When God isn’t there…

In 1873 a prominent American lawyer called Horatio Spafford sent is wife and four daughters on a steamship to England for a holiday with the plan to follow them shortly after.  Tragically the steamship sank and his four daughters, along with 222 others, died.  His wife survived. Spafford was a Christian, this event must have shook his faith in God to the core.

Spafford's four daughters

Do you ever doubt God?  Do you ever feel like God just isn’t there?  Maybe your prayers are not answered, or you feel such apathy, hurt or doubt that you cannot even bring yourself to pray.

Please be encouraged and keep going.  There are all sorts of reasons why bad things happen but it is important to remember that God is in control of all situations, no matter how grim, hopeless, or even tragic they may be.

In the Bible a prophet called Ezekiel had a vision where he saw many people who had completely turned away from God and had begun to chase after other reasons to live.  Some had begun worshiping the sun, others had started behaving in ways that hurt themselves and those around them.  Their reasoning was, “The Lord does not see us, the Lord has forsaken the land.”  But in the vision there was a real sense of the holy jealousy of God.  Even when God seems absent we should still give him the worship that is due to him.

Many wise and insightful people have written books exploring about how pain and suffering can be reconciled with the existence of a loving and powerful God.  It is important to engage our intellect on this issue but a great way to engage our whole being with the issue of suffering and an absent God is to actually worship God!

After receiving the news of the death of his four children Spafford came immediately to England.  It is said that it was shortly after passing the spot of the tragic accident in the Atlantic that Spafford wrote the hymn ‘Peace like a River.’  An amazing response of worship in the midst of the worst nightmare that could happen to anyone.

Everybody’s suffering is unique.  Our experience of God is unique.  What will mark us out as those who loved God is how we respond to him in those difficult times.

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Friendship gives cancer a good beating at the YMCA

Today was a wonderful day at the YMCA as staff came together to put on a great morning of fabulous food and even better friendship.

Sadly it seems more true each year that each of us is affected by cancer.  And  it was as a result of the wicked claws of cancer that three people at the YMCA wanted to put on a Macmillan Coffee Morning.  When they all found out what the others were wanting to do and once they had put their heads together the result was brilliant.  People came in early, cooked breakfast for the whole staff team and loads of home baked cakes were brought in and sold (and eaten).

But better than any amount of money that was raised for Macmillan, which really is a worthy cause, was the sense of community and friendship that pervaded the building at Carters Green.  It was fun and moving to be together.  Two of our colleagues and friends who are living with cancer at the moment were able to come and visit and there was a great feel of togetherness.  Tears were shed, jokes shared, encouragement given and I am sure all were inspired.  I really felt the love of God among us, bringing unity and sticking one in the eye for cancer.

Well done to everybody who took time to make today possible.  It is a privilege to be part of the YMCA community.

The Mission Continues

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I returned home on Monday night from an incredible fortnight with the Mission Possible team for the YMCA Europe Festival in Prague.  It was a wonderful time and when I woke up on Tuesday morning and made my way into work it felt like I was missing a limb.

The one thing that made it so fulfilling was that the entire time with the team seemed to be non-stop worship of God.  Whether we were eating, team building, planning, singing, dancing, discussing, acting, preaching, playing, laughing or crying God was in the centre of it all and so it just felt good and right the whole time.

So as I drove to work feeling a definite sense of loss I realised, as amazing as the people were and as much as I am bereaved by the absence of their companionship, it was actually the tangible image of God shining through them that seemed to be slipping away and was causing this sadness.

Of course, God is not fleeting and is still to be found in the slightly more mundane of life.  It just takes a little more effort not to be distracted by the less meaningful and to continue living purposefully in the presence of God.  I had a beautiful evening with 5 Black Country friends from church last night, again because God was in the middle of what we were doing.

The truth is that Mission Possible continues wherever God is acknowledged and I look forward to endless more Mission Possible experiences on my own, with my own wonderful family, with my lovely colleagues and with my inspiring church.

I still miss my friends though.

Worship at the YMCA

I love working for the YMCA and I love worshipping God.  To be honest the reason I love working for the YMCA is probably that it gives me countless opportunities to worship God through my everyday work life.  What a privilege to be able to serve young people in need on a daily basis.

Last night my YMCA experience was taken to another level.  I’m at Unify 2013 which is exploring the Christian identity of the YMCA movement and at the first session yesterday evening we spent a long time worshipping God together through discussion, teaching and singing.  I have grown to love the YMCA and it was powerful to see that so many leaders within the movement passionately love Jesus.

My prayer is that God continues to use the YMCA and helps us to enable the mission of God to be at the core of everything that the YMCA does.

Jesus is dead

Easter Saturday is often overlooked by Christians during Easter celebrations.  Good Friday is painful, sad, hopeful.  Easter Day is full of joy and celebration.   But what do you do on the Saturday?

In the story of Easter it was a day when nothing happened.  Jesus was dead, and his disciples were bereft.  I think for the Christian in the 21st century it is a day to remember that sometimes life can feel like God is absent and that prayer can seem unanswered.  The disciples felt no hope, they were not expecting the miracle and sometimes we find ourselves with similar feelings.

Feeling the absence of God is not a good place to be but it is a real feeling that I think is dangerous to shun and dismiss.  Faith in Jesus is a journey and it is important to embrace all the extremes of the journey.  I think we all feel hopeless at times – maybe because of serious illness, debt, addiction,  loneliness, purposelessness, or even death.  It is at these lowest points in life that we have to learn to grapple with pain and God – like when Jacob wrestled with God.

There will come a time when the reality of Easter morning breaks in but you can’t just be told that.  You have to experience the low, struggle with faith, and discover the goodness, mercy and love of God for yourself.  This Easter, if you’re feel down and trapped by life, it is important to know that the resurrection is just round the corner, and look forward with hope and faith – but don’t feel that if prayer seems unanswered or if God seems absent that your faith is worthless.  The disciples felt no hope after Jesus’ death yet they went on to experience the life and fullness that comes with faith in the resurrection of Jesus.

Tolstoy’s Resurrection Part 1: Spiritual v Animal

Us humans are a strange and complex bunch of creatures.  We try and do a bit of good but, no matter how good our intentions or how hard we try, we are so easily sucked into choosing the selfish path.

There is a brilliant exploration of the state of the human being in Tolstoy’s The Resurrection.  The world of Dmitri Nekhlyudov (10 points if you can pronounce his name correctly!) is turned upside down when he ends up on the jury in a courtroom where a woman he had previously taken advantage of and then abandoned is on trial for murder.  The story charts Nekhlyudov’s gradual and painful journey away from his existence as a self absorbed aristocrat.

Tolstoy captures the essence of the internal struggle:

“Nekhlyudov, like all people, consisted of two persons.  One was spiritual, seeking benefit for himself only if it would be a benefit to others; the other was animal, seeking benefit only for himself, and for that benefit prepared to sacrifice a whole world of benefit to others.”

How often do we have pure motives and desire what will ‘be a benefit to others’ yet end up sacrificing the well being of other people, even those we love, for our own sake?  In the Bible Paul shares his own painful experience of this:

“I want to do what is good but I can’t.  I don’t do the good things I want to do.  I keep on doing the evil things I don’t want to do.  I do what I don’t want to do…..what a terrible failure I am!” 

I suspect this is a dilemma that many can relate to and it is something that we would love to be saved from.  In my experience there is a way to move from the selfish ‘animal’ to more of the selfless ‘spiritual’.  Paul asks the question – “Who will save me from this sin that brings death to my body!?”  Then gives the answer – “I give thanks to God.  He will do it through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

The only way to be saved from putting yourself before others is to identify with Jesus Christ who blew this selfish mentality of the human out of the water by sacrificing himself to bring a whole world of benefit to others.  It’s worth bearing that in mind this Easter time…

 

Pancakes and Crucifixion

Our church Area Group met at Jon & Emma’s tonight and we enjoyed some stunning savoury and sweet pancakes courtesy of Rada.  I just love pancakes with cheese, ham, soured cream and gherkins.  Mmmmmm.  It was great to share together after a weary Tuesday.

We then watched the crucifixion scene from The Passion.  Wow, what a somber reminder of the suffering of a man and his love for all humankind.  The fun, tastiness, and probably a bit of gluttony, was in stark contrast to the pain and torture that we were watching and it reminded me what Pancake Day, Shrove Tuesday, was all about.  It was the occasion of using up the rich foods in the house in preparation for Lent, a period of fasting to prepare for Easter.

I really am not one for celebrating religious festivals for the sake of it, or out of obligation, but the traditions can be really useful to help us walk with God, gain an understanding of who he is, and to worship him.  If you feel led to then I would really encourage you to fast from something for this Lent season.  A friend put on facebook tonight that you don’t need Lent to prepare your heart to celebrate Jesus death and resurrection and this is very true.  But also, a bit of spiritual discipline is a great way to help us appreciate what we have and to helps us experience the rhythms of spiritual life.