MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR to all ‘Ready Writer’ readers/followers
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I came across this powerful benediction the other day – crying out to be shared !
May God bless you with a restless discomfort about easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.
May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.
May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.
May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really can make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.
Have you noticed how the term ‘spiritual’ is used these days. For example, as when Lords Cricket Ground is referred to as the spiritual home of cricket, or Wembley Stadium is designated the spiritual home of football. Well, in my opinion, this is both a misunderstanding and misuse of the word, indicating that another ‘treasure’ is being adapted by secular society, so rendering it almost meaningless.
Eugene Peterson, pastor/theologian, offers this insight: “The meteoric ascendancy of interest in spirituality … is fueled by a profound dissatisfaction with approaches to life that are either aridly rationalistic … or impersonally functional … There comes a time for most of us when we discover a deep desire within us to live from the heart … what is lasting and eternal. The difficulty is that everyone is more or less invited to make up a spirituality that suits herself or himself. Out of the grab bag of celebrity anecdotes, media gurus, fragments of ecstasy and personal fantasies, far too many of us … assemble spiritual identities that are conspicuously prone to addictions, broken relationships, isolation and violence … ” from ‘Christ Plays in 10,000 Places’ (pages 4-5)
I’d like to re-direct attention to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which is the epitome of spiritual values & characteristics. It’s recorded by Matthew in three outstanding chapters (5,6,7) of his gospel. The writer introduces this spiritual manifesto by reference to vast crowds who pressed in to hear Jesus (we know it was not unusual for over 5000 to gather for this purpose). Jesus climbed a hill to find space to accommodate the throng in what was a natural amphitheatre. Matthew’s comment at the conclusion (7:28) suggests this teaching wasn’t meant as a private audience for few disciples, but intended for all those in attendance.
A fascinating observation by Matthew, not picked up in some modern translations, is the phrase occurring in the original, “and He opened His mouth and taught them”. Why does Matthew find it necessary to tell us that Jesus opened His mouth. This amused me greatly until I connected it with Matthew’s description of Christ’s ordeal in the wilderness in the previous chapter. The satanic temptation to turn stones into bread is met by the firm rebuttal, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (4:4). Is Matthew deliberately implying that the mouth on the mount is in fact the mouth of God ? Selah !!
Space permits merely a quick dip into the edge of this mighty ocean, but hopefully it may initiate a longing in readers to plunge in further, as happened in my case, when I was first introduced to these passages by a godly pastor during my teenage years.
At the outset we have those pithy sayings known as the BEATITUDES, each beginning with the word BLESSED, translating a Greek word: MAKARIOI, often used in secular Greek society to denote a state of happiness, and having no religious connotations whatsoever. The AMPLIFIED BIBLE picks this up, translating as: “Blessed – happy, to be envied and spiritually prosperous … ” Clearly Jesus intends us to appreciate that He came to BLESS mankind, that His kingdom is here to BLESS the earth. Even God is called the HAPPY GOD in St Paul’s letter to Timothy. Of this word BLESSED F F Bruce writes: “This is one of the words which have been transformed … by New Testament use … by association, as in the Beatitudes, with unusual conditions, accounted by the world miserable, or difficult”
For me these beatitudes map the territory of genuine, robust spirituality, which is no-nonsense and eminently practical … they present 7 spiritual truths, as follows:
1. Spirituality is God-dependency not self-sufficiency
2. Spirituality laments failure – both in itself & others
3. Spirituality is not weakness, but inner strength through submission
4. Spirituality has to do with an internal longing
5. Spirituality is not something in isolation from others
6. Spirituality is the steady focus of our inner person
7. Spirituality expresses itself in actively seeking the common good – peace between God & man – & peace among men
The 8th & final beatitude promises a two-fold blessing even though pointing to the potential of persecution. Because those who are truly spiritual are looked on as ‘different’ (i.e. the root meaning of ‘holy’) they will often be misunderstood, even rejected and persecuted by secular society. Encouragingly, however, those exhibiting such a spiritual disposition are described as salt and light in this world (Matthew 5:13 & 14) reflecting and representing God’s Kingdom, which is both present, spiritual reality, and yet awaits glorious, future manifestation.
FINALLY: Take Time To Explore The Territory – a road-map only describes the territory – having and knowing the map, isn’t equivalent to knowing the territory. It takes a commitment of will, of time and effort to move into that territory in order to experience it first-hand.
I am …
all I have been
and will become
in one complete
so much more
than number or
blank face in a crowd.
Unique amid billions
dwelling in time
in vast universe
from, by, and through
within, and for
the Only Eternal
The text of my address at the WWI Commemoration Service held at St John’s Church, Brigg on Sunday 3rd August 2014
The students and staff of Sir John Nelthorpe School are to be highly commended for a significant contribution to the Centenary Commemorations of WWI so far as this community is concerned, and we’re delighted that some of those students could be with us today. For your information a 50-minute documentary entitled “In the Footsteps of the Fallen”, and produced by the students, may now be seen in a private viewing room in the North Lincolnshire Museum, Scunthorpe. But, nearer to home you are invited to a display of still photos, and a slide presentation, in the Church Hall after this service, along with light refreshments.
I’ve been doing some serious wracking (or maybe that should be fracking) of my brain to find something relevant and different to share with you on this occasion, and I’d like for a few moments to take you out on a limb. In the early years of my ministry (mid to late 1970s) I recall reading a biographical work entitled “The Beloved Evangelist”, where I came across a fascinating incident which occurred in July 1914, a matter of weeks before our nation became embroiled in the War. The setting was a Baptist Chapel in Llanelly in South Wales. It was a Sunday evening and a service was in full swing when suddenly a vision appeared on the wall behind the preacher. The vision remained visible for a period of six hours, and could be seen even when the lights were turned out. Observers were convinced it was no trick of the light. Crowds, numbering hundreds, gathered to witness this – many out of curiosity, many renowned as unbelievers, who, it is stated, came to mock, but stayed to pray. Witnesses noted that the vision began as the face of a Lamb, but then turned into the face of a man – a man evidently weeping.
The phenomenon was reported in the Llanelli Guardian on 16th July 1914, and that report can be accessed today on the Internet. It included an interview with Stephen Jeffreys, the preacher that evening, and the subject of the afore-mentioned book, who reportedly said: “My back was turned to the portion of the wall where the vision appeared and my attention was drawn to it by some of the congregation who were spellbound to see the face of our Lord standing boldly out of the wall. There was no mistaking the appearance: it was the Man of Sorrows, looking on us, with ineffable love, and compassion shining out of his wonderful eyes. The effect upon us was one that will never be forgotten by any who were privileged to behold it. It remained on the wall for hours after the service closed and we kept the building open in order that all should have the opportunity of witnessing this wonderful revelation.”
An ‘interpretation’ given for this vision is offered in “The Beloved Evangelist”, I quote: “…this was both a warning concerning the Great War, which broke out in August of that same year, less than a month later … and also indicated something of Jesus Christ’s deep concern (and compassion) over the coming conflict and human suffering”
Perhaps, to our cynical 21st century ears this sounds improbable … BUT then again, even with all our wonderful advances in science and technology, perhaps we might learn something of profound importance from this strange happening:
May this clearly indicate that God, the Creator of the Universe, is not remote from or unmoved by, human adversity. Indeed, rightly understood, the message of Jesus Christ is that God fully identifies with us in our human limitations and afflictions – and that Jesus Himself embodies the compassion of God towards mankind.
James E Loder writes: “Jesus is what God means by true humanity, and God revealed in Jesus is what God means by God”. There is every evidence that in His earthly ministry Jesus was deeply moved by the sufferings of others, touched with the plight of those regarded as untouchable, and shed tears along with those experiencing bereavement.
This is perfectly summarised in the lines of a hymn we had at Morning Praise earlier today:
I have borne my peoples pain.
I have wept for love of them.
So, as we remember and honour those who, with selfless sacrifice and courage, helped to preserve our freedoms, at the same time my plea is that we do not forget, or cut ourselves off from the One, whose love, mercy and grace is capable of making a vast difference in all the extremities of human misery.
May we pray …
“Our Heavenly Father, forgive us when we judge you as harsh or distant from our suffering.
Help us to see in Christ your compassion, and so draw strength from You in our own hour of need, through His Holy and Matchless Name,