I am thinking today of Rev. Scott Burton, beginning his ministry in Britghtons Church of Scotland in Falkirk, and thinking too of his lovely wife, Gill, and their beautiful daughter, Hope. He is being preached in by the wonderful Rev. Ollie Clegg who was one of the ministry team at Holy Trinity in Wester Hailes, and is now Associate minister of St. Mungo’s Episcopal Church in Balerno, with responsibilities too in St. Mungo’s in Livingston. Ollie was a huge encouragement to Scott as he pursued his call to ministry. It made me think of how there may be many beginning a new season in ministry today who are unknown to me, but may be known to you. Jesus has promised to build His church. He can be trusted. Why not take a moment to pray for those beginning their ministries or a new chapter in their ministries today, Pray too for spouses, family and loved ones caught up in that call!
For some reason as I thought of Scott, the ramblings in the following paragraph started to bubble up to the surface. I found myself musing about ministry in a more general sort of way, and from there my mind seemed to leap to all sorts of areas of Christian life and service. It all resulted in this:
Allowing loads of space for cultural differences, personality differences, differences in taste etc, if it doesn’t look and sound like Jesus in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, don’t give it sway in your life… by “it” I mean the ministry of any Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor, Teacher, etc. etc. Come to think of it, when it boils down to it, He is the model for all things; prayer, leadership, mission, faith, confrontation, servanthood, obedience, church/church planting/church discipline, spiritual warfare, healing, helping folk with a terribly wounded story, deliverance and anything and everything else for that matter. Jesus of Nazareth is what God and His purpose is and looks like in a human being. For every book you read, course you go on, take a longer look still at Jesus in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Have you put a favourite speaker above Jesus? A favourite writer or book above the gospels? If so, why not open them today and start reading any of the 4 or all of them? Begin at the beginning or open them up wherever you feel led to start. Don’t feel ashamed if you find the words you are reading unfamiliar or unknown to you. Just thank God for bringing you on to the right path and ask Him to forgive your folly. He will. ‘Jesus, be the centre!’ Let’s tell others to read the stories of “The Forgotten Four.” “
I know some of you do not “do” Facebook. This is a story I posted there earlier this evening as part of a thread on angelic activity.. It maybe does not make sense in a vacuum and unrelated to the Facebook activity, but I somehow hope it blesses you and encourages your faith. Whatever else they may be, angels are a sign of the gospel that the Kingdom of Heaven is near to us.
In the early years of CLAN Gathering in Scotland when numbers were still climbing towards from a few hundred to several thousand coming from hundreds of churches, a few angels appeared on photographs. I never kept them or publicised them, as I thought they would be sensationalised and used in the wrong way. I remember meeting an older lady who simply came up to me and said, “Pray for Israel.” She then walked on with difficulty of movement. In one of the photographs she was standing there with her back to the camera – at least I am pretty sure it was her in that she was wearing the same clothes and shoes – worshipping …with wings on her back. By that I don’t mean a vague glow that could maybe could be interpreted as wings at a push and with a lot of imagination. I mean wings, truly glorious wings
The appearance of heavenly host seemed to be associated with joy. I have no idea why such realities appeared on photographs, nor why other types of spiritual manifestation appeared in the tent and in other conferences I was at a few weeks later, in the sky. If their wings had been visible to the naked eye I guess they may not have got past the stewards into the tent! Anyway, there it is. It is amazing what can happen when you create a venue with no other purpose than welcoming the presence of God and wanting to see His people encouraged in the joy of knowing Jesus. I heard this week of another ministry that started through the Spirit’s inspiration working in someone’s heart at CLAN in St. Andrews that is now international in its scope and bringing life to people and glory to God in Scotland and beyond. Wonderful.
Oh for days of nameless people, of no agenda other than welcoming the presence of God and honouring The Lamb slain since the foundation of the world. So much fruit is birthed in such an atmosphere, fruit that lasts and grows even when the seed itself falls into the ground and dies. It is a Kingdom law we can trust in with absolute confidence.
I lost my peace last night. The reason? I started thinking about someone who was needing put right in their thinking about a matter of biblical truth, in my estimation: someone who I thought needed to listen to my “wisdom.” Maybe it is a besetting sin of pastors, the flip-side of our strength and gifting. It may be birthed in our desire to help, but an unguarded strength or gifting can become a weakness, indeed it can become destructive of the very good we intend.
Well, I woke up this morning, and saw the wrong in me for what it was. I have repented and peace is restored. There is maybe a lesson in that about when to “think” about things. Mulling over a peace destroying thought at night time is not the best idea. Things tend to look different in the morning especially if despite the troubling in our thoughts the night before, we have somehow managed to receive the gift of sleep. This morning, I did not feel any need to put the person right. I saw them for the unique person they are and felt pastoral hope and peace on their behalf. I do not need to make the remarks to them I had thought of saying, in order to “help” them!
However, that experience made me think back to a remark made to me on Facebook by someone a year or two ago, which was viciously judgemental and was made on the basis of presumptions about me by someone who knows me not one whit. They were out to put me right in the most ungracious terms. Well, as a pastor you have to develop a sensitive spirit skin allied to the skin of a rhinoceros , so the attack did not land ! However it made me think of the sorts of things that we often say to one another as believers on social media. My own bible readings today were all about the use of “the tongue.” I put the following on Facebook. I know many of you do not use Facebook, and you may be wise in that decision! However, here it is:
“One often reads such vicious verbal assaults on believers by believers on Facebook. It rarely comes in my direction but from time to time all of us will be victims or villains in such communications, or more accurately non-communications.
Listen: if I thought the same as you about all manner of things, that would not give you the opportunity to grow in the love of God fo me, nor give to me the opportunity to grow in the love of God for you. Humility would suffer as well, as would the potential to grow in truth and wisdom together.
Tuck that thought away in your spiritual quiver. Use it this day or any day when it might be the appropriate arrow to draw out and fit to your bow. Aim it in the direction of the mutual enemy of us all, draw the string back with all your God given strength and let it fly.”
Great testimony to the power of God over spiritual darkness, heard at church last night.
A wonderful lady, who works as a Carer, was sharing that she had really been having a rough time over the last year or so. One thing after another had been hitting her in life. She was no sooner up on her feet after one blow than she was knocked down again. It all affected her spiritually. However she determined at New Year she was going to stand for Jesus, live for Jesus, come what may.
One night recently, after settling one of those she cares for, she was aware of a dark presence in the room. She felt like phoning the pastor, who has a ministry for dealing with such things, for help…but she didn’t. She got out of bed, knelt in prayer, and read bible verses off an App on her phone that corresponded to how she was feeling. The dark presence seemed now to be standing behind her, and she was afraid to look round. As she continued to pray read God’s Word and praise God, she was filled with the Holy Spirit’s power in a very tangible way. She continued to praise God, at which point 2 pillows that were on top of a chest of drawers were suddenly swiped from where they were lying and flew across the room. She kept praising God, and all was well.
The pastor afterwards, referring to the testimony in the course of the sermon ,simply said that the lady had done the right thing; used the ordinary things: she had prayed, read the bible etc. She then said it is always tempting when we are in need to think that we need someone “bigger” or “older” in God than we are to help us out. However, never underestimate the power of the “ordinary” things that God has given to us to use.
Anyway, I came home from church, blessed by a remarkable testimony followed by a remarkably helpful sermon.
Perhaps this is a day for you to discover the power of “Ordinary” things, or to rediscover their power: things like prayer, the words of Scripture simply read and believed, and praise.
I also thought as I was in the church that God put a young man on my heart, who was sitting in the front row, as one who would grow up to have a keen eye for dealing with the demonic because he had encountered that and early victories would lead to future giftedness and service. There are people who God does mean to grow into ministries in such things as I have described, but as I say, never forget the power of what we sometimes leave unused: the power of the ordinary means of grace that God has placed in our hands. Pick up the bible today and read a verse or 2. Pray today in whatever way you are accustomed to pray. Praise God, who is God always, forever, and in every circumstance you may find yourself in this day.
Such “ordinary” things are weapons made mighty through the Holy Ghost, to the pulling down of strongholds, especially these strongholds of wrong thinking which can establish themselves in deep places within us. Remember the truth, told in a homely way, that Satan trembles when he sees even the weakest Christian on their knees! Don’t get spooked by this testimony. Rather, remember what spooks the devil!
Below, you will find a link to a song which was played so so often on Sundays in my childhood, on the type of record player that in in vogue once more only now with Bluetooth facility! It is old fashioned and might be considered to be too simple by many and dismissed as sheer sentimentality, but I am grateful its truth got into me. I am grateful beyond measure for a home where Christ was loved and honoured. I am grateful for my memories of Dad singing along in his out of tune voice, dreaming of being George Beverly Shea, causing the rest of us loving laughter, as we waited for the delicious bacon and eggs and potatoe scones he would have been happily cooking for us all at the time! I have met and pastored so many who woke on a Sunday to threatening silence, or to voices of discord and strife, voices to be feared from people to be hidden from. There are so many who would have loved such “sentimentality” being played on a record player, crackles and all, on a record player, and to have memories like mine. I should say with all compassion and sincerity, that I recognise that some of you may not be able to reach the place the song speaks of without first acknowledging great pain and finding the loving help of Christ to bring you to a place where the song makes every day sense as it were. I pray He will. What some of you have been through is unspeakable and you may need help before the “ordinary’ is helpful rather the cause of further pain or even mockery. Perhaps if your childhood was stolen, you could pray for its renewal in healed shape and from, even within your adult life. I am remembering a song I first heard when living in Orkney which could be a prayer you might want to pray. It started with these words: “I want to be a child again, I want to see the world through five year old eyes: To walk with my God wherever He may lead, to put my trust in Him”
Well, my Dad and George Beverly Shea will probably have met in heaven now, I suspect, and are both part of that great choir where nobody hears what anyone’s voice sounds like, for all attention will be on the Lamb in the midst of the throne, listening only for that voice that is like the sound of many waters. May you hear that voice today, flowing all around you like living water, bubbling with a healing happiness, and with the joy of victory.
This is not mock humility, it is not hyperbole, rather it is deeply felt and, I believe, demonstrably true: the day when all things shall be made plain and surprising rewards will be given, will prove it to be so. …
I owe everything to those known and unknown who have loved me and prayed for me, not least among that number being my parents and my wife. If you have ever been blessed by God through me, thank God for the pray-ers of which you yourself may be one! The bible tells us to give honour where honour is due.
For reasons unknown I feel this so deeply this night, that It just had to overflow to you.
If you have someone who prays for you faithfully and from the love of God in their hearts for you, you are truly rich and blessed. Maybe God is asking you to hear His call to be that blessing to another?
“Because of your unfailing love, I can enter your house; I will worship at your Temple with deepest awe” Psalm 5.7.
True intimacy with God, security in His unfailing love, does not take away deepest awe and reverence.
I worry a bit, not a lot but a bit, about the assumption that casualness should be the tone of a church gathering which is sure of the Father’s love and an inviting and safe space for seekers.
Old fashioned? I probably am in some ways, but I have never felt I can wander in and out for or with coffee in the presence of unfailing divine love.
Nostalgic? Probably. I have come to the stage where I would prefer a good old fashioned call to worship with words of Scripture, rather than the now familiar waffle full of questionable teaching ending with the not very inspiring required formula, “Why don’t we stand…?”
Formal? Mmm, perhaps a bit. It may surprise you, but because in the charismatic world casualness has passed from being a not thought about incidental, into being a requirement to be put on display, I would almost rather see a preacher in clerical robes, suggesting at least a Holy calling affirmed by the church, rather than someone dressed in the latest trend of what gym buffed orthodontically enhanced stars of stage and screen are meant to look like, though of course heart is more important.
Yes, it is, it really is. Heart is more important. No question. I know that…I really do, but still…
I actually think a day will come when casualness in its deliberate , chiselled and expensive designer form in the church in the West, will lose its appeal. It will not satisfy those who are looking for something radically different from the world who will become disappointed to walk into a church to find Christians still in love with what they have left behind.
Ah well, that is what I think…
Had such an enjoyable meeting with a fellow Church of Scotland minister today. I was reminded of two truths from two giants of the Faith.
Firstly, I was reminded of what David Watson said: true fellowship begins at the point of weakness, when we kneel at the foot of the cross, on level ground, in the place of healing and grace. Personally, I think that often fellowship is ruined when we try and meet one another in a competition based on our strengths.
Secondly, I was reminded Of something C. S. Lewis said: fellowship begins when all of a sudden one says to another with delighted discovery, “What? You too?” That discovery cuts through the need to know endless details about one another. Plenty time for that whenever, if ever…
Remembering a solid Christian angrily asking me what use the gift of tongues was to anyone. Well it has its uses for sure, but what a horrible view of God, that He only does what is useful!
I wonder what sort of gifts that person gave to their nearest and dearest? Only ones that would get the response, “Thanks I was needing that,”? Did they never give something to a loved one that caused uproarious laughter when opened? Did they never give a personalised symbol of love forever treasured as priceless by the recipient, a cause of warmth and joy, but confusing, meaningless or ridiculous in the eyes of everyone else? Did they never give to excess to the accompaniment of universal condemnation but with disregarding laughter in their Remembering a solid Christian angrily asking me angrily what use the gift of tongues was to anyone. Well it has its uses for sure, but what a horrible view of God, that He only does what is useful! I wonder what sort of gifts that person gave to their nearest and dearest? Only ones that would get the response, “Thanks I was needing that,”? Did they never give something to a loved one that caused uproarious laughter when opened? Did they never give a personalised symbol of love forever treasured as priceless by the recipient, a cause of warmth and joy, but confusing, meaningless or ridiculous in the eyes of everyone else? Did they never give to excess to the accompaniment of universal condemnation but with disregarding laughter in their own spirit?
Never despise the generosity of God. Why are you uncomfortable if He chooses to be generous to anyone…to you?
A couple of bits and pieces that have moved me in recent days; worth sharing I think.
“If this is not a place, where tears are understood,
Then where shall I go to cry?
And if this is not a place, where my spirit can take wings,
Then where shall I go to fly?
“Let light spill out of heaven
through my life,
dispelling mediocrity and silent blame,
Too many people, guilt stricken, wounded,
walk in regret,
feeling bad about failing,
apologise even for breathing.”
Worth thinking about as we think of “church” and our place in its life and mission, don’t you think?
(Both quotes come from “Celtic Daily Prayer, Book Two: Farther Up and Farther In.” You might find that is a helpful book if you are looking for a new approach to your devotional life. I do not take to the Celtic approach to spiritual life naturally myself, but I have found it an immensely enriching discipline to use this book)
Feeling stuck or unhappy about where you are spiritually and asking God about it in this New Year? I wonder how we would react if Jesus were to say to us, as He did to a couple of questioners in the gospels, “What do the commandments say?”
Sometimes we make an awfully complicated meal about things. “Oh well, it’s complicated…” Often it isn’t. In fact usually “it” isn’t really that complicated. How can we reach contentment and peace within as children of God if we are ignoring His will about how to do life, how to seize its opportunities and how to cope with its at times seemingly intolerable pains and tragedies?
There is so much ground of human experience covered by God’s commands in the Old Testament: they are His gift of love to a people, Israel, whom He redeemed in grace, but they are for us too living under the New Covenant, as of course are the commandments on the lips of Jesus and the first Apostles. Psalm 19 likens God’s Law to the life-giving light and heat of the sun from which nothing is hidden (Why not take a few moments right now to read it?). Keep it simple. Did you complicate a choice by seeking and following the advice of your peers or even a well meaning Counsellor who told you to go a different way from the commandments of God? Well, take responsibility for your life, forgive anyone for the advice they gave that got you in a mess (maybe they feared your reaction if they told you the truth!), and take a fresh step of obedience.
Have you prayed, “Send Revival, and let it begin in me?” With God’s help, answer your prayer: there is biblical precedent for such an approach to prayer. Personal Revival always looks like a new beginning of obedience somewhere in our lives…
At this time of the year, if you have any affinity to the circles of spiritual emphasise I have lived in and ministered in over the years, you will probably be being subjected to the most amazing prophetic interpretations of the number 2019! I will leave it to you to work out which, if any, have the word of God for you somewhere in the midst of all the complicated and mysterious calculations.
In the mean time, I believe that 2019 just as 2018, and 2017, and 1831 and any other year you can think of, is “The Year of the Heroes!”
I love the poetry of George Mackay Brown. I guess that living for a few years in Orkney and ministering there meant I would look at his writings, but it was actually long after leaving there that I did so.
One of my favourite poems goes under the name “Prologue.” I think it got that unusual title partly because it sums up what is the core of the inspiration of his poetry and its aim and purpose, but also because it was the first poem in an early book of his published work. You might have heard of its opening line: “For the islands I sing.” You might have heard another famous line from the same poem: his description of Scotland as “the Knox-ruined nation.” That is not a line that has endeared him to many Calvinists or historians for whom facts matter!
However at the start of a New Year, it is something he says about roses that I want to leave with you to think about:
“Go, good my songs,
be as gay as you can.
Weep, if you have to,
the old tears of man.
Praise tinker and saint,
and the rose that takes
its fill of the sunlight
though a world breaks.”
The world which we wake to on New Year’s Day 2019 is a world of the most appalling suffering and need in so many places and so many lives. Your life or the life of someone you love may even have been visited by sadness, loss, betrayal or disappointment of one type or another in the closing days of 2018, and the effects of that are still there, deeply felt on this January morning. It is so important to allow ourselves and discipline ourselves to see, receive and drink in the goodness of God, just as the rose does the sunlight. Roses exist with all the beauty of their perfume and colour. God does not ban them as though no beautiful or joyful thing should be allowed in a world where darkness damages and destroys so much. Along with many other beautiful things they can be reminders, signs and teachers, pointing us to God in His goodness, awakening a capacity for gratefulness and even celebration in the midst of life as it really is.
However you wakened on the first day of this New Year, whatever thoughts or experiences are lying heavily upon you, make time to drink in God’s goodness. Train your heart not only to “weep the old tears” that are part of the human story through the centuries, but to take your fill day by day of “the sunlight” of God’s goodness.
Oh and by the way, don’t be angry or offended if in the face of your difficulty or sadness someone says to you in a cheerful way, “Happy New Year.” Perhaps they are being a bit thoughtless, but just maybe they are a teacher sent by God to help you out of a rut in which you could easily get stuck…
Jesus shows us that true leadership partly means clearing space, allowing lesser matters to be dealt with by others so that you can deal with the really important stuff…the stuff that really matters, like clamouring people coming to you for the wrong reasons when you are tired, or mothers wanting their children blessed. Come on you leaders! Follow Jesus, not the World. Non accessibility and extra days on the golf course and exclusive dinners with the wealthy or powerful or influential are the world’s badges pinned to importance.
How come you found a space to arrange to meet that person who could be of strategic importance in opening doors of opportunity but have not found time for that distraught person who could do with 10 minutes of your time…oh of course, they are just your spouse…or that draining person…or the inconvenient Jesus wrapping Himself once more in ordinary unimportant guise that you can choose to ignore in favour of the important person, meeting, conference or opportunity. Where do you think He will choose to be?
The end of the year? An opportunity to think…
I think “walking in victory” as a believer is a mixture of event and process. As a Charismatic/Pentecostal believer by conviction and experience, I love the “event” moments, those times where the breakthrough of God comes in an experience you can mark in the diary as it were: God did something: He stepped in: He showed Himself as the God of Breakthrough on my behalf. I love hearing of those moments in the lives others. However…daily process matters too. It actually saddens me to meet believers whose spirituality is all “event” or happening, but no “process.” Indeed they may despise “process” and dismiss it was being legalism or “religion.” The current dismissal of spiritual discipline as “the spirit of religion” is destroying the health of many Charismatic Christians and may well destroy the Charismatic movement.
If you are basically Charismatic/Pentecostal and at home in the language of breakthrough, deliverance, miracle, “overwhelming,” don’t forget “process”. Here are some things that could be helpful to do. It is not an exhaustive list, nor is it meant to be legalistic. There are just some things that are good and helpful to do if we want to grow in Christ, rather than just have a few marvellous stories to tell from a stunted soul and non-Christlike character.
Bring yourself before God daily.
Take time to praise Him and offer Him thanksgiving. Take even the last 24 hours and survey it for signs of God’s goodness. It will surprise you as you begin that thankful survey how many things you have to thank God for. ”Count your blessings, name then one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done.”
Read the bible asking the Holy Spirit to speak to you as you do: remember as you do so that people felt the same amazement at the words of Jesus as they felt in the face of His mighty works. If you are more excited about a Prophetic Word than Scripture something has gone seriously wrong. Fix it!
Ask the Holy Spirit to help you search your heart and review your day as it were. Where did you act, react, speak or think in sinful, fearful, anxious, unloving, unrighteous ways. Pause where you sense the Holy Spirit pausing. Where do you need God’s forgiveness? Is He pointing out how you could have done differently than you did?
Take a look onwards into the day: what would meeting that situation, or person “in Christ” look like? “Imagine” meeting that person, that situation as the Beloved of God. As you do, you may find God lays on your heart something to say or do that was not in your mind to do at all. How could you bring “God” to light in that person or situation?
Thank God He is with you, in you, for you, and can come through you in grace and truth this very day. Go into the day “in the Name of Jesus.” That is more than a phrase. It means you are going to live every moment in Jesus as your home and dwelling place. You will look through the windows of His eyes, seeing what He sees. You will go out through the door of His purpose, come in to rest through the door of His invitation and welcome. You will be in the world but not of it. He is the home of your soul.
I hope this helps.
If you struggle with an overdeveloped sense of responsibility for everything and everyone, like I do, you will at times be weighed down with false guilt. I find it helpful to ask these questions that keep me in the reality for which I am responsible, asking for the help of the Spirit of Truth/Reality as I do so ( I found them in “Advent and Christmas with Thomas Merton.”).”
“How have I been unkind in thoughts, words and actions? Am I refusing to forgive anyone? Do I despise any group or person?Am I a prisoner to fear, anxiety, worry, guilt, inferiority, or hatred of myself?”
(Hope this helps my fellow believers with neurotic tendencies – and by the way, there are many of us. If, on the other hand, you are a believer with psychopathic tendencies, and I have met many of you, I am not sure I live within your skin enough to be able to say anything helpful to help you embrace true responsibility towards others… then again, that may not be worrying you! But, come to think about it, the same questions asked in the strength of the same Holy Spirit, could perhaps hep you after all.)
Funny how what interests us changes over the years. Speaking personally, I could not care less now about what the star was or how old was Jesus when the Wise Men visited him, or was it a cave/stable etc etc., though such things drew my attention in the past. Sermons on such things bore me more than I could tastefully express. Now that frailty has truly dispelled any thoughts of being able to manage, all I care about is that in Jesus I don’t need to be afraid for God has come to be with me in grace… on this I can meditate day and night; in this I rejoice; this I experience with the wonder of a child who has stumbled though the wardrobe of my own world into another world, where how things really are in all worlds becomes clear to me.
To all family and friends, long-standing and new, “Happy Christmas!”
“Immanuel,” God with us! It is more than a name…
“Jesus!”: more than a name too, even more than Name above all names…
He is “I Am!” That means He is present, active reality. He lives His Name in you and in me: wherever meek souls will receive Him still the dear Christ enters in.
God bless. Much love to you.
Kenny and Morag xx
Was at the shops today. Liked watching dads obviously finished working and out shopping with their young children…liked seeing awkward lone teenagers looking a bit dazed having to shop for others but persevering all the same, out of secretly harboured but difficult-to express -love for their parents. Was blessed by little ones in nappies and tights, staggering with their new and still to be honed walking skills, with their sturdy “plonk plonk” legs and shining eyes and fine spindly hair. It all reminded me of this wonderful Christmas poem, from an era when poets and entertainers felt less need to be cynical or make political comment and could rejoice in lovely things without getting lost in an agenda. I hope it makes you feel warm… warm and cosy is good…so are thoughts of mystery and God…so is wondering worship with no other end in mind than worship.
Christmas by John Betjeman
The bells of waiting Advent ring,
The Tortoise stove is lit again
And lamp-oil light across the night
Has caught the streaks of winter rain
In many a stained-glass window sheen
From Crimson Lake to Hookers Green.
The holly in the windy hedge
And round the Manor House the yew
Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,
The altar, font and arch and pew,
So that the villagers can say
‘The church looks nice’ on Christmas Day.
Provincial Public Houses blaze,
Corporation tramcars clang,
On lighted tenements I gaze,
Where paper decorations hang,
And bunting in the red Town Hall
Says ‘Merry Christmas to you all’.
And London shops on Christmas Eve
Are strung with silver bells and flowers
As hurrying clerks the City leave
To pigeon-haunted classic towers,
And marbled clouds go scudding by
The many-steepled London sky.
And girls in slacks remember Dad,
And oafish louts remember Mum,
And sleepless children’s hearts are glad.
And Christmas-morning bells say ‘Come!’
Even to shining ones who dwell
Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.
And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,
A Baby in an ox’s stall ?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me ?
And is it true ? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,
No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare –
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.
Hope this blesses you as it does me,
Thanking God for people and places where I have found rest for my soul. Without exception they have been broken places and people who have struggled with their own wounds, devastation, and unanswered “why?” questions. I have found grace, compassion, healing, acceptance and love there. I have found Christ there, the Christ who understands without much needing to be said, in whose presence it is safe to feel.
Christmas reminds us that the mighty deliverance of God lives and breathes in places and people we would never discover save by grace ordering our steps. I had the most secure and trouble free childhood imaginable, full of love and encouragement, laughter and applause…but amongst the broken, in lives no one would envy, in despised places, the life giving dew of God falls upon me most heavily and most lightly…
The Shepherds’ steps to finding Jesus were ordered by The Lord. May it be so for you and for me.
If you have read more than a handful of my blogs, you will have realised how indebted I am to the writings and thoughts of Henri Nouwen. His book “Wounded Healer” was on the list of recommended reading when I first became a Candidate for the Ministry of Word and Sacrament with the Church of Scotland back in the 1970’s. It is still a book worth reading. Though some of the cultural analysis of the times in which it was written shows that nothing stays static for long, basically – at the risk of sounding patronising – it passes the test of time pretty well. I would encourage you to read it to find out what it means to think of Jesus, the Messiah, as the Wounded Healer, and what it means to be involved in His ministry in the world. However I have been thinking in the last few days of a phrase that came to my own mind a few months ago: Jesus as “Wounded Traveller.” That thought came back to me with renewed force today as I was talking with my friend, Rich Johnston. I will say more about it a bit later on in this blog.
Earlier Christian centuries than our own were full of discussion and argument as to the best way linguistically to express the mystery of the Incarnation: how do you express that Jesus was God and Man, accurately, without diminishing the reality of His deity or the reality of His humanity? I have always liked the way St. Anselm expressed the mystery. He talked of “The God-Man.” With Christmas approaching, I was thinking of that ancient attempt to describe the mystery of the Incarnation, and as I did so, I found my thoughts going beyond Jesus birth to His ministry as recorded in the gospels, and also to consider the way I experience Jesus personally. Because Jesus is “the God-Man,” I can find him on both sides of any human predicament or experience I may be facing. That might seem like theological gobbledygook, so let me clarify and illustrate what I mean. Take the story of “The Good Samaritan.” Although we must never forget the whole point of that parable is “Go and do thou likewise” in terms of being a neighbour to those in need, indulge me here for a moment and let me speak of the parable in relation to my experience of Jesus. I can see Him on both sides of the main action of the parable I could sum up my thinking like this:
At times Jesus draws near to me as the “Wounded or Stigmatised Healer” whose divine help I may accept or push away (despite my need). At times I meet Him in the “Wounded Traveller.” I can choose to stoop towards Him in compassion and care, or pass Him by.
All of this has put a new tool in my hands in terms of spiritual discernment. Christ is fact. His presence is fact in any life or situation. Part of being a Christian is asking, “Where is the fact of Christ?” in any given moment. Because of what I have outlined above, I can ask that in more defined terms: “Is Christ revealing Himself to me in this moment and happening as “Wounded and Stigmatised Healer” or as “Wounded Traveller?” “The God-Man” can be either because He is both. In Himself, He brings the help of God to our human frailty and cries out for God’s help from within it. He offers me the gift of His merciful, divine love and help for my own life, and also calls me to hear His cry of need from the lives of others. He gives heavenly help, and lies on the roadside beaten and bruised. He is the Mighty God come to save, and the fragile baby who cries from a manger needing nurtured, soothed, cared for, provided for and loved.
May you and I discern the presence of “The God-Man” this Christmas and always.
One of the most frightening things I have ever seen was watching teenage boys rushing up to a double murderer to shake his hand in the streets of Wester Hailes.
Last night, I had one dream after another about the spiritual equivalent, church murderers, being congratulated as heroes. Sometimes it was a minister that had been murdered by strong angry proud voices within their congregations. Sometimes the dreams were of a story of life in a congregation that had been killed off. Whatever the scenario, there were always people there to rush up and congratulate the murderers for killing off life. It reminded me of a time in one congregation I ministered in when God was manifestly at work and I had a dream. In it an elder rushed into the Kirk Session and said, “Quick! There’s a fire in the Church! We must put it out!” The elder was living a double life at the time.
The Christmas story carries within it the darker tone of murder. The stepping in of God is not always wanted.
Why am I saying all of this? Well, we all have the potential to be spiritual murderers, especially when something new and young emerges in the purposes of the God who loves His Church and loves a lost world. Be an encourager of fresh life, not its killer. Encourage those the hand of the Lord is upon as they emerge like a shoot out of dry ground. God forbid that you should become their killer or their torturer.
Today, I am also praying for any of you who are hearing murderous voices being raised against you as you humbly serve the will of God with all the love for Him and for people He has worked into your heart. God is telling me you will survive this, but the scars inflicted by your torturers will be and are real. When the glory falls you will see them in a fresh way… I have learned in the course of ministry it is so, as have many besides me.
Mary saying “yes” to the will of God meant her saying yes to the pain of labour and other pains to come. If you want to say “Yes” to making space for God in and through you, it will mean saying yes to pain in one shape or form. Is it always so? I have come to believe, “Yes: always,” in answer to that question. That is not meant to be morbid, nor is it intended to push into the background the overwhelming joy that Mary expressed in the Magnificat, or the uncontainable joy that we may experience and express in almost violent, warrior like terms when we see God fulfilling His purposes, making His name known.
I have ministered in times of ease and in times of suffering, and all I know is that pain and joy were both part of the story of God being made manifest. They belong together. Perhaps if you are suffering at the moment, you feel out of sync with the message of joy that prevails at this time of the year, but you may be in a very vital place in the story of the continuing incarnation of God in the world.
Henri Nouwen puts it like this in a pastoral letter: “…the cutting away of rocks might hurt very much and you might not be aware of the space He is creating for Himself.” (“Love, Henri:Letters on the Spiritual Life,” page33.)
May this thought help some of you into rest of soul.
Before looking for ministry from someone it is sometimes good to be honest about the choices we have made or are making right now….then ministry can begin on the basis of reality. It is hard to accept responsibility, where it is ours to accept, but do it without being defensive, explanatory, or shame faced.
I sense for someone reading this, you are getting close to this honesty. I get a good feeling in my spirit for someone who is coming out of fearfully hiding reality below a lot of charismatic and ministry gobbledygook, for which there is no real basis in the ministry of Jesus as recorded in the gospels. I hear a divine, “10,9,8,7,6….” there is a count down happening. The take off moment from the base of reality into the skies of healing is nearer to you, than ever before. Well done. Let the countdown continue to blast off, up and away you will go, into fresh discoveries in God. Don’t stop the launch as you have done before because of fear or shame or anger at others. Be confident that the God who deals in reality is with you and for you big time! Don’t take cold feet and hide away again, looking for more ministry to cover unreality. Lose the fear….
There is nothing happening to me today that can thwart the purpose of God for my life…namely that I should be transformed into the image of God’s Son. Any other plans or goals we may have for ourselves can be interrupted. Base your life on any other purpose and destiny than being transformed to being like Christ, and peace and joy will go up an down like a yo yo. Stick with the plan of God and this day and ever day there will be as much onward progress towards the goal as you choose to live in.
Feeling confined? Great things can come from such times. See Luke 1… Elizabeth…Mary…
Are there circumstances and realities that seem to be restricting your life at the moment? See God’s hand cupped around you, active in the confining, and such times will produce life, a greater revelation of Himself in you and from you to bless the world.
Psalm 139.5: “You hem me in behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.”
“The Spirit of God can breathe through through what is predicted at a human level, with a sunshine of surprises.”
I have always loved these words of Cardinal Seunens since I heard David Watson quote them in relation to the renewing work of the Holy Spirit. The reference is to surprising signs of life appearing when the church seems in a dire state, but I often think of the words in relation to personal experience of God as well.
I was reminded of the quote today because of an unexpected blessing. It made me want to hope and pray for you, especially if the word “dire” is a word that you have actually said out loud to someone today to sum up how you feel things are for you. I pray that God may breathe into your life with a sunshine of surprises.
When I think of those who have taught me most about spiritual life, near the very top of that list, if not in the very top spot would be Henri Nouwen. I never met him, but his writings have become increasingly important to me since my health deteriorated a few years ago now. He seems to have a remarkable ability to weave an understanding of Jesus into an understanding of the frailties and vulnerabilities we all face in our own existence, in our own experience of being human. For that I am deeply grateful.
At this time of the year, I use a small book of Advent Readings based on his writings. The following quote was in the reading for today. It originally appeared in a wonderful book by Nouwen called “Out of Solitude.” Read it and think about it slowly…
“Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure.”
This had the breath of God, the sense of bubbling living water in it for me today. I hope it may bless you.
At times the silence, the distancing that illness or any form of vulnerability and frailty can almost force upon one can seem so frustrating. At my best moments though, I genuinely experience that silence, that sense of distance from the buzz of the Christian or Church scene as a gift, a gift so generous that I feel totally unworthy of its riches, feel even guilty I have been given it. It is as though limitations become the hands of God cupping around me, that He might then in a place of stillness place His reassuring hand upon me. The place of frustration becomes a place of unrivalled beauty that I am loathe to leave…
There are some “words” God gives me that are for a specific person, but the principles are worth sharing.
While praying for someone in parish ministry not long ago, God gave me a word for them, but I think it is worth sharing.
The “word” came in the form of a picture. In the picture I was watching a TV programme I like to watch in real life, namely “Dragons’ Den.” You have probably seen it, but in case you have not, the format is roughly this: hopeful entrepreneurs present their ideas to a panel of wealthy and successful business people and investors, in the hope of securing funding from them as well as the benefit fo their established expertise in the development of their proposed venture. Of course there are questions, as the Dragons try and tease out details, to see if any given presentation is as it appears.
What came to mind in the Lord’s presence as I thought of one particular minister is a comment I heard a Dragon make in one episode of the programme. She simply said, “No, I cannot invest in this. I have worked far too hard to get where I have got to, to throw away money on this. It is not for me. I wish you well, but sorry, I’m out. I will not be investing in this.”
I felt this was true spiritually for the particular parish minister I was praying for at the time. There are few I admire more. He has consistently sought the Lord and I have seen him grow in the Lord and in effectiveness over the years. It has cost much, and I know therefore it will have inevitably cost his wife and family dearly as well. Growing in the Lord and having a ministry that is fruitful in terms of the Kingdom of God, always does. He is humble and would be surprised to know he is one of my heroes. I know the Word of the Lord for him is that he must not throw away what he has gained in God on the suggested schemes and ventures of those within church circles, local or national, who are sincere but have not sought God in their thinking, planning and in their proposals and suggestions that they would place upon others.
It is surprisingly common to find that many of those entrusted with positions of leadership in the church come along to leadership meetings, whatever these gatherings may be called , with good ideas; good ideas with no God content, birthed in human reckoning, rather than in a lifestyle of seeking God for the revelation of His will, for the ability to hear from heaven. Most congregations in Scotland are dying not because of sin or evil, but because of the following of sincere and good ideas. The ideas make sense, but have no flavour of awareness of the Living God and have not been birthed in humble prayer, in fact sometimes have not been prayed about at all. The result is that in Scotland there is a prevalence of a form of godliness without power.
Make sure that you do not throw away all that God has invested in you, and all that you have invested in seeking His presence in you and through you, into the proposed venture of human beings who think like any non redeemed human beings can think. Even if it means an eruption of human fury and wrath, stand for what God can do, stand for His wonderful deeds. In Scotland at least it is a while since we have seen what God can do when He steps down from heaven. Though there are good things happening at this moment, there are greater things in our history and our heritage. From time to time the Israelites found themselves beginning to ask, “Where are the wonderful deeds of the Lord, our fathers told us about, when the Lord brought us out of Egypt.” From time to time I read of the wonderful things God has done in Scotland’s history in days of revival in the distant past and more recently in the last few decades, and I ask a similar question, with a mixture of distress and faith and hope.
These are not days hospitable to Revival , or even to talk of Revival as a real event, in Scotland. I think Revival is further away than it was a few years ago. There is a depressing interest in examining our own navel in church circles at the moment, a looking at all we are doing wrong, and coming out of such an examination with another scheme for reorientation that will guarantee we become an effective church. In the face of such pressures, maybe you are one whom God is challenging to sit light to all such talk, to invest your time, your prayers your efforts into something more true to you and more true to the God of the bible you have come to know, at the cost of a few scars to you and even, harder to bear, to your own family. Talk is cheap. Your journey has not been… hold fast to what is good.
God bless you