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Searching for Peace at Christmas

Searching for Peace at Christmas

“Here, take this.” Looking down I found in my hands a lovely copy of the Bhagavad Gita. “We want to give you something to help to find inner peace this Christmas,” said the young lady who plucked me from the streaming Christmas crowd in the centre of town. “Are you from this city,” she asked? “I am,” I replied. She smiled and proceeded to tell me how special this time of year is to her and her religious beliefs. I smiled back. “Yes, December is a pretty special month for me too.” A short conversation, that was much warmer than the street itself, then ensued right across from Marks and Spencer.

This happened just a couple of days ago and I’m still smiling about it. Oxford, like many cities in the UK, is a multicultural city, full of people of differing beliefs and different religious and cultural backgrounds. As the lights go on and the trees go up and the shoppers search for ultimate list-fulfilment, the rush that results often leaves us breathless until we stop on Christmas Day.

One of the titles of Jesus is ‘Prince of Peace’*. Sounds almost ironic, doesn’t it, amidst pre-Christmas madness?

We know that the setting for that first Christmas also lacked that a peaceful presence. A country occupied by a foreign military power may not be Debenhams on Chritmas Eve, but it sure isn’t a Spa room full of candles either. A country groaning under the weight of oppression was seeking a liberator, a king to lead them to freedom and peaceful prosperity.

Their yearning was fulfilled by the birth of a little boy to Jewish parents in Bethlehem. This little boy, foretold by the prophets, announced by the Angels, would grow up to lead a movement that would change the world forever. But even more than that, this little boy really did grow into his title, ‘Prince of Peace’.

Peace. The absolution of anxiety and worry. We all want it, and in various ways all will seek it this Christmas. Be it through family (or not), or presents, or a little tipple, or time away from work … We will seek to quiet the chaos when we can to enjoy a moment of peace whilst we can.

We might even turn to a book, or meditation, or some other spiritual practice to help. And we may even achieve some measure of calm for ourselves through these things.

But Jesus Christ offers a deeper and truer peace. Yes, the hustle and bustle of life wearies us and demands rest. That rest is good and proper. But Jesus’ peace touches a condition far too deep for our own efforts alone to fix.

When our families get together at Christmas there can be much joy and fun. But when there is strife and brokenness at home, then joy can be painfully elusive. God is described as a Father, who loves us and who longs to be in joyful relationship with us. And Jesus? The Prince of Peace? Well, he introduces us to our Heavenly Father.

Christmas is a time of fun and laughter. Hopefully a little break in our lives to relax with those we love. Soon it will be over and we will be back to work. We can bring a certain measure of peace to our lives, but is fleeting and it is never certain. Jesus Christ – whose birthday we celebrate together this Christmas – offers a peace to everyone that is sure, steady, and inexhaustible.

“Hark the herald angels sing ‘Glory to the newborn King!’”

*Foretold by Isaiah the prophet (Isaiah 9:6)

No I don’t really get it

I recently had an e-mail from Facebook (FB) with a link to ‘Privacy Basics’ – so I thought, having been a FB user for a few years, “Right I’m going to take some time to understand about privacy, who can and can’t see what and about likes and tagging and who can do what and what can be reviewed and deleted and how…. all that stuff.” After a simple click, what came up was a lovely simple step by step introduction to privacy, nicely presented, click by click, step by step. But did I feel any the wiser after doing this for 20 minutes? HARDLY, NO!

OK I learned about one or two buttons which can do this or that, but what I’ve never got in my head is the ‘architecture’ of the whole thing and how all the bits relate to one another. I don’t really get the relationship between profile / news feed and timeline (please don’t respond to this e-mail with a long screed of information to explain, I’m just sharing in an honest way that I’m a child of my time). All that I don’t get I’m happy to label ‘mystery’, happy to trust others who do get it to point out stuff I need to know (thank you, you know who you are) and for those I upset because I don’t get it, please be forgiving if I inappropriately tag you or comment or whatever. If you’re not happy with this arrangement please unfriend me – how do you do that?!

I suspect that this sort of trusted ‘unknowing’ is how many Christians view the bible. They don’t really get the architecture of the whole thing: how the OT and NT relate to each other, how the different covenants connect, who is friends with whom and why, who is in charge of this or that at a point in history, and how …. and so on. One of the privileges of having done some theological training is that I’ve had a chance to study the architecture of the bible. I’m no expert but at least I’ve a working knowledge of how it all hangs together – if you ever get the chance for some sort of theological study, I recommend it!

We’re just approaching Advent, the season in which we connect the 1st coming of Christ with the 2nd coming of Christ and see ‘writ large’ God’s salvation plan – past, present and future – our Father God demonstrating his justice and grace. It’s hard to make sense of it all, the deep shape of things, the architecture is complex, but it’s worth persevering with because it throws up awesome insights into the nature and ways of God that are enough to blow your mind and bend your knees to the floor.

FB will come and go, hey ho, but our God is eternal, glorious and just, may your Advent be blessed as you ponder these deeper things.

Yours in Him Stephen (Gunner) Girling

What God asks of a man

A man once asked God, “What can I do for you, Lord?”
Worship and praiseGod replied, “Well, thanks very much, son, but I have been doing alright without you up to now! What you can do, though, is act justly, love mercy and walk humbly before me!”

Many Christian men have been called to situations that are difficult, others to those that are blessed. One man may have toiled for years with little gain – another may have seen wonderful miracles. Who, in these instances, is the better Christian man?

Neither, so long as both follow God’s instruction. No matter what the external circumstances men are called simply to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with their God. Sometimes that is made hard and a real struggle by the situations around us. At other times it is a wonderful and enriching experience as we see lives changed.

But it is not always easy to follow these instructions. Men like to lead, to be full of ideas, to be initiators and to be forging ahead. Perhaps it is the challenge of surrendering to God’s will that makes us uncomfortable with “walking humbly”?

May we all listen to our hearts and ask God to guide us. May he either give us the courage, resolve and inspiration to remain in our places of trial and struggle or a clear sign as to where he wants to lead us in the future.

The pressure to provide

I can call upon my own experiences when I say, that especially around the Christmas period the temptation to gamble was at its greatest.
There can be many different contributing factors to this but I will briefly touch on one.
“The expectation and pressure to provide”

For some this can be the catalyst that plunges them into desperate measures.
This is where gambling can seem to be an attractive option to ease the financial burden and a time when the gambling industry are quick to take advantage of all the tools available to them, through advertising on T.V., mobile devices, and computing technology. Unfortunately those who have very little can be enticed as they see this as a way out, a way to provide for the demands put on them.
Of course gambling is not a way out, but it often lures people into a false believe that it will be the answer, in reality, it more often leads to, family breakdown, debt, poverty, mental illness, crime and attempted suicide.

As Christians we can make a difference, in fact we are called to do so. We are the salt of the earth and a light shining brightly.
Look out for your fellow Man, if you have suspicion that someone is having problems with gambling, then visit the Gameserve website and click on “Need Support link” which will lead you to organisations that can give you expert advice.

Here are two interesting facts

  1. In the UK in 2005 The Gambling Act classified gambling as a “Legitimate Entertainment Activity”
  2. In 2013 for the first time, the U.S. Diagnostic and Statistical manual of mental disorders recognised gambling as an Addiction, putting it on par with Drugs and Alcohol.

I would like to acknowledge publicly the support that CVM have given to me personally and Gamserve, it has been very much appreciated.

I wish you all a Happy Christmas
Ian Bartlett, Gamserve

Old people

Advent and Christmas…are about old people. Shall I say that again? Advent and Christmas are about old people. But what about the children? someone asks. And I have to reply that they don’t feature in the story.

The Advent stories begin with an elderly couple, Elizabeth and Zechariah, he a priest helping out in his retirement years, she a childless senior citizen. The Christmas stories end with another elderly couple. One is Simeon, a God-fearing man who regularly visits the temple. The other is Anna, an 84-year-old widow and prophetess. They are the people who witness Jesus being dedicated to God by his parents in accordance with Jewish tradition, and who recognise his uniqueness. And in between, we have three wise men, of indeterminate age, though if Eastern tradition is to be acknowledged, wisdom should be considered as the gift of years, not of youth.

I claim Advent and Christmas as a time for adults, not out of any dislike for children, but because I fear that by viewing these seasons as if they were devoted to and for toddlers, we avoid one of the quirks of God’s nature. God expects old dogs to do new tricks. God expects people whom the world would deem past it to initiate.

The beginning of Jewish-Christian history involves an old man, Abraham, a nonagenarian, and his equally aged wife Sarah, from whom God maintains a nation will spring. He could have chosen a fertile upwardly mobile pair of newlyweds. We would have. But God is not us. God expects old people— to be the sowers of new seed; to be midwives of change; to be the ones who recognise and name the new directions which society has to take; to be the ones who applaud and encourage young potential. Elizabeth and Zechariah become parents in their old age and Simeon and Anna recognise the uniqueness in Mary’s tiny baby, because God will not have people marginalised or written off on account of age.
And when we see three wise men worshipping Jesus and then going home by another way, we see God’s belief and expectation that older folk can change and will change when they recognise the truth.

John Bell,
Iona Community
(BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day from few years ago)


OuijaWeird supernatural event or trick of the mind?
Demonic activity or innocent fun?
Does it really matter either way?

Whatever side of the fence you sit: belief in the demonic or explained away happenings of the ouija board.

As a Christian there is a very real danger and risk. Over the last number of weeks yet another film has been released where the star of the show is a Ouija board. For those who don’t know the so called board game is believed to be able to contact the dead and relay information back from the grave. The age old quest to know what happens after death is aroused by the promise of answers through this ‘telephone box’ of the dead.
Some years ago my life was turned upside down by this dark game and I was moments away from death on a railway line in Surrey, you can read more about that in my testimony book Out of Darkness. I was possessed, a middle class white Surrey boy was taken over by the demonic. However, the thing that intrigues me now looking back is there were three of us who went through this dark episode of the occult game ouija and now as adults some years later, there are three different responses. There’s one who completely denies it ever happened, that it was all made up in our minds, there is one who knows it happened but hasn’t quite worked out why and then there is me, convinced it happened and convinced that Jesus rescued me from my dance with the devil. Why is this important to you? Why does it matter?
I think these three responses will represent three likely responses you will get as a Christian when you talk about the occult and when you talk about the Gospel. One of my favourite films, The Usual Suspects had the line “the greatest trick the devil will ever do is convince the world that he didn’t exist” and that’s where the mystery of the ouija operates, you can explain it away, since the dawn of creation Satan has been heard to say “did God really say” to give us doubt in God. You see, that is the real danger and the real question, not whether the ouija board is real or not but is God real.

My fear with this new film is that the devil will either convince the audience that the supernatural is make believe or that it’s real and you should follow his path.
I could list you out case studies of demonic activity through ouija boards, I could probably fill several articles with them. I could tell you of a time when a girl with demons inside her looked me straight in the eyes and in a different voice told me to leave her alone, others who have watched horror films and invited evil into their lives and been near to suicide, or about a house plagued by physical throwing of objects. However my greater desire is to ask you that question does the devil exist? If he does what is he doing?

If we go back to the first encounter with the devil in the garden (Gen 3) then we see his first action is to cause doubt, his second action is to question the goodness of God.

While we dress the devil up in a red outfit in horns he wins a subtle mind war convincing the world he doesn’t really exist. While we dress him up in a cloud of darkness with huge power he has won another mind war convincing people he has the answers that we too can have access to that power. The Ouija is just one way that the devil offers the deception of power of the knowing what lies beyond the grave.

All the while the one with the true power, the one who truly exists above all, enters humanity to die upon a cross to defeat the powers of darkness, to offer his goodness and the answer to what is beyond the grave. For those that see and love this truth there is everlasting joy. For those who don’t, there is an eternity with the deceiver. There is a darkness but there is an even greater light and it shines brightest in the dark!

Our Fathers

Is it possible to overstate the importance of a father?

Keith-HarperMy father is 85 and finally showing his age as he copes with failing physical and mental abilities. Old age is not for the faint-hearted. Living overseas means that I cannot be with him as much as I would like but I think of him every day and increasingly reflect on the profound influence he’s had on my life. I praise God for his life of hard work, integrity, constancy and discipline which is his example for me to follow.

Even more so given the fact that I am newly returned from a fourth mission trip to Romania where I led a building team to help the Roma gypsies living in (literally) the trash belt outside Cluj-Napoca. (How a European country can allow its inhabitants to subsist in this way beggars belief.) One of the many challenges the Roma face, is delinquent husbands who leave their families to fend for themselves, often with teenage mothers as the head. The loss of the father makes families’ lives doubly difficult and leaves its members vulnerable to abuse and entrapment in a vicious cycle of poverty without an obvious means of escape. These absent fathers are also a profound influence but in a negative way.

Fathers can, of course, be physically present in the home but mentally absent (see this article in the FT (07/10/14) for a moving account of a father who realised this before it was too late.)

Thanking Our Father for our fathers.

A father to the fatherless…is God in his holy dwelling
Psalms 68:5

Code Ode: In East Midlands Fields

In Flander’s fields the poppies blow…” This is the first line of one of the most famous of the WW1 poems (By John McCrae, 1915).

And you will know the truth and the truth shall set you free”, John 8.32

I am the way, the truth and the life”, John 14.6.

I wrote the poem below, on and around 11th Nov. 2014, the Centenary of Armistice Day, after an early morning train journey to London on the East Midlands Line.

Recite this out loud:

In East Midlands Fields

In the carriage’s sweet limbo, slung between
The first and last, early morning stations,
Some, still in the night before’s delicious dream,
Dreamt smilingly through, we hope, other’s destinations.
Some gamed on mobiles and other streamed distractions.
Some with seeming vacant stare, pierced the sky,
Focussed Londonwards towards the day’s transactions.
I assumed all felt on track, with no need to justify
What they hoped life might have in reservation.

Then up the carriage trench, cheerful, chatty, charming,
Came the poppy man, selling floral blood spurts of a nation.
“Want a poppy? Or are you already poppied?”–Quite disarming.
That day just one or two older people bought them.
I had one at home from someone else’s shopping list.
How long would we remember those who fought then?
I joined the mute conspiracy that death does not exist
As the carriage largely, silently, politely ignored him.

An Eastern European pushed a wagon bringing tea.
Our occupation with the poppy might have bored him
Whose freedom’s history crossed another century, a sea
Of blood and hardship, before breaking through to the East Midlands Line.
Through the window I could see, distant, solitary, free
A man in fields clear of poppies and unscarred in our time.
How forever to remember them?
By seeking for the truth and the truth shall make us free.


pacemaker-blogAre you making a good pace in life towards your vision?

Some of us over 50`s need a pacemaker, or a heart bypass, or a stent to keep us going.
As we get older there are major hurdles that we continually have to take steps to overcome. Things we are going through: ill health, moving house, financial problems or depression.

The reason I am writing this is because I need my pacemaker changed. We only have one heart and if it stops we have problems! It concentrates the grey matter to count your blessings and realise that every day is a bonus.
After a while we get complacent and take things for granted again. Or we get dragged down and need the batteries recharged.
It reminds me of someone walking along the beach, there are two sets of footprints in the sand, then they become one set. It is that time in life when we need Christ to lift us up and carry us to the safe shore.
The challenge is knowing we have to go at his pace and be in step with what he wants from our lives as a pacemaker or a peacemaker for Him.

What a difference a letter makes!

I have no idea who stuck the wings on

Stuck-the-wings-onWe hurtled along the runway at nearing 300 miles an hour, with a roaring and rumbling which is typical of nearly 300 tonnes of metal, passengers and baggage trying to defeat gravity in a desperate attempt to lift itself from the ground. There was a bump, and my stomach tried to leave its normal location, as the nose lifted, the rumbling became quieter and the Boeing 777 clawed its way into the sky. I knew it was clawing its way because the engines took on a howl as they worked hard to lift 300 of us eventually towards Japan. There was a whine and a thump as the wheels locked home, the engines eventually became a comfortable hiss and we were on our way.

An hour or two earlier I had handed a good number of my possessions to a lady who promptly allowed them to disappear into a mysterious cavern along with another 3000 bags. Possibly more considering the vast numbers of cases of the family in front of me at the bag drop.

Before that I had been happy to give up a cold windy station in North Yorkshire for a 140 mile an hour train, driven by – well I don’t actually know the name of the driver. Come to that I don’t know the lady who kindly took my bags, and even though the captain of flight 005 did tell me his name, and that of his co-pilot I was more engaged with the menu for the flight meals at the time. (sorry captain)

Romans 15:13
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

I look out of the window, from 35,000 feet and I have no idea who stuck the wings on this plane. In fact I have no idea about any of the people who have been involved in my journey. But I am trusting each and every one of them.

The driver of the train to be alert to the track, the lady at the drop off that she labelled my baggage correctly, the pilots and crew of the plane, and those who built it, who knows where and when.

I have no doubts that the wheels will come down and lock into place when we need them, that the pilot will land us accurately and safely, that the engines will howl once again to aid the slowing of the plane. I trust them all.

How easily I trust. But does this level of trust really translate into trusting God as much?

I don’t think twice about trusting my life in the hands of the airplane pilots, but I make such a fuss when I am trusting God; Can I? Can’t I? is He listening? Has He seen the difficulty I am in? Will he answer my prayer?

I just jump on the train, thankful it has arrived, but I dither and doubt Gods will for me when His opportunities come along.

I simply hand over personal stuff to check in staff, but I weave complex and deep prayers over the smallest detail when I need to make a decision about my giving.

If I can so easily trust those who “stuck” the wings on this plane, shouldn’t I be able to trust even more a God who promises to look after his people with care compassion and perfect love?

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