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.

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.

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.

Changes

Have you ever stopped to think about how much our lives revolve around change?  It is always there.

While we welcome some alteration into our lives, we often tend to focus our minds on those that aren’t welcome, and this is when it takes over our lives, our train of thought burns bad emotions and intentions deep inside, and ultimately turn us away from God.  When we allow that to happen, we fail ourselves; we fail God.

When we find ourselves in times like these, we can take comfort in the knowledge that God and our Lord Jesus Christ are always walking beside us, Jesus is interceding on our behalf, and the Holy Spirit is there to guide us.  We can turn to God, to Jesus, surrender to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, because They are the constant in our lives that does not change.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Hebrews 13:8

In among all the change in our life, Jesus is always there, the rock that is our anchor, our cornerstone, the foundation of all foundations.

16 So this is what the Sovereign Lord says:
“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone,
    a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation;
the one who relies on it
    will never be stricken with panic.

Isaiah 28:16

Change happens; it does not always come from God, a lot of it is human-made, as a result of our greed, our desires, our attempt to apply our will over situations, our inability to follow Gods will; what we do in times like this can lead to disagreements, animosity, theft, hostility, and war.

There’s plenty to be said in the bible about change, it is full of change, starting at the very beginning with creation, variations in covenant with God, changes in nations, changes in people, initiated by the Holy Spirit (tongues of fire [Acts 2-3]), by Jesus (so many changes in hearts, minds and body), by God (far too many to contemplate or even begin to describe).  The point is that we should not fear change, we can embrace it even when we do not like it because we can be the light that turns bad to good.

The one thing that never changes is that God loves us all, and He made the most significant demonstration of that love by sacrificing His Son, Jesus Christ, for our salvation; for we do not have to sacrifice anymore, as Jesus took upon himself all the sins of humanity and paid the price, our price, on our behalf, for all of our sins, for the sins of our predecessors, and the sins of our descendants.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
Philippians 4:6-8

Life is full of new beginnings, fresh days with which we can become closer to Jesus, I thank the Lord our God for each new day, for each opportunity to start again, for new beginnings, for His eternal love, comfort and guidance through times of trouble.

Holy Jesus, ev’ry day,
keep us in the narrow way;
and when earthly things are past,
bring our ransomed souls at last
where they need no star to guide,
where no clouds thy glory hide.

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all.
2 Corinthians 13:14

What you lookin’ at?

Do you walk with your eyes open or your eyes closed?

Do you walk looking at your feet or with your eyes on your destination?

Today, October 31st, millions of people will be dancing to a tune played by the flute of evil, and I bet the majority of them don’t realise it, some probably don’t care if they do not see hope in their lives and want to live to the full in the here and now – there is no comparison to life in the Kingdom of the Lord our God, but they are blind to this; they walk with their eyes closed to it.  They do not set their sight on their destination; they are too distracted. They are distracted by merchandise, by parties, by friends and family, by everything that is subtly put in their path to distract them from where they should be looking; the Idols used to turn our gaze away from God.  It’s so easy to fall into step, dance the same dance, it is a seductive tune, and it’s easy to do that which we should not do (Romans 7:15-20).  We must resist using the strength we gain through Jesus’ example (Matthew 4:1-11).

One of the most challenging things to do is not to judge others (ref. my failure in the previous paragraph!) – my mind is continuously thinking about planks, reminding me of this, and I sometimes step right into mine, like stepping on a rake and planting my face squarely into the front of the board.  I sometimes feel I should have a collection of planks by my side so I can gift them to people, sign their name on them as say “here’s your plank”.

Try to be forgiving for those who are not aware of what they are doing tonight; they lack strength in the Lord our God to resist the silver tongue that Jesus so skilfully countered.  Instead, pray for them, as Jesus taught us to pray for our enemies as well as our friends (Matthew 5:43-48).

Churches hold light parties to encourage the young, and the old, to turn their eyes away from all of the distractions, to turn their eyes back to God. We remember one of their pit stops along the way to their ultimate destination, which is their judgement day before the Lord our God.  We all have it approaching, and there is no avoiding it; judgement is coming.  They will shuffle around looking at their feet wishing they’d not done this, not done that. Is it too late? It is never too late! He sees through us to the very core of our being, and we will be judged not on our deeds, but our hearts, our love, of Jesus, of our fellow humankind, of all creation.

Judging Others

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

Matthew 7:1-6 New International Version (NIV)

Be still for the presence of the Lord

I’ve had a lot on my mind recently, but one thing that is prominent at the moment is the number of people suffering from one illness or another, or struggling to cope with other circumstances.  In all of this, my mind keeps coming back to one song that I mentioned at prayer last week – Be Still For The Presence Of The Lord.

It first occurred to me while caring for our border collie (who had a stroke), she is awake at night (a lot) and barking.  Sometimes all she requires is someone to be beside her, to have her paw upon your arm and her chin resting on your hand as she drifts off to sleep with you sat in the most uncomfortable of positions and unable to move.  Parents can associate the image with caring for a sick child, where sometimes all that is required to allow the sick to have moments of peace is a comforting voice, and a gentle hand stroking your hair lulling you to sleep and respite from fits of coughing.  It occurred to me that as we journey through life, so too does God, alongside us, Jesus is there for us to talk to, to intercede on our behalf, and the Holy Spirit is there to guide us and protect us.  When we are having our moments of illness, anxiety, worry, panic, strife and insecurity, He is right there alongside us ready to give support and comfort – as a loving parent to us all; as any loving parent would for their children, as I have been doing for our dog, as you also do for those you love and care for, for your family and your friends.

I thank God that even though we may not always be aware of how much encouragement and support He provides us, that He is there alongside each of us, sharing our journey, is an act of beautiful love and I am thankful for that.  We should strive to reflect His love for us in all our interactions, with all our family, our friends, our colleagues, essentially everyone we meet; reflect our inner good Samaritan.  Sometimes all we need to do is be a presence for others, so be still for the presence of the Lord, He is beside you, and be still as a presence for others, be still your emotions, be still your heart, be still your breath, exude peace, be still, simply be.

Psalm 46:8-11 New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

Come and see what the Lord has done,
    the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
    to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields[a] with fire.
10 He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.’
11 The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

The First and the Last Vine

This is the first vine.

One day a seed was planted in good soil, and a great vine grew tall and strong upon the earth. It grew stronger with each year and bore healthy fruit.

One day, some men were passing and saw the vine and said to themselves “we like this vine, we will take a cutting from it and replant this vine in our own land” and so they took a cutting off the branches of the vine and replanted it in their own lands. The cutting grew roots and started to grow into a strong vine but it was not as great as the vine they had seen; its fruit was not as plentiful, however they were pleased with what they had grown and were happy for the new vine to remain. They kept the fruit and the seeds of this new vine to themselves.

It is not the first vine.

On yet another day, someone else was passing this new vine and decided to take some of the seeds, and yet another took a cutting, and so new vines grew strong in other land, but they were not as strong even though the fruit was good. Some did not keep the seed for themselves and shared it with others, but the vines that grew from the seed were not strong and had weak roots. So this continued with people taking cuttings from the first vine or growing vines from cuttings or from seed not of the first vine.

These are not the first vine.

Some people decided they would not take cuttings or plant seeds, but were jealous of the vines other people had planted, so they made their own from materials such as stone, brick, gold or silver. They tried to build larger than the first vine but were not able to match the growth of the vine which was tall and had many branches.

These are not vines.

As time progressed, some vines withered and died because they did not have the same strength as the first vine, and the vines made from other materials weathered away; Yet other vines died through the effort of men. Men had became competitive, glorifying their vines saying “my vine is better than yours, it’s fruit is sweeter, is more abundant and does not rot before it is consumed.”

The first vine was forgotten.

Eventually all the men started to argue more about whose vine was greater, war and famine ensued and the first vines growth started to suffer as man attempted to cast shadows over all the vines to spite their neighbours. Many vines withered and died, the fruit of the first vine did not appear.

Time passed.

Eventually someone walked by the first vine and noticed it was strong with deep roots and many branches, but was without fruit. They wondered what the fruit of the vine would be like. So they decided to nurture the vine and each season they would fertilise the soil around it, prune the dead wood and encourage new growth. All of their efforts were rewarded with time, and the vine bore fruit again. They shared the fruit with others who left their vines to wither to dust so they might benefit from the first vine. Everyone rejoiced in how lucky they were to have such a vine.

It is the true vine.
This is the last vine.

Trust in God

This week I went to the dentist and it occurred to me when I was going that we place a certain amount of trust in those who care for us whenever we visit, we become vulnerable, but we often only place that trust in them when we are there.

Whereas, as Children of God, we place our trust in the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost every minute and every second of every day; so too must we become vulnerable to open ourselves up for His place in our lives. The trust we place in Him is far greater than any trust we place in individuals and I know I have fallen short of that at times.

I often need to remind myself that it is I, and not God, that is the source of any fear and doubt when I lack trust and that I must do my best to repay His trust in me because His trust never falters.  It will never vanish off the face of this earth and it is an eternal trust we receive, a parental trust and something so far greater than anything anyone could possibly return.  But return it we do, whenever and wherever we can, in prayer, in honesty, in who we are, for it is in and through Jesus that we find our salvation, by being like him, by learning from him, in seeing Him in ourselves and in each other, in loving God our Father and in loving our neighbour as we do ourselves.

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’
Matthew 26:39 NIV

This weekend we will hear and read about the events that took place in and around Jerusalem so many years ago.  Jesus placed all of his trust in his Father, in our Father.  Even when he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus was at his most vulnerable his trust in his Father remained steadfast, and his resolve to complete the most glorious gift we can ever receive remained strong, and he completed it through faith, through trust, and through love.

God bless you all this Easter.