Most of us probably in our lives, have taken paths more or less travelled, It is a natural human condition. Whether it is a geographical journey or one taken in time and experience we do it for many reasons:
getting away from the family home…
choosing our own path or fulfilling the expectations of others……
looking for study, work and love…..
frustration, rebellion or mild dissatisfaction. The prodigal child storming out of the house with or without the inheritance money.
simple wanderlust – wanting to explore for the sake of it.
Escape from poverty and persecution, death, divorce, job loss, illness
How often it is that these journeys can end in a certain puzzled disappointment?
The successful professional who has trained and worked all his or her life, to a top position in a top firm, only to discover emptiness and an inner sadness,
or the immigrant, who has escaped persecution, who finds that after all the struggle, there is alienation from the old, and lack of acceptance from the new country.
Or people discover that the anger, rebellion that propelled them in their journey but cannot shake it off through their lives.
Or very simply journeys just end, and you are back in the place you were before but with a lot more memories or photographs, or a bigger blog.
The journey of faith, often doesn’t look that different but it is…A journey of faith can start in very much the same way. It’s OK to go in for all the wrong reasons and through the wrong doors
but the journey on which Jesus invites us IS different.
It combines certainty and uncertainty.
The path can be scary and uncertain. God propels us out of our safe certainties and takes us to places we don’t expect and can't control.
– but he promises to be with us until the final destination.
God IS with you on your journey. And will be.
That's the certainty bit.
"When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father” (Matthew 6:16-18)
This year I’ve given myself something of a challenge for Lent – to hide my fasting behind so much gratification and luxury that no one can guess what I have actually fasted from (except my Father in Heaven, of course)! So far it’s working brilliantly and I’m having a ball! That’s not the point, I hear you cry (“That’s not the point”). Well maybe not, but Jesus so often encourages us to partake of God’s abundance, that it seems churlish, whilst we’re fasting, not to continue to do so.
So I encourage you to continue your fasting today, but also, please join in my birthday celebration with a huge dollop of God’s abundance.
I’ve been waiting for something to happen
For a week or a month or a year
With the blood in the ink of the headlines
And the sound of the crowd in my ear
You might ask what it takes to remember
When you know that you’ve seen it before
Where a government lies to a people
And a country is drifting to war
There’s a shadow on the faces
Of the men who send the guns
To the wars that are fought in places
Where their business interest runs
On the radio talk shows and TV
You hear one thing again and again
How the USA stands for freedom
And we come to the aid of a friend
But who are the ones that we call our friends--
These governments killing their own?
Or the people who finally can’t take any more
And they pick up a gun or a brick or a stone
And there are lives in the balance
There are people under fire
There are children at the cannons
And there is blood on the wire
There’s a shadow on the faces
Of the men who fan the flames
Of the wars that are fought in places
Where we can’t even say the names
They sell us the president the same way
They sell us our clothes and our cars
They sell us every thing from youth to religion
The same time they sell us our wars
I want to know who the men in the shadows are
I want to hear somebody asking them why
They can be counted on to tell us who our enemies are
But they’re never the ones to fight or to die
And there are lives in the balance
There are people under fire
There are children at the cannons
And there is blood on the wire
I am part of a Lent Group looking at the Beatitudes and last Wednesday we were thinking about “Blessed are the Pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Or as Eugene Peterson has it in The Message “You’re blessed when you get your inside world – your heart and mind put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.”
Pure means unalloyed, or unadulterated or of one purpose and focus. So to be ‘pure in heart’ would mean to be wholly focused, with a single ‘minded/hearted’ devotion, to living in a God honouring way, at all times. Double standards or double motives, self interest, greed, manipulating others, deceiving ourselves about reality, what’s in it for me’ism, falsehood, deception, spin and guile all lead to double vision, or blurred vision, when it comes to seeing God.
One of the surprising conclusions we came to when working this out in discussion was that being pure in heart always means seeing the best in another person or situation, the God honouring potential in them or the situation. It means seeing the God possibilities rather than only the human failure. How different would our world be if there was less cynicism around? Just imagine it! Of course that doesn’t mean suspending our critical faculties and calling a spade a spade when there is wrong doing or failure which should not be ignored. To be pure in heart is to see into the heart of things, beyond the immediate and obvious and to make a fair assessment. It is cynical to write off all politicians and the political process on the assumption that all politicians are in it for what they can get out of it for themselves. That may be true of some politicians but not all! Cynicism is a powerfully corrosive agent in our society, eating away trust, relationships and good will. The pure in heart must seek to treat each person fairly in there own right, and not give way to a cynical labelling of sections of humanity, simply because some people behave that way in that group.
As a member of our group said last Wednesday evening “can cynicism ever actually be something which is compatible with Christian living?” The answer seemed to be an emphatic no! Without becoming naïve, or simply lacking in good judgement, we must seek to try and see the good in others and in situations if it is truly there to be found. Once again Jesus is our model, calling a tax collector, political zealots, a Samaritan women in serial relationships, and many others to follow the good that was in them, rather than the bad. He somehow saw their God given potential, rather than their unredeemed broken humanity and showed faith in them. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Do we write people off, or whole groups of people, in our community, at work, or college, or at church, or in the church as a whole, because of unfair assumptions we find it convenient to maintain?
We have a general election not far away and the levels of cynicism around will be rising sharply. Can we seek to keep both a wise and a pure heart when the debates are raging, without simply giving in to cynicism as a way of saving us the hard work of thinking our way through to the heart of the matter.
How can we contribute to a cynicism free zone among the people with whom we live?
Fire of fires – thaw us
Power of powers – strengthen us
Lover of lovers – warm us
Teller of tales – encourage us
Destroyer of darkness – save us
Touchstone of truth – examine us
Summoner of stars – amaze us
Wellspring of wisdom – weather us
Water of life – refresh us
Dancer of days – delight in us
Breath of the universe – bless us
The basic idea of a remix is to bring new light to a song. Maybe take one or maybe everything from the original track and rearrange, recraft and reweave the whole thing adding in your own bits on the way. Remixes can make a good song sound great or a great song sound crap. Sometimes they take a song and change it so it appeals to a totally different bunch of people, this way the artist gets more money for one song. Sometimes they can bring new light to a song that’s been worn out at the edges. Or they can take a basic idea of a song, maybe an idea that seems good but doesn’t quite fit, and then make it work.
Now forget music.
Remixes don’t have to be of music. Books, pictures, things, places, etc. Think back to the second Grace Psalms service last year. Think Rob Lacey’s street bible.
What has grown tired around the edges?
What needs shedding in new light?
What needs to appeal to a new audience?
What has a good idea but doesn’t quite work?
Go on ‘remix something…
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
First off, nothing. No light, no time, no substance, no matter. Second off, God starts it all up and WHAP! Stuff everywhere!
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved,
to feel myself beloved on this earth.
I've been going to a mid-week Communion service over the past few months and during Lent the service sheet has the following quote from Bernard of Clairvaux on its cover. Food for thought for those of inclined to spend a bit too much time navel gazing.
"Sorrow for sin is indeed necessary, but it should not involve endless pre-occupation.
You should dwell also on the glad remembrance of the loving kindness of God."
Bernard of Clairvaux.
What have you given up for lent?
My little 8 year old son announced that he’d given up coke. A worthy effort knowing how much he loves it. We don’t exactly have it flowing from the taps at home, but he didn’t have any for a few days. And then he just quietly relented.
What have I given up? Nothing really. I’m still the same fallen sinner today as I was at the start of lent.
But I’m still the same loved child of God.
If you, like me, are struggling with the everydayness of your humanity, giving up coke for a few holy days is not going to get us very far.
We maybe need to keep drinking after all, and something a little stronger than coke.
“Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!” Psalm 34v8
Finding God In All Things
Each day, perhaps at midday or in the evening, it is a good thing to reflect over the day and see how we have answered the call of God to love him and serve him in every part of our lives. This helps us to see more clearly where God is usually to be found and gives us confidence that he is with us wherever we are. This exercise can be done anywhere and only takes a few minutes. It consists of five steps:
God gives me life
Everything I have comes from God. Without him I have nothing, am nothing. Everything I see, the beauty, the friends and the life within me comes as a gift from God. I am utterly poor but God makes me rich. So I let thankfulness for God's goodness rise up within me.
God, send me your Spirit
As I look over the day I need the Holy Spirit to show me where God has been. In a few words I ask for that grace.
God in all things
I let my mind wander over the day, recalling things I have seen, people I have spoken with, feelings that have come to me. Have I seen God in each of these? Have I responded generously or have I turned away from him? I remember and experience again the feelings I have had – joy and sorrow, delight and boredom, fear and confidence, excitement and anger, irritation and affirmation. Do these tell me how I was answering the call of God in the people and the world around me? It is good to remember the moments of grace, the happiness or even the sadness when God was in it. The world comes alive and people are seen as children of God bringing him to us.
God, I am sorry
I may remember silly things I have said, hurt I have given, and a failure to see God around me. I am sorry for that. Yet I give thanks too because God has been with me and I have often heard him and felt him and seen him in others. I pray for a deeper contrition and a greater thankfulness.
What next, God?
I look briefly at the rest of today and tomorrow. Where may I expect to see God? I go out into my day in confidence that God will be with me. How can I serve him and show him my love?
What are the three inventions that have totally transformed human society? Wheel? maybe. computers? not really.
I reckon fire, fireplaces, and central heating.
Fire we can sit around, cook, eat, talk, swap stories. Fireplace, aha, now the heat moves up to the end where the lord of the manor sits- or even into a separate room. Central heating - now we can all sit isolated in our separate rooms, nobody talking to another person. Without radiators, even if we all had our own private PCs we'd have to all sit in the same room (the one with the fireplace) to read our emails.
The alienation that we all feel as a result of the fall - from God and from each other - is intensified by the alienation of modern city living. Yeah, ok, we get freedom with it, but the other edge of the sword is isolation. So I'm trying to reverse the tide with a few scones.
I'm busy, the past 2 weeks seem to have been very busy and lent seems to be happening to other people, I don't seem to have time!
so it's time to stop and reflect, time to make some space, get comfy and work out what I've missed in my haste and distraction.
time to try to focus, time to try something new.
fancy joining me? I'm trying this.
get comfy, relax and examen.
I find Lent a bit introspective. My response to this time of year is often to think individualistically. To ponder about myself in a desert, or to deny myself something as an act of discipline.
It seems that the individual’s right to choice is one of the assumed ‘goods’ of our society. Our involvement in mankind, our solidarity with the whole human race and it’s history is not something we are strongly aware of.
As I reflect during Lent on my part in the story, I have used images from play-create . I love the flowers. The constant branching out helps me feel less like an Iland and more part of a whole.
I want it all…….. and I want it now!
Not just a little bit, but the whole shebang: living it large
Style comes at a price, but it’s worth paying not to be mundane.
Power is not always corrupting and I could use it for good
And you might thank me…and you know how giving you pleasure, pleases me
Call it a mutual thing
Call it fun
All this could be yours…….
At a price
You’re in good company…..
Years past and the little trees grew tall. Then three woodcutters came along. The first thought, this tree is beautiful, it’s perfect for me. The second thought, this tree is strong, it’s perfect for me. The third little tree stood straight and tall and looked bravely to heaven. But the third woodcutter said, ‘oh, any tree will do for me’, and with one blow of his axe, he knocked the little tree down.
The first little tree was taken to the carpenters shop but, to his disappointment, he wasn’t made into a treasure chest but a into feeding trough for animals. The second little tree was taken to a ship yard, but to his disappointment he wasn’t made into a strong sailing ship but a simple fishing boat. He wasn’t even strong enough to sail on the sea, so he was dumped on a small lake and every day he was made to carry lots of dead, smelly fish. The third little tree was taken to a wood yard, cut into beams and left there.
More years followed and the little trees had almost forgotten their dreams. But one night, a young woman placed her new born baby in an animal’s feed-box and said, ‘this manger is beautiful’, and the first tree knew that he was holding the greatest treasure in all the world.
Another night, a tired traveller and his friends crowded into a little fishing boat. The traveller fell asleep as the second little tree sailed out onto the lake. Soon a thundering storm arose, the little tree shuddered, not realising he had the strength to carry so many passengers through the wind and the rain. But then the traveller woke up, held out his hand and said ‘Peace’. The storm stopped and suddenly the second little tree knew that he was carrying the king of heaven and earth.
One Friday morning, the beams of the third little tree were yanked from the wood yard. She flinched as she was carried through an angry crowd and shuddered when a man’s hands were nailed to her. She felt ugly and cruel. But on Sunday morning, when the sun rose and the ground trembled with joy beneath her, she knew that God’s love had changed everything. It had made the first tree beautiful, the second tree strong, and every time people thought of the third little tree, they thought of God.
In gratitude for the late Mike Yaconelli, who told this story at Greenbelt a few years ago.
si smith has done a comic strip 40 of jesus journey into the wilderness. this was used by revive at greenbelt last year. i missed it there but first saw it at the IASYM conference in january when simon hall led some worship. he used the comic strip in a powerpoint presentation played over a track off revive's first album beautiful day (can't remember which one). si used to be part of the group that has become maybe (an understated name if ever there was one) in oxford, though he has now moved to leeds and joined revive.
maybe are posting one of si's illustrations every day during lent which is a wonderful idea. by the end of lent you will be able to download them all. i am of course making this a worship trick on my blog [no 12 second series]...
a slight warning - the images haven't been that compressed for the web so if you are on a phone dial up, as lent goes by the page will take a while to load - worth the wait though. add your suggestions for an accompanying music track in the comments...
He wrote no books
He commanded no army
He wielded no political power
He never travelled more that 200 miles in any direction
He was executed at the age of 33
Jesus taught us to trust in a loving an merciful father and to pray to him in faith for all our needs. He taught that we are all infinitely precious, children of one heavenly father and therefore we should treat one another with love, respect and forgiveness. He lived out what he taught by caring for those he met and by forgiving those who put him put to death.
(notes from Bath Abbey info sheet)
The Transforming Arms into Tools project have found a literally creative solution to the problem of arms left over from the civil war in Mozambique. They offer to trade weapons for valuable items such as farming tools (swords into ploughshares), and then, after decommissioning the weapons they have collected, they make them into works of art. They have just made the appropriately named Tree of Life out of guns.
"We artists want to turn the situation around, change the story. Changing these instruments of death into hope, life and prosperity." – artist Hilario Nhatugueja.
We've not had much experience of the desert – just an encounter with a rattlesnake on the edge of the Texan scrublands and a climb up Mount Sinai on cold February night when there was still ice in the cracks of the rocks. It was hardly a moment of solitude, since on the top were there were Muslims, Jews and Christians all keen to experience dawn of Sinai. But these experiences are enough to let us know that the desert is a place where the stars seem bigger, humans seem smaller and life is risky.
At the beginning of his public ministry, after he had been baptised by John the Baptist, Jesus went into the desert to find out who he was if he wasn't going to be a carpenter anymore. Interestingly Luke, in his gospel, puts in Jesus' genealogy, his family tree, at this point - this is how Jesus' fellow Jews defined who he was - later, when Jesus starts preaching in the synagogue in Nazareth, his fellow Nazarenes are outraged at his presumption - who does he think he is, they say, isn't he just Joseph's son? In their society, where family defines who you are, they think they know all about him by knowing his family.
So Jesus goes out into the desert, away from the pigeonholes of job and family, to ask God who he really is. And by the end of the 40 days, Satan's repeated question 'if you are the son of God...' tells us that Jesus had found out.
So what sort of a Messiah do we think he is?
Stones into bread?
“If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread” Jesus was hungry, starving after days in the wilderness – what better way do use his powers than to turn the stones littered across the desert into warm and delicious freshly baked bread.
What better way of proving who his love and concern than to feed the world with a single action.
But Jesus replies:
‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Our Messiah will not act simply for his own benefit.
“If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”
Alone in the desert – how could Jesus show the world that his Father loved him and cared for him? – How could he prove his special relationship?
What better way of doing it than falling to earth in a cloud of angels.
But Jesus replies:
“It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”
Our Messiah came to save others – not himself.
Power and Dominion
“All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
What an easy route to power and kingship – surely then Jesus could sort the world out? Just one easy bend of the knee. But Jesus replies: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” Our Messiah is a servant king.
Who is Jesus?
What should our Messiah look like?. A People's Messiah who could stones in to bread to feed the multitudes? A Torah Messiah standing tall at the lofty pinicple of the temple? A King Messiah, ruling over not just Isreal but all the kingdoms of the earth? In short Satan was offering Jesus the chance to be the thundering Mesiah that we think we want... We want anything but a suffering Messiah.
We therefore have a Christ a Messiah ..... Who, being in very nature[a] God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Courage is not the absence of fear, because we are all afraid.
Courage is the belief that there is something more important than safety.
When Jesus sent out his 12 disciples in Matthew 10, he asked them to walk away from safety - to be adventurous, to take risks, to put themselves in new situations where they needed God and other people, to leave security and go to dangerous places.
When was the last time you did something risky?
On Valentine’s Day mostly only the beautiful, chocolate, warm, good looking side of love seems to come over. But there’s more to love than that.
Lent is a time people start to think about the fact that Jesus died a horrible death, major sacrifice, so we can have life in all its fullness. He did it cos we are loved by God. A perfect example of true love.
True love, whoever that is directed towards can at times be a reflection of Jesus’ example - self-sacrificing, painful and even as gruesome, as well as beautiful and warm.
Read these words. They are more than slush and describe what true love is more wholly about…
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs…
The Bible: book - 1 corinthians. chapter - 13
You come back to me and I will come back to you.
All were invited to use the shredder to dispose of the guilt we carry around with us.
We are are ready to shred some of our baggage. We are ready to let go of some weight. We want to come back to you God.
Throughout Lent we have a unique reality TV-styled exclusive.
Grace has put a webcam inside the head of Grace regular "Nasty but Nice" Ben. We will be featuring live and uninterrupted coverage of his innermost spiritual musings and seeing how his multiple personalities are co-operating on a series of increasingly pointless Ignation spiritual exercises.
Let’s see what’s going on inside the BigBrethren head…
…I can’t believe those poxy people at the Council charged me *four times* for the same parking offence…four times!... I’m sure I’d be fined less for malicious damage than absent mindedness … ooh perhaps I could just firebomb the offices oh good grief I can’t believe that date on Wednesday went soooo badly she looked totally underwhelmed I’m going to have to learn some decent small-talk and quickly perhaps I should get working-out and come to dates oozing gym-induced endorphins that’d show her oh hang I’ll never see her again oh a**e, ooh my ego’s hurting where’s that note from my shrink?… here we are… repeat “I am a worthwhile person I am a worthwhile person I …” good grief it’s getting crowded on top of my wardrobe it’s those stupid boxes that come with computer accessories; I’ll never use them again but I can’t throw them away… perhaps if I put some of the bits in the suitcase that would tidy things up a bit ooh my throat still hurts I’d better get a doctors appointment for this one I’m such a typical bloke I never get around to things like that and I’ll end up dying horribly of something preventable and I’ll look so stupid on a date if I can’t swallow my food without grimacing …Hey, what’s that camera doing down here? Go and point it at Jesus Christ instead, He’s down here somewhere… I think he was fixing the grouting last time I looked… go on; off with you!!... Perhaps if I tried moisturising I’d look a bit more youthful and stuff I wonder if this one has sun factor 15 in it as well … b***dy Hounslow Council a hundred and sixty quid…
(CUT TO COMMERCIALS)
Every day you will be able to see edited highlights of the inside of Ben’s head and, once a week throughout Lent, you will be able to vote one of the deadly sins displayed by Ben off the show. (Please note, for the viewer that tried to vote off “All-round irritating self-absorption” yesterday; it’s not a deadly sin…)
Alternatively, you can just find some solace in the fact that however much the inside of your head feels like the above at times, you are not alone. And, to the best of my limited theological understandings, God is still at work in there somewhere; He doesn’t throw up his arms and go “How can I be expected to work under these conditions?” He just carries on patiently trying to fix the grouting.
Though don’t take my word for it about the grouting. In fact last time I walked past the bathroom I’m sure I heard the sound of drilling…
Quote from Blue like Jazz by Donald Miller. Which I'm only in the middle of reading so no book review or recommendation yet. The quote just amused me when I read it yesterday at the start of lent! :)
Colour is used to signify different things that often mean completely different things.
Red could mean love or romance but at the same time could mean anger or blood.
Yellow is the colour of that duck that’s supposed to mean new life at easter but could also be the colour you look when you don’t feel too good.
Green is meant to be nature’s colour however your supposed to turn green when your jealous.
The church changes its colours throughout the year. Only twice is it purple; during advent and during lent. Both are a time of preparation for different things. The purple is meant to signify the darkness of the world without Jesus in it.
The fact that purple is used is in itself a contradiction – purple could be interpreted as wealth or royalty but at lent and advent the church use it to signify darkness.
Below are a couple of optical illusions involving colour…
Maybe this lent colours are pretending to be something their not (like the optical illusions.) Maybe this lent colours are surrounding other colours and making it hard to see. Maybe this lent when we’re in that the desert those colours are pretending to be that bar of bread that looks oh so tempting.