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Stress Free Living?
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live without any stress in your life? Life would be a breeze, immunised from the stresses and strains of daily living we could really enjoy ourselves. Unfortunately, as we can all testify life isn’t like that.
However, not all stress is bad. We need a reasonable degree of stress to motivate us into action. The accompanying surge of adrenalin enables us to focus and get on with the task in hand. Stress becomes our enemy when we constantly living in a hyped-up state feeling that we are being overwhelmed with the pressures of life. It is in this place where we get short tempered and angry; patience seems to disappear and love flies out the window.
Too much stress also inhibits us from thinking rationally. Problem solving becomes difficult as our mental perception narrows; similar to having tunnel vision. We end up like mice going faster and faster trapped inside a spinning wheel.
It has always been my firm belief that human beings were never designed to live under a high degree of stress for long periods of time. It’s not much fun and sooner or later we become ill. So is there a way out when we feel trapped and overwhelmed? I believe there is and the solution lies in the very simple application of some Biblical truths.
Firstly, identify the root of the problem. King David writing in Psalm 43 asks himself the question: Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God.
We need to be bluntly honest with ourselves and sometimes others to identify the root cause of our stress.
Once you have identified the problem you are half way to solving it.
Secondly, David tells himself to put his ‘hope in God’. Biblical hope is never wishful thinking, it is the earnest expectation that God will come to our aid.
Thirdly - St Peter instructs us to - Cast all your anxiety on him (Christ) because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7). To ‘cast’ literally means to forcibly throw, but Peter says throw all your stress onto Christ. Sounds a little strange, but God is willing to take the stuff that is crushing us onto himself when we ask Him to do so.
Finally, St Paul provides us with a lasting solution so that we don’t get overwhelmed in the future. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).
These are amazing verses, but we are being told that we needn’t be anxious or stressed about anything! Quite a claim.
When we invite God into our situation He promises that the peace of God will bypass our stressed-out brains and bring peace to our hearts and minds though Christ Jesus. Incredible but true.
A few years ago I met a group of Christian Bikers - they call the Bible the Manual for Life; amazing yet so practical. So is it time to dust off the family Bible and discover some more incredible insights into our human nature and our Creator who wrote the manual?
Many blessings to everyone in the Parish - Rev Chris Lawrence
APR 13Easter – It is with your heart that you believe.
By the time you read this Easter will be upon us; the time of year when we lament the death of Jesus on Good Friday but rejoice in His resurrection on Easter Sunday.
Traditionally we associate Jesus’ death with the forgiveness of sin for all of mankind but all too often in our thinking Jesus is left on the cross rather than living in the good of the resurrection. The cross of Christ is a place of transition where the old life is done away with and the opportunity for beginning a new life is waiting in the wings; should be wish to embrace it.
One of the questions I have been asking myself and others over the past few years is why aren’t there more people with a living faith? Is it because folk see the church or God as irrelevant in today’s society? Is it a lack of knowledge or knowing the difference between faith and religion? Perhaps the name ‘Jesus’ is off-putting? The reasons are many and varied but one thing is for sure – we will all have thought about God at some point in our lives.
Consider these words from St Paul – ‘...if you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, ‘Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.’ (Romans 10:9-11).
‘Believe in your heart’ is mentioned twice in this passage but what exactly is it to believe in your heart? From a biblical perspective the heart has nothing to do with the organ that pumps blood around our bodies as it clearly resides in our brains! The heart is at the very centre of our souls (our mind, will and emotions). It is the place where we think about the world we live in, where we make our value judgements about ourselves and others and ultimately the choices we make and then put into action.
The emotional state of the heart affects us physically, mentally and spiritually i.e.
"A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit“ (Pv 15:13).
God places the highest regard on our hearts as it is here that we believe in Him or dismiss Him. God speaking through King Solomon said this - My son, pay attention to what I say; listen closely to my words. 21 Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; 22 for they are life to those who find them and health to a man’s whole body. 23 Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. (Pv 4:20-24).
It is through the six senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste and spirit) that we absorb information and the experiences of life – good, bad or indifferent but it is all stored in the heart and processed in the heart and here lies the problem; the heart is full of mixed messages and emotional turmoil.
Is it any wonder that there is so much negativity in our lives when we expose ourselves to gossip, bad news and violence, particularly through the media? We end up by being brain washed into particular patens of thinking that are neither true nor healthy. I believe this is why God makes the statement in Jeremiah 9 - that the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? Greek evangelist J John says ‘The heart of the human problem is the problem with the human heart’. We just don’t fully understand ourselves – if we did we would have resolved our own problems and the problems of the world years ago.
So is there a solution? In my experience it is often when we are at our wits end, when we are rung out and admit that we have failed to solve our own problems or that we are so desperately unhappy that the doorway to God is prised ever so slightly open. It is ‘out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks’ and the words are uttered ‘God help me’! This is baseline honesty between you and your creator and the light of the risen Christ floods in. The veil of deception is lifted and the gift of faith is implanted in your heart and you know with certainty that God is real - 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. This is Easter!A very happy Easter to everyone in the parish - Rev Chris Lawrence
FEB 13New Year Resolutions
Well how’s it going? A few weeks into the New Year and with it I would hazard to guess are many of the New Year resolutions. Whether it is the diet plan, giving up smoking or drinking or maintaining a commitment to the new gym programme it simply takes a lot of will power and determination to see effective change over a period of time. Even with the best of intentions, in our weak moments we often fail and when we do we mercilessly chastise ourselves.
This cycle of good intentions followed by failure is nothing new, its part of the human condition – the inner struggle between good and evil that St Paul speaks about in his letter to the church in Rome. He writes:
21 So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:21-25)
Paul came to the point of realisation that he was virtually powerless to overcome his own evil intentions and desires, but through Christ’s power – the power of the Holy Spirit, he could win the war and gain mastery over his struggles!
We can all relate to Paul’s observations of the human condition but when it comes to seeking effective Godly help we shy away or perhaps we just don’t know that God has the answer and lasting solution? It almost seems too good to be true so the natural inclination is to dismiss it from our consciousness. We would rather go it alone, give it one more try and spend a fortune on a diet plan a personal trainer or psychological counselling. God does have the effective solution whatever the problem or vice may be, but man’s heart is predisposed to be prideful.
So here’s my challenge for 2013. If you are fed up with going round the perpetual loop of good intentions and failure then give God an opportunity - put pride to one side and ask for His help and if you need a little guidance then ask your local church minister or a member of the congregation, or as David wrote in Psalm 34:8 -
Find out for yourself how good the Lord is. (Good News Translation)
DEC 12The Uniqueness of Jesus - God’s gift to Mankind
One of the great things about Christmas is the giving and receiving of gifts. Shopping for that perfect gift for a loved one can be a delight all of its own. There is the fervent expectation as the day approaches when the wrapping paper is finally removed to reveal the long awaited present. Usually there is the look of wonder and delight that brings equal pleasure to the giver and receiver that makes it all worthwhile. But what happens if the gift is not gratefully received or the gift just didn’t match up to expectations?
I often wonder if this is how many of Jew’s of Jesus’ day viewed the long awaited Messiah. Jesus is God’s gift to mankind but to many of his day he came in the wrong wrapping. Who would ever have thought that the Saviour of the World would be born as a baby - how ridiculous!
The Jews were certainly looking for a Saviour; someone who would rise up as a strong leader like King David and put an end to Roman oppression, but God in His wisdom had other ideas. And there lies the problem - God’s wisdom is foolishness to man. You have to look at Jesus from God’s perspective. A gift that needs to be appreciated and metaphorically speaking, unwrapped, appreciated and accepted in all His glory.
The uniqueness of Jesus would not begin to be appreciated until He reached 30 years of age. Jesus returns from being tempted for forty days and nights in the desert and then goes to His local synagogue.
As was his custom. And he stood up to read. 17 The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”[e]
20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21 and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 3:16-21).
This event was no less that history in the making. Jesus had declared God’s mandate and mission for Him that day - the reason why He had come to earth. But it begs the question, did the hearers of His words identify with being, poor, prisoners, blind and oppressed? Probably not, but that is exactly what they were and so are we until God opens the eyes of our hearts and reveals our true condition.
Proverbs 23:7 says ‘As a man thinks in his heart, so he is’. The problem with the people of Jesus’ day and ours is that we are pitifully self-deceived. Jeremiah 17:9 states The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? Not only do we think we are ok we actually believe that there is nothing wrong with us - God begs us to look deeper within ourselves for when we do we will see our true condition and the need of God’s saving grace found only through His Son Jesus Christ.
I often wonder why the church is not full on a Sunday. There are obviously many and varied reasons but I believe the chief one’s are fear and pride. It takes courage to admit that we all need help; that our attempts to lead a fulfilling life are often little more that moving deck chairs on the Titanic. If that’s you then join the club. The realisation that life is not a bed of roses and that you don’t want continued chastisement for your shortcomings but would much rather have someone extend a gracious hand to you so that you could to start over - then you are qualified.
One of my favourite books is The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott-Peck. I like it (in an awkward way) because it’s brutally honest about the human condition. Scott Peck in his role as a psychiatrist would make progress with his clients up to a point where there was a confrontation with self, where upon there were two possible outcomes. Either the client would grasp the nettle and work though the issue and mature or they would cancel their next appointment! Human beings love to stick their heads in the sand when the going gets tough and personal.
So how about you and church in 2013? Come and see, sit at the back, come with a friend and see if your heart begins to change. It can be challenging but in the long run that’s a good thing or as Jesus said: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matt 7:13-14)
OCT 12The Freedom of Self forgetfulness. 10.9.12
Over the holiday period I read a very short book by Timothy Keller called ‘The freedom of self-forgetfulness’. It speaks of the Church in Corinth and the divisions it was experiencing due to members of the congregation aligning themselves with particular leaders and teachers; in this case Paul, Peter and Apollos. To restore harmony and peace Paul urges them not to boast or take pride in one man over another.
In essence he was speaking about the problem of self-esteem. Up until the 20th Century traditional cultures always believed that too high a view of yourself was the root cause of all the evil in the world. But in our modern western culture our belief is that people misbehave for lack of self-esteem because they have too low a view of themselves.
Paul is trying to teach the church about pride and the human ego. He uses the Greek word physioo for pride which literally means ‘overinflated, swollen and ready to burst’ and this he says is the condition of the human ego.
In his book ‘Sickness unto Death’ ,Soren Kierkegaard says ‘it is the normal state of the human heart to try and build its identity around something besides God. Spiritual pride is the illusion that we are competent to run our own lives, achieve our own sense of self-worth and find a purpose big enough to give us meaning to life without God’.
The problem is, only God can fill the vastness of the human heart, everything else we try to pour in, whether it be achievement, looks, power or money - all these things only rattle around - the insatiable ego is never satisfied.
It is like being in a court room - everyday our identities are on trail and everything we do is providing evidence for the prosecution or evidence for the defence. Some days we feel that we are winning the trial and other days we feel that we are losing it. It is a sorry state of affairs and a no-win situation which steals much of our joy. The atheist might say that they get their self-image from being a good person. They are a good person and they hope eventually they will get a verdict that confirms that they are a good person. Performance leads to verdict. For the Buddhist too, performance leads to verdict. If you are a Muslim, performance leads to verdict. But who wants to live in a state of continual anxiety that you may never measure up, no matter what you do?
However, Paul says that he has found the secret. The trial is over for him, he is out of the courtroom. How could this be?
If you look at the life of St Paul you would quickly realise that before his conversion on the road to Damascus that he was a mess, an angry man who thought that it was right and part of his religious duty to persecute believers in Christ even to death. Paul actually describes himself as the ‘chief of sinners’ and he knows that he cannot possibly justify himself. In looking to the Cross of Christ and identifying with Jesus as the sin bearer, not just for himself, but all of us, he walks away a free man; forgiven and the burden of guilt washed away.
He says that it is the God who judges him and it is only His opinion that ultimately counts. The final verdict rests with God and God says that he’s OK and the void in Paul’s heart, once virtually empty, is now totally filled with the love of God.
After his conversion Paul never had a problem with his ego. In fact he says he doesn’t much care what people think about him or even what he thinks about himself; how freeing is that? That’s why the Gospel, the Good News of Christ is so countercultural in that you get the positive verdict before the performance.
In all other areas of life, job or religion you have to perform and keep on performing to get the verdict. All this means is that every day you are back in the courtroom trying to measure up to your own or other peoples standards. In Christianity the verdict leads to performance.
If you get the revelation of what God was doing through Christ you can actually lighten-up on yourself and start to live a life of freedom and less stress because life is not all about you!
With this in mind you can actually do things for the simple joy of doing them. Timothy Keller writes ‘I can start to enjoy things that are not about me, my work is not about me, my romance is not about me, my dating is not about me. This is Gospel humility, blessed self-forgetfulness. Not thinking more of myself as in modern cultures, or less of myself as in traditional cultures. Simply thinking of myself, less.
Rev Chris LawrenceP.S. The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Timothy Keller can be purchased through www.10ofthose.com or Amazon.
AUG 12Your Bucket List - Will the real me please stand up.
‘The essence of any good bucket list consists of overcoming fears, achieving goals, realizing dreams and even simple pleasures. Whether it’s an exotic adventure half-way around the world or something simpler, like spending more time with your family or friends, what matters is that you experience all the good and phenomenal things Earth offers.’
I can’t speak for you, but as I get older life seems to take on a new urgency and having a Bucket List is not a bad idea. What is even better than a list, is to actually start doing some of the things on your list! When I worked as a Civil Servant I was alarmed to read the statistic that approximately 70% of Civil Servants die eighteen months to two years after retirement. Thankfully God had other plans so the future is now a lot more certain! We can all have big ideas and dreams of what we may like to do in the future but the smaller goals may have greater significance. The opening sentence to the paragraph outlining a Bucket List mentions ‘overcoming fears’.
In my experience fear is often the number one inhibitor in trying anything new or unfamiliar. Even meeting people for the first time can be stressful and it is often our own insecurities that inhibit us from really getting to know the people we live closest to.
One of the greatest freedoms I have come to experience as a Christian is I can be myself without any fear of judgement.
If you are reading this as an unbeliever you should be able to walk into any church and be accepted just as you are by the people there because that is the way that God accepts you- unconditionally. Knowing that we are loved unconditionally is the basis of a healthy relationship with God and the springboard for a healthy relationship with yourself and each other.
Starting on the 7th September Framfield Church is starting a new coffee morning called ‘Drop in - Coffee and Chat’. It will be run each Friday morning from 9.15-11.30am and will provide an opportunity just to hang out with each other and have a chat about anything or maybe just a listening ear in a relaxed environment. Everyone is assured of a warm welcome -why not give it a try?
Rev Chris Lawrence
JUN 12“The heart of the human problem is the problem with the human heart”
Imagine a billboard 1000 kilometres long and 422 metres high, covered with A4 size photographs. Each photograph is a portrait of every person who is currently living on the planet. If you were to add them all up the number of photographs would total approximately 7 billion. In its entirety this vast collage of humanity would represent the person of Jesus for as the Bible says we are all made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27).
In our increasingly godless society try as we might there is no getting away from God. Every time you look in a mirror the face of Christ is looking back at you; challenging perhaps, but true all the same.
Image is very important in today’s culture. What you look like and what you wear and how you conduct yourself is part of the image that we project onto our fellow man; but is that the real you? Scripture reminds us that ‘Man looks at the outward appearance but God looks on the heart’. (1 Samuel 16:7)
When we travel as a family we often listen to Roald Dahl stories - one of our favourite stories is The Twitts. Mr and Mrs Twitt are an old married couple who play awful tricks on one another. But time and tension has taken its toll. Roald tells us that Mrs Twit has an ugly face; it wasn’t always like this, once upon a time she was quite attractive but she became progressively ugly due to only having ugly thoughts. So it begs the question is Mrs Twitt’s declining looks just a surfacing of the wickedness that resides in her heart?
Mr Twitt is just as bad but he hides his face behind a beard that also contains various morsels of food that have been trapped in the hairs. As you can probably imagine, they are portrayed as a ghastly loveless couple.
Jesus had much to say about those who put on a good public image but revealed their true heart condition behind closed doors and by what came out of their mouths. In Matthews’s gospel (Chapter 15) Jesus said 18 But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what make a man ‘unclean’.
There was no hiding place with Jesus; he could always read the true condition of a person’s heart.
When reflecting on the state of today’s society Greek evangelist J. John has a saying - “The heart of the human problem is the problem with the human heart” .
He means that it is a fallacy to think that we are all good on the inside. Until we have a revelation of our true condition we will never see our need for God’s forgiveness and grace and the necessary heart transformation that can only be effected by the (Spirit) love of God.
Compare the fruit of the unclean heart with the fruit of the regenerated heart found in Paul’s letter to the Galatians 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. What would you rather have on the inside?
Image and appearance have their place but true beauty lies within. St Peter writing in his first letter said - that a woman’s beauty should come from her inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. 5 For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful.
So is God in the makeover or transformation of image business? I believe He is, for when we come to accept Christ for ourselves it is our inner self that is firstly renewed by the Spirit of God. From that point you start to radiate the beauty and love of God that is truly wonderful and attractive. It doesn’t happen all at once though, as we are transformed from ‘one degree of glory to another’.
Perceptions of beauty are obviously subjective but the transforming power of God can never be denied after all, the Cross of Christ is the place of divine exchange? Sin to righteousness, anxiety to peace and beauty from ashes. So what could one expect if you got your relationship with God sorted out?
For a woman, if you think you may go to sleep one night and wake up looking like a super model then you will probably be disappointed and no chaps you’re unlikely to wake up miraculously transformed into the likeness of Brad Pitt or George Clooney.
However, if you were to wake up with a new heart, the core of your being brought back to life and overflowing with love and joy; the burdens and trauma of your old life erased then you would be beautiful indeed - and yes, that would be written on your face for all to see!
2012 - Your way or God’s way?
The New Year is now well under way and 2011 may just be distant memory, but have you found that the older you get the concept of time appears to be compressed?
When we are very young you just can’t wait to grow up, even to the point of wishing our lives away. Age opens doors whether it is going to the cinema, going to the pub or driving a car. For those of us who have lived a few years when we were 18 or so we thought we would live forever! But then when you hit the higher milestone birthdays you look back and wonder where the time has gone. That’s the trick of how we comprehend time and when we come to the realisation that life is short.
I was amazed the other day when it was said on the Radio that David Bowie had just had his 65th birthday and with it his bus-pass! How could that cool icon of the 70’s and 80’s possibly be 65? Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones will be 69 this July. Time certainly waits for no man and there is no guarantee that we will all live to a ripe old age. Anyone over 40 who has been to a school reunion will have realised that some of their school chums may have already suffered serious health problems or died an early death.
If life is relatively short and uncertain should we not aim to make the most of the time we have available? Yet in my experience many folk seldom fulfil their potential but tend to amble through life without any clear ambitions or goals. On the other hand many are locked into the past (mainly due to unforgiveness from negative life events) and are unable to break free to enjoy the remainder of their lives.
Some years I was listening to Dr James Dobson on Premier Christian Radio.
Dr Dobson was telling the story of a man who was seriously physically disabled yet despite his disabilities had overcome many obstacles and fulfilled many of his goals, which were considerably more in number than my own! His latest one was to learn to fly a light aircraft and perform a solo flight. This he also achieved. It was truly humbling to listen to the testimony of this amazing man. Dr Dobson asked him how he managed to achieve so much in the light of his daily struggle with disability. His answer was simple and to the point, he said, “When I get up in the morning I make the choice not to be miserable but make the most of the day that I have been given”. I was inspired that morning! By contrast walk down any high street or through any shopping centre and observe the look in faces of the able bodied. Do you see light, joy, optimism, happiness or misery?
When you boil it all down, in the majority of instances life is about the choices we make in the circumstances we currently find ourselves in.
You can choose to be happy; you can choose to smile rather than frown; you can choose to forgive rather than live under a cloud of bitterness; you can choose to work rather than be idle, etc.
King Solomon writing as an old man in the book of Ecclesiastes said this: I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. 13 That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God. Ecclesiastes 3:12-13
American actor and political commentator Ben Stein said: “The first step to getting the things you want out of life is this: Decide what you want.”
Perhaps one of the saddest things in life is to never have tried, never risked something new and then to look back in regret at the wasted years and wasted opportunities. As the years advance perhaps we all need to ask ourselves at least two questions i.e. what do I still want to achieve in this life and how would I like to be remembered? Our lives should hopefully count for something positive.
To launch out into the unknown requires courage, but how much better would it be if you didn’t have to be self reliant in your endeavours? Fear of the unknown is also a major factor that holds many back.
Currently in the church calendar we are in the season of Epiphany which celebrates the revelation of Christ to the Gentiles (non Jewish). In this season Jesus also called his first disciples and when he did he just said “Follow me”. What is notable is that they did just that - left everything behind, didn’t look back and simply followed Him into a life full of adventure. What they came to realise was that Jesus was totally reliable and wanted the very best for each of them. The good news is that nothing has changed; the love of God remains totally unconditional and timeless as the writer to the Hebrews says:
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)
So will 2012 be a different year? Will it be another ‘go it alone year’ or a’ give God a chance year’? It’s your choice, but may I encourage you with a few lines from a famous poem by Minnie Louise Haskins -
I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year 'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.'
And he replied, 'Go into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way!'
Rev Chris Lawrence
Stop Press - God comes to Earth as a baby!!!!
When you think about it, God’s plan to save the world is quite bizarre. Why would Father God send His son Jesus to earth in such a covert way? A baby born into virtual poverty in the small town of Bethlehem to parents yet to be married!
Surely if God wanted everyone to know that He was God then perhaps we could have expected a more dramatic entrance. After all God did some amazing displays of his power in numerous accounts found in the Old Testament.
If this were not enough how about getting your head around the fact that Jesus was divine and human at the same time?
Answering these two questions alone gives us a crucial insight into the wisdom of God and the crux of the Christmas story.
One of the stumbling blocks many people have with God or even being intrigued enough to find out more about God is that the natural human mind cannot initially understand the mind or the ways of God. Speaking through the prophet Isaiah God said “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9).
The question of Jesus’ divinity and humanity has been problematic down the ages. However, to Jesus’ mother Mary it was a case of simple acceptance and belief in what the angel Gabriel told her. Mary was Jesus’ natural human mother but Jesus’ father was God the Holy Spirit. Joseph adopted Jesus as his earthly son.
The announcement of this perplexing fact is recorded in Luke’s Gospel chapter 1 30 But the angel said to her, Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. 31 You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus (which means Saviour – my note). Naturally Mary asks ‘34 How will this be, since I am a virgin?
35 The angel answered, The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God..... 37 For nothing is impossible with God. 38 I am the Lord's servant, Mary answered. May it be to me as you have said.
I believe the reason that Jesus was born as a baby and to all intents and purposes grew up as a normal child, teenager and adult was so that he could connect with all areas of our lives. The pains and joys of earthly life were fully experienced by Jesus so that He is able to empathise with the whole range of human emotions that we experience.
When we pray (speak and listen to God) we are not communing with a god who doesn’t understand us, quite the contrary, God is concerned about our lives and wants the very best for us as you would expect of a true and loving Father. It would be untrue to think that God is distant and not interested. In reality He is the One who ‘stooped down’ in humility and entered our broken world to save it.
Another interesting point is in the giving of His name. Have you noticed that Mary and Joseph never get to choose his name? The angel Gabriel announces to Mary what his name will be and God appears to Joseph in a dream and tells him - “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21).
Every name especially from a Hebrew perspective has meaning. A person was and is defined by their name. Jesus’ name is very specific because it tells us that He is the Saviour. People get very hung up on the name Jesus and his mandate to save. The reason the world is in such a mess is due to the problem of sin. Personal sin that we inherit or literally ‘born into’ needs to be recognised and reconciled back to God. Man cannot save himself and re-establish the original relationship with God that would enable each one of us to love unconditionally in the way that God loves us. Sin separates and no amount of good works can make up the difference. Trying to earn our way back into God’s favour is the epitome of pride.
However, it is often when we run out of ourselves, when we come up against a problem that we cannot solve or we feel so broken inside that we give up that we start to look beyond ourselves. This is the place where God resides and it is at this point that the cry of the heart reaches the ears of God and He says “I am here for you”. This is the point of transformation and it comes through the simple acceptance of Jesus the Saviour; He alone turns our darkness to light, our stress into peace and our selfishness into true love, not just for now but for all eternity. As John writes in perhaps the most powerful, and succinct words in the Bible - “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16).
God with outstretched arms offers His Son as a gift to each one of us, but as with every gift it has to be willingly received - the question is - have you accepted Jesus for yourself? He is simply the most amazing gift you could ever receive! I hope everyone in the parish has a joyful Christmas and a peaceful New Year.
Rev Chris Lawrence
9/11 - Ten Years on – Is forgiveness possible?
It seems incredible that ten years has passed since the atrocity in New York where 2,996 people lost their lives. The recent reports on the TV bring back to mind the magnitude of this act of terrorism and the many lives that are still being affected. So is it possible to get over an event like this where so many loved ones were killed?
We all know it to be true when we say that ‘we can acknowledge the past, but we cannot live in the past’. Life has to go on; but to move on with life and not be perpetually affected by past events, forgiveness has to be given. This is not to down play the enormity of the crime committed by the terrorists, but those who carried out the actual atrocity would in their own death never be brought to justice in this life. Forgiveness is necessary so that those left behind can experience peace within themselves so that they can go on living.
For the Christian and the God fearing, forgiveness is mandatory, but in fact it applies to everyone - part of the Lord’s prayer says - ‘Father, forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us’. It’s a conditional prayer and God will not forgive us until we forgive others.
It is often hard for our human minds to comprehend how we could in some circumstances even begin to consider forgiveness, but forgive we must.
9/11 was on a huge scale but it can be equally hard to forgive the everyday hurts that upset us. It can be a variety of things; a lack of consideration, being sworn at, a distaining look or gesture, a breakdown of trust within a relationship etc. I have lost count of the times I have heard the phrase “That person hurt me so much, I can never forgive them!”
So what makes forgiveness so difficult? The offense that requires forgiveness will undoubtedly have caused us pain in some way – physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually. From a human standpoint we cry out for justice to right the wrong; if we are honest we want pay-back! Rodney Hogue, an American pastor, writes about this point and our reluctance to forgive -
‘Our reluctance to forgive comes when we feel that forgiveness somehow lets our offender be discharged from what they have done.
Genuine forgiveness recognises that we do not have the right to become enforcers of justice. We relinquish that right by committing that person out of our hands and into the hands of God, our perfect and holy judge.
God will deal justly with all. You will not be letting someone off the hook; you will be transferring that person from your hook to “God’s hook.”
Saint Paul writing to the church in Rome said:
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
Even in an age where we sometimes feel that the law is weak or powerless we need to grasp the bigger picture. God is the God of all justice and nothing is hidden from His view.
Not forgiving others also has a negative impact on our lives which in the long term may result in physical or mental illness. Nobody is completely immune from the ups and downs of life; what is important is how we handle them. Saint Paul offers some advice:
25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbour.... 26 “In your anger do not sin”. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. (Ephesians 4:25-27)
In essence, deal with matters frankly, honestly and quickly. Letting things fester gives the devil place in our lives resulting in grudges, bitterness and the lack of opportunity to forgive or be forgiven. In all these matters we have a choice but I will leave the last word on effects of unforgiveness to Joyce Meyer –
“Harbouring unforgiveness is like drinking poison in the hope that the other person will get sick! Unforgiveness poisons anyone who holds onto it, causing themselves to become bitter. And it is impossible to be bitter and get better at the same time!”
Rev Chris Lawrence
Thoughts of summer
Time to rest and let God do some recreation
Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass on a summer day listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is hardly a waste of time. ~John Lubbock
As we rapidly approach the summer holidays those of us with children will be beginning to relish the thought of not having to get up quite so early to get the children ready for school. Perhaps also the anticipation of going on holiday.
Whether it’s overseas to some exotic location or somewhere within the UK getting away from it all is virtually a necessity. As the saying goes ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’. We all need sufficient uninterrupted time to rest and relax for our own wellbeing.
Personally, I have been banned from taking my Blackberry mobile on holiday - it’s just too tempting to answer the odd email. Being virtually un-contactable on holiday is I believe a good thing. If our days are being broken into, however briefly then your mind quickly switches back into work mode and that’s not really what a holiday is all about. I do wonder how many businessmen will be taking a laptop away with them - just in case the office needs them. Believe me they can cope without you!
However, when we are on holiday are we really able to ‘leave it all behind’?
I remember vividly last year that it took me about 4 days to wind down then I bought a daily paper - big mistake - it was full of the sham marriages scandal, a complete wind up. I had to apologise to my wife and children for being such a pain.
This year will be different. No phone, no papers, just quality family time; church matters will be left in the hands of the Almighty and our very capable Churchwardens - Joan and John.
I am a firm believer that you need to get in the right frame of mind prior to going on holiday in order to get the maximum benefit and to this end Psalm 23 is most apt.
As David wrote - The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside still waters, He restores my soul.
Great words with wonderful promises - I am starting to relax already - hope everyone reading this has a great summer break - blessings to you all.Revd Chris Lawrence
We may not call ourselves ‘religious’ but we all have a religion!
As you might suspect being a clergyman can provoke various reactions when meeting different people. Some are serious in nature, others highly amusing!
Shortly after arriving in the parish one of the mum’s at school wouldn’t talk to me as she was convinced that I could read her mind. It took quite a while to reassure her that this was not the case. As a result she is now a lot more relaxed that the innermost secrets of her heart are not laid bare before me!
Others immediately assume I want to talk about religion or that in some way I want to ‘convert’ them. My usual reaction is ‘it is only God that brings revelation to the individual and a change of heart (conversion)’ and as far as discussing religion goes - this is the topic I have the least amount interest in. Perhaps the last comment may surprise some but Jesus never came to earth to start another religion; in fact he probably despised many of them as they are a hindrance to our understanding of what life is all about and a hindrance to our growth as human beings. So what is life all about?
According to Dr M. Scott-Peck ‘As human beings grow in discipline and love and life experience, their understanding of the world and their place in it naturally grows apace. Conversely, as people fail to grow in discipline, love and life experience, so does their understanding fail to grow. Consequently, among the members of the human race there exists an extraordinary variability in the breadth and sophistication of our understanding of what life is all about. This understanding is our religion. Since everyone has some understanding - some world view, no matter how limited or primitive or inaccurate - everyone has a religion. This fact, not widely recognised, is of utmost importance: everyone has a religion.’
Scott-Peck’s point is that we tend to define religion from a very narrow perspective and with the assumption that religion must include a belief in God or some ritualistic practice or that religious people belong to some form of church. But the fact of the matter is that everyone has an explicit or implicit set of ideas and beliefs as to the essential nature of the world we live in.
We need to ask ourselves the question - “what do I think the world is like?”
i.e. is it basically chaotic and without meaning? Is the world a dog-eat-dog place where ruthlessness is essential to survival? Is the world basically a nurturing place where good prevails? Or perhaps a place that owes us a living no matter how we conduct our lives or a universe of rigid law that if we step out of line something bad will happen to us? Etc. We may hold some of these views in our conscious or unconscious mind but we all have a world view (or religion) and we live our lives accordingly. So how do religions develop; what determines a particular world view?
In essence it comes down to culture. If we are European we are likely to believe that Christ was a white man. If we are African then he was a black man. If you were born in India then you are likely to have Hindu beliefs and possess a pessimistic world view. We tend to believe what the people around us believe and we tend to accept as truth what there people tell us about the nature of the world as we listen to them in our formative years. Perhaps what is less obvious is the fact that the most important part of our culture is our particular family; Scott-Peck writes ‘The most basic culture in which we develop is the culture of our family, and our parents are its ‘culture leaders’. Moreover, the most significant aspect of that culture is not what our parents tell us about God and the nature of things but rather what they do - how do they behave toward each other, toward our siblings and, above all toward us. In other words, what we learn about the nature of the world when we are growing up is determined by the actual nature or our experiences in the microcosm of the family. It is not so much what our parents say that determines our world view as it is the unique world they create for us by their behaviour.’
In order to grow as human beings we all need to question our beliefs and actions from an adult perspective and not just go with the flow of hand me down values from our parents. Some learned behaviour will be good; some may be extremely destructive to us and others. The responsibility of parenting or nurturing children is profoundly great, but from time to time we all need to question our own actions and motives and ask ourselves if they are the very best for our children and the community we live in.
Revd Chris Lawrence
Where have you come from and where are you going?
Within the Christian church we are in the season of Lent. Lent originated in the very earliest days of the Church as a preparatory time for Easter, when the faithful rededicated themselves and when converts were instructed in the faith and prepared for baptism. By observing the forty days of Lent, the individual Christian imitates Jesus' withdrawal into the wilderness for forty days.
This time of withdrawal could be regarded as a latter day period to 'chill out' with God, to do some soul searching and repenting away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. However, Lent is not just for Christians as it is also the season for reflection and taking stock. Something that we all need to do from time to time; ask ourselves some direct questions regarding life, our beliefs, family, work commitments, leisure and where would you like to be in 5 years from now?
As Jesus prepared for his forthcoming ministry this period of withdrawal was very significant in preparation for what was to come.
Jesus needed to hear very clearly what God's will was for him but that couldn't be done within all the other distractions of daily life. Similarly, taking some regular time out to be alone with God or just by ourselves to get things back in perspective is vitally important for our physical mental and spiritual well-being - but how often do we do it?
The pace of modern living still appears to be gathering momentum, but we have to ask ourselves: to what end?
We live in the age of the 'immediate' and the 'instant' rarely giving ourselves time to stop and think and reflect on our lives. What did we do before we had the internet, mobile phones, text messaging, Facebook and Twitter? Quite frankly we did perfectly well!
The world didn't stop when we had to wait for a letter to arrive in the post and the pace of life, much less hurried, had gentleness and rhythm like the ebb and flow of the sea. People were more patient and kinder to one another and Road Rage hadn't even been invented!
The main problem with living life at a very fast pace is that we never seem to be able to slow down adequately to reflect on our lives, and this is the only one we get! Life is indeed a gift and should be treated as such and not regarded as a point to point race to the next thing.
It's as if there is an inbuilt fear that if we stop, everything around us will pile up and our situation will get even worse and more frustrating. But stop we must, lest we become 'human doings' rather than 'human beings'.
Those of us who have to juggle many balls using the ubiquitous 'Do List' live with the false goal that someday we will complete everything on the list and then we can have a well-earned rest. Quite absurd when you think about it as no sooner do you complete a few things then new tasks are magically added on and round we go again! We all have the same 24 hours in the daily time bank. Time is the constant so what needs to change are the choices that we make about how we use our time.
This year, my Lenten challenge for you is to take a whole day off by yourself before Easter and go somewhere peaceful and relaxing and take stock - it might just be the most significant day of your life!
Some years ago when Sarah and I were walking in the countryside around Rotherfield we met two elderly gentlemen who stopped to chat. One of them said - there are only two really important questions in life - 'where have you come from' and 'where are you going?
Two questions, simple yet profound, and worthy to be reflected up during Lent.
May God bless each and every one of you - Revd Chris Lawrence.
Happy New Year ?
The New Year has arrived and with it the opportunity to take stock of the last year and perhaps make some positive changes for the new.
So how was 2010, what were the highs and the lows in your life?
It would great to live in perpetual bliss but as we all know life isn’t like that. Many challenges meet us along the way but it is often in times of adversity that we find out the most about ourselves, others and the world we live in. The question is how do you cope when your world appears to be falling apart?
Personally, I don’t find much solace in coming through a trying time as a stressed out nervous wreck, even if someone says ‘It’s character building’. So is there a better way, can you turn a ‘glass half empty person’ into a ‘glass half full person’ ?
This was my prayer and quest for the latter half of 2010. God had told me that this was going to be my ‘turnaround year’. I wasn’t quite sure what He meant but I recognised it when it came along! Almost losing all hope He finally came through on the afternoon of the 28th December while watching TV. God is never late, but boy does He sometimes hang you out to the last minute!
The answer I had been looking for came from the film adaptation of the story of Pollyanna, a children’s’ novel written in 1913 by Eleanor H. Porter.
Pollyanna is the daughter of a missionary family who is orphaned and goes to live with her wealthy, but stern Aunt Polly. Pollyanna's philosophy of life centers on what she calls "The Glad Game", a positive attitude to life she learned from her father. The game consists of finding something to be glad about particularly in negative situations. It originated in an incident one Christmas when Pollyanna, who was hoping for a doll, received a pair of crutches instead. Making the game up on the spot, Pollyanna's father taught her to look at the good side of things—in this case, to be glad about the crutches because "we don't need to use them.”
Many of the people in Pollyanna’s town are miserable or grouchy mainly because they are holding onto minor grievances and had fallen out with each other. Others see themselves as victims of loss or disappointment. However, one by one Pollyanna befriends them with her sunny attitude to life and teaches them how to play the ‘Glad Game’. As you might expect not everyone initially accepts her but to her credit she ignores the hostile attitudes and looks to the goodness hidden within each of them. On a locket that Pollyanna wears around her neck is inscribed the words quoted by Abraham Lincoln -
"Those who look for the bad in people will surely find it." Pollyanna chooses to do the opposite and look for the good.
The result is that when they re-examine their way of looking at themselves, others and the circumstances surrounding their lives and finding something to be glad about they cheer up.
As a preacher Pollyanna’s father found over 800 bible verses relating to being glad or having cause to rejoice. His conclusion was - that this is how God wants us to live our lives. Amen to that!
The great thing about playing the ‘Glad Game’ is that it really works. When you find a reason to be glad negative thoughts and attitudes simply disappear.
If you have never heard of Pollyanna and the Glad Game then may I encourage you to get hold of a copy; the book and the DVD versions are readily available and just brilliant.
When you think about it we have so much to be glad and thankful for despite the daily diet of doom and gloom fed to us by the media; but we do have a choice. The point is, why waste time and energy focusing on the negative aspects of life when you can focus on the positive and be happy? Terry Prince sums it like this in his short poem:
Your life is your garden; your thoughts are the seeds.
If your life isn’t awesome, you’ve been watering the weeds!
St Paul writing to the church at Philippi says this:
Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable— if anything is excellent or praiseworthy— think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)
2011 is likely to have many challenges but on a personal and collective level let’s take it one day at a time, look for the good in each other, our community and the world around us and as the Psalmist writes -
This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Ps 118:24)
May God richly bless you and bring you joy, happiness and gladness this year.
Seek and you shall find
Christmas should be a happy time of year. Time off from work, time to rest, spend time with friends and family, the giving and receiving of gifts etc. However, I often find that time-out from out normal routines also allows precious time for reflection. As 2010 draws to close, what was the year like for you? Upbeat and positive, perhaps a new job, a few dreams come true or maybe life has been tinged with sadness, a broken relationship or the loss of a loved one?
Personally speaking I often find it difficult to keep a positive frame of mind when there is a lot of negativity and uncertainty around.
Over the past few weeks I have been pondering the question ‘Is it possible to be a genuinely happy person with a positive outlook on life simply my making a rational choice?’ I stand to be corrected, but I think the answer is ‘no’.
If we are to believe statistics then apparently 80% of our thought patterns are negative. This may well be true. If we only watched the 10 o’clock news, by the time we got through the day to day killing in Afghanistan, natural disasters, road accidents and the myriad of other downers then the remaining ten seconds attributed to Mrs Jones having her cat rescued from a tree was the one and only positive highlight that brought a smile to our faces. In this day and age it is difficult to remain positive when we are bombarded with so much negativity that often leaves us feeling upset and empty.
Whatever age we are, living in a world daily punctuated with bad news gets you down. Trying to cope as an adult can be difficult but what about children with a difficult home life or those who hate going to school? Unfortunately, negative experiences in childhood don’t just go-away, they are carried into adulthood. The singer/songwriter Dan Hill who wrote ‘Sometimes when we touch’ included the verse
Romance and all its strategy
Leaves me battling with my pride
But through the insecurity
Some tenderness survives
I'm just another writer
Still trapped within my truth
A hesitant prize fighter
Still trapped within my youth
I believe Dan Hill is an adult who found adult relationships difficult due to the negative experiences he had within his childhood. He is certainly not alone. But is there a way out, and what has this to do with Christmas?
Christmas is not so much about the razzmatazz associated with the season or doing the headless chicken bit looking for presents. Christmas is about the birth of Jesus, the Saviour of the world and that includes you and me. Perhaps this year don’t think so much about what you can get, but what you can get rid of, i.e. the unhelpful baggage that we pick up on our journey through life, the things that weigh us down and inhibit our enjoyment of life.
From Jesus’ birth thirty years was to elapse before He got up to say what his mission was all about:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Luke 4:18-19)
Jesus put a smile on multitudes of faces during His earthly ministry, sorted out their baggage, healed them physically, mentally and spiritually and gave them a real hope for the future. The good news is that He is still doing it today through His church. So is it time to let Jesus do the seemingly impossible for you?
When we think about the three wise men embarking on their journey to find Jesus then think also about the effort they went to. To find true treasure often takes some effort but if something is worth having then we owe it to ourselves to make that effort.
In Luke’s gospel Jesus says9 “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
Jesus offers the hand of friendship and love to every man, woman and child. A relationship that will last into eternity. How about checking Him out in 2011? See you in church (it’s not that scary!)
Have a happy and blessed Christmas.Chris Lawrence
Love your neighbour as yourself?
The words ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ are perhaps some of the best known and most often quoted of Jesus’ words both in Christian circles and secular society. The second commandment, if we all adhere to it, provides us with a balance of mutual care and respect that we can all sign up to.
A recent article in a daily newspaper presented the results of a study that showed the positive benefits of doing a daily ‘good deed’. It actually feels good and gives us a lift when we do something positive or kind for someone else. Random acts of kindness really do make a difference and are the epitome of love your neighbour.
But what about ‘love yourself’? That one’s a bit of an enigma in today’s society. If the statistics are to be believed, we are becoming a nation of overweight couch potatoes, who spend virtually every evening in front of the TV, consuming vast quantities of fat and salt laden convenience food washed down with equally large quantities of cheap beer and wine!
If the lads and ladettes do make it out, then a good number can usually be seen sprawled out on the pavement on a Friday or Saturday night having inexplicably lost the use of their legs by the time last orders are called.
Not a pretty sight!
So what’s gone wrong? Has a significant number of individuals right across the age range totally lost their senses so that they are on a relentless path to self-destruction? Is self-worth and self-respect now an out-dated commodity? Personally, I hope it isn’t, but until people have a godly revelation that they are unique and highly valued in the eyes of God then the situation will continue to deteriorate. The apostle Paul writing to the church at Ephesus says “after all no-one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church.” I wonder what Paul would write to the churches in the UK if he were around today?
It is unfortunate that self-worth is too often measured against other people, what they look like, what they have, and what they’ve achieved.
Thank God literally that He accepts and loves us just as we are. When we can accept this fact then the flawed image of ourselves will be healed and we will truly begin to love our neighbours as ourselves.
Blessings to one and all - Chris Lawrence.
Who needs the Church?
The end of the school term has arrived and with it the expectation of a more leisurely pace of life for a few weeks. Rest and relaxation is fundamentally important for our health and wellbeing but also a time to reflect on life.
The danger of having a perpetually busy life is that life passes you by, the years virtually disappear. How many folk do you know have great plans for when they retire? Great in theory but many plans never come to fruition leaving one with feelings of resentment and regret. Making the most of each day is good advice. Setting out to achieve something you have always wanted to do shouldn’t be consigned to the back burner. If you have the urge to do something, do it while you can.
You may be wondering what this has to do with the title ‘Who needs the Church’ - be patient Betty I am getting to the point! The point is we all do! The increasingly secular world in which we are almost being forced to live in doesn’t suit us as individuals or as a community.
Despite the government’s latest action to solve the huge national debt, GB Inc is still on the verge of meltdown. On an international scale we appear to have a slightly better standing than Greece that is in a dire place, but in comparison we are even worse off! Perhaps it goes with the saying ‘You can fool some of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time’. The question of ‘who’s to blame’ will always be asked simply because people’s nature is to blame others.
As you may have heard ‘Be careful when you point the finger as there are three other fingers pointing back at you’! Have people today lost all moral integrity or the backbone to take personal responsibility or to speak out at things that are just so blatantly wrong?
Restoration of a community and a country starts with the individual.
It is so fundamentally important that we all have a good relationship with ourselves. If we don’t, then every other relationship we aim to form will be in some way blighted.
The Church was the place and is still be the place where individuals can find their true sense of identity and self-worth. My hobby horse or Godly burden as I prefer to call it is in the restoration of relationships. The Church actually has the answers to our deepest needs! The secularisation of the western world has bred nothing but selfishness, division and greed; the blind leading the blind, both falling into the same ditch. Putting our trust in man clearly doesn’t work.
In recent months I have been shocked by the numbers of marriages that have broken down within the parish. With it will be a toll of unhappiness for adults and children to be reaped in the years ahead. However, when the underlying cause of a breakdown in a relationship is left unaddressed then unfortunately history repeats itself. Secular marriage counselling can only go so far. Wounded hearts can only be truly healed by the love of God, and yes you guessed it, that’s the province of the Church. Whether you choose to acknowledge it or not, the fact remains we were all created by God and for God. There will always be a void in the heart of the individual who chooses to ignore God. He longs to draw us into His presence, forgive our wrongdoing and tend the wounds of our troubled souls. To experience the peace and forgiveness of God is truly precious and beyond words.
(N.B. If anyone reading this is on the point of giving up please come and have a chat. Either myself or members of the Pastoral Visiting Team will be more than happy to help you; any discussions are in complete confidence.)
On the point of relationships St Thomas à Becket Church will shortly be running two courses The Alpha course & The Marriage Course.
What is Alpha? - Alpha is an opportunity to explore the meaning of life in an informal, fun and friendly environment.
Who is Alpha for? - Alpha is for everyone; no question is out of bounds and you are free to discuss as much or as little as you wish. We don’t assume any background knowledge of or belief in Christianity and everyone is welcome.
Introductory evening and meal Tuesday 14th September - watch out for the posters or sign up on the church website www.framfieldchurch.org.uk.
The second course is The Marriage Course which will run over seven evenings. The aim of the marriage course is to help couples grow closer and build a healthy relationship that will last a lifetime.
Full details at: http://relationshipcentral.org/marriage-course and on the church website.
Blessings to one and all - Chris Lawrence
Do our perceptions of God do justice to His character?
One of the questions Jesus puts to his disciples is “Who do people say I am”? You could equally ask the same question of yourself to someone who has known you for some time and as Jesus did get a variety of answers. Our perception and judgement of others depends mainly on two factors.
Firstly, we view others through a ‘personal lens’ based on our upbringing and experience of interacting with other human beings. Typically when meeting someone for the first time we make a value judgement solely on whether you received a smile or a cheerful hello; whether you were comfortable in their presence or did they have defensive body language and ‘shifty eyes’!
Secondly, we judge over a longer period of time i.e. on what they say or do how they treat you and others, are they kind, trustworthy etc.
Through personal experience it has often been the case that my initial perception of someone has turned out over a period of time to be exactly the opposite. The really chummy ones when you first meet them turn out to be not very nice at all, whereas the ones who you were not quite sure about end up as trusted, lifelong friends.
So much for human relationships, but what about God whom we cannot see yet we still need to make a value judgement on his character; because it is on this judgement that we decide whether we are going to have any sort of relationship with Him.
When Jesus says “Follow Me” He asks us to pitch in everything with Him. To trust Him with everything in life whether it be for us, our family, health, housing, job, finance, food etc. For many that’s a bridge too far and the chief reason for not trusting Him is due to the projection of failed human relationships that are transposed onto God’s character.
The result is that we are not quite sure that this perfect, all loving God, as described in the Bible and personified by Jesus is in fact all that He is cracked up to be. Sad but true. How often have you heard the comment that ‘religion is the source of all wars’, result, ‘I don’t want anything to do with religion’. The door is firmly closed in God’s face.
Thankfully Jesus never came to earth to establish another religion; in fact God hates religion and pious religiosity for its own sake because it inhibits the intimacy of relationship and turns it into a lifeless performance.
God’s heart yearns for a genuine relationship/friendship with each one of us. He is the source that meets our deepest needs that no one or anything else can satisfy and yet we still try to run away, but as the saying goes ‘You can run, but you can’t hide’.
In the parable of the prodigal son when the younger son has demanded his inheritance from his father, left home for a distant land and spent all his money on ‘wild living’ and is now destitute and hungry he finally comes to his senses. He realises that even the servants at the family home now had more that he did so he decides to return home and make a grovelling speech to his father in the hope that he will accept him back in the role of a servant. But what happens? - Luke 15:11-32
"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
"The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.
"But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'
The son clearly misread the character of his father and the reaction he was likely to get when he came home. How many of us can identify with the son? Put our hands up and say ‘yes, I have messed up’, done things and said things I shouldn’t have and now have to live with the regret and the heartache of a broken relationship.
Clearly, the father in the parable is God. But note that despite the son’s speech the father isn’t really listening, there is no word or thought of chastisement (he knows everything anyway) he is just so happy to have his son home. In this light, like the son how many have given God a bad press based on faulty perceptions about His character?
The essence of God’s character is unconditional love and as the bible says ‘Love covers over a multitude of sins”. It is time for you to come home and let your heavenly Father greet you?
Blessings - Chris Lawrence
Easter - Sadness turns to Joy.
Easter rapidly approaches and from a Christian perspective the most important time of the year. Personally I find Easter a time of challenge; a profound mixture of sadness and joy.
Sad from the perspective that Jesus suffered so badly and then died in agony so that sinful humanity could be brought back into relationship with God; but joyful in the knowledge and experience that a new quality of life stretching all the way into eternity was now available to everyone.
Easter is also a symbolic time of year. Spring is almost upon us, the drabness of winter now passed and the countryside coming back to life with bright colourful flowers. Easter eggs are in the shops; symbolic of new life and in the church the focus on the Cross of Christ.
Symbols are important as they convey a whole host of messages to us and the Cross of Christ is no different. To some Jesus dying on the cross is pointless. To others it is merely a fashion accessory and to others a reminder that Jesus personally died for them.
However, we weren’t meant to live in the shadow of the cross but in the light of the resurrection. As Bishop Wallace has often said - ‘We don’t worship a dead hero, we worship the living Lord’.
So often Christianity is viewed as outdated, irrelevant or something to reach out for when life is tough. Truth is, we all go through tough times but religions based on a dead spiritual teacher or moral role models are of no use whatsoever.
Understanding that out of Christ’s death new life would come seems paradoxical but then God does work in mysterious ways. How did Christ view his pending death? The writer of the letter to the Hebrews records this: Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross.
Jesus was looking past the cross to a place of joy and he offers this same joy to each one of us as we believe in him. As he told the disciples; Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.
Have a happy joyful Easter – Chris Lawrence.
Knowing God – how cool is that!
I was reminiscing the other day on my own journey of faith. As an unbeliever I was converted to Christianity mainly through reading the first few chapters of ‘Questions of Life’ by Nicky Gumbel (the book form of the Alpha course).
Friends and family reactions to the news were quite interesting, ranging from “I didn’t know you’d found religion” to “it’s a bit like taking up a new hobby, you’ll get over it”.
The religious reference was something that never seems to go away. If a couple call to discuss the possibility of baptising their child, somewhere within the conversation (if they are not regulars at church) will be the comment “we’re not very religious”. My comment is always the same, “thank goodness for that, neither am I”; next comes the quizzical look!
It is generally acknowledged that a significant number of wars and current global unrest can be attributed to religion or is being carried out in the name of religion. Is it any wonder that people don’t want anything to do with it?
However, in the uniqueness of Christianity the most misunderstood fact is that Christianity is not, and has never been a religion! Jesus Christ never came to earth to start another religion. He came to show us what God was like and to give us, fallen humanity, the way to get back into a right relationship with God.
Relationships are exciting; I love meeting different people, spending time with them and hearing their stories, but how cool is having God as your friend and constant companion? It’s the most fulfilling relationship you can have and one that will outlast all others.
In his book ‘Questions of Life’, Nicky Gumbel speaks about the ‘God shaped hole’ in every human being. Only God can fill it and when He does (or is invited to) life starts to make sense.
Perhaps some will remember the song by U2 ‘I still haven’t found what I’m looking for’. It’s a song that expresses a search to find the meaning of life and true fulfilment.
If you are living with the feeling that there is something missing in your life but you can’t quite put your finger on it, then check out David’s words from Psalm 61:1 – My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him.
Blessings for the New Year
Good things come in threes.
Time seems to accelerate on the run up to Christmas. As in keeping with many families Christmas takes a lot of organising, presents to buy, cards to write and post, and an abundance of food to buy. By Christmas Day the majority of us are looking forward to a good rest but then there is the planning of the post Christmas diet and the promise that you will use that gym membership in the New Year. Oh, you made that promise last year? Never mind, New Year resolutions; why bother? None of us keep them and if you don’t make any then you can start the New Year guilt free; problem solved! But then again it is good to have some aims in life.
I was mulling over the Christmas story the other day and what came to mind was the part played by three wise men. We are told in Matthew’s gospel that they journeyed from the east and came to Jerusalem. When they arrived they asked "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him." Simple question you may ask but it had huge repercussions. Matthew records that When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.
Herod was not a pleasant individual. He was also prone to a little paranoia on occasion and the three wise men had unwittingly just pushed him over the edge. Perhaps in his own mind if they had come to worship the King of the Jews what place was there for him? So Herod seeks some advice.
4 When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5"In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written:
6" 'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’"
I always find this the most amazing part of the story. The three wise men had taken the trouble to travel a great distance following the star to worship the child Jesus, the King of the Jews, yet the chief priests in Jerusalem who knew exactly where He was yet couldn’t be bothered to go and see him - perhaps they had eaten too much turkey?
7 Then Herod called the wise men secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him."
‘Go and make a careful search for the child’. That was the best piece of advice Herod could have given them. So the search continued following the star until it stopped over the stable in Bethlehem. This was the moment of great joy.
On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. Gifts indeed fit for the true King.
The point of the story is that, if something is worth having then often it takes some effort. The majority of Jews in Jerusalem just didn’t recognise Jesus for who He was and is. As Jesus grew up he would demonstrate that He came from heaven and through His death and resurrection that he holds the keys to life and death. Eternal life for all who believe in Him.
And what of the three wise men? Well, their journey in one respect was complete. They had met with the true King and worshipped Him; their careful search had paid off, wisdom had prevailed. Perhaps the words found in the book of Jeremiah could be applied directly to the three wise men and us: You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you," declares the Lord (Jeremiah 29:13-14).
One branch of wisdom is learning from our mistakes. But as I often tell the children, true wisdom is learning from other peoples mistakes. Not finding God has eternal consequences.
It is perhaps the saddest of mistakes when Jesus is just disregarded or just glossed over as a figure from history, an excuse for having a time of feasting and a few days off at the end of another year. So if you don’t know God or have never considered looking for Him how about making your own search in the New Year?
May God’s blessing be with you all this Christmas
Rev Chris Lawrence
Hell - The unmentionable topic?
There don't seem to be many "fire and brimstone" preachers around anymore, warning humanity that they are risking the fires of Hell unless they repent and turn to Christ.
During a brief visit to Birmingham I innocently stumbled upon two Christians who were preaching in the street about Hell and damnation. I must admit I was quite shocked and in my naivety asked why they weren't preaching about the love and compassion of Christ in their attempt to attract people to Christianity. The reply was equally startling "doesn't work here in Birmingham, they are too thick skinned". Apparently, fire and brimstone cuts it on the streets of Birmingham!
Hell is not spoken about very much these days. I am never sure whether it's just not politically correct or whether Christians just don't have the stomach for it anymore! Interestingly, Jesus spoke more about Hell than He did of Heaven in the New Testament!
My personal brush with Hell was during a series on Ignatian spirituality at college, where a prayerful meditation was carried out asking God to show you what Hell is like. My revelation of Hell is perhaps not for the pages of the Parish Newsletter at the moment, however it was very reminiscent of the account of the Rich Man and the beggar Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).
You may be asking the question "what's the point of asking God to show you what Hell is like?" I suppose the simplest answer is to say that unless you know what you have been saved from, then you may never fully appreciate the significance of the crucifixion or Christ as "Saviour".
I have often wondered whether the slave trader John Newton had a robust vision of Hell when he wrote: Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me; I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.
The main reason for bringing up the question of Hell is to promote the Alpha Course! Alpha is the perfect place to openly discuss any question regarding life and the Christian faith. Alpha is not all heavy discussion; it is also good fun and an opportunity to meet others who are also searching for some answers to the bigger questions in life.
Rev Chris Lawrence
From the Parish Newsletter August/September 2009:
Standing at the Crossroads
The weather is fantastic at the moment and it's just great to be alive enjoying the sunny weather; and if you haven't been yet; the coast is lovely.
Personally I find the simplicity of the seaside the perfect place to reflect on life and the future, but also a place to enjoy the moment.
We live in a fast paced society often rushing from one thing to another but for our own health and the well being of our loved ones we must take some time out. In family life vain promises will seldom do and actually putting a date in a diary or on the family calendar is what's actually needed.
In my Civil Service days I worked with many men and women who worked really hard with the aim that retirement would be the place to slow down, sit back and enjoy all the things they had worked so hard to achieve. The only problem was that the vast majority died less than two years into their retirement; a sobering but true statistic.
In recent weeks the news papers and news reports have continued to bring further revelations about the death of Michael Jackson and it has been difficult in some respects not to think about his life and the suddenness of his death. His musical talent probably brought pleasure to billions but his personal life in the spotlight of the media was often portrayed as somewhat off-beam. To some his death was seen as a tragedy, to others a merciful release from a life of frustration and contradiction.
I tend to go with the latter view - but it also begs the question that if Michael Jackson knew he was to die suddenly would he have done anything differently?
The early death of a loved one, or indeed a celebrity often brings us up short as we ponder the question "what about my life" where am I going, do I have any direction, am I content with my lot or am I living a lie?
This week I have been reflecting on a verse from the prophet Jeremiah - he writes:-
This is what the LORD says:
"Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.
Life could be viewed as a journey interspersed with crossroads moments were a decision needs to be made. What is certain, is that life never stands still and if we never consider were we are going then our circumstances, or indeed someone else may make the decision for us for the next part of our journey.
Latterly Michael Jackson's life appeared to be one where he was surrounded with people offering him advice and direction. Some of it was probably good, but some not so good.
"Life" can mean many things to many people but a life that lacks direction is really no life at all.
Jesus described Himself as "The Way the Truth and the Life" and He also spoke about Himself as the "Gateway", though which anyone can enter into a new life. A life with meaning, direction and purpose and at the end a place in heaven. He said - "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it" .
Like it or not we are all spiritual beings as well as having flesh and blood. But is often the spiritual side of life that glossed over or at best seen as of secondary importance. This in itself is a tragedy as it when we seek God first that we find that rest of life automatically falls into place!
In addition to standing and looking at the crossroads the Lord says ask for the ancient paths; ask where the good way is, and walk in it . One of today's problems is that people don't take the time to stop and "ask" for Godly direction. Is it any wonder that there are so many restless souls?
Rev Chris Lawrence
Is today a crossroads day for you ? Which road are you going to take?
From the Parish Newsletter June/July 2009:
Why not try something from California?
Some years ago Rev Nicky Gumbel and the team at Holy Trinity Brompton were faced with a dilemma; should they invite American evangelist John Wimber to speak at the church in London or not?
John Wimber, based in California had become quite famous in the USA as an evangelist that God had greatly used in the ministry of healing. John had ministered in many large gatherings and God had performed through him what only can be described as some major miracles. The blind had regained their sight, the deaf could hear again and the crippled and lame began to walk; classic New Testament stuff!
Nicky certainly had some reservations. Despite John's reputation did he really want to be one of those responsible for letting loose a perhaps, brash outlandish American on the congregation?
Trying to discern God's will on this matter turned out to be a protracted process. For Nicky the answer came when he was passing a huge billboard in London, which was advertising Californian wines; the headline read "Why not try something from California?" At that moment he knew what God's will was. John was duly invited and ministered in London and many other places in the UK, and yes he was the real deal. God did amazing things through this man who was not in the slightest bit brash, instead very humble. Sarah and I had the pleasure of meeting John at a conference in the Brighton Centre in 1995 and God did amazing things through him there.
The point of telling the story is that you never know whether you may like something unless you are prepared to give it a go. There are those who will only drink French wines, but wines from California, Australia and other parts of the world are now common place and very good.
The same analogy could be used in attending a church service. You never know if you will like it or not unless you are prepared to give it a try.
Prior to my conversion passing a church in a village or town was just like passing a shop that sold goods that I thought I had absolutely no interest in. I just walked on by.
Similarly, in every community there are folk that have never set foot inside a church, don't know anything about it or what goes on during a "service".
If church is not on your radar then it is simply dismissed.
However, to dismiss the church would be a gross injustice to the God who placed it there, as it is the place where people, more often than not, meet with the living God and over a period of time find their lives being transformed into something far more glorious than they could have ever imagined! It is indeed a place of challenge and a place where we can have our horizons stretched to beyond the bounds of mediocrity that we so often settle for. It is also a place where we come face to face with ourselves and sometimes that is scary! But the God of all forgiveness and grace is there accepting us just as we are.
Never been to church before?
"Why not try something from Framfield?" - You are assured of a warm welcome and you may just enjoy it!
Rev Chris Lawrence
From the Parish Newsletter April/May 2009:
What's inside your Easter egg?
Personally I am not much of a winter person. Short days and long cold nights, ice and snow are not my idea of fun especially when you have to get up early in the morning. The countryside has gone to sleep and everything looks dead and barren. In the depths of winter have you ever wondered whether the trees will ever have leaves on them again or will the shrubs in the garden ever produce new shoots when they just look like dead brown sticks? And then it happens, spring arrives and with it the miracle of rebirth, green shoots appear and the bright yellow daffodils adorn the verges once again. The sunshine and the flowers certainly give joy to the heart and the hope of a great summer.
The seasons of the year and particularly the season of Easter have many parallels. The life of Christ in his last few weeks on earth is perhaps the most poignant. At the height of Jesus' popularity we see him riding on a donkey into Jerusalem thronged by crowds of people waving palm branches, shouting "Hosanna to the Son of David!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" This was indeed the height of summer for Jesus. But how quickly winter came upon him; within four days Jesus was betrayed, arrested, given a false trial, and sentenced to death. Before the Roman Governor Pilate and an angry crowd the once joyous shouts of "Hosanna" are now replaced with "Crucify him!" Jesus is mercilessly flogged and crucified and by 3pm he is dead!
It was bad enough for Jesus, but what of his disciples? All their hopes had been dashed. They had left everything to follow him. He was the man who held so much promise for the future and now he was dead! For them this is the depth of their winter, the longest and coldest of nights.
Despite Jesus telling them on many occasions that He must die and be raised to life again after three days they never really understood.
But spring was about to happen and despite the seeming impossibility of the situation Jesus was raised to life again. Not in his previous battered body but in his new resurrection body. The first to be told and accept the good news are Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James when they visit the tomb and find it empty. "The women hurry away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell the disciples" (Matt 28:8).
You may be wondering what all this has to do with the contents of Easter eggs? Easter eggs all look roughly the same from the outside yet some are full of sweets or chocolate and others are just empty. Human beings all look roughly the same from the outside yet some are full and others are empty. From a spiritual perspective the human condition cannot tolerate a void. There is a constant desire to be filled with something that satisfies and people try various ways to fill the gap i.e. money, possessions, drugs, alcohol, sexual promiscuity etc; the list goes on, yet none of these give long term satisfaction. Only in relationship with God do we find the void totally filled and experience lasting satisfaction.
The death and resurrection of Jesus was the turning point in history that enabled every human being to cross over from death to life. We are by nature sinful people but through Christ our sins have been wiped out by him on the Cross and new life can begin again - it's there for the asking, and when we do God comes to live in us by his Holy Spirit.
Spring turns to summer and the trees produce fruit and likewise the Holy Spirit produces fruit in our lives. The Apostle Paul tells us of the fruit we can expect to be growing in our lives in relationship with God. " But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23).
What would you prefer to be in your Easter egg?
From the Parish Newsletter February/March 2009:
2009 - A "Go it alone" year or the year to "Go with God"?
There is a saying that says "When I thought things couldn't get any worse, they did!"
This is certainly the position that many are already finding themselves in as we enter this New Year.
The economic down turn is biting hard; who would ever have thought that some of our long standing high street stores would be shutting up shop and be reduced to selling off the remaining shop fittings?
A gap on the high street is one thing but the loss of a job and the stability of a regular income quite another. In our material world serious financial worries are perhaps the number one concern of most families trying to make ends meet.
In the western world the true "God" has been replaced by the "Money God". The more you have the more secure you feel. And although money can't buy you love or happiness it can certainly make life more bearable and enjoyable providing you have enough of it.
Unfortunately, as we are all aware reliance on money is a falsehood; it's just that we largely choose to ignore the fact. But an overdrawn bank account or the words "redundancy", or "negative equity" quickly reawaken our senses.
A crisis situation however is not all bad news as it forces us to readdress our priorities in life and look at the big picture. When your back is firmly against the wall and all human help has failed you then God may come to mind. Obviously calling upon God shouldn't be a last resort, someone that we keep like a fire extinguisher in a red box on the wall with the notice above it that says "In case of emergency, break glass". On a sinking ship or a plane that is spiralling to earth there are not many passengers who are not praying "God, help me!"
I firmly believe that a simple honest prayer always gets God's attention. But what then, does God say "why should I help you, you only want my help because you are in a situation you can't solve yourself?" Such a suggestion however would be unjust and not even enter the mind of God simply because it is not in keeping with His nature - "The Lord is full of compassion and mercy" (James 5:11) and as St John reminds us "God is love".
God's intention is that each one of us should be living in a right relationship with Him rather than attempting to go it alone. Knowing God as your helper and provider, ever present in times of trouble is not just a great comfort but a living reality for all those who have invited God into their lives.
In times of trouble or great distress many utter the words "If God really does exist why doesn't He do something". Well He will, but God (like the perfect gentleman) never forces Himself into our lives but graciously and patiently waits for our invitation. That's the choice. So the question remains; is 2009 going to be another "Go it alone" year or the year that you "Go with God?"
In the final book of the Bible Jesus said - Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.
Can you hear Him knocking on your door?
Have a happy and blessed New Year.
From the Parish Newsletter December 2008/January 2009:
When OK! is not OK.
OK! Magazine may be regarded by some as harmless entertainment as it endeavours to "raise our eyebrows" as it shares with us the latest in celebrity gossip. Certainly there is no shortage of demand. Despite the downturn in the economy the circulation of OK! in the first half of 2008 rose 9% to 607,048 copies and accounts for being the second most popular magazine in the women's weekly sector.
We know the word but what exactly is gossip? Gossip is defined as: Rumour or talk of a personal, sensational, or intimate nature and the one who gossips as: A person who habitually spreads intimate or private rumours or facts.
For us mere mortals who do not aspire to mixing with the celebrities, the weekly dose of gossip may be relatively harmless, primarily because we are suitably detached from it. However, this is not the case when we live in close knit communities.
One the great benefits of living in a village community is the opportunity it offers to make deep and lasting relationships. A trusting and wholesome relationship with a friend of group of friends is a priceless blessing. In life, we all experience the highs and lows, but when life is particularly difficult a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on is often vitally important for our well-being and the well-being of others. What we don't need is the passing on of our most intimate discussions so they become village gossip.
In all relationships, trust and confidentiality go hand in hand and must be maintained. A "friend" who betrays you is no friend at all. Taken to its logical conclusion the one who betrays ends up with no friends or close relationships, simply because they cannot be trusted. The juicy morsel of gossip, which enabled someone to be the centre of attention inevitably, rebounds in self-destruction.
The loss of a friend may be one thing but what of the gossip that is instrumental in the breakdown of a marriage?
Who's going to tell the children "I didn't mean any harm" - is the gossiper going to take the responsibility for their part in the destruction of a family and the future welfare of innocent children?
It has been said that " The most destructive force in the universe is gossip" ; and this is certainly the case in village environments.
There is an old Jewish proverb, which says "What you don't see with your eyes, don't witness with your mouth." The problem with gossip is that there is often little truth in it but as most of us are aware, a half-truth is as good as a lie, but it does the damage all the same.
As human beings we naturally want to trust one another but often we are unaware of the inner motives of those we may confide in and caution is needed. Edgar Watson Howe, Country Town Sayings , 1911 said: When you are in trouble, people who call to sympathise are really looking for the particulars.
Jesus similarly warned about those with mixed motives - "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognise them." (Matt 7:15-16) These words were written ~2000 years ago but in today's world they are even more relevant. A trustworthy person produces "good fruit" which is evident over a period of time. Fruit takes time to grow and likewise trusting relationships need time to grow, but the fruit whether good or bad will become evident!
In all our relationships our motivation should be the way of love and the desire of highest good of those around us. Jesus commands us "Love your neighbour as yourself' and "Do to others, as you would have them do to you '.
There is a saying; "If the hat fits, wear it' but when it comes to gossiping then it might just be time to reflect on the above and hang up the hat!
Rev Chris Lawrence