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?

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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

 

 

 

Emmanuel – God with us?

Emmanuel – God with us!

These are words spoken prophetically 100s of years before Christ was born. Words picked up by Matthew, one of the Gospel writers.

Emmanuel – God with us. Or perhaps you ask, God with us?

As I write the fighting in Aleppo has drawn to an end but the reality is there has been so much sorrow, bloodshed and atrocity.

Across Europe and the Middle East, many displaced families are seeking to cope. Just the other day I was visiting again a family here – yes they are safe here but still there are all kinds of stresses (and a desire if only it were possible to be home in Syria).

God with us?

In the world of politics there has been much shaking in the US, the EU and the UK referendum, Cuba and Indonesia to name just some places. During 2017, there are elections here in the Netherlands, Germany and France. All kind of speculation is happening as to what will happen.

God with us?

The angel song to the shepherds declared,

“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people on whom his favour rests” (Luke 2:14)

Christ came to this world and all its mess and complications. Mankind was not abandoned. These years on, we are still not abandoned.

I recognise there are many questions we face about how our world is. Peace often seems far away from earth!

But are we open to being open? That is to giving glory to God and allowing His peace in our lives and to seek to extend this to others? (The root idea is ‘shalom’ – which encompasses His wholeness and completeness not just an absence of conflict)

Mankind is not a Mission Abandoned!

He is Emmanuel, God with us! His Holy Spirit continues to be at work among people. That might sound a bit vague but He really is at work. Do you see it at all? This Christmas time how will you and I respond to Christ?

In light of His promise of peace and favour, who can you and I reach out to in these coming weeks?

Andy

 

Stop!

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Yes, it is another not so exciting photograph : ) I don’t think I will be winning any awards!

I took this from in the car on a cloudy, wet day. So?

Well, the red light saying “Stop!” triggered some reflections in my mind.

Sometimes we experience times in our lives when something happens that makes us have to stop. Perhaps it even feels like life crashes! It may be something very unexpected and also very tough. How do we respond in those times? What do we put our trust in?

I have been thinking a lot about trust in recent weeks. The New Testament word for trust along with that of faith, have their roots in a word that means “to be persuaded”. What we are persuaded by, that is what we trust.

Take a look at these words from Proverbs 3:5-6,

“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”  (New International Version)

May be life has hit an unexpected stop for you. May these words be a comfort and encouragement to you that you can trust the Lord for a way ahead. I am not saying it will be easy and a quick fix but you are not abandoned!

Who could you be honest with about your situation? Part of God’s answer in our lives can come through journeying with others.

It is also good to regularly build in moments to ‘stop’ in our lives. There are so many demands on all our time (both real and imagined/imposed demands)1. It can be so easy just to go from one thing to another but never to truly be still.

Perhaps we fear stopping because we are afraid of facing up to some things? Yet can we trust the Lord that even if there are painful things to face; that with His help, it will be worth it? That He can give us the strength to face up to whatever it is?

To ‘stop’ is so vital. In order to worship, to pray, to reflect, to receive from the Lord through what we read in the Bible, to get fresh perspective on life… So many things that could be named! To ‘stop’ is crucial regularly in our lives.

Stopping also gives us the opportunity to allow gratitude to rise up in us. There is always something to be grateful for. Today is American Thanksgiving Day (it was the Canadian one back on October 10th). Americans all across the world will be expressing thanks and having meals together (either tonight or on the weekend). You may or may not be from the USA, but who or what are you grateful for today? Why not ‘stop’ and reflect? Then somewhere along the way, why not write to some others and thank them?

Also, what about gratitude towards the Lord?

“…give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Note the word “in” all circumstances not “for”!!

I encourage us all to take some time to “stop”. And if we are in an unexpected “stop” in our lives, to trust there is a way forward.

Speaking of stopping…

Andy

  1. Note from above – I am re-reading “Boundaries” by Drs Henry Cloud and John Townsend. It is well worth a read and touches on dealing with ‘demands’, both from others and what we put on ourselves. The book is also a help with exploring how we can build more “stop” into our lives.

 

Largely unseen, largely unnoticed!

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Okay, so the photo above is probably a strong entry for the “Most Boring Photo of November 2016” competition! It does not look that thrilling, does it?

I took it this morning when out for a walk out at the lake area just north of where we live. It was cold and the sky was very dull. There were not many people about, just a few determined individuals walking their dogs.

So why did I take the photo?

Well in the mid-distance, you can make out something yellow. This is from a digger at the centre of some work going on to strength the banks and cut down erosion and prevent water undermining the island (at least I think that is what is being worked on!)

When I first noticed it the other week, I stood and watched for a time. It struck me that the work going on is largely unseen by people in Leiden or Warmond (over the other side of the lake). Even for those walking up by the lake; what is going on will be largely unnoticed. No one else for instance stopped and watched with me – may be that is not surprising as there is nothing very exciting to see! (I guess it was the ex-Geography teacher part of me that grabbed my interest).

So where am I going with this? Well the thoughts struck me that other week, that prayer is also often unseen and unnoticed by so many. It can seem like it is not ‘doing’ and perhaps we might question does it make a difference?

We may say yes to seeking to live out our Christian lives in our workplaces, neighbourhoods or families or for us to campaign and act on behalf of those in the world experiencing injustice or oppression. Or to be involved in the politics of the country we are from and/or now live in. (There is a certain election in the US this week for example!)

All of those things and many other things too can be right to be involved with. But let’s not fall into the trap of missing out on prayer. Let’s not miss out on taking time to be real with God or to seek to listen to Him. To come in worship, in confession or to intercede on behalf of others we know or situations we see in the news.

The work up at the lake is largely unseen and largely unnoticed. Yet without it there will be real problems. Prayer may be largely unseen and unnoticed by others but it too is vital. It is a lifeline connection between us and the Lord. Unlike the picture, it does not mean prayer has to be dull, though sometimes it can feel like hard work and can need us to be disciplined to do it, asking the Lord for help in the process.

In the New Testament, we read these words, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful” (Colossians 4:2) and elsewhere, “Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

How do we respond to such words? If you are being honest, how do you view prayer? Is it a feature of your life?

Is it one of those things you kind of feel may be you ought to do but don’t know where to begin? Or “I’ve tried prayer, it doesn’t work!”

Whatever our answers to such questions, how can we grow in prayer in our lives both individually and one another?

Why not take some time to think about? (may be prayer about it too!)

Andy

Kingdoms rise, kingdoms fall!

The Earth is littered with the ruins of empires that believed they were eternal.

So penned Camille Paglia, an American academic and social critic reflecting on society and history.

During the last thirty years, the following states have vanished as political entities; the DDR, the USSR, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.  Among the books that I am presently reading, it includes this one:

vanished-kingdoms  Image from www.bol.com

The author Norman Davies traces what happened to numerous countries that existed within Europe in the past but are no more. Do you remember Aragon existed for instance? (that was Aragon, not Aragorn from a certain fantasy tale!)

In what is aptly named for this month, the song ‘October’ by U2 from way back in 1981, includes the the following words:

October
And kingdoms rise
And kingdoms fall

Looking in the news over the past week, we cannot have failed to see the on-going destructive slaughter in Aleppo or the hammer blow of Hurricane Matthew in Haiti (let’s keep praying and if we can, help in some way). Nations shaken!

In Psalm 46, we can read these words,

Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall  (v6)

It was true then, it is true now. In contrast in the New Testament, we can read of Jesus and his kingdom,

But about the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom. (Hebrews 1:8)

So am I saying just think about Jesus and forget the world we live in? No, definitely not!

It is true that Christians are called to look to a future time when Christ will return and human history as we know it will be brought to a close. Yet this does not mean we are to not care for this world that we live in. Far from it, the Bible is full of calls about justice, care for the poor, standing up for the oppressed and for what is right. Even this verse above about Jesus , declares about a ‘scepter of justice’. Part of the Gospel is to express the good news of His kingdom now not just for one day in the future!

Towards the end of Psalm 46, there are these words calling us to focus on the Lord:

Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.  (v 10)

This is a call to be still from the rush, the noise, the challenges of life and to look to the Lord. Do you and I believe that He can be exalted in our circumstances? Do you believe that He is even interested at all?

Do we know that He is God and ultimately He is in control?

“Yeah, but I don’t see that when I look at the news!” I struggle with that too at times, when it comes to praying and knowing how to respond to situations such as Syria. How are are we seeing God exalted in the earth? Not just a promise for the future but evident now?

If you ponder on such questions, remember that Christ himself suffered on the cross. He got fully immersed in this world and along the way He was rejected, despised and broken on the cross, that we might be made whole and reconciled to God and each other.

Christ is alive – come through death to the other side. He is sure hope for the future but also hope for our world now. How? I leave that for you to think on, including the part He might have you play.

Andy

 

Where are we looking?

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The other week after 10 years of living in the Netherlands, we finally got to visit the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam! Yep, we had not been before : ) In our defence, it was closed for a number of years.

Among other paintings of course is The Night Watch by Rembrandt. Above is a small excerpt from that large canvas.

Here are these group of militia men charged with duty to keep the streets safe and watch over the people. Presumably they would be those whom others could look to for help if needed.

In life where do we look? Where is our trust placed?

Before we moved here from the UK, we were praying together and the words of Psalm 121 helped shape what we were praying:

I lift up my eyes to the hills     (there were hills where we used to live!)

From where does my help come from?

My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.   (verses 1 and 2)

The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forever more.  (verse 8)

This Psalm is one of the so called Songs of Ascents, that pilgrims probably sang and proclaimed as they journeyed up to Jerusalem for festivals. The words reminded the Jewish people of the Lord’s faithfulness and that they are called to look to Him.

Often in hills at that time there would be shrines to other gods. It was neither from the hills nor those shrines that the people would find true help. But rather from the Lord.

Where are we looking? What modern ‘shrines’ can we end up building in our lives, that can get in the way of our knowing the Lord at work in our lives?

The One who was celebrated in these words of this Psalm, is still the same today. Let’s look to Him – not just in the tough times but when things seem to be going well too!

Andy