Heroes…

In today’s lectionary (Common Worship and the Book of Common Prayer Thurs Aug 13 2020 at time of writing), one of the Saints celebrated on this day, happens to be Nurse Nightingale.  When I first learnt about her way back in school, almost another lifetime away, I remember wishing I could achieve as much as she did.  I remember learning about the dreadful Crimean War and the conditions that people where surviving in (or rather not at the time).  Learning of the impact her reforms had, not just then, but so many years to come afterwards.

She was, in her way, one of my many childhood heroes alongside the astronauts, Captain Scott and all of the other Antarctic adventures and a few others that I have since forgotten.

In many ways, we often fall short of our heroes because we place them on a pedestal so high that we make it virtually impossible for us to emulate them.  Of course, events in our lives often transpire in such a way as to take us in different directions, and sometimes it doesn’t.

The danger with placing our heroes on pedestals is that we put them out of reach, and we do that by ourselves, nobody else does it for us. We sometimes allow others to create the pedestals for us, but we are the ones who chose to use them.

But there is one person, our Saviour Jesus Christ, who is not out of reach on a pedestal.  He is on a throne in Heaven and rather than being far from accessible He is listening to us all, interceding on our behalf, loving us, and encouraging us. He welcomes us with open arms and a warm heart, comforting us in our troubles and celebrating with us in success.  Jesus is within every single one of us, all we have to do is accept His love for us, and He will reside within our hearts forever.

Christ is not a hero out of reach on a pedestal of our own making, He is right beside us every day of our mortal lives, and every day of our immortal lives when He comes again to call upon us.

Jesus is more than a hero.

He is everything.

“To whom will you compare me?
    Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
Isaiah 40:25

21 Do you not know?
    Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
    Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
    and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
    and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
23 He brings princes to naught
    and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
24 No sooner are they planted,
    no sooner are they sown,
    no sooner do they take root in the ground,
than he blows on them and they wither,
    and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.
25 “To whom will you compare me?
    Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
    Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one
    and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
    not one of them is missing.

Isaiah 40:21-26

I used to want to be more like my heroes.

Instead, I share my life with Jesus,

and the weird thing is,

it’s a whole new level of complexity doing that, and yet so much simpler at the same time!

God bless us all.

My favourite hat

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s Kingdom is growing!

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

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

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

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


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

Acts 8:1-3 (NIVUK)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.