Malcolm’s Monday Meditation: “It all depends on your point of view”

The city of Edinburgh is full of surprises. There’s even a book called, “Looking Up In Edinburgh” to help you spot hidden gems in the architecture. It’s easy to miss the good stuff.

Penny & I were in Edinburgh this last weekend. I was there to teach and train the worship team of our church there. Penny taught a class on the Christian perspective on emotional and mental health.

Sunday came and we went to church in a conference centre. The room was all “conferency”. Low ceiling, bland carpet, no windows. I felt safe, but uninspired. Just before the service got going our friend Nicola urged Penny & I to accompany her into a lift and up to the top of the building. There we stepped out into a room with wall-windows on three sides and the most spectacular view of the Edinburgh roofline. Sunshine poured in and blue sky stretched away.

The view changed everything. Suddenly I felt alive, energised, lifted up, lighter, more hopeful, less weary. And I carried that “spirit” back down the lift and into the conference room.

Our “view” affects our behaviour. In the sermon we talked about this passage in Romans:

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” (Romans 12:1 NIV11)

The word “view” is used here in the sense of “as a result of”, but’s its effectiveness as a means to motivate us to be living sacrifices is predicated on the assumption that we have a clear and accurate view of God’s mercy.

Paul does not urge us to take this action blindly. He has taken the trouble to write eleven chapters of wonderful theology largely focussed on God’s compassion, grace and mercy. Have a look at these references if it helps: Rom 1:5, 7; 3:24; 4:16; 5:2, 15, 17, 20–6:1; 6:14–15; 8:32; 9:15–16; 11:5–6, 30–32; 12:1, 3, 6, 8.

Do you have a clear view of God’s mercy? Are you stuck in a stuffy place, suffering silently because you have no window to God’s mercy? If you are lacking energy to do the “Christian” thing perhaps it’s time to put the “doing” aside for a moment or two, and instead go upstairs for a different view. How might we do that? Here are three tried-and-tested suggestions:

  1. Pray: with a friend; through a Psalm like Ps 33; use some written prayers; pray in a special place; pray though the situations you thought you wouldn’t get through, but somehow God gave you the strength and here you are still alive! Pray while looking at the birds, and meditate on Matt 6.33. But above all – pray.
  2. People: talk to someone who you believe has a good handle on aspects of God’s character you cannot see. Ask them how they view God – and why. Badger them until they say something you can understand.
  3. Potter: no, nothing to do with Harry. But potter through the Bible. Read Romans 8, Ps 23, Eph 2 & 3, one of the passion narratives in the Gospels, 1 Peter 2 etc. Ask yourself what God is like as you read these passages, and then pray and/or talk to people about what you are learning.
I guarantee that practicing the three “P”s will lead you to a much better view of God. And if you can see Him more clearly, you’ll have no difficulty in offering yourself as a living sacrifice. Now and always.
I hope you have a wonderful week.
God bless,
Malcolm

Malcolm’s Monday Meditation: “Brothers in Adversity”

Barry & Nancy Lamb
Roger Frimpong – a long time ago!

How far will you go to see a friend? I made it all the way to Leicester last Thursday! Impressed?

The mileage may not have been all that impressive, but the men I met were. To give you a sense of the significance of the occasion we need to go back a decade or so.

For those of you not in the know, in 2003 the church I serve had…let’s call it…a maturing moment. Anyway, we all became extremely busy trying to sort out what babies looked like and the difference between them and bathwater.

There was not a lot of cooperation between the then 10 congregations in London. I imply no criticism, but I felt I was missing something. I needed to see people from other ministries for friendship, support and spiritual encouragement. An invitation was extended to meet every first Tuesday evening of the month. Our location was the now defunct church office.

I went to the first meeting not knowing who might be there. Who turned up? Amongst a few others, Barry Lamb and Roger Frimpong. We carried on meeting, month after month and year after year. On some occasions we had 30 people in the room. On others, there were just myself, Roger, Barry and Phil Miller. If someone had been keeping a register then these three men would have made the most appearances.

I’ll be honest. Those were dark days. Perhaps the darkest of my Christian life so far. It was hard to hold on to hope. It seemed impossible to see a way that God could bring good out of the situation. Faith was in short supply. But these three wise men lived out this scripture:

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” (Proverbs 17:17 NIV11)

I felt the love of God through Barry, Roger and Phil. Month after month they affirmed their support and acceptance, and the feeling was mutual. We certainly didn’t agree on everything, but we did see eye-to-eye on one thing – that we needed one another and that we were going to extend the unconditional love of God to each other the best we knew how.

Those troubled days are behind us, God has done His healing work, and there are fresh learning days ahead. Our life paths have diverged, but spiritual friendship remains. I don’t remember whose idea it was, but a certain centripetal force seemed to be drawing us back together. Barry came to Watford, I picked him up and we drove to Leicester to see Roger. We sat in a shopping centre drinking tea and coffee and talked for 5 hours. Barry and I talked for another 4 hours in the car. There was barely a lull in the conversation. The time vanished in a blur. What happened?

We were enjoying what the Psalmist wrote of: “How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony!” (Psalms 133:1 NLT)

These are men with whom I trust my most personal secrets. They were there for me in tough times, I hope to be there for theirs. For, “One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24 NIV11)

Towards the end of our five hours together we asked one another what we thought we might be doing in 10 years’ time.  We just laughed. The absurdity of thinking we might possibly know where our lives will be in a decade was obvious to us as we considered how none of even vaguely considered that we’d be doing what we are today. Instead we contented ourselves with worrying only about today (Matt 6.33) and being grateful that God had blessed us with such amazing friends.

Sorry, Phil, that you couldn’t join us! Don’t worry, we’re planning another reunion in London soon that you’ll be able to attend.

Do you have a story of special friendship? Leave a comment and encourage us all.

I hope you have a wonderful week.

God bless, Malcolm

Malcolm’s Monday Meditation: “Is Jesus (ever) gonna fix it?”

© Dario Diament | Dreamstime Stock Photos

We sing the song, “Troubles in my way” at church. The full lyric is,

Troubles in my way,
You’ve got to cry sometime.
(Well don’t you know that my Jesus…..)
Jesus, He’s going to fix it!
Jesus, He’s going to fix it!
Jesus, He’s going to fix it!
After a while.

There are extra verses for, “pray, trust, die, rise” etc. I like the song, but I wonder if we fully embrace its message. The way I take is that “after a while” is most likely after I’ve left this life. But I have a sneaking suspicion that I am not the only one who is rather hoping the fix will come somewhat sooner than that!

The song came to mind because of a sermon yesterday. Albert May taught a helpful lesson on patience called, “A word to the impatient”. He based the sermon on Ps 37 which contains such phrases as,

“A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found. But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity.” (Psalms 37:10–11 NIV11)

What “will” happen is in the future (I counted 29 references to things that “will” happen in this Psalm). The question is whether we will wait, trust and hold on to what is right through the troubles in our way. In other words, how patient are we prepared to be?

Albert said something I wrote down, “We need God to fix our hearts, not our problems”. How does God do this? He allows troubles in our way to go on longer than is comfortable. And why does God allow problems to persist? Perhaps one reason is to assist our character-building. We’d all love a fully-mature character, but how is it formed? We know the answer although we hesitate to accept it – through times of trial.

I read an answer on Quora today. The question someone had posted was, “What are some day to day life hacks that armed forces and law enforcement people know but civilians don’t?” The answers were interesting, but my favourite came from Ejaz Asi. I’ll quote from some of his points:

“Discipline in your life, as a person, father, husband, professional, will take you very far and to great places. Hardships and bad seniors or bad times are there not to demean you but to build your character. Those who quit whining about these ‘facts of life’ early survive and thrive better. … ‘There is no such thing as tough. There is trained and untrained.'”

I’ve also been reading a book my friend Tim Dannett gave me. It’s called, “Falling Upward” by Richard RohrRichardRohrOFM.jpg
RichardRohrOFM” by Center for Action and Contemplation – Center for Action and Contemplation, Albuquerque, NM. Licensed under CC0 via Wikimedia Commons.
His point is that failure is the path to maturity. Falling is the path to growth. We know this to be true, but are we willing to allow God to exercise His timing as to when the class is over? Rohr says, “The supposed achievements of the first half of life have to fall apart and show themselves to be wanting in some way, or we will not move further. Why would we? Normally a job, fortune, or reputation has to be lost, a death has to be suffered, a house has to be flooded, or a disease has to be endured.” 
Jacob, Moses, Peter all had this experience. They held on to God, learned from their falling, persevered through the troubled times when God decided to delay the “fix”, or not provide it at all – and grew to be men useful to God in ways they could never have imagined. 
If something similar is going to my experience and yours we’re going to need to change the way we sing the song. Perhaps the lyric should read something more like this:
Troubles in my way,
You’ve got to grow somehow.
(Well don’t you know that my Jesus…..)
Jesus, He’s going to leave it!
Jesus, He’s going to leave it!
Jesus, He’s going to leave it!
Until I’ve grown.

I hope you have a wonderful week.

God bless,

Malcolm