Hold the Course

Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

At thirteen I was taller than many of my classmates and very much stronger.   I was a shot putter on the track and field team, and was good at sport in general.  Despite my size and strength, I was often bullied, precisely because of those characteristics.  I however held the conviction instilled in me by my mother that it would be wrong for me the harm a smaller child. Therefore, I endured the bullying.

At thirteen, I had teachers who saw me as clever, and some diligently tried to convince me of my non-physical abilities.  But I, whether because of the bullying, or whether I had something to prove to myself, stayed fixedly focused on athletics.

High school was an uncomfortable turning point.  By fifteen I had stopped growing and settled in at five foot – seven.  I still competed in the shot put, but each year my ranking fell, as others first caught up to me in size and then surpassed it.  My response was to practice more, spending long hours with the weights and in the shot put ring.  I remained strong, and especially strong for my size.  My academics, however, were not a priority.  Yes I got mostly A-s, but not consistently so.  My senior year, I even took only the classes I needed to graduate.

Alas, I am no athlete.  I got a job, married, and went to community college, where I got A-s yet again.  Then I joined the forces, where academically I did well even being noted on three occasions as “honor man”  in military schools.

I left the forces, and went to uni, and then into ministry.  I eventually even did graduate study at the University of Cambridge.  I am still no athlete, but I am, as my teachers at age thirteen tried to show me – clever.

So what advice should I give a thirteen year old me?  Give up the sport, you will end up too small?  Hit the books, your future lies there?

No!  The message to the thirteen year old me is:  “Hold the Course.  The path you are on is the one that will make you – you!”

Padre

Haunted Wordsmith Nonfiction Prompt: What is something you would tell your 13-year-old self?

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Risen to Reign

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Pastor Rich continued our series on the Risen Jesus Raising Us.  His theme was “Risen to Reign.” He began his message with a reference to Revelation 1: 5b and 6, “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.”  We are through His resurrection, and His love, raised up to be a kingdom of priests, and He has freed us from our sins.

This is truly a raising up.  We who were slaves to sin, are now elevated to priesthood.  Our reign is not a rule of power and conceit, but of service and holiness. Sin is mastered, and no longer master through the transformational power of the resurrection.

This is evident in Romans 5:17,  “For if, by the trespass of the one man (Adam), death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!”  We are transformed by grace to reign in life.  This reign is fantastic. We who were lost through the nature of Adam, are now adopted into the family of the King of kings, and Lord of lords.  We are the younger siblings of the Prince of Peace, and the adopted children of the King of the universe. How’s that for being lifted up?

But again, we are not to be arrogant or prideful in this.  It is through no merit of our own, but by the grace of Him crucified, that in His rising He has raised us as well.

Returning to the transformation into mastery, it is now that we have the ability through the redemption of the blood, that we can rise above circumstance and even our “old self” (the slave self). This is not by works “lest any may boast.” As Pastor Rich rightly said (and in keeping with James’ epistle) we work not to be saved, or to be raised. Grace equals salvation and works.  Works do not equate to salvation. We work not to be saved, but because we are.  This service to God, and our fellow man is reflective to our reign as a “kingdom of priests” (Rev 1: 6).

Rich illustrated this raising with Gideon in Judges 6. Here is a man, the least of his family, the least family of Manasseh, the least tribe of Israel. Yet, God addresses him as “mighty warrior.”  Gideon immediately questions, rather than accept the salutation.  But God had ordained him to lead his people.  This man who is found hiding in a wine press becomes Judge over Israel. This is the rising we too have through Jesus’ rising.

We have despite our pasts, weaknesses, or doubts been raised to reign.

Padre

Finding the Shepherd

HITACHI

Stray Sheep

Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”

This is a Psalm of comfort and of promise.  The image of God as the the protector and provider prefigures Jesus’ image of Himself as the same in John 10.  It reads, 11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. 12 But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. 13 The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own.” 

The shepherd we are told prepares good pastures, and leads near still waters.  He provides food (and even anoints with oil).  He is prepared to lay down His life for His flock, and knows each individual.  What could be more comforting?

This Psalm was one of my earliest religious/spiritual encounters.  Its promise of safety, and care was and is reassuring.  The passage was recurrent in my youth as a scripture regularly in interfaith contact between Christians and Jews.  The same God, the same promise.

Too often today we gloss the promises of God.  The Psalm passes us by, and in the words of John 10, we start to put our trust into the hirelings.  Those individuals who seem to have authority (political, social, and yes even religious) and yet do not have the same fervour for our well-being as the “True Shepherd.”  No wonder we are so often left feeling let down by failed political promises, social one-up-man-ship, and at times barely veiled indifference.

Let us therefore turn back to the Shepherd today.  Remember, He is known by His own!

Padre

An Attitude of Entitlement

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There has been a lot of discussion on the issue of entitlement of late. Michelle Obama has cited an attitude of entitlement among men, and there have been been blogs on the subject of regional and national attitudes.  It seems though that this concept, that one group of people should assume privilege over another, has been with us far longer than the present debates.  Whether it is British over their imperial subjects, the Party over the “ordinary” Soviets, or any other construction of presumed position.

This was true in the time of Jesus as well.  Luke 16 gives an account of a rich man and a poor man that slept rough at his gates. 22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ 25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ 27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ 

Here we have a man accustomed to his riches of purple and linen.  He has feasted and not merely dined, and he has a house with gates and not just doors. When he dies he is sent into torment, and seeing the poor man in the presence of Abraham, he calls on the patriarch to send the poor man to comfort him.  His attitude of superiority has not been tempered by his situation.  When it is explained to him that he is beyond help, his concern shifts to his family, but even still he does not see the error of his attitude to Lazarus, for he again calls for him to be sent to serve his (and his family’s) needs.

So what do we do about this assumption of “I am owed” something?  When I was in the forces we owed a symbolic respect to superior officers.  This was manifested with a salute.  Interestingly, we were repeatedly reminded that this rendered courtesy was not directed to the person, but the position: “You salute the uniform, not the man.” There is a check on entitlement, if only but one.

With that aside made, we need to remember that all people are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), and as such are “entitled” to the same share of dignity.  Jesus expanded on this when He called on His followers to ” . . . ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these {along with loving God} (Mark 12:31).” He even used a despised Samaritan to illustrate His point (Luke 10).  

First John 4:7-8 provides a great starting point in changing our attitudes to entitlement. “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

Those who love, share.  Those who love, seek to bless those with whom they are in love.  Those who willingly give, move beyond “self.”  When the self is diminished, “entitlement” fades.

Padre

 

Three Passions

 

Passion, the dictionary tells us, is a “strong and barely controllable emotion.”  While the uncontrollable element is debatable, many of us use the word to mean “things we enjoy and feel are important.”

Let me state here that in the passion league my relationship with my wife must be taken as a given.  She is my confidant, friend, and companion.

That said, many of us have various “passions” as we go through our life-journeys. Some of these bud, blossom, and fade.  Others remain with us throughout our time on Earth. When I was a teenager, sport was a passion.  I was a relatively accomplished athlete, and I spent long hours in practice and training.  Later my children became the lights of my life. Don’t get me wrong they are still loved and cherished, but they have grown and left home and no longer are an everyday focus of my life.

Education later became a passion.  Those who follow my blog will know I have more education than sense.  But with six degrees, and multiple additional courses under my belt, formal learning has been largely relegated to my past as well.

This leads to my three remaining passions.  The first of these is public speaking.  Yes, I know there are people who fear making a public address even more than death, and the majority of adults have some level of apprehension when it comes to oratory.  But, I love it.  I am a Toastmaster, a preacher, a teacher, and a stage hound when I get the opportunity.  Speaking for me is, like blogging, a release of my pent up thoughts and energies.

The second passion of my present stage in my journey is travel.  I love to explore and experience new places, cultures and foods.  It gives me a richness of knowledge, and experience I could not replicate at home.  I have lived on three continents, and at least five counties.  I have visited nearly thirty nations.  Each has taught me something new. Besides that travel gives me something to speak and write about.

Finally my most enduring passion is my faith.  Belief is something you hold true.  Faith is something you would venture your life over.  And my religious faith is just that.  It is my anchor, and through sport, family, military service, education, speaking, and travel, it has always been there.  This does not mean that my beliefs have not adapted and grown over time.  But the foundational principles of Christianity have guided me.  Thus while I write about public speaking and travel, I still will continually (as in my life) return to the themes of faith, the Bible, and ethics.

What are your passions? Which of them will endure the tests of time?  My challenge to you is to find them, nurture them, and then grow from them.

Padre

 

 

 

Beyond Doubt and Even Giants

Pastor Vince brought his message from Numbers 13 this week.  He focused on the power of God in our lives in making things change.  If it is not our circumstances that are modified, it is often ourselves.

Drawing from the same passage, I would like to reflect on the mindset of the people involved.

“23 When they reached the Valley of Eshkol, they cut off a branch bearing a single cluster of grapes. Two of them carried it on a pole between them, along with some pomegranates and figs. 24 That place was called the Valley of Eshkol because of the cluster of grapes the Israelites cut off there. 25 At the end of forty days they returned from exploring the land.26 They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land.”

So far, so good.  The scouts of Israel find that the land that has been promised is truly an abundant one. But . . .

“31But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” 32 And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. 33 We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anakcome from the Nephilim).”  Yes, the land is great, but there are giants.  We can’t do it.

Despite coming out of the land of Egypt with power.  Despite the parting of the Red Sea, they still had a slave mentality.  “We aren’t good enough.  We aren’t strong enough. We aren’t big enough.”  Does it sound familiar?

But hope is found in the preceding verse, “30 Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, ‘We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it’.”  Caleb saw potential, not doom.  He and Joshua were ready and willing to go, not just onward, but right away! No slave mentality here, but faith in what they had already witnessed.

Do we see the giants or the grapes?  Do we see strong cities, or the God who divided a sea?  Can we, today, look beyond doubt?

PadreAbhar-iran

The Magic of Words

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Humans are endowed with imagination, and this has aided us in the symbolic medium of language.  We can communicate beyond the easily apparent.  We can describe a far-off land, or even better – abstract concepts.

An experiment I try with every first year class is to ask them to show me “one.”  I am then usually presented with an assortment of single fingers, pens, and books.  To which I respond, that is a finger, pen, etc. Some then turn to writing the figure “1,” to which I respond, “Then show me five.”  To this I am offered a “5.”  I in turn say, “There is only one symbol there.”  The end comes with the realisation that one or five are merely concepts.  You can see “one.”  One pencil, yes; “one,” no.

So it is that our language captures the concepts and constructions of our imaginations.  It is indeed a kind of magic.  I can tell you of a peaceful lagoon, with waters that glisten with the lustre of crumpled foil, that has been smoothed out.  The blue is that of a robin’s egg, and the sand a coral white.  Many of you will be able to share this invisible image with me.

There is the wizardry.  We as adepts in our own tongues can create “reality” from nothing!

How absolutely powerful is the creation account of the Judeo-Christian scriptures?  For we in our use of language are “in the image of God.”  God said in Genesis “Let there be . . .” and it was so.  In John’s gospel we similarly see, “In the beginning was The Word . . .” and nothing that was made was made without Him.  God created with words, and so do we.  [Don’t get me wrong, and think I am equating creation with “magic,” I am merely illustrating the power of words, and any verbal creation of ours must by necessity pale to true physical creation].

We then, as agents of this verbal power should create with good intention.  The words we use to paint a sunset, can also be used to bring darkness on the soul of the one we criticise.  With great power verbal magicians, comes great responsibility.

Padre

 

On Learning

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Human beings learn.  It is one of our strengths.  Learning and education are not necessarily the same things, however, as learning happens through experience as well as through instruction. Some level of learning is innate and each of us has our own aptitudes.

I have been an educator for nearly three decades.  I have seen a lot of theory come and go, but in the end what makes for a good education is that learning happens.  For some this is formal or even by rote, for others it is didactic, or Socratic. Each needs to be engaged in a way that suits them.

My own education says a lot.  I have six degrees (yes, I know), but I am limited in my practical skills.  I have recently learned how to change a fuse wire, and I am fairly competent at Ikea type flat pack construction (though it took me more than one wonky bookcase to achieve any success).

So what is the point of this?  Simply that we all have our own competencies and strengths.  Don’t let anyone who has a superior air put you down!  It is a pet peeve of mine that anyone uses educational attainment to belittle another.  In fact, it is the one instance where I will play the one-upmanship game.  I remember being at a seminar, and a (what I thought to be) interesting theory was put forward by an undergraduate speaker.  The response of one audience member was, “Well that is all well and good, but when I was at University X, we concluded . . . .”  Okay, maybe I shouldn’t have, but I did come to her aid with, “That’s interesting [person from Uni X], but when I was a Cambridge  . . . .”  I guess you see my point.

In the end, and as I have noted, I am highly educated, but I can’t change a sink washer. Believe in yourself, for every contribution to the world you make is a valid one. Keep on learning,  but more importantly keep on contributing!

Padre

More Than Just A Foot

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On Sunday, Pastor Vince shared a word in which we were reminded that we are all valuable in the sight of God.  God so loved the world (and each and every individual in it) that He sent His very own Son to die, that that world might have life.

Yet, many of us question our value. We wonder if we, or our roes are important.  This is not new, however.  Paul told the church at Corinth:

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor.

Whether hand or foot, eye or ear, we are all needed in the kingdom.  We are all part of the body.  And every single member is loved.  So loved in fact, that even if we were a body of one – Christ would still have come and died, just for you; just for me.

You are more than a foot!

Padre

Picking Winners

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When it comes to picking friends and influencing people, Jesus on the face of it was a little unconventional.  When He chose His disciples He picked 4 (perhaps 6) fishermen, known for their outspoken, not always politically correct or sensitive utterances. He also picked a tax-collector, Matthew (always appreciated by the public), and a political activist, Simon.  He chose no rabbis, rich men or celebrities.   He spent time with other tax collectors (Zacchaeus), and reputed prostitutes (Mary Madeline).  Yet, this group of unlikely spokes people changed the world.  James, the fisherman was martyred, and Peter imprisoned. They were loyal and though not well educated or influential, proved that Jesus saw with the eyes of God what potential people held, not just what the world sees.

Do we do the same?  We who are chosen, have been called not because “who we are,” but because “what we can become.”

Padre