Thinking Thursday: Are you listening to Jesus?

(Wikimedia)

(Wikimedia)

As Christians of course we would say we always listen to Jesus. But what did he say to you? What have you done about it? The answer too often is: I was too busy / he didn’t speak clearly / I didn’t like what he said.

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good – except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’ ” “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. (Mark 10:17-22)

It’s not about the money. If you were to sell everything you have and give to the poor, it may not be the test for you that it was for that young man. The point is – he held something in higher esteem than God.

In the film Dead Poets Society, new English teacher Robin Williams runs a very unorthodox lesson, and he finishes by telling the boys Carpe diem - seize the day. Like the boys who thought English was only taught one way, God can speak in ways we understand. The important thing is for us to listen.

Listen. What do you make of this? A farmer planted seed. As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn’t put down roots, so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled among the weeds and nothing came of it. Some fell on good earth and came up with a flourish, producing a harvest exceeding his wildest dreams. Are you listening to this? Really listening? (Mark 4:3-9 The Message)

If you read Jesus’ explanation which follows, you will see that the seed was all good seed. The difference in the crop was the condition of the soil. God’s word is good. What Jesus has to say to each of us is good. But how receptive are you?

Are you really listening?

Who are you listening to?
When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him. (Mark 6:20)
Herod was disturbed but he liked to listen to him. He was entertained but he didn’t do anything about it.

Where are you listening?
Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. (Mark 7:14)
Jesus gathered the crowd around him so they could concentrate on what he said.

We need to listen to Jesus
Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (Mark 9:7)
God says ‘Listen to him’. Our lives are full of distractions. We need to concentrate.

We are enabled to listen to him!
And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” – which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15: 34)
He was disconnected from God so that we can be reconnected. In recent news a plane was disconnected from air traffic control, went off the planned route and was lost. We have become disconnected from God and gone off the intended route and are in danger of being lost.

Are you listening?

[From a sermon by Pete Orphan 30/3/14]

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Writing Wednesday: The Wales Coast Path in Gower

Did you know that there is a path which runs as close to the coast as possible, all the way around Wales? Here is a map of the Gower section:

Gower Coast Path

Gower Coast Path

There is a website devoted to it, with beautiful pictures, maps and all sorts of information. The website says, “The Wales Coast Path has been developed by the Welsh Government in partnership with Natural Resources Wales (incorporating the former Countryside Council for Wales), sixteen local authorities and two National Parks…

Improvements to the quality and alignment of the route will continue during 2012 and 2013 to ensure that the path follows the Welsh coastline as close as it is safe and practical. Over time, the Wales Coast Path is expected to lead to the creation of circular coastal routes as links to the inland towns and villages are improved…

While the Coast Path is important for the Welsh economy, it is also seen as an important initiative in encouraging both locals and visitors to discover and enjoy Wales’ outdoor spaces and the health and welfare benefits it can provide.

The Path has been split into eight geographical areas:
North Wales Coast & Dee Estuary

Isle of Anglesey
Menai, Llŷn & Meirionnydd
Ceredigion
Pembrokeshire
Carmarthenshire
Gower & Swansea Bay
South Wales Coast & Severn Estuary”

The website has this to say about the seventh section, Gower & Swansea Bay: “This stretch of the Path is an area of contrasts – from the busy seaside city of Swansea to the stunning coastline of the Gower Peninsula with its award winning golden beaches. The area is home to 10 nature reserves, 24 Wildlife Trust reserves, 32 Sites of Special Scientific Interest and five Special Areas of Conservation.”

If you go here you can see a photo montage of scenes from Gower. You might like to check out the rest of Gower Writer’s website while you’re there.

There is lots to see and do in Swansea and Gower, but many people who love to walk are drawn here by the challenge of walking the whole length of the Coast Path. The Gower section is 53 miles or 86 kilometers. The whole Coast Path is 870 miles or 1400 kilometers. It’s quite a challenge, but you don’t have to do it all at once!

Come and see us, you won’t regret it!

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Thinking Thursday: Who is Jesus? Mark 8:27-38

Christ, by Heinrich Hofmann (Wikimedia)

Christ, by Heinrich Hofmann
(Wikimedia)

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?” (Mark 8:27)

This is a hugely significant question for society today.

Press officers & publicists try to control the public image of celebrities, but social media makes revelations. In Jesus’ day the only way to find out about people was hearsay or personal experience.

We can limit our understanding of Jesus based on our upbringing, family, schooling, personal opinions or experience. We can fail to find the real Jesus.

Jesus said we can only find him through revelation & repentance. Matthew’s telling of this story includes Jesus’ reply: this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. (Matt 16:17)

But in both versions of the story Jesus immediately tells the disciples not to tell anyone about him. Why? Because there needs to be a right response – you need to go through the right experience in order to understand the implications of what it means.

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:31-38)

Peter has the revelation but then doesn’t like what Jesus says about his future.

Have we lost confidence in Jesus and his word? He refuses to be remodeled into what we would like him to be.

We need to see Jesus for who he really is and respond with repentance.

[From a sermon by Pete Orphan]

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Writing Wednesday: Weobley Castle

Weobley Castle (Wikimedia)

Weobley Castle
(Wikimedia)

Weobley Castle was originally built as a fortified manor house, in the same way that Oystermouth Castle was, but soon needed better defences. It was built by the powerful de la Bere family in the early 14th century, and they continued to own it until the 15th century.

The work was begun by David de la Bere, who was lord there from 1304 to 1327. There was a grand hall, two towers and a section of curtain wall. Before the work was finished however, work began on defensive structures, with a gatehouse and enclosing curtain wall. A solar and chapel were also built.

The castle was badly damaged in the Owain Glyndwr rebellion of the early 15th century. Then Sir Rhys ap Thomas gained possession of Weobley in return for his support of Henry VII at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. He repaired it and added a two-storey porch block, which created a more stately entrance.

He furnished it lavishly and it was a desirable residence for high society owners over the centuries, including the Herberts and the Mansels (who also owned nearby Oxwich Castle in south Gower). However, when Rhys’s grandson was executed for treason during the rule of Henry VIII, Weobley was returned to the Crown.

In the 16th century the porch block was modified for domestic use when the castle had degenerated into a tenant farmhouse. It is now cared for by Cadw: Welsh Heritage. The solar now houses an exhibition entitled, Weobley: A Gower Castle and the Peninsula through the Ages. It tells the story of Weobley, set against the colorful background of the many ancient historic sites on the Gower Peninsula.

Many Welsh castles have seen development in the surrounding land over the centuries, but Weobley is rare in that it enjoys the same unspoilt view over the north Gower marshlands and mudflats that it’s original owners probably did.

(mayfamilyhistory.co.uk/abear/delabere/weobley.html)

(mayfamilyhistory.co.uk/abear/delabere/weobley.html)

The castle is open from April to October, 9.30am to 6pm daily. Last admission is 30 minutes before closing. Admission is only £2.80 for adults and there are concessions.

For more information and pictures visit the Castle Wales and CADW websites. 

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Thinking Thursday: Philippians 4:10-23 Content in Christ

What would be your recipe for a happy life? Paul says:
I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. (Phil.4:11b, 12)

That sounds remarkable, but notice Paul doesn’t say he is content with the circumstances, but in the circumstances. In fact, the word ‘content’ used here literally means ‘complete’. So Paul is saying that he doesn’t get his sense of completeness from the things he owns, the food he eats, the job he does, the place he lives or the friends he has.

The secret to Paul’s content is revealed in this final passage in his letter. It comes down to two things: being confident in God’s power, and confident in God’s provision.

We can be confident in God’s power

I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (v12)

The whole of Paul’s letter sings with this confidence.
He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion (1:6)
I am confident in the Lord (2:24)
If on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you (3:15)
[The Lord Jesus] will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body (3:21)
The peace of God … will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (4:7)
and so on

We need to have that confidence too, if we are to be content in every situation.

We can be confident in God’s provision

In chapter 3 Paul encourages us to be discontented with our knowledge and experience of God:
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (3:12)

But he finishes his letter by saying we should be content with whatever God – in his loving wisdom – gives us.

Whether we are wealthy or lack material things; whether we are healthy or face debilitating illness; whether we are single or married; whether we live in a free country or suffer chains like Paul – we must remain confident of one thing: God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. (v19)

That is not a guarantee that God will make us healthy, wealthy and popular, but it is a guarantee that he will meet all our needs.

Paul demonstrates this in his attitude to the gifts the Philippians have sent him. While he is delighted by their self-sacrificial giving, he doesn’t depend on their gifts to make him content. What they have done is ‘a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God’ (v18), but ‘I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances’ (v11). He knows that – whatever the circumstances – God will meet all his needs.

We need that confidence too, if we’re to be content.

Conclusion

Paul has taught us many things in this letter:
to remember that God always finishes the work he starts
to contend for the gospel
to look to the interests of others
to show our salvation in the way we live
to remember that only Christ can make us righteous
to set our hearts on heaven
to rejoice in the Lord
to be content in all circumstances
And to do all these things for the glory of God (v20).

[from Discipleship Explored]

If you want to read all the studies in Philippians, start here.

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Writing Wednesday: Kestrel Synopsis

My Writers Circle is running an internal competition for which I have to write a synopsis of a novel and a cover letter to an agent. So I thought I would kill two birds with one stone and share my synopsis with you.

If you are a regular visitor, you will have heard about my science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel, the first book of which, called Intruders, I have been working on for more years than I care to admit. But I am learning my craft on it, and hope one day it will be fit to publish. So here is my synopsis:

Due to a crew shortage, 18-year-old Tabitha Enns is given work experience on board the Kestrel, part of the fast-response fleet of the Planetary Alliance for Cooperation and Trade (PACT). The fast-response fleet is a diplomatic and emergency service, and Tabitha is excited at the chance to get away from her home planet for the first time.

Her first mission is to a quartz mine where there has been an explosion and a cave in. But the Kestrel’s captain, Joseph Darrow, is also asked to investigate possible sabotage to cover up thefts of the valuable quartz crystals.

His investigation gives Darrow the final evidence he needs to prove that there is an unknown alien race stealing from sites across the galaxy. His superiors in PACT have their hands full with tension on the border, and do not see the urgency. Eventually Admiral Keever is convinced, but due to a crisis elsewhere, no ships are available for a mission to find the Intruders.

The Admiral orders Darrow to take the Kestrel, a small ship with a crew of eleven, and not equipped for such a task. To make it worse, at a briefing with the other Alliance races, they insist that a representative from each race should also go on the mission, putting the crew complement up to seventeen.

Several crew changes are also necessary, so Darrow must undertake the most serious and potentially dangerous mission of his career with an overcrowded ship and untried crew – to look for invisible aliens who may be pillaging the galaxy.

As the representatives arrive, so does a mysterious woman, Anna, who has a head injury and amnesia. As they follow the trail, Anna shows that she can ‘hear’ the thoughts of the Intruders, and is a valuable asset, but where did she come from and who operated on her brain to give her this ability, which terrifies her? The questions add to the tensions between those on board.

The finding of a crippled Intruder ship and offer of assistance gives Darrow the breakthrough he needs, but not before deaths among the crew and the Intruders. When the Intruders’ planet is finally reached, despite a friendly reception, the landing party are taken captive, and it is up to Anna to save the day.

* * *

So what do you think? I’m not sure whether I should give more detail, especially about the ending. Is it more like a long blurb, designed to excite interest? Does it work for you? Let me know in the comments.

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Thinking Thursday: Philippians 4:2-9 Thinking and Behaving

Quarreling Couple (Wikimedia)

Quarreling Couple
(Wikimedia)

Paul calls out two members of the church and warns them to end their dispute because it’s affecting the church.
I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. (v2)
How would you feel if it was you today being named in front of the church?

Paul tells them all how to maintain unity:
1. Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (v4)
Be a church that rejoices: Rejoice always. Even when circumstances are bad, it is an inner heart attitude.

2. Let your gentleness be evident to all. (v5a)
Your gentleness should be evident to all – even your persecutors. This is not softness, but strength.

Will we be those who show gentleness? Will we be able to always rejoice?

Paul reminds them The Lord is near (v5b). This is not the second coming or God watching you – God looks on the heart so we can’t pretend. God is for us and with us.
Psalm 23 God is indeed my shepherd – he is near to us and will work with us to help us in difficult situations. If God is near can that bring us to a place where we can rejoice.

(Wikimedia)

(Wikimedia)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (v6-7)

Do not be anxious about anything – is that impossible? Not if we bring things to God with prayer and petition. This is the process we need to go through in order to find the solution.
Paul, as a Roman citizen, had the right to appeal to the emperor. In the same way as children we have the right to appeal to God.

It is a peace we can experience while we are still in difficulty – Shalom.

Finally, brothers, 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.(v8)

How can we think about such things when we live in the world today? Impossible dream? Positive thinking wrapped in Christian jargon?

God is asking us to look at our life differently. Choose wisely what we see etc. And look at what God can say to us through our circumstances. Don’t stay in a Christian ghetto, hiding. Seek goodness, beauty, and truth everywhere. Jesus did it with the outcasts of society.

Although we are a work in progress we can look at everything in a godly way. In the Richard Curtis film About Time a man finds he can go back in time and change what happens – what would you change if you could live the day again? Look for the little things that can make a difference. Some things you can’t change. Look at Jesus. He was the son of God and look how things turned out for him.

What has God said to you? What have you done about it? Our beliefs should affect our behaviour.

[based on a sermon by Pete Orphan]

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