Posts tagged ‘faith’

October 24, 2014

The wind blows where it wishes…

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The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.

(John 3:8)

A low, beautiful, sharp and bright autumn light was shining through the leaves of this Japanese Maple.  The dark red of the leaves contrasted wonderfully with the clear azure sky.  I had a photo in mind of the leaves against the sky, showing lots of detail and texture, enhanced by the light shining through from behind.  However it was very windy and even using a fast shutter speed didn’t enable me to get the shot I was looking for, so I tried a different approach.  I dropped the shutter speed down to 1/45 sec to show the motion of the wind, as leaves and branches were buffeted to and fro.  I was quite happy with the result, a static picture, but showing lots of motion…

It reminded me of the Bible verse above, where the Lord Jesus talks about the Holy Spirit.  I like the way that in the original languages of the Bible (Hebrew and Greek) the words for wind and Spirit are the same.  The unpredictability of the wind blowing through this tree was a reminder to me that God often works in ways we cannot always predict or understand, but nevertheless we can always trust Him because He loves us beyond all measure…

March 30, 2012

You’re the colour of my world.

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Driving along listening to a C.D. by the Rend Collective Experiment, a line caught my attention and reawakened an old, precious memory.  The song is called ‘Exalt‘ and the line I got so excited about is the title of this post, ‘You’re the colour of my world.’  The music brought me back to when I was nineteen, when after several years of ‘off and on’ trying to understand Christianity and Jesus in particular, one afternoon as I was reading the Bible, it was like everything suddenly made sense.  It was a ‘Eureka’ moment; Jesus, the cross, my sin, His forgiveness just suddenly all made sense.  I knelt, I prayed and was overcome with sheer blissful happiness at the newfound realisation of God’s love for me, even me.  It felt akin to seeing everything in black and white throughout my whole life until that point and now suddenly I was seeing in colour for the first time!  I ran downstairs and much to my poor Mother’s amusement and confusion I shouted out ‘Mum, Mum, I know everything!’  Of course I didn’t know even the tiniest fraction of ‘everything’ but at that brief moment it felt like I did; even though I was less than the minutest speck in the universe I actually mattered to God and He actually cared about me…

Here’s the rest of the lyrics to ‘Exalt’:

I’m bare before You, O risen Jesus.
I can’t hide from You, Your kindness is too strong.
Today You kneel, You wash my feet,
Where the dirt of sin has harmed me.
Who has heard of such majesty?
Glorious One, I let down the walls again.
There’s nothing that’s sweeter than Your friendship,
There’s nothing that’s greater than Your Lordship.

I exalt You, I exalt You,
I exalt You and enjoy You.
I exalt You, I exalt You, I exalt You,
You’re the colour of my world.
You’re the colour of my world.

There’s nothing that’s sweeter than Your friendship,
There’s nothing that’s greater than Your Lordship.
There’s nothing that’s stronger than Your overwhelming grace,
And Your truth is my wide open space.

You are my sight, my life’s guide;
Though I’m blind, You brighten the way.
The troubles they are many,
And I feel I’m losing,
But You rescue me in Your time.
Glorious One, You redeem all my mistakes;
There’s nothing that’s stronger than Your overwhelming grace,
And Your truth is my wide open space.

November 4, 2011

Botanical Musings

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Yesterday we visited the amazing National Botanical Garden of Wales in Carmarthenshire. It is such a great place for all ages and levels of gardening interest. As you can see from the above picture the vast glass dome is very impressive, it holds a rich variety of plant life that wouldn’t last very long unprotected in this particular climate!

We’ve had a good few days off and are now on the ferry home as I write this (on my phone). Looking at the picture now (and the one below) I am struck by the unreality of it all, (albeit a welcome one), like a kind of zoo for plants…

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Then as I let my mind wander further I’m awed by the contrasts; it was warm and still inside, with exotic plant life and strange tropical sights and smells all around, yet once outside we were blasted by a cold decidedly untropical Welsh wind and that special sideways rain that is the proud preserve of the west coast of the British Isles :-/

But maybe it’s not just plants that can live in an unreal world; the question of what’s really real has been a question on people’s minds at least since Plato’s Cave.  It’s perhaps a question that many of us try to avoid because it can make us feel uncomfortable: “Why am I here?” “What is the meaning of life?” “How should I live my life?” “Did the Universe come about by chance and if so where did the concept of chance come from?” “How do I know that I know things?” … And so on! But of course it is good to think about and consider such things and then to realise that above all other life we humans hold such a lofty and privileged position – one of great responsibility, which – it is stating the obvious – we have not (on the whole) done a very good job with…

Fueled by too much coffee I could waffle on for ages, but the sea is getting rougher so I need to stop looking at this small screen!

… I struggle to imagine how anyone can consider these things and exclude God from the equation. In some ways I admire the Atheists, they require a depth of faith for their world to hold together that is staggering, far more faith than I could ever claim to have…

May 2, 2011

You want proof?

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(Photo: Spider Monkeys at Fotataken in 2009)

Sermon from Yesterday.  Text: John 20:19-31  (Easter 2, Year A)

We’ve all heard the phrase “Seeing is believing”; if we hear some news that seems out of the ordinary we want proof, so the man coming home from work with a pay rise will want to show the new pay slip to his wife, the woman who has a winning lottery ticket will carefully guard the proof of the win until it can be handed in, the sports fan will keep the ticket stub from the match when her team won the cup to prove that she was there and the proud Father-to-be will carry around in his wallet the fuzzy black-and-white ultrasound printout as proof that he is going to have a son or daughter.

Of course when it gets to matters of faith, this can be quite confusing, it is not like we can physically see God with our own eyes, we cannot pick up the phone to Him or send an email.  Jesus is not on Facebook or Twitter and it is not possible to go and see Him onstage or even in a Church.  That is of course why many dismiss the claims of Christianity without ever really bothering to look more deeply.  But there are many things which cannot be proven which we know are real; for example love, or the beauty of music or art.  Yes there are signs and indicators that two people love each other, but how would we mathematically prove it? The look of rapture on the Opera lover’s face as he is absorbed by his favorite Aria is clear to see, but could it be quantified or reduced to its core elements in a test tube?

In our reading from John’s gospel this morning we have something to greatly help us with this whole question of proof.  Firstly the Lord Jesus proves His resurrection in a way that is beyond any doubt and then He shows that it is also possible to believe in Him without seeing the proof and how wonderful it is when that happens.  The reading starts off with the disciples huddled together in a room with the door locked because they are still in a state of shock and numbness over Jesus’ death.  Even though the risen Lord had already appeared to Mary Magdalene and she had told them as such, they were still not able to see the bigger picture.  Their master had gone, their Shepherd had left them the flock without a leader to guide them, they were sheep left alone in the hills without protection.  They were afraid of being arrested and killed because they were disciples of the One who had been arrested and killed a week before.

The door is locked, there is no other way in and suddenly there He is!  Jesus comes and stands in their midst and says “Peace be with you”.  To prove that it is He, He shows them his hands, the scars left by the nails and he shows them his side where the spear went in.  Understandably the disciples are overjoyed that their master and their friend is with them once again.  In a moment their despair had turned to joy.

No doubt, Jesus sees the state that they are all in, a mixture of utter joy, excitement and maybe a little fear so he says to them once more “Peace be with you” and then he continued:

“As the Father has sent me, so I send you”.  When he said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (v.21)

Jesus was not only giving them a job to do, but also giving them the power to do that job.  What he required of them was to tell people about him, to proclaim the good news to all nations.  Jesus breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit”, as a foretaste of what would happen on the day of Pentecost, when all believers from that time on would experience the power of the Holy Spirit working in their lives.  Of course that mission to proclaim, to speak and to live out the gospel message is entrusted to us and to all believers today and is just as important as it ever was.

Then Jesus then says to them:

If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.(v.23)

Of course he was not giving them the power to forgive sins, because only God can forgive sins.  Rather, Jesus gave them the privilege of telling new believers that their sins have been forgiven because they have accepted Jesus’ message.  All believers have this same privilege.  We can announce with certainty the forgiveness of our sin once we come to the place of repentance and faith.

It is easy to feel sorry for Thomas; he wasn’t there when Jesus visited the other disciples in the locked room and he wants proof.  When the other disciples told him that they had seen the Lord, he said to them:

Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe. (v.25)

Next we read that a week later the disciples were again in a locked room, though his time Thomas was with them.  As before, Jesus came and stood amidst them and said “peace be with you” and then he turned to Thomas and said:

Put your finger here and see my hands.  Reach out your hand and put it in my side.  Do not doubt but believe. (v.27)

Thomas did not need to reach out and touch him, the sight of his Master induced a new depth of faith in him and he exclaimed:

My Lord and my God! (v.28)

Thomas got his proof and his response is clear, He calls Jesus God and Jesus does not object because what Thomas says is true.  Of course we might think that if we could have proof like Thomas did to show to people then many more would come to faith in Christ – maybe, but then there were many people around at the time who did not believe, despite the evidence.

I’m sure that we have all wished that we could actually see Jesus and hear Him speak to us in the way that we would speak with each other.  We want to know what he looked like (Did He really have long hair and a beard for example) and so on.  Like Thomas we want Jesus’ physical presence.  But God’s plan is far greater than this would allow.  He has not limited himself to a physical body.  That is why he is present with his people at all times, He is Here now and He is just as much with others as they meet in his name all around the world.  He lives in our hearts by his Holy Spirit.  He does speak to us now, through the Bible, and as we grow and mature in our prayers, we hear God’s still small voice speaking to us.  The Lord Jesus today can be as real to us as he was to Thomas.  For Thomas and the other disciples, they believed when they saw the risen Lord Jesus for themselves, and Jesus’ response to their joy and new-found faith was this, he said:

Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe. (v.29)

The days when Jesus would be visible to the physical eyes were limited because he was soon going to return to his Father in heaven.  But Jesus would still be visible to the eyes of faith.  For the benefit of all those who would believe as a result of the testimony of the apostles, including us, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe”.

Some of us believe because we were brought up by our parents to believe.  Some of us believe through finding the Saviour later on in life.  No matter how or when we came to believe, God blesses us because we do.

And so we come to a rather startling conclusion:  The proof of Jesus’ resurrection today is us!

Yes, we are the one’s given the responsibility to show Christ’s love and his power to forgive to a world that is lost, broken and hurting and which desperately needs a Saviour.  It is not up to anyone else, it is our job, our responsibility and our great and awesome privilege.

I’ll finish with some famous lines from Teresa of Avila:

Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
      no hands but yours,
      no feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which to look out
      Christ’s compassion to the world
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about
      doing good;
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.

Amen.

October 3, 2010

Encouragement for the journey

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(Photo from the Sheep’s Head walk for Christian Aid last month)

A couple of people actually read last weeks effort, so for anyone that may be interested, here is this mornings sermon.

Text:  2 Timothy 1:1-14

Have you ever watched or taken part in a long distance endurance test, you know something like a sponsored walk from Malin Head to Mizen Head, a cross-channel swim, the Cork, Dublin or London Marathon, or crossing the Himalayas on a pogo stick!?  One of the things that they all have in common (apart from making the participants very tired) is that they all have support teams.  There will be a crew of people backing up the walkers, providing food, drink and perhaps shelter.  There may also be a crowd along the way, clapping and cheering as the participants pass by, giving encouragement “well done”, “keep going”, “Only 4000 Kilometres to go” and so on. 
The Christian life is in many ways a bit like a long endurance race.  We will sometimes find the going tough, we may even want to give up, drop out completely or hail a taxi to take us to the finish line!  One of the things that makes it easier is when we encourage one another.  I just love it when I hear that happening, when you take the time and the effort to look after your fellow travellers and ask how they are doing and help them in different ways, encourage them to persevere and pray for them.  This is one of the reasons why the Tuesday morning and Thursday evening groups work so well for those that take part; they are places of encouragement.  People always come away encouraged and built up in their faith. 
As we look at the reading today from 2 Timothy, we see that Timothy, a young church leader has a very tough job to do.  Without support, it would be fair to say that Timothy would not have lasted the distance, yet the letters he receives from the Apostle Paul (who is in prison in Rome), spur him on and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, he is given the power and energy and strength to persevere. 
Right in the first verse, Paul puts the Gospel in a nutshell; it is “the promise of life”.  Outside of what Jesus did for us upon the cross there is no promise of life.  Without Christ we are completely lost and without any hope, yet the gift of God is forgiveness and eternal life.
Then in verse 3, Paul writes: 
I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. 
Wow, Imagine that, having the Apostle Paul pray for you, wouldn’t that be great!  Perhaps we underestimate the importance of praying for each other.  I cannot tell you how grateful I am for your prayers for my family and for me “Please Lord help Daniel with his work, help him to get round all the visits he needs to do, get to all the meetings he needs to be at and let his sermon not be so long this week Amen!”  Let us always pray for each other, for our family members, friends and even people whom we don’t know.  I’m sure that in heaven we will be stunned at the effect our prayers had in the purposes of God’s Kingdom, how God used our weakness to perform mighty acts of greatness.  Never underestimate the power of prayer. 
Timothy came from a godly home.  Paul writes that
I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.  (v 5)
The love of Jesus was there in Timothy’s younger days.  He saw how important this faith was to his grandmother and mother.  Timothy grew up in the Lord.  How important it is for us to make sure that our children ‘grow up in the Lord’, that we show them a godly example of how to live and that we teach them to pray and teach them to read the Bible and show them how to be godly, to be loving to others, to be forgiving and gentle, yet strong in faith and courage.  I know how difficult this is and we can only begin to do it with God’s help, but I am convinced that all the effort that we put into trying to bring up our children to know and love the Lord Jesus will not be in vain.  Our children may not turn out the way we want them to, but if they can just acknowledge God in their life then ultimately that is all that matters. 
As the weather begins to turn cold once more some of you may have already lit your first fire for several months.  Some people just seem to have a gift when it comes to lighting a fire.  Many times I have a fire all set, I have a good amount of dry kindling and newspaper and it is all looking good.  I light the match and it all starts off well, the fire roars into life then in no time at all the flame dies down and there is just a bit of smoke hanging on and it is all looking rather pathetic.  Then Sonja comes in, gives me a look of pity, and in less than a minute I have to stand back because the heat of the fire is so great! 
The Apostle Paul likens Timothy’s spiritual gift to a fire.  He says:  
 I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 7for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. (6b, 7)
We don’t know especially what Timothy’s gift is, but the same truth applies to us also.  What gifts do you have?  What has God made you good at?  Gifts tend to fade in strength when they are not used or encouraged, so whatever gift you have make sure you use it and when you do, give all the credit and glory to God, because a gift is just that, a gift.  There are lots of people at the moment helping to make the Alpha course we are doing go so well, including those with the gift of hospitality.  They are using that gift so well that the Grace Centre feels such a welcoming and homely place (not to mention the fact that I have probably put on half a stone since the course has started)! 
It seems that Timothy was (understandably) a bit overawed by the responsibilities entrusted to him.  Ephesus was a city where few people had any sympathy for Christ; there was much persecution and opposition to the Christians there.  Paul reminds Timothy to rekindle, to get the fire going again, to be strong in the Lord, not to rely on his own strength and power, but Gods strength and power.  The word ‘cowardice’ in the Greek means someone who flees from the battle, who will not stand up to the fight.  How often has this been true of us, that we have not spoken up when we should have done?  How often have we neglected to tell someone of God’s love and forgiveness, how often have we fled from the battle?  I can think of many times when I should have spoken up on something but didn’t, so I am encouraged by this verse and I hope you are too; God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. 
We know that in our own strength we are simply not able, we do not have the ability to use our God-given gifts, we are naturally cowards who run away from the battle, we are lacking in love and we have the self-discipline of a sloth!  Verse 8 though gives us the answer:
‘…relying on the power of God’ 
That’s it, that’s the secret.  Relying on the power of God.  Have you ever run out of petrol and had to push your car?  It’s not easy is it?  It is possible (especially with a bit of help) to move the car, but it will move very slowly and only for a short distance.  When we do not rely on the power of God it is like we are running on empty!  We need His power and we get this power when we surrender to Him, when we hand over control of our lives to Him.  Let us pray:
Here I am Lord, I give you everything, my whole life and all that I am.  All my plans, wishes and desires I give to you.  Leave no stone unturned.  Lord, please heal me of my selfishness and forgive me for the countless times I have sinned.  Cleanse me through the power of the cross, wash me from the inside out.  Lord I am yours, use me for the glory of your name and by your grace to make a real difference in this world for you.  Fill me with your Spirit that I may not be afraid to speak about you and to help people in your name, to live out the gospel everyday in all that I say and all that I do and I ask this in the name of your Son, my Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.