Sunday, 28 February 2010

The Lord’s Gentle Presence

The following is a guest blog from welshsarah.

Today, in church, the Lord met me exactly where I was. I had been hurt by a friend on the previous friday and it had hung me overly like the proverbial grey cloud all weekend. I just couldn’t let it go. During worship my eyes started welling up with tears but I sucked in them in, preventing them from rolling down my cheek. I desperately didn’t want to cry in church. However, it came to communion and I went up to recieve the body and blood of Christ, sans bread. Felix, a friend’s brother was sharing the bread and wine. I walked up, recieved the wine and, as I turned to leave, Felix said he wanted to pray for me. Great, game over in the crying department. As he prayed in the presence of the Lord, affirming that I am loved and accepted, the tears started to roll. Uh-oh, the flood gates had officially been opened! When God wants to meet you, He will, wherever you are. However, He doesn’t bulldoze His way into your minute, hour, or day. He’ll just come, sit alongside you and put His arm around your shoulders; the weight of it heavy with His love for you.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Do you believe in angels?

The following is the script of a Radio Broadcast I gave recently on a local radio station:

Well any visit to an Anglican, Roman Catholic or Orthodox church usually brings us into contact with a stained glass window or icon or two depicting angels either praising God in some heavenly choir or appearing to an individual like Mary. Also just a glance at the Bible will reveal angels everywhere fulfilling God’s will in some way or other. Angels appearing the Abraham, before the fall of Sodom and Gomorrah, bringing an answers to prayer or protecting God’s people in some way or other.

But what about today? Leaving aside the various books written on the subject by those who have tried to jump on the Christian bandwagon, angels are still a real part of people’s lives even if they tend to be rather reticent to talk about them

Take one old lady who was a member of one of my congregations and sadly passed away just over a year ago. Once when I visited her to take her Holy Communion, after we’d finished, I sat and chatted with her over a cup of tea. The conversation somehow or other touched on the subject of angels and I shared with her my experience of meeting with the author of a book on the subject, who was married to a vicar and had come and spoken recently in the Deanery. Quietly she shared with me her experience as a young teenager when, whilst living in Skewen she was walking home from Chapel one evening when she saw an angel passing over the building. She was with her parents at the time but because it was so unbelievable and she was so young she kept it to herself not telling anyone until that moment when she confided in me.

I immediately recalled an incident from my own youth when I had climbed a tall aging tree only to step on a rotten branch near the top. The branch gave way and I fell all the way from the top – some 20 or more feet up – all the way to the bottom. I say ‘fell’ but in effect I sort of floated as if cushioned on something, landing on my feet without a scratch. I thought nothing of it at the time until I became a Christian and then a phrase from the psalms caught my attention. It’s from Psalm 91 verse 11-12 and is quoted by Jesus as he resists the temptation of the devil in the desert. It says: “He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”
That was my experience although I saw nothing or felt nothing at the time. Why should that happen to me? I don’t know. It may be that God wanted to preserve me for the ministry? I honestly don’t know. And I can’t categorically say it was an angel. But I believe in angels and I believe they are much more involved in our lives than we realise.

As I was thinking about this in relation to my talk today I came across a recent report based on research carried out by Bishop Grosseteste University College in Lincoln into children’s spirituality. The report suggests
that not only do children see angels but that most adults dismiss such claims as “just imagination” so that children tend to keep their experiences to themselves.

Take Jonas aged seven. He recalled how two years before he and a teenage cousin saw an angel in the park. She was, in his words “pretty big” with white wings and silver spiky shoes and she spoke in a gentle voice. She was visible for half an hour before she went “straight back up to heaven.”
Or what about Sophie also aged seven who sees an angel at the side of her bed each night and feels comforted by the presence? But her parents’ response was: “Oh, that’s just your imagination darling.”

Jenny, aged nine, drew a picture of God standing on a white cloud , which looked like steps, set in the midst of black clouds. God’s hands were “tucked into His dress”; His hair was “grey, and it had blond bits in it”. This was Jenny’s description of a dream she had:

She explained: “I was at school. Then someone just came and took me out and took me up to heaven, and I was really scared. I saw all the people who had died and all the animals…It was flashbacks of when I was with them…I was scared, but I felt like someone was holding my hand every time I was scared.”

This dream was important for Jenny, because it represented a reunion with her two pet rabbits who had died, and it reassured her that they were alive and were being looked after in heaven. We were the first people Jenny told about her dream, “because some adults don’t understand what we’re feeling.
Her classmate Laura said: “I sometimes tell my Gran about my religious dreams, ‘cos she believes in God and goes to Church, but I won’t tell my Mum, ‘cos she doesn’t believe it’s true.”

In 2007 there was an article in one foreign newspaper which told of how “an angel with flowing red hair saved a terminally-ill child from certain death in a hospital cancer ward with no more effort than a hug, a kiss and the tenderly-whispered words: “God wants you to get up. You are healed … ” – but that’s just half the miracle.”
The article continues: “Within seconds of realizing what had happened, the 7-year-old girl’s father, an avowed atheist and best-selling author who once told Pope John Paul II that “God, if He exists at all, ought be shot” and called Jesus Christ “a third-rate carpenter with a first-rate lie” fell to his knees in full view of shell-shocked doctors and nurses, professing a new and undying belief in both God and Christ.
To ice the cake, Jean-Philip DeMarcourt is now preaching the gospel to anybody who will listen and openly wonders why The Man Upstairs chose to save his daughter from certain death and him from eternal damnation.
“Why us? Why did He save us?” Delacourt asked in a telephone interview from his office in Jerusalem. ”All my life I have done everything in my power to discredit even the idea of God.
“I made a mockery of the Bible. I said God was dead. I said if God weren’t dead, then He should be. And yet, He sent His angel to lift my own daughter up from death and restore her to health, not through a medical procedure, not through the handiwork of a doctor or a nurse, but through His infallible power alone.
“I saw the miracle unfold with my own eyes. I saw the angel with my own eyes,” he continued. “God is real.”

And the stories continue. In Haiti one man was discovered under the rubble of a collapsed building over a month after the earthquake. His rescuers could not believe how he had lived all this time without food or water. When they questioned him he told them that daily a person in brilliant white clothes came and fed and watered him.
Speaking to the Vicar’s wife who came to talk about her new book on angels, she told me that once she put an advert into a magazine to get in touch with her about any experiences of angels people may have had she was inundated with letters containing accounts of real-life encounters with angelic beings. Many of them had until then remained silent for fear of being thought insane but now, many with relief, they could share their experiences with someone who understood.

So do I believe in angels? Well I did anyway but these and other experiences related me across a ministry that has lasted 22 years have reinforced that belief and so whenever anyone tells me about one I give a knowing nod. There is more to this life than what we can see. But do we have the eyes and the faith to see it?

Friday, 12 February 2010

Sermon: Consider your call

The following is a sermon preached at St.Peter's, Cockett in Swansea called "Consider your call." You can hear it by following this link: http://www.box.net/shared/h9z7k2d43s

Keeping it in the family

They say that self-praise is no recommendation but what about praising your children? I have no hesitation including here a recommendation to read my daughter Sarah's blog which is gaining popularity on the web week by week. Ok it may be seen by some as a bit narrow in its appeal in the sense that she is writing a blog about veganism but she does talk about other issues of interest and I regularly visit - and comment -and would recommend others to do the same. Her blog is here (click the address): http://glutenfreewelshy.wordpress.com/ and the recipes are quite delicious even if you are not a vegan. (Oh and she gets her looks from her father (joking - her mum).

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Reaping the whirlwind

I was recently visited by a man from an organisation that conducts surveys for various bodies including the Government and the Welsh Assembly. This latest one was about the health of the nation and his purpose was to gather information which he would then feed back to the Welsh Assembly to help them plan future provision for health care in Wales.

I was intrigued by this and asked him if his employers were the ones that recently carried out a survey of 5000 people to find out if attitudes towards homosexuality and marriage, among other things, had changed in the UK. As you may have read some 36% thought homosexual acts were "always" or "mostly" wrong, down from 62% when the British Social Attitudes survey was first carried out, in 1983. On cohabitation, 45% said it made "no difference" whether a child's parents were married or just living together - up from 38% in 1998.

He admitted that he was part of that. I then told him that what really concerned me was that we were in danger of being governed by surveys, public opinion and statistics (“lies, damned lies and statistics”). Because the larger percentage believed that marriage was unimportant that did not necessarily mean they were right. He replied that 5000 people out of 61 million people in Britain may not be totally representative of the nation but it was a good cross section of opinions from people of different backgrounds etc and was therefore considered to be an accurate representation of the whole. I replied that it was still a matter of concern because the 5000 people represented were not in full possession of all the facts behind the questions or had heard the different sides of the argument. The assumption behind the survey was that all the people questioned had spent some time reflecting and researching the issues on the table and had given their opinions based on what they had thought through weighing up the pros and cons. It’s a false assumption and opens us up to government by public opinion which is a very dangerous route to take.

This growing danger was underlined in a YouGov poll for The Telegraph that found that more than four out of five people believed the law should be amended so that relatives would be allowed to help terminally ill relatives die without facing prosecution. Another poll carried out by ComRes for BBC1’s Panorama programme, found 73 per cent thought family or friends should not face prosecution for helping a loved one to die.

The Archbishop of York has condemned a campaign to legalise mercy killings saying that he feels it is being driven by celebrities without any regard for Parliament and the will of the “silent majority”. He is quoted in the Daily Mail as saying: “The silent majority never gets asked. One thousand out of about 61 million really is not very much guidance.”

In the recent lecture Sir Terry Pratchett said that there should be assisted suicide “tribunals” that would grant permission to the terminally ill to end their lives and being a high-profile and popular author his opinions carry great weight. Government by personality or celebrity!

Also what concerns me is that behind all of this is a belief in progress. That somehow as time goes by and we become more developed as a country we are getting better and better, more enlightened, mature and grown up. But are we? Are we making progress? Are we really kinder, less selfish, more considerate and closer as communities than previous generations? I don’t think so and my conversation with the opinion poll man and recent news confirms my fears. Empires have come and gone. Opinions change and people too. We all know what happened to Germany and what people had come to believe of the Jews. We must be on our guard. We sow the wind and we will reap the whirlwind.

Thy Kingdom Come 2017