Archive | April, 2014

April 30th – Eleanor



Yesterday we are talking about grieving and how hard it is, if not impossible, to enter into another’s grief. Well, let me tell you about Eleanor.
It’s years ago now, but the first time she came into the church where I was Pastor, she rushed out at the end of the service, eyes red and wet. I was quicker to the door, and before she got down the front steps I caught up with her, and we spoke. She explained “My husband died recently, and I cannot get over it. This church is too crowded for me, and the worship too joyful. Sorry, I’m afraid you won’t see me again. I just can’t stand it”. I managed to get her address,and she left in some confusion. But she had sat next to one of our members, a widow herself, who had spoken to her, and the next day paid her a long visit. She listened, and listened, while Eleanor sobbed and poured out her heart’s grief. They wept together.
I visited two days later, to find that Eleanor now had a true friend at the church, and she just might come again. She was a little brighter.She did: in fact she never missed a service, and some months later she was invited by the Church to become my first Pastoral Assistant. She was reluctant, even terrified, but she said she would try. She was God’s gift to all, especially those who were bereaved, or grieving, or hurt.Her own heartbreak was healing, as she ministered by listening to others, and caring for them.She and Valerie, that first friend she made at the church, became soul-mates and together were a wonderfully powerful team in the larger team of pastoral ministry. It was Eleanor herself who said “I discovered that shouldering another’s burdens lightened my own.” Quite an under-statement. Bless her!

“Brothers, if someone is caught in sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.But watch yourself,or you also may be tempted. Carry each others burdens,and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:1-2

A Prayer:
Help us dear Lord: to shoulder those burdens which only we can bear,to cast on you those burdens which only you can bear, and to distinguish one from the other.

Now read Nehemiah Ch.1.

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April 29th – Coping with grief



I have just finished reading a book by an old friend from the past, a minister who lives abroad and who lost his wife three years ago. The book is about his torment and grief, through that time of solitariness. It is a poignant testimony to human love, and I’m not sure how to respond to it.There is something in our British upbringing which shies away from ‘too much’ personal confession of searing grief.To describe it without complaining, to reveal the pain, and anguish without expecting anyone to understand, is a rare gift because those who are not bereft cannot ever feel the desolation of those who do.
C.S. Lewis did touch the world when he wrote under another name a book called “A Grief Observed”, but it was so superbly observed and written that the world made it a best seller before it knew who was the author.But that’s just the point.People don’t really want to know too much about our bereavement.It’s far too painful.It can so easily become a demonstration of self pity-and in any case it reminds the living of their dying. ‘Change the subject’ we all cry. ‘Let’s not be morbid’.

Yet, it is true that to love is to be vulnerable, to lose the one you love most can be too terrible a mental torture to conceive.It is also true that when it does happen, no one understands, for even if people have themselves gone through grieving, a newly bereaved is a newly wounded, lonely spirit, a bleeding soul whom only God can heal and help.Time alone doesn’t always heal.It is God alone who heals the memory, but it is a process which does demand enormous courage and a great struggle with mental and spiritual pain.

When King David learned his rebellious son Absalom was dead he was heartbroken, and no one understood his grief. II Samuel 18: 32 to 19: 2.
“The king asked the Cushite: “Is the young man, Absalom safe?” The Cushite replied, “May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up to harm you be like that young man.” The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept.As he went, he said: “O my son, Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you-O Absalom, my son, my son!”
Joab was told “The king is weeping and mourning for Absalom.” And for the whole army the victory that day was turned into mourning, because on that day the troops heard it said “The king is grieving for his son.”

A Prayer
“Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen. Nobody knows-but Jesus.”

Now read Psalm 23.

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April 28th – The offer of Free Bread



I do love poetry,and that’s surprising, considering that I was put off the whole subject for over 20 years, simply by the way I was introduced to the subject as a child at school.Charles Causley, many of whose poems I love, called one of his pieces: “The Ballard of the Bread Man”.There is no time to read it all now, but it begins:
Mary stood in the kitchen, Baking a loaf of bread, An angel flew in through the window. ‘We’ve a job for you’ he said.
‘God in his big gold heaven, Sitting in his big blue chair, Wanted a mother for his little son. Suddenly saw you there.’
Mary shook and trembled, ‘It isn’t true what you say’.
‘Don’t say that’ said the angel. ‘The baby’s on its way.’

The poem continues, describing the impact of Jesus and his ministry:
He went round to all the people, A paper crown on his head.
Here is some bread from my father. Take, eat, he said.
Nobody seemed very hungry. Nobody seemed to care.
Nobody saw the god in himself Quietly standing there.
He finished up in the papers. He came to a very bad end.
He was charged with bringing the living to life.
No man was that prisoner’s friend.
There’s only one kind of punishment to fit that kind of crime.
They rigged a trial and shot him dead. They were only just in time.
They lifted the young man by the leg, they lifted him by the arm,
They locked him in a cathedral in case he came to harm.
They stored him safe as water, under seven rocks.
One Sunday morning he burst out, like a jack-in-the-box.
Through the town he went walking.
He showed them the holes in his head.
Now do you want any loaves? he cried.
‘Not today’ they said.

A Prayer:
Forgive, O Lord, the people you created to be your sons and daughters. We see all you have done for us.We hear all your words of invitation,but we remain so iron-clad indifferent to your ravishing love.Bring the living to life – this day, O Lord.

Now read Exodus Ch. 16.

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April 27th – Before chopping the tree, examine the fruit



The Reverend Dr. Mark Stibbe is an Anglican vicar, and as I write this, is ministering in a Sheffield parish and is lecturing in Biblical theology at the University of Sheffield. In short, he is a well-respected, academic and evangelical church leader, with his head well screwed on.
In a book review, and an article on what has become known as “The Toronto Blessing” he went to the Toronto Vineyard Church to see for himself, but he says: “I went to Toronto weary of my ministry and on the point of giving up”. While he was there being helped, on the second day, quietly praying after an address, one of the Ministry Team (a complete stranger) came to him and prayed : “Lord, minister to the sense of abandonment in this man’s heart.” That struck him like a sword. What that stranger did not know was that Mark had been abandoned at birth by his mother, as well as his father, and he spent his first months of life in an orphanage.
This encounter led him, for the first time, to go sobbing it all out, to forgiving, and being healed, and receiving love which had never before percolated to that depth of his being.His advice was,as God put his life together, do not be unsettled by the phenomena which people associate with Toronto and other places of renewal phenomena (laughing,crying, laying flat out on the floor). Look at the fruit it produces.
Perhaps it is not our opinions of the noisy phenomena which are relevant, but our willingness to stop trying to ‘do church’ our way, and let God do it his way.
Before all this took place Mark Stibbe had been led to these words in Zechariah, Chapter 4, v.6, originally spoken to a leader in Judah for the new king’s ears:
So he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit’ says the Lord Almighty.” Zechariah 4:6

A Prayer:
Lord, you don’t need my opinions about spiritual revival. You need only my obedience to take my sticky hands off the wheel and let you drive.

P.S. A minister friend, who went to Pensicola, told me he came back shattered by the sense of God’s Holiness: “I felt I had never prayed before” he said.

Now read I Corinthians Ch.14.

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April 26th – Spared; for what ?



I have known of people who were delivered from death in some extra-ordinary way and the experience transformed. them I understand that Martin Luther’s first sense of call to follow Christ came when he and a friend went walking through a storm, and lightning struck his companion and killed him. Luther wondered for what purpose he had been spared.
St. Richard, who was born in 1197 of lowly origins. His father died while he was yet at school, and treacherous guardians exploited him and his elder brother, so he left school to help his brother who was expected to farm bare and poor land.While Richard was in Oxford he had a remarkable experience. He had been invited out to dine and had just seated himself, when a messenger called him from the table saying ‘a stranger is at the door to see you at once’. Richard hurried to the door but there was no visitor and no one to be seen.He returned to the dining hall to find the guests in great consternation, for in his brief absence a huge part of the roof had fallen onto the very seat he had just vacated. What awesome timing!

When Richard became a priest many stories of his humble, loving, Christ-like spirit abounded. Even as Bishop of Chichester he lived in poverty and cheerfulness, encouraging all, quoting the Bible that the apostles went with joy from the presence of the Jewish council rejoicing that they were considered worthy to suffer such reproach in the name of Jesus. This is from the Sermon on the Mount.
“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, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you”.Matthew 5: 11-12

Today, the prayer of St. Richard:
Thanks be to you, Lord Jesus Christ, for all the pains and insults you have born for us and for all the benefits you have wrought for us. O most merciful Redeemer, friend and brother, may we see you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, for your mercy’s sake.

Now read Daniel Ch.6.

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April 25th – Testing Times for Christians



John Wesley was a man of the spirit, and many are the examples which are quoted from his life story to illustrate his Christian influence.This is from his diary, and it moves me more than many of the great spiritual phenomena for which our age hungers so plaintively.
“In the evening I was preaching at St Ives. Satan began to fight for his kingdom.The mob of the town burst into the room and created much disturbance; roaring, and striking those that stood in the way, as though Legion himself possessed them.I would fain have persuaded our people to stand still;but the zeal of some and the fear of others had no ears:so that finding the uproar increase, I went into the midst and brought the head of the mob up with me to the desk.I received but one blow on the side of the head: after which we reasoned the case, till he grew milder and milder, and at length undertook to quiet his companions.”
Doesn’t that speak volumes?

How many blows has your head received in defending the gospel of Christ lately? Wouldn’t we have the police on them? Nurse our wounds? Take them to court? I am sure we wouldn’t wipe away the blood and keep on preaching Christ without losing our cool, our tempers, or being overcome with self pity. No wonder Wesley won hard-hearted men and women to Christ.He loved them enough to suffer at their hands, till he’d won them over.
Jesus can do this with ordinary people who are not afraid of speaking up for him. Even getting hurt for him.
Jesus said:
Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me?”
“You are demon-possessed” the crowd answered, “Who is trying to kill you?”
At that point some of the people of Jerusalem began to ask, “Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill? Here he is, speaking publicly, and ;they are not saying a word to him. Have the authorities really concluded that he is the Christ?”. John 7: 19-20, 25-26

A Prayer:
Lord, look upon us.We speak of taking up our crosses to follow you,then scream murder when assaulted by pin pricks.

Now read Job Chs. 1 and 2 (I know it’s a long passage for today, but it is worth it).

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April 24th – Losing The Dead Weight



I just don’t know how human beings cope with this burden.The sheer crushing weight of unforgiven sin. Even a small argument ending in bad feeling completely ruins my week. It is not possible to live at all freely when we are under a deep conviction of sin – when loaded down under a sense of guilt or of personal deceit.
O yes, we can muster a reserve of defiance, and in a kind of madness, fight to preserve our dignity, covering up wrong-doing, finding excuses, even congratulating ourselves on our ingenuity. But I am aware, at the same time, of being separated, cut-off from God, and from those who trust me. I’m even split within myself – defiantly deadening my own conscience. Unconfessed sin is not only a weight of misery, it is like a cancer in our souls. Why, even cancelled sins can remain a burden when, although God has forgiven us, we cannot forgive ourselves. The burden still presses down.
Thank God for Psalm 32, which calls all of us to confess and rejoice in forgiven-ness – to have our slates wiped clean. Now, in the Old Testament, sins “with a high hand” were excluded from free forgiveness! This corresponds with the New Testament’s sin against the Holy Spirit.The insolent, impenitent, obdurate rejection of God’s offer.After all, you can’t forgive someone who refuses to be forgiven.You can forgive, but if it is rejected the relationship remains severed.

How blessed are they who come to Jesus Messiah, the human soul’s true hiding place, where sins admitted and confessed in penitence are forgiven, where minds and consciences are washed spotlessly clean, where chains fall away, where gratitude replaces guilt and joy replaces judgement, where love’s obligation is a celebration of gratitude.
These are verses from Psalm 32:
“Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.
You are my hiding place;you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.”

Now read, and pray, all of Psalm 32.

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April 23rd – The Theologian of the Bible



There is a massive set of facts which the Christian church hardly ever mentions, let alone placards, and of which the world knows nothing.I mean this.The whole church throughout the whole world.Ancient and modern. Eastern and Western.Third world and western world. All ages, they are one, on how they see the Jewish scriptures, the Old Testament.
What’s that, you say? Surely there is a great diversity in this vast panorama of history we call The Old Testament? Yes: It’s like a vast continent, but the marvel is that the main outline, the crucial goal and purpose of it is seen through the eyes, the teaching and the mind of Jesus of Nazareth. It is his interpretation of the Law of Moses, and all the prophets. It is his understanding and doctrine of the Kingdom of God.It is his interpretation and embodiment of the Jewish Messiah as the suffering servant, the atoning sacrifice of God in and for Israel, and the whole world.The God revealed in the Old Testament is seen by all Christians through Jesus’ eyes.

In short, Jesus of Nazareth IS THE theologian of the New Testament.
Not Paul, not Peter, not councils of later bishops, or anyone else: Jesus alone.

There are hundreds of ways in which the Jewish scriptures and history can be interpreted.Is it not a marvel that all over the Christian world, from Eastern Orthodox to Brazilian Baptists,from Roman Catholics to house churches, from first century Jerusalem to modern British believers,Christians are ONE in the way they see and teach the Old Testament’s fulfilment in Jesus of Nazareth – the Messiah.Who else has the right to quote God’s Holy Law, and then say “But I say to you ….” ?
You have heard that it was said to the people long ago ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgement’. But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgement” Matthew 5: 21-22a

A Prayer from Hebrews Ch.1:
Almighty God, who in the past spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in variegated ways, but who in these last days he has spoken to us by your Son, whom you appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. We marvel and magnify your holy name through Jesus Messiah, our Lord.

Now read Matthew Ch.13 and notice the teaching of Jesus of the Kingdom of God in one chapter.

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April 22nd – The Eternal Question



‘Who is Jesus?’
In John’s Gospel Chapter 7 we read a number of people’s opinions about Jesus.These were just ordinary folk, confronted by him, and they said what they thought. ‘He’s a good man’, some said, others ‘He’s a con man’; or as Eugene H. Peterson translates it in his cute old American reference to carpet baggers of the Old West -’Not so, he’s selling snake oil’. ‘You’re ‘crazy’ said the religious to him, ‘as if we were trying to kill you’. ‘He could be the Messiah’ said some. ‘The Messiah himself could not do more than this man Jesus does’.In the populace some said ‘This has to be the prophet’, some ‘He is the Messiah’.Thus the crowd was divided about him.Police sent to arrest him explained why they hadn’t brought him in ‘We’ve never heard anyone speak like this man’, and so it went on.
Who IS Jesus? Who is this man who says the things that only God has the right to say, who does things only God has the power to do? Who is he?
All men and women pass their opinions. Christian followers declare – ‘This is the Son of God’; ‘He is the express image of the invisible God’; ‘the Saviour of the world’; ‘the word made flesh’; the intelligence, ‘the wisdom and the power of Go’: the lowly one who is enthroned above all: the Messiah of the Jews: the mediator twixt heaven and earth: the total embodiment in human flesh and blood of the one invisible, almighty God, who is from all eternity – God. Who do you say he is? This is Paul’s understanding in Colossians 1:15-17 and 19.
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or power or rulers or authorities;all things were created by him and for him.He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him”.

A Prayer:
Glory be to you, Lord Jesus, Messiah,for by your life and death, your resurrection and ascension, you have opened the Kingdom of God for all who trust you.

Now read Colossians 1: 13-29

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April 21st – Free…I make myself a slave…to win some



Recently I read a remarkable story of a modern woman who lived in a village. She had drifted far from Christ, came back to him and renounced all her involvement in shady things, including the reading of tarot cards, and in Christian love she befriended a gang of youths in her village.They were a bored, aggressive, violent gang.The village’s No.1 enemies, always in trouble with the police.She got to know them, and after a long process of listening to them, of teaching the Bible, she led them one by one to Christ.The vicar baptised them in the local swimming pool, and as their old selves were buried in believer’s baptism, and came up to live their life in Christ who had embraced them, and become their master and friend.

Most Christians I know would shout ‘Do that in our town Lord!’, and long for such a series of miraculous responses to the gospel,but we would be ignoring the price which that woman paid.She took up the cross when she befriended the gang.Her husband was not happy about his space being invaded by those raucous lads.Her children forfeited their cosy and private home, and their rights to their mum’s exclusive attention.The garden was trampled down. Their caravan was set on fire.She even led them in scrubbing their own graffiti off the church walls!
These were damaged lads, who needed loving, accepting and leading, and she took it on for Jesus’ sake, resisting the vandalism, crime, drug dealing and witchcraft in which they had all lived.She was Christ’s agent, rescuing them,but she had to take up his cross to win them.
Self denial is a lot more than giving up chocolate for Lent – you know.
“Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples, and said “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” Mark 8: 34-35

A Prayer:
Lord, deliver your servants from seeking fruits for which there has been no labour, and help us change our Christian cushions for crosses.

Now read II Corinthians Ch. 6

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Thought 4 The Day

Do not with hold discipline from a child. Your punishment will not kill him, but without it he may kill himself.

Through the year calendar

October 2017
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Click on any previous date in the above calendar to read the relevant Through The Year post
Believe it or Not
Sometimes you just can't believe it's true!
A Word in Time
Life has a funny way of connecting us all!
Cooke's Tour of The Bible
Frank Cooke's journey through the Old and New Testaments
Take 2
Some useful life lessons
Mind Stretchers
An open mind is a healthy mind!
Bible Bloopers
Even the Bible has its funnies!