Saturday, 5 January 2019

In Tribute to the Sailing Ship

For as long as I can remember, I have loved sailing ships. I know where it came from – my Dad.

I remember as a kid being fascinated by the intricacies of a model of HMS Victory my Dad had made – the sails, the netting, the ropes. All in the right place. And the miniature cannons – an obvious attraction to a youngster!

Dad had always loved sailing ships despite neither of us having any nautical background. He read to me and my sister as a kid. One of the books, Two Years Before the Mast, made an impression on me. It introduced me to the genre and it wasn’t long before I had discovered Hornblower.

The great delight of being a young teenager and reading the Hornblower novels by C S Forester, was that they start with Hornblower at about that age in his Midshipman days. I was hooked, reading right through the stories within a couple of years.

Other naval books followed, such as Alexander Kent’s Bolitho stories. And along the way I got to collect thematic stamps from around the world with pictures of ships on.

Then came Patrick O’Brian. This is a totally different class of seafaring novel. It’s C S Forester meets Jane Austen. The books are incredibly well researched and brilliantly written. They are as much to do with the main characters as to do with ships and battles – and they really do read like Jane Austen at sea. With 20 or so books in the series, there’s plenty to go at.

I’ve never been on a real seafaring sail ship. But thanks to my Dad, I have been around the world and back. I’ve discovered countries, fought battles, dealt with scurvy, shinned down the mainmast and lived with the wide horizons of the seas.

Maybe that is why I’m so attracted to the poem attributed to Sir Francis Drake. Here it is – and I pray you too will set sail, and losing sight of the land, will see the stars.

Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wilder seas
Where storms will show Your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.

We ask you to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push back the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.

Monday, 10 December 2018

The Reason

It’s a common Christian shorthand nowadays - ‘the reason for the season.’ Not sure I like it much as a phrase. But there is a reason, that’s for sure.

Christmas is not a Christian celebration originally- it was ‘adopted’ by Christians as a useful anchor date for celebrating Christ’s birth.

But is Christ’s birth worth celebrating? Well, that’s the ‘reason’ bit.

There is no doubt that Jesus Christ lived and died in Palestine around 2000 years ago. This blog is not the place for the research proof, but you will find plenty on this if you look for it. Even Christ’s enemies didn’t try and claim he didn’t exist (excuse the double negatives there).

So, He existed. What next? Just a good man who preached well? Not really. Because again, both in the Bible and through external sources, we know He was crucified for claiming to be God’s Son, the Messiah.

That means he can’t have just been a good man. One of my favourite teachers at school was Mr Baston, my Geography teacher. But if he had started claiming to be the Son of God, he would no longer be just a good man and a geography teacher. He’d have to be put into another category.  Either mad. Or deliberately bad. Or true.

With Christ, we face the same challenge. He can’t have just been a good man. Good men don’t claim to be the Son of God and get hung on crosses. He has either to be mad- thinking he was God’s Son. Or bad - claiming it, but knowing he was a fraud. Or …. He was who He said He was.

Mad men don’t speak as well as Jesus spoke - just look at the ‘beatitudes’ (Matthew 5: 1-12). Bad men - claiming to be something else - don’t go to crosses. All they would do would be to apologise. No cross; no loss.

Jesus said He was the Son of God. He died on a cross. Fact. (in the Bible and in other external sources.)

But was He then God’s son? Well, if he wasn’t mad and he wasn’t bad….

And there’s one more thing. He rose from the dead. He broke death’s hold. Fearful disciples suddenly became fearless. The Christian faith spread faster than any other belief in its time. It’s hard to find another explanation for the change in Christ’s followers.

Today 2.3 billion people agree with these words. The biggest faith movement in the world. Ever.

There’s a reason for the season.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Listening to the Silence

Officially it’s called the Bryniau Glo Walk. I call it the Hidden Valley Walk.

You climb up a long way on a well-defined trail, through a forest, over the hills and into a hidden valley. It’s protected on three sides by higher hills, with a view out to the rest of Snowdonia.

I guess it’s because of that protection that it’s so silent.

I stopped in the valley and listened. Nothing. No bird song. No wind. Just silence. The most perfect silence.

For a moment in time, I was part of that silence. Transfixed by it. Such a perfect moment. Listening and hearing nothing. Looking out onto such stillness and beauty. Worshipping.

Silence is not always welcomed. One of my favourite songs is The Sound of Silence by Simon & Garfunkel (check out the version by Disturbed – amazing!) But the lyrics are slightly depressive: ‘Hello darkness, my old friend, I've come to talk with you again, because a vision softly creeping, left its seeds while I was sleeping.’

Too often we shut out silence. We surround ourselves with noise and activity. The TV drones in the background even if we are not watching it. Music plays through our headphones as we travel. The car radio is on. The mobile has its own playlist.

But what if for a moment we stopped and listened? Listened to the silence. Relaxed for a moment, with our breathing as the only sound. And maybe pray a prayer - thanking God for a moment of complete silence; for a moment of complete peace in a noisy world.

Friday, 5 October 2018

Thirty-Eight Plus Two

Ethiopia is directly mentioned thirty-eight times in the Bible. Probably the most famous reference is that of the Ethiopian eunuch who is baptised by Philip (Acts 8:27). In addition, there’s plenty of references to the Queen of Sheba (1 Kings 10) with many scholars believing that Sheba is also Ethiopia.

I’ve recently returned from Ethiopia and the annual Leprosy Mission conference, held in Addis Ababa for the first time. When I think of Africa I think of heat. But most of Ethiopia is on a high plain – Addis Ababa is 7,200 feet above sea level. No wonder I was feeling it walking up the stairs at the hotel!

As part of the Leprosy Mission conference, we celebrated the Wellesley Bailey Awards. These are annual awards given to celebrate the life and work of Wellesley Bailey, the founder of The Leprosy Mission. The Awards honour those who have made extraordinary contributions to society through overcoming the social stigma and physical challenges of leprosy. 

This year the two winners were Birke Nigatu Teka from Ethiopia and Kofi Nyarko from Ghana.

Birke overcame the stigma of the disease and the belief system of her people that considered it untreatable. She saved her own money, secretly went to the hospital and underwent two and a half years of treatment. She faced many other problems, including attempted rape, but refused to give up, acting as an ambassador for others with leprosy. She has established a leprosy women’s association and has developed working groups, producing local handicrafts. She serves on a number of national associations and boards and in her own words, is ‘proud of my up and down life’. Those ups and downs have changed many other lives.

Kofi was abused as a child, and neglected by his family. It was a stranger who recognised he had leprosy and helped him escape to a leprosy hospital. Today Kofi is a spokesperson for those with leprosy and is a member of a number of national and international agencies. He says that it is because of his leprosy that he has become so popular!

There are thirty-eight mentions of Ethiopia in the Bible and it’s not possible to add to scripture. But there are two more stories worthy of inclusion.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Philosophical Walking

Did you know there is such a thing as ‘philosophical walking’? You do now.

There’s even a group in Yorkshire who arrange such walks, complete with a friendly walking philosopher.

But if we think for a moment, all walks can be philosophical – especially those away from our daily routines. We see new things, we plan to get somewhere, we consider routes, we observe the new things around us. All that adds to a philosophical walk.

I’m just back from one of my favourite places – Dolgellau, just south of Snowdonia. Walking in the foothills there is invigorating, uplifting, challenging, tiring…. all these things and more.

One day I went out on my own on what is called the ‘bird sanctuary walk’- basically climbing half way up a hill and walking through a nature reserve. The only bird I saw was a crow! But there was plenty to enjoy, consider – even meditate on.

Those that know me will know that for me there is a ‘God connection’ too. To appreciate the creation made by God is special. There’s a favourite song of mine at the moment that says ‘Every painted sky, a canvas of Your grace. If creation still obeys You so will I.’

For me, that’s what walking does. I see the sky, the plants, the birds. And I worship.

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Faith and Politics

I read a comment on Facebook the other day that annoyed me.  (I know - Facebook is not the place for reasoned comment in the first place!)

The writer was lamenting that there should ever be a link between faith and politics and believed that where there was, disaster followed.

I believe the opposite is true. Especially as regards the UK.
Take a look at our last four Prime Ministers. Three have a faith. One does not. Three managed our nation with reference to our past, our heritage and our beliefs. One did not. Three tried to hold us together as a nation. One destroyed our nation.

Two of the four Prime Ministers are children of the manse. One is the son of a Presbyterian Minister. One is the daughter of an Anglican Vicar. The third has a clear Christian belief which includes reading the Bible every night.

The other has no such belief system. In two short terms of office, he destroyed our concept of Christian marriage and sent the nation into an isolationist and economic spiral that will take decades to recover from.

In attempting to deal with an unruly right wing in his party, he played politics with our future. He took an inappropriate referendum to an ill-informed people and with little fact and considerable rhetoric, the vote was for isolationism. More seriously, it opened us up to extreme right wing views and made them appear acceptable - something we are seeing in a number of nations.

The Prime Minsters that had a Christian faith kept us within the bounds of decency and applied their faith (knowingly or not) to the decisions they took. The Prime Minster without a faith played politics with the nation.  And we all lost.

Saturday, 28 July 2018

Ready to Climb?

I don't often post my own preaches, but this one is to do with mountains. Preached in Cape Town in July 2018. Enjoy the climb.

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