Thursday, 18 May 2017

The Sound of Silence

I haven't had time to blog for a couple of months, what with Easter, baptisms, dedications, a wedding and a couple of funerals, the time has zoomed past. Oh and then there was preparing for a Sabbatical. For those not versed in these things, every seventh year, as a Baptist minister, I can take a period, of up to 3 months, when I have no pastoral duties with the church in which I serve. But preparing for it takes some doing, handing over things ensuring that at least some of the things I cover routinely, will be done while I am taking this break.

So ...

Growing up, the song the sound of silence was one I quite liked, perhaps because of my busy mind. Not that I find comfort in darkness or associate with all of the lyrics, but the idea of a still and tranquil mind appealed to me, focusing on one thing at a time or even a place of stillness.

Over time I have learned that my mind can often be processing a number of things at once and it seldom truly switches off. As a software designer, I could wake in the night with a solution to a problem that I had been working on. Its one of the reasons that I spend time walking and not talking to others while doing it, it helps me let things go and be a little more detached at times.

Anyway the thought of 3 months with no pastoral work was, I admit, a little daunting. To start this period I went off to a priory that I have used over the last 6 years. No laptop or pad, no emails, phone on only in the evening ...

One of the brothers, after a chat to guide me on my time out, suggested that to still my busy mind I should try two days of silence. Regular times of 20-25 mins of sitting in silence, between which I should walk, enjoy the priory gardens, have a coffee or whatever, but no Bible reading after the start of the day or prayer as such, and after dinner, doing something to relax.

You can imagine, if you are busy minded like me, that this was no easy thing, each time I sat in silence my thoughts raced around, no matter how hard I tried to put them aside, after a few moments back they would come. However I stuck at it and the brother was not surprised at the end of the first day that I felt I had achieved nothing. Day 2 I persisted, its one of my traits that I will stick at things to see them through, Half way through the afternoon, and 5 periods of silence later, I decided to go for a walk in the countryside - over fields, beside a river, using my binoculars to watch some birds, looking at the crops growing in the fields and the colours of the leaves on the different trees. Sitting down when I got back, it dawned on me that for two hours I had not been thinking of anything - no church stuff, no family stuff, just quiet and enjoying what I was seeing, hearing, experiencing - the sound of silence!

Later when I met with the brother, he listened and then smiled and suggested that this is the effect of the times of sitting in silence and that it makes a difference to the things we do in a day and how we do them.

The times of silence played out in stilling my restless, purposeful mind and helped me find a place of quiet, peace and silence. Socrates is quoted as saying "Beware the barrenness of a busy life". Perhaps he had a point, am I a little too busy getting things done?

While I cannot spend every day like that, I aim to start each day alongside my bible reading and prayer, with a time of silence and maybe find time later in the day to do the same.

Rest, peace, silence are hard for many of us to find. Yet it may be in the silence and the restfulness that follows, that we can find a peace in any situation, maybe that's what Jesus meant when he talks of a peace that passes understanding. A peace that the world cannot give, a peace that any of us can find through that place of quiet or silence. A peace that helps us hear more clearly once the busy, noisy mind is quietened.

Philippians 4:7

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Quick changes

Recently I have been preparing for Easter and especial for a special service on Palm Sunday. It led me to thinking about how fickle humans beings can be.

New media starts are born in the bright lights and trumpets of showbiz, only to fade just as quickly as people turn their gaze to a new icon or role model promoted by the most recent films or TV shows. The game seems to be to try to keep in the public eye if you want to remain famous - maybe there is something to that old expression - all publicity is good publicity!

The same happens with books or fashion or cars or ... well with almost anything.

Jesus arrived at Jerusalem at the start of a large feast, Passover, he arrived with his entourage - his disciples, he arrived to crowds, crowds wanting to see what the "messiah", the teacher, the miracle man, was going to do. Surely all their hopes of future of greatness for their nation, hopes of freedom from a distant ruling power, were to be brought to be by this Jesus?

A few days later, those people in Jerusalem, manipulated (maybe) by the powers to be, were screaming for his death. A fickle lot, in my opinion. Their focus moved from heralding a messiah who would make them great, to pouring out their venom on him.

Even Jesus' own close disciples didn't stick with him, when push came to shove.

So what about those of us who believe in him today? I wonder what would cause any or each of us to falter as they did? Where would our line be? If we are honest, we probably don't know. We may well claim that it could never happen. But then I am sure those who buckled in the early days of Christianity when faced with the arena or a cross, thought they would withstand anything for Jesus.

We may all falter at some point. But, and there is a huge but, Jesus didn't count his disciples' failings, he empowered them and sent them off to start and continue his mission to save humanity. For me the thing is that Jesus calls us knowing that we are human, knowing that at times we will fail, knowing that we will get distracted. He loves us anyway and that's the thing.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Love is something more

Well since its Valentines day today and loads of people are busy trying to make sure that they don't forget their special person, I thought I would share a little bit of how Nicola, my wife , and I do things.

I think there is only one Valentines day in the last 40 years when I gave her a card and she does not get cross thinking I have forgotten. She knows I love her and I know she loves me. A card once a year really doesn't do it for us. In fact we agreed that over priced flowers and such once a year really are not what its about. Don't misunderstand me, for many its a lovely thing to do, for me it doesn't hit the spot and the same is true for Nicola.

Love, for me, is something that grows and grows with the experiencing and the experiencing and sharing happens every day. The million things that we do for each other and the unexpected bunch of flowers, chocolates, dinner at a restaurant all add to that as well as having clean and ironed clothes every day, good food and someone who really gets me. A while ago we did a marriage course (we had been married around 30 years then) and I discovered that we were different ,I like to be told she loves me, I like to hug etc., Nicola likes things done (washing up, clearing up and unexpected things planned). So I won't be buying roses today, giving the biggest card with the most romantic message in it. Instead we will carry on as always, showing love to each other in the many ways we do every day.

Now you might ask, what's that to do with faith?

Well, our relationship with Jesus can be a bit like a Valentines experience, popping into to church very occasionally (Christmas, Easter) or an occasional moment to sit and pray, possibly when something in beyond us or a quick peek at the bible.

God in his words to us, reminds us not to miss out on getting together to worship and pray. We are told that together as his church we find the strength to handle things, and God, who fortunately won't get cross because we didn't have time, will wait patiently for us to find time.

God is all about relationship, our relationship with him through Christ. Just as are relationship with our partners, boy or girl friends do not develop if we only rely on one day a year to express them, so too our relationship with God will not develop if we leave it the odd occasion to find time.

Enjoy valentines day, with the gifts you give and receive, but make sure you go on showing that person every day that you love them, in many different ways. Love grows with the experiencing.

Monday, 12 December 2016

A Thought for Christmas

Joh 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Joh 3:17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
Joh 3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.

The birth of Jesus on that first Christmas, was the ultimate act of God who loves humanity. If we put it in the context of ourselves …

Who would put their only child into a place of extreme vulnerability and danger, if they could avoid it? Who of us would be prepared to let that child die to offer peace, reconciliation and eternal life to a humanity that in most parts was not going to be interested and did not care? I think none of us.

But God's love for humanity is so awe inspiring in its magnitude, so beautiful and rich in its expressions, so wonderful and amazing. Consider what he has created for us to enjoy, the entire universe and everything in it, it is difficult to understand such love. We can try to reduce it to what we know – comparing it to human love, which, while it can be good, giving and generous, is often fragile, self focused and broken. We can reduce it to a love for something like food or a car or a film. Nothing near the same as God's love for us.

Through that vulnerable child, born to Mary, God poured out his love for us. Drenched us in its perfume and wonder. A love that has no boundaries, a love that cannot be measured in any way that we know of. A love that forgives and restores, a love that breaks down barriers, a love that makes an end of hostility and violence, a love that calls all to the greatest wonder of all – God.

John tried to express it in his first letter -

1Jn 4:9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.
1Jn 4:10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

All who accept that love from God, become God's children, love beyond measure is our blessing. But such love cannot, should not, must not be contained within us alone. It is poured out to us so that we might share it. So that the meaning and importance of that first Christmas would bring to life each and every person as we share God's love with them.

Because God, so loves humanity, he has, through Jesus, made it possible for anyone to know him and to be set free from the cost of sin. Those of us who know that can show it to others. Paul tells us in Romans 5 that God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. We have been given the tools to do the job ...

Perhaps the most beautiful way in which we can show God's love this Christmas is to express it to someone who has no experience of it. The way in which we do that will depend upon the person and their experience of love and what their needs are. But a simple way is to tell them, show them that they are loved. Go and tell the good news to all people that God loves them.

(spend a moment reflecting on who God may be asking you to show that love to)

1Jn 3:1 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Who are we?

Identity is still an important thing to most people - what we belong to, which groups we are a part of, how we identify with those groups and people.

For some its a uniform, for example medical professionals, care staff, military folks and some ministers. For others its the language they use, the things that they wear or the music that they listen to.The list goes on, but you get the picture I hope.

I recall my first week at university in the mid 1970's, everyone on freshers week delighting in the ability to leave school uniform behind (most at that time in sixth form colleges had uniforms). Yet the first thing most did was go to the students union and buy a complete set of denims, a sort of freshers uniform. I wasn't big on denim so tended to favour the military trench coat and flared trousers.

To some extend the church has been, in my opinion, rather too busy trying to merge with culture, and become in parts, almost invisible, attempting to be more acceptable, less different. That too is an identity thing, who are we in Christ and what are we called to be? How are we called to behave and what does that mean to the identity that we carry with us and live out in our lives?

Peter when asked at the trial of Jesus if he knew him, if he identified with him, denied it from fear of reprisal. I wonder if that is one of the reasons we can tend to be timid about who we are as Christians and want to blend with the landscape, and yes I know that can be tricky as we have different views on many things across churches.

I wonder if you were asked by a friend,  colleague, a school or university friend or even by someone in a social setting, who are you? Would we answer, I am a Christian? I am sure some would say "yes, I would answer like that", but I am equally sure that for many Christians such an answer would be far too out there to reply with. In part, like Peter, I guess there is fear of how others will react to us, but also I wonder if it has more to do with who we are in Christ and how secure we are in that, how we identify as Christians and how we want others to see us.

Jesus asks us to be salt and light - to me that seems like he means us to be noticed, for others to know who we are and for them to be affected by who are are. That says to me that our identity should be obvious to others by the things we do, how we act and what we say. Our identity in Christ is one of total commitment and trying not to be embarrassed about how others view Christians but instead showing folks that we are going to make a difference and we are going to promote Christ in the way our lives are lived. I am happy with my identity as a Christian and am happy to tell anyone who asks, I aim to be salt and light wherever I am and in whatever I am doing in the hope that it might help some search for Christ for themselves. How about you?