Tag Archives: spirituality

Heavens Life Lesson

Sometimes success is found by looking back, by looking at the footprints in the sand of life we might just glimpse the Lord at work in the detail, in the narrative of our existence. However this is not how society is wired as we travel in life.

As a child generally we desire to succeed at school, as a grown-up that same desire develops. Each of us finds, that there is always something more, something that is just out of reach, to earn, wether that’s in a relationship, work, or in general life. Sometimes we attain it, sometimes we don’t. For me when I miss my target, I get up and go again, or sometimes my walk with God takes me in a new direction.

The quest for more of everything, has blossomed many industries, such has the self help industry, you only have to walk into a book shop to see how popular that genre is. Furthermore on YouTube the most watched videos are online self help gaming tutorials. Earning the creators of these videos many thousands of pounds, and celebrity status in certain circles. In particular Google has become a worldwide database of self-help solutions. The only problem is there are so many solutions it’s hard to filter out, the good advice from the bad.

In all this striving to get ahead, to know more, to be better, we sometimes forget to look back, sometimes wisdom and personal growth is not found in a book, or youtube clip, but by reflecting on our own story. Sometimes its only when we look back as the poem footprints in the sand suggests, that we can see God at work.

Its these moments that are the subject of today’s post, in recent years I have attended the bedside of a few  people who have been close to crossing over into eternity, people of faith and not.

Of those whom could speak, they spoke of having lived a life of service for others, they didn’t want to tell me how much they had in their bank balance, how big their house was, or the name of their cat or dog. They wanted to tell me, the focus of their life had been outward not inward.

Moreover for those who could not speak, it was evidenced by the number and quality of friends and family they had around them, that they had invested in the important things of their lives, not a financial portfolio, but invested in the lives of others in the love and care they had shown them. 

If we looked back today rather than ahead, if today was our final day, what would we say to the minister who visited? How have we lived our lives? These moments with the dying, a poignant, difficult, and an incredible privilege.  

These brilliant people in their dying breaths, cause us to reflect on our own journeys through life, not that it will always be perfect, or that we will always make the right decisions.

However when all is said and done, I hope I  can say to the Minister at my bedside, that I lead the majority of my days outward looking, caring for others, investing in kindness, Love and forgiving quickly. Then as I cross over from this life into the eternity that Jesus prepares, I’ll count myself as having lived life well, as God intended.

Ultimately death causes us to look ahead, at how we are living our lives outward in the service of others, defined by how much God loves all people both those who have passed through the veil and those who exist around us.

God Bless And have a good week

Last weeks post: The Know It All

Similar Themes: Looking Back And Seeing Jesus

 

The Suffering Optimist

God has created us unique, flawed yes by life circumstances, and the corruptibility of our souls, but unique and loved. I have discovered for myself, just how corruptible my soul is. How openness can somehow poison the soul.
Throughout life I have being an optimist, optimism is nurtured in an environment of hope. But when that hope is on the wane, negativity increases. For the optimist that negativity  is like poison for the optimists soul.
In every group there is always the person that’s a bit too negative, sometimes you call them the cynic or the pessimist. In the book Winnie the Pooh, we call him  Eeyore, who would say of the weather “It’s snowing still,” said Eeyore gloomily. “So it is.” “And freezing.” “Is it?” “Yes,” said Eeyore. “However,” he said, brightening up a little, “we haven’t had an earthquake lately.”
The chalk and cheese of most social groups and in our churches is the optimist and the cynic or pessimist, they see the world very differently, their attributes are fed by different things. The optimist finds the cynic exhausting, whereas the cynic finds the optimist, not rooted in any sense of reality as they see it.
However the cynic offers the optimist a measure of levelheadedness that they sometimes need, he or she helps the optimist to see the inherent risks in activities. And the optimist helps to sooth those fears and anxieties that underpin the cynic and the outcome can be a better plan.
We need in our churches both cynics and optimists, we need our church to be balanced by the gifts cynicism and optimism can bring rather than one sided. Sometimes we see one as better and the other as worse. The cynic probably sees the optimist, as airy fairy! Not rooted in reality.  Whereas the optimist can see the cynic as attritional, divisive and difficult.
Worse than that for the optimist, cynicism is there Achilles Heel, it is the poison, that can crush the spirit of the optimist. Cynicism however feeds off negativity, and if you look around there is plenty of that dressed up as modern-day wisdom, fear mongering we read in the newspapers, sometimes it even masquerades as comedy.
Alternatively optimism feeds off hope, but if that hope is lacking in a particular group or church, it becomes very difficult for an optimists voice to be heard. She herself begins to doubt in the possibility of hope.
As I have mentioned for the church to move forward we need both the yin and yang of optimism and cynicism, a faithful circle founded in God’s creation. As an optimist I need the cynic to help me see the big picture sometimes, the perceived negativity can be a good thing, checking the reasoning and honing the plan. Conversely a people dominated by negativity can lose hope in the future and even in themselves.
The Lord has created us cynic and optimist to greater or lesser degrees, so regardless of our character traits let us put Jesus first asking for his strength, wisdom and guidance. And viewing people less as a character trait which we like or not, but instead looking and affirming the gifts they bring, within the body of Christ the church, so that the church of Christ might attain a hope and purpose rooted in reality and a spirituality that authentically connects  people with Jesus.

When Growth Is Elusive, Remember…

The book of Acts chapter two tells this incredible story where Gods promised Spirit turns up, enables the disciples to speak in various human languages and then Peter gets up says a few words about Jesus and suddenly three thousand people are added to the new christian community!

This is not an every day occurrence and it wasn’t for them, as much as it isn’t for us. Those of us who preach regularly, will probably have noticed, that as much as our messages might be inspired by the Holy Spirit, we don’t get the same reaction as on that day in the book of Acts! However if this is happening where you are, am sure we would love to be encouraged by your comments below.

For the church to grow that rapidly, and that quickly, the Lord’s hand must’ve been in it, but just much as that is important. I believe that the ground, spiritually speaking was fertile, ready for the ignition of the gospel message, to radically change the spiritual and religious dynamic. 

The disciples had been told to go to Jerusalem and wait for the councillor, Jerusalem had been shocked by Jesus death, and heard the rumours of his resurrection, the disciples once obscure followers had become known and the people were ready for a change, a next step. The ground was ready, the seeds planted over years and planted through the disciples speaking in different languages, simultaneously it seams burst into flame and new faith flourished.

I was going to continue the post here and talk about how the spiritual ground in the UK and indeed Europe is hard and unrelenting, 

Instead I stop my personal pity party, and I’m reminded it wasn’t that easy for the disciples either. I am not going to get arrested, they did, I’m not going to get flogged, tortured or killed, these were all experiences those early believers had. Yes Pentecost happened, yes God kicked off the new covenant relationship with his church with a great crescendo. Moreover there have been revivals since, and there probably will be again. 

But I’m reminded that the long slog of the disciples going from place to place, of experiencing different levels of welcome and antagonism, is not unlike those of our own. I find myself, strangely comforted, and encouraged that I’m not alone after all, but one of many who have gone before.

Once upon a time in our green and pleasant land, the ground we walk used to be fertile, and today it is not particularly fertile towards any organised religion, there are many books and words written by great christian thinkers and academics as to why this might be. 

We long for things to get easier, to see some yield for the seeds planted, It is exhausting physically, emotionally and spiritually in keeping doing the work Jesus calls us too. But perhaps this is the road that Christ calls his church to walk for now, one of not great victories, but individual efforts in building Gods kingdom, and over time those individual efforts will become something great. Great in terms of the glory of God.

As a church we do not often speak in the language of spiritual things rather social, religious and political change, indeed our books don’t even make it into the spiritual section in book shops and libraries. Perhaps we have lost our confidence in spiritual things, in answered prayer, seeing people healed. I know some times, or indeed most times my toil for the Lord is not in his strength but my own. As believers we are quick to claim the gift of forgiveness as our own, and of eternal hope, so to should we receive the gift of the holy spirit that Jesus all so offers us.

Then perhaps our words and actions might be more ordained, perhaps we will read the spiritual seasons with a greater aptitude and see where the lord is already at work. Waiting possibly for us to catch up.

So may the words of Acts two not be just some obscure passage we speak occasionally about on the day of Pentecost. Nor be a passage we use to beat others over the head with, for example I was once told by a fellow believer that if I didn’t speak in tongues I wasn’t a proper christian!

Instead may its words remind us of just as much as we received the gift of forgiveness through Christ death and resurrection, we should also embrace the gift he gives us in the way of the Holy Spirit, a gift of sustaining power, the way to walk more deeply with God and an encourager to step out boldly in faith and build Gods Kingdom.

Mystery Post:

      in_humility

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A Good Life For who? Prime Minister

During the election campaign we were told that the Conservative party would provide us the good life. Part of me is seduced by the election promise of wealth and materialistic ideals. Indeed our prime minister declared on election day that he will provide for us  “the good life“, of personal wealth, jobs, a funded NHS and so much more.

I have a nagging doubt however that the good life promised for most might come to actually look like the 1970s TV show of the same name, The Good Life! For those that don’t remember, the show centres around two families, Tom has become disenfranchised and disillusioned with his job as a draughtsman and decides to live self-sufficiently so that he can make ends meet. His wife Barbara is fully supportive of this. Their neighbours and good friends Margo and Jerry are a little horrified by what their neighbours and friends I doing! Tom and his wife turn their garden into a small holding, with pigs and chickens and enough methane to generate electricity!

The Good Life is of course a comedy, the good life offered in a recent general election is not comical that serious. More than likely David Cameron will bring the good life for some, for others of us we might need to learn to be more self-sufficient growing our own food so we don’t go hungry, making our own clothes, growing and slaughtering our own chickens, pigs and so on. contrastively for others like Jerry and Margo in the sitcom, the good life will be about financial independence, and live unaware of the cost of the so-called good life has on the many not just financially but psychology.

There is hope however, in the one that can calm the storm, who doesn’t make grandiose statements about a good life for all, but instead willingly goes to across, and steps out of the tomb, that the good life might be redefined, rather than based on economics, materialism and self-sufficiency. Instead built on the foundation of the kingdom of God that is timeless, where lost sheep are found, the sick healed, the bruised traveller is rescued, the widow finds her lost coin,  the farmer his treasure, were all people are valued because all people are made in the image of God.  

Jesus redefines our image of a good life, so the rather than being disappointed and perpetually disillusioned. There is a realism about the current state of things, and optimism that with Gods help and in his strength things can change. Because our focus rather than being on a good life for me we focus on a good life for others, that builds up, affirms, where all can reach there potential in God. 

Finally Mr Cameron’s Conservatives may only succeed setting up a tiered good life for all. Remember that wherever you are in life Jesus turns up regardless, whatever, wherever and however we are. Jesus offers us a different life one based on truth, integrity and love and thats a good life I can take hold of regardless of my financial, and materialistic position, after all is our spirituality that matters in the life after, not our wardrobe or bank balance.

Spiritual Homelessness.

The apostle paul, reminds us that we begin our walk with Jesus craving spiritual milk but there is more, we need to move onto solids! Whatever that means interns of a individual and corporate spirituality.

Presumably like most teenagers I longed to leave home, I longed to be without boundaries that I felt at the time were oppressive. I didn’t see my parents discipline as trying to produce good character within me. Rather I saw their discipline as shackles that incarcerated, and I resented them for it. My kids will probably not be any different!

Sometimes on our faith journey their can be similar feelings, it could be easier to not follow God, to not believe in Jesus. To instead of loving our neighbour, we might think instead of number one! After all most people do that, don’t they.

As I get older it becomes harder to live out my faith in the midst of so many opposing or different ideas, and I have been trying to follow Jesus this April for 25 years. I can’t imagine how much harder it is to take up our faith today, and walking in it as new believers, all the more credit to you my brothers and sisters in Christ.

However there is a difference, between religious structures that oppress and a religiosity that gives us life. A religiosity focused around the life of Jesus, who did nothing else but to liberate the oppressed and of course forgive the weight of humanities sin, what was, is and is yet to come.

Jesus had two rules which summed up the whole of the law, Love God and love your neighbour. Within those two structures we discover what it means to embody Godly living. I find I can live with that, I don’t find loving God to be oppressive, or more demanding, but instead liberating. I find that loving my neighbour as myself, has a mixed response, sometimes my neighbour couldn’t careless, other times they are blessed immeasurably.

Those things that challenge our faith, whether that is doubt, illness or the violence and disregard for the other we see around us. Can make us stronger, more determined to make a difference, more hungry to go deeper into the things of God.

Where are the places we might grow, the communities that will teach us and comfort us, helping us to be weaned from spiritual milk and onto solids. Its more than about what we can do in the spirit or the depth of our theological understanding, though each is important, for me of equal importance is the inner knowledge of being loved, the inner peaceful centredness, on the things of Jesus that anchor us. so that when the storms rage around our lives, we know, really know who we are in God and how he sees us, not just as his children adopted into his family, but airs to the inheritance he has for each of us.

Go In Peace.

My Spiritual Desert

As I walked into the desert, there was nothing but sand beneath my feet and few trees, and nothing but a loud silence! To be away from the noise and bustle of life felt good, and I hadn’t even taken my phone with me! The worry did cross my mind however, that no one knew where I was, and if I was to get lost this could be problematic.

Along time before that desert experience, I had, had another, it was not dissimilar. There was what felt to be a large expanse, and there was a silence, deep and penetrating.

This was not a physical desert, there was no sand beneath my feet or hard rock. There were no trees or anything to speak off. For this desert was spiritual, internal, truly lonely. You could be in a crowd and yet alone. What was worse, was that I could not see, hear or feel God. It felt like he was distant, absent, uncaring.

When God is gone from your life it’s like there is a limb missing, another dimension to your life ceases to be. So you carry on the best you can, going through the motion of life, the rituals or church. Looking at others who seem to have it altogether in terms of their spiritual life, and wondering why you have been left behind. Or perhaps asking the question what have I done wrong?

I read various books about people in similar experiences, I read the book of Job in the bible, and discovered that he knew the similar isolation. That even though there were others like me, it didn’t ease my sense of spiritual isolation, because  for no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t get back to where I was with God. I didn’t know how to, I had lost my way, I had taken a wrong turn and now found myself lost without a compass.

From my reading, I learnt that sometimes people go through these experiences of isolation. Jesus did in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights when he was tempted in every way, Job as a whole book written about his spiritual desert. Yet for these and so many others they kept believing, hoping, trusting in God. They didn’t walk away, they didn’t give up.

I’m not sure at what point things started to change for me? But the burden of the desert began to become lighter, and slowly I became more aware once again of Gods presence around me and within. I even during prayer near the end of this time received a picture of Jesus standing waiting for me on the desert edge.

The first desert I spoke of at the beginning of this post is one in Australia in the outback of New South Wales, is the tradition for the aborigines to go walkabout, to go into the desert for a period of self-discovery. Perhaps my desert was mine, perhaps God was testing me, testing my metal, my perseverance, my trust in him.

Sometimes it is only through silence we make such discoveries, sometimes it’s only through personal loss we discover who our friends are, sometimes it’s through our brokenness we discover the quality of the Christian community that’s surrounds us.

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Over the coming few weeks of Lent, these posts are going to be focused on personal experiences of God and my journey with him, the joys and sorrows leading us to the wonder of Resurrection day. Hope you enjoy them feel free to comment and or click the like button.

Losing My Religion

“True religion helps us to grow, but pseudo-religion hinders growth, for it creates and maintains obstacles and barriers. Thus it is that much religion merely censors experience and does not liberate it, stifles human potential and does not allow it to blossom.” Kenneth Leech

In the light of Leech’s comment I find myself wondering if  our Christian communities have become defined by our jobs in church or religious knowledge rather than our spiritual centredness and experience of the living God?

Sure we need both, but I fear that the structure of religion has become a safety net for some and a cage for others. The others, have and are leaving in search of spiritual meaning else where, looking for what Kenneth leech describes as something that liberates and allows us to blossom.

That latter experience of God being liberating and blossoming  is something people experienced around Jesus, those who where healed, challenged, where changed from the encounter. For them they entered into a new way of life a new reality.

If we believe our religion, and our spiritual journey to be the right path, or one of the right paths, then there needs to be something more than ritual, something deeper than collective routine.

The purpose of religious ritual and routine is to deepen our walk with God, open us to the deeper spiritual narrative of what the holy spirit is doing in our lives and the lives of others, in our community and world. But does it? Does the routine still do those things? Or have we become stale? Do we need a change, or do we need to change?

In exercise terms as our bodies got used to the routine and so the routine doesn’t have the greater impact in calorific loss, or muscle gain, because we need to run longer or increase our weights! In the same way our spiritual health is dependent on us to keep it fresh, to change things when we get into that hamster wheel of religiosity just going around and around perhaps not even seeing initially, what is happening, until we get so fed up we think God isn’t listening to us and we leave altogether.

There is of course, something wonderful about religion, that collective cohesion, common bond and outlook, common worship that holds us and binds us together. A religious community growing together in God, deepening one another’s spiritual reality, just like iron sharpens iron. Too often perhaps we expect perfection from our Christian community because after all Jesus is perfect. Perhaps there would be less politics and backbiting in church, if we accepted one another the way we are, for all of our failings and successes and instead directed our energy in following, listening and growing, in Jesus.

I wonder in what ways do we, or would we need to change as communities of Christians, to allow one another to grow deeper in God. It has to be more than teaching programmes, or inspirational worship. That spiritual growth is quite individualistic in a way, but the fruit of it, is outward looking, allowing us to bless others, come alongside the brokenhearted, and be the kind of Christian and religious community perhaps God is calling us to be and the world needs us to be.

Fruit Wonderful Fruit

If I did not know anything about christianity or different faiths that offer depths and riches money simply can’t buy, I am not sure I would sign up!

It seems to me sometimes, that to not have any faith is rather freeing, you’re free from dogma, guilt, and of course you are perhaps less likely to become a suicide bomber or take a gun and shoot people in the streets, or brutalised or bully people in the name of God or because you think God has told you too, which of course people of many faiths have done throughout the ages. I do wonder though if in these cases such people are perhaps using God, as a scapegoat, to hide their own issues and prejudices.

Here the bible comes to our aid in Galatians 5:22-23 which speaks about the fruit of the spirit, being love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

These are not uniquely Christian attributes, for anybody can have these gifts to greater or lesser degree. But perhaps through them you the closer to God you are. Even if you don’t recognise it, or indeed recognise God working within you through the power of Holy Spirit.

So perhaps when we think about signing up to a faith we look for its fruit, we question what are the fruit of its disciples? Fruit of course is good for us, I am often struggling to choose fruits over chocolate! Even though I know obviously that fruit is better for me.

But the kind of fruit that St Paul is speaking about to the church in Galatia, is the kind of fruit I would look for above all else, both in myself, and the community I find myself in. Through my faith in Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit this fruit, can grow and I can see it develop in the life of others.

Where we do not find the fruit of the spirit, where we do not see anything but hatred, prejudice, and a pseudo spirituality, that veils a deeper narrative of political posturing, and so-called religious bias, that actually destroys what God is trying to accomplish in people. In those places, you won’t grow, you might not realise it at first.

However Just like you go to a doctor, and have a health check, and he sits across from you and tells you earnestly you need to eat more fruit! I Encourage you to check your spiritual diet, and just like eating healthy, bares in you the fruit of healthy living, a tighter waistline, and longevity. Becoming spiritually healthy means your bear these fruit not just in abundance, but you’ll see them in others, and be more connected with the living God, who doesn’t call you to hurt others but love them as yourself, and if you struggle with loving yourself of course, try loving them as much as God, for regardless of faith, gender, race, sexuality, or all manner of things, they, you and I have been made in Gods image and deserve to be treated as we would treat God.

Finally for those of us who have used God as a scapegoat for our own prejudices and issues, to pour condemnation on others or worse. There is hope, Jesus was hung on the cross as a scapegoat for all of our sin. Through this single act of sacrifice, we can learn the sentiment behind these nine fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, that through the power of the holy spirit can be born in us, and in turn we can be liberated from the venom that poisons our relationship with Jesus and those that don’t know him.

Why not join me in prayer?

Lord help me to see my prejudices for what they are. Help me not to mistake my words, thoughts and feelings with yours. Set me free, by the power of the Holy spirit, to live and work, as you call me too.

In Jesus name, Amen

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