Peter's Christian blog
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)
When you buy a packet of seeds from the garden centre you never really know what will come up. The picture on the packet illustrates a lush garden filled with perfectly formed bright flowers but is that how they will look in your garden? Maybe not. Did you sow them in the right place? Was the soil right? Was the weather too cold, or too hot! Perhaps, though just one or two will grow as you hoped. It is all rather depressing really as you wonder what you did wrong. The answer may simply be your lack of understanding of the peculiarities of these particular plants which you have never grown before. Of course, the more expert gardener will understand the problems you face and the mistakes you have made and if you are lucky he will share his knowledge with you so that next year you get a better crop.
But is not our spiritual life rather like this? Certainly after the Crucifixion the disciples would have felt abandoned, alone in a hostile world. Nevertheless, at the Last Supper, according to John, Jesus assured them that although he would no longer be with them still a gift, the Spirit would come to them.
13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. John 16:13
Now the Holy Spirit did not come to the disciples on that Pentecost and then disappear never to be seen again. No, He comes to each one of us when we accept Him and He stays with us. With the instruction and guidance of the expert gardener our knowledge and understanding of plants develops and our confidence as a gardener will grow over time. We will not suddenly become expert gardeners overnight that would be too much for us to take in. In the same way God reveals to us as much as we can understand of his Truth at the time. But we will grow in our knowledge and understanding of that Truth as we develop under the guidance of the Divine Gardener, the Holy Spirit whose role is to lead us to a greater understanding of God’s Will and Word, a greater depth of faith in God. We just need to listen to Him. God’s Spirit is always active; God is always revealing Himself to us.
Let me ask you: Where have you found the Holy Spirit in your journey of Faith? What stops you hearing the Spirit?
Lord, I thank you for sending the Holy Spirit to lead me to a deeper knowledge of your Son Jesus Christ. Help me to learn from his guidance so that I may live my life in accordance with your Divine Will.
This world can seem a frightening place. One only needs to pick up a newspaper or turn on the TV to learn of some terrifying event somewhere in the world, whilst using social media will give you instant access to the horrors as they unfold. There may be nothing we can do about the global problems though we often tend to look for happiness in places where it cannot be found. Wealth, power and self-centredness each offer the same empty promises. Closer to home we often have to face up to unpleasant or worrying situations of our own. Sometimes it seems that God has abandoned us left us to cope on our own. But is that really so?
This morning my wife had to attend hospital for a regular treatment session. She has had these sessions several times in the past but any hospital visit can make one apprehensive. In the waiting room sat a rather nervous lady of similar age who was attending clinic for the first time. Whilst she tried not to show it nevertheless she was worried. My wife struck up a conversation with her during which they found they lived in the same neighbourhood and that their children had attended the same school some years ago and so chatted happily. “Do you remember.....?” “Oh yes, and what happened to ....?” And so the conversation went on. So much so that any worries either of them had about their treatment vanished. In fact when the time came for them to be called in neither of them was in any way concerned. No one called His Name or consciously invited Him to be present but in that hospital waiting room that grey morning God was there. He was with both ladies. Just as He was when the doctor said, “Everything seems to be healing nicely. You’ve done very well. In fact, I don’t need to see you anymore. I can discharge you.” He is there too in the garden where the little sparrows are busy eating the insects on the rose bushes oblivious of the horrors of man’s world.
God does not live in some richly decorated church building with stained glass windows and icons galore; nor will we only find Him in our Bible Study group or even in our prayers. He pops up in the most unexpected places and often when we least expect Him. As He said: 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. Revelation 3:20 (NIVUK) He is the God who understands us; one who is happy to drop in for a cup of tea or perhaps a plate of fish and chips. He wants to share our lives as our best friend. We give Him praise and thanksgiving and welcome Him in.
Last week I spoke of the need to take care when to speak and when to remain silent. What we say is equally important; especially on social media. I was reminded of this in comments I received on my blog “Who is my neighbour” where I said that all lives matter. What I intended to say was that like the Samaritan who went out of his way to help the injured Jew despite the persecution his race had suffered at the hands of the Jews, so are we called to compassion for everyman’s suffering regardless of race, religion or colour. However, the phrase “all lives matter” has unpleasant connotations in America, of which I was not aware. This led to some adverse comments.
One suggested that using the phrase “all lives matter” creates more division and that whilst it is the truth it did not sound to her as if it was spoken with love. She suggests it shows a lack of empathy with those who say Black Lives Matter. Since it expresses a sincere heartfelt reaction the second comment deserves to be heard in full. It reads: ‘It is a given that ALL lives matter, but when that is used as a response to the “Black Lives Matter” movement, it becomes an insult that adds to the injury being perpetuated on Black Americans, simply because we are Black. I don’t know your life experience, but unless you’ve been here, done that and walked in these shoes, I’m not sure that you have the mentality to understand the how and why claiming the banner of “All Lives Matter” in response to the “Black Lives Matter” banner would be polarizing and like throwing gas on an already out of control fire.’
Let me make it clear that I do not claim the banner of All Lives Matter against Black Lives Matter banner. The banner I claim is that of Christ the King which calls me to compassion for all those less fortunate than myself. It calls me to stand up against the evils of injustice, hatred, or persecution wherever they raised their ugly heads.
Sadly, my words offended some readers. If I have offended you then I can only apologize.
I/We need to take to heart the following words:
5 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. 9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. James 3:5-6 and 9-10.
With the social media available to us today it is possible to see, hear and comment instantly on any event taking place anywhere in the world. Whilst the images we see can show one side of the event only and so not reflect the whole picture that does not stop some people from making comments on social media before knowing the full facts – and there have been many examples of that recently sometimes by people who should know better. A period of reflection often leads to a more measured response. On this point Thomas Merton once wrote: “There are many declarations made only because we think other people are expecting us to make them. The silence of God should teach us when to speak and when not to speak. But we cannot bear the thought of that silence, lest it cost us the trust and respect of men.” Equally it is easy to distribute images of any sort on social media sites even those inciting violence or hatred; these may be exaggerated but who knows?
Now think for a moment, how often have you said something in haste and immediately wished you had not? Sadly, once spoken the words cannot be recalled, the hornet’s nest has been disturbed, the damage done. All words have an effect on the hearer in some way; whether they are words of sympathy, consolation or sarcasm, insulting or otherwise harmful. Here the advice of St Peter when writing to the communities of young churches of Gentiles in Asia Minor around 60 AD is appropriate: Whoever would love life and see good days must keep the tongue from evil and the lips from speaking deceit. 1 Peter 3:10. Indeed, both St Peter’s and Thomas Merton’s advice holds good today just as it did when first written. The bedrock of our faith is our love for God and our love for our neighbour. (Matthew 22:37-39) These are two sides of the same coin since our love of God must be evident from our actions towards and the way we speak to and about our neighbours. Does what we say reflect respect or disrespect for our fellow man? In what way should we reflect the values of God’s peace and love towards those we live or work with? What more can we do to reflect those values? We must not forget that our neighbour loves his family and children as we do. He too will become sick and will die as we will. We must realise that he and his family are God’s children and members of the same human family as we are.
This begs the question, which is more important the respect of man or the love of God? What do you think?
Loving Father, I pray that you will teach me to guard my tongue and guide my words so that I may speak to and of my neighbour only with kindness, respect and love. Amen
Since Tom wrote the prayer I posted last week there have been several more terrorist atrocities reported, and possibly others that have not made the news media frenzy. Are we becoming desensitised to these attacks?
When more innocent lives are lost like this we often hear the cry “Where is God in all this? Why does He allow such things to happen? ” Indeed some people point to attacks like these as proof that there is no God and ask why we believe in such out dated mumbo-jumbo. “If he is such a great God he could stop all this if he wanted to, but he doesn’t” they cry. Now, whilst we know that God is not some fancy Disney style wizard who will wave his magic wand for everything to turn out OK, sometimes when things get really dark we may be tempted to see their point and ask why God allows these things to happen. In the Garden of Gethsemane even Jesus cried out “My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46
In her book Footprints Margaret Fishback Powers writes: When we find ourselves questioning God’s reason for allowing certain things to happen, we must stop and remember God’s faithfulness and depend on his grace. Whatever our questions, whatever our circumstances, God is still in control. She quotes Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” We cannot know what God’s plans are but we do know that those plans do not include the murder of innocent men and women, the incitement to racial hatred, the unrelenting pursuit of power and wealth. These are man’s plans.
So, the question we should be asking is not “Where is God in all this?” but rather “Where is man in all this?” and it is not hard to find man’s grubby fingerprints all over the picture. Now, God gave us free will, a choice; the choice to be the richest, most powerful man in the graveyard or maybe not so materially well off but having the promise of a life of eternal bliss.
God has not forsaken us He is there and has a plan for us; He is in control. But it is for us to make the choice; continue in our selfish ways – man’s plans - or turn to Him and follow the path laid down in the New Testament. When we do turn to Him He will be there to meet us for we are His beloved children for whom His love is unconditional.
Loving Father, when your son Jesus was faced with the hatred intolerance and injustice of this world His answer was to offer love, compassion and justice. Lord, we pray for the grace to follow His example that the world may live in peace in accordance with your Divine commands. Amen
Over the week end marches have taken place in London and elsewhere in the UK in support of those in America under the banner Black Lives Matter. Now, this is not the place to get involved with the politics of the organisation but simply to take up the message of the group’s title, Black lives matter. Sadly, racial hatred and the incitement to racial hatred have been with us for a long, long time. More worryingly it shows no sign of diminishing. In my lifetime alone some 6 million or so people were murdered simply because they were Jewish yet still we do not seem to have learned the lesson. People are still being killed because of their race and people who should know better are still encouraging racial intolerance.
Racial hatred existed in Jesus’ time too, of course. In fact as Sunday’s gospel reading, (Luke 10:25-37), tells us Jesus uses that point to answer a question from a scholar of the law who asks Jesus “And who is my neighbour?” In response Jesus relates the parable of the Good Samaritan. You will remember that two good Jewish men, a priest and a Levite passed by on the other side of the road rather than help an injured fellow Jew. The one person who did stop to offer help was a Samaritan. Now over the years the Jews and Samaritans had become sworn enemies so one might have expected him to pass by too, but he did not. He “was moved with compassion”, and stopped to help. But he went further than that by putting him on his own animal and taking the injured man to a hostel for the night. He then stayed up to look after him and when he left the following day paid for his further care. Not what one would expect from a sworn enemy. Indeed he really went the extra mile for this man whom he did not know but for whom he felt compassion. When asked by Jesus which one of the three passersby was a neighbour of the injured man the scholar had to admit that it was the Samaritan. And what was Jesus’ response? “Go and do thou likewise.” So there you have it. No matter how difficult it is, how unpleasant the situations in which we find ourselves or how much we are put out we are called to love our neighbour, whatever his race or creed.
I was heartened to hear a young lady tell the Channel 4 TV news reporter at the rally that all lives matter whether black or white. She is right since we are all made in God’s image and are all His children. Her words give me hope for the future and I pray that that message will be received loud and clear around the world. It is time for us to put all this racial abuse, hatred and intolerance behind us and follow Jesus’ commandment to Love thy neighbour.
This week I offer you something different from my usual reflections.
Appalled by the apparently increasing number of terrorist attacks and the subsequent loss of life my friend Tom from St Louis USA asked ‘What can we do? We want to let people know that life is a precious gift from God and that we value the lives of those around us. These are real human beings whose lives have been ripped from them or forever changed in this violent way. They are loved by someone.’ His answer was to write a prayer that might be used by people or even churches, following an attack like the one that just happened in Istanbul. I reproduce that prayer here since, as Tom says, I hope it might be helpful for you.
‘O God of Life and Promise, you break into our today and tomorrows with the offering of your life-giving presence. We pray that you will come alongside us now in the face of this tragedy that has taken the lives of many of your people; your breath stolen violently from them. Draw their families and loved ones close to you now and hold us all in your arms of comfort and healing. We pray for you to renew the lives of those who are injured in this attack that they may be restored to productive life again.
We give you thanks for the people you send to help in the midst of this horrific situation. They act in your stead to bring comfort and seek healing for your suffering people. Strengthen them for the essential work they do when all seems hopeless and many people feel so fearful and alone.
Lead us also to give our lives to be signs of your loving, life-giving promise in the world you love so much. In your goodness and mercy forgive us for taking life for granted, and fill us with a new spirit of openness, peace, and gentleness. Open our hearts and minds to do what we can to bring aid and comfort where we are able. May we love and care for people who are your precious gift to us. In this time when human life seems so cheap, and is brutally plundered so violently without remorse, use us to show how precious your gift of life is for us all; each breath an offering to be cherished.
Bring an end to the desire of some for vengeance. destruction and death. In your gracious way forgive them and change their hearts toward love instead of hate.
Bring your peace and healing to our broken world and revive your Spirit of love in us all. In your name we pray. Amen.’
May I ask that we all take a few minutes at 12 noon on Friday 8 July to make this prayer together since: “When two or three are gathered together in my name I am in the midst of them.” Matthew 18:20
So Britain has decided that it no longer wishes to be part of Europe. What does that mean for us as a country? Indeed what does it mean for Europe? The answer is that no-one knows. This was after all a vote against something not a vote for. The global financial markets reacted violently with a millions wiped off some of the leading shares – a “blue chip” company in which I have an interest lost 20% of its value overnight, for example. Politicians are now trying to tell everyone that all will be well but no-one can be certain of that. No doubt there will be considerable resentment when people find that they will not get what they thought they had voted for. No one could lay out plans saying this is what will happen if you vote to leave Europe since we will still have to negotiate with the EU with regard to trade agreements, immigration, grants we have received from Europe and a whole lot more. So there is, and will be for a long time to come, considerable uncertainty which is never a good thing.
That said the sun rose in the east on Friday morning and in the evening set in the west as it has done for millennia. The birds flocked to eat the insects on the shrubs in the garden and the roses are still in full bloom. So is there a problem? Well, yes there is but perhaps the answer lies in the last sentence of the verse quoted earlier: ‘but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.’ Indeed, St John goes on to say ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in the Lord.’ John 14:1. And that in these uncertain times is our reassurance. No matter what the world throws at us we can, and must, trust in the Lord.
This is perhaps the best time in the garden; everything seems to be in full bloom. There are French geraniums, clematis, love-in-the-mist, mock orange and of course a whole variety of roses. Looking at the rose bushes in particular, it is interesting though that although they are of the same family –Rosa - nevertheless each bush is different; some are small patio roses whilst others are vigorous climbers and others still are standard roses. Thus whilst the Mamma Mia rose, which our daughter gave us, will only produce golden flowers the Queen Elizabeth rose will only produce soft pink flowers. In fact even on the same bush where you might expect the flowers to be exactly the same each flower is designed and created slightly differently. Nevertheless together they display the glory of God’s creation.
It is the same with us. Although we are all human beings, nevertheless we are all different – even those who may be twins. Like the roses although of the same family we each have our own personality and traits which will be quite different to those of the chap next door. Yet the fact remains we are of the same family – homo sapiens - and as Christians we are called to love our neighbour whatever size, shape, colour, or ethnicity he or she may be; indeed whether we like him or not! We are, after all, all children created by God in His likeness. And as Christians we have a particular responsibility to show God to the world in the way that we live our lives which must be, as St Paul says: ‘and whatever else you do, do it all for the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31)’. Just as the roses exhibit the glory of God so must we in our lives and actions.
Here is a quotation from a book that I was given on my confirmation some sixty or more years ago which I thinks sums the matter up concisely: “Do not waste time bothering about whether you ‘love your neighbour’; act as if you did” C S Lewis. Mere Christianity
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time work for a number of years