Pilgrims

The next several weeks of Bite Nites are going to be fantastic … we’re about to cover the Pilgrim course.

There were a few options for the baptism/confirmation course that was run at the end of last year through into the New Year, some of which were

  • Emmaus
  • Pilgrim
  • Alpha

It was the Alpha course that was eventually used for the baptism/confirmation course, so I’m looking forward to what is covered in the Pilgrim course.

Our introduction to this course was to look at what a Christian Journey is, what a Pilgrim is and to reflect on where we are in our own journey through faith.

Anyone who undertakes a journey into faith is a Pilgrim.  I remember looking at Pilgrims Progress when I was young (not sure I read it) and imagining the hardships of these magnificent adventures, covering many miles, and taking months or years to complete.  There are so many options now that you could feasibly complete a physical pilgrimage in a matter of hours (depending on the location and available funds of course).  I imagine there are probably some rules for certain pilgrimages and certain traditions to follow along the way or when you get to your destination.

However, that is not the sort of journey, the type of pilgrimage, that we are about to embark on.  We are not about to set off into strange or uncharted lands.  We are about to start on a spiritual journey into faith, to deepen our understanding so that we might learn where we are at ourselves and move forward into a better relationship with God through Jesus.  We are about to open our hearts and minds to the Holy Spirit each time towards better knowledge, that we might listen and learn, share and grow in our faith together – we will be like pilgrims on a path that have come together upon their journey and discovering the depths of their love for Jesus with each passing week.

Our path into belief is often described as a journey, sometimes we follow the same way as others; many times we are on the same road but at a different point, and other times we are on entirely different paths.  We are on a pilgrimage, a journey, with many joyous times but not without strife and difficulty.  I am aware that it is not easy being or becoming Christain for some.  Some civilisations have extremes of tolerance for Christianity and freedom of faith, and in some places just possessing a page of the Bible lands you in deep trouble with authorities, or friends and family.  Our journey into faith is one that takes devotion, commitment, patience, reflection, self-realisation and acceptance of who we are and why we are.  It is not a straightforward path to take, some will find it strenuous, and they fail to realise that at that point God is probably closer to them than they understand; I pray that they do recognise He is with us all.

I have great sorrow for the Christians of this world who are persecuted, but greater joy in knowing that God is walking alongside them on their journey wherever it takes them. I am lucky, I do not share the same complexities as they do and I pray that their journey through faith to God will be a smooth one. We are on our path to God and yet God is already there, walking with us along that path. Knowing that He is with us gives us strength, resolve and comfort.  When we stumble on our route, He lifts us up and helps us find our way.

Lord God, thank you for being with us on our journey.
Comfort us when we struggle
and give us strength when we are weak.
Protect us from evil as it strives to misdirect us.
Light our path before us,
lift the darkness that shrouds us.
Use the power of your Holy Spirit within us
to open our eyes and our souls to you.

Amen

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Walls can be broken!

We had a post-holiday reflection this week at Bite Nites.

Think about the last six weeks or so, of your summer break.

We had to pick five different events, and we were asked to share what each of those meant to us.

The five were:

  1. The best thing that happened.
  2. The worst thing that happened.
  3. Something we learned.
  4. Something we remembered (that we’d forgotten).
  5. What’s next.

We were then asked to pick from nine different verses (I forgot to make notes of them all so will try for later) that were relevant and meant something based on what has happened.  Several of us chose to share in the good things that happened, but as you’d expect some were reluctant to disclose the worst things that happened.  It is perfectly understandable, and nobody was asked to share anything they didn’t want to; it might be extremely personal and private.

It got me thinking; how often do we build walls around us?

Jesus teaches us to love each other as we want to be loved ourselves, why do we build walls around us?

It is often difficult when we place our worries and fears in front of our spiritual needs.  All too often we are wrapped up in our desires, our individual needs, our interests that we ignore how we need to live spiritually; placing all of our physical needs first.  We stop listening, not just to God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit, but also to others, and, more exceptionally, to ourselves.

Romans 8:5-13

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

12 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.
(NIV)

We all have things that we are reluctant to share with others and they are all related to things that Paul describes as of the flesh – our physical concerns and interests; our thoughts, worries, fears, and feelings that we bury.  If we allow those to dwell in us for long, they will slowly rot and decay and grow deep roots within us, evolving into a monster that is difficult for us to tame – it is at that point that we lose all hope of overcoming the barriers we have grown within us.  The side effects seep into our psyche.  We may lash out mentally or physically, sometimes we isolate ourselves and withdraw from society.  It happens when we place our physical concerns over our spiritual needs.

If you find any semblance of this in yourself, take heart, for there is one you can talk to about all of the worry, hurt, fear and stress of your life without the need for worrying about how others will react, or what they might say, or how they might look at you.

The easiest way of doing this is through prayer.  Whether this is with your minister, your community support team, through confession, with your loved ones, or privately in silent prayer.  God already knows what it is that troubles you, so you should have no fear in talking things through with Him.

Romans 8:34

34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.
(NIV)

Jesus is there to intervene on our behalf, so pray in Jesus’ name for things to be resolved.  You can always ask your prayer team (anonymously if you like via the prayer request box, noticeboard or sheet) to pray for you; I’m sure most churches have an active prayer team.

The point is that you are not alone.  It is true when

  • Bad things happen.
  • You are worried about something.
  • Your health is affected.
  • You are sad.
  • Darkness covers you.
  • Shadows devour you.

Do not worry, because you are not alone!

There are no barriers between you and God, between you and Jesus, or between you and the Holy Spirit other than the ones you alone erect yourself.  When you are in most need of support, all you have to do is create a door or a window in that wall and open it a tiny bit. What you will receive coming through that small crack in that barrier is more love, more understanding, and more kindness than you could imagine.

Open up the door and let Jesus into your life, let the chains that bind you in your physical life be lifted and be reborn spiritually through the light of the Holy Spirit,

The simplest prayers are sometimes the most effective ones:

Psalm 57:1

Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me,
    for in you I take refuge.
I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings
    until the disaster has passed.

Amen

 

Praying for the World

This week I tried another prayer station, continuing the theme through the summer break.

The reflection is on the Approaches to Prayer site, under the heading Intercession and select Global Issues.

So if you’re doing this by yourself, it might be handy to grab a couple of things.  You’ll need an atlas, globe, printed or online map of the world; the Guardian online has a fantastic map of the world in pdf format you can use.  The other thing you’ll need is a map or overview of your local area, district or parish.

If you have the tech for it, you might want to use Google Earth, especially, if you’ve got a VR headset such as the Oculus Rift. It’s thoroughly breathtaking to be able to see everything in 3D; if you do have the resources for it, then I suggest that whoever is following this needs someone with them to read for them.

So starting out, you’re way out in space and gradually get closer and closer to where you are, changing perspectives during every reflection.  The scripture used changes with your view of things, and when you start out imaging our world from space you can appreciate the beauty of the world, gradually as you get closer you start to see more and more detail until eventually, the problems of the world become apparent.

The scripture flows like this:

31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.
Genesis 1:31 (NIV)

24 Lord, you have made so many things!
    How wisely you made them all!
    The earth is filled with your creatures.
Psalm 104:24 (GNT)

31 May the glory of the Lord endure forever;
    may the Lord rejoice in his works—
Psalm 104:31 (NIV)

51 Be merciful to me, O God,
    because of your constant love.
Because of your great mercy
    wipe away my sins!
Wash away all my evil
    and make me clean from my sin!
Psalm 51:1-2 (GNT)

The contrast between the beauty of the world and the problems we cause is very dramatic. It is apparent that while we as individuals or as nations serve our own self-interests, we will never be able to qualify ourselves as good guardians of this fair Earth while so many of us ignore its needs.

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.
Genesis 2:15 (NIV)

To be honest, my emotions going through this started off with, wow, need some Jean-Michel Jarre (either Equinoxe or Oxygene), look at the world, ooh it’s lovely … oh wait, look at the land, the sea [shouldn’t I be able to see the Great Wall of China?] … deserts, forests, birds, jungles, polar bears … Amazon destroyed, trees tumbling, tundra burning, the sea’s congealing, plastic, toxic, nuclear, wasteland, stop!!! Nooooo, what are we doing? We can’t do this, we have to stop!! Oh … wait … I can see my house from here!  From this, you can see there’s an awful lot that can go through your head when you just do a simple bit of prayer reflection.  Our human nature is to blot out the things in life that do not directly concern us; perhaps we should be more reflective, and remember that we are God’s caretakers on this planet.

Dear Lord, thank you for providing this opportunity.
Forgive us our short-sightedness,
for our misuse of the power,
you loaned us over your creation.
Grant us the wisdom to undo the harm we have done,
help us to rebuild that which we have lost,
and to breath new life into our world
where so much now ceases to exist.
Lead us to peace on this world,
to bring about your kingdom.
Restore around us the beauty that we have lost.

Amen

 

Meditation on Scripture: Peace

This is the second of the prayer stations I participated in this last week.

For this prayer station, there are some sections of the Gospel of John to read and to reflect on.  Think about what the text means to you, how does it impact on your life, your thoughts, and your behaviour.

You can find the prayer reflection on Approaches to Prayer.

The readings are:

John 14:27

27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
(NIV)

Jesus is the Prince of Peace (Isiah 9:6)

If you’d like to study more on this verse (incl. commentary) check out BibleHub

John 20:19-23

Jesus Appears to His Disciples

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
(NIV)

There’s more to study in this verse on BibleHub

So this one took a bit of reading and a lot of thinking. Taken in context, in the first verse, John 14:27, Jesus is about to leave his disciples, and he senses their anxiety and takes that away from them.  Ignoring the context and by just focusing on the verse I arrived at this:

Our worries and fears are fleeting, as much as the world’s peace is short-lived; we need to have the confidence to release them, or they will eternally weigh us down. If we knew the big picture as Jesus did, we would not be troubled – instead, focus on the arrival of the kingdom; everything that takes place possibly happens to bring that about.

The second part of this reflection is more of a challenge directed at us, as individuals.  We are all called to share the good news, to spread the word of our Lord, to share His peace with everyone.  First, we need to learn to accept it ourselves, which means being at peace within as well.  Share whatever troubles you with God, Jesus is there to intervene for us too, so there is nothing to be shy about; God already knows what is in our hearts, we just need to accept who we are before we can indeed move forward.  Opening ourselves to Jesus is a brilliant first step in doing all of that. If you open the door, Jesus will step through it.

For everything, there is a time…

While the summer break is happening and many people are taking a well-earned rest, we have replaced our usual weekly cafe church with a series of prayer stations.  We are invited, over the coming weeks, to spend time involved with each activity, quietly reflecting on what we read, see, think, or do.

The first I picked up was a writing exercise; no prizes for guessing why I picked that one!

The writing station consisted of two parts from Approaches to Prayer.

Part One: What time is it?

Consider the twenty-four-hour clock and imagine where you are in it (i.e. what time of day) and why you believe you are at that point. Think about the things you might have wanted to do, have done, are still to do.  At that time of the clock, which would you chose to do, put aside and complete now?

Part Two: Reflect on the last twenty-four hours.

The second part included a reflection on the last twenty-four hours.  There are some excellent journalling prompts if that’s your thing:

  • Where you were
  • What you did
  • What you said
  • What was said to you
  • How you felt throughout

and so on…

Again this is all a writing exercise, and I guess the aim of it is to make you think about what has taken place, how you fit into it, how God fits in with it and what was your relationship with God like throughout it all.  The reflection is in several parts:

  1. Pick a few times from the day for which you would like to thank God
  2. Choose events which caused you concern or anxiety, and offer them to God
  3. Are there times in the day where you marred God’s image in you
  4. Identify a point in the day where
    • God touched your life
    • God was revealed to you
    • God spoke to you
  5. Looking back, think about the insights you have gained
  6. Did you miss something that God was trying to say to you at the time?
  7. Is there something that God is encouraging you to do?

I wrote about two pages of stuff, which is all very personal to me.  If I managed to keep a journal, I don’t think I’d be short of things to put in it.  Have a go at any or all of the things that this prayer station provided, it can help you destress by offloading your thoughts, and it’ll certainly help you sleep better at night.  Dump all of your cares before sleep, so your mind doesn’t dwell on them.  Use a diary, a journal or better yet, talk it through with God via prayer.  Remember, He already knows your innermost thoughts, your worries and your hopes and dreams – talk about them and share them openly with God, take off those chains of anxiety and fear that bind you, and trust in Him to guide you.

Bite Nites

I want to introduce you to a series that I hope will be once a week.

It will reflect the Bible study that is ongoing at church and will consist of bite-size portions of reflection for anything or everything that is discussed.  As such they are more likely to appear towards the end of the week, ready for the weekend, but I will attempt to write them mid-week if time allows.

I believe it will assist my growth, by revisiting the material, and in doing so I hope to help anyone else who reads the bite nites series of posts; they will all appear under the category for Bite Nites and I’ll sort out an icon of some sort to highlight them.

I’m not promising it’ll be concise, as some meaty topics are sometimes covered over many weeks, but there are times when what we include is complete within the one evening; be warned, the size of the posts will vary as much as the topic range and complexity.

Now, having said all that we’re right at the start of the holiday season, so Bible study is being replaced with prayer activities for the majority of August.  What I will probably do initially is discuss some of the more recent evening studies, and then pick up the stream of things at the end of August.