Fore Street Topsham, Exeter

Reverend Paul Collings BTh (Hons) - - - paul.collings@methodist.org.uk - - - 01392 206229 - - - 07941 880768

About Us

We are a community of faith seeking to discover the face of Jesus Christ in our Church, in our Community and in our Commitment.

Monday 30 November 2020

Advent Adventure


Advent Adventure - Preparation 

In some church pulpits there is often an bible inscription only visible to the preacher, with the word, “Sir, we wold see Jesus.” Perhaps that verse would be more appropriately sited on the preacher’s study desk. For the diligent preacher, the preparation for preaching even a 10 to 15  minute sermon can take many hours, numerous drafts and re-edits. However, it is  possible that sometimes, more time is spent on the side issues of illustrations or even whimsical words that will hold the congregation rather than the meet truth derived from the teaching of Jesus.


Mahatma Gandhi,  that great Indian or orator said, “An ounce of practice is worth more than a ton of preaching”. Two other preachers, Todd Stocker and E M Bounds say this of sermon preparation; “A speaker should approach their preparation not by what they want to say, but by what they want to learn.” and “A prepared heart is much better than a prepared sermon. A prepared heart will make a prepared sermon.”


We often consider Advent as a time of preparation, but we so often want to arrive at a destination before we have taken in the truth afforded by the moments of preparation. According to John Newton, the appreciation of the present moment is summed up in, “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am”


So how prepared are we to see Jesus in our preparation this advent season. In John 12 we read,  “Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival.  They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.”


Advent is a journey of faith whereby we get to know our Lord—learning of him in Scripture, spending time with him in prayer, and developing our relationship with him. His Spirit prepares our hearts and minds so that others may see Christ in us.


Lord Jesus, Master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations this advent season. We think that we have so much to do and seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day, We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us yet often fail to see you with us. We too would say, “Sir we would see Jesus” and “Jesus, may your presence be seen in us. Amen


Friday 27 November 2020

Exploring Street Theology


Pillars of Support

In this penultimate episode in our Exploring Street Theology, I bring your attention to an element of the Mosaic that could be almost overlooked. The artist calls these the Pillars of Support. From ancient times pillars could be found in the Bible, often set as a memorial to a significant moment in the life of a faithful one. In Genesis 31:13 we read of God talking to Jacob ‘I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and where you made a vow to me. Now leave this land at once and go back to your native land.’


In Exodus 24:4 we find that “Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. Then he arose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain with twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel.” We also read in that book Exodus 13:21-22. “By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.”


According to tradition, the pillar of fire provided light so that the Israelites could travel by night during the Exodus from Egypt where the two pillars are seen as the manifestation of the divine presence.


Using Pillar in the context of a person depicts someone who is dependable; upon who one can rely. We read in Galatians 2:9 “and recognising the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles.


This raises the question, what are the pillars of our faith? The followers of Christ in the Acts of the Apostles depended upon 4 pillars. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42).


Pillar 1: It was a learning Church - it could be said that it is a wasted day when we do not learn something new and when we have not penetrated more deeply into the wisdom and the grace of God.


Pillar 2: It was a Church of fellowship - Someone said that the Church is a real Church only when it is a band of sisters and brothers.


Pillar 3: It was a praying Church - these early Christians always went in to God before they went out to the world; they were able to meet the problems of life because they had first met him.


Pillar 4: It was a reverent Church - the Christian lives in reverence because he knows that the whole earth is the temple of the living God.


Loving Lord,

you spoke to your people in the pillar of cloud

as they walked together in the wilderness.


Speak to me through your Word today,

that I may hear you calling me

out of the wilderness places in my life

and into new places you have promised to show me.

In the name of Christ, I pray.  Amen.


Thursday 26 November 2020

Faith in Time of Crisis by Dr J P Hunter6


 Psalm 5:1-3, 8, 11,12. NIV. For the director of music. For flutes. A psalm of David.

1 Listen to my words, Lord,
    consider my lament.
2 Hear my cry for help,
    my King and my God,
    for to you I pray.

3 In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;
    in the morning I lay my requests before you
    and wait in expectation.

8 Lead me, Lord, in your righteousness
    because of my enemies—
    make your way straight before me.
11 But let all who take refuge in you be glad;
    let them ever sing for joy.
Spread your protection over them,
    that those who love your name may rejoice in you.

12 Surely, Lord, you bless the righteous;
    you surround them with your favour as with a shield.


Meditation

This Psalm is chosen because it has waiting in expectation at its core. Like David we wait in expectation too.


In expectation for light at the end of our pandemic tunnel, for a vaccine to be given, for the start of Advent and for the arrival of the light of Christmas in our hearts. 

How do you or I live in expectation? While in expectation we can live well and endure because we have a close and personal relationship with our Maker. Like David, that close relationship is created and sustained by praying to him earnestly and reading his Word each morning when our minds are still free from burdens of the day. Then we can wait in expectation to make straight his way for me 5:8, live with a sense of gladness and joy 5:11, while we live under his protection, surrounded with a shield 5:11,12. 


Do you and I have a regular morning time to pray and read God’s Word?


Prayer

Thank you, Lord that I can come into your presence each morning, knowing that you are there, knowing that you will listen, knowing that you consider my lament and hear my cry for help. After that I can live in expectation to be led by you, live in assurance of your nearness, my way made straight by you. You spread your protection over me and surround me as with a shield. Thank you that you are my Holy Father and I may be your child. Amen.


Hymn – Singing the Faith 11, verse 1,3.


1 Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty

   Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee;

   Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty,

   God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!


3 Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide thee

   Though the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see,

   Only thou art holy; there is none beside thee,

   Perfect in power, in love and purity.                          

        Reginald Heber (1783 – 1826).

Wednesday 25 November 2020

Exploring Street Theology


Twilight of Life

Whilst much of the Mosaic concentrates on youth, childhood and those who support them, it is good to see in one corner sits an elderly couple described by the artist, as the Twilight of Life, There inclusion marks how the Loft Centre was also used for a Bing Sessions,  Behind the couple the image of the setting sun completes the picture.


I have always had the view that facilities should be open to all ages for society to achieve an integrated wholeness. I recall on visiting Seefeld in Tirol seeing a building that included a residential home, a kindergarten and a community cafe,


I wonder what these pensioners thought when they visited the Loft Centre. Did it set off a stream of memories of their own childhood. This inclusive ‘all’ is spoken of in the Bible; “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people and in Acts 2:17 We find Peter quoting the prophet Joel, “Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.”


Later in Acts we find an inclusive description where “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.” (Acts 4:32). This is followed through in the letter to the Phillipians 2:2-3 with the exhortation. “then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,”


Believing we can do everything ourselves shows a lack of humility. Opening up to others across the age spectrum may seem scary, but we have more to gain by investing in friendships with our communities than we have to lose.


When we invest in selfishness or segregation, it inevitably leads to destruction. But when we respond to God’s command to love others, and we invest in relationships, we experience the joy, compassion, and depth of emotion that comes from a life well-lived.


Jane Adams, an American Social Reformer said, “The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life. ”


Loving Lord, we ask for a flourishing community, where neighbours learn to love each other and come to know Jesus. We pray that we can be good stewards of Your love to each one of our neighbours. We ask that You help us to learn from our community, and that it may be a place where all are welcomed.


Give us the compassion and empathy we need to understand what those in our community are going through. Help us to love them well. Help us not to judge or condemn, but rather come alongside them to offer support and to be Your hands and feet. Amen.


Tuesday 24 November 2020

Exploring Street Theology


Caring for Others

Whilst the artist and helpers were busy creating the mosaic, there were two ladies who would supply the inner needs by bringing refreshments to sustain the work.


This part of the Mosaic shows those ladies who would regular cater for the needs of those creating the street art by bring along much appreciated refreshments. Such caters are often the unseen heroes, working behind the scenes whilst others take the limelight.


The bible is full of such people, for example Martha to the Mary. Whilst Mary was in rapt awe listening the the teaching of Jesus, Martha appears to be busy preparing the table. 


In the Acts of the Apostle we find the early church introducing the role of Deacons. (Read Acts 6:1-7 to get the whole story.) There were Greek widows who were being neglected due to the Apostles busy schedule of spreading the gospel, so it was decided to appoint seven men of faith to oversee the care and actually obey the God given guidance to care for the widow, orphan and stranger. Such practice also followed through the teaching of Jesus, Matthew 25:35 “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,”


Jesus continually identified with the needy and desired that his followers should follow this through in their living. Someone suggested that I should consider  everyone I meet as a sister or brother for whom Christ died, as St Paul says. “I may not be able to do much for others, but I can show them the respect and dignity which they need most of all.”


It is my  behaviour rather than my beliefs that reveal whether I am a Kingdom person. My treatment of others, the criterion by which I myself will be treated.


Lord, you call me to recognise you in all those who are in need. May my response be one of concrete and loving service. May I be able to put into practice the words of St Ignatius who says: ’Love manifests itself in deeds more than words.’ St John of the Cross tells us: ‘In the evening of life, we will be examined in love.’


God in heaven, I offer my deepest appreciation for the many blessings you shower upon me every day. I am truly humbled by the bounty of your graces. I ask for the compassion to follow the inspiring example of those who served others. Help me to embrace and bring comfort to those suffering immensely. Let me remember that each day that I help someone I am helping you. Amen


Monday 23 November 2020

Exploring Street Theology


Teletubbies


Do you remember the children’s TV series, Teletubbies of the 1990s? It follows the four characters of Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po. These unusual creatures have antennas on their heads and a television screen on the abdomen. The plot of each episode is based upon the daily tasks and rituals of day to day living, Although the verbal communication between the four is almost unintelligible the friends seem to be able to receive and transmit communication to the outside world.


I sometimes wonder in our world, whether we as the church are able to communicate or is our forth-telling just heard as so much gibberish? Are we able to readily receive the truth and share it without passing it through the filter of our own concepts often corrupted by our selfishness or even bending of the truth to our will?


The second letter to Peter expresses this by saying ‘Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation.’ 2 Peter 1:20 and St Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:14 stresses that “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”             


It was Blaize Pascal the 17th century French mathematician and philosopher who said, “Truth is so obscure in these times, and falsehood so established, that, unless we love the truth, we cannot know it.” Was he ahead of his time and does he speak to our false-news-world of today?


A near-fatal carriage accident in November 1654 — less than eight years before his death — persuaded Pascal to turn his intellect finally toward religion. The story goes that on a dark and stormy night, while riding in a carriage across a bridge in a Paris suburb, a fright caused the horses to bolt, sending them over the edge. The carriage bearing Pascal survived and so he took the incident as a sign and devoted himself to theology.


The point made in the Corinthian verse above is crucial in our understanding of spirituality, and how to interact with the world.  The problem is not intellectual or moral; for reason and evidence point towards God (Psalm 19:1; Romans 1:18–23). The key difference is spiritual: those who are  awakened by the Holy Spirit, thanks to faith in Christ, find the ability to spiritually perceive that which lies dormant within them.


You see even our transmission of the Gospel is often complicated by our filters, and we give up because we see the whole thing as too difficult.  Here are five practical approaches to being a better representative of the gospel.


  1. Represent Jesus in the Best Possible Way; try to keep in mind that you are the face of Jesus to the world.
  2. Be a Friend by Showing Love; Jesus was a close friend to hated tax collectors like Matthew and Zacchaeus. He was called "Friend of Sinners" in Matthew 11:19. If we are his followers, ought to be accused of being a friend of sinners too? Jesus taught us to how to share the gospel by showing our love to others in John 13:34-35:
  3. Be a Good, Kind, and Godly Example: When we spend time in the presence of Jesus, his character will rub off on us. With his Holy Spirit working in us, we can forgive our enemies and love those who hate us, just as our Lord did. By his grace we can be good examples to those outside of the kingdom who are watching our lives.
  4. Submit to Authority and Obey God Romans chapter 13 teaches us that rebelling against authority is the same as rebelling against God.
  5. Pray for God to Open a Door: In our eagerness to be witnesses for Christ, we often rush ahead of God. We may see what looks to us like an open door to share the gospel, but if we jump in without devoting time to prayer, our efforts may be futile or even counterproductive.


Why not pray this prayer based upon Philemon v6, I pray that I may be active in sharing my faith, so that I will have a full understanding of every good thing I have in Christ. Amen


Saturday 21 November 2020

Exploring Street Theology


All God’s Children

I recall learning a spiritual in my junior choir that had the words 


I’ve got a robe, you’ve got a robe
All of God’s children got a robe
When I get to Heaven goin’ to put on my robe
Goin’ to shout all over God’s Heaven


The notion of all God’s Children playing together has a good scriptural basis.  There are two passages stands out for me. “And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.” Mark 10:13-16 


The imagination of children is fascinating and regrettably often missing as life matures. What if we stopped and dug deep into our memory banks to recover the gift of imagination and said to ourselves. “I am like a child in the arms of Jesus; I want to trust him with my life; I want him to be close to me in joys and sorrows. I ask him for this, and ask it for all who are in my circle of life. Jesus wants closeness to each of us, as we want a close friendship with him. Let the child in me trust, ask, and simply enjoy being love by him.”


Then there is the part of John’s prologue that says, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, John 1:12”


As a child needs the nurturing loving care of a godly parent due to their vulnerability so too does the child of God require, through faith in Jesus the Fatherly Care of God.  No self-effort, cleverness, or merit is sufficient to make us right with God!  It is only by believing in His name that He gives us the right to be called His children.


But with the privilege of becoming a child of God comes responsibility, and our part is to receive Him - through faith. 


As I have done on a number of occasions in this series I turn to the words Frederick Beuchner when he says, “We are children, perhaps, at the very moment when we know that it is as children that God loves us - not because we have deserved his love and not in spite of our undeserving; not because we try and not because we recognise the futility of our trying; but simply because he has chosen to love us. We are children because he is our father; and all of our efforts, fruitful and fruitless, to do good, to speak truth, to understand, are the efforts of children who, for all their precocity, are children still in that before we loved him, he loved us, as children, through Jesus Christ our lord.” - (Frederick Buechner, The Magnificent Defeat published by Seabury Press, NY, in 1966)


Heavenly Father, thank You that I may call You Father, because I am Your child, through Jesus Christ my Lord. Shine more of His light into my heart, so that I come to know You more and to love You better each day. In Jesus’ name I pray, AMEN.


Friday 20 November 2020

Exploring Street Theology


Characters from Mr Men

In 1971 English author Roger Hargreaves began writing his Mr. Men series of children's books.  Each book tells the antics of various characters who’s names describe the personality and how these are played out in their lives.  The first 7 books featured Mr Tickle, Mr Greedy, Mr Happy, Mr Nosey, Mr Happy, Mr Sneeze, Mr Bump.


Across the last 40 years many a child has learned the various lessons from the Mr Men Series.


The Old Testament has a similar array of characters outlined in the book of Proverbs.  We find the writer speaking of Mr Wise (Proverbs 22:17-21), Mr Fool (Proverbs 18:2-3), Mr Simple (Proverbs 9:16), Mr Righteous (Proverbs 13:6), Mr Prudent (Proverbs 16:21), Mr Scoffer (Proverbs 29:8).  And just like Roger Hargreaves Mr Men sequel written by son, Adam Hargreaves of Little Miss books, the writer of proverbs speaks of Miss Quarrelsome (Proverbs 21:19), Miss Beautiful (Proverbs 31:30), Miss Gracious (Proverbs 11:16), Miss Worthy (Proverbs 31:10-31).


I have added the text reference for you to explore at your leisure.


Galatians 5:22-23 points to the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  


Here Paul exhorts Christians to become like Miss Joy, Mr Kindness, Miss faithfulness Mr Gentleness and so forth. He lists characteristics as the fruits of the Spirit. Why not consider them now, not as an examination of conscience, but imagining God 'stocktaking', rejoicing at the discovery of each of these gifts in our lives, cherishing what is there while offering me more. As I come to pray, may we recognise whatever is that it may come between us and the freedom God has in mind for us.


Dear Lord, grant us strength and courage as we face the many decisions to divert from Your plan of truth and righteousness.  May godly character be that by which we are known, for a good name is more desirable than great riches.  (Proverbs 22:1)  May the rewards of our good character lead to blessings for ourselves as well as for our children.  (Proverbs 20:7) And may our children be known by their actions as well, by whether their conduct is pure and right.  (Proverbs 20:11)  


Help us to make every effort to grow in our character as we add to our faith, goodness, and knowledge, and self-control, and perseverance, and godliness, and brotherly kindness and love.  For if we possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep us from being ineffective and unproductive in our knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen


Thursday 19 November 2020

Faith in times of Crisis

 


By Dr J P Hunter


Psalm 42:1-2, 4-6,11.  NIV. For the director of music. A maskil of the Sons of Korah.

As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When can I go and meet with God?
These things I remember
    as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
    under the protection of the Mighty One
with shouts of joy and praise
    among the festive throng.

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Saviour and my God.

My soul is downcast within me;
    therefore I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan,
    the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.
11 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Saviour and my God.


Meditation

The writer of this Psalm felt downcast and disturbed because he was exiled far from Jerusalem to the land of Jordan (42:6), and could not worship in the temple. He remembered how he went there with joy and praise (42:4), leading to repeatedly questioning himself about the current state of his soul:  Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? (42:6,11a). His self-analysis led him to compare himself to a deer (42:1) longing for streams of running water, so his soul longed for God. He knew, his life depended on finding spiritual water. And he also knew where to find it: in a lasting relationship with God, urging himself repeatedly to put your hope in God, my Saviour and my God (42: 5b,11b).


We too are unable to worship in our Church. We too might go through episodes of feeling low. We too should put our hope in God, not looking backwards or inwards, but outwards towards Him, and praise Him for what He has done, our Saviour and God. And be at peace for He knows the way ahead and will lead us there.


Prayer

Lord, when we feel low, give us the wisdom to become like a deer searching for life-giving water to quench the thirst of our souls. Give us the wisdom to seek you with all our hearts. Give us the re-assurance of finding never ending love and life in you. For you are our rock, our source of life-giving water, our hope and our Saviour. Amen


Hymn - Singing the Faith 544, verse 1, refrain.

As the deer pants for the water,

so my soul longs after you.

You alone are my heart’s desire,

and I long to worship you.                                                            


You alone are my strength and shield,

To you alone may my spirit yield 

You alone are my heart’s desire

And I long to worship you.

                                                                                                    

                Martin J. Nystrom (b.1956)



Wednesday 18 November 2020

Exploring Street Theology


Sing along class

Now compared with the dancing of yesterday we are now much more in my comfort zone; singing. No doubt we are all familiar with the words of Duke Orsino in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night says, “if music be the food of love, play on;” But let’s complete the quote, “ give me excess of it, that, surfeiting the appetite may sicked, and so die, That strain again! It had a dying fall: O, it came O’Brien my ear like the sweet south, that breathes upon a bank of violets, stealing and giving odour! Enough; no more: Tis not some sweet now as it was before. O spirit of love! How quick and fresh art thou.”


If there is one thing that we have all missed during this year of lockdown it is singing and particularly singing our praises to God i worship. John Wesley the founder of Methodist was adamant that singing was an important part of worship an issues 7 instructions as to how this should be done 


Directions for Singing.  That this part of Divine Worship may be the more acceptable to God, as well as the more profitable to yourself and others, be careful to observe the following directions.


  1. Learn these Tunes before you learn any others; afterwards learn as many as you please.


II. Sing them exactly as they are printed here, without altering or mending them at all; and if you have learned to sing them otherwise, unlearn it as soon as you can.


III. Sing All. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up and you will find a blessing.


IV. Sing lustily and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, than when you sung the songs of Satan.


V. Sing modestly. Do not bawl, so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.


VI. Sing in Time: whatever time is sung, be sure to keep with it. Do not run before nor stay behind it; but attend closely to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can. And take care you sing not too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from among us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.


VII. Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your Heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve of here, and reward when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.


Psalm 59:16-17

But as for me, I shall sing of Your strength;

Yes, I shall joyfully sing of Your lovingkindness in the morning,

For You have been my stronghold

And a refuge in the day of my distress.

O my strength, I will sing praises to You;

For God is my stronghold, the God who shows me lovingkindness.


O Lord, I pray that the music I make or the songs that I sing are always from my heart to You. I pray that as we sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, we genuinely dedicate each melody to You. I pray that I always give You thanks for all things, in Jesus’ Name. I thank You for this talent You have given me, I choose to give it back to You by using it to glorify Your Name, Amen.


Tuesday 17 November 2020

Exploring Street Theology




Mirror Ball Kids Disco

I must admit dancing has never been my thing and ‘Strictly’ is certainly not my favourite Saturday night viewing.  Although Angela, my wife used to comment that when as Musical Director of the Exeter Male Voice Choir,  I used to conduct as If I was John Travolta on stage.


Dance has long been part of scriptural tradition, particularly when connected to the Worship of God. We read “Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron's sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing.” (Exodus 15:20) Whilst the Psalmist who had been in the pit of despair was able to claim, “You turned my mourning into dancing;You peeled off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy that my heart may sing Your praises and not be silent.O LORD my God, I will give thanks forever.” (Psalm 30:11-12)

In the New Testament Jesus makes an interesting comment about dancing with the remark, “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.”


The Lord had always wanted to shower his people with favours and with gifts. But often when the offer was made (through the mouth of his messengers, the prophets), the peoples turned their backs. In fact even as Jesus would have been preparing to begin his public ministry, this was still happening - they refused the message of John the Baptist. So it was no surprise that Jesus himself began to meet opposition. In the words of Sydney Carter.


I danced for the scribe and the Pharisee,

But they would not dance and they wouldn't follow me;

I danced for the fishermen, for James and John;

They came with me and the dance went on:


Dance, then, wherever you may be,

I am the Lord of the dance, said he,

And I'll lead you all, wherever you may be,

And I'll lead you all in the dance, said he.


The children playing in the marketplace might have seemed a trivial distraction to many but to Jesus they offered an image of life. Perhaps I can take time to notice the small things in my life - the incidental happenings - and listen to what God may be saying to me in them and perhaps it’s a question of my heart dancing to the tune of God’s love.


Lead me in the dance of life, God. Turn my heart towards you as I follow your lead into places of grace. Attune my ear to the music that hums beneath the surface of my thoughts and activities. Give me a lithe spirit that moves with the flow of love and grace. May I find joy in the dance that is my life. With you as my partner and guide, I pray. Amen


Monday 16 November 2020

Exploring Street Theology


A local artist who ran an art class 

What was it that the poet, W H Davis said, “what is this life if full of care, we have no time to stand and stair.” I must admit that since my birthday gift in June of an electric bike, i have begun to appreciate the artistic handiwork of God in a new way. I see afresh sites and scenes that I would have missed when rushing here and there in the car.


To see an artist at work is mesmerising. I recall as a child on holiday with my family in St Ives in the late 50s, how my brother and I stood by a potters window enthralled as with craftsman skill he formed a beautiful vase from a lump of inert clay. I wonder what his first attempts were like? 


There is something beautiful about viewing and appreciating an artist’s work and there is something sacred in allowing the coordination of hand, eye and mind to bring into being something beautiful for God; remembering that we are in a sense co-creating with the Creators material freely given to us to use. And what is most wonderful of all is that, “you can’t use up creativity, the more you use the more you have.” Maya Angelou. This reminds me of the words of a hymn that says, “when we reach the end of our hoarded resources, our Fathers full giving is only begun.”


Three bible verses come to mind; Isaiah 64:8 But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Exodus 28:3 You shall speak to all the skilful, whom I have filled with a spirit of skill, that they make Aaron's garments to consecrate him for my priesthood. Romans 12:6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given.


The first reveals that we are the creative handiwork of God. The second how God calls for us to use our creative skills as part of worship as we share his glory. And the third encourages us to use our mosaic of skills and talents as a means of grace in themselves. I like the hymn that says; why not read it prayerfully and let the artist hidden within you begin something beautiful for God.


Come to us, creative Spirit,

in this holy house;

ev'ry human talent hallow,

hidden skills arouse,

that within your earthly temple,

wise and simple may rejoice.


Poet, painter, music-maker,

all your treasures bring;

craftsman, actor, graceful dancer,

make your offering;

join your hands in celebration: 

let creation shout and sing!


Word from God eternal springing,

fill our minds, we pray;

and in all artistic vision

give integrity:

may the flame within us burning

kindle yearning day by day.


In all places and forever

glory be expressed 

to the Son, with God the Father 

and the Spirit blest:

in our worship and our living

keep us striving for the best.


Words © 1979 Stainer & Bell (admin. Hope Publishing Company, 380 S Main Pl, Carol Stream, IL 60188) CCLI 81480


Saturday 14 November 2020

Exploring Street Theology


Loneliness of childhood

There is a saying that “Even in a crowd, you can be alone inside your own head”. This is another thing that I have noticed in many a school playground; all around you can witness the joyous interaction of youngsters at play, but now and again you will spy a lonely isolated soul right in the middle of things with a forlorn look on their face.


Clinical psychologist Dr Rachel Andrew says, “Commonly, children will say they feel they don’t belong and that they’re not in tune with peers – there’s a strong sense of disconnection. And it’s not just older children reporting these feelings – children as young as three or four will say things like they don’t have any friends or that nobody likes them. It’s quite common when they start pre-school or primary school because they’re naturally introduced to wider social situations, which some find hard to navigate.”


So what does the bible say about loneliness. Right in the beginning of humankind’s unfolding story we read in Genesis, “Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Later the Psalmist later wrote, “For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me in.”


Hebrews 13:5 bings a wonderful assurance for those who feel deep loneliness; here is how the Message paraphrases the text, “Don’t be obsessed with getting more material things. Be relaxed with what you have. Since God assured us, “I’ll never let you down, never walk off and leave you,” we can boldly quote, God is there, ready to help; I’m fearless no matter what. Who or what can get to me?”


I turn again to the writings of Frederick Beuchner who writes: ‘That you can be lonely in a crowd, maybe especially there, is readily observable. You can also be lonely with your oldest friends, or your family, even with the person you love most in the world. To be lonely is to be aware of an emptiness that takes more than people to fill. It is to sense that something is missing which you cannot name.

 

“By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion," sings the Psalmist (137:1). Maybe in the end it is Zion that we're lonely for, the place we know best by longing for it, where at last we become who we are, where finally we find home.’


Dear God,Thank you that you see us right where we are, in the midst of our pain and struggle, in the middle of our desert land. Thank you that you have not forgotten us and never will. Forgive us for not trusting you, for doubting your goodness, or not believing you’re really there. We choose to set our eyes on you today. We choose joy and peace when the whispered lies come and say that we should have no joy or peace.


Thank you that you care for us and your love over us is so great. We confess our need for you. Fill us fresh with your Spirit, renew our hearts and minds in your truth. We ask for your hope and comfort to continue to heal our hearts where they’ve been broken. Give us the courage to face another day, knowing that with you before us and behind us, we have nothing to fear. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.


Friday 13 November 2020

Exploring Street Theology


Survival of the fittest

Is it nature or nurture that forms an individual’s character and demeanour? This has been a constant question as I have viewed the behaviours of children and their families during my 35 years as a leader within the special educational field. Someone once wrote, “You inherit your environment just as much as your genes.”


Anyone working within a school will have witnessed the playground antics of the bully whose demands outshout the more timid children at play, and we have all witnessed such behaviours not to mention those we have seen emanating from a certain residence on Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington.


St Paul in Romans 7:19 speaks of being between two natures, “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”


Yet the bible also contains a remedy, as the Amplified Bible puts it, “Therefore become imitators of God [copy Him and follow His example], as well-beloved children [imitate their father];” Ephesians 5:1 


Fred Beuchner in his book, Telling Secrets, writes, “As I see it, in other words, God acts in history and in your and my brief histories not as the puppeteer who sets the scene and works the strings but rather as the great director who no matter what role fate casts us in conveys to us somehow from the wings, if we have our eyes, ears, hearts open and sometimes even if we don’t, how we can play those roles in a way to enrich and ennoble and hallow the whole vast drama of things including our own small but crucial parts in it.”


God of power and mercy, open our hearts in welcome. Remove the things that hinder us from receiving Christ with joy so that we may share his wisdom when he comes in glory. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, Amen