Easter 2017

Here we are with another celebration and another holiday, yet we know this weekend is intrinsically linked to our Christian faith. But, there is the danger that it becomes just something we believe, part of the tenets of  the faith rather than seeing it as the first great example of how each of us are to live our daily lives. I wrote the following poem which may be explain a little of what  am thinking.

Its Easter card time, with chicken and bunnies
Milk chocolate eggs, simnel cake and a little toddy,
Time off with the family and lovely days out,
The early spring sun is ready to shine,
All things God gives us to enjoy at this time.

But could it be that the greatest thing,
Is that this world need never be the same again,
That at Easter everything changed for mankind, 
God no longer regarded aloof, distant a stranger,
Now welcomes us joyfully, forgiving and as lover.

Could it be that Jesus both dying and raising,
Showed that the fear of death is forever removed,
That no longer do we react in anger, fear, retaliation,
But Christ who was willing to be killed by us men,
Shows now to us all how we overcome hatred with love.

No more do we give as good as we get,
But by love, grace and forgiveness,
Little by little the old world is reversed,
Of violence for violence and hatred for hatred
Until each community overcomes all its hurt.

Instead each of us now as Jesus himself,
When offended, my cheek I am able to turn,
Loving with compassion, forgiving all hurts,
And no longer must I always,
Have the last word.

So new life arises because God is in me,
I am made in his image and created anew,
And now in this house his presence is found,
His temple on earth is seen all around.

So Easter is daily and moment by moment,
As each of us choose to live in Gods way,
Loving the stranger, forgiving the friend,
A life that's laid down, surrendered to all,
Enjoying Gods presence wherever I am.

Have a very blessed and joyful Easter both this weekend and each day from then on!

 

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Christmas 2016

Dear all,

It has been a long time since I last wrote and I wanted to let you know that all is well and that this last year has continued to be a very significant journey with God. I have been writing more than ever but have not felt any release to publicise my writings at this point. So, this is a Christmas ‘hello’ and especially to those who I no longer see in person. However, I am not going to be writing about my year. No, I want to write and tell you about 3 people who have inspired me during this year. Yes, I have asked their permission!

Maire is now in her more mature years but her desire to be all that God wants of her is undiminished despite age and physical condition. Weight had increased, mobility decreased due to painful knees and a crutch was needed. This meant that any interaction with her community had reduced. Six months ago after a fresh encounter with God she decided that things needed to change! Despite the pain, she started walking without the crutch as a sign that her strength will be renewed. Next she signed up at a local health club where they created both a new diet as well as a weekly exercise regime. She kept to this new routine for 6 months. The result? Maire now has lost 2 stone in weight and gone down several sizes in her clothing AND she feels like a spring chicken! The other result? Maire has now engaged afresh with her community by getting out and about and people are now coming to her home to hear about her faith in God. Maire certainly has her own Magnificat. “My Soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour!”

John has known for years that he suffers from a family condition that means his kidneys are slowly stopping their working. This year was a crucial year as their function reduced to about 11%. Despite this and to the Doctors surprise he was still working and living fairly normally. You see, John had a firm and unshakeable trust that God had promised him long life and he knew that a miracle would happen in one way or another. We have all heard people say that God is going to heal them but mostly you feel it is just words and little substance. With John you felt it was all substance. Twice a possible kidney donor was excluded after weeks of hope, yet John was more concerned about how the donor was feeling than the fact he had possibly just lost his own future life. I complimented him on his approach and John explained that he had assurance that God had promised him a future but where it came from and how it came was not John’s problem! Eventually a donor was found that matched and today John is a living testimony like Zechariah to the promise “Now we have been saved from our enemies so we can serve God without fear.” Steadfast faith and full assurance in what God has said is really quite rare but John inspired many with his journey this year.

Chris is a wife, mother and grandmother and now retired except from being a housewife. Pretty full time then! When Chris heard about  John, she decided to donate one of her own kidneys despite some understandably strong opposition from some members of her family. Chris knew John and reasoned that if her ‘brother’ was lacking something and she had that something, then why would she not give it to him? Immediately prior to the operation John and Chris shared publically about this journey of theirs. A powerful message emerged of one person being prepared to give up their kidney and all that entails for the joy of giving life to another. Her desire to forgo personal comfort so as to enable another human being to live well and strong and so to have their own future was deeply impacting. “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us , in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

So, 3 ordinary people who have the ability to inspire others just because of their selfless behaviour surely is a wonderful Christmas tale that echoes the first Christmas. Love coming into this world. Love at work in putting others before yourself. Love sacrificing so that others can live. This is what makes the first Christmas holy and we remember this love every subsequent Christmas but such actions can also can make every day holy.

Have a very blessed and special Christmas season and a great New Year enjoying Gods promises.

Much love, Simon.

 

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Redeeming Love

William Cowper wrote “Redeeming love has been my theme and shall be till I die.” As you will know, to redeem is to buy back, pay off, recover, obtain release, restore or deliver from sin. There is always a cost involved in redemption.

Redeeming love is also Gods theme and always has been right from the beginning of time. Redeeming love is who God is and what God does. True love will always be redeeming. Love is wonderful. It can be powerful and irrepressible but then there is redeeming love that involves a cost and maybe pain. Gods love is inexhaustible and unconditional. A love that through Jesus redeemed the whole of humanity at one time. Every nation, culture and tribe restored to their divine beginning as offspring of God. This is a redeeming love that has often been underestimated and yet cost so much. It cannot be exaggerated.

Redeeming love is also the standard by which we must love and it has been made possible for us to love in this way. Our love for others should always be a redeeming love and yes, it will of course involve a price and cost to us. Not perhaps by us voluntarily shedding our blood but it may require us to shed our pride, our rightness, our determination to be popular or approved and most certainly it will involve us shedding some of our ego or pride. If love is willing to prefer others to ourselves, then redeeming love is to forgo our rights or privileges so that others can be released and set free.

Redeeming love will cause us to let go of our prejudices and certainties. For some of us this is a huge price to pay because we are so certain that we are right. We have the right theology, the right judgement, the correct understanding while all the time we keep people of different culture, religion or persuasion imprisoned by our failure to love them with redeeming love. If we did, not only would they be set free, released and restored but we would also find that we would have a new and greater freedom. To forgive is to set someone free and then to find that that person is you. The result would be that Gods Kingdom on earth would come in greater measure.

This world was changed forever by redeeming love. The story of Christ’s redeeming love was never intended to be a one off event but Jesus as the firstborn of many brothers, set in motion a story that needs to be constantly re-enacted. It must be retold time and time again in our everyday lives, everyday. No, we may not have to die on a cross ourselves, but the activity of redeeming love will regularly require us to die, be buried, resurrected and then to join in Christ’s ascension. Redeeming love and prejudice are incompatible. We may need to learn to identify with such people before we can extend redeeming love. Jesus fully identified with us to make redemption possible.

So, who may we have we kept imprisoned by our attitudes, tradition, culture or thinking? We should release such people by loving with Gods standard of unconditional redeeming love. That is what this world is crying out for and it needs to start with us. Redeeming love between race, colour, sexual orientation, religion etc. They will be set free, we will be set free and this world will be released when we understand that firstly redeeming love is Gods theme and then it becomes our theme and shall be till we die!

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A New Year Prayer.

It is not very often that I quote from a hymn but there are some hymns where you feel the Author has truly experienced what he or she has written about. As a consequence, the words have a very deep meaning for us also. Out of nowhere, the following hymn came to mind this morning as I was enjoying God. Maybe you can also feel the thrill of Gods presence and the assurance of his benevolent care as you quieten yourself. Allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you through some of these words.

Lead us heavenly Father, lead us
o’er the worlds tempestuous sea;
guard us, guide us, keep us, feed us,
for we have no help but thee;
yet possessing every blessing,
if our God our Father be!

Spirit of our God within us,
fill our hearts with heavenly joy;
love with every passion blending,
pleasure that can never cloy;
thus provided, pardoned, guided,
nothing can our peace destroy.
James Edmeston.

I will refrain from saying anymore except, it is true, so just enjoy Him!
Happy New Year
Simon

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A Christmas Story. – No room for Jesus.

As the train pulled out of the station, Tariq Abrouhaim and his wife walked out into the steadily falling rain of an English night and headed to the bright lights that indicated the town centre.
His wife pulled her hijab a little further forward to prevent the blowing rain from drenching her as they carried all their worldly possessions in an old grey suitcase that had long lost its wheels and a little backpack. Following their journey from the country they used to call home this was all they had to show for months of uncertainty, extreme danger and unscrupulous gangs of men trying to take every last thing they owned. The money so carefully saved and protected had finally run out and this railway station had become the last on the line for them.
But even though it was a strange culture here in the UK and so cold with the rain that seemed to squeeze through every piece of clothing at least there was no constant roar of jet planes dropping their lethal cargo of explosives on unsuspecting innocents below. At least you could not hear the abrupt chatter of automatic weapons rising and falling all day and night long. Here, there were no dead people lying in the gutter with their bodies smashed beyond recognition as people scuttled past averting their eyes from a sight that still no one could get used to despite the years of war.

So where could they get help at this time of night especially on Christmas Eve? By now they had arrived at the centre of the town and the only reasonable place offering shelter at this late hour seemed to be the large porch of what they took to be a church building. They took some shawls out of their suitcase and lay down snuggling together to keep warm and waited for morning to come, along with the rumbles of their own stomachs which would be calling out for sustenance.

However, before they could fall into a troubled sleep, people started arriving at the church door which was apparently open. The people entering the church were looking forward to their midnight service with the warm cosy feelings that come with comfortable routine, favourite carols and familiar words that are read every year but perhaps never really understood. Tariq and his wife squeezed themselves back out of the way of the gathering worshippers but could not help but notice the angry looks from those hurrying to get out of the rain. It seemed that those looks spoke of resentment at two people daring to break into the comfortable routine of attending their church service. Some of those entering glared at Tariq’s wife and especially the hijab that she had drawn tightly to her and one even muttered about the threats of Muslim people in our safe English neighbourhood. The same people who rushed in for their moment of worship then seemed to rush back out an hour later this time without a glance at the couple trying to find sleep. A man who was the last to leave, locked the door and told them to make sure they were gone by the time the morning service would start as they might frighten the children who would be coming with their parents. Tariq knew what it was to feel ostracised, rejected by society, a refugee fleeing for his life.

Soon it was Christmas morning and in another part of town a 14 year old girl was wandering along the streets all alone. She was seeing the houses on each the side of the street through her tears as distorted shapes, similar to the way in which she was seeing her own life. A life out of shape, damaged, hurting and seemingly useless because of the violence and abuse to her from her mum’s latest boyfriend. Mum always seemed to side with her boyfriends until the latest one to leave had gone and then she would look to her daughter for comfort while she waited for yet another man to fill the void in her own life.
The Christmas season always seemed to bring out the worst violence in this girl’s short life and no doubt it had something to do with the rapid build up in the recycling bin of empty bottles and cans of booze.

Wet through, with hair plastered down her face and shivering from both fear and cold she sat down on a bench on the street unsure as to what to do next. Would she finally get a call from mum once the alcohol had worn off abruptly telling her she better come home after all? Maybe she would just keep walking but where could she go? Perhaps it was better to end it all and put a final stop to this seeming unending misery. What had gone wrong? Had she done something awful in a past life that God was now punishing her in this life?

Through all the rushed and tangled thoughts going through her mind she finally noticed that she was sitting near a little hall where people seemed to be entering on this Christmas morning. She watched the families as they walked in. Grown ups warmly welcoming one another and excited children seemed to be clutching newly opened toys and gifts and as they all crowded in to what must be a Christmas morning service. There seemed to be so much fun, laughter and warmth among the people as they eagerly made their way into the bright lights of the little building. She even noticed one or two children from her class who must be going to the little church with their parents but not one seemed to notice her such was their eagerness to enjoy their Christmas morning routine.

Once all the people had entered and some music started from within the hall she suddenly felt even more alone as though the whole world had just walked past her gaily talking and chatting among themselves but somehow totally oblivious to her presence. It was just as though she was invisible. She noticed a bright poster on a notice board that said “Put Christ back into Christmas” but it made no sense to her. She couldn’t imagine what that must mean. She got up from the bench, visible but unseen to those who are not looking and walked on into a future that was as bleak as her past.

Two streets away, Arthur stood at the window of his house looking at the people outside through the slowly misting pane of glass. His house was cold and damp because he often forgot to put the heating on. How many months was it since his beloved Ethel died? He was even forgetting that but what he could not ignore was the pain that still tore at his heart despite the months of her passing. That pain began the moment they told him that Ethel had unexpectedly passed away in the hospital and he was not even beside her. He would never forgive himself that after 60 years together; he had not been at her side when she needed him the most. The sudden change in his circumstances meant that he did what most old people do when such things happen. He just found it best to keep himself to himself.

Apparently it was Christmas Day but he couldn’t find the energy to do anything different today and for lunch he would finish off the chicken pie and peas that he had cooked yesterday. Through the wall of his semi, he could hear the laughter and shouts of the family next door enjoying all their festivities as they opened up their gifts. He did not even have a gift for himself although last year he had decided to buy and wrap a gift and write a card to himself but it all seemed so much more pointless this year. He didn’t know but a deep depression had settled on his mind and the tragic effect of such an illness is that he wanted to see people even less as well as feeling totally useless as a person.

A particularly loud shout that came through the party wall brought his thoughts back to the family next door. They were alright as families go. Perhaps a bit religious, sort of do gooders and always putting leaflets through his letterbox informing him of some gospel event. They would chat with him if they met when bringing in the wheelie bins or something like that but they always seemed a bit too busy to really want to stop and engage and they seemed to lose interest in him when he declined to go to their church services.

He turned away from the window, once again feeling the sharp pain of the loss of Ethel and he suppressed half a sob as his loneliness welled up within him. He wondered why he bothered to keep living really. He was of no value or interest to anyone it seemed. The world although so full of people could be such a lonely place. What were the words on the front of the leaflet that came through the door? Glad tidings of joy. As far as Arthur was concerned, spending Christmas Day on your own, alone with the memories of your dear one who had been snatched away from him was no tidings of joy. Where was God now and what could church offer when it seemed to be just a provider of religious services or a cosy club? Oh, what would it be like to be accepted, included and appreciated for who he was with all the doubt and sorrow he was carrying without being made to conform. He just wanted someone to be a friend, anyone, who accepted him as he was but he felt so old and unable to go out and find someone to befriend.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters,[f] you were doing it to me!’
Matt 25.

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Camino 2:5

So, here we are sitting at Bilbao airport waiting for our flight back to the UK having walked many miles. Also we have had many good conversations with at least 17 different nationalities and perhaps most importantly of all, we have had space, time and the opportunity to slow. Slow to a walking pace for 7 whole days. 7 days with no cars, no other means of transport but 2 legs. Believe me, it makes a difference to how you see things, people, God and process thoughts. This is a good difference, a wonderful process that allows us to become present to ourselves, our walking companion and especially God. When walking the Camino, you find that the rush of life when at home does crowd our ability to hear and fully engage with God and others.

The question is, have I learnt to develop such presence over this week, so that when I return to life at home, I can slow myself and engage with God even in the midst of a busy day and return to that secret place of my soul? I hope so.

Have I also learnt to recognize the great value and beauty that can be found in my neighbor as I walk lifes journey instead of shying away from engaging with my neighbor? Have I also learnt to see that when walking or meeting with anyone in life, I can be walking with Jesus and serving Jesus?

Will I be able to still see the beauty and smell the fragrance of the flowers and blooms now that I will soon be back at home busy with a thousand other things? I guess one answer is to leave my car in its garage and walk everywhere. Perhaps that is why Jesus never drove a car! Even though I jest, surely these are important lessons that need to be practiced im our everyday routine if we will be a people who carry something of what people saw in Jesus he lived on earth.

For those of you who have been following this blog, perhaps I have inspired you to one day soon walk the Camino or at least for you to consider along with me how we walk our own lifes journey.

Finally, let me say thank you to Tony for being such great walking companion over the last 7 days. No one could have been more considerate and helpful than Tony was and his care was not restricted only to me but to whoever he saw was needing encouragement.

Thank you Tony and Buen Comino!

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Camino2:4

Another long hot day of walking and over the last few miles I had felt my feet begin to ache. The little Albergue where we are staying is an old traditional house in a quiet Spanish village with beautiful view of the church in the next village framed by the small window of the bedroom. There is another guest already sitting at the table and I enter into conversation with someone who was a stranger but within a few minutes will become a friend such is the affect of being pilgrims of the Camino.

However, a surprise is in store for me, dealing with any possible feelings of self satisfaction that I may have by walking the Camino. This young man is severely crippled but is doing the Camino by hand pedaling his wheelchair adapted with a wheel at the front! He has his guitar tied across the front of his contraption and a flag on the rear. When he cannot negotiate the path he has to stick to the main roads but is encouraged by most passing cars sounding their horns to give support.

The night before we sat at supper and shared with other pilgrims. Opposite me was a lady walking the Camino to rejoice on her recovery from cancer and to lose weight from the treatment! Sitting next to me was a lady whose mother had recently died after becoming ill while walking the Camino from Switzerland. The daughter promised her mother that she would finish the Camino in her place. The daughter seemed well over weight and chained smoked but walk the Camino she would!

Each day we meet people with stories of overcoming trials, illness, loss but find healing and restoration on the Camino.

Along the way, little stones are piled one on another by pilgrims, some with paper messages of hope or confessions placed between the stones. One young man we chatted with spoke of feeling a weight lifting off him as he walked away after writing out a message for himself and placing it with other messages.

Another pilgrim affected by this special place whose life has been enriched.

Buen Camino!

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Camino 2:3

As we walk up the final crest of this range of hills, we look out over yet another huge plain and see yet more hills way into the hazy distance. Is it really possible that we will ever get as far as another range of hills? They seem so far away.

We move on down the scree covered path making our slow way forward. Yet, a few hours on when we have passed some villages and eaten some lunch, those hills do not seem quite so distant after all. Another hour or two passes and maybe we will reach those hills after all!

Sure enough we begin to slowly climb again making our way up to the new summit that has white whirling wind turbines all along the crest.

How often in life, things seem just to far away, not approachable, to far into the distance for us to believe we will ever achieve what has been promised or what we are aiming for. All it takes is steady forward motion without taking our eyes off the goal and what can seem so very far away suddenly is attainable and becomes ours.

This time though, I remark that the landscape has changed as we descend yet another set of hills. I point out that gone are the fertile fields of golden corn looking so beautiful in the sunshine. Now we have scrub and infertile rocky soil. I feel cheated and disappointed as I march on. But wait a minute, suddenly my eye is drawn to splashes of color and I spy beautiful delicate flowers and herbs of a type I have never seen before. Pale pinks, bright yellows, mauve, orchids and white flowering herbs that have a beautiful scent.

I sense a rebuke for judging on first appearance and what might seem to be unlovely and not so attractive to the eye. Instead, I become ‘present’ to my surroundings and notice much beauty. I am challenged that I often miss beauty in others in my rush through life. In fact, if we care to look, we will see beauty and something of God in almost everything. We just need to slow our pace and ‘see’ with the seeing from within. We may even see God!

Buen Camino!

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Camino 2:2 amended

Please note the finish should read BUEN CAMINO! Not Burn! A little tricky editing on my phone.

Simon

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Camino 2:2

As we walk away from where we stayed the night it is about 6:30 am. We walk past fields of barley that are almost ready for harvest and the smell of the barley crop in the morning dew is very heady. Then fields of new mown hay with its own unique scent and the smells of the morning along with vast views is almost intoxicating! ( not sure what intoxicated is like of course)

The path winds along beside fields and in the banks wild honeysuckle grows. Big bushes that provide another unique sweet scent and sight. Then we come to an area of broom in full flower. Big swathes of yellow bushes providing that sweet honey smell that is so strong. Cypress trees begin to dot the landscape and the fields of barley and wheat give way to vineyards and olive trees. Thai is Rioja country and no doubt we will be tasting some again tonight with our Pilgrims supper.

By now the Sun is very hot overhead in a sky void of clouds. The white path stretches out ahead dotted with the varied colours of other pilgrims clothing. Ahead on a rise is a village with white and grey tightly packed houses rising up to meet the church on the hilltop.

As we breast the top of that village after winding through quaint streets another plain greets us shimmering in the heat and we count the villages ahead by their churches always the first building to be seen by the pilgrim.

As we pass groups and individual pilgrims we all greet each other with ‘buen Camino’ and then when we stop for food and rest in a coming town then we will have opportunity to share where we come from and why we are doing the Camino!

Burn Camino, whatever journey you are on!

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