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Love that will not let me go

I was reminded the other day of a hymn that we don’t ever seem to sing these days. It was sung at funerals a great deal a while ago and so maybe was one of those that became associated with death and so we thought it best not to sing it. It is also an old hymn and, as everyone seems to know, everyone except me, if it is old it is no good. I’m always surprised by how people get so upset when a hymn has thee or wilt in it – come on grow up for goodness sake. Actually, I’m not the only one who thinks this – even some young people think it too!!!!

Anyway, as I’m feeling a rant coming on (it is a good job no one ever reads this stuff) I think I will just let you have the words for you to enjoy.

O Love, that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in Thee;
I give Thee back the life I owe,
That in Thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O Light, that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to Thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in Thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy, that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to Thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain
That morn shall tearless be.

O Cross, that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from Thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.

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What if God threw stuff away like we do?

I hate throwing anything away. This doesn’t mean you can’t get through the door of the Manse for the piles of stuff, but I just hate throwing things away that are broken and it turns out to be cheaper to buy a new one than repair the old one. In the ‘good old days’, whenever they were? Things would get repaired. There would be handy people you could go to (like the Repair Shop on TV), or you just bought the bit you needed and did it yourself. I remember taking a car repair course once and at the end the tutor told us that only older cars could be maintained by us really as the newer cars are all designed so a mechanic just takes out an old bit (after consulting a computer) and put in a new one (usually at great expense, of course). I repair whatever I can, it is amazing what you can get off the Internet, but sometimes there is no option but to throw stuff away.

Come on Chris, get to the point!

There are two.

What are we doing to the planet just throwing everything away? Sometimes stuff isn’t even broken its just out of date – what are we doing? It makes me mad – grrrrr.

The second point is that I’m glad God doesn’t take this view with us. They are broken – throw them away and make a new one. God tested Moses with this idea when he came down the mountain with the ten commandments and the people had already rebelled. “Why don’t I just wipe them out and start again?” Isn’t this what many Atheists think should be happening if God existed? What are they thinking? Why does God let criminals exist? Why not just wipe them out? Why bother with all those broken people? I’m thankful God’s love is so great that he would rather go through repairing us even though the cost to himself is great indeed. We are all broken in some way but thank God he has the patience and love to help us.

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Where do we start with evangelism?

There is a great deal of confusion around about what evenagelism actually is, let alone how we can do it.

For me I think evangelism is simply about sharing your faith with another and how you do that is decided by the person you are talking to.

If someone has reached the point of wanting to become a Christian then a brief description of asking God for forgiveness for sin and an acknowledgement of who Jesus is might result in a prayer and a new life in Christ.

However, these births are not the whole story by any stretch. Most people are no where near making that commitment so using a sins forgiven – Jesus is Lord – prayer model isn’t going to work. Sadly it seems many evangelism courses focus on this approach and it could be why they so often fail.

The majority of the time we will be sowing seeds and gardening. Asking the right questions to encourage people to think about their own beliefs and to examine what Christian belief says. We tend to call this phase apologetics – a much neglected area of Christian discipleship. We are not saying we are sorry but instead explaining Christian belief to those who don’t know.

You could do this couldn’t you? Start just by gently asking a question like – what is it you believe about ….? Where do you get hope from? What troubles you most about the world? etc.

Then you could ask why questions. Why do you believe that? What evidence do you have for that? etc.

This is the biggest work that we are called on to do.

If you are gentle and kind (aka being like Jesus) eventually someone might want to know what you believe (you could probably tell most people even if they don’t ask – just because you have bothered to be interested in what they had to say).

After thousands of these kinds of conversations you might find someone who wants to make a commitment but that only comes after all the other things have been done.

Who do you know that you could ask about what they believe?

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Remember where your tent is

A couple of times whilst wild camping with some young people on Dartmoor I’ve lost my tent in the dark. We arrive at a good place to camp (Dartmoor is open to camp anywhere – well almost anywhere) and in the sunshine we put up the tents. Then meals are cooked and we all gather to spend the evening talking. On some occasions where we gather is some distance from my tent (there is an art in picking the right spot so sometimes tents get spread out). Then night falls and as you can imagine without any lights and on a moonless night it gets very dark indeed. It is then that I realised I wasn’t entirely sure how to get back to my tent. Fortunately I have a good torch and my tent is very reflective in parts so it is fairly easy to find again. Sometimes when the darkness comes we must remember where where our heart, our centre if you like, is. Jesus is the centre of all there is – including all that really matters to us personally in life. When you feel lost in the dark return to Jesus and he will give you shelter. Oh, and always remember where you pitched your tent.

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What is in your pack?

You can tell a lot about a person by seeing what is in their pack. What I mean is that when you go out on the hills you can learn about someone by taking a look at the contents of their pack and how they packed it. Someone inexperienced, for instance, may have all brand new stuff. If your mum packed your bag (you might be surprised how often this happens on DofE) then you might have lots of unnecessary food and a few extra comforts – this tells us about the person, of course, but I’m not spelling it out for you. I carry a lot of stuff when I walk – some of it is because I’ve been so well drilled in the problems that can occur on the hills that I find it necessary to be prepared (I was only ever a Scout for one evening) and it is not unusual that I solve someone else’s problem with what I have carried – this tells you I like to be prepared and ready for anything. Some people pack hardly anything – they are usually either over confident or foolish (or both). This is all very interesting (maybe) but what does it matter to me? Well wherever we go or whatever we face it is important what we carry in our heart, mind and soul. This would be a series of sermons in itself but Jesus did tell us the two most important things to carry in a pack. 1. Love for God and 2. love for others. No one should try to go through life without either of these two.

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Get the right coat to survive the storms

You have to have the right coat. There are some times in life that you begin to wonder why you ever managed to get so much information about something. One of those for me is a coat. For instance did you know that there is no such thing as a fully waterproof coat? At some point all coats fail. I know the benefits of the different materials that coats are made from (I know the difference between a 2 layer and 3 layer Gortex coat for instance). I also know their waterproof property is measured in hydrostatic head and different numbers are required for different activities. I even own 3 different waterproof coats which have different hydrostatic heads for different weather conditions on the hills (I don’t carry all three – I check the weather forecast before I go). In the great outdoors you have to have the right coat and it could mean the difference between life and death in certain situations. Anyway, what I am trying to say is that in life you have to have the right stuff to deal with certain circumstances. I have found that faith in Christ gives me all the protection I could require for the worst of storms and I feel sorry for those who try to face the worst storms without that faith. I don’t have faith just to get me through those storms (that would be a foolish approach to God) but possessing that faith means that whatever comes I have a reason for hope and even confidence. I know that God loves me and God’s love supports me. If you ever have to face a storm I hope you have the right coat – or rather the right faith.

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The heart of worship

I realised I hadn’t posted on my blog for a while so here is something to think about.

What is at the heart of worship?

I think this time of lockdown we have been in has raised all kinds of questions about worship. Many are enjoying the chance to worship together online and it seems they enjoy it more than just something to keep us going. Some would like us to continue it after lockdown. This may be possible – although it may have to be a different time or done with different technology.

However, perhaps this gives us a chance to think about what worship actually is and what should be in it. Much of the online worship I’ve experienced has taken a very traditional approach. Hymns, readings, prayers, sermons, etc. I guess after 2000 years of adjusting to a pattern it might be we have the ideal formulae. However, technology ought to give us all kinds of other ways of doing things.

If we do watch a video of a song, for instance, is that worship or does it need to be connected to readings and a sermon to qualify? If we then watched five songs and had no prayer time would it be worship? If we watched them together would it be communal worship?

Which brings me back to my question of what is at the heart of worship?

I think the clue to the answer is probably in the word heart. Worship has to be about acknowledging who God is and who God is to us personally – but doesn’t that have to come from the heart?

Perhaps the problem is that we need to make a distinction between worship and an act of communal worship. Perhaps, although related, they are different things. Communal worship without the heart of worship in it though is a lifeless and pointless thing. So when does communal worship just become a form of entertainment? Is it wrong to be entertained while we worship? I hope not.

I appreciate there are more questions than answers and whilst I could tell you what I think I would hope that what we are experiencing now gives us the chance to get together and talk through some of these things to see how they might become tools for us in our living out our Christian faith.

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Dartmoor’s story

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The Lord is risen!

Here are my thoughts for Easter morning.

There is something that often seems to be forgotten about the first Easter day. That is the confusion.

I think, maybe, we have become so used to hearing the story as people turn up at the empty tomb, believe Jesus has risen from the dead and go away rejoicing and singing hymns that we miss the reality of what actually happened. The reality of that day is very different if you read the accounts.

The first thing we might notice is that the accounts all tell a slightly different story. This has excited those who need an excuse not to believe but they have always made far too much of those differences.  We all should understand that there is usually a difference in eyewitness accounts – indeed if they were all the same we would be suspicious that there was some deception taking place (I can only imagine the claims that would be made if the gospels all told the exact same story). However, apart from lending credibility, it tells us just how confused the disciples have become (I include the women when I talk about the disciples, by the way, we should not miss the point they were the first witnesses both of the empty tomb and of the risen Jesus).  They don’t all arrive at the tomb and go away believing Jesus has risen. Some of the disciples now see what Jesus has meant and for them it is enough but for most it isn’t.

Then there are the various meetings with the risen Christ. Some have a little trouble recognising Jesus (to my mind not a strange thing when you have seen someone executed and then see them again – if I saw my mum walking around Bridgwater, she died a few years ago, then I would not believe it was her even if she looked and acted exactly the same). However, this inability to recognise Jesus leaves some of them with all kinds of questions.

Then there are those who have not seen the risen Jesus yet but everyone is telling them they have seen him.  Thomas, no doubt, trusted the other disciples completely and yet what could he make of their assertions that they had seen a risen Jesus?  There is, I think, a bit of Thomas in all of us.

Let’s be honest here, dead people do not rise from the dead.  We know that today and people knew it in Jesus’ day.  When someone had been crucified the body was usually thrown on the local rubbish dump – if executed people had any chance of surviving or even reviving then they would not just dump the body. Ancient people might have lacked our understanding of modern medicine but they were not stupid – dead people are always dead. So when reports come out that someone has risen from the dead – they have trouble believing it, for many they find Easter day to be very confusing.

We live in a confusing time.  None of us really knows how to act or what to do in this time.  There is uncertainty every day. Many of the routines that we relied on have been upset. In some ways it is a time of restoration but in others stress and confusion.  So what help is there in Easter this year.

Let’s go back to Thomas.

He finds himself face to face with the risen Jesus. His doubt is challenged and all his confusion is understood by Jesus.  Jesus offers him reassurance but at this moment Thomas’ faith is enough and he declares Jesus Lord and God (he is the first to realise the truth of Jesus).

My message is to keep trusting God despite the confusion. It doesn’t mean your confusion doesn’t matter, just as Thomas’ confusion mattered to Jesus so our confusion matters to God. Take that confusion to God but let your faith offer you something more. Put your faith in the one who stilled the waters, the one who walks on water, the one who gives his life for us all, the God who have up heaven to live with us. Easter tells us that nothing, not even death is the end. Keep trusting God.

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Prayers of Lament

There is a kind of Christian prayer that has always been important to Christians at times of crisis. We seldom talk about it but it remains one of the most powerful ways to pray – and even to worship.

Several Psalms and many other prayers in the Bible take on this form.

In essence it is acknowledging our pain and dismay to God. God wants us to express what is in our hearts and if that is confusion, anger, sadness, frustration, etc. then we bring those to God in prayer.

This doesn’t mean that we doubt God or that God has the ability to help – in fact far from it, a Lament usually includes an acknowledgement of God’s sovereign power.

This may be just the time for a Lament. If you feel pretty helpless and maybe not sure what to pray at the moment, then bring all of that to God. You may not get a simple answer but God will hear your prayer and answer it in the way we need the most.

A hymn in the form of a Lament is the hymn “it is well with my soul”, written by its author in a time of terrible personal loss when much of his family drowned in a terrible accident.