As mentioned in my blog earlier this evening we owe a debt of gratitude to those in our denomination who challenge us in so many ways.
Please continue to pray for Loraine and Jill
As mentioned in my blog earlier this evening we owe a debt of gratitude to those in our denomination who challenge us in so many ways.
Please continue to pray for Loraine and Jill
My apologies for not posting yesterday, as I had intended to, but I’ve been away in London for a visit to Methodist Church House and then some R&R with Alison.
So where do we go from here ?
As I journeyed home on the train, I reflected on several things………
Firstly, at Euston station the number of people standing waiting for the train, seemingly without purpose in contrast to those who had been waiting suddenly dashing off for their train as it arrived. I’ve observed this many times during my journeys from Euston and it never fails to amaze me, for I’m one of them !
Secondly, the number of folk on electronic devices, texting or listening to music and definitely NOT engaging with the person sitting next or near to them. It’s become the world of personal space, not to be invaded.
Thirdly, the moments I’ve seen homelessness on the streets of London and knowing that it is reflected up and down the land, where people (often through no fault of their own) have found themselves in situations that they feel powerless to get out of.
Fourthly, the lack of manners shown in the likes of the man who easily pushed Alison out of the way in order to get on the tube first, and left his wife/partner three or four people behind ! Sadly, I don’t think he even realised what he had done, for such is the “me first’ mentality of the world. My Father, who has always been a gentleman, would have been horrified.
This is why I think there is the need for the 5 spiritual exercises I’ve looked at this week; because our spiritual health ultimately is the only thing that will heal this world. In Genesis God created the world “and saw that it was good” and the whole Bible story is about God, in Jesus, restoring that creation to what he first intended. Don’t just read Genesis without reading other books in the Bible.
We are encouraged to look after our physical health these days to ensure we don’t end up, as I did, in the back of an ambulance (several years ago). 5 a day has become the mantra for good physical health, but what about our spiritual health; it too shouldn’t be neglected and that’s why I feel indebted to the Vice-President (Jill Baker) and Loraine Mellor (President) for challenging the Methodist people to engage in this exercise of giving thanks, keeping silent, reading and reflecting, praying and acting each and every day. But it’s not just an exercise for Methodists as I believe from their initial reading of Acts 2:46-47 it’s a good discipline for ALL people of faith and for those of no faith. Lets aim to get our spiritual lives in order this year.
In closing this series on my blog I print the words of the Methodist Covenant which is said annually in every Methodist Church (and in other denominations as well). It puts God at the very centre of our lives. May we achieve this in 2018
And so we come to the last of the 5 spiritual exercises for a healthy spiritual
life. PRAY !
It’s probably the hardest of all the exercises and yet its the one Jesus told us to engage in. What is prayer ? Too often its deemed to be that which the preacher or the Minister does from the front of Church on a Sunday. I’m always amazed by the number of Methodists who will refuse to pray out loud citing reasons such as “I don’t know how” or “It’s not my job”. On one occasion I even had someone tell me that God doesn’t listen unless it’s a Minister or a Priest !!
The disciples asked Jesus how they should pray and in Matthew 6:9 onwards he gives them the Lords Prayer. Now I don’t think for one minute it was intended as a formulaic procedure to be intoned in the way we usually do; nor do I think that Jesus ever intended it to be repeated parrot fashion in every act of worship.
No I think that Jesus was offering us pointers we should pray for and about.
Firstly (v 9) our prayers should glorify God and acknowledge that we want to see his will carried out in our lives and in our world. It’s an opening of commitment to God
Secondly (v 11) it’s about asking for what we need from our loving Father in Heaven.
Thirdly (v12) the prayer reminds us that we are not perfect and particularly in the face of a perfect God. We need his forgiveness but we also need to follow his example and be prepared to forgive others.
Fourthly (v 13) we need Gods protection from those things that would divert us away from God, and there is much in this world that would distract us.
It’s also particularly interesting that in Matthews Gospel he follows the Lords prayer with teaching about fasting. Again I don’t think that it’s about food per se but about focussing on God, His will and his desire to enrich our lives.
So, why do we find this so difficult ? I think because we live in a world which declares that it’s not normal to talk to someone you can’t see and less normal to expect an answer !! and yet if we believe in a God who cares for us then we need to hold onto a God who wants to be in a relationship with us. And I think that’s the clue, relationship. Its not about having a set time of day, nor a set liturgy but it’s about an ongoing conversation throughout the day. If I want to tell Alison something I don’t keep quiet until 10.30 on a Sunday morning; no I share it there and then, AND, I listen for her response. It’s the same with God for we should be chatting to him all the time and listening for his response which may or may not be audible, may or may not be visible, and which may not come immediately. However, as people of faith we believe he will answer somehow and in some way, bringing to us what we need when we need it (need isn’t always the same as want).
So what do we say ? Well our two year old granddaughter is starting to expand her vocabulary at a phenomenal rate and starting to put together very simple sentences. I don’t expect to be discussing with her the nature of quantum physics just yet (if ever !), nor do I think she can cope with the veritable minefield of an in-depth discussion of the differences between Newcastle United and Sunderland ! However I still remember the moment when I arrived at her house, and as she saw me, she shouted “Grandad”. That is all she said for a while but my heart danced with delight. I don’t think God necessarily wants long and fancy words, nor does he want a deep theological treatise but he simply takes delight in our simple baby talk to him for that’s the nature of relationship. Joy by one half of the relationship in the sharing of love from the other half. A simple, sometimes no words, sharing of our heart with his.
I used to run the Chapel drama group in the ’70s and we had great fun performing with a 60 strong cast in “Jesus Christ Superstar” to “Oliver” as well as one-act plays and pantomimes. At the same time I belonged to two other amateur dramatic groups, in my home town. Since then I’ve been a part of Chapel pantomimes in Ripley, theatre productions in Langley Mill & Swanwick (when I was told I was worryingly authentic as the devil !), front of house manager for Rob Frost (on 3 tours) and a brief appearance as a daffodil in Wimbledon theatre !!
Theatre has been a part of my life ever since the Consett Chapel anniversary at the age of three. I love the theatre, the action, the buzz and the smell of it. On Thursday of this week Alison and I are going to see Mamma Mia at the Novello theatre, London and although I’ve seen it before I’m really looking forward to going again. My sadness is that the nature of Ministry means there is very little time to attend a theatre and no opportunity for acting or producing any more.
So to me it’s particularly interesting that todays spiritual refreshment is ACT. I remember one production when the girl who I’d cast in the lead role became nervous and very conscious of her height. She looked the part, she sang beautifully but she was very tall and as I discovered this caused her nerves. In rehearsals she knew her lines but as the time for the production drew closer she got more and more nervous to the point when she declared one evening “I can’t do this, I quit !” and this was only about two weeks before we went ahead. As it happens we persuaded her to continue, but only on the promise that I spent every night hiding behind the piano so she could see me when the audience couldn’t. My role in that performance was to smile and keep her calm and focussed. She was a tremendous hit, but would have been a disaster if she’d got too nervous or had pulled out as she wanted.
It is no good an actor knowing his or her lines, cues, entrances if they don’t actually act on our knowledge; in the same way, as Christians it is no good having the knowledge and doing nothing about it. So far this week our spiritual exercise have included reading and reflecting, keeping silence and giving thanks. All three are worthy of mention but of no use if we don’t aim to discipline ourselves into acting upon them. 1 Corinthians 13 is a wonderful, memorable passage often used at weddings to speak of the necessity of love, but it contains a wonderful build-up towards it as it says “if I have no love it’s not worth having spiritual gifts such as prophecy or speaking in tongues. Without love it’s no use giving to the poor or having faith.”
In other words we must act on what we believe and as God is a God of love then our actions need to be that of love also, even towards those that hurt us or damage us (hard though it is). If we believe that God is in charge of our lives then we should act as though he is, and its no good trying to be in control all the time; If we believe in the power of prayer, then we should engage in pray. So the list goes on for it’s a relatively simple message to do something about it.
I’ve always liked the story of the congregation who turned up at Church one Sunday morning to find that the Minister had pinned a note to the door which read “You’ve all been coming here for at least 25 years: now do something about it !”
Don’t let us leave our Christian lives at the end of the hymn singing, or when we leave our particular places of worship; let’s go into the world and ACT upon what we believe.
Who or what do you give thanks for ? Are your thanks received with graciousness ?
The first part of this question probably sounds easy to answer; quite obviously I can only answer for myself, but I give thanks for family and friends. At the moment I’m going through a stressful time but I feel so uplifted by the love and prayers of my Churches. I give thanks for every one of my Church members and the wider Church family. Especially for those friends who know my current situation and have simply gathered around me, friends from Romania, Oldham, previous Circuits, my Rotary club: you all know who you are.
I give thanks for the blessing of a home in which to live, for food, for heating, for security not afforded to everyone in our own country or abroad.
I give thanks for the simple things in life such as a lovely garden to walk in (even at this time of year), for health, for life itself !
Often all those things we take for granted are the very things we need to say thank you for but we don’t always do it. We forget to say thank you and when we do we can so often be disappointed in the response of the person receiving our gratitude. They shrug their shoulders and say “it was nothing” when to us it may have been everything; they say “don’t mention it” and deprive us of the opportunity to show appreciation. This is where graciousness comes in.
Alison and I know a lady who if she gives a gift expects a thank you by return; If a letter hasn’t arrived in the next post she’s on the phone to us complaining. If we say thank you over the phone she fails to accept it implying that the only thanks that counts is a written one (not email or verbal). Her lack of graciousness takes the edge off the gift she’s given, for we find ourselves thanking her and then having to justify why we spoke it out aloud rather than sent a letter. Still we’re all different.
However, there is one who rejoices in our thankfulness whether it is written, repeated or simply spoken and that someone is God. Look at how any times in the Scriptures thanks and praise are given to God. Jeremiah 33:11 “give thanks to the Lord Almighty, for the Lord is good; his love endures forever” Matthew 15:36 “then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people.” Psalm 136 mentions giving thanks over and over again in its 26 verses. So many other references and the wonderful things is that when we say thank you to God he simply receives it without any further expectation; in short his graciousness is such that to receive thanks is all he requires.
We should be thankful to him for our health, food, homes, family, friends etc.
Now I know that this raises a great deal of theological questioning for those who haven’t received such blessings, but that is for another blog another time. Today I just want us to get into the rhythm of saying thank you.
Go on, try it
Perhaps begin by reading Psalm 136 out aloud and let yourself get into the rhythm of it, especially the constant repetition of the line “his love endures for ever”. get excited at saying it aloud.
Perhaps after you’ve done this over a few days, devise your own litany of thanks, with that same repetition in it and learn to say your own thanks aloud.
Its a good habit to get into.
Day 2 of my 5 a day reflection
As I write this Alison is on the telephone to her Mum and because of her Mums deafness Alison is having to shout. I phoned my Dad yesterday and as his deafness seems a lot worse I felt as though I was shouting even louder.
And I say all that as a deaf person myself, aware that others are speaking loudly to me !!
We live in a world of noise all around us; constant traffic, music, chatter, buzz of life itself, people talking on their mobile phones, headphones clamped to people’s ears. When I’m in the car driving I usually have radio 2 or radio Derby playing. It often seems as though we cannot exist without noise in our lives.
As Methodists silence is rarely a part of our worship, but I’m aware that for me it is an integral part of the Celtic rhythm of life. Saint Cuthbert (and many others) would withdraw to a quiet place for contemplation and prayer. For him it was a small island just off Lindisfarne (or Holy Island), in the picture, which for many hours would be cut off by the incoming tide. It is important to escape the busyness of life, the noise and the bustle to a quiet place. Our model for this is Jesus himself, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place where he prayed“. Mark 1:35
If Jesus felt the need to be quiet and alone how much more should we ? The realisation of this came fully home in 2010 when I was on a three-day retreat to the then Mother House of the Northumbria Community, Nether Springs.
I think that it was here that I first discovered the sense of peace that comes with withdrawing from busyness and it was here sitting quietly in contemplation perhaps of a Scripture passage or with an object or just sitting in a state of ‘being’ that I more fully felt close to God.
On our visit to Orkney in 2015 it was at many of the ancient stones that I would stand alone and marvel. On our last night I got into the car and just drove to be with God at what had become for me a ‘thin’ place where Heaven and Earth seem closer than ever.
When I’m in Romania I have a particular spot where I nearly always end up at some point in the day just stop, sometimes for 5 minutes sometimes more, and just focus purely on God, listening for his small, quiet voice.
Where do you find silence ? Do you sit comfortably with it ?
If I want to listen to Alison I have to stop what I’m doing and give her my time and attention; how much more should we give time to God, even if silence is uncomfortable or unnatural for us ? It’s often in that stillness that we hear or feel God speaking to us,
directing us and leading us forward or maybe that’s what we are scared of ! If it is that we are fearful of where God might lead us then we should remember He only eve
r wants what is best for us, not what could harm us.
Today, in our Covenant services at Church, we had times of silence and as this is a particularly troublesome time in our Circuits journey I really found those times of quiet the most valuable; an oasis of certainty in the midst of a desert of uncertainty.
I encourage you to find your place to be silent each day.
This is the opening of our year of Intentional Faith Development. Paul from the Methodist Evangelicals Together movement is one of the country’s leading speakers and Bible teachers in my opinion. Although this is taking place in Burton (a.m.) and Uttoxeter (p.m.) it is open to anyone and everyone irrespective of denomination.
Langans is on the corner of Guild Street near the Cooper Square car park and Uttoxeter Methodist Church is just at the top of the shopping street and next door to the fish shop !!
I hope Revd Loraine Mellor and Jill Baker aren’t offended when I stop at this half-way point in their Presidential and Vice-Presidential (Methodist Conference) year and reflect on the challenge they gave us right at the beginning of their term of office.
They challenged us to reflect on the Scripture passage, in Acts 2:46-47, which reads……..
“Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of the people. And day by daytime Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”
In order to hep us in this task they invited the Methodist people (and others) to develop a five-a-day spiritual habit. This was printed in a booklet but also on the imaginative dice shown above. I intend to try to reflect on each one of these spiritual habits each day this week, as part of the Trent and Dove’s year of Intentional Faith Development.
Please join me in this reflection this week and Ill be interested in your thoughts each day.
What are you reading at the moment ? Why are you reading it ? What difference would it make if you didn’t read it ? So often our reading habits reflect our interests, but also affect our passions, our lifestyles, our though processes so its of importance to understand some of the questions above.
At the moment I’m reading David Jason’s biography for entertainment, the daily newspaper on my iPad for information and I’m about to start Kevin Palau’s “unlikely” for spiritual development. Three very different sets of reading and each for a different purpose as we need to keep variety in our reading habits, from simple enjoyable reading to reading that stretches our imaginations and minds.
Usually on a morning I turn to my paper for the day’s news over breakfast and its important that I know whats going on in the world; usually this is kept up to date by our constant barrage of news media in all its various forms, but if we don’t keep up to date then were cannot make informed decisions about the issues of the day. Trouble is it seems hard to find authentic, trustworthy, unbiased information so we have to be increasingly careful of which ‘voices’ we listen to and not simply follow the loudest, brashest noisemakers.
When Im relaxing I turn to something that simply entertains and this may or may not stretch my imagination although I think that even the most entertaining of reading ought to leave us thinking; I remember being taught that the best science-fiction is that which leaves you thinking that it’s within the realm of possibility and so how would you react, and I agree with that sentiment.
My spiritual reading is the one that should really stretch me and at times I find it’s the hardest of disciplines, because the natural human option is to go for the easiest option and the one that needs least work. Consequently when I turn to such reading I find myself studying much of the words, reflecting on the sentiments, listening for the challenge to my Ministry and my life. But I try to do some such reading every day (don’t always succeed).
Of course in all this there is the area of reading which is the most fruitful of all, and that is my reading of the Bible. Methodists are challenged when they become members to read the Scriptures daily; Alison on her Facebook page puts up a portion of scripture every day in both English and Romanian and last year video’d herself every day for the year reading a portion of scripture on Facebook. Of course it’s very easy to simply pick up a Bible, read a small part of it and walk away. I put it to you that it isn’t really giving the Bible the due attention it deserves, for if we’re going to argue that this is the Word of God, then it should be essential reading for all of us.
It has been variously described as a most explosive book and also as a dangerous book; why ? because it has the power to change lives and so it is transformational when we allow it to be. Word of Warning, it can be explosive and dangerous in a different way when in the wrong hands. By this I mean that over the centuries the Scriptures have been used to justify the prejudices of men and women and so it becomes harmful. However when I speak of explosive and dangerous I refer to the effect it can have on our lives when we seek to use it and to listen to God through it. It’s in Scripture that I encounter the teachings of the Lord I choose to follow, teachings of love, respect for creation, how to deal with other people and situations. It is these teachings that I try (and often fail in) to follow as I want my life and my Christian journey to improve and be more Christlike. Notice that in the quotation from Acts (above) it reminds us that the early Christians “spent time together in the Temple” and it would be here as well as in their own homes that they would receive the stories of Jesus, be reminded of the promises of the Old Testament and put it all together in their understanding of Gods salvation.
And so I’ll continue to read and reflect and move forward. I invite you all to join me, read more and reflect more on what you’ve read and in particular in your reading of Gods word.