in the interview room. Dry throats are watered, moist palms are rubbed, nervousness is covered with a ready smile. The interview begins. The agenda is ‘themselves’.

People go through all this anxiety and strain in the hope that they will be selected for the job. The prospect of failure and rejection is real, but the strenuous hope of being chosen gives them courage to face the probing questions. To be chosen is to be picked out, opted for, preferred, taken on. All this makes the risk of refusal worthwhile.

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Showing Gratitude

As the story goes, the English writer Somerset Maughan had a problem. He had earned a good sum of money from his Spanish royalties on his novels, but the law forbade him to take any of the money out of the country. Maughan decided to use the money to pay for a luxury holiday. He chose one of the best hotels and dined extravagantly every evening. Nothing was too costly. When he felt satisfied that he had spent most of the money that was due to him, he told the manager that he would be leaving the following day. He asked for the bill.

Instead of going off to get the bill, the manager stood where he was and beamed at his distinguished guest. Maughan was confused. The manager said to him: "It has been an honour having you in our hotel. You have brought much publicity to us while you have been here. We would like to show our gratitude. Therefore, there is no bill."

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Vision of the future

The leader of a certain Indian tribe was dying. For many generations his people had been encamped at the base of a large mountain. The chief summoned his three sons and said: "I am dying; before my death I must choose one of you to succeed me as the head of our tribe. I have the same task for each of you. I want you to climb our holy mountain and bring me back something beautiful. The one whose gift is the most outstanding will be the one who will succeed me."

The following morning the sons set out on their search, each taking a different path to the top of the holy mountain. After several days the three sons returned. The first brought his father a flower which grew near the summit of the mountain; it was extremely rare and beautiful. The second son brought his father a valuable stone, round and colourful, which had been polished by rain and sandy winds. When the third son approached his father, everyone saw that his hands were empty.

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United under Christ

One Sunday an advertisement appears in the newspapers. It was headed by pictures of a doctor, a lawyer, a musician and an army officer. Underneath was written in bold:

"A vocation. What if you don't have one?"

The advert continued:

"It was the first time I felt envious about anything," a young man told us recently. "I looked around the dining hall and realised with some pain that there were two sorts of people here: those who had vocations, and the rest of us who did not. The first group knew exactly where they wanted to go and how to get there. Their lives, I naively imagined, would be unswerving and purposeful, rich with certainty and fulfilment. "By contrast I felt muddled and irresolute. I found myself mentally trying on different jobs but, like second-hand clothes, none seemed to fit."

The advertisement was for recruitment to the army and it tries to kill off the idea that a young man who is uncertain has no place in the army. Uncertainty, it argues, is not feeble mindedness. After all, how can you commit yourself to something you know nothing about? The army, so the argument goes, will give this unsure young man time to make up his mind about the future. He will have time to discover if he really has what the recruiting officer calls "a vocation for the Army."

When Matthew writes of the call of the first disciples, there is no suggestion of any hesitation on the part of the four fishermen. Matthew does not tell us why they follow Jesus. His story is simple: Jesus calls them and they follow him. There is no hint about where they are going; there is no detailing of what discipleship will involve. Nothing is promised; nothing is signed. Matthew is clearly not interested in these questions; he is more concerned to show that the disciples are called by Jesus and how their discipleship requires the leaving of everything that occupied them until that moment.

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Overlooking Sin

We all have our own images of God. Sometimes people imagine God as the great accountant who keeps exact records of everyone of our wrongdoings. This God preserves the details of our failings on computer – nothing escapes his attention, nothing is overlooked. Given what he sees, he regards the handiwork of his creation with some disapproval. He waits until the last day when he can confront us with the punishing record of our sin.

But this depiction of God is a world away from the image given in the book of Wisdom:

“You are merciful to all, because you can do all things and overlook men’s sins so that they can repent.
You love all that exists ... You spare all things
because all things are yours, Lord, lover of life”

 

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Measuring up!

Anyone who has been on a team building course may well recall that one of the exercises that always seems to be on the agenda is when the group is asked to stand on a suspended plank and organise themselves in order of height.  The tallest and shortest stand out straight away but its funny how everyone jostles for position and how someone always thinks of themselves as being taller than the next person!  Whether we like it or not, from a young age we care a lot about how we measure up.  That’s why we always take off our shoes before we get on the weighing scales, or always try to stretch our backs when our height is measured.  We seem to spend a lot of our time wishing we were taller, shorter, slimmer or broader.

 It’s also true that God is just as concerned on how we measure up - not our physical size and shape, but how we measure up spiritually.  To him, it’s not how we look but it’s about how we live our lives that’s important.

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Choices, choices!

Every day we face making choices.  Should we take the main road or go the pretty way through the lanes?  Should I go to the gym or the coffee shop?  Most of our decisions don’t require a lot of thought.  Even the important decisions do not seem permanent.  If we don’t like where we live, we move.  If we don’t like our job we can seek a new one.  But all too often it’s easy to forget that when we make choices there may be consequences.

We face a world of decisions every day.  Choice is built into the essence of our existence.  As much as we wish we could, we can’t have it all.  From the moment we are born it is clear that there is more to do than we can ever hope to achieve!

Every time we choose a path we miss countless others.  Every decision we take is the death of a myriad of alternatives.  It is difficult for us to admit that some directions we take are irreversible.  We find it hard to say to ourselves, “I will do this one thing”.  We so often stand at junctions where two roads diverge and try to go down both.  It’s so painful for us to decide to do “this” when we know that it means we will never be able to do “that”.  Sometimes we try to convince ourselves that in the end, all the different paths will converge into one, but this is not true of our experience.  Some decisions that are made build permanent fences that we can never hope to scale.

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