Archive for May, 2014

car2 I’ve got some model cars on my bookshelf. The paint’s scratched and they look a little worse for wear but they’re part of my history. As a child I spent many hours playing in the dirt, building roads, creating towns, and developing stories based around these models.

I had flash town cars to impress my imaginary friends; four wheel drives to hunt after adventure, trucks to carry loads, and sports cars just for fun.

Now they just sit on the bookshelf in my study as conversation pieces and perhaps as a reminder of a childhood where imagination played such an important part.

Imagination is a gift of God. It’s a gift that enables us to go beyond the humdrum of everyday life and explore the depths of our mind. Imagination can take us to another place where the world seems brighter, the grass is greener and colours are more colourful.

John Lennon invited us to imagine: Imagine there’s no countries, he said. It isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for and no religion too. Imagine all the people. Living life in peace … INXS said use your imagination and start a fire.

I guess the imagination can be used for both good and evil.

In the Bible, the apostle Paul, writing from prison of all places said: Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us; to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!

As incredible as our imagination can be, according to Paul, God can achieve in us even more than we can imagine.

So when we have negative thoughts about ourselves, when we doubt our abilities, when we imagine that we’re no good, we may be well off the mark. Those negative thoughts can lead us towards depression and anxiety, and sometimes towards doing things that we regret later on.

carSitting in his prison cell, I am sure Paul made good use of his imagination. A tiny spot of blue sky through a tiny window high up in his cell would have sparked many thoughts of freedom. But his real hope came from within.

He recognised that God’s power was at work in him and that God’s thoughts were bigger than his.

His imaginations disappeared out of that tiny window high up in his cell and were swallowed up in God’s imaginations for him.

He recognised that God’s grace and love and mercy. That God’s protection of him, that even God’s estimation of him as a person was immeasurably more than he could even imagine.

Next time you have negative thoughts and you struggle to imagine yourself as a person who is worthwhile, I invite you to allow God’s heart to connect with your heart. No matter how you imagine yourself, God’s estimation of you is immeasurably greater.

It’s hard to imagine that God’s love was so great that he sent his son Jesus, so that “whoever believes in him, shall not perish but have everlasting life.”

He loves you deeply. Deeper than you can imagine.

This Sunday, June 1, I am commencing a series based on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, entitled “Life With Purpose … When Times are Tough”. You’re welcome to join us at Maida Vale Baptist Church, 24 Edney Road, High Wycombe each Sunday during June, starting at 9.30am

 

 

 

 

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logoI’ve been watching with interest a wall being built alongside Roe Highway near my office.   It’s a noise wall, and it’s being built to provide a barrier that will protect people from the noise of traffic on the highway.

Highways are noisy, and if you live near them, you either get used to the noise, or it drives you insane. Cars, trucks and motorbikes are going back and forth 24 hours a day. The sirens of police, ambulances and fire engines come and go, then someone decides to test the quality of their muffler, by accelerating rather quickly. Building a wall to provide a barrier between the highway and the residential area is not a bad idea.

But walls aren’t always a good thing. In this instance, the wall, when it’s built, will mark a clear separation between the highway and the houses, and provide some protection from the noise of the highway.

Throughout history we are familiar with walls being built and walls being removed. In 221 BC sections of the Great Wall of China were removed, and other sections rebuilt to manage the reunification of China.

In 70AD the siege of Jerusalem by the Roman empire saw many of the walls around that city destroyed.

In Britain, in the year 367 the Picts, Gaels, Irish and Saxons attacked Hadrian’s Wall in northern England. They called it the ‘barbarian conspiracy’.

In 1989 there were euphoric scenes in Germany as the Berlin wall was breached – the wall that had separated east and West Berlin.

Walls can separate and divide. But walls can also be used as a way to mark boundaries and provide protection.

Setting boundaries is a really important part of bringing up children. They need to know what is acceptable according to the standards set by society, and what is acceptable and not acceptable in the light of your own family’s standards.

And children also need to know the consequences of going beyond those boundaries.

Understanding the boundaries of life is important. The Bible gives us some boundaries and tells us how disappointed God is when we cross the lines he has set for us. Our conscience helps us to be aware that there’s a line in the sand that we really shouldn’t step over.

But there’s another part of us, that is constantly tempted to step over that line, to go beyond what our conscience says is OK: To go beyond what we believe is acceptable to God.

When Jesus came, he reinforced the boundaries that had been set in the past, but he also showed that living by rules was not as beneficial as living according to the law of love.

If following God’s way is simply about rules, then the temptation to break those rules becomes stronger, and the battle becomes more and more difficult.

But if following God’s way is an act of love, and a desire to live according to the principles established by Jesus, then we see things from a different perspective. The walls that were once seen as a barrier, we’ll recognise as walls that are there for our protection.

 

GrassThe rain’s been a long time coming so the rain this week has been very welcome.

There’s something about rain that changes everything. Rain that comes at the end of a long hot summer brings with it new life and refreshment. The dust that has accumulated on the leaves of the trees and plants is washed off and everything is glistening.

After it’s been raining you get this sense that it’s OK. That there’s hope … there’s life.

One of the great Kings of Israel was David and the Bible records his last words before he died. This is part of what he said: ‘When one rules over people in righteousness, when he rules in the fear of God, he is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning, like the brightness after rain that brings grass from the earth.’

How many times have you heard a politician, or any kind of leader being described like that? But I reckon if you’re a leader it’s worth pursuing.

If you’re a parent, for instance, you’re a leader. Those children watch you every moment of the day and follow your example. I wonder if they say, mum’s like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning, like the brightness after rain that brings grass from the earth?

Well… maybe not first thing in the morning as you’re clearing up from breakfast, making sure bags are packed and shoes are on … and you discover that note to parents that you should have got last night.

David certainly wasn’t the perfect leader, but somehow in his dying moments he thought back to some of the better experiences in his life and he realised that the times he saw raindrops glistening on the work that he had done, was when he had allowed God to influence his life and leadership.

I suspect that most leaders, most people generally, want to be successful. We may measure our success by numbers or dollars, or graphs on a wall. But there would be few leaders who measure their success by the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning…. Like the brightness after rain that brings grass from the earth.

But if that was how we were judged as leaders, I think the world would be a better place. If someone records my last words before I die, I think I would like them to be words like David’s. I’d like to think that my leadership resulted in people being more hopeful, being able to love more, to be more generous, more gracious, more respectful of others.

As I look out my window at the sunlight glistening on the wet grass it makes me think how important it is for those who call themselves leaders to be like that. People who reflect light rather than casting a shadow. People who bring joy rather than sadness. People who offer hope rather than fear.

David, the king, was able to talk about his leadership in such a way at the end of his life. Even though he had made some terrible mistakes he knew that leadership that was God-breathed made a difference in the lives of the people he was leading.

As leaders that’s a goal worth pursing.

 

 

 

starMay the Fourth Be With You.  Yep, it’s International Star Wars Day and all over the world people are walking around saying “may the force be with you” – with a lisp. It’s an appropriate day to ask why themes of religion and philosophy and the battle between good and evil, prove to be such a winner in movies. From Star Wars to Matrix, the Lion King and Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, we seem to have an interest in exploring deeper issues vicariously on the silver screen.

The “Force” in Star Wars is an energy that can be harnessed by those who have the ability to do so. It is an energy field that surrounds us, penetrates us and binds the galaxy together. While the Jedi use the Force for good, the Sith use the dark side for evil in an attempt to take over the galaxy.

I suspect that our fascination with the battle between good and evil is because there is a reality about it that we bump into at various levels. Every day in the newspaper and on the TV news we hear about hoons, bashings, robberies and unsociable behaviour. We don’t like it and argue loudly that the government should do something about it. But deep down we know that we are only a step away from behaving badly ourselves.

There’s a sign of that struggle in the words of Jesus, when he said: I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” The struggle between good and evil is evident at the deepest level of our beings and very often we find the drag towards the dark side stronger than the desire to do good. Even the Apostle Paul felt this struggle when he said, “what a wretched man I am” after making the comment: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.

Fortunately, he finished off his rant by saying: Thanks be to God who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord. There is an answer to the ultimate battle between good and evil and it’s not in some nebulous “force”, but in the reality of Jesus who took the battle to the place of death on the cross where he became the ultimate overcomer, not through force but through love.

John put it this way: This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.