Peter's Christian blog
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)
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
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time work for a number of years