Focus

 

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Earlier this year, the bomb squad blew up an unattended Vauxhall Corsa outside Workington police station. Following the controlled explosion, Cumbria Police apologised to the owner, who had earlier been taken ill.

As a result of the man’s illness – and presumably his inability to drive – officers on duty had parked the car outside the police station. Other officers had not been told about the car, and regarded its presence as suspicious. So they called in the bomb squad!

Inspector Ashley Bennett said, “The officers who dealt with this morning’s incident did so with public safety in mind and followed the appropriate procedures in respect to an unoccupied, suspicious vehicle.” The force blamed “an internal communications error.”

Communication is important. Communication problems sometimes occur when we don’t focus properly on the person who’s trying to communicate with us. (Ever tried having a serious conversation with someone who’s trying to check Facebook?) It’s the same with prayer. It is possible to pray while driving or cooking or showering, and better then than not at all, but to really communicate with your Creator, you need to take time out, to be still, shutting out the rest of the world and focussing solely on Him.

Jesus once visited the home of two sisters, Mary and Martha. When He arrived He sat down to speak to all those who had gathered, including Martha’s sister Mary, who sat at His feet. She was more interested in hearing what Jesus had to say than in helping her sister, who was busy serving everyone. Martha was upset with her “lazy” sister, but Jesus, who normally commends those who are servant-hearted, said to Martha, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42 NLT). Mary had chosen to focus on Jesus. Martha’s serving was important, but not as important as listening to what Jesus had to say.

The world around us focusses on ‘self’: our feelings, our possessions, our rights etc, and encourages us to look within ourselves to find the answers to our needs. Yet the Hebrew scriptures remind us that,

“Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Deuteronomy 8:3 (NIVUK)

 

Growing spiritually is far more valuable than anything that we allow to get in the way of our relationship with God. So how important it is to find a quiet space, where we can rest quietly and focus on the Life-Giver, our Creator and Friend. Let His peace enfold you as you welcome Him into your inner being. Listen for His voice, and as you follow His prompting, turning from ‘self’ and allowing Him to lead you, He will fill you with His abundant life.

 

Puppet on a String

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Sandie Shaw       (Photo credit: BBC)

“Puppet on a String”, sung by Sandie Shaw, was the winning song of the 1967 Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna. It was released 50 years ago this month, and won the event for the United Kingdom. In fact it had the second widest margin of victory in the history of the contest, gaining 47 votes to Ireland’s 22. In May this year, Lucie Jones will be representing the UK in Kiev, singing “Never Give Up on You.”

I once saw a picture of a puppet on a string. It had a pair of scissors in its hand, and had cut off all but one of its strings. Its head was up, but its body lay in a lifeless heap on the floor. In its longing for freedom and independence, the puppet had cut the very threads which gave it life and purpose.

In our longing for independence, we too can be like that puppet. Our Twenty-First Century lives are often stressful and burdensome, and we long for a way of escape, but instead we cut our links to our Creator and turn our backs on the One who gives us life. So often we forget we are spiritual beings, and we need that contact with God, who is waiting to lift us, encourage us and empower us ready to face the world again.

It was only a few days ago that I heard someone describe us as glove puppets. Like a string puppet, a glove puppet has great potential, but only when filled by its creator’s hand. God is not only someone we can confide in, who listens when no one else will, but He also loves us deeply and longs to fill us with His Spirit. We are at our best when we are in relationship with Him. He doesn’t promise an easy life – life in this world can be tough – but He promises to be there for us, to strengthen and encourage us and help us through.

It takes courage to try something new, but why not take this opportunity to turn your life around and discover a new way of living by asking Jesus to fill you with His life and allow Him to pull your strings? Risky, challenging maybe? But worth it!

OK Jesus, I’m new to all this. I don’t even know if you exist, but if you’re real, please reveal yourself to me, turn my life around and fill me, be that life within and help me to follow you.

 

A Tale of Two Citizens

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Do people judge you by your appearance or do you ever do the same to others? I have to admit I find myself doing so when I have nothing else to go on, but there is a better way. Talk to the person, get to know them; it’s likely you’ll find depths of character that no amount of looking could ever discover. Maybe you’ll make a new friend?

Appearances can be deceptive. Let me tell you about two people, real people who we may judge differently at first glance. My first story is about a vicar.

In the 1980’s a prison chaplain was encouraged when he found out that one of the prisoners in his jail had become a follower of Jesus. This young man’s life was transformed. He became a new person, eventually finishing his sentence and starting a new life in another part of the country. A few weeks later, the prison chaplain received a phone call about the young man. It was from a vicar, who explained that the ex-prisoner had started to attend his church, “but,” the vicar said, “he’s a bit odd!”

“What do you mean odd?” asked the chaplain.

“He talks as though he knows God personally!” was the reply.

“Well that’s probably because he does,” said the chaplain. Immediately the vicar’s phone went down! His unbelief had found him out. Here was a man representing God to his community and vice versa, yet who didn’t have that relationship of love and trust with the God he was trying to serve.

My second story is about a lady, whom I met recently in the high street. As I talked to this middle-aged lady, dressed as she was in an old, baggy track suit, she confided that she was an ex-prostitute; which probably explained the stares I got as I walked along beside her. Her life had become one of hardship and fear, yet there was something that gave her hope. She told me that she’d been reading the Bible, and had discovered that Jesus showed compassion and forgiveness to a prostitute he met while a dinner guest at someone’s home. This lady wanted to know that same Jesus for herself.

You don’t have to be religious to know your Creator; you don’t have to have lived a perfect life; you don’t have to have it all together. There is hope for every one of us. Our Creator doesn’t guarantee an easy life, but He offers love, peace, forgiveness and new life to everyone who will turn and follow Him.

As Jesus said:

“Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30 (CEB)

The Heavenly Bridegroom

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David Penner from New Jersey is a happier man this Christmas. Fifteen years ago he lost his wedding ring at Wyckoff’s Christmas Tree Farm, and despite returning to search for it, it couldn’t be found. He thought it was gone forever. Sadly his wife passed away in September this year, and he couldn’t even wear his ring in her memory. Then on 2nd December, and to his great surprise, he heard it had been found, “I thought it was a miracle,” he said. David grabbed his wedding certificate and drove to the farm, where he was reunited with his ring.

David’s experience echoes the real story of Christmas. God, the Creator of us all, wants each one of us to know Him, to enjoy His love and the abundant life He offers. Sadly mankind turned away. We were ‘lost’ to our Creator. Two thousand years ago He came to the Earth He created, and became one of us. As He Himself said, He “came to seek and to save the lost.” One day He will return again, just like David Penner did, to reclaim those who in humility and love recognise their need of Him.

The Ancient Scriptures describe Jesus as the Bridegroom, who will return, not for a wedding ring, but to receive His bride: that is all those who, unsatisfied by what this world can offer, are eagerly awaiting His return. David Penner returned to the farm and took his ring home. In the same way Jesus will take home those who belong to Him.

So Christmas really is a love story, when we remember that first visit and look forward to the next.

“The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.”

Revelation 22:17 (NIVUK)

Yes, you too can share in this love story, you too can be a part of His bride. Are you thirsty for something you can’t quite put your finger on? Do you feel there must be more to life than you’ve found so far? Your Creator is waiting for you – will you follow Him?

Who Are You Talking To?

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Have you ever spoken to royalty without knowing it? Sounds unlikely doesn’t it? Surely you’d know, especially if it was one of the more prominent royals.

Today’s Daily Telegraph reports that Zaqia Crawford, originally from the USA, but currently selling Christmas trees in Battersea Park, south London, served a very special couple last night (Monday 12th Dec): the lady she was serving also happened to be from the USA, but the gentleman, wearing a woolly hat, was British. Zaqia had no idea who they were, but her colleagues, who were busy with another tree at first, eventually realised that Zaqia’s customers were none other than Prince Harry and his girlfriend Meghan Markle. Prince Harry lives about two miles from Battersea Park, across the River Thames at Kensington Palace.

Whatever their spiritual path or religion, many people find themselves talking to God while going about their daily lives. Others only cry out to God in extreme circumstances. Some never talk to God, but admit wanting to have someone to say thank you to, maybe for a beautiful sunset or the birth of a baby. That desire to communicate with someone greater, someone beyond this world seems to be in-built within our human frame.

So, who then are we talking to; whether we treat that spiritual being as a listening ear, a last resort or a complete ‘no-no’? He – although God is neither male nor female – is the eternal Creator of all we see and more. His power is unlimited, yet to Him, we are valuable. He really is that listening ear and far more than a last resort. He is the King of Kings, to whom one day every knee will bow, and yet He cares for you.

Prince Harry didn’t send a servant. Neither did he flaunt his royal status. Instead of a crown, he wore a woolly hat. God did the same that first Christmas. He didn’t send an angel, He came Himself. He didn’t flaunt His divinity; He clothed Himself in a human body, and lived here for over thirty years as one of us. As Paul, a First Century rabbi, wrote:

“Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

“Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honour and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus the Messiah is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Philippians 2:6-11 (NLT)