The Channel Island of Jersey has a public area known as Liberation Square where freedom from military occupation is celebrated annually on the 9th of May. There are still many signs on the island of that painful occupation during World War Two – discarded bunkers, gun towers and casemates ravage the otherwise beautiful coastland as reminders of Hitler’s mighty ‘Atlantic Wall’. A day after VE Day, German forces surrendered unconditionally and Jersey found precious freedom again. It is not just in war that people lose freedom and live under the tyranny of occupation – many are living like this today but this is not the destiny for a child of God. Are you on the freedom path?
Life is made up of a rich tapestry – dark and light threads, bright and dull colours, rough and smooth textures. You may have heard it said, turn the cloth one way and it is messy, a bit ugly with tied knots and makes little sense; but then, turn it over, and it is a fine woven lovingly embroidered tapestry telling a beautiful life story. Do you see your life as a work of art full of worship and wonder or as a mess? The Embroiderer calls us to a relationship where the wonder brings out the worship. Or as Thomas Carlisle puts it: ‘Wonder is the basis of worship’.
Sometimes it seems that your faith is hanging on by a thread as life falls apart – a spouse deserts you, an illness is diagnosed, a loved one dies. It can be as sudden as one of those tragedies that hits you out of the blue or it can be a sustained ‘East Wind’ prevailing against you – lack of support from church, loneliness in your faith, depression.
Despite strong roots, a tree can be bent sideways by prevailing winds – and yet, they can still hold on. A limpet will cling on, but one sudden tap from a seagull when it’s not prepared and it’s history. If you’re reading this, you may identify more with the tree than the limpet. God seems to allow ‘prevailing winds’ into our lives of many sundry kinds but they do shape us. Take Jacob – using sleight of hand to deceive he was always on the move, suffering family traumas and personal insecurity, he learnt to sleep using a rock as a pillow!
Do you have a ‘tree of peace’? It might be a ‘metaphorical tree of peace’ or a real one as in the picture where you can shelter in the ‘heat of the day’. To have both ‘outer’ and ‘inner’ peace is something most precious but they are in short supply these days. The pace of life exhausts us while the noise of life means silence can be hard to find. John Lennon asked us to ‘imagine all the people living life in peace’ and yet his son told another story:
- ‘Dad could talk about peace and love out loud to the world, but he could never show it to the people who supposedly meant the most to him: his wife and son. How can you talk about peace and love and have a family in bits and pieces - no communication, adultery, divorce? You can't do it, not if you're being true and honest with yourself’ – Julian Lennon
Should these two words be so closely associated with each other let alone with donkeys? Which one of these pair looks well-named ‘Gentle’ and which one ‘Humble’?! Surely ‘Jeremiah’ and ‘Hezekiah’ would be more fitting names! Does society nowadays recognise and respect humility as an attribute – what is humility anyway? The same question could be asked of ‘gentleness’. Can you be gentle without being humble and vice versa? Why are these two things important in a Christian and is it possible to be both? So many questions need an answer to make sense of it all and these come in the person of Christ:
‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey’ – Matthew 21:5
Love is a ‘many splendored thing’! So it was described in the book, film and song of 1955 but what did they mean? People have been trying to work out what love means from the very beginning! Boy meets girl and ‘lust’ pretends to be ‘love’. Whereas lust surfs on the crest of the wave until it crashes spent on to the beach, love moves steadily in the depths with the strength of a whale. The world promotes shallow definitions and poor imitations of love:
This little guy represents all of us – he knows he’s been found out, it’s weighing heavy on him and he’s pleading for mercy! Which way will those scales weigh – mercy or justice? How do they weigh for you?
‘“My friend” resumed the Bishop, “before you go, here are your candlesticks. Take them.”… Jean Valjean was trembling in every limb. He took the two candlesticks mechanically, and with a bewildered air. “Now,” said the Bishop, “go in peace.
Sometimes life can seem like a game of mental health snakes and ladders – people going up, people going down, people passing by, people going somewhere, people going nowhere. You can be sure that this is everyone you meet, past, present and future in this stressful world.
- ‘Mental health is a continuum, and people may fall anywhere on the spectrum. You certainly can't prevent all mental health problems - factors like genetics and traumatic life events certainly play a role. But everyone can take steps to improve their mental health and prevent further mental illness’ – Amy Morin
‘A garden requires patient labour and attention. Plants do not grow merely to satisfy ambitions or to fulfil good intentions. They thrive because someone expended effort on them’ – Liberty Hyde Bailey
Did it ever occur to you that the Bible begins and ends with a garden? Adam and Eve were able to walk with The Gardener, God himself. For a time, the best intentions thrived throughout creation in the garden but things fell apart when the best intentions were not followed through. Fast forward from Genesis to Revelation and you come to a beautiful garden where trees are constantly bearing fruit and even the leaves of the trees bring healing.
Ever seen someone who is frustrated? Ever been the one who is frustrated?! A dangerous maelstrom of swirling emotions start spinning when you are unable to do something you once did or achieve something you’ve set your heart on – impatience, exasperation, annoyance, irritation, resentment, bitterness and anger are not far away.
‘I grew up with lots of anger, frustration, and violence in my heart’ – Rose Namajunas
‘It is hardly possible to build anything if frustration, bitterness and a mood of helplessness prevail’ – Lech Walesa
‘Everything we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see’ – Martin Luther King Jr
Just as for Jerusalem, everyone wants a piece of the cross, laying a claim to it. So far as the cross goes, here are some of the claims to consider:
- The Jewish Authorities – without them (the High Priest, the Teachers of the Law, the Pharisees), who would have taken such offence to a person loved by the people as he healed them and taught them? Yet they needed to get someone else to kill him as a ‘cursed convict’ on a cross, so the Roman Empire was convenient.
Is the hope you have a shifting verb or a steadfast noun? You can hope for many things that may never happen but the Christian hope is an anchor- like noun.
‘We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf’ - Hebrews 6:19-20
To have such a hope without substance would be to pass a verdict without evidence but we are not called to groundless faith, so what is the hope we can have and what is the substance?
What do John Lennon, Marilyn Monroe, Steve Jobs and Eleanor Roosevelt have in common? They were all orphans and yet they went on to achieve many things. Living with the knowledge of being an orphan has deep effects on a person’s psyche – to have feelings of rejection, insecurity, abandonment and poor self worth would be typical.
‘I’m trying to find myself. Sometimes that’s not easy’ – Marilyn Monroe
Ever been in a storm, seen clouds gathering and dreading the perfect storm conditions? People the world over have probably suffered these worse than you will ever have to and yet storm surges can happen in our own lives. Suddenly, out of the blue, something happens and a storm is upon you to threaten your very life and existence – a squall. Perhaps this is your current situation or you know someone who is in the middle of one.
‘If you want to see the sunshine, you have to weather the storm’ - Frank Lane
‘If patience is worth anything, it must endure to the end of time. And a living faith will last in the midst of the blackest storm’ - Mahatma Gandhi
Who do you think said this - ‘When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves’? They were some inspired words from Buddha.
What does JOY mean to you? Is it to do with purity and the beauty of a summer’s day with no cloud in the sky?
‘Joy in looking and comprehending is nature’s most beautiful gift’’– words of another wise man … Albert Einstein. How are you doing with ‘nature’s most beautiful gift’?! Does joy mean something more to you? No clouds in the sky sounds a good start - if matched by a clear mind, purity and no shadows then the day is full of promise.
It is surprising to read that some are intolerant towards those who are ‘agnostic’ – why should it offend to be undecided? Yet here’s three commentators with that view:
‘I may have had a prejudice against agnosticism as a body of thought: sort of a fence-sitting theory, where you can't make up your mind one way or another’ – S. T. Joshi
How often do you notice the generosity of God shown to us in nature? Just take this wayside picture from Jersey Island, despite pouring rain, there was beauty all round and in the cobwebs knitted into the heather were seemingly dazzling jewels dripping like diamond necklaces – thrilling if we have eyes to see. God’s nature is a generous one which can be seen in the multiplicity of acorns, conkers, chestnuts, sweetcorn, wheat, lighting, sensory abilities, herbs, fragrances, music and, of course, people. Unsurprisingly, the generosity of his nature is unending, not least to us in the grace and mercy we find he gives us.
Have you ever heard a comforting book of fiction or poetry described as being like a hammer? It doesn’t happen! Then come before the Word of God and you’ll discover what the prophet Jeremiah meant: ‘”Is not my word like fire,” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?’ – Jeremiah 23:29. Christians regard the Bible as the authoritative Word of the Living God full of Absolute Truth – if they are wrong, the Bible is ‘absolutely irrelevant’ and people should revert to living based on their ‘relative suppositions’. Presidents, Royalty, scientists, brilliant legal minds and ordinary people have been convinced that it is God’s Word for life – how about you?
• ‘Within the covers of the Bible are the answers for all the problems men face’ – Ronald Reagan
What represents the greatest power today – a president, a multinational, a nuclear bomb, gravity, the sea, the wind? Greater than all of these was that felt by the eighth man to walk on the moon:
‘The Earth reminded us of a Christmas tree ornament hanging in the blackness of space. As we got farther and farther away it diminished in size. Finally it shrank to the size of a marble, the most beautiful marble you can imagine. That beautiful, warm, living object looked so fragile, so delicate, that if you touched it with a finger it would crumble and fall apart. Seeing this has to change a man, has to make a man appreciate the creation of God and the love of God. I felt the power of God as I'd never felt it before’ – James Irwin
This is a golden age for the self-obsessed where image is everything and nothing. Yet way back in the 1570s, famous poet Edmund Spencer had it right: ‘Gold all is not that doth golden seem’. Diana Ross suggests that a golden dream is possible but that, ‘You've got to get out there and make it happen for yourself’. So what is this golden glitzy image that people so crave?
- ‘An image is not simply a trademark, a design, a slogan or an easily remembered picture. It is a studiously crafted personality profile of an individual, institution, corporation, product or service’ – Daniel J Boorstin
- ‘The 'self-image' is the key to human personality and human behaviour. Change the self-image and you change the personality and the behaviour’ – Mazwell Malz
‘Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you’ – Matthew 17:20
We all face mountains – they may block the way, intimidate and seem impossible to climb let alone move. What mountain are you facing? What did Jesus mean when he linked faith to a mountain, even faith as tiny as a fragile little seed compared to the largest solid dark mountain?
A true friend is always there for you and doesn’t abandon you in tough times – they are a stronghold in times of trouble. This is why they are rare precious gifts to nurture. We have many colleagues, acquaintances and people we like, but a real friend is in a different league. What is a real friend? How do we find them? How do we keep them? Do we have what it takes to be one? Do you have one?
There are some who find it easy to rest and some who don’t – we all know which category a domestic cat falls into but what about you? Is it ‘time to rest’ or can you not find ‘time to rest’? Many of us struggle to be still and spend much of life busy chasing our tails and wonder where all the time has gone!
‘What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
If you’re a follower of Jesus Christ, you’re a follower of The Prime Example of Revival – the great creeds drawn from the Bible tell us how he was alive, he died, and he lived again by the power of God’s Spirit. If you’re not yet a follower of Jesus Christ then you’ll struggle to understand why Christians get excited about revival until you ‘get’ what Jesus meant when he said:
‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ - John 11:25-26
Dreams can be powerful to shape us, for good or bad. It is in that subconscious dream-world that we find some of our hopes and fears interacting in a space where we can also meet with God and hear him speak. How can we know which dreams are plagued with phantoms, which are the often outrageous fantasies and which are the ones that can have meaning? Joseph and Daniel were given understanding of dreams and it shaped destinies of people and nations. Young and old alike can be inspired by dreams and visions – the fact is we need more people who are:
Fear paralyses – absolute fear paralyses absolutely. It can’t always be rationalised for it is often irrational. The face of fear has many masks but our fears must be faced if we are to be free to live a life worth living.
‘I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear’ – Nelson Mandela
‘We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light’ - Plato
So what fears are you facing? Are they long-standing fears that have dogged your life from childhood or are they the dogs that began to stalk the corridors of your adult mind?
It is in the very nature of temptation that it is hard to resist and that it is common to every single person. Temptation takes many forms and has many disguises but be in no doubt that the aim of the one who tempts is to rob you of joy in your walk with God and the ultimate goal is to ruin you.
‘No one is above temptation. No one is above life in general’ – Kevin Jonas
And yet, every temptation is an opportunity either to bring glory to God through overcoming it or to bring pain to your soul through giving in.
Something dangerous can happen in the heart of a person and in that of a community when a general distrust arises. It is then that cynicism is at work and leads on to a sceptical hardening of the heart which questions everything and believes nothing.
Just as hardening of the arteries is dangerous for physical health, so creeping cynicism can be dangerous for spiritual health. It was Pharaoh’s hard heart that led to his rejection of God and the tragedies experienced in Egypt. A hard heart is a dying heart.
There are many with broken dreams who carry the heartache of disappointment – it could simply be a new car gets mangled or it could be cherished dreams wrecked and destined for the scrap heap. Such emotions are common to all of us but it is perhaps this younger generation that feels it most keenly. Consequences of credit crunch and austerity have led to weighty student loans, unattainable home ownership, uncertain pension prospects and feelings that they have been let down.
Slavery seems to belong to a past era of slave ships, shackles and castle dungeons but sadly this is a delusion. William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln are names of those passionate to abolish slavery who accomplished amazing things. And yet:
‘Human trafficking is a modern form of slavery. It is a scourge for humanity’ - Jeff Fortenberry
‘You can't regulate child labour. You can't regulate slavery. Some things are just wrong’ - Michael Moore
Describing slavery as ‘a dreadful thing’ in the Nineteenth Century, Harriet Tubman escaped slavery and became an icon of courage and freedom: ‘I think slavery is the next thing to hell. If a person would send another into bondage, he would, it appears to me, be bad enough to send him into hell if he could’.
Can it be a choice? Is Plato right to say, ‘Nothing in the affairs of men is worthy of great anxiety’?
If it’s that simple, why do so many suffer with it?
‘If I can centre down and strengthen the core of who I am, and the core of who I am is my relationship with God, then that helps me maintain peace deep down. If I can maintain a healthy spiritual core, I think that's enormous for helping the stress.' - Anne Graham Lotz
TAGS – God, Prayer, Spirituality
The best teacher can take a complex thing and make it simple – the worst will take the simple and make it complex. So here’s what we know:
Do you think of yourself as childish or childlike? What do you think the difference is? Do you think of yourself as mature or immature? How would you define those terms?! Being a child at heart is different to being childish and immature. Can you still enjoy the ‘merry-go-round’, if that is what life is to you, or do you now look out to sea past the waves with a heavy and solemn disposition? Are your eyes still capable of childlike wonder or have the increasing years knocked the stuffing out of you?
Go back to the 15th Century and you will find that this was when Masquerade Balls began, people wearing masks at public events. It gave people the opportunity to pretend to be someone else, to behave and speak differently, even opening up the way for crime and lewdness. Many films feature heroes and villains in masks such as The Mask of Zorro, Darth Vader, Phantom of the Opera and Batman. Whilst it may seem ‘fun’, it is essentially deceitful. Double lives have been lived by spies, bigamists and those using social media to groom the vulnerable. To what extent would you agree that we all have lived behind masks at one time or another?
Have you ever planted a tree? It is a good thing to do as they breathe for us – the Rain Forest of Brazil is described as the ‘lungs of the world’. Capability Brown planted many but hasn’t lived to see the stunning results. You see, it all takes time. Trees seem to have plenty of this – the oldest Yew tree is about 3000 years old and lives in Fortingall, Perthshire. ‘Methusaleh’ is the name given to a Bristlecone Pine in the White Mountains of California, reputedly aged 4,851 in 2019. It is not surprising then that trees are often associated with ‘patience’. What a contrast to a man with a chainsaw!
Isaiah spoke of a righteousness that was high above the heavens and prophesied that it would be poured down upon the earth: ‘You heavens above, rain down my righteousness; let the clouds shower it down. Let the earth open wide, let salvation spring up, let righteousness flourish with it; I, the Lord, have created it’ – Isaiah 45:8. Although he told of a virgin being with child and of a suffering servant-leader, just how we could be declared righteous was unclear. Over 700 years later, revelation comes with the person of Christ Jesus as to how we can be righteous, now.
Do you see personal righteousness as a lofty ideal beyond the bright blue skies or as a ‘now reality’?
Like all the good gifts from God our Father, forgiveness is something we need and something we must share. You could apply that to most things – our time, our money, our love … our smile!
At their request, Jesus gave his disciples a model prayer, which included asking ‘our Father in Heaven’ to ‘forgive us our sins . . .’ followed immediately by ‘. . . as we forgive those who sin against us.’ (Matthew 6:12). Stephen, the first Christian martyr, echoed Jesus’ words from the cross as he was stoned to death for his faith: ‘Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing!’ (Acts 7:60). The parable of the unforgiving servant ends with the sobering words ‘if you do not forgive neither will you be forgiven’ (Matthew 18:35).
If ‘character’ is who you are and what you do when no one is looking, then D L Moody is right: ‘Character is what you are in the dark’. What is ‘character’? What is good or bad? What is your character? Who is interested anyway?
Supposing you were asked to give a full character reference for someone, what would you include? What if you had to give a genuine character reference for yourself? Here’s a dictionary definition of ‘character’: ‘the total quality of a person’s behaviour, as revealed in his or her habits of thought and expression, actions and personal philosophy of life’.
Ever wondered what it’d be like to be living alone on a small inaccessible island? Lighthouse keepers are not the only ones who do – there are many who either choose to be alone or who find themselves alone through life circumstances. Unwanted singleness, bereavement, friendship breakdown, loss of sight, hearing or capacity and loneliness can descend like a dark dense brooding cloud. Joan Collins said that ‘loneliness is the universal problem of rich people’ yet surely it is the poor who are often short of friends.
What do you see as you look around you – blessings or curses? Is that glass half empty or half full? Do you recall the old song with the line, ‘Count your blessings name them one by one and it will surprise you what the Lord has done’? Blessings look like family, peace, flowers, bees, butterflies, people, food, freedom, life, breath, health and of course those wonderful fresh tomatoes – we all have many of these and some have all of them. We start with nothing and then God just keeps pressing blessings into lives.
Grieving the loss of a loved one is part of what it is to be human – it belongs to the ‘former things’ but it has no place in the ‘future realm’. We must not deny grief, ours or others, but we must feel it for the mystery of emotion is like the mystery of healing. If we have never grieved, we have never loved; if we have never loved, we have never truly lived. The outpouring of grief touches the very heart of God and often brings a new vulnerability to intimacy with him. Remember that darkness is as light to God for he sees everything and the darkest night is followed by the new dawn. God moves in mysterious ways.
Sometimes you hit a wall and it seems impossible to go on. For those going through assault course training, it’s encouragement from the team that get most over the wall. As marathon runners hit the wall after 20 miles, its encouragement from the crowd that can make the difference. If you’re facing some kind of wall, you need encouragement – getting over or through that wall is possible and it will make you stronger. Others have trod where you are treading.
‘God help us, we can't keep up this pulling, that is certain. Amongst ourselves we are unendingly cheerful, but what each man feels in his heart I can only guess’ – Captain Robert Falcon Scott
This is not a beauty product advert - it is somewhat less superficial! Most of us want to be pure and know that we are meant to be pure, but what does it mean to be pure? The simplest dictionary definition gives this: ‘not mixed or adulterated with any other substance or material’, stating that it can be applied to matter, colour, sound and morality. For the child of God, the heart of the matter is the matter of the heart.
‘God is looking for clean hands and a pure heart’ – Monica Johnson
Some people see life as a pack of cards that they are dealt by ‘The Dealer’ whilst others are less fatalistic recognising everyone faces light and shade. Whichever is closer to your position, how do you deal with pain in your life? Whether expected or not, it comes along – we all know that pain can be emotional, physical, spiritual, light, extreme, temporary or worst of all it can be permanent.
Victoria Arlen was eleven when she lost the ability to speak, eat, walk, and move. With little hope of survival, she went on to battle through and become a winning Paralympian. Here’s her take on pain: ‘The climb might be tough and challenging, but the view is worth it. There is a purpose for that pain; you just can't always see it right away’.
From the beginning, Christians have been persecuted for having faith in Jesus Christ. Today, Open Doors estimated that over 215 million are facing high levels of persecution. Jesus himself tells us, ‘If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also’ – John 15:20. So the oppression against Christians is no surprise to Jesus but every slight, injustice and cruelty against you matters to him: ‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven’ – Matthew 5:11-12.
Sadly, persecution is everywhere and is here to stay until the Lord Jesus returns – it may be subtle or flagrant but it is very real.
‘Christians are being persecuted, not just in the Middle East but here in this country’ – Wendy Long (American Attorney).
Can you be anything or anyone you want to be? Do you know what and who that is? What is it that defines you – gender, ethnicity, nationality, family, abilities, wealth, achievements, history, sexuality, politics, religion? How do you want people to think of you?
‘When you have a lot of people telling you what you are and perceiving you in a certain way, it's difficult to find your own identity’ - Sia (Kate Isobelle Furler)