You who dwell in the garden with friends in attendance,let me hear your voice.
Song of Songs 8:13
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.
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time work for a number of years