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2020 Bible Reflections

April 14th 2020: Psalm 136

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
His love endures forever.

to him who alone does great wonders,
His love endures forever.
who by his understanding made the heavens,
His love endures forever.
who spread out the earth upon the waters,
His love endures forever.
who made the great lights—
His love endures forever.
the sun to govern the day,
His love endures forever.
the moon and stars to govern the night;
His love endures forever.

10 to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt
His love endures forever.
11 and brought Israel out from among them
His love endures forever.
12 with a mighty hand and outstretched arm;
His love endures forever.

13 to him who divided the Red Sea[a] asunder
His love endures forever.
14 and brought Israel through the midst of it,
His love endures forever.
15 but swept Pharaoh and his army into the Red Sea;
His love endures forever.

16 to him who led his people through the wilderness;
His love endures forever.

17 to him who struck down great kings,
His love endures forever.
18 and killed mighty kings—
His love endures forever.
19 Sihon king of the Amorites
His love endures forever.
20 and Og king of Bashan—
His love endures forever.
21 and gave their land as an inheritance,
His love endures forever.
22 an inheritance to his servant Israel.
His love endures forever.

23 He remembered us in our low estate
His love endures forever.
24 and freed us from our enemies.
His love endures forever.
25 He gives food to every creature.
His love endures forever.

26 Give thanks to the God of heaven.
His love endures forever.

You can listen to today’s Psalm here: Psalm 136 audio
How often do you wish you could be sure that the goodness of God was a reality? How often do you find yourself hearing about this God from other people, perhaps people who seem a little off, or a little odd, but who also have a kind of contentment and confidence that the God they talk about loves them? And not just them either, but that the love he has for them could extend to anyone around who asked for it. People who don’t ‘get’ Christians (and there are lots of reasons not to ‘get’ Christians) often find it off-putting, infuriating even, that when things are tough and all the visible evidence points to God having long ago left the building, the faith of the one who truly trusts God remains strong. It makes no sense at all. Why would a person, or people, who appear to have been cut off, a people who have been let down, disappointed, hurt even, by the God who they put their trust in, keep on going back to him with love and trust and with thankful hearts.
It’s all in the psalm above what I’m writing here. The love of God has endured throughout everything that Israel has faced.
And so it endures today, through everything we face, whether individually or as a society. What will be remembered about us who claimed to have faith in God as we lived through the time of Covid-19 a hundred, two hundred, even a thousand years from now? Will it be that we remained thankful and praised God for his goodness? I hope so.
As we think back to the love Jesus showed and lived out through all he did at the first Easter, remember that whatever it seems like now, death is defeated, fear has no power anymore, unless we decide to allow it to have power in our lives. I’m bad at being fearful. It happens to me a lot, but the perfect love of God, love that endures forever, triumphs over fear. If we ask God into our lives, in he comes. And we need never be the same after that.
Something To Do
Write a list of all that you’re thankful for today. Give it time so that you don’t just write down the things that first come to mind. Then
Something To Pray
Thank God for each one in turn.
Categories
2020 Bible Reflections

March 18th 2020: Psalm 1

March 18th 2020: Psalm 1

You can read the text of today’s reading here:

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+1&version=NLT

The text of this reading is pretty straightforward: if you want to be blessed, for life to be as it should be and to receive all that life has for you, all that God has for you, even, delight in the law of the Lord. It goes well for people who do, and it doesn’t go well for people who don’t. They are ‘the wicked’ (in the traditional, rather than modern sense). Most of us don’t want to be ‘the wicked’. We’d rather be the ‘good’. So, there’s a pretty big question: if we’re to delight in the law of the Lord and think, meditate on it day and night, what is that law?

People have been confused about this forever. Even the disciples of Jesus, the people who were closest to him and learned from him and did their utmost to follow what he asked them to do needed help working it all out, as we find it Matthew’s gospel,

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.””

So, isn’t this timely? In a moment in world history where we could choose to be only about ourselves and seek safety and security for us and our families, avoiding the consequences of Covid-19, we are told that every single one of the many (and if you don’t know how many there are, there really are many, many) laws and details of how people that want to delight in the law of God and know what it is to be truly free have to follow is this one: Love. Love for God, recognising that we need God, that we can’t do life on our own. Love for self, casting aside the words that have hurt us and put us down over the years, the actions of others and the actions and thoughts of ourselves which make us think that everyone else is great but we’re not worth love; that kind of love. And love for our neighbour. I often ask kids in school, ‘who is your neighbour’? And they sometimes say, ‘Mr Smith’ or ‘Mrs Jones lives across the road’. More often than not, though, they’ve got it much better than most of us adults. They say ‘everyone is my neighbour’. The whole community is our neighbours. Obviously love means different things in different relationships, but we have to show love to everyone, we have to value everyone as if they were the most precious person on the whole of the planet, and we have to let them do the same to us. If we do that, and if we have God at the centre of it all, then we’ll be going some way towards delighting in the law of the Lord, being like a tree planted in streams of living water, one which bears the best kind of fruit. Don’t you want to be like that? I do.

Something to Pray About

Pray for those who are working hard in hospitals caring for the sick, for those in isolation at home with sick relatives, worried about who might catch the virus next. Pray for those in laboratories working hard and unseen on behalf of all, that God would guide their hard work and give them wisdom.

Something To Do

Check in with your neighbours. Say hi. Ask about their day and how they are. If they say ‘fine’, ask again until they tell you the real story. Get to know their story. Be brave enough to listen and brave enough to share your story.

Haydon

Categories
2020 Bible Reflections

The Return of Daily Bible Reflections

Periodically I discipline myself to write a short piece about the readings that are offered for each day by the Church of England, the Church I work for. As we are in the midst of Coronavirus and all that it has brought so far and will bring in the future, it feels like a good time to start writing them again, particularly as I’m largely going to be at home for a good while.

I hope you enjoy the posts which will follow and that you find them helpful. I know that a lot of people I know and who follow me aren’t Christians and will probably sigh and move on when the posts come up on your social media feeds, but you never know, some of my jokes might be funny. Unlikely, I know, but still, a possibility which makes reading the posts probably worthwhile.

Haydon

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Faith

Hope (a New Year Meandering)

I’m not big on resolutions for the start of a new calendar year. Over the last couple, I’ve promised to write on the Church of England lectionary reading every day (lasted a few months) and write a new song every month (managed one for half the months of the year) so it turns out I’m not too good at keeping to what I promise to do. That’s  pretty difficult, humbling thing to admit to.

The end of one year and the beginning of another offers the opportunity for grandiose statements about how great/terrible/abominable the year just ending was and how much better/more hopeful and full of possibility the one to come is. This seems particularly so with 2016 in mind. The combination of seismic political upheaval, the sheer fact that there are myriad celebrities in our aspiration-obsessed culture and therefore more of said celebrities (very sadly) die in any given year (and this will only be more so in the coming years) and the way that we have access to news about virtually everything, all of the time, if we want it, even though we often miss the most important things happening both under our noses and in the forgotten far-reaches of the planet, all of that can combine to make it seem like it’s been a terrible year.

Allied to all of this, it seems to me that I am not a very resilient person. I don’t know about you. You might be. In which case, move on and ignore this paragraph. But the fact remains that, I at least, am learning that I need deeper and deeper wells of resilience that I did not realise would be necessary. How did previous generations deal with, say, the loss of entire families in war, or to diseases like TB, when I can’t cope with not being able to complete my work because my internet connection is intermittent? How are we, for whom, in the West, life expectancy and quality of life is, in the main, longer and better than ever, become so frightened of death, so scared of ‘the other’ that we keep both as far away as possible, when, so we’re told, we have it better than ever before in the whole of human history?

2017 will be a year of change for me. I’ve got a calendar year from midnight to find a new role within the Church of England. Changes of this nature don’t just affect me. They affect my long-suffering wife and our wider family. As I go through the process of applying, if this time is anything like other such junctures in my life, I would not be too surprised to find myself questioning my worth, value, suitability for roles, even though I am trained, qualified, experienced, called, equipped and sent exactly for the kind of roles that I might be looking at in the coming weeks and months. These doubts have assailed me many times and they boil down to two key things: I don’t trust myself, perhaps rightly and, more seriously, I often fail to truly trust God, thinking instead that if I just work harder, longer, better, more sacrificially (those two often seem to equate to the same thing in my head at least) then somehow God will be more pleased with me and therefore elevate me to some kind of ability or situation that would otherwise be beyond me. Working hard is important. Making the most of the gifts we are given is a key facet of the scriptural narrative, but the key, the absolute key, is to know that the heart of those gifts, the giver and effector of them, is God. I have gifts to share with the communities I live in and serve because God gives them to me. I can use or squander them, in partnership (hopefully) with him, but the gifts are given by him. God has brought me to the beginning of 2017 to be someone who points people to Him, who draws people into family and relationship with him, themselves and with other people. I do have to move, to be active, to do ‘the work’, but most of all I have to trust God that when he says he will be with me, when he says he will not leave me, when he says that he will send the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, to support and encourage me, when he promises miracles, transformations, healings, mercy and grace and all of the other things that we’re told are the promises of God: that those things will come to pass if I walk with him, one step after another, faithfully, as faithfully as I can, day by day. It’s not cool, it’s not sexy, it might not win me a platform, or influence, but it will be what I am invited by God to do in this next year.

I’ve been thinking recently that all the words I can use about God, Church, Faith, and what all of those things are and mean (all of which change on a daily basis) pale into insignificance when placed next to the Word, the coming of Jesus, who was both God and man, into the world that first Christmas time. He is who we need to get to know, to follow, to mimic even, as 2017 dawns. Not just by learning about him, talking about him, what he might think about certain issues, political parties or societal changes, but actually take him at his word that when he said that he would be with us to the end of the age (this one we’re in now) if we asked him to be, that he actually would be and that one of the main tasks, if not the main one, of the Christian life is some form of commitment to actually working out what that relationship of closeness might mean for us, both individually, as Church families and as the whole Church. If we got to know Jesus, what might we see? What might he invite us to do? What might he actually want to do for us, give to us, so that we might pass on the gift to others this year?

So, don’t fall for slogans, or long paragraphs like mine, this new year. Don’t rely on blogs, books, memes, videos on Facebook or even the Huffington Post to tell you what to think this new year. Don’t mindlessly retweet. Even more, don’t beligerently retweet. If you have questions, doubts, fears, if you’re looking for a reason to be hopeful, a reason to be cheerful (part 2017) this new year, then you actually, actually, actually, you actually can do no better than to silence all the words, all the screens, all the arguments, and invite Jesus, the only Word truly worth hearing and listening to, to be live with you, in you, through you and for you this coming year.

You might think this blog, therefore, is a waste of time, shouting into a void, obsolete. Well, yes, maybe, but these are the kinds of words I needed to hear at the end of 2016 and the start of 2017. So I wrote them to myself. What would the Church be like if I, if we, chose to prioritise the things that Jesus chose to prioritise? He gave a priority to love (of God and people), a priority to the poor, a priority to prayer, a priority to telling people about the kingdom of God through sharing stories they could relate to and a priority to building teams of people who could partner with him in his work. Wouldn’t it be great if I lived with these priorities? What could change? What could happen? What mountains might be moved if we joined together in living this way?

Let’s find out in the year to come

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April 2016

April 5th and 6th 2016: Colossians 1:15-2:15

You can follow today’s reading by clicking on this sentence.

So much of what makes knowing and following Jesus so exhilarating, so crucial, so necessary to human flourishing is encapsulated in the readings which we are looking at here. Continuing on from our jaunt in to Romans a couple of days ago, Paul is at pains to emphasise the sheer majesty and wonder of Jesus, and his total sufficiency. Not just in terms of what he has done, but in who he is. It isn’t just his action that makes him acceptable to God and able to present us holy and blameless to him. It is who he is. Similarly, the work of salvation Jesus has done for us doesn’t just render freedom where captivity once resided, it changes us at the very core of who we are. We are new people. We wear the skins we have always worn, but everything ultimately consequential about us has been made new because of this god-man, this second Adam who has won the victory and brought us to fullness of life. He is only able to do this because the fullness of God dwells in him, or to put it another way, because he is God.

We are full of life because God has made us full of life. Nothing we can do can make us more full of life. We are full as full can be already. Don’t be deceived by claims that you can have more, better, a closer relationship with God through a certain way of living, speaking, singing or anything else. You have fullness, closeness, full intimacy already. Accept no weak substitutions for intimacy with God. Instead, rejoice that you have the freedom that was meant for you. Freedom to know the Lord, to trust him, to give your life to him. That’s all this life is for. Everything else is a pale imitation of life, joy and the hope Jesus died and rose to make real.

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April 2016

April 4th 2016: Romans 5:12-21

With apologies to those who have been waiting, and probably given up, for these posts to return after a two-week break. I decided to pare down what I worked on in the week before Easter, and have then been on holiday this past week. Normal service will now, I hope, be resumed.

You can follow today’s reading by clicking on this sentence.

 ‘Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.’

Do we believe what Paul says about the saving work of Jesus Christ (his death and resurrection) here? People have spent whole lifetimes trying to work out the salvific value of the cross, to whom it applies and what must be done in order to benefit from its consequence (or, to be crude, to be saved). Who’s in? Who’s out? What do we do to get ‘in’?

There are things that Christians are expected to do. We are to love others at least as much, if not more, than we love ourselves. We are to love the poor. We are to partner with God in building his new way of life here, because has given us that privilege. We are, primarily, to love God with everything we have, worshipping him, but not just with Rend Collective songs, or Charles Wesley hymns, with who we are and how we live. We’re to prioritise service, with everything we have, including our money. We’re to pray for those in authority, speaking the truth in love to power.

But none of that, in and of itself, gives life to anyone. Jesus Christ gives life and justification, purpose and all that goes with it, to everyone. Not just some people, his one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all, Paul says. All. Not just some. There’s no contraction or contingency here based on us behaving rightly in order to receive the undeserved consequences of the act of righteousness. We don’t even have to say a special prayer at a particularly emotive moment in our lives. Jesus has brought justification and life to all.

If this is true, and I can see already the sharpening of keyboards everywhere quoting various scriptures that might argue against it, doesn’t this have a monumental impact on everything? Perhaps Paul misunderstood salvation. Well, wouldn’t that be interesting. Some of us would struggle with that even being possible. Perhaps he’s journeying with his thinking on the issue. Perhaps what he really meant isn’t what has been communicated to us by the translation here. I wonder what Jesus would have to say about what he is asserting here.

But what about this: what if the greatest lie the devil uses in this age to confuse and concern people, aside from the one about not existing at all, is that Jesus did not know what he meant when he said ‘it is finished’ on the Cross? Wouldn’t that be a neat and powerful trick? See, I believe Jesus did know what he meant. Exactly what he meant. He meant that we have life and justification. Not so that we could build edifices, power structures, empires, whole industries, around his name and following him. We have life and justification so we can share it with everyone, those who know the life Jesus has won for them and those who do not.

A time is coming when evil’s complete annihilation and the total, final victory of love will become plain to all. This is the promise of the Cross and the wonder of the grace and mercy of God. So, lots of fine and fancy words, but what difference will they make to how we live today?

 

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A Song A Month

A Song A Month For February 2016: Light Has Come

I’m really pleased today to release the video blog for February’s A Song A Month, ‘Light Has Come’.

Most of you reading this will know that I’m a disabled person. I try not to bang on about it all the time, but being disabled is part of me, it’s not something I can easily avoid, and so instead I try and embrace it, without making a fuss.

Years ago now, I did a Disability Studies Masters by Distance Learning from the University of Leeds. One of the key people on the course, Colin Barnes, challenged me to write songs about my experience of disability. ‘We need more protest songs’, he said. I always fought shy of writing about disability, mostly because I didn’t feel I had the language to write about it well in a song. I haven’t wanted to be a protest songwriter. I’m no Martyn Joseph.

Over the last few years though, perhaps as I get older and some of the idealism of youth wears off, I’ve found myself finding the UK a harder and harder place to live as a disabled person. I personally am a very fortunate man. I have a family, a wife who I love and who loves me. I have a faith which sustains me, and I feel like I’m able to make a contribution to my community, and to society, in a variety of ways. The fact remains though that I am in physical pain of one sort or another all of every day (like a lot of people, a lot of whom have it worse than me) and more than this, mentally and emotionally, I face challenges and hurdles to overcome many times daily, because I use a wheelchair and am disabled. It’s hard to explain or quantify. It’s simply how it is. I hate being disabled. Much as I’m supposed to be well-adjusted to it all, I wish I wasn’t.

But I know full well that my life isn’t as hard as it is for a great many other people, whether they are disabled people, or whether they experience other things in life which marginalise them and make them part of minority groups they never asked to be in. I truly believe that, as people of social conscience, Christian or not, we are called to be prophetic, whether we’re off faith or not. I believe we’re called to stand and hold one another to account for how we treat each other, whether we are ‘successful’, functionally well, impaired, old, young, or anything else. It saddens me to sense a corporate, societal, hardening of heart towards people with disabilities. Perhaps I’m wrong, perhaps I’m entirely mistaken, but that’s my sense.

February’s A Song A Month is a humble offering, inviting us to see that there is a better way to live, a better way to treat one another, to treat ourselves. A Light Has Come.

Thanks once again to Pete Thorn for playing on this song, and his help with the video.

Download the lyrics to Light Has Come by clicking here

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February 2016

February 6th 2016: 1 Corinthians 16:10-24

You can follow today’s reading by clicking on this sentence.

‘Let all you do be done in love’.

I wish my life looked like that. I wish. Sometimes I manage to do things in love. Trouble is, I get so excited at managing to have done the right thing that I’m immediately more interested in how this reflects so well on me, rather than bringing any benefit to others, or pointing people to Jesus. Perhaps you don’t recognise that in yourself as you read this, but I’d hazard a guess that it might resonate with more than a few of us.

Of course, doing things in love doesn’t mean always being nice. Nor does it mean always doing the thing that society expects or demands of us as we follow Jesus. Somehow or other, following Jesus, loving God comes first. It impacts our family lives, our work lives, our Church lives (hopefully God has something to do with our Churches!) how we relate to other people and how we relate to ourselves (often the hardest aspect of life of all). But we are friends and brothers and sisters of Jesus now, first and before all. It is his love that should have an impact on what we do and how we do it. His love that reaches to the furthest corners of the world, into its darkest places, where it seems that hope cannot exist, and explodes the myth of hopelessness by shining the light of love in. We’re called to be people of love. We serve for love, we fight for love, we suffer and rejoice for love. Is what we do, what we say designed to lift up another, or is it designed to make us feel better? Do we like to put others down? Have we decided what potential a person has, however little, and become unwilling to see the possibility of redemption? Are we happily unreconciled?

Let’s think about these things as we go about our days today, and try to make sure that all we do is done in love.

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January 2016 Lectionary Ramblings

January 16th 2016: Matthew 22:34-46

You can follow today’s reading by clicking on this sentence.

Jesus’ exhortation to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and love our neighbour as we love ourselves must be one of the most well-known of his commands. This summation of the Law that he came to fulfil is so all-encompassing, so deep, so unavoidable as to be wonderful.

I remember the experienced minister who pulled me up short upon hearing me say that I was happy with saying I loved God, and I did my utmost to love others, but that I could never get myself to the point of loving myself. This, he said, was impossible, and a disobedient response to what Jesus was asking of me.As my feeling, doing and thinking have developed over the years, I’ve accepted that sometimes I need to allow for myself to be loved as somebody else’s neighbour. I’ve asked God to help me to love myself and others in the light of seeing them as he does, as cherished precious jewels, beloved by him. This goes for people I like, people I don’t like, people I more than don’t like, people I radically disagree with, people who have done things I find detestable. I am called to love them all, with the love of God, that is within me, as my life is hidden with Christ within it.

In the light of all that, the very least I can do is to love people to the same standard as I would want to be loved myself. Love can bring both acceptance, on the one hand, and challenge on the other, but perfect love always does, always will drive out all fear. It’s a grievous mistake for me to think that my God needs protecting. That heart that beats with a fierce love which cannot be overcome simply does not need me to ‘protect’ him, keep him safe or anything else. The kingdom of God is always progressing forwards, towards final fruition. In the meantime, let’s not get bogged down.

As a Celtic invitation to confession we use at Church invites, ‘whoever is on the Lord’s side, let them join with me, that [together] we may come to the visions of God.’ We were made and meant to be together, bound with a bond of love that cannot be broken. Nothing we do, think, say or believe can break the bond of love that God has decided to make with us. We are brothers and sisters, drawn together around one table. Let’s remember that today.