teddy bear theology

girls
The bride, the bridesmaids and Mr Gruff (look closely)

A couple of Sundays back we held a wedding blessing in our morning service. It may be old hat to some of you to do things that way, but it’s not something I have ever done before. The wonderful couple [they read my bloggages so I have to say that ;-)] had been married 10 years ago in a civil ceremony but wanted to mark their anniversary by renewing their vows and recognising that God is now a part of their marriage.

I was not at all apprehensive about the service, but I did wonder how it would go – whether it would fit into a worship service and whether it would feel ‘right’. In fact it felt brilliant. It was an opportunity to thank God for all he had done in their marriage, to celebrate marriage, to think about relationships with God and one another.

In the sermon I commented on how, in their photos, a small bear called Mr Gruff was present. He had been there when D&S had met, he was there as their relationship blossomed, he was there at the wedding, he has been with them in their married life (good times and bad) and he was in church with us for the blessing too. He was also in every one of their wedding photos, but was mostly hiding in the background.

To me that seems like a lovely parable of how God is involved in our lives and relationships if we will let him. He’s there all the time. Sometimes we are conscious of him, sometimes it’s as if he’s in the background. Sometimes we acknowledge him and include him, other times he’s simply ‘just’ with us. Knowing that he is there is reassuring and encouraging.

Of course his preference is to be involved, to be acknowledged, to be engaged. But he is gracious and patient enough to be with us all the time, waiting for us to turn to him, to involve him once again and to include him in every aspect of our life.

He’s waiting for you now.

Be blessed, be a blessing

asleep
It was all too much for D…

24/7 Holidays

3d illustration: Take vacation, holiday items andWe all look forward to holidays. Whether it is foreign travel, visiting somewhere different in our own country or even staying at home we all appreciate time doing something different, or even doing very little.

Getting ready for a holiday can be quite stressful. You have to make sure that you pack everything that you need to take with you if you are not staying at home. If the travel involves flights then there are all sorts of rules and regulations that you have to follow and you are restricted by the amount you can carry, and even the size of bottles of fluids you can take onto the plane in hand luggage. One of the advantages of being bald is that you don’t have to carry shampoo!

And if all the hassle of travel sounds too much, if you stay at home you risk either spending the time doing DIY and decorating or you end up working again.

Of course the root of the word ‘holiday’ is ‘holy day’. Originally they were special days set aside to mark significant events in the life of Jesus (and some saints). They were days when people would not work but would recognise the significance of the events marked on that day.

I wonder whether we should spend time getting ready for holydays? What are the significant moments in your life with Jesus that you would want to mark? Some people know the date when they became a Christian. Some people know the date of their Baptism. Perhaps you know the date when you became a member of a church. Ministers and vicars can also mark the dates of their ordination and inductions into different churches.

But I reckon every day should be a holyday. What about the times when you felt God close to you at a difficult moment? What about that Sunday when God spoke powerfully to you through a church service? What about when you read your Bible this morning? What about that person for whom you have been praying consistently? What about the conversation you had today where you sensed God in the midst of it?

There is a prayer movement called ’24/7′ where people are encouraged to pray around the clock. One of the things I long for is that I would have a 24/7 holyday approach to life – recognising that God is with me always, that all that I do can be dedicated to him, that I can encounter him in and through everyone.

Enjoy your holy day today.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

the sequel

I had an interesting and helpful conversation with someone this morning following yesterday’s bloggage. They helped me realise that I needed to expand a bit more on what I had written, so consider this the sequel.

I finished yesterday by saying that Jesus offers us life in all its fullness as the Creator’s intended answer to our search for happiness. I realised after this morning’s conversation that it looks like I meant that God was offering us happiness after all. I am sorry if that is the impression I left you with (all I can say in my defence is that it was blogged on a phone on a train).

I am sorry too if you have ever got the impression from me that if you become a Christian your life will be sorted and there will never be any problems. That’s not the message of Jesus. He told us that his followers can expect opposition, even persecution. He told us that we should pick up our cross daily and follow him. He told people not to worry about tomorrow … “each day has enough trouble of its own.” He taught us to pray “deliver us from evil” and “don’t allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear.”

There is much more to life than this
There is much more to life than this

‘Life in all its fullness’ is a life lived in God’s presence, filled with God’s Spirit, seeking to live in a way that honours him as a follower of Jesus. As wonderful as that is, and as amazing and positive as that is, fullness of life also includes the pain, grief, difficulties, frustrations, confusion and anxieties that life can throw in our direction. It includes all of life, knowing that God is with us in it. It includes those moments when we can look back and see that God really was in it with us when we wondered if we were alone. It includes those times when we were clinging on to our faith by our fingernails. It is life lived in a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Following Jesus is no guarantee of an easy life (perhaps it’s a guarantee that life will not be easy) but it is life as it was created to be. It’s not all doom and gloom, there is also brightness, joy, peace, laughter, fun and so much more – don’t read this and think that it’s all bad. God is with us by his Spirit in the light and the dark, in the laughter and the tears, in the joy and the pain.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

 

all by myself?

from cartoonchurch.com
from cartoonchurch.com

My wife and daughter have abandoned me.

Temporarily.

They are staying with her Mum for a few days during the half term holiday. I know it’s silly and irrational but the house feels very different when they are away. Even during the daytime, when Sally and Hannah are at work and school respectively and I’m, the only one here, the house feels more occupied because I know they will be here again soon. And as I move around the house I find evidence that they were here earlier in the day.

It might just be me, but sometimes I feel a bit like that about God: that he has left me on my own. There is silence around me, prayers seem to vanish into the ether, the sense of his presence is replaced by an echoing absence.

But I have learnt not to panic in these times. As Elijah found out in the cave (1 Kings 19) God can be more present in the silence than in the loudest, most vibrant, bounciest worship service. Elijah was feeling abandoned by God, sorry for himself, all alone. But he experienced God in the sound of sheer silence. Interestingly this did not change his perspective on life, he still expressed exactly the same self-pitying abandonment. What had changed was that he had discovered that God was there with him in it.

When I am experiencing divine absence it is not because God has gone anywhere. He is still with me in his absence (if that does not sound too paradoxical). My ability to sense him may be impaired by me sticking my fingers in my spiritual ears (often because I have been distracted from him); or by me being too busy; or by me expecting to sense him in a particular way and that’s not how he wants me to experience him on that occasion. Even when the ‘absence’ is because I am in pain God is closer than I can imagine. He is with me, in me, sharing my pain, feeling the impact, understanding better than I do and later I find that to be true.

But sometimes (and bear with me here) it’s as if God is playing ‘hide and seek’ with me. When children play hide and seek they are in it together, they know they will be reunited, and the game is part of the friendship. Sometimes, it seems to me, God is deliberately hiding from me because he wants me to search for him, to look for him, to grow my desire to be with him. In the absence, in the desire to be with him my awareness of who he is can grow because I realise what I am missing.

If I walked around the house now I would find lots of evidence of the presence of my wife and daughter. I know too that they are coming home soon (and phone calls help). In the searching for God I use other spiritual senses to find him than my default senses (looking in the Bible is where I usually start) and I find him in music, in nature, in science, in other people, in my imagination, in creativity, in serving others, in rituals, in mysteries, in bread and wine… and in so many other ways. When I take the time there is ample evidence that he is still around, that he has not gone anywhere.

God is not absent, I have the sense that he is watching from his hiding place, desperate to be found again, perhaps planning to jump out and shout ‘surprise!’

Be blessed, be a blessing.