Live in peace with everyone…

Today’s verse of the day, courtesy of bible.com (YouVersion bible app) is:

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.

Hebrews 12:14 NIV

I’m sure you’ll all agree this is hugely important, to live in peace, with everyone, is something a vast majority of us fail to do at the best of times. However, it is something we all strive to do. Perhaps with a sprinkling of extra patience, or with an increasing understanding of ourselves and others. We are learning to appreciate differences and the uniqueness of character and person, through controlling our behaviour and being more mindful of it, of other peoples, our surroundings and the circumstances of others. By listening more than imposing our perspectives of things over others, or by being more graceful in our actions and our words – this small set of examples are all something we can work towards easily if only we would put effort into it.

What is not so easy to quantify, or to achieve, is being holy.  What does it mean? How are we to do that?  It is a tricky thing, to be holy, but scripture provides us with clues and encouragement.

For example, 

19 I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6 19-23

Holiness is not something we start with; it is something we seek to obtain, and we may never fully achieve it if we don’t listen to the one person who can lead us there, Jesus.

Seek out the Lord, our God, through our Saviour Jesus Christ, so that in everything that we do, we bring glory to His name, to the Lord God Almighty.  Follow the perfect example of Jesus as best as we can for we are not perfect, but do not be afraid of our imperfections because God knows us through those as much as he knows us in any other way.

We are clothed anew in righteousness through the holy spirit when we are baptised, to enable us to serve as best we can, to allow us to walk the correct path, to be free from sin so that we may be Holy, in mind, in body, and spirit.

We are born to serve, just as Zechariah’s song shouts out loud and clear in verses 74-75

74 to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
    and to enable us to serve him without fear
75     in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

Zechariah’s song

So in all things, as Jesus said:

37 … ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’

Matthew 22:37-40

So that we may “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy.”

God bless us all.

My favourite hat

Until recently the sun has had his hat on. Now it just seems to be putting it on and taking it off, and on and off again.

Unfortunately, I have hats on my mind. Partly because of the Mad Hatters Tea Break coming up in work, partly because I like hats and have quite a few of them, and partly because this week I have been wearing many different hats as my life morphs between work, home and church.  I was struggling to sleep the other night wondering whether I should wear my mad hatters top hat and take a picture for the tea party, and then some of this came to me:

We wear many hats throughout our lives, swap between so many roles, but there is one hat that we all have; a favourite hat:

I have a favourite hat
My hat fits perfectly upon my small head,
but is sooooo very very large it can sit upon the world!
My hat can be seen, but is invisible to the eye.
My hat cannot be touched, but it can be felt
but is not made of that or wool or leather.
I like my favourite hat.
Some people don’t like my hat,
they hate it,
try to take it,
resent it and despise it
and some ask me to “Please leave your hat at the door”
as if I could “take it off!”
for I cannot remove my favourite hat.
Once I don my hat it’s on for good
although I may doff it
I will not scoff (much)
about my favourite hat.
My hat is with me every day
and every night is on my head,
even when I’m in my bed
It is warm and comforting,
wraps me round like a blanket
and sits like a soft pillow on my head.
My hat would fit you too,
you only have to try it!
It may not be the current fashion
but is popular, but you can’t buy it.
It cannot be taken,
but can be given and shared;
there is no other that can be compared.
My hat is unique,
it’s my one of a kind,
yet it’s the same,
as yours,
or theirs,
some people wear it sideways on,
some people wear it in pairs!
Some hats are made from different stuff
and come from different places,
yet they are built to last
among the different races.
Some you can tell have it on,
some don’t even know it,
but wear it all the same as me
you can tell them; but it won’t sit.
I have a favourite hat,
I hope you have yours too!
I love my hat,
It loves me back!
It loves you just the same.
My hat is love,
of love divine,
because it was made
by Jesus.

Think about all the hats you wear, all the hats people next to you are juggling, pray over them, especially at the end of the day, but remember we all wear the same hat even though we can’t see it. 

God bless you all and keep you safe as we walk through a new wilderness together.

Thy will be done…

I have mixed feelings about the recent week or two – our government is submitting to socioeconomic pressure to lift lock down while we are seeing second spikes appearing in other countries that, perhaps, eased them too early.  Suffice to say I think this particular virus will be with us for some time to come, so we have to learn to adapt and hopefully we will prevail where others have so far failed.

This week, for many of us, we have been adopting new working practices in line with social distancing, moving into new working environments, or perhaps spring cleaning all of our collective hoard of old documents, manuals, coffee sachets ten years-out-of-date hiding in corners of drawers, and so on.  One thing that remains constant in all of this is that Gods Will is ever present.

Sometimes we are driven by human desires and needs; a workplace example might be an instruction from a manager, who in turn are dealing with the demands placed on them.  Sometimes we are driven by forces that don’t make any sense; maybe an urge to do something different, to go someplace, to say a particular thing.  It is at times like these that we need to be aware of who or what is driving it.

When you recognise these circumstances, it is essential to know whether it is God-given or not. There is no hiding the fact that there are forces at work against the will of God; the battles have raged for centuries. The thing to remember is that the war is already won, through the one final sacrifice and resurrection of God’s Son, our saviour Jesus Christ.   As such, any power of evil has no claim on any us, no right to demand anything of us, so long as Jesus is at the very centre of our heart evil will dissipate before us.  When you believe there is a power urging you to do something, place your trust in Jesus and pray, if it is against the will of God it will vanish, but if it is God-given it will persist (FYI: God is very, very patient, and very, very persistent).  We are to be subservient to Gods will, but only because we have free will to choose to do so; we get to choose whether we act or not (mostly, God will face down any argument you have with love and reason to persuade you otherwise and not by force and anger). You have to recognise the gentleness of the impulse as opposed to a push in the back.

There is a prayer in one of my books that reflects on will very nicely; it goes like this:

My Father, help me as a follower of Christ
to say “Your will be done”.
You would not have me accept your will
because I must, but because I may.
You would have me take it,
not with resignation, but with joy,
not with the absence of murmur,
but with the song of praise . . .
Teach me that your love is wise.
Guide me not blindfold, but with open eyes . . .
Give me the blessedness of the man
whose delight in in your law,
who can tell of your statutes rejoicing the heart.
I shall obey your will in perfect freedom
when I can say, ‘your Spirit is good’.

George Matheson. A Book of Prayers, Lion Publishing 1988

We have free will, to accept Jesus, to accept God’s wisdom, His gifts and to rejoice in life no matter what it may hold for us right now. We must open our eyes and our ears for His guidance; we do not walk blindly through the light or darkness.

We can listen to thunder, marvel at lightning, hear the scream of the wind in our ears and cower in the facelessness of a virus, but that is not where you will find God’s voice. It may be in a whisper to your soul, or it may be in a rush of warmth in your heart as it fills with the love of creation.

We begin with acceptance of His will; by accepting that we are His children and therefore His agents, ambassadors & messengers.

Through God we will prevail with His strength and guidance, for the glory of His Kingdom upon this earth.

May God bless us all.

A time for …

…prayer, music and worship.

A time for reflection, for taking a deep breath, to take a moment.

To breathe in deeply and release it slowly, to centre ourselves in preparation for prayer, to be right with ourselves so we can truly and honestly open our hearts to God.

You may have noticed it’s been a while since I wrote anything…

Surprise!!!

Now here’s two posts in such a short time 🙂 I think I’ve set myself a new record; either that or the content is appallingly bad.

My lack of writing is partly due to world crisis, partly because I am busy with work and home, but also I’ve been busy taking time out, for myself, because sometimes we need to care for ourselves as much as we do for others; to ensure I stay grounded so that I can still help others.

This is something I encourage you all to do when you feel stretched.

I am lucky, I will admit that … I have my work, my books, my prayers (and prayer books), my bible(s), music, games and my musical instruments, not to mention support from church and members of the congregation even though we are all separated at this time.

I am aware that others are not so fortunate. Many have lost their jobs, many have lost family and friends, many are still unable to be free to enjoy their lives or their faith in the way that some of us can. I see some of this in our prayer lists.

Trust that if you find yourselves in any of those circumstances, our prayers, and some form of assistance from God is or will be with you in one form or another – you may not be aware of it but God can make a change in one area of life that affects a change in another, and so the butterfly effect kicks in, and eventually the Kingdom of Heaven will arrive and with it away goes all of the suffering, the turmoil, the hatred, the anger and the sorrow.

To help keep myself grounded in these troubled times I tried to do what I’ve seen others on the internet do and use a little time to learn something new. I picked up my keyboards and revisited a tune that I started way back in the late ’80s. I felt a desire, a nudge, a gentle push to do something with it so I did; it has been a long time since I last played. I obtained a copy of FL Studio and proceeded to learn how to use it (I still have so much to learn).

My attempt at musical mastery(ish) is available on Soundcloud, I hope you like it.

FL Studio also has a video generator built in so I’ve put a copy of the song on YouTube with a video – can you believe that, it’s certainly not up to professional label music video standards but that I could do that myself using the tools available is brilliant.

Note: some of our tools as Christians are our faith and resolve, the love of Jesus, sharing the peace, our tranquillity, our voice, morals and ethics, Gods wisdom, all our prayers, the Holy Spirit – the list is long; you can have a go at listing some yourself.

If you like the song, leave a comment and share it. However, if you don’t like it, fair enough, don’t listen to it, but it may grow on you – I already caught my one person I know humming the tune without realising they were doing it.

There is a prayer in the middle…

We’re on our knees Lord 
We’re begging you please Lord
We’ve got a huge problem down here
We’re all dying down here
We’re praying you can hear us
Please come and be near us
Reach out your hand and save us.

God bless us all.

Where to start … ?

There are times when words fail me ….

[Starting again]

There are many times when words fail me …

[Starting again]

My thoughts are all jumbled up …

[Starting again]

… so Covid-19 happened, is still happening, is likely to be around for many years to come …

… and I feel helpless and powerless.

I do what little I can to support our health services, to protect those around me who need my help, and to protect myself by social distancing, shopping only once a week, eating but not snacking, working (thankfully the job I have is relatively secure right now) and sometimes not sleeping but sleeping well when I do. I listen for those who need it, and talk to those who will listen for me, supporting health and well being, thinking and praying.

All I can really do is trust in God, to have His hand upon our situation, to rely on His guidance, to lead our scientists in their search, to lead our health services in healing those who are ill, and for patience in our civilisation which is in the midst of such turmoil; so much so that anger spills out in all directions. Normality has been lost in the depths of a new beginning and sometimes that means people have lost themselves, or show sides of themselves that were buried, or hidden, and have now been let loose.

It doesn’t matter how many times we get stuck for words.

It does not matter how many times we have to start again.

God is always there for us, to pick us up when we fall, to support us as we take our first steps (whether that is walking or a new path in life).

I will not judge others, because I will be judged in kind!
I will forgive because if I cannot forgive how can I expect to be forgiven?
I will pray because, frankly, it is the only thing I can do at this time…

Dear Lord,
let my words be your words,
let my actions be your actions,
my will is your will,
use me to fulfil your plans upon this earth.
Grant us your wisdom,
lend us your patience.
Bring your healing upon us,
and let your spirit wash our souls clean of sin.
Lord be with us in our time of need.
All this we pray
in the name of our Saviour, Jesus Christ,
Amen.

The clothes we wear…

When you got up this morning did you put the right clothes on?
Did you dress for work or for recreation?
Did you put a jacket on to go out?
When you got to work did you take off the jacket?
Did you change your clothes for work?

We get to pick and choose the clothing we wear, usually they are related to where we are, but where we are going in life is much more important than where we are going on a daily basis.

10 I delight greatly in the Lord;
    my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
    and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
    and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

Isaiah 61:10 New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

27 for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

Galatians 3:27 New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

When we are baptised we shed our old selves, we become new in Christ, and with this we are clothed anew, He is our spiritual clothing and something that we cannot take off.  Our spiritual clothing is not just for Sunday mornings or church coffee mornings.  Our overcoat, in fact, our Greatcoat, is one that can’t be seen but can be experienced by everyone around us.

We can change our physical appearance as often as we like, but when we take on our garments of salvation why would anyone want to take them off?

Lord Jesus,
Grant us we pray, to be a light unto the world,
let the clothes that You provided us with
shine with the light of Your transfiguration
to cast all shadow from this world.
Amen.

God’s Kingdom is growing!

Have you ever sat and wondered when the Kingdom of Heaven is going to arrive?  When will the second coming of Christ happen?

We look at these questions from a perspective that is purely centred on ourselves when we ask them.  It’s like putting the blinkers on a horse, you can only see in one direction and can’t see everything else happening around us.  If ever you needed proof of growth, all you need to do is look back to Jesus.  He is at the heart of everything, at the very centre of everything, the deepest root of the vine that is constantly growing, flourishing and blooming.

Yes it is being pruned or vines break, yes it is constantly under attack; persecution happens every single day of the week in all of its various forms but the roots of Christianity are deep and cannot be dug out by anyone.  Even if all of the evil in this world made a consolidated attempt to pluck out the heart of Christianity it would fail, they would suffer from great weakness before they even got close; their resolve and strength would dissipate like the fog before the Sun because we have a light in Jesus far brighter and stronger than any Sun.

Jesus is at the heart of everything, he is in our hearts, in our minds, in our words, our dreams, and our hope eternal.  Want to see how Christianity has grown?  Take a look at this verse from Acts…


8 And Saul approved of their killing him.
The church persecuted and scattered
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.

Acts 8:1-3 (NIVUK)

This all happened not long after Jesus died and was resurrected. His followers were hunted down, persecution was rife, anyone showing any sign of not conforming and declaring themselves to be of Christ where taken; we can find similarities throughout this world right now where people are being persecuted for being different, for wanting to make a difference.

And yet, even this first large scale persecution of Christians has not stemmed the growth of our faith.  The followers of Jesus scattered, far and wide, the word of God and the love of Jesus followed them, walking in their steps.

From small acorns great oaks grow; from the small intimate gatherings of Jesus and his disciples to the feeding of the thousands, from those faithful few, who held Jesus in their hearts after Jesus delivered salvation to the entirety of humanity and creation, to the masses who worship in churches worldwide today.  Growth has happened, God’s kingdom has grown, and is still growing.

There is a song we sing at messy church (we’ve even sung in Sunday worship with actions!) called Our God is a great big God, I would extend that and say the Kingdom of Heaven, God’s Kingdom is a great big Kingdom and is growing day by day.

Hope in the future can be found in both the past and the present, it is found in Jesus, because He exists in our past, our present and our future, He is our solid foundation, and we can weather any storm that tries to break us if we remain strong in our faith, so that we too may contribute to the growth of God’s Kingdom.

Dear Lord, the Kingdom of Heaven is indeed great.
May everything that we do and say be for your glory, for your Kingdom,
that everyone may be delivered through your grace.
Please bless all our Christian brothers and sisters,
and protect all those who suffer,
regardless of origin, creed, belief or ability,
through the deeds of others.
Please, we pray, grant them peace and harmony in their lives.
May all of humanity learn to support all those who seek peace.
We pray for the love of Christ to be upon this world,
to comfort the living and the dead.
We pray for angels to descend and defend
all who are in desperate need.

All of this we pray in the name of your loving Son,
our Saviour, Jesus Christ
Amen.

Hope

Sometimes life can feel like it’s dragging us down, sometimes it can feel like we’re hacking our way through a jungle to get stuck wading through quicksand, but just like the old Tarzan movies when people get stuck there is always a vine to hold onto, for everyone, that vine is Jesus.  Once we are holding onto that vine, becoming one with it, we know safety is assured, our saviour is on their way and we can live to enjoy life once more.

The vine and the branches
15 ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing…

John 15:1-17 New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

There is always hope in life as long as we reach out for the vine that can save us.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. John 15:1

Hope is the subject we’re covering in Celebrate Recovery (CR) so it’s been on my mind lately amongst the turmoil.  It’s odd how much we can find God is with us when we are feeling a bit useless (Matthew 5:1-12).  The other day, after feeling a bit low, I decided to try to write the prayer to open the Hope session of CR (it’s my turn on the rota) so I thought I’d share it with you, to use if you so wish.

Lord Jesus,
You are our flame of hope, rising above us like the pillar of fire before Moses and the tribes of Israel as they escaped from suffering.
Fill us all, we pray, with joy and peace, as we place our trust in You,
so that we may overflow with hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Hope binding us all together to the vine of life.
May we have rest and peace in our hearts.
We ask that You guard our minds through the night to protect us from our fears, our doubts, and our regrets.
May Your healing be upon our hearts, our minds, and our bodies at the break of dawn.
Restore us, Lord, heal our wounds, instil Your energy within our souls and hope eternal within our hearts.
Allow us to find new strength through Your words, teach us O Lord.
We thank you for Your love that we can live and enjoy life again.
Help us, we pray, to wake up every day with hope.
Of all this, we ask, of all this we pray
through You, our brother,
our saviour, Jesus Christ
AMEN

Pilgrimage

And Jacob said to Pharaoh, ‘The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers.’

Genesis 47:9 NIVUK

It’s interesting to note that when Pharaoh asks Jacob his age, he doesn’t just use the word years, he doesn’t just say I am this old, he uses the phrase Pilgrimage.

It is a reminder that in all the years of our lives, we are living out a journey. Walking a path from, with and to God; a pilgrimage that lasts throughout our life! Year by year, day by day, and minute by minute.

It can also serve to remind us that when we complain and grumble about our woes and strife, our “years have been few and difficult”, we are not alone. People everywhere struggle; life is a struggle.

What makes a difference is whether we approach life holding on to the hand of God, as we would, our father, or mother, as a child. Place our trust in Jesus, give Him our prayers, and provide Him with our attention, and He will reward faith, even faith as small as a mustard seed, with peace in our hearts.

Jacob also recognises that his pilgrimage is not equivalent to the journey of his ancestors. Do we believe he is referring to terms of lifespan (his years upon this Earth), or spiritual effort, or depth of trust in God, or strength and resilience of spirit? Inevitably Jacob suffered from the belief that Joseph was dead. Surely he rejoiced greatly when he discovered he was still alive! Alive, even though Jacob could not see or know of the truth of the matter until he eventually saw with his own eyes. Anyone see a similarity here?

Jesus died for our salvation, and He rose again in victory over sin. He triumphed over evil for all of us! Surely that is worth remembering, to spare some of our time, every day, to ensure we are continually taking one more step upon our pilgrimage. Hand in hand with Jesus, treading in His footsteps and walking in step with God. Overflowing with the Holy Spirit, to not keep it to ourselves but to share it freely, with anyone who has it not, freely, for everyone who needs light in their lives, freely, for everyone we come across on our pilgrimage, our journey with Christ.

Spend some time thinking about your pilgrimage, realise that it’s already begun, and look forward with gladness in your hearts because the glory of God surrounds us, even when we see it not.

Losing focus

18 sleeps till Christmas – WOW! I can’t believe it’s coming up so fast. We have so much to do, and not enough time for it all, how can we manage it all in the time we have? Who have I bought presents for? Who’s coming to dinner? Why do I feel like I’ve forgotten something?

I get stressed just thinking about it!

It’s at times like this when we can start to lose focus, too many things distracting us from the one thing we need to do, which is to share some personal time with God or have a cup of tea and a natter with Jesus. To close our eyes and let the Holy Spirit wash over us, through us and cleanse the stresses of this time of year from our hearts, minds and bodies.

Have we forgotten something? It’s most likely that!

Finding time to work on our relationship with God can be difficult, it is difficult, especially with the pressures of today’s society, but the most important thing we can do this Christmas is to set aside some personal time:

  • For ourselves, because stress is never a good thing, and if you’re anything like me kitchen rules and access get increasingly strict as I turn into an early version of Gordon Ramsay hovering over a Christmas turkey that is never going to come out of the oven the way my imagination is saying it will.

But also

  • Time with God is time well spent.  We can offload all of our worries because He has got our backs on that. Why worry about tomorrow? Why stress about yesterday? God has a plan for us all, and we are very much a part of it.  He walks alongside us every step of our life and empathises with us, and removes our sufferings and our fears, is strong for us in our weaknesses, and is always ready to listen and more than happy to guide us.

Matthew 6:31-33 NIV
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

In this busy time of year, sometimes it helps to have a small devotional to hand but if you don’t have one of those, have a quick browse through the psalms, take a moment, have a sigh, breath deep, dunk a biscuit, sip of tea, and read them slowly reflecting on the thousands of years and the millions of souls who have uttered the same words that you are saying with exactly the same thoughts as those in our minds, the same stresses and the same fears – we are not alone in our thoughts, we are not the first to think them, and God has an answer for them all!

Psalm 141 NIVUK
1 I call to you, Lord, come quickly to me;
    hear me when I call to you.
2 May my prayer be set before you like incense;
    may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.

3 Set a guard over my mouth, Lord;
    keep watch over the door of my lips.
4 Do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil
    so that I take part in wicked deeds
along with those who are evildoers;
    do not let me eat their delicacies.

If you want some further inspiration, sign up to one of the reading plans online or in an app, or sign up for the #FollowTheStar devotionals (app or email) starting from Christmas Eve until Epiphany (Jan 5th). 

Whatever you do, do not forget that all of the commercial aspects of Christmas are purely a distraction, a distraction that interferes with the true meaning, the real reason, we celebrate Christmas.

On December 25th, that once-upon-a-time of year, we all celebrate a birthday together, the birthday of Jesus Christ, who came among the peoples of the earth once before as prophesied and will do so once again heralding the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven upon the earth.

May the peace of the Lord our God be upon us this day and evermore.
Amen.