Check the label!

Check the label? When I am sorting the washing out, I need to make sure I read what the label says. Otherwise we can end up with some dyed disasters!! There have been one or two over the years.

Now, doing the washing is not that exciting a topic! Well, I guess for may be someone out there it is but I cannot say it rates high in my life. I am happy to do it but it is just one of those things.

This said, doing the latest load, got me thinking about labels.

Check the label!

Firstly, how easy it can be to ‘label’ other people whom we do not understand or have a different point of view from us. Let’s seek to not do that to others, to not ‘demonise’ others wherever they are coming from. That does not mean we cannot disagree with others but let’s pray and think about how we can interact with grace as well as seeking to walk in truth ( “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” John 1:17)

Again and again in the news we can read/hear of racist, xenophobic or other labelling that just divides and leads to more tension and torment. Let’s seek to be different – at all times!

We might say, “oh but I am not like that!” Why not pray and reflect, ask the Lord to show you if there is any prejudice or labelling of others in your life?

Check the label!

Also with labels, what about the “labels” on our own life? What do we believe about ourselves? Where have such beliefs come from? How does belief in God ‘speak into’ that labelling in our lives?

Check the label!

Lastly, if we say we are a ‘christian’ – what does that label mean for our lives? How do our colleagues, neighbours, fellow students, family members and others view that? For many on the planet, sadly the word ‘christian’ does not have positive connotations. This is especially true in some cases if you add  in a word like ‘evangelical’.

The word ‘christian’ was originally given as a nickname (check out Acts 11 in the New Testament). Christians: “belonging to the party of Christ”. It was a label given by others in the multi-cultural international buzz of 1st century Antioch. Those who were following Christ seem to have been noticed, as many people in that city came to know Christ (Acts 11:24)

These were ordinary people who by the grace that there is in Jesus Christ and with His help, sought to live like Christ among their fellow citizens. There is no need to glamourize them or make them out to be ‘super-saints’. Yet there is a sense that this was one label that fitted.

What about for us? It has become slightly in-vogue in some contexts to say, “I am not a Christian, I am a Christ follower!”. I can understand that, due to the baggage for some, that is associated with the word ‘christian’. Yet this said, whatever we say of ourselves – Christian, Christ follower, Jesus seeker…  what do our lives show?

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation. The old has passed away, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). There is a call for that newness to work through in every area of our lives as we follow Christ. This includes how to we live out such new life among others. Not from a point of view of arrogance or like we have ‘arrived’,but in the active knowledge of the love, grace and mercy of God.

This is all part of being ‘spiritually fit’, of living in wholeness (shalom).

Andy

 

Growing healthily?

If you live in the Netherlands, then both of the photos above will probably be familiar to you.

You will definitely recognise the one on the left – it is flower season when the fields north of Leiden, in the Bollenstreek are awash with colour. The sides of roads are dotted with cars parked at all kinds of strange angles, as people seek photo moments, including the compulsory selfies : )

The photo on the right will be familiar for those who shop in a certain supermarket and have picked up ‘moestuintjes’ when buying their groceries. This is our tray of those that are surviving at present!

Whether it is large fields vibrantly awash with tulips, hyacinths or daffodils or a small tray of seedlings fighting for the light, in both cases to grow there are certain things that are vital. These include good soil and the right amount of water. The latter is not one we always get right with plants in our home!!

What are we doing to nurture growth in our lives? Actually, let me ask another question – what does healthy growth even look like?  Take some time to reflect on that afresh.

If you are reading this as a Christ follower, does what is written in the Bible actively form and shape your view of growth?

A plant needs the right nutrients. So do we! What are we feeding our lives on? Who or what are the main influences sowing into us?

As to water…

I saw again on the news this week about those facing famine in countries like Somalia, where rain has continued to not come and crops have failed.  Water is so vital and also something that in a country like the Netherlands we take for granted.  Let’s be praying for those caught up in famine situations and where possible, do what we can to respond practically…

In John’s Gospel we have these words of Jesus recorded,

“He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’”By this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.  John 7:38-39

Christ promised the Holy Spirit for all who follow Him. Are we being open to the work of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives – at work or study, in our families or neighbourhoods? Are we allowing Him to shape how we respond to life circumstances or in reaching out with Christ’s love to those around us?

With such a question, I am not suggesting anything spooky or strange. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit as one just like him; to help us in following Christ in the midst of life –  even now in 2017.

I sign off for now – time to go and check on our plants : )

Andy

Resurrection and life

It was only two months ago that there was snow on the ground here in Zuid Holland. There was not loads of it but enough to crunch under foot and have a snowball fight or make a snowman. How many of us have already forgotten though that the snow was around?

Easter weekend is here. Matthew in his Gospel records an angel declaring, “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said” (28:6) Christ was not defeated by death, he was not held in the grave. He was alive – he is alive! Still changing lives in 2017.

If it is easy to forget the snow from two months ago, perhaps it feels a big ask to really get hold of those days back in the 1st century when Christ gave his life on the cross. In any reckoning for us, it seems a long time ago. Yet Easter weekend is a call and an invitation to…

  • remember
  • reflect
  • confess
  • receive
  • pray
  • celebrate.

There is much beauty in this world but also much pain. The attack on Coptic Church communities in Egypt on Palm Sunday shows again that followers of Christ are not immune from troubles on the planet. (Please pray for those communities). In the context of the realities of our own life challenges and what we read in the news, let’s

remember all that Christ did on the cross to deal with the weight of sin (for instance the hatred that drives people to bomb others),

reflect on what it means for us in relation to Christ’s sacrifice and how we live,

confess anything that we sense we need to put right with God,

receive afresh his forgiveness where we need it and his empowering to follow him,

pray for others to know Christ’s love, including those who grieve or are caught up in tough situations here at home or elsewhere in the world. Pray too that the Lord shows us how we can express that love to others.

Yet also let’s not to forget to…

celebrate –  that Christ is alive!

“I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). He was then and he still is.

Happy Easter!

Andy

Who is this?

If you had to choose from the following, which would you go for?

   

All three photos were taken on a trip last week to the Isle of Wight in the UK – I was with my dad and one of my sisters.

One question of course is which one of the three did we go on? (a clue is given at the end! Meanwhile, guess!!)

You would possibly have been surprised though if I had included a donkey in the pictures. Yet that is the means of transport that Jesus Christ chose when he rode into Jerusalem a few days before his death (and resurrection).

The city would have been heaving with pilgrims. There would have been celebration, anticipation and remembrance all rolled into one. But also perhaps for many, a bitter reminder that they were occupied by the Romans. As for the occupiers themselves, there was possibly heightened tension wondering if there would be any trouble.

Into this Jesus rides, coming from the Mount of Olives. Both in connection with ancient prophecies yet in other ways too, his riding in on a donkey proclaimed that he was King . Not a King that some were expecting, who would overthrow the Romans.

Though that being said, the Roman Empire is long gone but Christ is still changing lives in 2017 with His kingdom life!

Prophecy quoted by Matthew for instance, declares, “see your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey”.  (Matthew 21:5)

What kind of King? As I wrote He did not topple the Romans. Yet the Bible holds the promise that one day He will return and that “so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11)

The wars, famines, disasters, strife that we see will be brought to an end. There is real future hope in Christ. Hope amid the reality that at times we all have to walk through tough circumstances.

Belief in such a King is not escapism from the life we live now. Christ as King, Christ as Lord calls us to follow Him and live out His kingdom values where we are. This honours Him and can be a great benefit to others. The Gospel can also raise objections from others of course.

Will we seek to live ‘kingdom lives’ with His help? Among other things, to do this in the way we treat others. Let’s make that real – think colleagues, fellow students, neighbours, family members.  How do we respond to injustice and division between people? Do our lives point people to Christ and His life changing grace?

Christ is not some constitutional figurehead. He is not a ‘king of convenience’ for us to let out of the cupboard at Christmas, Easter and other events that suit us. How do you and I respond to the thought of Christ as King? What does it mean for our lives? In what ways is it a challenge but also an encouragement? (The Bible again and again reiterates that ultimately all things are in his hands and we can trust him).

At the end of Matthew’s account of the ‘Palm Sunday’ entry, people ask of Jesus, “who is this?”  (21:10)

That is a vital question. How we respond will shape everything else in how we see Christian faith and our lives. Who is Jesus? Who is the one who chose that day to ride in on a donkey?

This Easter season, how do we answer the question, “Who is this?”

Andy

(As to the transport, let’s just say I got some smoke in my eyes when I looked out the window. Did you guess correctly?)

An ever present help!

It is a sunny early evening as I type this. Spring seems to be truly here. People are out relaxing, boats are out once again on the canals.

Living somewhere like we do in the Leiden area, gives much to be grateful for.  I am also very thankful for family, friends and the church community I am part of.

Yet in writing these few lines , I am also mindful of tougher realities. In the news in recent days was the attack in central London but also the fighting in western Mosul where an estimated 150 non combatant people were killed by a bombing raid. Meanwhile the threat to twenty million people  facing famine and starvation in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and parts of Kenya continues.

Much closer to home for us as a church community, we have the sadness of families grieving the loss of loved ones in the past week.

Today in our service, Cor spoke from Psalm 77 – the words of this song are well worth checking out. Especially for times when tough things happen and it seems like God is absent or does not care. I encourage us all to read them.

Also I encourage us all…

  • to pray – both for those we know who are grieving or walking through other challenging circumstances. Pray about what we see in the news.
  • to reach out to others. You may not know always what to say but you can listen, express love, offer practical care.
  • to look to the Lord –  “God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble” Psalm 46:1

This is the God who did not remain distant from humanity but became human himself. This is the one who faced misunderstanding, rejection, public slurring and misrepresentation. This is the one who laid his life down and in his death took on the wrongdoing of humanity. This is the one who has gone through death and come out on the other side. This is the one who understands!

The message of Easter declares loud and clear the love and care of God for us all even amid our pain and questions. He is an ever present help!

Andy

 

A light to my path – whether it is clear or not!

It is a fresh, sunny Spring morning as witnessed by this photo taken earlier up the road from where we live. Of course with it having been the Dutch elections yesterday, whether you consider it is sunny today, may depend on your view of the results!

I am guessing that most people are happy to see blue skies and sunshine when these come. Probably most, may be all of us, prefer it when life seems like that also? Yet what about when it is like this:

This was the same view as above but on a very misty morning in February. How do we respond when there seems to be a “fog” in our lives and the way ahead seems unclear?

We are in the period of time for Christians known as Lent in the run up to Easter. Jesus’ followers had great hopes for the one they were following. Yet those would become seemingly dashed. Christ would be arrested and they would flee. Even Peter who vowed he would stick by Jesus whatever happened, ended up frantically denying Christ three times when he was challenged by others. Worse than his arrest, for Christ would come a farcical trial, beating and impaling on a Roman cross.

A fog in their lives? More bitter than that, it was like darkness that came on those earliest followers. In fact Matthew in his Gospel records that darkness came over the land between noon and 3 pm as Christ hung crucified.

It all seemed to be over, hopes gone, the hearts of his disciples broken, his enemies triumphant! They didn’t know of course that resurrection day was coming!

Where are you at in life at present? Does the way seem clear or is there some kind of fog? Or even darkness?

In Psalm 119:105 we can read these words,

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path”.

However life is, may we all know His leading, His light, His word speaking into our lives.

If life seems dark at present, don’t walk alone. Who can you reach out to?

If life seem light at present, don’t keep it to yourself. Who can you reach out to with the love of Christ? May be someone else you know needs assurance, a listening ear and your support?

I sign off for now, it is back out into the sunshine!

Andy

 

So this is Lent?

Yesterday (Ash Wednesday) marked the beginning of Lent – a period of 46 days before Easter Day (4o were traditionally fasting days – the Sundays not being such days as the resurrection would be celebrated).

Ash Wednesday as practised by many Christians, includes the wearing of ashes on the head. The ashes are often made from “blessed” palm branches, taken from the previous year’s Palm Sunday.

Ashes can be seen to symbolize the dust from which God made us. As the priest/church minister applies the ashes to a person’s forehead, he/she speaks words such as: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Alternatively, the priest/minister may speak the words, “Repent and believe in the Gospel” in connection with seeing ashes as a sign of penitence for the wrongs we have done.

Okay, so?

So how do you respond to all the above? You might say that kind of thing is not for me! Fasting is already a challenge! Having ashes on my head too?

I think there is much to learn from other Christian traditions outside of the one(s) we are used to. What can we learn from others that can add richness and other aspects to faith in Christ?

Let me urge us all to pause… Is there anything we can do afresh in this run up to Easter? Or will it simply catch up with us on 16th April?

May be during Lent , it could be good to take some time to fast in one way or another? To bring your body under control as an act of surrender to the Lord. Whilst it is true that for some people it is not good medically to fast much it at all from eating, for most people this is not the case. Plus there are all kinds of ways to fast. Be open to something that has some element of cost/surrender to it. Though don’t fast out of guilt or trying to be extra-holy!!! Do what you sense in your mind/heart to do.

Perhaps at some stage during Lent, burn a match down and create some ashes. Use this as a symbol to reflect on as you pray.  (don’t forget to blow the match out or it might be “ouch!”)

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” – 

It is a good thing to remember our mortality. Death is so often in western culture a topic that is not talked about. Why is that do you think?

We have one life this side of eternity before we die and face our Creator. Are we grateful for the gift of life? What are we doing with that gift? Does the Lord receive our best or is He a side matter in our schedules?

“Repent and believe in the Gospel” –

This connects with above and remembering our mortality. It is possible for us to have eternal life due to the work of Christ on the cross. By His grace, as we trust in Him; we can receive forgiveness and be made “new creations” to use a phrase from the New Testament. Sure, those new creations are works in progress but new nevertheless!

The word ‘repent’ is involved. Repentance (turning around) is involved in our coming to Christ. Yet also throughout our lives there is a call for surrender and repentance. Not that we repent to become a Christian all over again. Rather we do so that we might know cleansing, a fresh start and draw closer to the Lord and our fellow human beings afresh.

One last thing I write here in this reflection.

The prophet Isaiah, 100s of years before Christ called on the Jewish people to take part in “true fasting”. He spoke out against their feeling religious because they were fasting and doing various religious observances. Not that these were wrong per se, but their hearts were not right. How do we know? Well one sign is that the poor and oppressed were being forgotten! Listen to these words –

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Isaiah 58:6-8, New International Version

So yes, let’s be open to fasting or other spiritual disciplines that can help us grow in our understanding of the Lord and following Him in being “spiritually fit”! Yet also this Lent, it would be good to prayerfully reflect on these words through Isaiah. Then to see how we might live Isaiah’s call out in the real world around us and touch other people’s lives with God’s love.

More Easter reflections to come in the weeks that follow.

Andy

 

 

 

 

How are your fitness levels?

According to at least one website, 80% of those who joined a gym in January 2012 in that part of the States quit within 5 months

So is the message, don’t join a gym? Of course not. A gym can be a really good way of you getting exercise in your life. We can all benefit from having some way of keeping healthy and fit including exercise – for example, walking, cycling, swimming, a team sport or going to a gym.

In the New Testament, we can read these words,

For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. 1 Timothy 4:8 (New International Version) Just before this, we can also read, “train yourself to be godly”. The Greek word for ‘train’ is the one from which we get gymnasium.

There is value in exercise – let’s not neglect it if at all possible. Yet the apostle Paul writing to Timothy as a young leader points out about ‘godliness’ having value for all things – both for life now and in eternity.

Godliness is not a completely easy word to define. Jerry Bridges in his book, “Pursuit of Godliness” defines it as ‘devotion in action’.

It relates to who we are ‘on the inside’, in relation to who God is and His working in our lives but also how this impacts in our interaction with others. It also touches on wholeness. God is not fractured nor are we called to be!

Godliness is not something we are called to be/do on our own! Peter wrote, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence…” (2 Peter 1:3, English Standard Version)

His power at work within us! What might that mean in our families, jobs, study courses or neighbourhoods?

At times it is good to check up on our physical well-being – things like diet, exercise and sleep. Also it is healthy to actually check up at times on how the ‘whole’ of us is doing.
How do we see God? Are we growing in godliness? How are our ‘spiritually fitness’ levels?

Andy

 

The art of trust

Café Terrace at Night was painted by Vincent van Gogh in Arles, France during September 1888. It can be viewed at the Kroller-Muller museum in the Veluwe (well worth a visit if you like paintings and sculptures).

Any form of art – be it a painting, sculpture, installation or other, takes patience, care, attention to detail and time. Well skill is also needed of course! I could never paint anything like the above. If I painted, it would be stick shaped people and splodges for everything else!!

The art of trust.

Like a painting, trust does not just happen. This is particularly true since there can be all kinds of things around us that cause us to perhaps doubt rather than trust! These can include things we see in the news – various events in the past months have disturbed many people. Yet also there are circumstances that we personally face or misconceptions that we have about God, life and how things are or simply what we feed our minds on most of the time.

In the book of Proverbs, we can read these words,

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.  Proverbs 3:5-6.

God can be trusted – do you agree or not? Why do you respond the way you do?

Trusting in the Lord is not just about reciting verses from the Bible but living it out. It takes walking out, there is an art to it! With God’s help it is possible.

Terry Hoggard (who presently serves with Convoy of Hope Europe) wrote in a recent blog about some of the challenges that come in our lives,

…these things come to shape us! These challenges are not taskmasters … they are teachers!

How do we respond to such a thought?

The art of trust…

One last thought here on trust is from Brennan Manning’s book, “Ruthless Trust”:

“The foremost quality of a trusting disciple is gratefulness. Gratitude arises from the lived perception, evaluation, and acceptance of all of life as grace – as an undeserved and unearned gift from the Father’s hand”

What do you think of those words?

Gratitude… it is part of the art of trust.

We all put our trust in something – be it what we see in the news, our bank account balance, our relationships, our career, what others tell us or other things.

Where is our ultimate trust? Is it in the One, the greatest Artist ever; who created the masterpiece of the entire universe? The One who has shared the human experience himself in Jesus Christ?

He gets it. He understands the art of trust since he has walked it himself in the stuff of life!

Andy

 

Done with the manger, so what now?

img_20170105_133914

Took this photo above yesterday – the manger is empty (courtesy of Archeon). Christmas time has come and gone again. Did the truth of Christ coming to earth as a gift strike us in a fresh way at all?

The manger became empty. Firstly he started to grow up. By the time the Magi came to visit, Jesus was living in a house with his parents. Did they keep the manger as a souvenir? I guess not! Yet even if they did, they would have not taken it with them when they fled to Egypt, so as to avoid Herod’s intention to kill the boy! They became refugees – the manger was definitely well and truly history!

Even at an early age, Christ knew what it was to experience loss, disruption and a total change of circumstances. God became man and He understands directly the human journey, including when everything is thrown up in the air.

In Psalm 46, we read of not fearing, even though the earth gives way and the mountains fall into the sea! This reads like the stuff of a Hollywood disaster movie – tumult, destruction, everything we know being decimated. The Psalm goes onto use words like roaring, foaming, quaking, surging… not exactly words of peace and rest!

Does life ever seem like that? That the landscape completely changes? It may be due to a physical move. But it may be due to for example health, relationship or employment matters. Or perhaps political changes or things we see in the news cause life to seem like the earth has given way?

The Psalm begins with these words,

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

Do we believe that?

Though as an aside, is God someone we only call on when we are in trouble? It is far better to get to know more about who He is in all seasons of life. Otherwise perhaps we are using Him like a “get out of trouble” app: “please God, fix this… God sort this…”

Not that it is wrong to bring our requests to Him – plenty of verses in the Bible encourage us to do so. Yet it is in the context of a call to be His children, to relationship with the Lord. It is not some kind of transactional deal like “God if I sort of follow You, stop there being difficult stuff!”

When stuff happens that shakes us, that can cause us to fear, where do we turn? What are we persuaded by?

Note I write ‘when’ not ‘if’…

That is not to be all doom and gloom as we look ahead. But there is a lot of fluffy talk at the start of any new year  – things like “this is going to be our greatest year yet”! May be it will be though perhaps it depends on how ‘great’ is best defined?

Later in the Psalm we read,

Be still and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.

So I ask again,

When stuff happens that shakes us, that can cause us to fear, where do we turn? What are we persuaded by?

What lies ahead in 2017? Neither you or I know either for our personal lives or in the wider world. Yet I do not think this means we have to fear nor be full of anxiety nor be moving forward with some sense of foreboding. The emphasis of the Psalm is to look to the Lord at all times and have confidence in Him, whatever our circumstances:

The Lord Almighty is with us, the God of Jacob is our fortress. 

The manger was empty but God remained faithful. He led them as a family to Egypt and He led them back again.

The manger is still empty but Christ is alive and calls us to follow Him through the coming months. He remains faithful and a fortress.

Where is our trust?

That’s a big question to finish on but I hope it is one that positively stirs us.

Andy