Peter's Christian blog
It’s nearly the end of October! Where has the past year gone? It seems only a short while ago that the daffodils were bursting into bloom to welcome spring. Yet the exuberance of summer is now behind us. The leaves are changing colour to reds, yellows and gold before falling to the ground – a quite brilliant display that they put on every year. The nights are drawing in and it is quite a bit colder now; this time last month the temperature was at least 20° warmer than today. Whilst some of the plants are still flowering the pace is slowing, and soon they too will be taking their rest. All will then be quiet until spring brings forth new life. Speaking of new life it will soon be Christmas!
I read the other day: ‘You who dwell in the garden, with friends in attendance, let me hear your voice.’ Song of Songs 8:13 (NIV) This is appropriate since God has inspired me to write these reflections about the garden for nearly eighteen months now and many of you have been in friends in attendance all the way, for which I give thanks. Let us then raise a prayer of praise and thanksgiving for the glory of God’s Creation and for all the gifts that God has given us. After all: ‘ The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds, it does not rest till it reaches its goal, nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds, judges justly and affirms the right.’ Sirach 35:21-22
October then is a time for reflection, a time to look back over the year, a time to ask ourselves what we have achieved in the last twelve months. What have we done for God this year and what are we doing for Him now? Perhaps more importantly what have we not done for Him? God has walked with us all the way but have we walked with Him? Does that seem a strange question? It is not really. I am sure that there have been times when we thought we knew best; perhaps for a brief moment that we knew better than He did which way to go. But as I say God has been with us and is always ready and welcomes us back to the path with unbounded joy. The days are getting shorter, the nights darker and there is uncertainty ahead but Jesus said: ‘I have come so that they may have life, and have it to the full.’ (John 10:10). Let us rejoice in that whilst we consider the last of the three great questions; what can I do for God in the coming twelve months? Rest assured whatever it is God will give you the tools to accomplish it and He will not leave you alone.
This growing season is over, the harvest is gathered in; now let us look forward with confidence and with faith in God Our Father to the next year.
The other day I had to go to the opticians in the High Street for an annual eye test.
There are 143 references to eyes in the Bible according to a search of biblegateway.com. Perhaps the best known reference is “an eye for an eye”. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus turns this round by saying that rather than extract revenge one should love his neighbour.
Anyway at my age I suppose I was not too surprised to find that my eyesight had deteriorated so that new glasses were prescribed. I can now see more clearly; which leads neatly to St Paul’s letter to the young church at Corinth:
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. 1 Corinthians 13:12 (KJV)
The message here, I believe, must be that as mere human beings we are not able, in this life, to grasp the enormity of God’s plan for us. Moreover, although we see God the Father when we see Jesus nevertheless we do not see Him fully; we are limited by our human nature. As St John says, Jesus is the Word of God; He is God speaking to us in terms we can understand. But yet we do not see God fully. Jesus shows us God’s love for us but because of our humanity we only see the faintest image of that love. Jesus himself tells us that He is the Way; in other words He is not the goal. That is an important point to keep in mind; it is God the Father who is the end and objective of our life on this earth and beyond.
So even with our annual check-ups, our new improved lens we are still not able to see God’s plan for mankind clearly. But what we are able to see is the beauty of God’s Creation all around us. Just look out of the window at the trees, the flowers, the birds, the sunrise and the sunset. Here is God in all His glory. And what about our neighbour whom Jesus calls us to love; do we not also see God in him or her?
Lord God we thank you for the gift of sight, that we may see the glory of your Creation in everything around us.
Whilst many birds have migrated to warmer climes for the winter my old friend the robin has stayed at home. He is made of sterner stuff! I saw him this morning as I was making a cup of tea. He was sitting on my neighbour’s roof, surveying his territory – I thought it was my garden but he sees things differently. To me it is a garden past its prime, in need of a good tidy up but to him it is a source of the food he needs to get him through the winter. We see things in a different way.
Indeed, we see our fellow man in different ways. For example; how do we see the young mother fiercely holding her child to her whilst desperately trying to climb from the overcrowded, sinking boat to the safety of a rescue vessel amongst her fellows all pushing and shoving trying to make sure they do not drown? Do we see her as a terrorist, a criminal, someone only interested in claiming benefits from our welfare system, someone disturbing our status quo? Or do we see her as a desperate mother trying to care for her child as best she can?
When Samuel was sent to Jesse to find a king among his sons he thought he had found the ideal candidate in Eliab:
‘But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.’ 1 Samuel 16:7 KJV
This I think is the crux of the matter, God has given us eyes to see but do we really see? Do we see as the Lord sees – not the outward appearance but the heart? Do we look with compassion on those worse off than ourselves or do we leave it to someone else to deal with the problem? Some countries are not prepared to take the chance and have erected fences to keep refugees from entering their countries, whilst some advocate walls should be built to keep everyone out. But is that not closing one’s eyes to the problem? We look, certainly but often do not see the sorrow, the suffering all around us since it is easier not to; we would rather look the other way. Yet sinners, the blind, the lame, and lepers were welcome within the holy community Jesus was forming and we likewise are called to show compassion to our neighbour.
I see an untidy garden whilst the robin sees a food store; we see refugees, the down-trodden, God sees human beings made in His own image. So must we.
Lord, we thank you for the gift of sight. We pray that we may use that gift wisely, to look upon the heart of our neighbour rather than his outward appearance; to look upon him with an eye of tender compassion.
The other day I spoke of the difficulty I had trying to convince an automated telephone system that I was who I said I was. These advanced communication systems are great, fast and efficient. For example, I can write an email click on “Send” and the recipient can read it almost as soon as I have sent it, anywhere in the world. The problem is that people don’t always do that. Friends have said to me “Oh, I don’t read emails, I get so many of them” or “Send me a text to let me know you have emailed me”! My grandson tells me that emails are old fashioned anyway since everyone uses social media sites to communicate nowadays. Sadly, I am old enough to remember a time when communication was done by letter or telephone if the household had one, though not everyone did in those days. To receive a letter, especially a handwritten one was somehow special – my mother in law used to spend hours writing letters to friends and relatives and took great pleasure in receiving a reply. Of course, everyone dreaded the plain brown envelopes containing bills or a tax demand. The telegram, the nearest we had to instant communication, was often feared as it would almost inevitably bring bad news. In fact, it was not uncommon for a family to send one of the children to fetch the doctor from his home if one was required urgently.
Nowadays we check our texts and tweets as well as Facebook every day (probably several times a day). Indeed, if you look at the youngsters in the street they seem to be constantly glued to their mobile devices – wired in, it seems. Some of us even check our emails and voicemails too.
Fortunately living in town the wi-fi connection is usually satisfactory here, but isn’t it good to know that we do not need to worry about getting an internet connection to God. We simply do not need one for He is here with us at all times! That is the meaning of His Name Emmanuel God with us. All we need to do is to speak to Him. He is there for us. He will listen and answer us at any time of the day or night and in any circumstance. Perhaps you remember the line in the old hymn “Take it to the Lord in prayer”. Yes you can and you must.
So let us do just that today. Find a quiet time, a quiet place and check in with God.
The other week I asked for your prayers for my friend Peter H who has recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Soon, no doubt Our Lord will tap him on the shoulder and call him to his eternal rest, as He will all of us in our allotted time. But then as Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 says ‘There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for everything under the heavens. A time to be born, and a time to die. Yet we can take comfort in verse 4: A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance. Peter H is a man of some standing in the community and as such is known and respected by all who are acquainted with him. In due time his passing will be a sad loss to scores of people, yet there have been so many opportunities to laugh and to dance and for that we must be grateful. In a way it seems wrong speaking of Peter as if he had already departed this world but it is a reminder that none of us know when the call will come so that we should live each day as if it were our last – for the greater glory of God.
One ability Peter has is that he can remember names and faces so that even if he hasn’t seen you for some while, he will always acknowledge you, and, if the opportunity presents come across to start a conversation with the words: “Hello Peter, How are you?” How he knows my name from the hundreds he has met over the years, I do not know. After all, it is not as if I am anything special to him. But the point is that it is not just me, he will address anyone he meets by their own name. Truly a remarkable man since that seemingly simple act makes one feel important, wanted even; certainly one is more inclined to go with him.
Even more then, God knows each one of us intimately, by name and indeed better than we know ourselves. How does that make us feel? Wanted? Needed? Of value to Him, maybe? Loved by Him, perhaps? More willing to follow Him? Yes, all these things and more. So, if God loves us so much how much more are we called to love Him? And how do we show that love for God? Well, how did Jesus address that problem? He said: ‘Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?’ Matthew 25:37(KJV). And what was Jesus’ answer? ‘And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.’ Matthew 25:40 (KJV)
Put simply, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’ Matthew 22:39
The other day we parked in the supermarket car park for our weekly food shopping. As my wife had more shopping to do she left me to take the goods back to the car. There I found one of the rear tyres had a puncture. My immediate reaction was to phone the roadside assistance service to get them to take the tyre off and fit the spare. The problem then arose trying to get through to them. You see, my Bank provides roadside assistance as a “free” benefit on my account. Unfortunately that means ringing the Bank’s Customer Care Centre to access it where, of course one speaks to an automated system “Do you want to use your ten letter security code?” asked the machine “No, I do not. I am standing in the middle of the High Street and I have no idea what it is!” “Then what is your date of birth” asked the machine. This I gave. “We do not recognize that date.” “Why not? It is correct. You could ask mother if she were still alive!” “Would you like to speak to an adviser?” “Yes, that is why I am ringing!!” “All our advisers are busy at present but please hold the line, your call is important to us.” So we end up with the ridiculous situation of a grown man of 76 standing in the middle of the High Street hurling abuse at an automated phone system. I have never been blessed with an even temper.
My wife returned, looked at the tyre and said “Why don’t you take the car to the tyre fitters shop on the industrial estate, it’s only a mile down the road?” This we did, they fitted two new tyres and all’s well that ends well, even if my wallet is £200 lighter.
What is the lesson here? In No Man Is An Island. NY: Harcourt Brace & Co., 1955, Thomas Merton puts it thus: Silence is the mother of speech.
So before speaking, think, and before thinking pray. If only I had remembered those words I would not have looked such a fool in the High Street and the car would have been fixed earlier and easier.
By the way, it seems that I was meant to write this reflection since today’s verse from BibleGateway.com reads: ‘Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.’ Ephesians 4:29 NIVUK
The plants in the garden have, by and large, finished flowering and have set seed. The birds are taking full advantage of the abundance of food thus provided to fatten up for the winter ahead.
Whilst many birds will remain here, some have already set off for warmer climes. The swallows, for example, are on their way to Africa. In early summer they will undertake the return flight to the UK, a round trip of some 16,000 miles. (Spare a thought for the young ones born only a few months ago.) Both journeys will be beset with danger from wind and weather, exhaustion and hunger but also from predators both hawks and man since their route takes them over an area where shooting birds is allowed. Yet every year they make the passage each way.
If you look up you will soon see the Brent geese flying in V formation, returning from the harsh cold of Siberia to spend to winter on the grass lands of East Anglia – and eating the winter barley! They too will return to Siberia in early summer; a round trip of some 7000 miles.
Our life is also a journey fraught with difficulties and dangers, joy and sadness but like the birds we travel in hope; a hope of finding something better, a better and more enduring life. The birds travel by instinct but we are sustained in our journey by faith. Faith does not minimize the dangers but a firm faith in God will enable us to overcome any earthly difficulty.
Now we cannot assign human virtues to birds but remember that the geese fly in a V formation. They do this for a particular reason. The lead bird bears the brunt of the wind and weather whilst those following in his slip steam have an easier time. In fact, this formation has been scientifically proved to be the most efficient way of a group flying. In due time another bird will take over the lead to let his companion rest, which seems a good example of charity.
Let us then give thanks to God for the food the garden has provided for the birds and for the example of the spiritual virtues they inspire in us. Let us seek to emulate them.
As St Paul said: “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”1 Corinthians 13:13 KJV
Saturday was 3rd September 2016. Seventy six years ago on this day England declared war on Germany for the second time in twenty years. Thus began what came to be known as World War 2.
Among the many problems facing the UK government was how to feed its civilian population. There were, after all severe restrictions on its supply lines due to enemy action; a situation which would only get worse as the war progressed. One answer was the rationing of essential goods and foods. Each person was issued with a ration book, which mother took charge of since without the coupons they contained she could buy nothing. Food, clothing, just about everything was rationed. Indeed sweets did not come off rationing until September 1953, as a result of which our teeth were in much better condition than those of our grandchildren! Rationing did not finally end until meat was de-rationed in July 1954. So for fifteen years what we were able to eat and indeed able to buy was severely restricted.
I thought about all this over the weekend as we gathered seeds from the garden. At this time of the year, having finished flowering, the plants will begin to set seeds. We have already gathered several envelopes full of seeds to be sown next year or given away as gifts. Of course, some plants have already scattered their seeds across the garden; some will grow and some will be eaten by birds and insects. Indeed, the birds are eating the soft fruit now in preparation for winter when there will be little food about. They will have carried the seed elsewhere. What always amazes me is the abundance of seeds the plants produce; more than enough to feed all the hungry birds and animal as well as ensuring the survival of the species.
To get his message across Jesus used familiar objects and occasions so that his listeners would be able to understand. Thus there are a number of references in the Bible to seeds, plants, fish and the like. But this abundance of seed and the exuberance with which it is spread reminds us that God’s gifts to us are not rationed, not restricted in any way. We do not need a ration book for they are freely available to all. God’s love for each of us is unconditional. Let me repeat that, God loves each one of us unconditionally.
For his unbounded and unconditional love let us give thanks to God our Creator the giver of all good things.
It’s been hot and humid here for the last few days; the temperature reached 34°C in Kent on Wednesday making it very difficult to sleep at night. Mustn’t grumble it is summer after all! Some people like the heat and will lie out in the sun all day. Of course, I welcome the sun for showing me the beauty of God’s creation but to lie out in the sun and fry is not for me.
But then I don’t suppose Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were too happy about being thrown into a furnace by Nebuchadnezzar. The King had made a golden image which he commanded all his people to worship, but Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused. These three, although Jews, had been appointed by the king to oversee the running of Babylon and so had positions of influence at court. For them to refuse the king’s command was a very dangerous step. Nevertheless Abednego said to him, ‘King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.’ Daniel 3:16 (NIV)
They were prepared to sacrifice their lives for their faith.
This country is becoming more secular. People are turning away from organised religion, certainly Christianity. Church attendances are falling with churches closing down and parishes amalgamating. For some reason the message of God’s love for man is not getting across.
As Christians it is our calling to stand up, to proclaim our faith in Christ crucified. We must never be afraid to say loud and clear, “Yes, I am a Christian I believe in God.” Let us not apologize for our faith. Remember: ‘Like a lamp, you must shed light among your fellows, so that, when they see the good you do, they may give praise to your Father in heaven’ Matthew 5:16.
The best way we can do that is by showing God’s love for the world in our lives, our words and actions; by standing up against injustice, hatred and religious or racial intolerance, by feeding the hungry, by showing compassion for our fellow man in his suffering. As St Paul said: ‘6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith;7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. 9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.’ Romans 12:6-9 (NIV)
Have you been following the Olympic Games at Rio? I must confess that I have never been much of a sportsman. I did compete in a few cycle road races many years ago but the cycle was mainly a means of getting to school and later to work but more especially for exploring the countryside. However, I do have a sneaking admiration for those who are prepared to devote so much time, energy and single-mindedness to their chosen sport in an effort to become Olympic champions. How many times have they hit a brick wall, the pain barrier through which it seems impossible to break? Also no doubt they have been disappointed by missing out on a prize by a few seconds; or maybe suffered an injury which seems to put their whole project in jeopardy. But standing on the top step of the Olympic podium to receive a gold medal will make it all worthwhile.
Life can seem like an Olympic struggle. We spend so much time and energy on the day to day affairs of life; rushing headlong into things which we think we need to be doing. Sometimes though we feel we can sit back and relax because we have everything planned out; we just need to acquire this next pay grade or the new house being built round the corner. Then the unexpected happens, everything comes crashing down around our ears. We hit a brick wall and like the Olympic hopeful we are back to square one; simply because our plans do not coincide with God’s plans for us. Death may seem the ultimate brick wall and yet God has laid out the path we are to follow – the training schedule if you like - which is set out in Psalm 25:4b-5a: Teach me your paths, my God, guide me in your truth. If we do follow that path we will receive a prize more valuable than any Olympic medal for as verse 4 of Psalm 23 says: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Our path leads us through the valley of death, there is no brick wall at the end of it; it opens into a new and better life, a life with God.
Let us pray for the guidance and the strength of the Holy Spirit so that we may say as St Paul said:
6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. 2 Timothy 4:6-8 New International Version - UK (NIVUK)
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time work for a number of years