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.

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.

Which is the greatest commandment?

Jesus replied: ‘ “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”
Matthew 22:37‭-‬39 NIVUK

Eden

We’ve been using prayer stations this month to allow the leadership of the church to take holidays and have a well-earned break. Obviously, there’s always some forward planning taking place, but everyone needs a chance to step away for a while. One of the prayers stations this year challenges us to give thanks to God, to reflect and pray, and if you’re feeling particularly creative, to create something.

To be honest, I was a bit stumped at first; it’s not every night your partner prays in front of everyone about the bubbling noises your stomach is making during evening prayer in the intercession, so I was feeling a bit lost. So I sat at the table and read the poetry, and thought. I thought and thought, and thought some more, and then I asked God for help, and this is what came out of my reflection.

Eden © 2019 M.Fisher. All Rights Reserved

Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed.

Genesis 2:8 NIV

It grew from the first line and took on a life of it’s own, so I signed it, stuck it onto backing card, and left it on the table in church; but not before I took the photo of it so I can share it with you, but again, I didn’t stop there. I like photography, so I dug out some pictures of flowers that I took around the church earlier this year, mostly backing shots for slides (now I know why I had the urge to take them) and did this to it…

Eden © 2019 M.Fisher. All Rights Reserved

Paul is undoubtedly right when he writes, in Romans, about the Holy Spirit interceding for us. It works within us, with us and through us; through our prayers and our actions. It allows us to act when we don’t know how to, allowing us to transform our inaction into action, our inability into ability.

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

Romans 8:26-27 NIV

I love that when we get stuck, the Holy Spirit is there to help guide us.

God bless you all.

[After all this, the only thing going through my head right now is should that have been an apostrophe s, nature’s grace, not natures grace … oh well, it is what it is.]

Lent 2019

Over the weeks of Lent this year we went through the Gospel of Luke at our Chapel on Tuesday nights, watching the Lumo Project videos and following the narrative in our bibles.  We also watched the version of the Gospel of Mark during our café church. Viewing both provided a different perspective on some events.  Sometimes watching the Gospel’s (the video series use the NIV version) allows us to recognise things that were not immediately obvious to us; we can pick up on visual clues as much as audible clues. This certainly became evident during our discussions after watching where we could see emotion expressed through the video.

Our church has the DVD’s but you can find them on Youtube and on bible.com too:

The Gospel of Luke

The Gospel of Mark

One of the things we picked up on in discussion is that Luke’s Gospel includes a lot about the humanity of things, such as when Mary went to see Elizabeth.  I suppose with being a physician, it is appropriate for him to write about the reaction of John in Elizabeth’s womb to the sound of Mary’s voice; he takes a similar approach in other parts of the narrative where he brings out the human nature of things. It is a very human experience, two mothers to be getting together, supporting each other, but at the same time we have John’s reaction; unrestricted, without physical boundaries, he shows clearly how joyful our spirit can be, through family, through Mary, through Jesus.,

Mark’s Gospel was dynamic, and quick at first, it had to be for the intended Roman audience, but he slows the pace during the last days of Jesus’s mission among the people of Israel to bring out the ‘drama’, and I would guess to emphasise the importance of it all. It provided a nice contrast of narrative styles, with plenty of crossover but also some elements set apart between the Gospel narratives, and the narrative of Mary and Elizabeth is one you’ll find in Luke but not in Mark.

Luke 1:39-45 New International Version (NIV)

Mary Visits Elizabeth

39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth.41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfil his promises to her!”

We can have great joy in knowing Jesus, as John the Baptist did, and like Mary, we can ponder all it brings within our hearts.

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.