Remembering Jesus in Advent.

Remembrance Blog 4 New Testament

In the last post, we looked at God’s word which was written on tablets of stone and memorised in festivals, but the prophets foretold a closer intimacy that God desired with His people. Celebrating the first week of Advent, this weekend, is a perfect time to reflect on the fulfilment of the promise, even though, despite the prophesies, it did not come about in the way the people hoped or expected. This part of God’s plan was revealed through the coming of God’s Son – Emmanuel and with Him, the revelation of the Kingdom of God. God wanted us to not just know about Him, but to know Him personally. We ‘remember’ (remind and encourage ourselves with the truth) that God came down to earth and we ‘remember’ that He WILL come again for the complete fulfilment of His Kingdom.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us

Jeremiah 31:33-34

But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbour and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

Though God does not remember our sins, and though we have His law in our hearts, we are still commanded to remember God in the Eucharist and to remember His words and everything that Jesus taught and did – because we are forgetful and easily distracted.

Remembering Who He is and His love

1 Corinthians 11:24-25

…and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.’

Revelation 3:3

So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.’

In our new birth into this New Covenant through the blood of Jesus, God helps us to remember, by giving us the Holy Spirit to be our helper, our guide and our ‘reminder’. –

John 14:26

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.’

John 2:22

So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.’

Acts 11:15-18

And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’

Just as in the days of old, we are still encouraged to teach, to remember and pass on the words and deeds of God and His love for us. For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that whoever believes in Him will have everlasting life.

We are to remember, teach, inspire, honour, instruct and pass-on what we have learned from our Lord. The apostles do this in their written encouragements to the early church and we are exhorted to continue to strengthen one another with the truths and hope that we have through Jesus.

1 Corinthians 11:12

Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.’

2 Peter 3:1-10

This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you in which I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Saviour spoken by your apostles.’

Isn’t it wonderful how Jesus assured us of how God still remembers His Covenant with us – even the New Covenant in His blood. God honours and remembers our faithfulness, our sacrifices, our love and our good deeds. When we pray, He hears our cries and remembers us and remembers the blood of Jesus, shed for the abundant, eternal life of each of us. Even in His moment of greatest distress, in agony on the cross, the thief asks Jesus to ‘remember’ him and Jesus assures him that He will remember him and has heard his plea for mercy – “today you will be with me in paradise.”

Matt 26:10 -13

Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me… When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

Acts 10:4

Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked. The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.

Is it not truly wonderful that God loves us so much, that He wants an intimate relationship with each one of us, so He gives us the Holy Spirit to guide us every moment into all the truth and to remind us of all that we need to know. I’m so glad He reminds me constantly of my complete dependence on Him.

And yet, all the ‘good’ deeds that we do are always ‘remembered’ by God, whereas our sins – these He remembers no more!

Hebrews 8:10-12

For I will be merciful to their iniquities,

And I will remember their sins no more.”

What an amazing love and such amazing grace!

Remembering His Promises

Remembrance Blog 3

In the previous 2 blogs, I explored how November is a month where traditionally in the church and in the wider society, we remember people from the past – those whose lives inspire us to be greater people and those whose lives warn us of consequences of rebellion or folly. We also traditionally remember our forbears who have gone before us and left their own legacy.

Throughout the history of the relationship between God and His people, God regularly ‘commands’ us to remember (call to mind) Him and His Covenant promises with His people.

Here are some examples from the Old Testament, where God exhorts US to remember His faithfulness to His Covenant –

Ex 23:14-17

Three times a year you are to hold a festival for me. Hold the spring Festival of Unraised Bread… That was the month you came out of Egypt… Hold the summer Festival of Harvest when you bring in the first-fruits of all your work in the fields. Hold the autumn Festival of Ingathering at the end of the season when you bring in the year’s crops. Three times a year all your males are to appear before the Master, God.”

Deuteronomy 5:15

You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to observe the sabbath day.”

Deuteronomy 8:18

But you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.”

Psalm 77: 11-12

I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will reflect on all You have done and ponder Your mighty deeds.”

Why does God command us to remember His ‘mighty deeds’? I think it is because we are so prone to forgetting and to focussing instead on our own immediate, day-to-day issues. Our tendency is to be overwhelmed by our present concerns and to take a microscopic focus on our circumstances or our own limited human capacity. Remembering that God is with us and for us inspires faith, hope and a greater capacity to love and to follow Him.

Remembering God’s mighty deeds of the past puts God in the focus of our mind and gives us a telescopic view of His care and faithfulness and reminds us of the bigger picture. Remembering that God hears our cries, answers our prayers and comes to the aid of His people, this builds our faith and our hope in Him who, if He has been faithful and mighty, He can be faithful and mighty again. Remembering His interventions in our stories also causes us to pause and to give Him the thanks He deserves and the peace to rest in His provision. This is why I do my monthly public thanksgiving for specific prayers answered. It reminds me to have faith in His faithfulness.

God remembers His promises

But sometimes it is God Himself who ‘remembers’ His Covenant, when His people call upon Him to act and to save –

Genesis 9:14-16

It shall come about, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow will be seen in the cloud, and I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and never again shall the water become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the cloud, then I will look upon it, to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”

Exodus 2:23-25

Now it came about in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died. And the sons of Israel sighed because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry for help because of their bondage rose up to God. So God heard their groaning; and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God saw the sons of Israel, and God took notice of them.

Psalm 105:8

He has remembered His covenant forever,

The word which He commanded to a thousand generations.

God’s word is there to remind us of His constant faithfulness to His Covenant with His people.

God desired a greater intimacy with us. He planned to restore the intimacy lost in the Garden of Eden. He spoke of His plan and fulfilled His plan in Jesus, when He extended His Covenant with all of humanity. We will look at that in the next post.

Let it inspire your faith – God will never forget you! He loves you with an everlasting love. His word always accomplishes what it says. Remind Him of His promises to you and build your trust on His faithfulness.

October Thanksgiving

This morning I was struck by the words and face of a young boy from Bangladesh, who struggles in ways I can hardly imagine, but whose smile displayed his resilient heart of gratitude. His words, written in an Open Doors article, read “God always hears our prayers and answers through His people.”

I realised with gratitude that many of the answers to prayer throughout October were answered through other people, though of course not all of them were people who acknowledge God in their own lives. Being an ‘introvert’ personality type, I need to spend a good portion of time ‘recharging my batteries’ alone with God, and my pen, in my own space. That said, I also need to spend an equally good portion of time serving others in community, as this energises my purpose and exercises my talents. Learning to ask for help is part of this season’s learning for me. It is very humbling to learn to receive the kindness and help of others and, though it is not always easy to receive, I find it helps to remember the joy and freedom that the giver enjoys.

I wonder how many of the blessings, that you have received this month, have come through the hands, words and love of others?

I am so grateful to God for the following answers to prayer, throughout October, and so grateful to all those beautiful and gracious souls who served and blessed me and others. Whilst I thank God here for His direct intervention, I hope I have also remembered to personally thank each of those, through whom much of the support and blessing has come.

For healing my back pain and for D and M who prayed over it.

For the 8 big bags full of winter coats, hats and gloves, that I was able to deliver to the homeless shelter and for all those who generously donate such items.

For the webinar ministry and the delicious soak-in-prayer time of revelation and peace.

That R will now not have to find a new place to live.

For the whole family invitation to a party gathering and the wonderful friendship, food and fun.

For offers for a lift to a celebration out of town and then for that reunion of the wider family.

For K’s visit and stay, and D’s, and P’s and the opportunity to welcome, host and enjoy friendships.

For C coming for dinner and friendship.

For C and friends with whom one can always pray comfortably together.

For A’s continued recovery and excellent health reports.

For S successfully coaching me on zoom technology.

For the precious friendships and growth in our weekly small group.

Having had the challenge of a court-case, I thank God for His promise in Proverbs 22:22, that He will fight my case; for the testimonial of support from C; for the last-minute inspiration before the hearing; for the support, prayers and encouragement of church family and friends and for Jehovah Shammah going into the court-room before me and giving His peace, grace and favour; for J who accompanied me on the day and for the judge who gave me advice and a further 28 days to collect appropriate evidence.

For inspiration and ideas of all the great evidence I can collect.

For R’s help creating a spreadsheet.

For A coaching me on social media development.

For the blessing of seeing and hearing the light and joy and growth in J and C and for the constant and ever delightful blessing of my beloved grandchildren.

Lastly in October, for being able to attend the refreshing and fellowship of the ‘army of women’ gathered at the Orchard Conference in Birmingham.

We need one another and I am so grateful for such a diverse, wacky, beautiful network of relatives, family and friends and for all those friends I have never met. I’m so grateful for the online community of blogger friends, webinar friends and other online zoom and social forums, where the beauty and love and kindness of humanity can be so clearly seen and shared.

For all of you I have connected with, I bless you and thank you.

Thank you for reading.

How many of the blessings you have received this month have come through the hands and words and love of others?

Remembrance Day

In my last post (forgive the pun!!) we looked at November as a month for traditionally remembering the dead – the famous, the infamous and our families, our heritage – those who have gone before us and inspired us with lives we see as good examples and those who warn us by the consequences of choices that we might also want to learn from.

Today I want to share my thoughts and research into Remembrance Day, because, although I have learned this all before, I forget the details. In reminding myself, I can pass on to you the traditions behind this annual event.

a poppy field

Remembrance Day

Formerly Armistice Day, this was first celebrated at Buckingham Palace in 1918.

Why 11th November?

It was a military memorial day observed in Commonwealth member-states since the end of WW1 to honour all those who died in the line of duty. The hostilities ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of November, with the signing of the armistice. (Though the war ended officially with the Treaty of Versailles which was signed on 28th June 1919)

After WW2, the name of the day was changed to Remembrance Day in UK and Veterans Day in the US and is used to honour and remember all who gave their lives in WW1 and in ALL subsequent wars and conflicts.

The traditional ceremony involves the laying of a wreath to honour and remember

After the clock strikes 11 O’clock, ‘The Last Post’ is played, followed by 2 minutes silence, after which ‘The Rouse’ or Reveille is played.

The Act of Remembrance consists of the following:

The Exhortation is recited:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

The Last Post is sounded.
(A Piper Lament may be included in Scotland.)

The Two Minute Silence is observed.

Reveille is sounded.

The Kohima Epitaph is recited (optional):

When you go home, tell them of us and say,
For your tomorrow, we gave our today.

Though Remembrance is no longer a religious ceremony, it is inclusive, but prayers and blessings are sometimes said and traditionally ‘Jerusalem’ is played.

Why red poppies? Why Poppy Day?

Poppies grow well on the disturbed earth of barren battlefields, where little else grows. The British legion introduced the red poppy to represent the sacrifice made by comrades and as a lasting memorial.

In France the symbol is the cornflower.

Whilst the British (and other Commonwealth nations) remembered the sacrifices made by thousands of (mainly) men during the first world war, people also had the sense of ‘never again’ and wanting to learn from the tragic waste of lives in war. In the 1930s a women’s guild began wearing white poppies in a statement to support and promote peace, rather than war, but many chose to see this as dishonouring those who died in war and the movement was squashed.

Today we remember ALL who have given their lives in conflicts all around the world.

Why?

Lest we forget!

Death, be not proud

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee

Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;

For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow

Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.

From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,

Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,

And soonest our best men with thee do go,

Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.

Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,

And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,

And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well

And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?

One short sleep past, we wake eternally

And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

By John Donne (early 1600s)

poppies and cornflowers

This year, on a personal note, as every year on 11th November, I remember my own baptism in 1984 and I also remember my very special friend, Little John, whose anniversary it is too. He always joked about my poor memory and I smile to think he died on a day he knew I could never forget. I don’t forget him.

Other countries that were not ‘allies’ at the time of the first and second ‘world war’s, will have different sentiments surrounding 11th November and may have their own equivalent day or time of remembrance. I’d love to hear about that too.

I will remember all of this on Thursday and also stop, for the 2 minutes, in respect for the dead. Is this part of your traditions at all?

REMEMBER, REMEMBER…

Remembrance Blog 1

REMEMBER, REMEMBER…

My head is full to bursting with a trail of thoughts about ‘Remembrance’, so I am going to do a small series of blogs to explore one-by-one some of the themes connecting up in my brain, like a string of fairy lights.

As today is the fifth November, it seems fitting to begin with the old rhyme, drummed into us as children, calling us to remember…

Remember, remember, the 5th of November,

Gunpowder, treason and plot.

I see no reason

Why gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot…

As I’m sure you know, in Britain, folk build bonfires (to get rid of pruned trees and tidy up the twigs and dead leaves) and they have fireworks and outdoor celebrations with a mixture of autumn traditions of toffee apples, baked potatoes, mushy-peas, warm cider, and other festive goodies and fun. When I was a child, children would make a ‘Guy’ out of stuffed rags and wheel it around shouting ‘penny for the guy’ in order to get pennies to buy sparklers, jumping jacks or toffees. The ‘Guy’ would later be thrown on the bonfire and burned. (If it wasn’t too soggy!) This tradition has dwindled under the scrutiny of political correctness and health&safety and so doesn’t happen as much, to my knowledge.

First a little bit of history:

The plot was centred around a group of Roman Catholic revolutionaries furious at the persecution of their faith in England. The revolutionaries had hoped for better treatment from the new monarch James I after 45 years of hounding under the reign of Elizabeth I, and decided on drastic measures when things did not improve under his reign.

Warwickshire-born Catholic Robert Catesby and his friends planned to kill the King, his ministers and scores of nobles by blowing up the Palace of Westminster during the State Opening of Parliament on November 5, 1605.

The plotters rented a house nearby and managed to smuggle 36 barrels of gunpowder – around 2.5 tons – into a cellar under the palace ready to blow it sky high.

The explosives were discovered with hours to spare after an anonymous tip-off warning one peer to stay away.

To this day the cellars under the Houses of Parliament are ceremonially searched before the annual State Opening.

Perhaps it’s clear why we were urged to remember – to learn the ‘moral’ from the story (that rebellion against King and country has severe consequences and all that). But one can also see historically how courageous and desperate these ‘revolutionaries’ were to uphold their own religious freedom. There are two sides (at least) to every story and the terms ‘revolutionaries’, ‘rebels’, ‘reformers’, ‘pioneers’, etc – they always hold an historical significance and point to the beliefs and moral position of the ruling elite at any given time.

The month of November

November itself is a whole month dedicated to remembering – especially in church tradition – but also in general culture.

I’m going to share some of the historical significance behind some of the remaining familiar practices in our culture today.

In November the church traditionally remembers the ‘faithful departed’ and the Catholic Church priests says Masses for the dead in their parish all the month, following:

All Saints’ Day: November 1st (since 8th Century)

In the Catholic Church (and other churches) it is a Holy Day of Obligation to remember the saints and martyrs (known and unknown) on All Saints’ Day (All Hallows) – “all who have already reached the blessed land and point us on that path to reach the same destination” Pope John Paul II (2003). We remember these to inspire our own lives by their good example.

All Souls’ Day: November 2nd

Likewise, on All Souls’ Day, all the ‘faithfully departed’ are commemorated and prayers for the dead, especially family and friends, are said. Often folk visit the graves of relatives, place flowers and reflect on their connections and lives.

Hallow e’en on 31st Oct

Halloween was originally the vigil and evening of fasting and prayer before the feast day of All Saints/ All Hallows.

Traditionally folk would bake ‘soul-cakes’ (they had a cross on them, like hot-cross buns, as a sign of alms-giving) in preparation for the holy Day, and groups of poor people, often the children, would go door-to-door collecting ‘soul-cakes’ in exchange for offers to pray for the souls of the cake-giver’s family and friends. ‘Souling’ Christians would carry lanterns made of hollowed out turnips to represent the souls of the dead and jack-o’-lanterns to ward off evil spirits. Candles were also lit over these days to ‘guide the lost souls’ back to the light of Christ. Some dressed as known saints or in costumes to avoid recognition by evil spirits and homes and farmsteads were blessed.

It was a time of celebrating the end of the harvest and the start of winter, which is seen as the season of death.

Some of these old traditions carried remnants of older pagan traditions and a theology of purgatory and so were banned in the reformation.

The tradition of remembering the dead is to also learn the lessons – examples to follow and examples to learn from and avoid in our own lives. The Christian faith is one of hope in eternity and in heaven, because of Christ who conquered death. So remembering the dead is done with gratitude and hope.

Matthew 22:31 – 32

‘But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.’

Romans 14: 8

‘If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living’.

***

What of you?

Are any of these days of any historical or cultural or spiritual significance to you?

Do you like to learn about relatives who have gone before you and learn about your personal or local heritage?

Please share any of your favourite practices relating to the remembrance of Saints, martyrs and our forebears, known and unknown, personally or historically significant.

***

In the next post I will be considering Remembrance Day (in the UK) (Veterans Day in the US).

What are you looking for?

What are you looking for? Do you know? Do you know what you want? What you believe? Do you know what is good and bad? What is true and right, or wrong? Does it change from day to day?

Don’t worry, I’m not going to test or trick you.

I was thinking about questioning and doubt. About its presence, its bad reputation and its value. How does doubt and questioning make you feel?

I like to be safe and to be right and sure. Don’t you? So unknowing, doubt, insecurity – such shifting sands make us feel out of control, vulnerable, insecure – and to avoid this we seek information to bolster our understanding… to know, to be certain… and for our faith – in whatever it may be – to be unswerving and strong. This may be about the basic routines of our day, for example, or our health report, our whereabouts and location when on the move, our plans and preparations for a big event, our political persuasions and support come polling day, our financial safety-nets for retirement, maybe actual insurance policies and guarantees and often our meta-physical persuasions or beliefs and our raison d’etre.

We want assurance, insurance and reassurance again.

I think of adventure quests and heroes in story-books and on film – dangerous quests to find truth, or treasure and for valour and honour – life threatening, self-sacrificing endurance, seeking, for that which is right and true. The stuff that makes heroes. The big questions – the meaning of life and all that. It seems to be part of the heroic side of our nature – to seek wisdom, seek truth at whatever the cost. The Bible is full of such wisdom too – exhortations to seek and find the lost coin, the lost sheep, the ‘pearl of great price’, which cost him all he had. To ‘Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.’  (PROVERBS 4:7) And Solomon’s asking for just wisdom over every other treasure… and so many other examples. Wisdom and truth are seen as great treasure.

When my children were young, they would frequently complain that they had lost something important and had ‘searched everywhere’! I would smile and ask them to look again and this time to actually take their hands out of their pockets and use them to look underneath the piles of stuff!

Because if it were visible, they wouldn’t have lost it!

To seek knowledge, understanding and truth often means to go digging! It means to turn everything upside down, turn it out, get our hands dirty… it means to disrupt our comfort, camp for a while in unknowing, in the unfamiliar and in doubt. It means ‘living from a suitcase’ in questioning and a vulnerable state of being unsure, not at home and not in control. We may have to disrupt and abandon all else… Sometimes it means to admit to ‘not know’ something and occasionally it means to discover that we were partially or fully misinformed, or misunderstood, and to humbly learn…

But we are promised that if we keep on seeking we will find; if we keep on knocking, the door will be opened; and if we keep on asking, we will be answered. We are promised that if we seek Him first, then He will be found and all other things will be given to us as well. Our needs will be met. It is a constant process that we will not come to the end of in this life on earth, and maybe it will continue throughout eternity. I do hope so!

But beware. Be humble. If we seek the truth, we must be prepared to adapt, readjust, enlarge our tent and maybe change our mind. There will be change. When we find what was lost, or find revelation and truth and wisdom, we are forever changed! We have to change, for growth is change. We have to be prepared to expand our limited thinking if we want to seek truth. New wine goes in new wine-skins.

Some say “What is truth?” They say that there are many truths – for each of us, our own truth. Some say that we find what we are looking for, and that we each find something different. Some say there is but one truth. Jesus says that He is “the way, the truth and the life”. Whatever the truth is, we are encouraged to seek it. It is not something to fear, but it is something to make space for, to humble ourselves to receive. For His ways are not our ways. His ways are higher and above and beyond all we could ever fathom or imagine… But trust Him. Life is constant growth and constant change. We will never know everything in this short life on earth, but we should not be afraid to learn new things.

We are invited to seek wisdom, to seek understanding, to seek growth, truth and life.

What an adventure!

September Windfalls

September windfalls

I apologise for having neglected the weekly blog, but the monthly blog must not also go amiss.

No matter the business, the stresses and strains of life; no matter the hardships or even the challenge of un-answered prayer, there is always time, always joy, always delight in acknowledging the constant blessings and the constancies of God’s love and mercies, which are new every morning… and at the day’s end, God is still there!

A Pete Greig video left me with a helpful image of a microscope and a telescope – often we are peering through the microscope, focussed largely on our own concerns and bringing our burdens and needs to the Lord – for we are instructed to do so, by Him who ever lives to intercede for us before the throne of God – but when we take out the telescope and look up at the heavenly realm our perspective shifts… We don’t look up at the heavenly realm and say “Aren’t I important!” or “Poor me!”, No, we raise our sights and praise the Creator God and Father for who He is, in all His majesty and power and we magnify Him, not ourselves.

What we focus on, we magnify.

So I want to magnify God again for the answered prayers and windfalls of September and to remember that God is good, all the time, even when I do not understand.

I thank God for:

A good weekend together with my closest childhood friends.

That the changeover went smoothly for my babies and school and home is all good.

That S and I had another blessed week in London and both managed to accomplish much.

For inspiration and help with my writing.

For perseverance, courage and growth in my relationships.

For five good breaks away this Summer and for cover for work for each of them.

That S finally inspired to write his article.

That S free to travel around in Romania, despite restrictions.

That C and B successfully produced 2 great videos.

That A’s bloods showed that her cancer is now in remission!

That C begun University and is inspired and has risen to the challenge.

That J’s PHD has begun and all is well.

That first 2 prayer groups chez moi peaceful, blessed fellowship and tech improving.

For all the opportunities to serve.

Above all I thank you, not just for doing the things I have asked of You Lord, but for being God, for choosing to be in relationship with little me and for working with us, Your precious children, in this life on earth – for being Emmanuel, God with us – for coming to dwell in our hearts – being Jehovah Shammah – and for the assurance of Your presence. Though Satan should buffet and trials may come, let this blessed assurance be mine… It is well with my soul. Lord, where You are in the boat, no matter the storm, it is well with my soul.

Your Love endures forever and whatever happens, whether I understand or not, I know that You have me in the palm of Your hand.

Blessed be God forever.

Spend some time looking through the telescope today.

August Praises

Isn’t gratitude one of the greatest pick-me-ups? How many times has a dose of the doldrums been transformed into bubbling joy and calm, simply by thinking through and naming all the things for which you are grateful? Have you ever done it long enough to come to the end of your list?

But, slow learner that I am, I again made the mistake of thinking I didn’t have anything interesting to blog about last week and was too busy to listen… yet I had a post to be written all along. I had made a commitment (ooh, serious word!) to giving public thanks to God every month, for His faithfulness in hearing and responding to my prayers, with His Father heart of love. I am so excited, on a daily basis, as I acknowledge petitions that are answered, issues resolved, miracles happening… as I witness God happening in my life and in the lives of those around me… but, come the end of the month, I think – “I’ve nothing to write about!”

So here we are on 21st September and I’ve still not given public thanks and praise for all God’s visible goodness and intervention throughout August. But I will do so now, with repentance again for my warped priorities! Meanwhile God is so faithful, that my notebook for September continues to show countless blessings!

august definition: 1. having great importance and especially of the highest social class.

So, August praises to God is a fitting title, in all respects!

I give thanks:

That the chairs went back into rows in church, after 18 months of restrictions,

That C got more than enough distinctions and merits from his access course and a good grade for his GCSE maths, and was offered a place in university.

That my videos, recordings and writings continued successfully and the fourth edit of the book finally complete and is off for feedback.

That August holiday lunch-club was successful and many local families blessed with food.

That S and I had a very productive week of DIY in the house, related well, and managed to visit old friends.

That J and V got the council house they were looking for.

That I was able to receive the medical advice needed and tests all clear.

That You healed my right foot.

That I was able to help S to edit her paper enough to finally submit it.

That I was able to have a weekend away with old friends and all went smoothly and well.

That D and R back together, so child-care issues resolved.

That B’s tests and urgent flight tickets all resolved smoothly.

That I’ve been honoured to host a home-group for the new prayer course.

That S’s travel plans worked well and was released from the quarantine and able to visit all the people planned for.

That D’s cancer has gone and she is well.

That the tribunal hearing has been postponed until a more suitable time and venue.

That I was able to spend more time than usual with my beloved grandchildren this month.

Lord, there were 3 disappointments this month – 2 people for whom I had prayed, but who died. I don’t understand why, but I trust You. I trust You to know the bigger picture and continue to entrust all the bereaved into Your loving arms.

Not all of my prayer is petition and intercession (asking for intervention and favour for self and others) but many areas of growth and life are just too difficult to define in words and to quantify or qualify. Praise and gratitude are a large part of my relationship with my Lord and Creator.

I am most grateful that I can come with confidence into the presence of God and that He not only knows me better than I know myself, but that God loves me despite knowing the areas I hide even from myself. In other words, I am most grateful for the relationship with God and the fact that I really can bring all burdens, concerns, questions, celebrations and everything – even disappointments and laments – to a loving God, who listens, comforts and lights those burdens and pains with a peace beyond expectation and a joy that seems extravagant!

You are so loved! Always pause to give thanks for that!

It was in the plan!

Last week, while scribbling out my pen and paper rant on freedom, I also had a go at God, (which I chose to omit from the blog) for giving us this so-called ‘free-will’, but knowing the mess and suffering it would cause. I felt, as I considered the ‘options’, that ‘free-will’ had been a mistake, and not real freedom, as it felt like another, “Do it my way or die!”

I didn’t publish that thought, or a few others, as it was already becoming too complex for my little brain to hold together in one post, but I had asked God the question and a couple of days later, a clarity and peace infused my fragile doubts with a sweet smile. I will share those thoughts that were given to me:

The answer I heard, soothing my itching distractions, was that God knew! He knew we would make mistakes all the time. He knew it would take us lifetimes to learn. He knew we’d never get everything perfect, BUT He cherishes our freedom, He cherishes our feeble attempts, He cherishes our creative, eruptions of joy and kindness and love, because they are real expressions of a love response. We are made in the image of Creator God who is love. Just like we love to receive and treasure those cards and offerings lovingly made by our adoring children, so does father God enjoy our love offerings.

AND He KNEW we would need direction and teaching and He PROVIDED it. He knew we would need a role model, constant support and encouragement and He provided it. He knew we would need forgiveness over and over again AND an ‘out of jail free’ pass. He knew and He planned and provided for it all, before He even created us. At human creation, in God’s own image, the redemption plan was already in place, even then. God knew that He would love us to death, that He would become one like us, and with us, and have to sacrifice His life, so that we can be free of death, to be one with Him in His Kingdom and glorious delight. But He knew. It was not a mistake or a trick or an illusion. (Now as I read this back, I’m reminded of Max Lucado’s excellent story, ‘Because I love you” – He made the wall, with a hole in, and a staff to come find us when we climb through the hole!)

God provided for us a Perfect Role-model, directions, a conscience, support, encouragement, love, mercy, forgiveness, healing, restoration, the Holy Spirit to remind us of what is good – He gave Himself as our deliverer and Redeemer. So what do we need to do? We need to listen to the guidance He gives and to know that every time we slip or tumble, we can admit it, repent and get back up for another go. Persevere in doing good. Always get back up.

That love is an example for how we are to live, for our children and for one another. Not just forgiving ‘my brother’ when he says sorry, but a constant holding lightly of our strict expectations of perfection. Forgive as He has forgiven me. Let me give you room to practice using your own feet and discover your own wings, not shackle you to the confines of my own limitation. Let me be expansive with my children and myself and to remove the concept of ‘failure’ as that ugly, smelly, untouchable thing to be feared, but to look at it as an opportunity to learn, to be humble, to grow and stretch out my wings…

Lord, if you give someone freedom, you give them freedom to make mistakes and get it wrong – let me give others freedom to make mistakes and get it wrong too and allow for that in how I live – to encourage, support, tolerate, love – as others also make mistakes… just like young infants learning to walk or talk, we don’t punish them for not speaking a clear sentence, we coo and clap and encourage each sound and attempt and we cherish it.

The stress and devastation of perceived personal failure can leave people in utter despair. The stress of expectation for achievement and acquisition in our world and communities can seem unbearable.

Let us offer an antidote to these cruel pressures and offer encouragement and support to choose life-affirming things, remembering that we need role-models to show us healthy, excellent ways to live, we need unconditional love, ready forgiveness and grace to support and restore the falling and fallen… we need this in our homes, relationships, schools, churches and communities.

We need to encourage one another to ‘have a go’, to ‘follow our dream’, to ‘step out of our comfort-zone’, to try something different, to create something new – to re-create a culture of exploration and creativity, but before we do this, we need to acknowledge, that like the baby learning to walk, that our new venture and our daring to change may land us on our bottom or nose, time after time, it may hurt and seem hopeless, but with practice and perseverance and baby-steps… one step at a time, one day at a time, one smile at a time, one more encouraging word… How many times? “Seventy times seven” – every time!

imperfectly full of treasured love.

What is freedom?

This morning I was reading some Open Doors updates about Libya focussing on freedom of speech and freedom of religion. I could have been reading about any of the similar countries in North, East and West Africa, in China, India, Middle East… Please allow me to ramble through some thoughts about freedom and control.

The violence and persecution, removing the freedom of others, towards this group or that, because of how they look, or what they believe, or how they speak, is to me very scary. But I felt compelled to look at it. I always do. I wonder what I would do if I was part of a persecuted minority and if I would stand strong, or hide? And now there is a subtler threat with technology enabling also such close surveillance of people… where can they hide?

One reads about a similar level of control in much dystopian literature as well, and this is a safer place to consider the consequences and possible outcomes to such levels of intolerance and control. I seem to be drawn to these too. I always ask myself how I would respond – in either camp? Of course 1984 springs to mind, so much so that I have recently read it again, due to what I consider to be a level of control here in the UK and all over the Western World, that shadows the horrors I see in China and amongst persecuted minorities all over the world. The Elabi Chronicles, more recently written by Maressa Mortimer, also echoes these themes in a superbly crafted way.

Silhouette, Close up Hand holding Freedom text with blurred sea sunset. sunlight effect.

Maybe it is because my father was so strict and controlling as I grew up, but to the adult me, freedom of expression has always been crucial to fullness of life. I do not want you to tell me how to dress, how to think, what to say or what to believe! Nor do I want you tell me what I can no longer say, read, or believe. I noticed a change first in the 90s, when I went to work in a particular London Borough and was told I should not speak of ‘black’ or ‘white’ coffee, and that the ‘black-board’ now had to be a ‘chalk-board’! Being ‘politically correct’ took on some amusing contortions, turning a serious situation into a rule-book lacking all common-sense. This has ‘progressed’ among various themes and issues, and now we speak of ‘cancel culture’ as well.

Please don’t think I am condoning ‘hate-speech’ or belittling the cruel words and discriminatory practices, through ways of thinking that incorporate so many ‘isms. There is never a place for bullying, discrimination, intimidation or cruelty of any kind. Never. But I defend your right to speak.

But back to the more violent persecutions in other lands, many of the perpetrators of this appear to be ‘extremist’ groups with religious, or political ideologies. And I think the same is true here and everywhere, at all levels. We all have our ideologies and we think we are extremely right.

At one level I understand the expectation: You come to my country so you abide by my laws, you learn my language and you behave and dress in a way I can accept. You conform. You are polite. If you don’t want to, you can go elsewhere or stay in your own country. You come to my house, you behave appropriately, you show respect and you abide by my rules too. You may not smoke in my bedroom. But although I may expect you to behave with respect, I do not expect you to agree with me on every matter I speak of, or even to agree with my rules and conduct. I do not expect you to behave like this in your own space and I certainly do not expect you to believe what I do, or love what I do, or want what I want. Why should I? I guess that is my question. You may face the consequences for breaking my laws of behaviour, but why would I want you to think like I do?

I am the product of one particular environment, era, country, set of experiences, personality and education, as each of us are. I do struggle with authority. I accept the need for it and God is my ultimate authority, but I do struggle to accept many of the rules…

I realise today that I have already written at least one post on this subject, and no doubt it won’t be the last, as it is a huge, complex, muddy minefield and something I grapple with frequently. As I say, I struggle with it emotionally and intellectually as well as spiritually. With freedom comes responsibility and choice. If I’m employed to do a certain job, I do not have freedom to do something completely different. Freedom should not mean anarchy or rebellion under normal circumstances… but what does that mean? How much control should people tolerate from leaders and ‘authorities’, whether they be in church, government, society or family? Rules in society have consequences. This happens in our ‘socialisation’ from birth, through school and in our societies – if we conform, we are rewarded and praised, and if we choose to not conform, we are punished. If our child obeys and seems to be trusted to do as they are told and make good choices, then we reward them with greater freedom and increased responsibility. If she does not obey, we withhold our smiles, rewards and pleasure, we chastise and seek to ‘re-educate’ the child and we may exclude them from something, take away their freedom, until they learn to conform. This is the way it is. In the areas where we do have some freedom to choose, as I say, there is responsibility and the possibility of making ‘wrong’, or unconventional choices. I struggle with choices and decisions and so I welcome advice, guidance, encouragement and direction… usually. I am also contrary and stubborn, some might say rebellious, because if I strongly disagree, I refuse to conform. Rules change though. What was right yesterday is sometimes wrong tomorrow, and vise-versa… so the question is, Who is the authority? Says whom? And if you say Peter has the authority and I say it’s Jane, and they both have opposing laws, whom do I follow? I do understand Pontius Pilate who, when questioning Jesus, disdainfully asked, “What is truth?” It is complex. What is freedom? What is free-will? What is liberty? These are not black and white concepts and require complex discussion. In my simple view, Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. I believe it with all my heart and in my life it proves itself to be true. But I cannot prove it to you. You have to to taste and see; you have to make up your own mind. I defend your right to disagree with me and to tell me what you believe and to uphold completely different views and opinions; you have the freedom to choose… I also believe that if you seek the truth with your whole heart, you will find it, and if you follow that truth, you will know freedom. You may disagree.

I had to look closely at myself… Like all of us, I want to be right, do right and not to do ‘wrong’. What is independence and what is community and family loyalty? I have some guidelines in me as to what is right and wrong and I have often failed, even within the confines of my own rules and laws. I often do not do what I believe I ought to do.

But what of others, whom I know only by their behaviour and not by their intention? Do I expect them to speak and behave like me? Do I want my friends to think like me? Will I associate with you if your political views oppose mine? What about your cultural, economic or social views? What about your religious views? Do I feel comfortable around all types of people? Would I invite anybody at all into my home? Will I break the law of my own land? What if the law of the land contravenes God’s law? What if the law says I cannot read my Bible, or tells me to kill a person… Would I? What if the law tells you that you can no longer do what you believe to be right? Would you? Would I prefer you to share my faith and passions for things I think are important? Would I welcome you, love you, pray for you and with you, whoever you are?

I answered many of these questions, some rather uncomfortably. I want to be honest with myself.

I pray for greater love and increased tolerance in my heart towards everything that I do not understand and even more so for that which I understand only too well.