Friday, 14 February 2020

Life Changing Choices

I have been busy since Christmas on a lot of things but one has given me a lot to think about. Planning for the future. In the not too distant future I have to make up my mind what to do about a couple of workplace pensions that I have. Do I take the money out and try and beat professional investors with making money on it? Do I play safe and go for an annuity? Do I take the tax free part now or can I hold off on that for a while? Talking to qualified financial advisors helped a bit but in the end, as often is the case, with these sorts of things, its down to my wife and I to decide what we think works best for us. As one, very helpful advisor said to us, if you had a crystal ball that told you the future it would make it a lot easier to decide. The thing we have found is that what might seem obvious as the start of this sort of planning is not so obvious once you get into it.

It got me thinking about the choices that we all face in life and especially the ones that faced the early disciples of Jesus, life changing choices. All of the early ones during Jesus' ministry left jobs behind and gave up security. Big life changing choices. Paul, once he got it, gave up a way of life and took to the road, risking all sorts of dangers. Many of the early disciples found themselves in prison or worse. Life changing and life shortening choices.

And yet all these years later people still make life changing choices to follow Jesus. To allow their lives to be changed under the guidance of Jesus' teachings and the work of the Holy Spirit. Life changing choices that can lead to worldly insecurity. I had never thought that asking Jesus into my life over 30 years ago would make such a difference, and yet I don't look back with regret, wondering what if that had not happened, what if I hadn't got involved in church life, what if I had not accepted the call to full time ministry which resulted in ordination in 2010?

For example our agreeing to  nearly 3.5 years in Italy in the 1990's was a direct result of prayer and an opportunity that occurred a month later I had 24 hours to decide upon. Being at peace with the decision helped us go for it. It turned out to be a step on the journey towards full time ministry, but was also a great blessing to us as a family.

The thing is that often I find it easier to make these sorts of life changing choices when I involve God in them than when God is not. I guess because I have learned, and I am certain the early disciples of Jesus learned, God will guide us, but allows us to choose. My litmus test, prayer and asking am I at peace with this choice or not? We are applying that to the pension choices in the same way that we have learned to do in so many other areas of  our lives (which we omitted to do at the start of the pension process, well no one is perfect 😊).

1Peter 5:7  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you
For anxiety we can read cares or burdens, the things that trouble us or are weighing us down. There are times when we need resources other than our own to get through things or to help us make choices that will or could affect the rest of our lives, life changing choices. Jesus is there to be with us, guide us and help us find the way through.

This is a song that I have been listening to for a while that you might find helpful. "Lean Hard".

Saturday, 14 December 2019

Christmas 2019

Christmas evokes all sorts of thoughts, memories, joys and sorrows depending upon our experiences, beliefs and lives. One of our local magazines asked local church ministers to reflect on a question each Christmas. This year it related to Christmas traditions. One of mine as a child, was that we waited, excited, for Christmas morning and being allowed to unwrap the presents left for us over night. It was always fun.

As we go through life we gain experiences. People we love die and we can no longer share Christmas with them, sadness, a good friend died on the 4th Dec this year and I will be conducting his funeral this coming week. We often spend a moment when the family are together to remember those who have left this life that we have known and loved. Then there are those who have come into the world - this year we had a new grand-daughter, Alice and my sister, Lynn had a grand son, Jacob. Children bring a sense of joy to the celebrations.

My wife and I spend time writing Christmas cards to those who we know both local and far away. I know that some feel that sending cards is "old hat". But I find that as I see each name, it invokes memories of times when we knew each a little better, things we did together. Memories are good things I find.

As a church minister December flies by in a flash with all of the activities - school concerts, Christingles, Carols services, community events and church events. I love it all, every one a reminder of what Christmas is all about, God's love expressed through Jesus. And yet the Christmas story is tinged with joy, hope and sadness. The baby that we rejoice over, came to save us through his death. Recently I saw a group of people come alive in faith in Jesus as result of what he did on the cross, joy has dawned in their lives, you might like to listen to this (When love came down to earth).

Whatever your past or present experiences I hope you have time to consider Jesus this Christmas; Jesus came because God loves you. If we can find room in our hearts he can help each of us find peace, joy, hope and love.

I wish you a happy and blessed Christmas, no matter what your experiences are or have been.

Saturday, 23 November 2019

Division and Chaos 2

This is an unusual posting from me as its not dotted with scripture, its more a reflection on a little division and chaos in the Christian world.

My last posting was on the division and chaos that I was reflecting upon in our society and politics. But as I have continued on this track I have found myself reflecting upon the nature of the Christian church in this age.

Reading some things on the web recently smd some posts of others commenting on things going on I wonder if I am in fact a product of a by-gone age. It would appear that if I take seriously the things I have been reading I am an infernalist, possibly callous, a homophobe and probably a few other 'phobes as well. In the Christian world we seem to have adopted the pugilistic, threatening language type of debate, that seeks not to have reasoned discussion and acceptance of difference of views. Instead it seems to seek to shut down any opposing view as inconceivably wrong and thus bigoted or phobic.

In one series of posts related to the ongoing discussion on universalism, or the idea that no matter if we accept Christ or not, all will eventually be saved, I was led to look deeper, to find that since my views differ from the writer of the book promoted, it seems my understanding is so flawed that I am someone who since I differ with the author on heaven and hell I am one who "To believe in it even in part . . . one must at some level have lost the capacity to distinguish clearly between love and spite."
Well that tells me.

Another series of posts related to the recent events around Churches together in England and their not affirming the appointing of a president who was in a same sex relationship. Both sides of the discussion got heated and I chose not to engage as I was more than likely going to be seen as a bigot or some such, because I hold to a view that marriage is between a man and a woman, what is now called a traditional view by some.

It seems to me that the church has more than adopted the mode of activity of our society in its "debate", putting off good, loving and honest discussion in favour of pushing aside anything we don't agree with using language that shuts down discussion and reason in favour of they who shout the loudest win the day. To some degree I think its bullying behaviour, frighten the opposition with accusations and language that shuts down rather than reasons. Just like out politicians and lobbyists.No amount of forceful language is going to change my view, in fact pretty much the opposite.

Having a different point of view, no matter how firmly held and researched and prayed through, counts for little when it comes to trying to engage in these sorts of discussion. As result I often don't bother, since it achieves little and simply seems to inflame rather than promote reason.

I accept that others have different views to me on scripture, how to read it and its interpretation, but why is it not possible for those same people to accept that I and others like me have opinions different from theirs that deserve some respect?

In many respects we seem to have become "of the world" rather than "in the world". In the end there is one Judge and we will all find out the truth, and there can only be one, can't there? God's truth. We will all be right in some things and wrong in others. We use words like justice and mercy to justify views and then act without either when debating with each other.

I seem to recall that Jesus tells us something that we should remember and seed our discussion with -
Joh 13:34  "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
Joh 13:35  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

Here is a preview of a song for Advent, which brings us back to love.

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Division and Chaos

Over some months I have been pondering over and praying about the situation we in Britain find ourselves in. A referendum that managed a small majority to leave the European Union has caused major issues.

I was preparing for the start of a sermon series early in September and the series is working through Galatians. The thing that I began to see was the way in which division can come is not always from where you expect. Paul was trying to correct something that was affecting those churches and reading his other letters churches in other parts of the regions. Something that you might have expected from other faiths wanting to put the early Christian faithfully down or divide and conquer them. But no this came from within. Paul refers to those trying to add extra conditions into the simple salvation by grace that he preached in Galatians:
Gal 2:4  This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.

Strong language - false believers, some who were trying to convince the Christians that they were not saved if they were not circumcised. And it got worse, later Paul took a stand against Peter who had bowed under pressure and it seems at that point would not share the Lord's table with "Christians" who were uncircumcised. What a state of play, polarized views, division. Fortunately the whole thing was sorted out by the church meeting together and discussing, praying and then agreeing the way forwards.

It got me to putting together some thoughts from my prayer and study for the division that the Brexit / Remain thing has caused in Britain. My conclusion - God was not /is not on either side in this debate, the church has not heard God's direction, in my opinion. This debate that has successfully done what nothing that I can recall in my lifetime has achieved - its divided churches, its divided political parties, its paralyzed government as MP's seem like infants in a playpen, all fighting to get the toys they want and no one managing it. I don't believe that God is in such division and chaos. But I know there is one who thrives on it, working in the background to sow discord and division - the same one who attempted to break Jesus away from his earthly task.

Mar 1:12  At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness,
Mar 1:13  and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

The Christian church has an opportunity, if we can surrender our partisan views first, I think, to speak into the chaos and to encourage healing in this dire situation.To bring order to the chaos and to speak out on letting partisan views go and instead truly seek first the kingdom of God and then his direction for the country. We could set an example, but we might well simply remain as divided as the rest of the nation.

Thursday, 25 July 2019

A rock in a moving sea

Change is a large part of life today, life can seem to be in a permanent state of flow, much as the sea is constantly moving in tune with the position of the Moon and its orbit..

A majority of the people in the UK want the change that will come with leaving the EU, hoping for a new "golden age". Sweeping away 40 years of working in one form or another with our European neighbours.

Our Prime Minister has been removed and replaced by someone, who IMO, should have taken the post last time and done what he said he was in favour of, getting the UK out of the EU.The last one lasted only a short while, I wonder how long this one will last, especially if he can't deliver on his big promises? And then what? More change.

Many saved for their pension over decades only to find that their pensions are no longer worth what they were led to believe. As they retire, life changes, money is more restricted, things taken for granted can no longer be.

As I write we are in a heat wave, some of the hottest temperatures recorded in this country, its almost too hot to do anything. I am used to walking up mountains with wind, rain and even snow. This year my mountain walk up Ben Nevis was in temperatures ranging up to 28deg C at the bottom.

Recently in my daily bible reading I have been working through the book of Isaiah, an Old Testament prophet who lived at a time of change as well. Israel, a powerful nation that had initially relied upon God to guide it and aid it had forgotten their roots and gone their own way. The result is that Isaiah warns them of the huge change that they will face in the years to come, the nation dwindling in power, attacked and overcome by other nations, the people would be capture and taken away.

In the midst of all of this, God gives hope, there will be a time of restoration and more, a time when a new way will be brought to them by God's anointed one, the saviour. In the massive changes that they would face a promise stood, a promise of hope, a promise of salvation, something to hold on to, a rock in a moving sea of change. The psalmist recognised that in psalm 62.

Change is a part of life, sometimes it can be planned, sometimes it is unexpected and worrying. But in the changes of life there can be a constant, a Rock that will not change, an anchor that won't budge no matter the weight of the waves, Jesus. Jesus who asks us to build our faith on the rock that is a solid foundation for all things, him. God's promise to us that has been realised and made complete. My experience of faith in Jesus is that no matter what I face in life, no matter what changes, I face them better when I look to him for guidance, he has become the rock in my life that does not move and allows me to handle the swirling waters of the deep that life at times tries to engulf me with.The waters may break around me but will not overwhelm me. I hope the same is true for you.