See, I am doing a new thing!
As I write this letter I have been preoccupied by ‘ends’.
Sometimes the ‘end’ of something is good and looked forward to – like the visit to the dentist or a difficult examination, but often we view ‘ends’ negatively with a tinge of regret. This has been the case for me over the last few days as I watched the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games. As a sport lover (lover doesn’t necessarily mean participator), as a sport lover I was sad that the Olympics was all over. All that anticipation during the build up and then after 17 days it’s all over and now I’ll have to wait another 4 years for it to come around again.. Not only have the Olympics ended but so did the good weather (albeit a few short days). And, for most of us, this time of year marks the end of our summer holidays too. Then we start looking ahead for what we’ve got to look forward too; ‘Bargain Hunt’ and ‘Cash in the attic’, colder weather with the prospect of even more rain, though I think the clouds must be running short of it by now, and the return to work or school. All in all I’m not too happy with endings. That said, ‘endings’ always marks the beginning of something new. That was the case for the people of Israel towards the end of their exile. Although they didn’t have their freedom in Babylon life was generally good; now they faced leaving behind all they had known to start something new with all the uncertainty that would bring.
And for our church this is no exception, September usually marks the start of a new church year when, after the lull of the summer, our activities start again. But we start the ‘new year’ in the light of the vision day we held in May. The Elders have been collating all the feedback from the day and the subsequent conversations we have had and we are considering some ‘New Things’.
Suggestions have been for home study groups; some formal and informal times for prayer; personal devotional study material which will encourage individuals in their quiet time; the sharing of stories during worship allowing people to tell what God has been doing in their life; an alternative worship with the introduction of a Sunday evening meeting that is more fluid and less formal than our morning worship; and increase in our activity with our young adults. These are just some of the ideas being worked on at the moment so watch this space to see how they develop.
Some of the ideas may seem scary and even a little risky but if God is with us then these ideas will grow and bear fruit.
‘See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the desert
and streams in the wasteland’.
Taste and see that the Lord is good
The holiday season is upon us once again and with it comes the opportunity for us to experience new things; new places, new countries, new people, new food and new culture, and the list could go on.
Whilst I love the familiarity and comfort of home I also love going on holiday and the excitement of the new experience it offers. One of the things I love to do on holiday is to try new foods especially those I’m not familiar with.
When I was in Kenya I stayed with a local family and ate what they ate. Most of the time I didn’t have a clue what I was eating but most of the time it was too dark to seewhat it was anyway. But, for the most part the food was tasty. I say ‘for the most part’ because one of the things I ate nearly every day was something called Ugali, It was a staple part of the diet for poorer Kenyans. It was made from maize flour and water mixed up into a dough-like constituency. The traditional method of eating it is to roll some into a ball, and then dip it into whatever stew was on offer; more often than not for me it was a stew made out of fish heads. Tasty but not often seen on the Great British Menu. I have to say Ugali was disgusting and I never got used to the taste of it though we ate it most days – I nicknamed it Ugly.
One of the other things I ate a lot of in Kenya was mangos, fresh mangos, often picked from trees as we walked to one village or another. They were delicious, packed full of flavour and, Oh so juicy. Psalm 34:8 says this, “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.” You know there is a difference between knowing about God and knowing God; a difference between knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus. Before I went to Kenya I knew mangos grew there now that I’ve tasted them any others seem tasteless and dull in comparison.
Psalm 34: 8 is not about the knowledge of God but the experience of God and once we’ve experienced God in our lives then the old way of life is tasteless and dull by comparison. God created us so that we can experience the best life has to offer and I know that the best life has to offer can only be experienced when we have God within us.
Taste and see that the Lord is good.
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18
This year Palm Sunday falls on 1st April, April fool’s Day – the day when people play pranks and practical jokes on one another and when misdirection and subterfuge are celebrated and admired. So, it seems appropriate that the text I use from 1 Corinthians speaks about fools and foolishness.
The Apostle Paul, who was writing to the Church at Corinth, acknowledges that Jesus death on the cross can appear foolish; indeed a crucified Jewish Messiah defied all Jewish expectations, and was dismissed as absurd by the Gentile world. The 20th Century German philosopher, Nietzsche echoes that absurdity, he says, “Look at whom they worship, look at this God whom they worship. How foolish and imbecilic to follow one who died, and then to claim that that death is victory! There is foolishness and there is foolishness. There is madness and there is madness, but to call death victory is the ultimate madness of all. This is a pathetic deity and he is followed by a pathetic people.” For Paul however it is a case of perspective. He goes on to say in verse 25, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.”
There’s a great story and I wish it were true though I don’t think it is:
In Florida, an atheist became incensed over the preparation for Easter and Passover holidays and decided to contact his lawyer about the discrimination inflicted on atheists by the constant celebrations afforded to Christians and Jews with all their holidays while the atheists had no holiday to celebrate.
The case was brought before a wise judge who after listening to the long, passionate presentation of his lawyer, promptly banged his gavel and declared, “Case dismissed!”
The lawyer immediately stood and objected to the ruling and said, “Your honour, how can you possibly dismiss this case? Surely the Christians have Christmas, Easter and many other observances. And the Jews — why in addition to Passover they have Yom Kippur and Hanukkah… and yet my client and all other atheists have no such holiday!”
The judge leaned forward in his chair and simply said “Obviously your client is too confused to know about or to celebrate the atheists’ holiday!”
The lawyer pompously said “We are aware of no such holiday for atheists, just when might that be, your honour?”
The judge said “Well it comes every year on exactly the same date– April 1st!”
“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” Psalm 14:1.
The Apostle Paul explains that, accepting that God’s salvation was accomplished through the cross of Jesus might appear foolishness, the real foolishness comes when lies with those who refuse to accept it.
As we approach April fool’s Day and Easter you can be one fool or another; the fool that accepts God’s offer of salvation through the cross of Jesus or the other kind.
Either way; enjoy your holiday.
2012 – Fast or Feast
A man walks into a bar, orders three pints of beer and sits in a corner of the room, taking a sip out of each glass in turn. When all three pints are empty, he returns to the bar and orders three more. The bartender advises him: “You know, a pint goes flat after it’s drawn. It would taste better if you bought one at a time.” “Well, you see”, the man replies, “I have two brothers – one in America, the other in Australia and I’m here in England. When we all left home, we promised to always drink this way to remember the days when we drank together”. The bartender admits that this is a touching custom and leaves it at that.
Over the next few weeks the man becomes a regular at the bar, always drinking the same way: ordering three pints of beer at a time and drinking them in turn.
One day, he comes in and orders only two pints. The other regulars notice and fall silent. When he returns to the bar for the second round, the bartender says: “I don’t want to intrude on your grief, but I wanted to offer my condolences and those of our regulars on your sad loss.” The man looks confused for a moment and then realises. “Oh, no,” he says, laughing, “everyone’s fine it’s just that I’ve stopped drinking for Lent.”
It seems a little strange to be thinking of Lent in the middle of January as I sit to write this letter especially when the Christmas and the New Year’s celebration still linger in the background. But Lent is just around the corner but maybe it’s not such a bad idea to consider the season of fasting especially for those who want to shed some of the lingering excesses of Christmas.
In the Christian Church, Lent is traditionally the season of reflection before the great celebration of Christ’s resurrection. It is often the time of fasting before the great feast, allowing the Christian to focus on what is truly important in life; our relationship with God. So that we can realise, just as Jesus did, that it’s when we rely on God that we find true peace regardless of the circumstance we face, not a superficial peace but a deep, deep peace which takes account of anguish and pain and uncertainty, whether individually or collectively. Symbolically, Lent takes the Christian into the 40 days of wilderness experienced by Jesus prior to the start of his ministry and, like Him, it would be good for us too to reflect on our prayer life, repentance, sacrificial giving and self-denial at the start of our ministry together in 2012.
Lent is a time when we ‘give things up’, usually unhealthy things, and close to the beginning of this New Year and in preparation for our journey together, instead of chocolate and alcohol (I realise of course that no one from my church would ever touch a drop), I offer these alternatives for your consideration.
Fast from judging others;
Feast on Christ dwelling in them.
Fast from emphasis on differences;
Feast on the unity of all life.
Fast from apparent darkness;
Feast on the reality of all light.
Fast from thoughts of illness;
Feast on the healing power of God.
Fast from words that pollute;
Feast on phrases that purify.
Fast from discontent;
Feast on gratitude.
Fast from anger;
Feast on patience.
Fast from pessimism;
Feast on optimism.
Fast from worry;
Feast on God’s providence.
Fast from complaining;
Feast on appreciation.
Fast from negatives;
Feast on affirmatives.
Fast from unrelenting pressures;
Feast on unceasing prayer.
Fast from hostility;
Feast on non-resistance.
Fast from bitterness;
Feast on forgiveness.
Fast from self-concern;
Feast on compassion for others.
Fast from personal anxiety;
Feast on eternal truth.
Fast from discouragement;
Feast on hope.
Fast from facts that depress;
Feast on verities that uplift.
Fast from lethargy;
Feast on enthusiasm.
Fast from suspicion;
Feast on truth.
Fast from thoughts that weaken;
Feast on promises that inspire.
Fast from shadows of sorrow;
Feast on the sunlight of serenity.
Fast from idle gossip;
Feast on purposeful silence.
Fast from problems that overwhelm;
Feast on prayer that sustains.