Thought for the day

Friday 22nd May

Monday is a Bank Holiday.  Before 1834 there were 33 Bank Holidays, but Sir John Lubbock instigated the Bank Holidays Act 1871 which reduced them to 4.  In England and Wales we now have 8 each year; India have the most with 21 and Mexico the least with 7.  Scotland and the Channel Islands have one extra and Northern Island have 2 extra each year.  When they come around it is a good time to take some time out to relax.

It is about setting boundaries for ourselves, not just on Bank Holidays but all through the year.  Jesus gave a great example when, after a busy day, he leaves the crowd and sets off to go the other side of the lake.  Being tired he goes to sleep at the back of the boat.  Suddenly a squall appears, and the wind and waves threaten to sink the boat.  The disciples, in their fear, wake Jesus up.  He gets up and calms the wind and the waves.  In my imagination I think of Jesus returning to the stern of the boat and going back to sleep. 

What’s important in this passage is that Jesus knows people’s needs: he knows there is work to be done but he also knows we needs rest.  Jesus models this for our benefit.  He knows we need time with God.  When Jesus heard that John the Baptist was dead, he went off to a quiet place to grieve, however, the crowds followed him.  Jesus had compassion on them and heals them, then he feeds the 5,000.  But then he dismisses the crowd and goes up the mountainside to pray.    He knows he needs time to refresh, to rest and to have deliberate time with God.

This deliberate time with God is often called ‘quiet time’.  But a better description would be ‘unhurried time’.  It is about not being rushed, but being intentional, purposeful and meaningful as we connect to God.  It is a good lesson for us all.

Wednesday 20th May

Since it is Mental Health Awareness Week I want to talk a little bit about how we might keep ourselves mentally strong and well during this time of isolation and anxiety.  These are recommendations from experts but are all logical and sound.

Jesus, our stronghold and hero, suffered at times in his life.  He was human so not immune from what we feel.  His great anxiety when in the Garden of Gethsemane, where he sweat blood, is just one example.  He also wept before he raised Lazarus from the dead.  So Jesus knows how we feel and it does affect us all at times.  As Christians we often think our faith should get us through but if Jesus suffered, there’s every reason to acknowledge we will too.

Try to avoid speculation about Covid 19 as our imaginations can run wild, don’t read scare stories in tabloid newspapers but get reliable information from a trusted source.

We should follow the Government advice on keeping safe, washing hands, following the recommendations of social distancing and isolation.

Stay connected with other friends and family by phone or Facetime or Skype or Zoom or any other means, talk with neighbours at a distance.  Stick to a daily routine as far as possible, keep active and eat a balanced diet.

Accept that you might feel distressed at times, under such situations, that’s normal especially if you are in one of the vulnerable groups.  Acknowledge those feelings and talk to someone, share your fears.  To help others, check in with them to make sure they are keeping well and are not getting overwhelmed.

Don’t make assumptions about other people or who is responsible for the spread of the disease.  The virus can come from anywhere.  Thinking too much about it can make us very anxious.

Find a new rhythm of life in lockdown and embrace it.  It is an opportunity to do things differently, to come up with a new routine for yourself.  Do something you’ve always wanted to do, eg watch a film series from the beginning, knit a blanket, grow tomatoes, write a poem, bake a cake.  Try to really embrace the new opportunities this time offers.

Look after you spiritual health too.  Engage in Thought for the Day or Compline or many other Christian programmes that are being offered.  Read the Bible more often, find a prayer partner and pray together, memorise a verse from the Bible.

Tuesday 19th May

As we come towards the end of the Easter season, it finishes at Pentecost, I have been Reflecting on Easter and Jesus on the cross.  Jesus died for us on the cross to bring us back into a right relationship with God, and through his resurrection, he demonstrates that he has beaten death for all time.  No wonder it is the most important Christian celebration.

Jesus was crucified together with two robbers.  Jesus came and assumed the human nature by being born to Mary; he lived and experience life as we do, including all its ups and downs.  So, it seems right in his death, he is there too with humanity.  One of the two robbers repented on the cross but the other did not.  To the one who repented Jesus said, ‘Today you will be with me in paradise’.  We are not told what happened to the other robber.  This is a microcosm of the world; some people believe and accept Jesus, and some don't.

To those who accept Jesus and recognise him as their Saviour, he promises great things.  He doesn’t, however, promise that we will not go through the trials and tribulations of life in the world.  In this respect, we are likely to experience mental health issues at times in our life.  There will be many who experience such difficulties during this Coronavirus lockdown.  Whilst on the surface we may look as if we are coping, managing our anxiety, handling isolation and dealing with the lack of control; many will also feel stressed, worried and fearful.  These are natural reactions.

The Church of England has given guidance to minimise this by advising us to avoid speculation, follow the advice on staying safe, keep in touch with people, acknowledge how we feel and to look after our spiritual health.  Revd Reg and Revd Tracy are always available to talk to people and to help in any way we can, just give us a call.

Monday 18th May

A recent good news story showed two life-long best friends (aged 98 and 96) have been reunited at Chanters Care Home.  They had been best friends since being at school together when they were 14 and then for many years working in the cutting room in Ena mill.  They had more recently lost touch but now plan on making up for lost time.  A wonderful story of friendship.

Naturally during Covid 19 isolation, people are missing their friends.  They used to meet in church and in the church coffee mornings enjoying fellowship and sharing.  Friendships are important because we are sociable people, it is the way we are made.  Phoning friends helps but can never be the same as meeting in person.

One of the strongest friendships in the Bible is that of Naomi and Ruth.  Even thought they were different ages and from different cultures, Ruth decided she would follow and support Naomi wherever she went.  They worked hard to help each other despite desperate times of food shortage.  Eventually Ruth married Boaz and they had a son, who was to become the grandfather of King David.  Their friendship demonstrated loyalty, unconditional love and self-sacrifice – key elements in true friends.  Ruth didn’t hesitate when Naomi was in need.

Friday 15th May

The book of Jonah in the Old Testament is a great story but has so much to teach us and demonstrate so many of God’s values in the way he treats Jonah and the people of the city of Nineveh.

Initially Jonah was disobedient and tried to run away from God but God often has a plan for us and he always manages to pull us back so we fulfil his will.  Therefore, we should listen to his voice and follow his call on our lives. 

This book also demonstrates God’s infinite love and mercy.  He was willing to show compassion to Jonah and the Ninevites, he was willing to forgive and allow them to start again.  We too should forgive – Jesus told the disciples we shouldn’t just forgive 7 times but 70 times 7 times.

God is patient and gentle.  He never became frustrated or shouted despite Jonah’s attitude to God’s decisions.  He leads us gently along a path of redemption and softly guides us in the way he knows is right for us to travel.  Lastly, God shows he has a sense of humour.  I’m sure he smiles as he sees Jonah’s petulance, just as a parent smiles at their child as they have a minor paddy. 

May we all recognise our own faults and issues, and may we all learn to love and be more compassionate as we travel along our path in life.

Thursday 14th May

Today we remember St. Matthias.  Matthias had been with Jesus from his baptism to his ascension, and was selected, together with Joseph called Barsabbas, to be a suitable candidate to replace Judas.  This would bring them back to 12, an important number of perfect authority or government in Jewish thought.  The followers of Jesus prayed and asked God to choose.  By the casting of lots Matthias was chosen and is unique that he is the only one not chosen by Jesus.

Following his election, nothing is known of Matthias.  There is a legend that he preached in Judaea and Ethiopia, and suggestions he was martyred in Ethiopia or stoned in Jerusalem.  We do know he was made a saint in the 11th Century.  I am sure he was faithful to God, worked hard for the Gospel wherever he went and made a difference in many lives.

Matthias reminds us that saints’ days are not about the saint but that they point the way to God in Christ and his love for the world.  The most important credential we need to be a follower and disciple of Christ is to know him in our lives and to help others to know him in theirs.  We should always seek to do exactly that and to ask God to help us to do that in whatever we do.

Wednesday 13th May

Ecclesiastes 3.1-6

The book of Ecclesiastes is in the Old Testament and was written between 200 and 450 BC, and is considered to be a King’s experience of life and its relationship to God.  He recognises everything is ordered in time, people are subject to time and God will make all things right in his time.  Everything is in God's time, not ours.  As human beings we don't understand everything, it is only God who sees the bigger picture.  

These verses give a series of opposites, eg a time to weep and a time to laugh.  It recognises that life is a journey through a series of good and happy times to times of sadness and difficulty.  It acknowledges that God wants us to be joyful and there are many things in which we can seek joy, for example nature, people, sport, food, etc.

Everything comes in its appropriate time, eg if you plant seeds in the middle of winter they are unlikely to grow, but grow them in spring and you will receive a bumper harvest.  In life we must work within God’s ordained schedule, there is an appropriate time for everything.

‘A time to keep and a time to throw away’.  There is much we should keep such as our faith, our hope and the values that support God’s teaching.  Periodically we should also carry out a spring clean of our lives to throw away bad habits and attitudes.

‘A time to love and a time to hate.’  Surely, we shouldn’t hate.  We should hate the inequality, poverty, hunger and evil in this world, because by hating it we are more likely to do something about it.  And we should love as God loves.

Time belongs to God and we should work within it.  With Coronavirus, we don’t sit back and ignore it, we take precautions at this time, we support scientists in finding a vaccine or cure, we applaud the medical staff who are doing their utmost to heal the sick.  And we remember that no matter where we are, God is with us.

Tuesday 12th May

Romans 15.13:  May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  NIV

The key to this reading is that we overflow with hope when we are filled with joy and peace, and this happens when we trust in God.  All of this is accomplished by the Holy Spirit: the power and presence of God in the world today.

Paul, the author of the letter to the Romans, says all this begins with trust.  How do we trust?  Trust doesn’t just happen, it is something that we learn, it happens through experience.  We see how a person is, what they do and we gradually learn to trust.  It’s the same with God.

As we read the Bible we hear what Jesus did, his healings, miracles and death on the cross.  We build up our trust of Jesus because he did what he said he would do, he had integrity, we can have confidence in him.  We also remember the experience of the disciples, the people knew him best having lived with him for 3 years; through that experience they learned to trust him totally and eventually many gave their lives for him.  We also trust Jesus by the experience of other Christians and how he has changed their lives for the good.  And lastly, we also have our personal experience that he never lets us down.  All this leads us to trust God through Jesus our Saviour.

So, as we trust God and learn to have absolute confidence in him, and with that trust in our hearts, he fills us with joy and peace.  That joy and peace sustain us through the difficult times and fill us full of hope – the certain hope only God can provide.

Monday 11th May

1 Corinthians 13.  This reading is often used at weddings but is equally valid for funerals.  It’s a wonderful reading about love, the love God has for us and the love we should have for him and for each other.  It’s the most important virtue and action we can ever exhibit.

Love should be the motive behind everything we say and do.  Paul tells us that we can speak very eloquently, we can speak powerfully such that we can explain god’s mysteries and we can have so much faith to enable us to move mountains, but if we don’t have and use love we are nothing.

When Jesus returns, love will be seen everywhere.  Until that time, our faith and our knowledge of God, is incomplete; it is as if we are looking through a fog.  But when God brings in the final perfection for his creation, we will see clearly and understand fully.  It will be a time of great joy for his followers.

In the meantime, we must seek to build God’s kingdom by sharing our love with all around us through our deeds, our words, our actions, our thoughts, our responses – that’s the Christian’s role in the present time.  We love God and others because God first loved us.

During this Covid 19 pandemic we have seen lots of examples of love as individuals and groups seek to care, support and look after those around us.  May we all continue and extend those loving actions when isolation comes to an end, let’s ensure that there are real, tangible benefits to the dark and difficult time we are going through.

Thursday 7th May

Julian of Norwich is remembered as an inspirational spiritual writer.  We know very little about her, but she was born in 1342 around the time of the Black Death.  We don't know anything about her family or her education, but we do know she suffered a severe illness when she was 30 years of age.  Just as she thought she would die, she had 16 visions of Jesus (mainly associated with the cross).  It was after this that she recovered, and she wrote down these visions.  Later in her life she expanded on them and it is these two writings for which she is celebrated.  She died after 1416 so was at least 74 years of age.  For much of her life she was an anchoress.

Anchorites were quite prominent in the 12th to 16th century and were people who withdrew from life to lead a life of intense prayer.  Normally a cell would be built against the outside wall of a church, the anchorite would enter, and the door would be locked and sealed by the Bishop or the entrance bricked up.  They would usually stay there for the rest of their life devoting their time to prayer and worship.  The cell would typically be 12 foot by 15 foot, and they would be reliant on people to bring them food and water.  Julian of Norwich was such an anchorite.

Her writings have inspired Christians, and a few are included below:

 All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well. 

Pray, even if you feel nothing, see nothing. For when you are dry, empty, sick or weak, at such a time is your prayer most pleasing to God, even though you may find little joy in it. This is true of all believing prayer. 

He [Jesus] did not say, 'You will never have a rough passage, you will never be over-strained, you will never feel uncomfortable,' but he did say, 'You will never be overcome. 

Our life is all grounded and rooted in love, and without love we may not live.

Where do we begin? Begin with the heart.

For we are so preciously loved by God that we cannot even comprehend it.

Every act of kindness and compassion done by any man for his fellow Christian is done by Christ working within him.

See that I am God. See that I am in everything. See that I do everything. See that I have never stopped ordering my works, nor ever shall, eternally. See that I lead everything on to the conclusion I ordained for it before time began, by the same power, wisdom and love with which I made it. How can anything be amiss? 

Wednesday 6th May

Hymns can mean so much and portray words of encouragement, learning and direction.  ‘I the Lord of sea and Sky‘ is one of these.  The hymn was written in 1979 by the American, Dan Schutte.  It was composed for an ordination service and is based on Isaiah chapter 6.  In this passage, Isaiah is transported in a vision to God as he sits on his throne.  Isaiah immediately recognises his unworthiness.  An angelic being takes a live coal in tongs from the altar and touches Isaiah’s lips.  Then he heard God say, ‘Whom shall I send and who will go for us?’  Isaiah responds, ‘Here I am, send me’.  God then gives him the message he wants him to share with others.

Through this hymn, at the start of each verse, the author reminds us that God is God of everything.  We are then reminded of God’s love: he hears people’s cry, bear's people’s pain and weeps for them.  In each verse it then goes on to say what he will do: he will save them, make their darkness bright, break hearts of stone, tend the poor and lame, set a feast for them, provide the finest bread and give his life for them.  What an incredible and almighty God we serve.  Despite his majesty and awesome might, he cares for each one of us, loves us, he takes action when needed, and he does this, not his own sake, but for ours.

The hymn then asks: who will bear my light to them, whom shall I send?  We hear Isaiah’s words: ‘Here I am Lord’ but there is a slight reservation, ‘Is it I Lord’.  In that, there is a sense of not being worthy, as if we are not good enough to serve God.  That is probably true, none of us is truly worthy but God knows we can serve him through our weakness and so he calls us.  The chorus then continues, ‘I will go Lord if you lead me.  I will hold your people in my heart’.  And that is the cry of every disciple who works for God, we do it not in our own strength but in God’s strength; we don't work on our own, we serve and work alongside God.

May each one of us hear God’s call and own those words, ‘Here I am Lord.  I will go Lord if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.’

Monday 4th May

Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd.  The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”  This was a picture the Palestinians 2,000 years ago would have recognised.  The shepherds would lead their flocks and the sheep would know the shepherds voice.  He would protect them and lead them, and they would follow him.  The shepherd would sometimes have to lay down his life for the sheep.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd.  We are the sheep of his flock.  Although we are all different Jesus loves each and everyone of us the same.  He gave his life for us on the cross.  He cares for us, looks after us, protects us and leads us to green pastures.  As sheep, our role is to listen to his voice and not get distracted.  We should follow him because he will lead us along the right pathways through our life.  We know that we can trust Jesus as the Good Shepherd and when we get tired and feel we cannot go on, he will lift us up and carry us round his shoulders.  That's the Good Shepherd we have in Jesus.  So let us acknowledge him, and trust him, and let us be his good and faithful sheep.

Friday 1st May

Today we remember Saint Philip.  Saint Philip was one of Jesus disciples and is recorded as such in Matthew, Mark, Luke and the Acts of the Apostles.  It is John’s gospel where we find more about him.  Philip was born in Bethsaida in Galilee and may have been a disciple of John the Baptist before being a disciple of Jesus.

Being called by Jesus himself, he then brought Nathaniel to Christ using those immortal words, ‘Come and see’.  Philip was present at the feeding of the 5000 where Jesus tested him by asking him where they could buy bread for all these people to eat.  Later Philip brought some Greek people to see Jesus.  And lastly, in John’s gospel, Philip asks Jesus to show them the Father.  Jesus uses this opportunity to reiterate that he and the Father are one: ‘if you have seen me you have seen the Father’.  Apart from these occasions, Philip isn't mentioned.  However, it is thought that he subsequently preached in Greece, Syria and Phrygia and was crucified upside down at Hierapolis.

St Philip is a wonderful example to us all.  He was strong, bold and fearless in proclaiming the Word of God and in inviting others to come and see.  He brought many people to faith and worked for God’s Kingdom wherever he went.

Wednesday 29th April

Today in our Christian calendar we remember and celebrate the life of Catherine of Siena. Catherine was born in Siena in Italy in 1347, being one of twenty five children.  From an early age she wanted to lead a life of prayer and penance but received opposition from her family.  She refused marriage and opted for a life of solitude joining an order as a lay member.  After three years she felt called to leave and care for the poor. 

As Catherine cared for the sick, a wide range of people gathered around her.  She was very generous and gave away many things from the house including food.  Catherine became known for a desire to reform the church but with total devotion to God and a strong focus on the crucified Christ.  She received much criticism but also praise.  She is most famous for her writings, which are a series of letters explaining her beliefs and devotion to Christ.  Becoming more involved politically in the church, she acted as peacemaker between the State and Church, and also intervened when rival popes were both elected.  She died in 1380 of a stroke at the young age of 33.  Catherine was later proclaimed a Doctor of the Church.

Catherine’s writings are still relevant today and are often quoted.  One of them is, “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire”.  We all have to discern our path in life, for some this is easier than others.  We mustn't look around us to see what others are doing and think, ‘I'm not doing anything like that’.  If we live our Christian faith and we are doing what God wants, that's fine.  We should use our gifts and influence others as we are able, that's all he asks.  God designed everyone with certain abilities and gifts to excel in the ways he created us.  We should be happy with how we are and the gifts God has given us, and use them to the best of our ability.

The following are also quotes from Catherine of Siena.  They are often used as a way into prayer or as a means to reflect on our faith and life.

“Proclaim the truth and do not be silent through fear”

“Nothing great is ever achieved without much enduring.”

“These tiny ants have proceeded from his thought just as much as I. It caused him just as much trouble to create the angels as these animals and the flowers on the trees.”

“The soul is in God and God is in the soul.  God is closer to us than water is to a fish.”

“What is it you want to change? Your hair, your face, your body? Why? For God is in love with all those things and he might weep when they are gone.”

“We are such value to God that he came to live among us … and to guide us home. He will go to any length to seek us, even to being lifted high upon the cross to draw us back to himself. We can only respond by loving God for his love. “

Tuesday 28th April

As I was having my daily walk yesterday, I thought about the current situation with the coronavirus pandemic and considered how we each have our own individual roles to play.  The National Health Service workers are doing a fantastic job looking after us when we are sick and that’s a particularly difficult and stressful job at this time.  Shopkeepers and supermarkets are valiantly ensuring we have enough food to eat.  Carers are ensuring that the needy and vulnerable are looked after in care homes and in people's own homes.  There are lots of other people who are doing their part this time.  Also, all those who are staying isolated are carrying out their important role, ensuring that they remain well and don't put additional strain on the health service.  We each have our role to do.

This reminds me of the passage Paul wrote to the Corinthians in his first letter.  He referred to the church or Body of Christ as a body with each part playing its appointed role.  That image can equally be applied to everyone at the time of this pandemic.  Whatever our role is, it is important, and we should carry it out to the best of our ability.  That role of remaining isolated is especially relevant.  In carrying out these roles, we are showing our love for God and for those around us.

We cannot do the role of someone else, that’s for them to do.  We do what is required of us and we should do it as cheerfully and happily as we can.  God calls us to do different things at different times, and each is equally valid to fulfil his purpose.  We are part of the whole and we must do our small part as a contribution to the bigger picture.

Monday 27th April

Today being 27th April, in our Christian calendar we remember Christina Rossetti.  She was a very prolific poet of the 19th century.  Born in 1830 in London, she was part of a very artistic Anglo-Italian family.  Giving up prospective marriage for religious reasons, she focused very much on her work.  Many of her poems reflect Christian themes of the time and so is remembered in our Christian calendar.  She died in 1894 after a chronic illness and at the age of 64.

One of her children's poems reflects a very visible sign of this pandemic.  It's called: The Rainbow. 

The rainbow is a symbol of God’s promise to be with us always.  Today it symbolises a sense of solidarity with NHS, they brighten people’s days as they see them in windows and signify hope.  The light will shine through the dark clouds of Coronavirus.

Friday 24th April

Colossians 3:12-17 and in particularly verse 16

This is a reading that’s often read at weddings, it’s like the bride and groom’s checklist on how to bear with each other in starting a new life together. And why not, after all, relationships that are to grow and mature require healthy doses of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, love, peace of God and continual learning of each other and of God, wisdom, gratitude and thanksgiving. But Paul writes this message to the body of Christ, to us, individually and corporately to the way we live.

I don't know if like me you dread ‘missing the moment’. I believe we are ‘in the moment not to be missed’ right now. We could mourn the temporary loss of being together in church and stay in that moment or we can use this moment and dwell in the word of Christ and let that then dwell in us. Time is a gift and many of us have been blessed with a bit more in our daily life to fill. How we use it, so as not to waste it is the key. Reading the Bible and talking to God in prayer is a bit like exercise. The more you do it, bit by bit, the easier and more natural it becomes, and you'll want to do it more because you'll feel something is missing if you don't. Through it we become transformed, different people new and improved.

This morning, I'm going to encourage you to not miss the moment and to use this time we have in reading God's word and letting that and prayer change you from the inside out, which will have the knock on effect of transforming our churches. 

The Bible is a big library so don't walk away from it because you don't know where to start, you can't eat a big cake all at once - you eat it piece by piece. Colossians is short and sweet and you can always ask for suggestions too.

Thursday 23rd April – St George’s Day

There are similarities within the stories of St George and the Dragon and other stories in the ancient world and with our reading from Revelation 12:7-12. The dragon in Revelation is the anti-creator- the Devil, who disrupts the order of the heavens with chaos; as the ancient serpent in the Garden of Eden it deceives, and human agents do its dirty work. We read that the Devil accuses the Saints within the heavenly court. But fails spectacularly and not through his own errors but because of Jesus’s triumph of the cross and resurrection. Once accuser in judgment he's forced out and no longer able to prosecute believers, because the blood of the Lamb (Jesus) atones for sin. For many of us we need hear that good news again.

Stories of ancient heroes like St George usually end with violent acts, slaying dragons for example, but Christ and the church overcome the dragon differently, through the sword of God's word, by the blood of the Lamb and by faithful suffering, we are freed from sin’s control and are to repent, we are to return evil with good.

This time of isolation is causing many of us to face our own dragons. Pondering on our lives, revisiting the past, dealing poorly with things that happen now each day and to some extent a shift in perspective is throwing us off centre. But read this passage again and remember who holds the power. Don't be deceived, don't allow the building chaos to takeover. As children of God we are completely sustained and empowered by the Holy Spirit in our battle with the dragon.

 

Wednesday 22nd April

There is plenty of jaw dropping moments of God is at work in Acts 5:17-26, the reading for today.

Popularity of the believers caused jealousy in the hearts of the High Priest and the Sadducees , plus, I guess being fed up with the Apostles disobeying their order not to teach in Jesus's name, had them locked up in prison. That's the scene set, now it’s Gods turn. Without a fuss - just an angel, the barrier to freedom and the ability to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus is removed. And it's for the temple officials to get their heads around it. I think they get the wow factor but fear and maybe a too high value of their position clouds the mystery of God at work.

This morning I read chapter 42:15 to the end of chapter 43 of Ecclesiasticus or Sirach in the Apocrypha, it fits in well with Psalm 104 and yesterday’s reading from Wisdom of Solomon. They all have their 'wow moments' where God acts in the most mind blowing ways. Maybe, our sceptical mind says, “Oh yeah?!”.  Minds looking for rational, explainable, nice and neat answers to unusual or extraordinary things results in not ‘elf on a shelf’ but ‘God in a box’. God does not fit in a box, even though we may keep trying to squash God in there, making him a God of our expectations.

So, let God out of the box today. Be like the apostles and recognise and respond to the ‘Wow moments’. We may have a bit more time to do this now, so, let's hone our skills in being attuned to what God is up to and then tell God that you spotted it and then even better be like the Apostles and let others know. Be BOLD! If you have time then read Sirach 42:15 and 43:27 to the end.

Tuesday 21st April

The feast day of Anselm (1109) - Teacher of the faith

Anselm was best known for being one of the most important Christian thinkers of the 11th century. Being most famous in philosophy for having discovered and articulated what is known as the ‘Ontological Argument’ for the existence of God, and in theology for the Satisfaction Theory of the Atonement. A great thinker and writer who’s writings have influenced Christian faith and thinking down the centuries. One of the readings for today is from the Wisdom of Solomon (7:7-10,15,16), a book in the Apocrypha and it’s writing is directed to the leaders of the earth inspiring them to love righteousness and pursue wisdom.

I hear people talk of living each day seeing what comes and leaving outcomes to fate. Living each day as it comes is not a bad approach to getting through ‘adult grounding’ in lockdown. What we need to avoid is thinking that the day itself is in charge and therefore the idea of fates moves in. For, we are created in a much more unique way, to be in relationship with our creator God. A relationship of attraction and love not a relationship of shackles.

 It's funny how we find ourselves back in prayer. In Chapter 7 and verse 7, ‘Therefore, I prayed, and understanding was given to me; I called on God, and the Spirit of wisdom came to me.’ I wonder how long the writer had been getting on with his own way and battling life before he petitioned God? This sounds very familiar. Then we read the value of wisdom, it's more valuable than royal adornments, priceless gems and precious metals, more valuable than health, beauty and light. But the writer even puts wisdom in in its proper order, for as important and highly valued as it is, wisdom is guided by God. As we look to fill our days differently or find new ways of using our spare time, try to remember that we need to live each day to the best we can, but to the glory of God and not fooled by the idea of fate.

MONDAY APRIL 20TH

Prayer, during this pandemic has for many people become very important. It's a recorded fact that in times of crisis people turn to the religious and the spiritual for support. But what is different this time is that there's no buildings for people to walk into, no smiley prayerful person to greet them, no one to listen face to face and pray with. We are not together in our church buildings, but the church is very much alive and kicking, and as the early church, we too are dispersed. The early church prayed with expectation hope and trust and so should we. The Early Church prayed for boldness and so should we. So, in this dispersed time, pray for yourselves - the disciples did and so did Jesus. Pray for your neighbours, family, key workers, for whoever pops into your head and pray for the church. Pray that God moves hearts and minds to know him and pray for boldness to know what to pray for. Remember to stop talking to be still and try to be aware of what you experience in that peace and quiet, because sometimes we have to let God have that last word!

THURSDAY APRIL 16TH

God created humanity to be the pinnacle of his creation, and as such to look after it.  Although we are diverse peoples around the world, we are all part up God’s wonderful Kingdom.  Although we live different lives, we are all the same.  All people are made in God's image so that we can worship and praise him, and serve him in the world.

Whether we worship in a magnificent cathedral or whether we worship under a tree in the African Bush, the important thing is worshipping God.  In addition to praising the one who made us, we come to Church to receive, to be changed and to be sent out into the world.  The same is true during our time of isolation through COVID-19, we come together as the body of Christ through Facebook and YouTube so that we can worship our Lord and Saviour, and also to continue to receive him, to be changed by him and then to go and do his will wherever we are.

WEDNESDAY APRIL 15TH

We have a wonderful Azalea in our garden which always flowers at this time of the year.  Its brilliantly pink blossoms are produced in such abundance that you can't see the green leaves.  This is part of God’s wonderful creation.  God has provided us with a superb world full of natural life: flowers, insects, birds and animals.  When you look at the detail colouring and the intricate patterns it gives a taste of God’s wonderful creativity and his glory.

There is so much to admire if we open our eyes, ears, nose and mouth.  God has given us an incredible panorama of the natural world to enjoy.  But sadly, we know that through humanity’s destruction of this world, many species are becoming extinct.  We need to do all we can to preserve them since everything is tied together and we need it to ensure life continues to flourish on this planet.

TUESDAY APRIL 14TH

The weather recently has been sunny, bright and clear with blue skies.  It's been a bit cold but it has been lovely.  I wonder whether the reduction in cars, buses, trains and airplanes have had a positive and beneficial effect on the atmosphere.  It is certainly reported that nitrogen oxide levels are about 40% down in the three weeks of the lockdown, going up to 60% down in some places.  The air certainly seems brighter cleaner and clearer. 

Other places around the world have seen similar improvements, particularly some of the notorious highly polluted cities.  For example, Delhi has seen significant and visible reductions.  CO2 levels have gone up just about every year since World War II.  Some research suggests there could be a potential fall of 5% during 2020.  This goes to show the impact of the lockdown, but also how it would be possible to reverse some of the damage we are doing to this planet. 

When the lockdown is removed, perhaps we need to re-look at the pollution and damage we are causing.  Perhaps the ‘new normal’ should increase use of video meetings rather than travel, walk rather than use the car, continue with more home working, share cars, and have less foreign holidays.

God created a wonderful world and humanity is tasked with looking after it.  As we have realised in the last few years, we are abusing it and gradually destroying it.  This is an opportunity to change, to show that we love God and we are serious about looking after his world for him and for future generations.

MONDAY APRIL 13TH

Hope has been a strong theme of this Easter weekend.  There have been some possible signs that the current isolation strategy is working, and Spain and Italy appear to feel some slight lessening of their lockdown is in order.  And of course, Jesus’ resurrection gives us incredible hope because a transformation for all time.

How should we define hope?  Christian hope is not a wishy washy hope, for example I hope it doesn’t rain this afternoon.  Christian hope is a sure and certain hope, it is through the promise of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  It is part of the reason but Jesus came, and why he died on the cross.  Christian hope is proven in the way people lead their lives and in the way faithful people follow their calling; it is in the dedication, commitment and certainty of Christian saints both known and unknown.  It is in the lives of people such as Simon Peter who, following his trice denial of knowing Jesus, received forgiveness and a task to feed Jesus’ lambs.  There is always hope.

The Archbishop of Canterbury in his televised service on Easter Day 2020 reminds us of this when he said: Even in this time of loss, we believe in life. Even in this time of darkness, we look to the light. Even in this time of isolation, we are loved by the God who is with us. Even in this time of fear, we can have hope as sure as stone.

THURSDAY APRIL 9TH

Suffering is all around, some is very overt through physical pain, or hunger or illness.  Other suffering comes in the form of mental or emotional suffering through depression or persecution, through prejudice or abuse.  Still other suffering is seen spiritual, eg preventing people following Jesus and worship him which happens in lots of countries.  Suffering is real and we all suffer at times, and it’s never equally or fairly shared out.

Some suffering eg natural disasters, are usually unavoidable, but much suffering in the world comes from people’s greed, thoughtlessness, or evil.  But if everyone looked out for their neighbours there would be significantly less suffering in the world.  Jesus taught us to love God and to love our neighbour, our neighbour being anyone.  If we all did that our world would be a much better place with less hurt, pain, fear and anxiety.

It won’t always be like this, and it’s why the message from this time of year is so important.  Jesus’ death and resurrection is the guarantee of God’s final triumph, when he will judge the world and usher in a new heaven and a new earth.  On that day he will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things have passed away.  Therefore, suffering will be overcome but, in the meantime, we must live in love and compassion by trying to help those who suffer.

Christians hurt when they see suffering and there is an inherent urge to help, whether it is through illness, starving children, homeless, poverty, those with Coronavirus, or NHS staff coming home from a difficult shift.  A Christian loving heart tries to follow God’s loving heart, and in doing so, tries to support and make things right.

WEDNESDAY APRIL 8TH

The book of Job is all about suffering.  Job lived about 3000 years ago, he was a very successful man, being wealthy and having 7 sons and 3 daughters.  He was rated as one of the greatest men among the people of the East, being blameless and upright, fearing God and shunning evil.  He was a good and faithful man in every respect. 

Yet one day disaster struck.  Most of his animals was stolen or burned up in a fireball, his servants were killed and his ten children died when the house they were in was struck by a tornado.  It might be expected that Job would blame someone, blame God, or rant and rave, but he didn't.  Instead Job fell on the ground and worshiped God, he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord’. 

Job’s suffering didn't end there, his body was covered with boils, his skin was peeling off and all sorts of other ailments hit him.  His wife tells him to curse God but Job says, ‘Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not the bad?’  He remained faithful and never blamed God.  His 3 friends initially had sympathy but then claimed Job must have sinned against God and this was his punishment. 

Eventually God speaks to Job.  He tells him that God is in absolute control and nothing can frustrate his eternal purposes.  He reminds Job that he is in no position to argue with him or to question his dealings as he is not in possession of all the facts.  God also reminds Job that he shouldn't question God’s power, justice or love, but that he should commit himself to God and to trust God. 

From this book of the Bible we get some important principles about suffering in the world. Suffering affects people who live good lives and those who lead evil lives.  We should never expect simple or detailed answers as to why some people suffer and others don't because it's too big and complex for us to understand.  But like job, we should know and trust God through good and ill; he's the one who knows all of the answers, who is in control and the one who gives us strength to withstand whatever might befall us.

TUESDAY APRIL 7TH

Today we are thinking about how God feels when he sees suffering in the world.  When God looks down at the world he is not immune to the suffering of his people.  God is a god of love, therefore when people are hurt, he hurts; when people are sad, he is sad.  A loving God cannot do anything else. 

True authentic love means giving freedom to the object of that love.  This means that God gives freedom to all people (the objects of his love).  Since he is a god of love there can be no other way.  We know God can be hurt because it's in his nature.  Jesus said, if you want to see the father look at me.  Jesus wept following Lazarus' death even though he knew he was about to raise him to life.  Jesus wept because he could see the hurt it had caused his sisters, Mary and Martha.  So we know God has a loving, compassionate heart which is hurt when he sees suffering in the world. 

Any parent will tell you, it's hard loving your children unreservedly.  When they are hurt or sad, you are hurt or sad; when they suffer you suffer.  It’s exactly the same when God looks down at us, his children. 

Some people might ask, if God loves his people why doesn’t he use his power to make the world a better place, to rid it of pain and sorrow.  The answer to that is love.  When you love, you have to give the object of that love, freedom; the freedom to accept or reject that love.  Therefore, God gives us the freedom to accept his love or to reject it, he gives us freedom on the actions we take in life, he gives us the freedom to do things that might hurt others.  If God controlled us so that we couldn't do harm to anyone else, we would simply become puppets, and that is not love. 

So it’s because God loves us that he gives us the freedom to act.  It’s because of his love he feels our pain.

MONDAY APRIL 6TH

Suffering is all around us.  When we look at the world, including when we look at the impact of coronavirus, we cannot fail to see the suffering of humanity.  So over the next few days, I want to look suffering and where God is when we suffer.  

Suffering can come from various sources: from nature, through accidents, or through man's inhumanity to man.  Some would say that with so much suffering in the world God doesn't exist, so today I’d like to demonstrate how I know he exists.

And we should recognise that God does sometimes allow good to come from those who suffer.  There are many who have come to faith through a time in which they suffered.  CS Lewis of ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ fame, said, ‘God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains, it’s his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.’   Whenever there is suffering God turns it around so that good comes from it.

Some would argue the non-existence of God by the seeming lack of his direct intervention.  Many theologians would argue against atheists about the lack of God in this way.  Most people, including atheists, accept that there is evil in the world, it’s visible, and most would agree which particular actions are evil.  This means there must be a common understanding of evil, in other words, an inherent moral code accepted by most societies and cultures.  To be commonly accepted it must have been set by some greater being or authority, that is God.  Therefore, by arguing against there being a God, we argue there must be one, otherwise, we wouldn’t have a moral code to inherently shows us what evil is.

But also, the complexity of creation shouts out for a supreme architect with incredible power and vision.  From the smallest sub-atomic particle to the vastness of space, everything is in careful balance.  It is so detailed and intricate it’s not conceivable that it could happen by chance or coincidence.

God wants to be known and pursues us.  There are so many who had no faith in God yet have come to a living faith.  In retrospect, many coming to faith say they felt a continual prompting and felt such a joyous relief when they give in and accepted Jesus.

But also experience, so many people can talk of times when they have known God’s presence, strength and comfort in their lives.  It may have felt like a comforting arm around the shoulder, or strength you didn’t have to do something good, or words that weren’t your own as you consoled someone.

Finally, we know through the giving, death and resurrection of Jesus.  Something beyond our natural world and beyond our understanding happened when Jesus beat death.  The disciples were so convinced.  Most of them suffered a martyr’s death rather than deny his resurrection.

So suffering does not deny the existence of God, if anything it reinforces it.  Coronavirus is nothing to do with God but he’s there in the midst of it: in the hospitals, in our homes, in the supermarkets, etc.  That should give us some comfort, we are not alone in our suffering, and we hold on to him.

FRIDAY APRIL 3RD

During our ‘Thoughts for the Day’ over the last two weeks, we've talked about lots of different things.  We've talked about Christian love and how it is realised in caring and loving those around us.  We've talked about the hope that we have in Jesus Christ and the inner peace that he brings us.  We’ve also talked about what church is and about how this current crisis is bringing community together.  And we've also talked about freeing our minds to take us away from the negative thoughts that might surround us.  And Lastly we've talked about prayer and how we should be persistent in talking to God, sharing our deepest thoughts and seeking his will. 

Of course, the news that we hear each day is concentrating on the coronavirus and we are still in that phase where those contracting the disease, and those dying from it, are still increasing in this country.  This can make us feel despondent.  However, there are also lots of positives.  All the workers in the health service are doing an incredible job, many other essential workers are ensuring our services are maintained, friends and neighbours are helping those around them, Church is finding new ways of reaching people, the country is pulling together to overcome this virus, and many people are being reminded that it is God who we need in our lives. 

Paul in his letter to the Philippians said,  Do not worry about anything, 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 your minds in Christ Jesus’.

Look for those good things that are still around us.  Be lifted up by the inherent good in people.  Seek to help others as you’re able.  And grow ever closer to the one who will get us through this difficult time, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

THURSDAY APRIL 2ND

God is a wonderful and faithful God.  He loves us and ever wants to be close to us.  He loves us to talk to him as a way of showing our love for him.  Jesus gave us the parable of the unjust judge as a way of showing that we must be persistent in prayer.  The judge didn't want to grant the widow justice, and only did so when she continually pestered him.  Jesus said, ‘Listen to what the judge says, will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry out day and night?  Will he delay long in helping them?  He will quickly grant justice to them.’ 

God loves us to pray to him and to grow close to him.  In our prayers we should honour God, give thanks for all he does for us, tell him how we feel (our anxieties and worries), share what’s on our hearts, ask for what we need, and also seek his will for us, and how we can help him in growing his Kingdom here on earth. 

Paul, in his first letter to the Thessalonians , says, ‘Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you’.  That should be our aim, we should be persistent and faithful in prayer.  God wants it.  God deserves it.  God knows it is good for us.

WEDNESDAY APRIL 1ST


I think we have lost a sense of community over the years. Thinking back to the days of the mills and mines, there was a great sense of togetherness, a giving of support and care to others during those hard and difficult times. People helped each other and took an interest in how things were for each other. In many respects we've lost much of that; people often work away from home and we seldom perhaps see our neighbours .
During this coronavirus, it has been wonderful to see that sense of community returning. People checking up on their neighbours, people doing shopping for the elderly or vulnerable, individuals phoning those on their own to check they are okay and to give them a little bit of company. It would be lovely to see this grow, develop and flourish, not only during this time of isolation, but long into the future.
You cannot force people to become a community. It is only by their love for others that community is formed. So let's try to continually grow community in this place by loving those around us, particularly those who are isolated, vulnerable, lonely and in need. That's the sort of community that Jesus taught we should be.

 

TUESDAY MARCH 31ST


God has created us and made us extremely well. He allows us to have minds which we can use in all sorts of different ways. He gave us wonderful imaginations, so that In our minds eye we can be anywhere we want. That wonderful Normandy veteran, Harry Billinge, said, ‘My mind is free, I can be anywhere.’
That means, particularly during this time of isolation, we can go in our imaginations wherever we like. Maybe to a favourite place, or to a special time, or escape somewhere to raise your spirits. This can be a good way of helping us when we're feeling down or alone. Experience all the sights, sounds, smells and tastes.

We can also use this to climb into some of our well-loved Bible stories and this can help us at times like these. Just imagine being in the boat with Jesus and his disciples when the storm arose on Lake Galilee. Just imagine all the feelings of the wind comma the rain, the salt and the rocking of the boat. And just picture how the scene unfolds and Jesus comes the storm. And as we picture all this in hour minds, we can ask God to come power mines. We can receive from Christ in the same way the disciples received from Christ. We can look in all and wonder at the one who has power over everything. And through that we can gain strength, peace and hope.

 

MONDAY MARCH 30TH


We are so used to worshipping in church, we are so used to seeing churches around us. I wonder if we ever take the time to consider what church is? We often think of the church as a building, which in some respects is true. However, the original meaning of church was the people, it was the gathering together of Christians. It was the people who worshipped God were most important rather than a building.
In the early church, after Jesus had ascended to be with his father in heaven, the people met together in their homes. This was partly because they didn't have church buildings and partly because the early Christians were often persecuted so they needed to meet in secret. It was only when the groups of people became so large, their homes weren’t big enough, and persecutions eased that they constructed buildings in which to meet.
Through the centuries, there have been three elements which comprise being a Christian church: 1) worshipping and glorifying God and expressing our love for all he’s done, 2) Building up and caring for God’s people by loving , caring and teaching, 3) reaching out to share our faith and the good news of Jesus Christ, including showing compassion , mercy and love to all around.
So, in these difficult times when we are isolated, as a church we still need to find ways of worshipping, building up, and sharing our faith. Social media and the internet has been a blessing to allow us to maintain contact and share our spiritual journey.

 

FRIDAY MARCH 27TH


Peace is a sense of calmness and confidence. Many people find it difficult to get that sense in their lives. Often, it’s hard when we have so much going on around us. There can be all sorts of things that impact our wellbeing, such as issues with health, money, family and work. We all lead such busy lives, and of course coronavirus appears as a threat all around us. We need a sense of peace in our lives.
Someone once said, ‘Sometimes God calms the storm, sometimes he lets the storm rage and calms his child’. That's the sense of Christian peace that is so important in our lives. It's an internal peace that comes from the soul. We get this sense of deep inner peace by being at peace with God, at peace with others, and at peace with ourselves. It's about knowing that we are living in the right way, knowing that God loves us and is with us, that he will be with us whatever happens.
Jesus knew the importance of this and often took himself away to be quiet to spend time with God. And that is how we find this too. It's good to find space in our busy lives when we can be quiet, when we can slow down, recognise God’s presence with us, know his love for us, and just be in his loving presence. With practice, having a time of peace each and every day, we find peace is with us all the time, even when the storm is raging about us.
May you find that peace each day.

 

THURSDAY MARCH 26TH


Rainbows have been appearing in the windows of people’s houses during this coronavirus isolation. Rainbows are a symbol of hope, a herald of better weather after a rainstorm. It was the schools, knowing closure was coming, who decided to ask their children to paint or draw a rainbow and put it in their windows. Whenever we see a rainbow, we always feel better, the bright colours and the lovely arc in the sky somehow make a smile.
It was after the flood, in the days of Noah, that God put a rainbow in the sky. He did it as a visual sign that he would never again flood the earth and destroy humanity. That's why it’s a symbol of hope.
There is hope now as we see hardly any new cases in China and Italy starting to reduce, there is hope as we know scientists are working on a treatment and vaccine, there is hope because we know the current situation will end, there is hope because communities are looking after each other, there is hope because of the people in our wonderful NHS and there is hope because God is always with us.
So today's message is one of hope and light even in dark times. Let’s brighten others’ outlook and look positively at the good things that are happening, like candles banishing the darkness. Let's see the hope that there certainly is around us.

 

WEDNESDAY MARCH 25TH


This Thought for the Day will give us time to pause at the start of the day, time to prepare for the coming day, and try to put what’s happening into some sort of perspective. It’s a time to come together to have a few moments of reflection and also to know that, even though we are all in our homes, there is still a sense that we are united and together.
Whilst I am very aware many people are finding it extremely difficult, also, I can't help feeling uplifted by the selfless, generous, courageous and inspiring work being done by so many. People have looked at where they can help others and are doing so. The list of people caring and supporting is extensive. Let us all continue to say a big thank you to everyone of them at every opportunity; and to show our heartfelt gratitude for all the good that is certainly being done here in Atherton.
From a Christian perspective, it all comes under that little word, love. Love is the real key to Christianity. In a few weeks’ time, at Easter, we’ll once again remember Jesus dying on the cross for us. His sacrifice was for us all. Jesus said he would never leave us. And I believe he's still with us to give us strength to withstand all this virus may throw at us. May each one of you know God’s strength, and may he sustain you through the coming weeks and months.
Have a good day, be positive, be safe, follow the guidelines and love each other.

 


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