Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Some Short Thoughts on Prayer

If prayer is primarily about changing us; if all our prayer is ask ask ask - we become selfcentred...

If prayer doesn't ask for God's involvement - then we stop asking and our view of God becomes shallow and unloving...

If prayer doesn't lead to us living Godly lives, if it doesn't lead to actions - then is it even prayer or just an abundance of words in the wind...

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Sermon - Rejoice

These are the notes from my sermon on Sunday, 27th July.
Theme - Rejoice in God always, from the reading - Phil 4:2-9.

Last week we looked at the goal we have in Christ. The idea of running a race.
This week we are looking at how we keep going on that journey.

There are 5 main points packed into these few verses which i want to very quickly pull out.
1. rejoice
2. be good
3. don't worry
4. think good things
5. put into practice.
all of which leads to inner peace and helps us keep running that race. I wanted to make the focus of this talk about how we keep running the race, about how we press on, how we overcome disappointment, how we face hard and troubling times. Sadly i suspect there won't be any dragons in this weeks talk, i may make up some words. irregardless of all these things lets have hearts and minds which are focused on Christ and doing things his way.

point. 1
Rejoice, to be glad, to take delight in. Not a word we tend to use a lot.
The Greek translation of this verse is to take Joy in the Lord.
You may have seen those things on social media sites such as 100 happy days, or a week of 3 happy thoughts etc. I think we can learn a little something from these. They are choosing to take delight in positive things. Paul in writing to the Philippians says rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again, rejoice! 

He realises two important things, one we are stupid and need reminding, lots. And two the power of joy. Nehemiah 8 v 10 says the joy of the Lord is your strength. Paul is writing from prison, Nehemiah is writing from exile. They understand it's not easy, they are facing trouble and hardship BUT they remind us to take joy in the Lord and this strengthens us and helps us press on in our journey of faith, as we run towards the finish line.

Rejoice is not about happy or sad, it's not dependent on your circumstances. I think that is something very important we have to realise and come to terms with. It is not denying what is going on. It's trusting in God, and choosing to praise him in the midst of whatever is going on. So often it's bad habits or years of not rejoicing that make it so difficult to try and turn it around and be those joyful people. Lets take a couple of minutes in our groups/tables to discuss this question - 
What helps you OR what could help you to rejoice when facing hard times?

Something to encourage you, Paul wrote in Romans 7 that the things he wanted to do he didn't do and the things he didn't want to do he did. We are not the only ones who struggled. I will be honest with you, at 4am this morning when I was sick to my stomach and bent double in the bathroom it was hard to rejoice. Probably more so for Vix who found me in that way. BUT that is exactly the time to rejoice.

point 2. be good
Verse 5 says let your gentleness be evident to all, why? Because the Lord is near.
Earlier in the chapter Paul beseeched Euodia and Syntyche to put aside their differences and be of one mind in the Lord. Why, because unity and love and good demonstrations of family are a positive witness. Be gentle, be kind, treat others as better than yourself whether they are or not. Be good. Elsewhere in the new testament it says be perfect as your heavenly Father is.  We could swap the word good or perfect for the word holy. For God is good, he is perfect, he is holy, and we are called to be these things. Holy sounds scary but if we stopped getting hung up on our misconceptions and religious sounding words and started being good then we would soon recognise holiness all around us.

All of which comes back to this ideas of a race, lets run it in a good way, why because the Lord is near. Jesus said people would know that we are his disciples, and how is this? By having love one for another. It's difficult to love without being good.

point 3. don't worry
I think God has a sense of humour, either that or I'm a slow learner. Last time I preached was on worry, and here I am again discussing that very subject. Verses 6 and 7 give us a pattern we can follow. We have the command "don't be anxious" or "don't worry". Then we have the way to do that. Instead pray. It tells us to use all sorts of prayers. And what happens? We are filled with God's peace. This isn't a temporary, fleeting, happy for a moment, gone in a second peace. This is God's peace, a peace that transcends understanding, a peace that is bigger than circumstances. A peace that will guard us, keep us safe, and help us to run the race in front of us.

And this is the point, God is running the race with us but it's up to us to involve him. To turn to him and pray, petition, praise, thank, present our requests to a loving heavenly Father. And he will be with us, and his peace will fill every part of us.

A few years ago my company restructured and a lot of people were worried, I found myself in a weird situation of not being unduly worried, which I can only put down to God's peace. I had somehow managed to hand the situation over to him. The upshot of it all was that I ended up getting a promotion. In the midst of turmoil, God's provision in my life was revealed. I've been with the company for 8 years now. And sometimes it gets a bit tough, but I remember that He did that for me. And as and when I allow him in, when I bring the situations I face before him, he does fill me with peace. Even in the last week I managed to forget all of this, Wednesday was horrible, I felt stressed and bleurgh, I went for a walk, listened to some demon Hunter and poured out my complaint to God. Somehow he met me there. I still have a lot of stuff to get done but I am not facing it alone.

In our tables, let's discuss for a few moments about how are worry and prayer can be similar and can be very different?

point 4. think good things
A good friend once said to me "don't trust your thoughts about yourself when you're tired". Why because they tend to be negative. Verse 8 tells us we should think good things. One of the greatest things, or to my mind it is at any rate, of God's creation is the diversity we see within it. To each one of us here God has blessed us with different gifts, different ways of thinking, different viewpoints. As we start using our hearts and minds to think good things, think Godly things, we will see more of God. Why because the things we think eventually come out.

Imagine the scenario, you dislike someone, you spend your time mulling over how much you dislike them, how stupid they are, how irritating they are, how annoying they are. For a time you are able to keep up the pretence of being friendly, after all we are good British Anglicans. But as time goes on the thoughts get more vivid, more crazy. But you keep up the pretence. And then one day something silly, something minor happens and you snap. And all this stuff spews forth. Our thoughts come out. If we start thinking different thoughts. If we start thinking blessings upon our enemies/those people who annoy us. If we start thing positively, praiseworthy, lovely, admirable thoughts, you know what will eventually spew out of us? Good things. Which kinda nicely leads on to the last point.

point 5. put into practice.
Do good things, we mentioned earlier that people will know we are God's people by having love one for another. Paul exhorts us to put into practise the good things we have learnt and seen in him.

So what have we learnt from this passage?
1. Rejoice in all circumstances.
2. Be good because god is near.
3. Don't't worry instead pray.
4. Think good thoughts.

If we put into practice these things, then we will run the race well. In another one of Paul's writings he uses the metaphor of the race, saying what has happened to you? You were running the race well, why have you got lost?

And this is the encouragement and the challenge to keep running that race, to keep pressing on towards the prize in Christ Jesus. To not give up, to not give in. Knowing that when we stumble and fail we have a God who forgives. A family who helps us. We have a goal, it is reachable. We can do this. It is possible.

And how can we do all this? we have the spirit of Christ in us? One of my favourite people, Andrew Schwab the lead singer of a band called Project 86 described a situation where you are asked to play one v one basketball with Lebron James. You're gonna lose, doesn't matter how good you are. But what if you could pick any 3 players from any period in time to play for you? He picked Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Shaquelle O'Neil. Those 3 would beat Lebron hands down. If that illustration is a metaphor for us, basketball is life, Lebron is sin, the devil and everything which holds us back, and MJ, Magic and Shaq are God the Father, Son and Spirit. We aren't doing this by ourselves, we have the maker of the heavens watching over us, we have the way of salvation made for us AND we have the spirit of Christ that enabled all of this in us. IN US!

To end I want to read these verses from the Message.
Philippians 4:4-9 MSG

Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute! Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.

Let's pray...

Sermon - Worry

Below are the notes from my sermon based upon a chapter within The Good and Beautiful Life by James Bryan Smith on worry.

The story so far -
1. Triangle + holy spirit.
Personal narrative, spiritual disciplines, community.
2. Anger is wrong, except when it's right(eous).
3. Lying =bad, instead edify. 

It has been said that we live in a culture of fear. A million questions of what if blah blah blah happens? The cumulative effect of 24 hour news, 24 hour internet, 24 hour life. 24 hours to fill, 24 hours to make money. A million what ifs that challenge us, shake us, concern us and fill up our senses.
What if I die tomorrow? Get life insurance so your family will be OK?
What if I don't watch that TV show? Your school friends will think you're a loser and never talk to you again.
What if I don't check out that mole? I'll get cancer and life will be unbearable.
What if I don't meet the right person? I'll die old and alone.
What if God isn't real? Well in that case we're all screwed.
Some what ifs are silly, some are serious,  some are just funny. And some we should pay attention to. However above all of these things First about Jesus? 

Today's reading Matt 6v25-end says do not worry. Now before we go off on one thinking silly Jesus or I can't do that or whatever else it is we might be thinking let's pause and examine this.

One, what is worry?
Definition = Worry is a disproportionate level of concern based on an inappropriate measure of fear.
In other words over thinking about a perceived possible negative outcome.
Now before we move on a quick aside.
Worry vs taking due care or a reasonable level of concern.
Examples - you have an exam next week. You are concerned about it, what is the sensible thing to do?
Pray, yes. Revise, yes. Past papers, yes. Prepare!
That's due care. Something is in front of you, you have the power/capacity to do something, therefore you act upon it.
If you have a sermon to prepare on a book that you've been lent and the church is studying you should read the relevant chapter in advance! And possibly make some notes. Maybe pray about it. Read the bible a bit. Not procrastinate and watch reruns of your fave TV show. Anyone who is interested it's House.

OK, so now we know the difference between due care and worry. So when I'm talking it's about the latter. I'm going to assume that either we have no power or have failed to show due care and that it's all about the worry worry worry.

So a question, who's ever had a message from someone saying call me, it's urgent? Who's freaked out about it? Played over the possibilities and decided it's the worst possible outcome? Just me?! Indeed not.

Two. The author of the book talks about false narratives, eg things in our life, beliefs, fears, patterns of behaviour etc that have an effect upon our behaviour and the way we react to things as life goes by. So what are the false narratives which make us worry?
He identifies this as the major false narrative in this area that worrying prevents pain. This is obviously a lie.
How does worrying about something prevent pain?
Now pain could be physical, emotional, spiritual.
There is a wonderful clip in another of my favourite tv shows (HIMYM) about fear. The fear of being slapped.
Worrying prevents pain = lie!
It is worth noting here that it is rarely as bad as we fear!

So, enough about the negative, what's the positive. What does jesus say about all this? As christians, ie those who are followers of Christ (if you love me, you will obey me...!)
He says don't worry instead seek first God's kingdom.
Jesus understands how your mind works, two things - one he made it and two he lived just like you and i. he knows!
The passage earlier he takes time to address various things we might worry about, he pokes fun at peoples perceived expectations of what wise people say - grass and flowers were seen as fleeting not beautiful. He turns all of this on it's head and says don't worry. Why. Cos God knows. He knows what you need.

Elsewhere in the new testament the apostle Paul says in his letter to the Philippians 4:6-7 "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."

So the question for us becomes what about giving everything back to God and allowing him to be God. We've done our bits in taking our due care. And we've done our bit by praying and handing situations etc over to God.

So what next? Ultimately God wants better things for us than to be worrying. In James it says that "good and perfect gifts" come from God. Another key scripture following on in our the passage in philipians says Philippians 4:8 NKJV
Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are  noble, whatever things are  just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are  lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there  is any virtue and if there  is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.

Why cos he loves us AND he understands what happens when we worry.
He knows that our minds love to think, so they'll think. And that they often like to dwell on negative things, like those annoying songs that get stuck in our heads! So he says think on good things, think on pure things, think on what is holy and righteous, what is uplifting./ I'll be honest i struggle here. a lot. And im sure i am not alone.

Doctors say in regards to stress - a little is good, a lot is bad. We need challenges and stimulation but too much and too often is not helpful.
That's why Jesus talks about TODAY. He knows it's best to take it one day at a time.

The author asks these two questions - 
Who are you and where are you? (child of god and Kingdom of god = safe!

Soul training = prayer.
Write it down

Tuesday, 22 July 2014


My sister and her husband recently gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. My nephew is a delight. I am blessed to have been able to see him a fair amount.

He was less than 24 hours old when I changed his nappy.

Earlier today we went and visited my sister and nephew. He is a little (and growing very quickly) bundle of joy. Seeing your wife hold a baby makes a man think. Well seeing my wife hold my nephew makes me think at any rate. Seeing his cute little hands and feet, learning about muscles in his face as he contorts them with each new experience.

His reaction to me blowing raspberries on his belly was something else. His little hands tied up into fists, his eyes and mouth wide open!

I am blessed. And one day I hope I will have children of my own.

I see myself in everything

I see myself in everything, or maybe I empathise with everything.

Everything is probably a slight exaggeration, something I am somewhat prone to doing.

I see myself in a lot of things, I empathise with a lot of things. Reading books, watching movies, TV. Music.

It makes things interesting, because sometimes it's just ridiculous!

So sometimes I have to be careful, I get tired, I see or read things and take them on board.

At other times it can be quite beautiful, so very stimulating. I feel alive. Created and creative things. Whether it is watching a movie (currently 42) or reading a book (currently Philippians) or music (Rend Collective) I am moved, inspired, blessed.

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Holibobs - Cyprus Baby

Things that I have learnt on holiday in no particular order.

Don't play drinking games with my wife - she is unbeatable.

"now in a minute" is a useful Welsh phrase which probably won't end up in colloquial/normal English lexicon but is nonetheless good fun and brings much laughter.

"I get you" is another fun phrase, must be said with a Welsh accent.

Keepyuppy on Ayia Napa night in the swimming pool at 1am after shots of tequila is very difficult but hilariously funny. We managed 5. That versus in the day time after eating watermelon when we managed over 50. Both good fun. Ooh, ooh, ooh, nooooooo.

God works in mysterious ways - the news of a potential career change came up and I was once again blown away by the reception it received and the continued encouragement that seems to accompany such protestations. He is continually at work, and I continue to underestimate Him. The box I put Him in continues to get bigger, I hope one day I will lose the box entirely. One step at a time.

Cyprus is flippin hot. And that is great. Unless you're pasty and white and burn easily. Thank the good Lord for shade. I managed to stay in the sun for half an hour without suncream. And managed nearly an hour with. Amazing.

I do love a Lee Child novel, definitely my guilty pleasure.

You can never pack too many clothes. So it probably was sensible and dare I say it right that Vix gave me the smaller suitcase.

Cyprus Airways and Larnaca airport are all right. Lamb in burger sauce with rice somehow works. And web check in is a great invention.

My beautiful wife still surprises me with her graciousness towards me. After three years of marriage and a further six as friends it should not surprise me. She shows me more of Jesus every day.

It should be compulsory for all villas to have swimming pools.

Google's Chromecast is a fantastic bit of kit. Meant we could play our music straight from our devices (which had Google Play) without needing to connect with wires. This also led to me being allowed to play music too! I even slipped in some AC/DC, Audio Adrenaline and Bon Jovi. Sadly this meant that Ems could also play the Spice Girls. You win some, you lose some.

'Warwick Rules' Uno is still the best group card game. Full stop.

Shot or biscuit (or chin up) is a good way of using up alcoholic beverages and an overabundance of biscuits.

Having a partner to do exercise with makes things so much easier. Thanks to Pat for helping me do some exercise this last week. Mark, Tracy, Emma, Chris, Pat and Chrisi are a wonderful bunch of people. Vikki's friends are amazing, amazing that they have embraced me as one of their own even though I am (still) the last to join the group. They are fun, frivolous, serious, kind, they listen, engage, take the mickey, encourage, help. In short they are wonderful.

Now in a minute we'll put some washing on and eat bruschetta in honour of the fabulous Ravioli's restaurant, near Ayia Napa.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Prayer and/or Action

I think one of the major frustrations many people have is the prayer but no action scenario. I've heard many people (Christian and non alike) complain about it. Which has got me thinking.

Two biggest characters in the New Testament; Jesus and Paul.

Jesus - "I only do what I see my Father do." From which I shall take a small leap to suggest He prayed a fair amount because He did rather a lot of stuff (you fill in the blanks... ).

Paul - "I pray more than the rest of you." Says the man who wrote two thirds of the new testament and did more to shape Christianities theology than any other human sans God in flesh. And I think he found time to work and make himself useful when he wasn't starting riots.

Now I suspect that both of these characters had a pretty decent balance of prayer and action. In much the same way faith without deeds is useless I imagine that for many people prayer without action is useless too.

Now obviously there are caveats to this. If you are in prison or unable to walk or suffer from various things that make going and doing things problematic / impossible then I wholeheartedly understand that prayer is probably your action. But sadly I suspect the majority of us don't fall into that camp.

If we were to think of prayer as being in relationship with God, then we probably should do a bit more of the second greatest commandment - love your neighbour as ourself. Which I think would solve the prayer versus action debate which so frustrates so many.

Maybe I am being too simplistic but I really don't think the gospel, Jesus, life is supposed to be as complicated as we so often make it.

Shall save the who is my neighbour debate for another time.

Lord teach me to pray. Lord teach me to act.