God remains

This is beautiful…

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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

Memrise I am sayings of Jesus

After writing last night, I had a bit of a play on Memrise in the course creation side of the site.  It’s actually quite easy to get something fundamental up and running on the site by supplying a set of words and definitions, then separating it into levels, etc.

I’ve not supplied any audio at the moment for the course, the recording didn’t appear to work, but that could just be my headset.

Anyhow, if you’d like to have a go at trying to remember the I am sayings of Jesus you are more than welcome to give this course on Memrise a go:

https://www.memrise.com/course/2038471/jesus-i-am-sayings-2/

The course is a fairly basic set up, and it may need modifying to make it more usable.  Please have a go, test it, and let me know if there’s anything you think I might need to change.

Memrise is free, you don’t have to pay to learn, but if you’re serious about learning then buying premium helps to support the service; you can use the web app, but it’s also available on the Apple store and Google Play.

I am …

For the last several weeks we’ve been going through the ‘I am’ sayings of Jesus on Sundays.  Every week we get to see one of these sayings, repeat it, then again later with some words missing, then lastly with a few more missing in the hope that we will remember them.  I have no doubt that memory retention varies among us, and if I studied them often enough, I’d remember them, so I include them here (I think I’ll try and create a Memrise course if there isn’t one already available).  I pray that in creating this page, I will do better at remembering them.

[Note: I use Memrise for learning languages, and there are other subjects on there too; including biblical Hebrew and Greek. Some are site managed courses, and some created by students as an aide-memoire to accompany various textbooks and courses, so the quality varies, but the method of learning is the same whether you’re trying your hand at Klingon or French, Russian or Swahili and it works well for me. For instance, I learnt the alphabet for British Sign Language using Memrise during lunch one day.]

All of the ‘I am’ sayings are recorded in the Gospel of John (all NIV).

John 6:35

35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

John 8:12

Dispute Over Jesus’ Testimony

12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

John 10:9

I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.

John 10:11

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

John 11:25-26

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

John 14:6

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 15:1-10

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[a] 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. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.

I like this last one a lot (I do like them all).  They were heading off towards the Garden of Gethsemane, so it’s one of the later lessons, but it’s massive in its implication. That we are part of the vine, part of the process and part of everything that Jesus has taught. That we need to pass that on to others, to plant the seed of hope in people’s hearts and give them hope.  To share the word of God and not horde it, bottle it up or steal it for ourselves. I think all of that is a beautiful thing, that our lives can mean something, to be something for others; that we can have an impact just as significant on the lives of others as Jesus has on us by sharing in His word, in His wisdom and in His love.

God bless everyone,
may the light of Gods love shine upon us all
on this day and all those to follow.
Open our hearts, be open to the will of God,
let the Holy Spirit wash us clean
as Jesus set us free from sin on the cross

and bathe us in the love of God,
we go in fellowship with Jesus
from this day forward
to be a part of the vine,
branches that support one another,
to create and nurture the fruit of the word of our Lord
and create light where there is darkness.

Amen.

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

 

We are all loved by God

The other week I published a post about a set of four cards we were provided with for prayer and reflection called Things We Should Know.  The first of these is

“I am loved by God”

Romans 5:8

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

There are some tough concepts to grasp throughout the Bible, and there are some that are repeated time and again, but not because they are difficult, it is because they are incredibly significant.

Love is a concept that is repeated time and again because it is essential. When we go to church, we are reminded of this every Sunday. At one point one of the Pharisees asks Jesus “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Matthew 20:37-40.

37 Jesus replied: “‘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 neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
(NIV)
[Note: This verse is so central to everything that I feel ashamed to highlight parts of it].

Love is crucial to our very existence, and yet we, as human beings, are capable of extreme polarities on this subject. In some cases, we are presented with marvellous examples of how we can love each other, of how self-sacrifice concerning service to others demonstrates our immense capacity to share through love. Then, on the other hand, we have the disastrous capability to destroy it out of sheer spite or self-centeredness. For example, how many of us can go a whole week without thinking of a criticism directed at someone? It will be the way they look, dress, behave, or something they say … it is too easy to do any of that, it is by far more challenging to do the opposite.

Love has been the central the topic of films, plays, songs and books all the way back into ancient times, that is how much of an impact it has on us.

Can you imagine a love so exceptional that it would transcend all time, and forgive all of our indiscretions no matter what they might be? Do you think we are capable of that? At the same time, that love is for everyone, and everything; there are no exceptions and no limits. That the provider of that love is prepared to do so much more than we can imagine just for us?

We strive so hard to earn and keep love alive through life; we desire it, we cherish it, and at the same time sometimes we despise it. Why do we, as the human race do this? We can forget so quickly that God’s love is continuously there for us, just waiting for us to reach out and accept it. Are you willing to receive Gods love in your life?

We find love in many ways. Given freely by our parents, in our relationships, in family and friends, in how we share our lives, how we care for one another, consideration in our everyday interactions. At the same time we risk many things in its name, but despite everything we do, we will never reach the mighty height that is Gods love for us. Love, for us, is not just one thing. It evolves, it changes, it grows, and it weakens, it can feel intense, burning out of control, we can lose ourselves so easily it blinds us. The human range of emotion bound to love will always cause us problems, it has an immense variety and we probably all go through the various stages at some point.

It is sometimes difficult to love, but it can also be difficult to accept love. Placing complete trust in someone else is a no small thing, some couples never achieve it, and that can lead to relationships breaking down, but when it is strong enough and when love is true devotion to each other, you can get through anything, no matter what you face.

The love God gives us is so strong; He was willing to go so far as to sacrifice His son to save all of us. One final sacrifice, to surpass all of the sacrifices made in the past or the future. We are fulfilled, released from sin, reborn anew through the death of Jesus upon the cross. This he did for us despite everything we have done, regardless of who we are, what we are or how we live our lives.

God’s love for us is beyond what we can imagine, and we can all participate in it. It is pure, open, caring, nurturing, parental and kind.

Still think we can’t do this?

If you get to know and trust in Jesus, accept the love of God and open yourself up to the Holy Spirit you will find and recognise this love deep within. The truth is that by placing your trust in God and accepting the love that is given, freely for all, we can all find peace and harmony, and carry that within us wherever we might be.

Like The Beatles sang, all we need is love!

Lord, thank you for loving us
regardless of who we are;
thank you for forgiving us our many faults.
Please use the power of your love within us,
let it grow and flourish so that we too
can learn to love each other as you do.
Help us to live in peace and harmony

through the blessing of your love.

Amen