Hope and the End of Summer.

I've always found the end of summer to be a moment of reflection. In some ways the start of September has always felt a little like New Year's Day, a moment where we can pause and take stock of what has happened across the sunny months. 

For many of our children the end of summer can bring a mixture of anxiety and excitement as they start at a new school or go back to a new class; the excitement of making and seeing friends and the nagging worry that it might not all be okay. For parents, the bittersweet feeling of getting back to the term time routine; but the sadness of not being able to see as much of the children. Our young people are heading to college or university for the first time, scared and excited all at once. Exams feel a lifetime ago, a page turned in June ending one chapter and opening up a new one. 

For others the summer brought space and time to reflect on what comes next. We met with Jesus at festivals and in living rooms and out in nature. We feel we had a glimpse of his heart for us and we will make plans to reach for those things. 

For many of us at Hay Hill this summer has felt significant. Some have seen family and friends begin married life. Others have seen loved ones pass on to be with Jesus. Others of us wish we could rewind to July and live the summer again, but with completely different outcomes. We'd ask for the health issues of our own or our loved ones to be different. We'd ask for a rerun that didn't involve quite so much pain. Others of us look at the summer as opportunity wasted, time lost to waiting for something that didn't show up; we reach September with regret. Others, arrive to the turning of August to September and feel no significance in the summer at all. It marks nothing but another few weeks of the life we lead; the routine, the mundane and the expected.

Whatever our summer entailed with all of the joy and tragedy that one season can bring, let us enter this season filled with hope that the God who walked with us to this point will continue with us from here. Let us cling to the hope that the author of our lives will write them to a glorious completion; life with him.

In Romans 12:9 Paul tells us to cling to what to is good. What is good? God is good. Love is good. Hope is good. However you have arrived at the end of summer choose to cling to Him, the one who loves you more than you can possibly imagine. Cling to the hope that he will continue to be with you. Hope that he has blessing for you to enjoy and to share.

There is an old phrase that describes Jesus as 'anchor of the soul.' I love it as an idea. That in spite of the tumults and tempests of life, down in the depths he is holding us safely in place, and He will not be moved. May we come to the end of the summer and fasten ourselves to that anchor that will remain strong and secure as the life around us and within us rises and falls. My we enter this season with a fresh trust in who He is and what He does.

 

Recognising Jesus.

About once a year in the church I grew up in someone would tell the story of the man stuck on his roof during a flood. The man cried to God for help. A few moments later a speedboat came past. The man didn't get on the speedboat. A helicopter comes past. the man chose not to get airlifted. A canoe comes past. He stays put. The man then comes to his senses and he is stood before God at the gates of Heaven. 'Why didn't you save me?' he asks. 'I sent a canoe, a helicopter and a speedboat but you chose not to receive them,' comes the reply. It's a clichéd story for me personally, but it has a very good message. 

I wonder sometimes if I am any good at recognising Jesus' work in my life. There are a few moments looking back where I can see that God was clearly moving in the details to bring about his purposes but at the time I felt lost and cast adrift; tossed by the waves. I remember working for 12 years in church ministry and then suddenly finding myself as a Phlebotomist. Most days that year when I worked in the hospital I felt lost and far from what God had called me to, but in retrospect I wasn't paying enough attention. What felt like frustration and a wrong turn actually was a year of healing and refreshment. I was angry that I wasn't pursuing my 'calling'; God was working on my heart.

What I didn't realise until the end of my year in phlebotomy was that I had started it in broken pieces. Other people could see it clearly but I lived in denial. I had convinced myself that I was in good shape, strong, energised and envisioned but in reality I was tired, dry and cynical. I spent a year asking God to 'save me' and to put me back where I belonged but I already was being saved. The very thing I wanted to be saved from was the thing that was using to save me. 

We make a huge mistake when we presuppose that God works only in certain ways. We wander furthest when we expect him to only lead us in straight lines and on the shortest route when often he takes us through twists and turns and the long way round. We keep walking straight ahead and he is calling us off to one side.

In the book of Joshua we see the Hebrew people win a victory at Jericho and, emboldened by their success, head straight off towards Ai. They suffer a huge defeat. God's priority was not Ai, he wanted to work on the greed within their camp which was buried under Achan's tent (Joshua 7.) God was working but Joshua had missed it. It didn't look like what was expected. 

We mustn't make the mistake that Joshua and those who saw Jesus at the Festival of Tabernacles (John 7) made. Jesus couldn't be who he said he was because of an obscure theological reason. Sometimes we miss the boat of God's blessing in our lives because it doesn't look like what we expected. 

Let's pray today that God opens our eyes, ears and hearts to receive his blessings. Ask him to place spotlights on his kindness and to amplify his words of hope. Pray that he softens our hearts, in the midst of the craziness and tragedy of life in 2016, to feel his care for us. May we be people who live wide open to receiving his blessings and to sharing them with those around us. 

 

A still small voice

Like every good Sunday school kid I remember the story of Elijah on the mountain top watching the Lord pass by. For those who don't remember the story, in short, it goes like this. The Lord calls to Elijah and tells him to stand on a rock and watch for The Lord to pass by. Elijah duly obliges. 

There is a wind so powerful that it tears rocks from their place. The Lord was not in the wind. The wind is followed by an earthquake. The Lord is not in the earthquake. The earthquake is followed by a fire. The Lord is not in the fire. As the fire dies down Elijah hears a still, small voice. Quiet and peaceful. The Lord was in the voice. The Lord was in the quiet. His passing by was in the stillness, not in the noise. 

These past two weeks have felt chaotic; wind, earthquake and fire. Resignation upon resignation. Momentous political changes that will impact generations for good or for bad. An apparent desire for some in our parliament, on both sides of the house,  to push a self-destruct button. The fortnight rounds up with the Chilcot Enquiry reminding us of our human condition, laden with frailty and the ability to cause unrelenting harm to one another.

At times it has been hard to know what or whom to trust, the media promises doom no matter what we decide. Our politicians seem to change course at a moments notice. Where is God in all of this? 

Will we hear him in the talking heads all bellicose and educated disagreeing ever more loudly on our screen? Will we hear him in the reflection and regret of the mistaken flexing of military muscle? Will we hear him in the creaking and apparent crumbling of decades old political parties and international alliances? The world is a noisy place at the moment and yet, I believe God is speaking clearly to us, but not in the noise, in a still small voice. 

It is hard to draw our attention away from the events of the world. It seems that once we begin to gain our senses from one shock another one lands. More than ever it feels important to steal moments of calm and silence in which we can hear His voice. Take time to listen, to rest your mind and soul and to hear Him. Listen for His voice hope, listen for His promises to be with you in all of this, listen for His comfort and peace. 

The day after the day after tomorrow

We will all wake up on Friday and go about our days as normal. Of course, those of us (myself included) who are prone to staying up late to watch results of elections roll in and watch Jeremy Vine prance around in front of a green screen will probably be a little bleary eyed from a late night spent with Laura Kuenssberg, Jon Snow, Faisal Islam or your political correspondent of choice. We will have our breakfast, yawn through a cup of coffee and do much of what we did before. On Friday, very little will be different but a lot will have changed. A lot already has changed. 

We will wake up on Friday 24th June to discover the will of the people regarding our membership of the European Union. Whether we vote for one annoying portmanteau, Brexit, or another equally annoying portmanteau, Bremain, we will not wake up in the same United Kingdom that we have known. Things are different now. The past few months of campaigning have altered the mood, cohesiveness and stability of our country no matter how we vote. The status quo is gone. 

If you read the news, or watch Question Time or scan your social media timelines, you will see that running through every discussion of this referendum, whether through the core or the edge of the debate, is a seemingly intrenched anger at the other side. Of course, like all generalisations, we can recall exceptions to the rule, but my overarching experience of the debate is that it has veered towards the deeply unpleasant more often than it has stayed dignified and honouring. I’ve watched friends who I have known for years, shared meals with, laughed late into the night with, tear strips of one another on Facebook. I’ve seen decent people with legitimate concerns branded racist or xenophobic. I’ve seen other decent people with legitimate concerns branded treacherous enemies of democracy and freedom. Our society is in a very different place to where it was a few short months ago. Resentment and division has boiled over in many of our hearts.

One of the watch words of this debate has been instability. If we leave we will see an economic crash triggered by uncertainty in the UK. If we stay we will see an economic crash triggered by uncertainty in the Eurozone. Yet, no matter what happens we will be entering an uncertain time. Our cabinet and opposition have divided along lines and screamed liar at each other through the loud hailer of the mainstream media. Cabinet Ministers have called their own Prime Minister a liar repeatedly. No matter what happens, stay or leave, we are faced with a government that needs to rebuild itself and mend relationships. Freedom to campaign quickly became freedom to insult and that didn’t just trickle down to the the rest of us; it torrented. Our nation will wake up on Friday divided. Divided by how we voted, how we spoke to one another these past few months but also divided by victory and loss. 

The day after day after the day after tomorrow we are faced with the task of pursuing reconciliation.  There are apologies to make and forgiveness to offer. There are children who will need to forgive their parents for how they voted as it put their sense of how they wanted their own futures to play out. There will be colleagues who will need to forgive words spoken in the passion of political debate. There are politicians and journalists who will need to rebuild bridges they burnt in in the heat of the moment, stood in front of a battle bus or on a factory floor in Tamworth. There is work to do on Friday. 

I’m always uncomfortable with those who use the Bible to back a political position like the referendum. There are many out there, interestingly the Bible is clearly in support of both sides. Interpretation is king. I have my opinion, informed by my faith but more so by statistics and political opinion and I know how I will vote on Thursday. I am happy though, to use the Bible to talk about how we should seek reconciliation. The story of the Bible is one of division and reconciliation; a story of broken and restored relationship between God and humanity. It is a story that feels relevant as I look towards Friday. 

The narrative of the Bible doesn’t follow the path of most stories of redemption. Most relationships are restored when the aggressor apologises to the one they have hurt. I become aware of how I have wronged you and apologise and receive your forgiveness and from that moment of agreement we rebuild. The story of the Bible is different, God reaches to those who hurt him. offering grace and forgiveness because they were more important to him than the hurt he had felt. Whether you believe the Bible to be true or not the principle remains, reconciliation is pursued by the one who has been hurt. 

On Friday morning wake up and accept the news as best you can but decide now how to be a voice reconciliation. Examine yourself and decide to apologise for the hurt you may have caused, the assumptions you’ve made, the names you have called, the slurs you have thrown. Decide now how you can reach a hand of friendship to those who took the other view. Decide now how you can work with them to build a better nation. Decide now that they are more important to you than the words they spoke to you. Offer forgiveness whether an apology comes or not. Offer kindness whether it is returned or not. Whether we remain in relationship with the EU or we sever those ties, we must work to remain together as nation. We must work towards cohesion.

I don’t think any of us would have predicted how ugly the political discourse could have become these past few months, but it has left a sour taste in many of our mouths. Lets work together across our in/out divide to create better communities and families and friendships no matter what happens. We are better together than we are apart. 

Breaking the routine

A great hero of mine once said, 'it isn't addiction or sin that will make most of us ineffective in changing the world. It is routine.' Whilst I think that routine is important for much of life I think he is onto something. Perhaps running to the same routine for a long time, whilst providing stability to life, does in some ways create a predictability to every day. Routine, if given control of life can narrow our vision for what could happen in any given day. 

My education suggested to me that routine was the wisest way to live. If planned everything well in advance I could essentially cover all the bases and perhaps even avoid certain outcomes from ever happening. When it comes to education that is a sensible approach. When it comes to family life, again there is something sensible in that. It is good to know where the people you love or live with are at any given time should some emergency arrive. However, when it comes to church communities I think it is dangerous to allow our life to fall into a routine. 

If you were to ask me today what sets the rhythm of our church or 'what is the church's heartbeat?' I would have to say that our church at Hay Hill runs to a rhythm set by Sunday mornings. We gather, we go back to our lives, we gather again, (repeat as appropriate). In our church Sunday mornings are the punctuation of our community, they are the breathing in moments as we start our week. 

I do wonder sometimes, if rather than being a place to recharge together for a week of living out our faith, if our services becoming a little routine. Do we know what is going to happen already? Some songs, children leave, a talk, a prayer, some more coffee. There is safety in the familiarity of this but what are our expectations. Could something surprising happen? Do we expect our lives to change in anyway when we gather? Perhaps some of us do, perhaps some of us don't. 

There is a verse in Ephesians 5:15, that exhorts us to walk wisely. I have thought often about what it might mean in context of routine. Is it wise to allow ourselves to expect the same thing every week, or can we consciously choose to break free from expectation and seek something else. As we gather together may we foster an expectation that God is with us and ready to surprise us with his grace and generosity. May our routine be littered with out of the ordinary moments that point us towards Him. 

If God is on our side...

I grew up obsessed with Star Wars. It does my heart good to see a new round of movies and spin offs grabbing the hearts of a new generation. The less said about the prequel movies the better. I also lay belly down, head on my hands watching classic tv shows like Thundercats and He-Man. My toy box was full of Star Wars, Action Force and MASK toys with which I would run epic adventure and battle sequences around my bedroom and garden. I was always on the side of the goodies. Vader and Mum-ra always lost. Liono, Luke and Han always won. 

Of course these shows appeal to something deep within our psyche that the world is binary. There are two kinds of people; good and evil and ultimately the good people will win. Whilst there are of course things in the world that show the propensity within humanity to commit hideous acts of evil and incredible acts of goodness this is a definition without nuance. Even the worst offenders are capable of loving their own children well. Within each of is the capacity to be simultaneously good and evil; cruel and loving.

Perhaps it is a hangover from a century of conflict; two world wars, a cold war and endless strife in the Middle East to name a few but Christianity has absorbed this binary understanding of humanity. Whether that is in the resurgence of strongly phrased 'us and them' theology around some being chosen by God and others not or the belief that 'the world' is out to get Christians, there is an obvious cultural trope within Christianity that we are the good people and 'they are the evil ones. 

So when we come to verses like Romans 8:31, 'if God is for us then who can be against us.' It reads as a militaristic promise of victory over 'the others.' My Facebook timeline is often littered with this verse tacked on to a story about a Christian claiming persecution in the face of making choices to proselytise in the canteen at work despite repeated warnings not to, or a B and B owner being sued for evicting a couple who's lifestyle he disapproved of. The message in each case is clear, 'we will overcome these people. God is for us but not for them.' 

Yet when Jesus died he died for the whole world. When he came to bless he came to bless the whole world. When God is for us, He is for all of us. When redemption of a situation comes it is the heart of God to redeem everyone involved. He is for the aggressor, yet he abhors their actions and may rise in defence of their victim. He is for all of us. 

When God goes to war he does not go against people but against brokenness and pain. When God sends redemption he sends it to us all. He is for all of us, who could be against us. He doesn't fly the flag of the empire or the rebels, His Kingdom is everywhere and it for everyone. 

Doubled Down

There is a phrase that I am hearing a lot recently, mainly in reference to political figures like Donald Trump. The phrase is, 'double down.' From what I can tell it means that someone has not only said something controversial or of note once but when questioned on it has repeated it with even more vigour. You can see why it gets bandied around in the same breath as the name Trump.

The phrase came to mind today when considering a couple of verses in the Bible. The first in Ephesians, the writer compares the love of a husband for his bride as the love that Christ has for the church. The church is the Bride of Christ. This draws from Jesus speech in John 14, 'in my Father's house there are many rooms ... I go to prepare a place for you ... that where I am you may also be.' It has been noted that the language in John 14 is the language of betrothal. Jesus is using words that a Jewish man would speak to his betrothed before going to literally prepare a place for her in his father's house. When he returned she would enter the family of his father and gain access to all the blessings that the family possessed. It is a wonderful picture of entering the family God. There is a place for us in this family. 

The Bible however doesn't just leave it there it doubles down on it. In Romans 8:15 we move a step closer into the family of God. We are described by Paul as receiving a Spirit of adoption; we are brought into the family as heirs through adoption. Adoption in our context is beautiful, a child enters into a family and gains the blessings of that family. Adoption in New Testament times went even further. In adopting a child the adopter didn't just identify the child with their family name but identified them with themselves. The authority in the adopter was held by the adopted, the position, influence, wealth etc. all belonged the the adopted as it did the adopter. 

When the Romans read the words Spirit of Adoption it meant something powerful. Not only were the the bride of Christ, loved and cherished by him but they shared his obligations and position. They became co-heirs of the Father, they became sons and daughters of God. 

Knowing that in Christ our acceptance and blessing is 'doubled down' upon brings a great sense of liberation. The Father brings us into the family collectively as a bride and as individual sons and daughters. We are adopted to a life of empowerment, blessing and love with Him. On the bad days that is worth remembering. 

Sing a new song

hymns.jpg

"He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in him." Psalm 40:3

Singing has been central to the Christian tradition from the beginning. Theologians can pull a few texts out of the New Testament and make strong cases that the writers we wither penning or quoting hymns or spiritual songs. In the early centuries of the church songs were written to teach theology to the believers. Many couldn't read and the best way to learn their faith was to sing it. Rhythm and rhyme led to memorisation. 

That is a common theme throughout history finding a peak with the Wesley brothers and the rise of Methodism. Charles Wesley wrote around 6000 hymns and as a result many understood the message of Jesus at a level they wouldn't have had he not written. 

Today many of our songs are written with a different perspective. Often our songs are written to capture the emotions to guide us into a place of awareness of God. Few are written with theological education in mind; although they definitely have that effect. 

This isn't a thought to compare the two but in fact to show that they are both sides of the same coin. Whether we sing songs of deep theological meaning or more emotional responses to the gospel we are putting a new song on our lips that draw praise from our hearts. 

When asked why we sing in church I always come back to this place. We sing because putting the words of truth and hope on our lips, coupled with the beauty of music we can call our soul to peace and rest. Living in the world is sometimes hard, sometimes our situations tell us that there is no hope, there is no peace to come and where we are now will never change. Singing songs about a God who will never leave us, a God who loves us and came to rescue will draw our hearts to hope in Him. 

If you can find time to sing today do it. Sing about the God who will never let you go; even in the middle of the storms you might be facing. 

The Religious Obstacle Course

A couple of Sundays ago we looked at one of my favourite stories in the Bible. The healing of a disabled man after an encounter with Peter and John on their way to pray. The man sat on the road and begged for money, perhaps because that was all he could hope for. I imagine he had already seen various healers come and go and still he sat there on the roadside everyday. 

There is a great verse at the end of the story in Acts 3 that describes how the man, once healed by God, entered to Temple 'walking and leaping and praising God,' (in the words of the Sunday School classic.) It would be easy to miss the whole meaning of this verse. The man is of course celebrating His healing but it is not by mistake that we are told that He is entering the Temple. 

If we draw some background from another story of a healing, that of a blind man by Jesus, we see that there was a discussion amongst the religious elite as to whether it was the man or his parents whose sin had caused his blindness. In essence the discussion was around why this man was unclean and who else, if anyone should also be excluded from the holy places. 

We can assume that a similar discussion happened around the disabled man in Acts 3. This man, would also have been subject to an inquest. What sin had his parents committed that caused his inability to walk? Had God foreseen the sin in his life and 'pre-punished' him with his disability? Either way, the man's physical impairment would have placed him on the outside of the Temple. He would have deemed unclean and unfit to enter into the worship that happened there. Not only would his impairment have caused him to be unclean but the results of his impairment i.e. begging, sitting in the dirt, an inability to reach ceremonial washing points etc. would also have excluded him.

It is no mistake then that the writer of the story describes him walking and leaping in to the temple. In the mind of a first century Jew, he was walking into the dwelling place of God. He was leaping as close the intimate presence of God as one could go. For the first time in his life, he could enter the courts of the Temple without fear of eviction. For the first time in his life, the obstacles that had been laid between him and his Father God were surmountable. He was free. 

I've had conversations with four different people in the past week who for very different reasons have felt excluded from the church. In each of their stories there is a resonant theme. There have been people in various churches who have built obstacle courses between people and God that are impossible for many to complete. When they have 'failed' the test set for them, some have suffered rejection, judgement and even in one story ridicule for not fitting in or measuring up. 

The reality is that in my own mind I have to remove the obstacles that I have put up between others and God. In my own mind there are lingering remnants of belief, fear and moralism that I have long rejected but that still cause some emotional or learned response in me. Everyday I have to remove ideas of graded sin, homophobia and sexism from my thoughts as I engage with people. In my own mind these remnant thoughts of things I now deem abhorrent still linger and everyday I remove them as I pursue Jesus' way of reconciliation, restoration and acceptance. Perhaps you can recognise similar ideas in your own mind and thoughts. 

If we are to really become a community and a church that is welcoming to all we must face the obstacles we still place in the way of others. There is no greater hypocrisy than to worship in gratitude for Jesus' acceptance of oneself whilst deeming another unworthy of that same unconditional love and acceptance. May we create pathways on which everyone can walk and leap into God's presence, not pathways littered with obstacles that drive them away. 

Rebel, Rebel.

If you follow the established Christian calendar, this past Sunday was Palm Sunday. It marks the start of Holy Week. The beginning of the end of Jesus three year journey to Jerusalem and His ultimate death and resurrection. On Palm Sunday the church reminds itself of the King on a donkey, humbly riding into Jerusalem to the fanfare of the crowds. Palm branches are torn from trees and strewn on the ground in front of the colt-borne Messiah. 

I sometimes think of Jesus as the ultimate illustrator. He speaks simple parables about seeds, salt, trees and vineyards that delve into the depths of the human heart; profoundly uncomplicated yet bursting with meaning. Palm Sunday is another of Jesus perfectly staged illustrations. On the surface it is the simple story of a man taking a journey on a colt but in the depths and shadows of the story Jesus is making the ultimate statement about who He is. 

If you've been in church for any length of time you will have heard a Palm Sunday sermon that talks of the donkey and route chosen as a deliberate fulfilment of Zecariah's prophecy 'Behold your King is coming to you; righteous and victorious is he, humble and riding on a colt.' You'e heard how Jesus choice to fulfil this prophecy was His public statement of His identity. Yet, hidden in story of Palm Sunday is the other side of Jesus ministry; that of the religious and political rebel. 

As Jesus processes the crowd decorate His path. Some lay cloaks in front of Him and others lay palm leaves. It is in the palm leaf that we see the other detail of Jesus statement. Those who plucked the palm leaves and threw them on the ground were making their own statement. Jesus was to lead their rebellion. This was a people living under occupancy of Rome and the desire for revolution constantly bubbled beneath the surface. 

The last great power to occupy Jersualem was the Seleucid Empire in the 2nd Century BC and the last successful revolution was against this power led by the Judah Maccabee. They were triumphant in recapturing Jerusalem and rededicating the temple to God. The Palm branches were a commemoration of Judah Maccabee and marked Jesus as the new revolutionary who would defeat the oppressor and rededicate the temple. He was the new rebel. 

Jesus was about to teach a lesson in what Godly rebellion meant. He was going to reclaim the Temple but not from the Romans. Jesus was going to rebel against the religious. Jesus rebellion was not one of strength but one of submission. Jesus rebellion was not against a political empire but against a religious empire that kept the 'normal' people out there and kept the elite safe on the inside of the Temple. 

Jesus drew the title of rebel leader in order to make the bigger statement. The people's freedom was not being stolen only by the Romans but their greatest freedom was being stolen by religion that bound them as sinful and named them as unworthy. 

As we reflect again on the Easter story of Jesus submission to death in order to open the way to God we must remember that at the centre of the gospel is a message of rebellion. In each of us there is a voice that tells us we must up our game to enter His presence. In each of us is a voice that judges others as not quite clean enough to get close to Him and yet the whole story is about levelling the playing field; because of this story all of our stories can have God at the centre. 

On the first Palm Sunday Jesus started a revolution against the oppressive power of religious powers that can crush our freedom to live and worship God. The Easter story invites us to join him in rebellion and to be people who release captives and set the broken free. Make choices to rebel this Easter.

Going viral

I saw this video on Facebook today, it was posted by three or four of my friends. You may have seen it too. It's a very simple thing, a man laughing on a train. Then, as you may or may not expect his laughter spreads.

I've witnessed something similar before. I was with a short term mission trip as a teenager and we were on a long train journey back to the airport. I was tired and grumpy. Suddenly, three of our team members started to sing. To the best of my memory the song was, I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For (no Irish stereotypes there). Initially, other travellers, myself included, looked on with discomfort but then a few feet began to tap, a couple of people began to hum and by the second chorus people were singing along. Within a few minutes we were a travelling scratch choir. It was a beautiful thing. 

In moments like this we realise that human emotions are infectious. Whether it is the joy of laughter spreading through the faces of a carriage or the hope of a an Irish rock hymn resting on the lips of travellers in both cases emotion spread through the carriage. 

In this, internet age, we use the word going viral for videos like this. The new, cost free marketing strategy is to create something so infectious that it will be shared widely. I think about that a lot. When I consider how we share the message of Jesus I wonder what type of 'virus' we are spreading. I don't mean, 'are we creating clever little clips that will be shared around cyberspace?' I think if a view count is our aim we have lost our way somewhat but what about our message?

I met a friend recently for coffee who said that a lot of young adults they know are leaving churches because they are struggling to communicate that the church is a voice for good news anymore. When I read the comments sections below newspaper articles about Christian things I can see their point. It seems somewhere along the way we became messengers of bad news to a lot of people. For many the church is little more than a pseudo-Victorian, moralist voice, yelling at people we have little or no relationship with. 

Yet the message of Jesus remains The Good News. The message of Jesus continues to be one of hope for the lonely, joy to the weary and release to the captive. The message of Jesus still rescues and liberates. It is still hope, peace and love. It is still good news. 

In your conversation this week speak words of hope. In your relationships bring joy. In your workplaces, homes and communities bring love. These things are infectious and spread like laughter and song in a train carriage. I often wonder how we can be people who change the world. I am more convinced than ever that it happens one moment at a time. In a world where hate-politics is rising and mistrust and blame of the weak is rife we can speak words of life. I honestly, believe they make a difference. 

He is good

Trust can often be hard won and easily lost. In the world of work we must build education, experience and skill in order to win the trust of would-be employers. We trust certain companies and manufacturers more than others based on past performance and experiences with them. In relationships we watch people's behaviour and character and trust grows or shrinks within us based on what we see. Building trust is hard work. 

In today's world it is the same with trusting God. People have had bad experiences with religion and religious people. People have greater access to a wide range of information. We all, also, have histories of disappointments in life. All of these translate to a trust in God being hard won in our lives. So how do we build a life that rests on the foundation of a trust in God's faithfulness to us? The Psalmist says in 119:90, "His faithfulness endures through generations." How do we instil that knowledge in our lives?

The times in which my trust has been broadsided by life are moments of tragedy or loss. The times when my faith has been most shaken has been in the midst of what appears to be an unanswered prayer or a sense of being forgotten by God. In those days of wondering where it all went wrong, I find myself doubting God's actions in the world. I bargain; "is this why I follow you?" I rage; "You've really let me down this time!" and I wallow; "Why would I expect anything more from You?" There have been moments, sometimes rushing on into weeks, when I have held doubt close to my chest and found some comfort in redefining life as without God and meaningless. 

Yet I have always come back from those low points. I have learned where to invest my doubt. I was raised to put my faith in things, but nobody told me where to put my doubt. I am learning to doubt what I feel because it changes like the wind. I have learned to doubt my plans as they often come up short. I have learned to doubt my understanding because I can only see what is my line of vision.

I have also learned where to place my questions. It is not just okay but it is healthy to ask questions of what God may be doing in our lives. If we suppress questions of His actions we are just avoiding the issue. I question His actions and I often rage in disappointment but I never question His character. 

As I look back on my life, and I am sure it is the same for you, I can see that He is good. I can see that He has been faithful and merciful. My life is littered with His kindness, often in the midst of moments where I doubted His existence at all. If I have learned one thing to this date; it is that He is good and He loves us. 

Whatever you are facing this week remember His goodness. When you are struggling to trust His actions, work hard to trust His character. He is good and His faithfulness to you will endure even today. 

Heart burn

In the book of Luke, chapter 24, there is a story of a few of Jesus' followers walking on the road to Emmaus. They are leaving the city of Jerusalem in the aftermath of Jesus' death and unbeknownst to them His resurrection. They are joined by Jesus on the road but they don't recognise Him until after they have shared food together. All of a sudden their eyes are opened and one says to the other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?' 

Perhaps, I am alone, but there are times in my life when I wonder where that 'burning heart' experience goes to. There are of course times when I feel that my faith is strong and full of energy but there are other times when my soul grows cold and reading the Bible feels like a chore rather than anything that sets my heart alight. 

Perhaps it's been years since you've felt anything like what the two travellers describe. Perhaps you can identify a life experience or a moment when the flames started to dim a little. I can remember being on mission trips, or in the middle of an exciting period of church or family life and being so aware of God's activity in my life that my heart burned within me. I can remember the Bible seeming more alive in moments like these. Yet, time and again the heat dissipates and the flame dulls down to embers. 

May we find people to share life with who help us keep the flame of our faith burning. May we bring words of encouragement that point one another to Jesus. May we know the feeling of our hearts burning with us as we walk along the road of life with Jesus. 

Drowning out the silence

Can you imagine what it was like to live through the invention and subsequent mass production of the car? Suddenly the world became a much smaller place. People could travel much faster than they ever could before.

What about the invention and subsequent development of the air transport network? In a matter of years people could travel to all parts of the world in just a day or two.

Those two things revolutionised the world and humanity made huge leaps forward.

Fast forward to 2016. Cars and planes are destroying the planet. Airports are trying to expand because, at some travel hubs terminals can't cope with demand. The skies are rarely quiet over larger cities and the roads are so clogged with traffic at certain times that we had to invent new language to describe it; tailbacks, road rage. Air flight and car travel set us free but we are edging towards a moment where, without changes to fuel and traffic density the benefits will be outweighed by the negatives. 

Most of us can vividly remember the internet revolution. At the start of the 90's, communication was slow. By the turn of the century everywhere was accessible. I had a pen pal as a kid, to my shame i can't even remember their name, but I remember that getting a letter from the heart of Europe was so exciting. It was like peering into another world. Reading through the grammatical errors and strange sentence structures felt exotic. Nowadays, in a matter of seconds I can be speaking to someone on the other side of the globe via any number of communication apps. 

Email changed the world of work. We could communicate with large groups so quickly. Suddenly tasks that took weeks could take hours. The world took a leap forward in efficiency. Add smartphones and social media and we are in a whole new Star Trek-esque world of communication. The whole world lay in the palm of our hands. 

In those days I would get around 10 emails a week. Nowadays I get hundreds per week, maybe more, the vast majority are about The Fat Face sale or Martin 'MoneySavingExpert' Lewis' tips for the week. Most of them remain unread, I get so many work and personal communication emails that the advertising emails couldn't possibly be read. Add on Tweets, Facebook messages, likes, shares, blogs, texts and selfies and I don't know how we keep up. Held at arms length it all looks a little stressful. 

Whilst studying theology, I read a book called The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen. Since then I have always felt that for those of us who build our lives around a relationship with God that silent reflection should be a key aspect of our spiritual life. Or as the Psalmist puts it in Psalm 62,

"For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him."

Somewhere in the silence our souls find hope.

The truth is, more than ever, I am finding it hard to create silent space. My mind and eyes are bombarded by information, tweets, blogs, selfies and cat videos and my honest belief is that it has punched a hole in my hope. 

My eyes are full of chaos, climate chaos, refugee chaos, Junior Doctor contract chaos, earthquake chaos, zika chaos, Stephen Fry chaos, athlete doping chaos, Syria chaos, Saudi chaos, misogyny chaos, equality or lack or it chaos, real world chaos. I cannot get away from it. I carry it in my pocket, I check it in the morning and it tucks me in at night. 

The noise of the world is drowning out the silence from which I've always tuned into my hope. The Light of the world is being extinguished by the dull glow of a phone screen. The still small voice muffled by Spotify and Apple Music. Silence has never been more golden, and that gold has never been harder to find. 

As we seek what God has for us as individuals and a community let's make space for silence. Let's make space to sit with ourselves and with our Father. Let's clear the atmosphere of noise and light and listen to Him again; look for Him again. I believe that in these moments we will find the goodness of the Father who loves us. We will feel hope rising in us again. 

So will you join me in starting with 20 minutes? Phone in a drawer. TV off. Laptop shut. 20 minutes today. 20 minutes tomorrow. 20 minutes the next day. Peace and silence. Quiet and rest. Waiting and listening. 20 minutes could make all the difference. Let hope rise up again.

Timing is everything

Do you remember Gregor Mendel? What about Aaron Sargent? Francis Ronalds? Of that list Mendel is by the far the most well known. I'll help you out if you can't place him. Do you recall as a child in science class having to draw those little square diagrams when studying basic genetics? Well those were dreamt up by Mendel. He had been looking at pea plants and worked out that the colour of flowers of a generation of plants were governed by the plants of the previous generation. He was a genius but was ignored and ridiculed during his lifetime. A man ahead of his time. 

Aaron Sargent was another such man. He proposed that all women should be granted voting rights in the United States 42 years before anyone else was considering it a possibility. And Ronalds? Well Francis Ronalds invented what we essentially know as Morse code, yet he is forgotten. 

There is a long list of forgotten geniuses who were well ahead of their time; missing fame and fortune by the timing of their discoveries. The world wasn't ready for them.

I've heard Jesus referred to as someone before His time. His rejection and crucifixion described as the results of a message that the world wouldn't be ready to hear for decades. Yet we read in the middle of the first chapter of Ephesians that Jesus arrived at exactly the right time. That at the right time everything would be brought under Christ. 

There is great comfort in these words. There is great comfort in knowing a God who is not out of control of things but in due time will reveal the mystery of Christ. In a world of uncertainty we can take refuge in knowing that even when it looks like His actions are wrong or His inaction is inexplicable that somehow He is working for good and that His heart is for all of us. 

Never walk blindly

Figure 1 - Romantically Unsuccessful Boy

Figure 1 - Romantically Unsuccessful Boy

I, like thousands of teenagers before me and thousands more after me, took part in the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme. I no longer have the little badge or the book because the only reason I did the scheme was to look good on my university applications and those days are long behind me. On the occasion of my Silver Award hike I fell ill with food poisoning, I will spare you the privilege of the details. Sadly, I stayed at home as the group of guys I had been on training hikes with set off on there exhibition in the beautiful Northern Irish sunshine (it does exist I promise).

Soon after I was informed by our instructor that I would be doing my final hike two weekends later with a group of girls. To the teenage boy that I was, best described as romantically unsuccessful (see figure 1 for evidence of why.) 2 and half days in the company of girls seemed like an opportunity for me to show myself as 'a bit of a catch.' It of course didn't work out that way. 

In a display of misplaced and naive misogyny I took the role of navigator, nobody else got a chance. I held the map and compass in my hand and with the certainty that only comes with teenage immaturity I stalked off towards a hill in the distance, the wrong hill. In under two hours we were well and truly lost. My navigating and female-impressing skills were less than impressive and far from effective. 

There is a life lesson in this tale of teenage woe. There is a loudly broadcast message in the western world; 'be true to yourself.' I am yet to really know what it really means but I do know this; that if you are anything like me you have moments of certainty in which you are wrong and moments of doubting what is clearly the right path. How easy it is to be over-sure of our ability to be right and to completely miss when we are correct. 

As I have been praying about our future together as a church I am reminded of that little verse in Psalm 119:105, 'Your word is a lamp to my feet; a light to my path. The writer of the Psalms knew well something I need to remind myself of all too often, that reading the Bible and listening for the voice of God found within its pages will guide us. Some how stories of the Hebrews, the disciples, letters, prophecies and songs will speak into our context and show us where to go. 

As we seek His path for us this month lets not neglect to listen for Him in the words of Scripture. Lets speak and pray together, lets discuss and dream but not at the expense of finding His still small voice in the Bible. 

Job Opportunity - Building Repair Project Manager

Building Repair Project Manager

We seek to recruit a time-flexible person with the ability to coordinate their time and arrange the work of others as we seek to repair and update sections of our church building.

The role is to expect 8 hours per week for the first month followed by 4 hours per week commitment for the proceeding months. paid at £100 per week for the first month followed by £50 per week thereafter. Expenses will be recompensed in discussion and at the discretion of the charity trustees of Hay Hill Church. The hours are not expected to be regular, the candidate will be required to be flexible with their time as the work may not fall neatly into 4 or 8 hours per week.

The contract is initially for 3 months and may be extended depending on what work remains incomplete.

Please send a CV and covering letter explaining why you feel you are an ideal candidate for this role to dave.magill@hayhill.org by midday on Sunday 8th February 2016. Interviews will be held between 9th and 13th February 2016.

Your enemy doesn't have a face.

Ephesians 6:12-13

"12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand."

As a child I used to be a big fan of the kids songs at church. I loved the actions and the permission to shout certain words, stamp my feet and have fun. It was my favourite part of the whole experience. Every now and again I find myself being comforted or challenged by words of Scripture and it turns out that those words are fresh in my memory because of songs I sang as a child. One of those songs came from the passage above. 

The words of that passage came to mind today when I read with sadness about a group of Christian leaders in America releasing a statement where they named gay people as the main enemy of the church. In a statement that made me sadder with every paragraph there were lines so angry and graceless that I felt my own anger and gracelessness rising up. As I read, I thought of young people who are already feeling unloved by God as they struggle to come to terms with their feelings, having their worst fears confirmed by the voices of those who appear to be respected voices for our Heavenly Father. I thought of those who believe that the church hates them, having those beliefs embed deeper into their hearts. It was truly maddening.

The word that stood out to me the most was the word enemy. It jumped from the page over and over again and every time it did the words from Ephesians sprung up in my memory. 'Put on the full of armour of God.' It made little sense, why I would need the armour when I am not the one being attacked by these words.

Walking to a meeting earlier I felt it click into place. If we are following Jesus, the one marked by grace and generous love then words like those I read are an attack on us. They are an attack on the gospel of grace that reaches to all, slave or free, male or female, slave or greek, gay or straight, lost or found, or, or, or etc. 

We must put on the armour of God as we stand against the words of hate that are coming from our 'camp.' We must extinguish the flaming arrows that fly from our camp in condemnation of others. We must raise up our shield of faith to protect them against these words of hate. We cannot stay silent and allow this to be the loudest voice of Christianity. 

We must never allow ourselves, or those who claim the name of Jesus to portray God and His church as being at war with flesh and blood. For we are all flesh and blood and there is no distinction between us and anyone else. Let us be a people who fight against the real enemy, rulers, powers and authorities in the spiritual world. Enemies with names like bigotry, hatred, judgementalism, fear, anger and malice. It is these things that are the true enemies of the gospel; it is never a person with a heartbeat and a soul. We must always welcome them as friends. 

Waiting Well

I wonder how you are doing with any resolutions you may have made at the start of the year. Perhaps your resolution was aspirational, to be fitter, to read more, to travel more. For many years I resolved to become fitter but if I am honest with myself I prefer chocolate to a treadmill. 

In years past my failure to stick to my resolutions can be easily explained. I didn't fail because I lacked resolve or desire. I failed because I lacked any plan, I set aspirations and not goals. I didn't say, 'I am going to run 15 miles a week', I said, 'I will get fitter.' Often we can miss what we aim for because the promise we make with ourselves doesn't include any plan for our action. 

The Bible is full of promises from God to His people that come coupled with directions on how to see those promises fulfilled. If we think of the story of Noah' God promises to save Noah and His family but Noah has to build the ark. 

In Deuteronomy 1:21 we see one of these promises. God speaks to the Hebrews through Moses and promises them the land of Canaan but it comes with the direction to go and get it. I know too many people who have believe that God has made promises to them but they don't seem to want to do anything to see that promise come to pass.

Examples of God's promises to people in Scripture that come without a direction are rare. He calls us to go and take hold of His promise. As we head off into 2016 ask revisit the promises of God that you carry in your heart and ask yourself, and ask Him, what is He calling you to do in order to see that promise come to pass. 

Painting in Colour

'In the beginning God created.' The beauty of first line of the Bible has been somewhat lost in recent years as we have allowed ourselves to be dragged into debates about the origins of all things. It is a shame that in an attempt to stand firm in the face of what has been labelled a threat to Christian belief some have turned this verse into a banner from which to argue with scientists. I've never been comfortable with this.

The first chapter of the Bible for me tells me much more about who God is and how He calls us to be than it does about the forming of the universe. The overarching message appears to be that a God of love fills formless and empty voids with colour and life. His imagination for good things releases light into darkness and life into lifeless space. At the end of his creative display he forms us and tells us that we are like Him, we are to be like Him.

We are to be creative beings too. When we see emptiness and darkness we are to allow our imaginations to fill the world with light and life. We are to allow the creative spark that comes from being created in the image of our creator to flow out of us. We are to continue the growth of creation. 

When we look around our city, workplaces and communities we will find ourselves seeing problems to be solved. In these moments may we be people who open our imaginations and ask for the creative God to help us create solutions that bring light and life into these places and relationships. May it be now with us as it was in the beginning with Him.