20th January was identified as Blue Monday. It was the Monday of the third week of the new year which is associated with high suicide rates as people fail to come to terms with a cold January, the arrival of Christmas credit card bills, the distance from the arrival of Spring, and much more. All of us, to a greater or lesser extent, experience highs and lows that are often associated with external factors that we cannot control. Our greatest safeguard against such things is endeavouring to keep our own mental wellbeing in good order so that we build resilience into ourselves. This is not always easy as we are complex beings each with our own set of triggers that can take us in all kinds of directions.
To help us, God gives us His peace. Philippians 4:7 says, ‘And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’ This verse is given in the context of dealing with anxiety. The peace of God is his gift to us. I pray that in these days you will be filled with the peace of God so that you are able to overcome the anxieties and stresses of the season.
God Bless, Richard
Like most people of a certain age, I struggle to maintain my weight. I finished last year a stone heavier than I began it. Since the beginning of this year, through a combination of regular exercise, portion control, a change of diet and self-discipline, I am within touching distance of being back where I was a year ago. I will then need to continue doing all these things to maintain it. In all of this, I am no different to anyone else but I do want to maintain a level of fitness and health that will sustain me into the future.
Our spiritual life is no different. If we are to retain our spiritual fitness and health, we need to include in our lives the spiritual disciplines that will sustain it. This includes regular exercise through prayer and reading of the word. It means exercising portion control regarding what we allow our minds to dwell on through television, radio or other media. We may even need to change our diet by using daily reading notes, commentaries and other aids to help us understand the Word. But most of all, we need self-discipline to put all of these things in place. The church at large is full of flabby Christians. It is time to get fit and healthy so that we ‘run with endurance the race that is set before us’ (Hebrews 12:1).
God bless, Richard
On my travels, I never cease to be amazed and frustrated at the sensitivity of the person scanner at Dubai International Airport. On the way to India, I was stripped down to my jeans, T-shirt, shoes and underwear but still managed to set off the sensor. On my way back, I thought I would pre-empt it and take my shoes off before passing through. Failed again! An alarm sounded, at which point I said to the security officer, ‘What more do you want me to take off?’ I am sure the day will come when I will be standing nearly naked in the middle of Dubai airport being frisked by a burly man determined to find something potentially dangerous on my person! How a pair of rubber soled shoes with leather uppers and no trace of metal can set off a sensor is beyond me. I am not alone in falling foul of these scanners as a trail of people are sent back through to discard further items before setting off the alarm once more. I wish they would get an engineer to turn down the sensitivity a little.
Sometimes, we can all be a little over-sensitive. Life’s circumstances and experiences can cause us to overreact when someone says something out of turn to us, or we can find ourselves being overly emotional at the slightest thing. I am far more likely to cry at a movie on a plane, especially if I have been away for a couple of weeks. Whilst such responses are a natural part of being human, each of us must be careful that our reactions are not destructive to those around us. If somebody does react in a way that we find difficult, it is also important for each one of us to give grace to one another and not let it destroy our unity.
Sometimes, in the midst of all I am doing, I can become weary. This tiredness is not through lack of sleep particularly, but through lack of space. Whilst I try to build downtime into my routine, at times unavoidable things encroach on that space and that does not always leave sufficient recovery time. I do try to guard my Friday (day off), and generally succeed, but unfortunately, the rest of the world does not work on a Sunday to Thursday basis and things crop up that have to be done on a Friday. I am sure we all have such challenges in the busyness of modern life.
At such times of tiredness, two scriptures stand out for me. The first is Psalm 23, where we see the shepherd caring for his sheep: ‘he restores my soul’. Sometimes we need to have our soul restored in order to function and that can happen as we take time to wait upon the Lord. The second scripture is Matthew 11:28: ‘Come unto me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest’. This is a promise of God that, once more, the rest of God that restores our wellbeing is with Jesus.
If you are tired, weary or burdened, come to the Lord; wait upon him; rest in Him, and see if he will not restore your soul.
As I sit here trying to compose my sermon for this coming Sunday, thoughts of the world around me flood my mind. The unity across denominations that I witnessed at Swanwick this week, despite differences, stands in stark contrast to the posturing and disunity that we see in the world around us, especially in the Brexit negotiations. Added to this is the news of storm disasters around the world, the near starvation of 5 million children in Yemen caused by another needless war, the infighting of the government and the anti -semitism of the opposition… the list could go on. This all signals the fact that we live in a broken world. Politicians do not have the answers – most of them seem motivated by self-interest. There is only one answer to the brokenness of this world and that is Jesus. He is the one who was broken on behalf of the world to bring healing to the nations.
One day he will return and fix this world but in the meantime, he commissions us to be agents of his wholeness and salvation. We may not be able to fix the world but we can, through Jesus, administer to others the healing that Jesus has given to us.
God bless, Richard
Last night I watched The Viceroy’s House – a film that came out last year (the 70th anniversary of
Indian independence). It presents a picture of Earl Mountbatten as the last Viceroy of India leading up to independence and
partition caught in the crossfire of vested interest. On the one hand was the British Government seeking to secure access to
Middles Eastern oil; on another side was Jinnah, determined to set up an independent Muslim state (Pakistan); then there was Nehru who wanted India to stay together under the Congress Party (largely Hindu); finally there was Ghandi who was only really
interested in an independent India. Mountbatten is depicted trying to manage all of these interests whilst, at the same time,
being stitched up by all parties. The result was the biggest mass migration in known history (14 million people displaced from their homes and over 1 million killed as a result of the fighting between Muslims and Hindus that proceeded from the tearing up of the country).
Vested interest often doesn’t see the bigger picture. The pursuit of our own personal goals at the expense of all else will always produce unwanted consequences. In the kingdom of God, there is no room for vested interest – it will only produce division. This kingdom is one in which our interests are subsumed in the pursuit of God’s; where our will aligns with his will and where we set our objectives on a higher calling – to see his kingdom come and his will done on earth as it is in heaven. That comes about through unity of purpose and commitment to His cause. It involves denial of our own self-will. It involves seeing the bigger picture – that we are part of an everlasting movement that will result in seeing Jesus crowned as king of a united universe under his headship (Ephesians 1:10). Let us set our hearts on his purposes and not just our own.