Saturday, April 23, 2022

Tactical Training in Tough Times

The Swiss theologian, Karl Barth, once said: 'To fold one’s hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world'. And don't we have some disorder now? As the pandemic rumbles on like a receding thunder storm, the rising sound of distant shellfire comes from a Europe where we were assured there would never again be a major war. The cost of living is going into inflationary orbit causing children to be hungry in one of the world's most developed nations. And leaders in the world either appear weak, elderly, divided or compromised, or else look like sinister replicas of Stalin, Mao or Pol Pot!

The writer of Psalm 11 asked the question that seems so appropriate today - 'When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?’ Well, they can pray. Prayer still moves the hand that moves the world. Jesus challenged his followers to pray bold prayers, and to pray them with faith. '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). 

So, why is it so hard to pray? Possibly because we need to relearn the value of silence. Mother Teresa wrote: 'We need to find God, and He cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence'. Our lives are constantly punctuated by pings and rings, notifications and noises off. Maybe we need to switch off those devices and find a quiet place to fold our hands and pray.

And then - could it be that we have forgotten the prayer skills that previous generations took for granted? Seduced by the empty promises of much doing, we have neglected the graces of simply being - climbing up onto our Father's knee and whispering 'Abba, Daddy, I need you'.

On Sundays through May and June our church is doing the Prayer Course. We will gather in groups to simply watch, learn and pray. You might want to check it out online as a useful and helpful resource and a way of relearning the simple art of folded hands. 

The world is waiting.


 

Saturday, April 16, 2022

A Garden with no Easter Bunnies?

 

There may be a few Israeli rabbits nesting nearby, but there are no Easter Bunnies here! This is the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem, believed by many to be the actual site, or very similar to it, of the grave where Jesus' body lay on the first Easter Saturday.There is a tomb at the centre of the Easter story. A place of cold grief and bitter tears. A real tomb for a really dead man, not just somewhere for a swooned imposter to await rescue by his fellow conspirators. This is God's tomb, where God the Son tasted death for me. This is the devil's best, an attempt to wipe out the catalogue of miracles and mercy that Jesus wrote in Galilee and substitute his own pathetic offering of "always look on the bright side" and "did God really say..?" doubt.

And the view from the tomb of Jesus is magnificent. Its light casts a quick flicker of hope over a place of suffering and pain, Golgotha or Calvary, and slowly expands towards the brilliant dawn that is already starting to change the colours we see only through our tears. Yes, this is God's tomb, but much more than that - it is MY tomb as well. For, in the words of the Apostle Paul, "I have been crucified with Christ" (Galatians 2:20). The old me is dead and buried, and just as Jesus breaks forth from the tomb outside Jerusalem, so I am set free by Christ from self, from having to impress others, even from the fear of death itself.
And here's an offer you won't see in many catalogues - it can be YOUR tomb as well! "Oh thanks Eric" I can hear you say "that's all I need on top of everything else I am suffering". But that's the whole point, this tomb is the place where you can lay your sufferings down, and your achievements, and stop trying to impress God and others. You can be identified with Jesus in His death also, and rise with Him to a completely new life!

I am grateful that God knows what it feels like to suffer and die, and be laid in a tomb by weeping loved ones. I am glad that he understands my pain, and yours, and that he comes to us on our 'silent Saturdays' and dark nights of the soul. But I'm also rejoicing that the tomb is no longer in use as a grave. The Lord of life and glory could not be held by those chains of death. It may be Easter Saturday, but hey - Sunday's coming!

Saturday, April 09, 2022

The Trivialisation of Easter

 

The sanitisation of Easter is underway again. Bunny rabbits, eggs, chocolate, and daffodils are piled up in supermarkets, while store assistants dress up in Disney costumes (at least in our local Coop) and the lambs on UK hillsides shiver in the cold. And shiver they should, because the British tradition of roast lamb is probably closer to the symbolism of the original Easter story than you might think.

I was taking a look at that story this week and I noticed much more similarity between the news reports coming out of Ukraine and the first Easter, rather than any semblance of a link to the whitewashed, commercialised, trivialised and largely dismissive 'celebration' of the holiday where I live.

I saw Jesus - God's Son - lied about in court. That court was a stitch-up of people probably paid to testify against him, and he just remained silent in front of them, a picture of steady purpose and dignity. Then I watched him being tortured and abused by invading foreign soldiers. He was a civilian, not a combatant or a terrorist, but brutalised invaders don't care about that. Jesus was stripped in public, beaten, paraded by his executioners and finally nailed to a wooden cross, wearing a cruel crown of thorns. No bullet to the back of the head for him, his blood was mingled with sweat and gore as he hung on a gibbet meant for a criminal, for hours on end. There was no bunny rabbit at Calvary, no Disney character to swing down and save him. 

Perhaps the cruel images from Bocha and the station at Kramatorsk are more helpful in understanding the true nature of what was happening at Golgotha around 33 AD. Of course we have to find ways of interpreting that to children, - enter the rabbits etc - but we should not lose sight of what it cost Jesus to deal with our sin. 

'O make me understand it,

Help me to take it in,

What it meant to Thee, the Holy One,

To bear away my sin'. *

This was God's lamb put to death for the sins of the world. Here was a sign of God's presence amongst the bloodshed and horror perpetrated by sinful men and women driven by the lying spirit of Satan himself, such as we see laid out before us on our tv screens today. There is no sanitising sin. But if Easter means anything, it means that God knows what it's like to suffer injustice and rejection from people gripped by evil. And still he went on to the cross.

And on the third day he rose again! But that's for another time. And maybe the new life of the egg does have some symbolism? hmm Let's see.

* 'Give me a sight O Saviour' by Katherine Kelly © 1944 HarperCollins Religious       


Friday, April 01, 2022

When Pressure meets Presence

 

Two years ago this week, after the UK went into lockdown, we had our first cases of Covid 19 here in the islands. Within a few short days we were also confined to our homes and the nightmare had begun. Now Europe is at war again for the first time since 1945, at least from the invasion of a sovreign country by a neighbour. And the cost of everything is soaring, so that the dreaded word 'inflation' - the plague of 1970's Britain - is back with a vengeance. Tough times are here, and nowhere more so than in the residential areas of Ukraine.

Part of the learning experiences of the last two years has been the understanding that we can't go on behaving in the way we used to. Hand hygiene and mask-wearing in enclosed spaces have become common-place, driven by the fear of infection. Adversity forces change. It makes us think again about our safety and comfort. It changes our priorities. Think about the people huddled in a Kyev basement, hiding from Russian bombs. They have fled their homes with only what they could carry, pets and all. Now, all that matters is life and freedom. Their ordeal has totally realigned their priorities.

But we should not be surprised that suffering produces change. The Bible teaches that it at least can produce patience and perseverance, and those are good, but we would far rather dispense with the adversity in the first place and go straight to the 'lesson learnt' stage without the pain. Yet nobody gets a testimony without a test. Perhaps it is only in retrospect that we can see glimmers of light in the black overlay of struggle and pain that life can be for so many.

So, two years on in this global pandemic, with war raging in Europe and the cost of living soaring, are there any signs of hope? God may not have given the deliverance we longed for, but he has given us his living presence. Once when Moses was facing a great challenge he famously prayed, 'if your presence does not go with us, Lord, please don't take us there!'. But he did, and he was, - with them in their battle to claim a promised land.

The name 'Emanuel' means 'God with us' and it was given to Jesus. Born in a borrowed stable, fleeing with his parents as refugees into another country, rejected by his own people and then crucified by a cruel foreign invading army - he truly is with us! And the best news is that the grave could not hold him - he rose again. Thank God for Jesus!

Saturday, March 05, 2022

A Bad Case of Truth Decay

 

‘The first casualty of any war is truth’. This statement, maybe by an ancient Greek dramatist called Aeschylus around 550BC, or else a US Senator from just after World War 1, is proving to be so accurate in describing the current war in Ukraine. For weeks US and British intelligence agencies were warning of impending invasion whilst all the time being mocked by Russian leaders claiming this was a figment of their febrile imaginations! ‘Russia has no plans at all to invade Ukraine’ was reported around the world.

Once the invasion began, pictures of Russian aggression were being shown on their TV station but claiming that NATO and Ukrainian ‘Nazis’ were bombing their own cities. The Russian forces were on a ‘peacekeeping mission’ to protect Ukrainian civilians. If this were not so sad it would be ludicrous, but of course, claim and counter claim will be used by both sides in this conflict to try and gain popular support, and even being used as weapons.

But truth decay has also affected our society incrementally. It is not only the bomb and the bullet that can impact human lives. When Royal celebrities are asked to reveal ‘your truth’ by TV interviewers, as if truth were a commodity to be owned and shaped by individuals to suit their lifestyle, behaviour, preferences or even sense of gender, then truth is indeed ‘fallen in the street’. In fact, ‘justice is beaten back, righteousness is banished to the side-lines, truth staggers down the street, honesty is nowhere to be found, good is missing in action’ (Isaiah 59:14 The Message).

It was a great Russian, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn who said, ‘One word of truth outweighs the world’ and that philosophy undergirded his resistance to the Soviet system and his belief that ultimately, the truth will out. And he was right. Joseph Goebel’s elaborate propaganda organisation, for instance, died along with the Nazi regime in the burning rubble of 1945 Berlin. Truth has power. It can, eventually, overthrow systems and states built on deception and lies.

Jesus distinguished himself from these corrupt leaders when he declared, ‘I am the truth’ (John 14:6) and that his Spirit was and is ‘the Spirit of Truth’ (John 16:13). He also said that his followers ‘will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’ (John 8:31). Only the truth will liberate, morally and spiritually and culturally. 

For now, though, the liars have the floor. Satan, the father of all lies may be delighted. But his rejoicing will be short-lived. For the Truth is returning, and possibly very soon! When he comes, every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord! Till then, let’s pray that the Spirit of truth will open blind eyes and hearts all over the globe so that the tinsel deception of truth decay will be replaced with radical love and the return of peace, especially to the dear folk of Ukraine. And may God intervene to expose lies and deliver the innocent by miracles of protection too!


 


Saturday, February 19, 2022

Storm Damage

Watching a man from London being interviewed on the TV news this lunchtime standing in front of his broken house and crushed car, I was made aware how long it can take to recover from storm damage. Of course, the effects of storms Dudley and Eunice in the UK recently will be cleared away, and will be done so much more quickly than parts of the world affected by flooding and landslides where there are no sophisticated means of repair. Never-the-less, the emotional and psychological pain of storm damage may take a lot longer than the physical effects, to make good.

Part of the pain is the shock of the unwanted, unsolicited violation of your property and potential safety. A sudden, unexpected intrusion into a world that seemed so normal and predictable, blown your way by some faceless blast, even if it is given a fancy name by the Met Office. However sophisticated our Western lifestyle might have become, it only takes a big storm to make us aware of our fragility and the potential for everything to change overnight, literally.

Life's storms are very real. In a moment, what was chugging along nicely can be turned on its head. Where once were security and familiar circumstances there can come uncertainty and chaos, bringing with them fear and apprehension on a grand scale. For me it was the sudden onslaught of devastating chronic ill health. Along with it came a flood of problems like - how will we pay our rent? Who will provide food for our family? Will I even survive?

Thank God that we don't have to face life's storms alone. God says 'When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.' (Isaiah 43:2). The storms of life can be endured and overcome when we know the active, manifest presence of Almighty God with us. That's why I published my book 'Through the Storms; a manual for when life hurts'. If you are going through devastating storms right now, or you know someone who is, get a copy of this book for yourself or to give to them. Click here to order one in paperback or Kindle format. Or you can email me to obtain a signed copy at throughthestorms750@gmail.com.

It's likely that many more would have died, and much greater damage would have been done, if the Met Office in the UK had not warned in advance about these storms, and the authorities put in place strategies to cope. Don't wait till the waters rise or the floods come. Remember the motto of the Scouts movement; 'Be Prepared!'



 

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Baby Steps to Freedom

 

As Covid restrictions ease and, at least legally, end completely in Guernsey after February 17th, and in the UK a couple of weeks later, there will be some of us feeling a bit nervous. The two-year long battle against this unseen but potentially deadly foe has taken its toll on us all, whether we have had Covid or not. Some have lost loved ones whilst many have been shielding, afraid of going out. We are grateful for one of the best vaccination records in the world and for all the care and oversight of our medical and Public Health teams, but it feels strange to be coming out of this pandemic with hundreds of cases in our islands and lots of new ones being discovered each day.


Taking baby steps out of the pandemic is a challenge to our faith, our hope, and our love. Our faith because we must choose not to let fear dominate us in the aftermath of all we have been through. Our trust in God means that we need to heed the many ‘fear nots’ in the Bible (some say that there are 366 – one for every day of the year and one for a leap year) and choose to be grateful for the amazing grace that has seen us through thus far and will take us forwards. Faith in our dedicated public health and medical teams is also well founded given their track record. And hope, because ultimately our hope is in God, his faithfulness, and his promises. The opposite of hope is despair and no good ever came out of that, so we don’t want to go there. Keeping a positive and hopeful attitude can see us through the most appalling difficulties if we put our trust in God, so as we climb up the other side of this viral valley it is needed more than ever.

Love means that we recognise that not everybody is travelling out of this pandemic at the same speed. Some feel very unsure, vulnerable, and uncertain, while others are bruised by grief, financial hardship, and loss. We can help one another by respect and patience and by simple words of encouragement that can lift a heavy load. Faith, hope and love may be the three main virtues of the Christian faith, but they make good sense for people of all faiths or of none as we move into the uncharted waters of recovery from a devastating global pandemic.