Saturday, April 23, 2011


I am sure that we have all been to those places, tourist sites that tell you not to pick up things up and take them home. Imagine if everyone who visited the Coliseum in Rome pocketed a stone. The famous building would soon be dismantled. There is a reason why people are told not to pick up things and take them home.

If I could find the right coat hanging up in the closet, and find the right pocket – the one full of crumpled up Kleenex tissues, nestling at the bottom of the pocket would be a stone. It didn’t come from the Coliseum or the Acropolis or any other ancient monument. It came from an uphill path of a nature trail in the Cairngorm mountains. I don’t think for a moment that the stone is native to the mountain. It was just part of a bag of loose gravel poured over the path so that people didn’t have to squelch through mud, or bounce from one patch of heather to the next.

I picked up the stone because it glistened in the sunlight. It was a pretty stone. I had walked up the hill, felt my heart pounding, wiped the sweat stinging in my eyes and the stone was a memory marker of the day. There were no ominous notices about not taking the stones home. There will always be another bag of gravel to repair the path is people pick up stones along the route.

Not all the stones that I possess have been picked-up ones. A few years ago, the last time I attended Weightwatchers, the leader handed out small polished stones to commemorate every stone of weight that a member lost. I earned two stones before I fell by the wayside and chocolate crawled back onto the menu.

The other stone I remember being given was a small white stone. The pastor in my church had been preaching a sermon based on Revelation 2:12-17.

“To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” (v17)

He had a basket of stones and encouraged us all to take one as an object lesson to what he had taught. I would like to say that I know where my white stone is but I don’t. I haven’t thrown it out – it has just become lost in one of the cups, jars or vases that hold stuff that I hoard. Although I may not have the stone to hold in my hand, I have the memory of it and all that it reminds me of.

Last night, in amongst a whole plethora of dreams, most of which were about re-writing paragraphs of the current book I was reading, I dreamed about the cross of Jesus. I don’t think it was the crucifixion itself but the concept of going to the cross as in laying down your burdens, of nailing your sin to the cross. In my dream the disciples were looking for a hallmark, something to identify that someone had done that. Some people who came were just spectators. They didn’t come in response to a call but merely a curiosity. The disciples decided that when people came to the cross, to Christ, they would give them a stone. It kind of ties in with Revelation 2:17

I remember feeling a sense of panic at the time because I didn’t have a stone. I didn’t remember being given one. Did that mean that I hadn’t ever really gone to the cross at all? I was told that I had a stone, I had just forgotten where I had put it. I got the sinking feeling inside that I would need to be able to show my stone to someone in authority before I could enter into heaven, or access the resources of heaven. I would probably have spent much of the rest of the dream searching through the cups, jars and vases looking for the stone…but I woke up at that point.

If only it was as easy as having a stone to hold – that hallmark of someone who has been to the cross.

Colossians 3 has much to say about hallmarks:-

”Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. …Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry…Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity…Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.”

I may not know where my stone is, but I am working with God to show that coming to the cross of Christ has changed me - and continues to change me.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Run the Race

I can’t actually believe that I had the audacity to preach a sermon last year based on the runners of previous day’s Grand National. It came to mind this morning as I was thinking about which horse would carry my hopes of winning not a huge sum of money but something.

Hebrew 12:1 was my starting point - “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us”

For the uninitiated the Grand National Day is one of the few times of the year when the nation digs into their pockets to put a bet on. Sometimes it can be an office sweepstake where you hand over your £1 and put your hand into the hat and pull out a name. There are 40 horses charging around the course jumping over thirty fences of differing sizes and shapes and there is always a lot of controversy, a lot of action and so on. Animal Rights campaigners get very agitated with the race because they think it is animal cruelty with the length of the course, the conditions under which the race is run, the kind of jumps and the likelihood of horses being injured or killed. But as my sister says - if the horses don’t like the look of the fences they won’t jump them and any good trainer will not send out a horse onto the course if it is not adequately trained.

I found my notes - here are snippets from the sermon, posted because it's Grand National Day, and because it was a good sermon! The truths, you might say, are straight from the horse’s mouth.

King Johns Castle –It was a warm day yesterday and a number of jockeys once they had reached the starting line got off their horses to give them a break from carrying them before the race began. As all the horses gathered for the start of the race, they climbed back on and lined up – except for King John’s Castle. It took a few minutes to get the jockey remounted. The horses were all away except for King John’s Castle. He stood stock still. He didn’t want to race.

What do you think the trainer is going to do with the horse when they get back to the stable? The horse is not going to be destroyed and made into burgers! King John’s Castle came second in the Grand National in 2008. Yesterday he had an off day. It happens.

We have off days. We have times in our lives when we just don’t seem to be moving anywhere. We don’t seem to take up the opportunities that come our way and perhaps we are inclined to beat ourselves up about it. We are not judged by God on the basis of one race moment and we shouldn’t judge ourselves on that either.

God has an eternal perspective on things.

Joe Lively - About half of the races in Britain each year are handicaps. In a handicap race the better horses in the race are given the extra weights to carry. It gives the not so good horses a chance to run against the better ones. Joe was one of those better horses carrying heavier weights.

Only the best horses get to carry the weights – if this applied in a spiritual application that only the best Christians get to carry weights, you might find some comfort in that if you felt specially burdened – but it doesn’t apply. Everyone at some time in their life has burdens to carry. How heavy the burden isn’t really the issue – but how we carry, or how we cast that burden. God does put burdens upon us, but carries them anyway because He carries us.

“Throwing off everything that hinders” – what might be some of those things that hinder?

Joe Lively was a finisher – he came tenth.

Big Fella Thanks – Things didn’t quite go as expected. Ruby Walsh, the jockey, broke his arm in the previous race. It wasn’t planned. It was one of those things that life throws up. It’s not ideal, it’s not what the trainer wanted – but how do some people cope with unexpected changes?

The horse didn’t get put back in the trailer and driven home because the jockey broke his arm. The trainer found another jockey – not just any other jockey, but someone who was familiar with the horse. He swapped around the riders on his other horses, he got creative, switched about. Changes might surprise us…but they don’t surprise God.

Big Fella Thanks finished the race and came fourth.

Black Apalachi ran the race last year and fell at one of the fences the second circuit, the previous year he also fell at the second fence – not a great track record, perhaps.

How much do we allow past failure to dictate our future success?

Driving down to see my family involves a ten or eleven hour drive. The last drive back from Warwickshire had involved a tyre blow-out on the M6. The AA had come to the rescue and when I got home the tyres were replaced – BUT there was something inside that couldn’t be fixed as easily as the tryes – my imagination. Suddenly all long car journeys carried with them the possibility of a tyre blow out. I would have been happier if I could have hired a newer, more reliable car for the journey – but in the end Joe, the Daeoo and I made it.

Black Apalachi led for much of the race, didn’t fall over, battled for a while with the eventual winner and finished the race and came second.

Dont Push It – this is not so much about the horse this time around, but the jockey. “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” The dictionary defines perseverence as “Steady persistence in adhering to a course of action, a belief, or a purpose; steadfastness.” A P McCoy had up until yesterday rode in some 3,000 races, broken arms and legs numerous times, rode in the national fourteen times before and never won – but yesterday he did it. He said in an interview afterwards, "If you get enough goes at something and you keep going, once you're in there you've always got a chance.”

Comparing the “race” that scripture talks about with the Grand National has its limits. In the world of horse racing it is not part of the race to stop your horse, dismount, go over to a fallen jockey, get him back onto his feet, give him a leg up back on to his horse, encourage him on his way, before remounting and getting on with the race. In the world of the Christtian race – it is compulsory. We should not be riding on when someone else has taken a tumble.

Friday, April 08, 2011

The Song of the Stars

There was an item on the news this morning that caught my imagination and has stayed with me for most of the day.

So much of what passes for news often debunks the Bible and faith. It’s nice when science “discovers” something that the Bible writers already knew!

Nasa's Kepler space telescope has picked up sounds emitted by stars light years away from Earth. Sound waves are sent out as the activity of the star causes it to vibrate. The sound, perhaps just a single note a star creates, can tell someone about a star’s size, age and brightness.

Imagine all those millions of stars vibrating and each note being a part of a symphony. We may not be able to hear the music with ears – but it’s there!

The stars could not be silent
The day the Maker stirred
Throughout the vaults of heaven
Their song of praise was heard

God spoke light into being
And called the darkness night
And the stars sang of His wonders
As they echoed His delight

He said, “Let there be water
And the deepest bluest sky.”
And the stars in sweetest harmony
Sang anthems from on high

He called forth flowers and grasses
The tallest straightest trees
And the chorus of the stars’ song
Drifted on the breeze

A mighty light to rule the day
At night a sickle moon
And the stars sang their approval
With a glad and joyful tune

The sea was thick with fishes
The sky with birds o’erhead
And the stars’ uplifting melody
Across the heavens spread

God made so many creatures
That moved across the ground
And the stars sang out a symphony
A splendid, glorious sound

At last, his best creation
In his image, God made man
The stars sang on in wonder
As a precious love began

The Maker joined the stars’ song
And roared with deep delight
His music filled the heavens
And set the earth alight

Job 38: 3 – 4, 7 “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation, while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?"

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Choosing Joy

It was a conversation with my sister that started it all. I had bought, if not sent, a Mother’s Day card and I wasn’t quite sure where to send it. Mum had been in hospital a while ago and I didn’t know whether she was back in her sheltered housing flat or in some convalescent home.

My sister was on her way to a day out with swimming, massage and drinks by the pool. It was her Mother’s Day present. She and her daughter (both mothers) and a friend (another mother no doubt) were being treated by husbands and children to a day of fuss and pampering.

Not being a parent, I don’t get Mother’s day treats. I don’t get cards or flowers or a day of fuss and pampering. I am on the outside and excluded and sometimes I find Mother’s Day a bit of a trial. Last night I took a mood dive downwards and grizzled for a while.

“I know it's Mother's Day tomorrow but please take some time out to think about some of us ladies who aren't mothers - not through choice, but flawed biology. It can be a rough day sometimes.” I wrote on my Facebook status.

This morning my Bible reading instructed me to “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Phil 4:4) and to “Rejoice in the LORD and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!” (Ps 32:11). It wasn’t quite the direction my heart was willing to travel but as I read my perspective changed. It wasn’t so much the Bible verses that touched my heart, but the devotional from Lucas on Life. I am a few days behind (on account of being rather enthralled with my new kindle) and I am reluctant to just miss a few days out to catch up just incase there is treasure to be had. I should have read the words on Wednesday, not this morning – but they were designed for today.

The opening sentence of the devotional began with “in my past battle with depression” and went on to comment on the “snap out of it” advice. This is a person who has been there. It is not always possible to snap out of anything leastways depression. He went on to say “I have discovered there are times when we can choose joy…We can make decisions about the way we will think and act…We are not called to be victims of our thoughts but rather to take authority over what we think and focus on.”

Psalm 32 begins “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the LORD does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit.” The Message puts it this way “Count yourself lucky, how happy you must be— you get a fresh start, your slate's wiped clean. Count yourself lucky - God holds nothing against you and you're holding nothing back from him.”

I can choose to focus on what I don’t have…or think about the things I do have and be grateful about those things. If I choose to consider “things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse” (Phil 4:8 The Message) there is a good chance that joy will colour my day.

I choose joy.