crouching God, hidden pain

This is a slightly edited version of my ‘thought for the week’ yesterday – sent to the Ministers of the Eastern Baptist Association…

11/9/2018 is a landmark day (or 9/11/2018 if you are American). (Cue trumpet fanfare, ticker-tape parade and 21 gun salute… or maybe not). That day was the last day of my cardiac rehabilitation process. While I am still not 100% back to where I was before the surgery and still have one or two further appointments, I reckon I am about 95% and today is a significant milestone along the way that demonstrates the progress that has been made since my surgery back in February. I am now back at work full time.

Immense thanks go to my amazing wife, Sally, who has been a wonderful support and encourager throughout the time. Immense thanks go to the surgical, medical and rehab teams at the Essex Cardio-Thoracic Centre in Basildon who have looked after me incredibly. And immense thanks go to you and your churches for the many prayers that have been offered on my behalf – I have been acutely conscious of them and am sure that part of my progress is attributable to them. But most of all immense thanks go to my Lord who has been with me from start to finish along the difficult journey, and of course continues to do so. And I have discovered a new way in which he is with us.

SilhouetteYou may recall that in my recent Thoughts for the Week (not published here) I have been reflecting on Psalm 40. In verse 1 David wrote: “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.” In my first reflection on this psalm I noted how it must have felt to David to have God give him his attention. But since then I have done some more research on the Psalm and have discovered that our English translation is somewhat inadequate, albeit literally correct. The sense in the original Hebrew language is not of God turning to face David as he was in the slimy pit so much as ‘he crouched down to me and listened to me crying’. The image is of a loving parent who sees their child in tears and gets down on the floor to be with them in their sorrow so that they know that they are not alone. There’s no suggestion of wiping away tears or words of comfort, or attempting to explain what’s going on, just a God who crouches down with us and listens to our crying. That’s an astonishing thing for David to write about God when the gods of other nations were warlike and needing to be invoked or remote and needing to be appeased. I love it, and I have experienced it.

9/11 is the anniversary of the day when terrorists hijacked passenger planes and flew them into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon and another crashed as the passengers sought to prevent greater tragedy. Our God is the one who crouches down with us and listens to the crying.

There are many in today’s world who are victims of natural disasters, human violence and tragic circumstances. Our God is the one who crouches down with us and listens to the crying.

I am conscious that some of you and some of your church are going through deep, dark valleys at the moment. Our God is the one who crouches down with us and listens to the crying.

May we all experience and bring his reassuring presence in our life and ministry.

(un)familiar routines

On Saturday afternoon I will be doing a quick (15 mins) Magic Show at Stanway Spring Fayre.* I have been working on a couple of routines for the show, which will be for all ages (so no sawing people in half, chopping off hands, or putting skewers through my thumb). One is a routine that I have done before but which I have re-worked and is now being further refined. The other is a new routine that I have been working on and this Saturday will be my first opportunity to present it to an audience.

I feel a lot more confident about the first routine than the second. That is not because either is more complex than the other. It is because the first one is one that I have had more time to rehearse and I have also had the chance to perform before my friends at the Mid Essex Magical Society** and receive positive feedback (see this bloggage). That has given me confidence that I can do the trick and that it will go down well. The second is a step into the unknown. I know I can do it, but I have never done it before under public scrutiny and I don’t know how it will be received.

Except for a few ultra-confident extroverts I imagine most of us are much more comfortable with what is familiar to us. We like staying in our comfort zone. We are happiest when we feel most relaxed.

Sadly Jesus does not call his followers to a comfortable life. He invites us to follow him and that can often take us into unfamiliar places and doing new things. I am in the middle of preparing for Sunday morning at our church and looking at Luke 9:1-17, where Jesus sent his 12 friends so far out of their comfort zones that the cz was just a speck on the horizon. He sent them on a mission trip and told them not to take any supplies. Then later he told them to do the catering for an impromptu party – for 5,000+ people!

We may not be asked to do those things today, but we are still invited to “take up your cross… and follow me”, which is definitely a step into the unknown. Crosses are not known for their comfort and Jesus had a habit of going into uncomfortable situations.

This is not an encouragement for us not to prepare. I am much happier when I am prepared. But we need to be prepared for the unexpected, the unusual, the uncomfortable. How? Well ‘following’ is easier when you are in earshot of the person you are following rather than them being a long way ahead of you. The twelve disciples had spent time being in earshot of Jesus: watching, listening and participating.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

“Our Minister’s sermons always have a happy ending. When he ends we are happy.”

*2-4pm in Stanway Village Hall if you’re interested.

** Available to come and perform at very reasonable rates at your fundraising event in the Essex area. See their website for more information.