The Pursuit of Happiness

As we enter 2017 we will give and receive this greeting ‘Happy New Year’ many, many times as we meet people for the first time since Big Ben chimed midnight. Each year the mobile phone networks struggle to cope with the billions of messages that people send to their nearest and dearest. Happiness, it seems is something that people desire for themselves and for others.

Happiness however is notoriously elusive, and the more vigorously we chase after it the harder it can be to find. Some people get trapped in the illusion that the past was a better place and think longingly of times gone by. They are robbed of joy in the present because they continuously compare it unfavourably with the past. Others live hoping that they will be happy in the future when they leave school, get a career, get settled with a home and family, when the children are grown up and leave home, when they are retired and so on. Yet as each personal milestone is reached they look forward to the future and forget to enjoy the moment.

I recently heard someone compare the pursuit of happiness to trying to catch a butterfly. All the time the butterfly is in flight it darts hither and thither and is impossible to catch. However when it comes to rest on a flower, that is the moment when you can cup your hands around it. Happiness is found by catching it in the unexpected moments of the here and now. These are the occasions of spontaneous laughter and delight, often in little things, that can brighten up the most difficult of circumstances.

The apostle Paul knew something about this when he wrote: 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. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Php 4:11–13 (NIV2011)

For Paul the secret of being happy did not depend upon his circumstances but upon being able to find Christ in every circumstance. Millions of people pray the Serenity Prayer, which is based on the Lord’s Prayer, but most have never read the last eight lines to the prayer: “Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, taking as Jesus did this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that you will make all things right if I surrender to your will so that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with you forever in the next. Amen.”

That’s where true happiness lies! There is power when you surrender to God the very things you’ve been trying to take control of from him and trust Him alone for your happiness in this life and the next.

This blog post featured in the January 2017 edition of Hook Focus

Advertisements

Born to be King

On Christmas Day the Queen will broadcast her 64th Christmas Message. In doing this she upholds a tradition that began with her grandfather George V who broadcast 4 speeches, and was continued by her father George VI who broadcast 14 messages. Neither Queen Elizabeth II nor King George VI were expected to become monarch when they were born but their destinies were changed when Edward VIII abdicated. Prince Charles and Prince William on the other hand have lived with the knowledge that they have both been born to be king.

Traditionally the Queen talks about significant events that have occurred during the year and so it would be in keeping with her previous speeches to make reference to her 90th Birthday Celebrations. Often she will comment on worldwide events that affect the UK or the Commonwealth. We will have to wait and see whether she comments on Brexit or, less likely on Trump. Nevertheless this year has been one which has seen seismic changes on the political scene.

Two thousand years ago Jesus was born into a world that was equally fragile from a political perspective. Herod was King of Judea, but this was not much more than a puppet role as the territory was under the jurisdiction of the Roman Emperor. His role was tolerated by the Jewish religious leaders because the stability he gave meant that they had a degree of freedom to follow their religious traditions. But there was always an undercurrent of individuals looking for an opportunity to overthrow Roman rule and implement a Jexit. Little wonder then that Herod was troubled when the Wise Men from the East arrived at his palace wanting to know where they could find the baby born to be King of the Jews.

Herod consulted with his advisors who discovered that the prophet Micah had foretold the birth of a king some 700 years before. “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2 NIV) Herod understood this prophecy to mean that the baby the Magi sought was born to become King of the Jews and so he ordered the slaughter of every baby boy under the age of 2.

33 years later as Jesus was about to ascend to heaven following his resurrection, the disciples demonstrated a similar misunderstanding and asked Jesus when he was going to restore the kingdom of Israel. They were still looking for the overthrow of the Roman oppressors. Jesus’ kingdom however is not an earthly realm with geographical boundaries. Rather it is found everywhere that there are followers of Jesus.

This Christmas I pray that you will let the baby born to be king become King of your life.

This blog post featured in the December 2016 edition of Hook Focus

We Will Remember

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

These lines were composed by Robert Laurence Binyon and published in The Times newspaper on 21st September 1914. They comprise the middle verse of a seven verse poem. Binyon said that this stanza came to him first while sat on a Cornish clifftop looking out to sea a few weeks after the outbreak of the First World War. The fame of those four lines have eclipsed that of the rest of the poem having been adopted by the Royal British Legion as an exhortation for ceremonies of Remembrance to commemorate fallen service men and women.

In recent years we have seen a resurgence of interest in these acts of remembrance, in part because a new generation of servicemen have lost their lives in the conflict in Afghanistan. I wonder what thoughts go through your mind during the traditional two minutes of silence. Sympathy and sadness for the families of the deceased and wounded? Disappointment that the lessons of history haven’t resulted in armed conflict being eradicated from the earth? Gratitude for the freedoms we enjoy on these islands? Certainly those ideas shape my own prayers around Remembrance each year. I am convinced that these acts of national remembrance are a vital component of preserving freedom for future generations.

The call to remember however is not unique to our country, or even modern history. Each year Jews celebrate the feast of Passover and recall how God used Moses to lead them out of slavery in Egypt into freedom in the Promised Land. An event that took place 3,300 years ago! Christians too have an act of Remembrance that was instituted by Christ himself just a few hours before he went to the cross. He gathered with his disciples to eat the Passover meal, just as they had done every year of their lives previously. Imagine their amazement when Jesus took the timeless symbols of their heritage and endowed them with new meaning and significance in what we call Communion. The bread was now to symbolise Christ’s own body, about to be crucified. The wine was now to symbolise Christ’s own blood, about to be spilt on the ground. Only later did the disciples truly understand that the sacrifice of Christ on the cross was necessary to win new freedom. Not freedom from the shackles of slavery or political domination. Rather to win freedom from bondage to sin and the coming day of judgement. In most Christian traditions this act of remembrance is carried out many times a year reflecting the centrality of the cross to our faith.

At Life Church the monthly cycle of our meetings means that Remembrance Sunday always coincides with the Sunday when we celebrate communion. Both acts of remembrance deserve reverence and solemnity. However when we celebrate communion we do so in the full and certain knowledge that Christ has risen and will come again. So as we think of Christ and say we will remember we can do so with confidence and look joyfully towards the day when we will see him face to face.

This blog post featured in the November 2016 edition of Hook Focus

Victor’s Crown

I expect that many of you will have enjoyed watching the amazing sporting spectacle of the Olympics and Paralympics. There are some incredible stories of courage, determination and sheer athletic prowess that have come out of both festivals of international sport. It is hard to choose one highlight but it was pretty amazing to find that the gold medal winner and three other athletes who competed in the visually impaired T13 1500m Paralympic event all finished with quicker times than the gold medal winner in the Olympics a few weeks earlier. Even allowing for the fact that the Olympic 1500 m race is a tactical event and was completed much slower than the world record pace which has stood since 1998 it is a remarkable achievement.

The Paralympics movement has made a profound difference in the way that we view disability and encourages us all to focus more on what can be achieved by those who are differently able rather than their limitations. Yet the fact remains that in each event only the top three athletes get a medal and only one is crowned Olympic or Paralympic champion.

The modern Olympic Games draw their inspiration from the Greco-Roman world where many cities had their games including the original Olympics held in Olympia. Rather than medals the prizes for the victors were olive leaf wreaths or crowns. It was these games that Paul had in mind when he wrote to his younger friend Timothy “Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules.” (2 Timothy 2:5).

Paul compares the concentrated efforts of an athlete with the commitment and dedication of a follower of Christ. Two chapters later he picks up on the theme again as he writes “Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:8). Unlike either the ancient or modern games however, Paul reveals that in the Christian life everyone gets to receive a crown. The Christian faith is the ultimate demonstration of equality and diversity. It doesn’t matter whether you are young or old, rich or poor, able bodied or disabled, educated or illiterate, male or female, or even which nationality you are from; the offer is the same. All can come to Christ, and if they do so in a humble, repentant manner can receive forgiveness. All who profess such faith in Christ can run the race of life confident that they too will one day wear the victor’s crown.

If you have not yet started this race of faith in Christ then I invite you to do so, knowing that God will accept you as you are. If you want to know how to get started, then pop along and speak to us sometime.
This blog post featured in the October 2016 edition of Hook Focus

You Are Amazing!

The story is told of a philosophy lecturer who began the first lecture of the year with a new set of students by asking them a question. Holding up a brand new £20 note he asked who would like to receive it. Unsurprisingly every single one of the 200 students in the lecture theatre raised their hand in the air expectantly. He then took the banknote and carefully, and neatly folded it twice. Again he asked the question who would like to receive it. Again every hand went up. Next he unfolded the bank note and took it and scrunched it up into a ball. For the third time he held the £20 up to his audience and asked who would like to receive it. For the third time everyone indicated that they would like to be given the banknote. Finally the lecturer took the crumpled banknote and threw it on the floor. He then proceeded to stamp on the note. Again he held aloft the banknote covered with dust and grime and asked the students who wanted it. Still everyone in the room was eager to be given the £20 note.

Every eye was focused on the lecturer wondering what his next move would be. He then simply asked why they still wanted the bank note despite the mistreatment he had given it. One student spoke for them all by saying that it was still worth £20 even after all the things that had happened to it.

He then quietly said that this is just like people. We all have intrinsic value regardless of our history. It doesn’t matter what we have been through, the experiences good or bad don’t define our worth. Every human being is precious no matter how painful our lives have been.

Of course the reality is that many people have been through harrowing and damaging experiences that leave us feeling bruised and vulnerable. If we have been treated as worthless by others, or discarded by society we can start to believe that we have no dignity or self-respect. When we feel like this it is helpful to look and see what the bible teaches us about who we are. Thousands of years ago the King David wrote:

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well. (Ps 139:13–14)

Perhaps the Psalmist was inspired by the birth of a new born baby when he penned these words. In these two verse he recognises the creative work of God in every human being and concludes that each individual that God has made is amazing.

Perhaps at times you feel crumpled and scuffed like the bank note at the hand of the lecturer. If so allow God’s assessment if you to bring healing and dignity – You are amazing!

 

 

This blog post featured in the September 2016 edition of Hook Focus

Truth and Reconciliation

 

As I write this the EU Referendum is just a week or so away so I don’t yet know the outcome.  Due to publishing deadlines the result will have been published by the time you get to read this article, so you do! Although in one respect I am writing in the dark, the opinion polls and pundits are all predicting a close run thing so it is fair to say that a large proportion of the electorate will be disappointed by the outcome.

Despite the early commitment by the politicians to keep the Referendum conversation from becoming personal, it seems that people on both sides resorted to attacking the integrity and wisdom of the other protagonists. As a result there are deep divisions between members in each of the main political parties.

In time no doubt the dust will settle and government will have to get back to the task of doing business with other European leaders regardless of the outcome. In order to do this people who have expended a great deal of emotion against each other will need to work together again as colleagues, and even as friends. This will require reconciliation and forgiveness.

The title of this article is borrowed from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that was set up to try and heal the deep divisions in South Africa after the collapse of the apartheid regime. It operates on the philosophy that reconciliation depends on the truth of past hurts being brought out into the open and amnesty being granted to offenders who are willing to be honest about their role in harming others.

Thankfully the divisions, and even hatred, expressed in our society do not run as deep as those in post-apartheid South Africa. So there is hope for the future of the UK. Nevertheless unless these divisions are healed there is potential for them to deepen over time.

On many occasions Jesus spoke about the vital importance of reconciliation in all human relationships. He gave us a number of priorities:

  1. The need to seek reconciliation is urgent. The bible tells us not to let the sun go down on our anger. We are to seek reconciliation as soon as we are hurt, or realise that we have hurt someone.
  2. Each of us is responsible for taking the first step towards reconciliation. If we wait for the other person to come to us reconciliation will be delayed, possibly forever.
  3. The goal is reconciliation rather than vindication. Whether we are right or whether we are wrong it is more important to be reconciled than to apportion blame.
  4. Reconciliation can only occur once forgiveness has been offered and received. Forgiveness does not ignore the pain but chooses to accept it and to forego any desire for revenge or retribution.

In the prayer Jesus taught we say ‘forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us’. Those who wish to be forgiven must be those who forgive others. My prayer is that whatever our future role in Europe we will become a nation of people who will not let any issue divide us but will live in truth and reconciliation with each other.

 

This blog post featured in the July/August 2016 edition of Hook Focus

Happy Birthday Your Majesty

HRH Queen Elizabeth

More than 500 people have booked tickets to attend the Hook Royal Party on Sunday June 12th to celebrate the 90th Birthday of Queen Elizabeth II. It is a great joy and privilege for Life Church to be part of the organising committee for this event along with other organisations and churches in Hook. The unity that has been demonstrated by the various parties involved is in itself a testament to the affection which so many people in our community have for Her Majesty. In a country that is increasingly diverse the Queen is highly respected as a figure of stability and consistency throughout her long life and reign.

On 12th June guests at the Garden Party will be offered a souvenir copy of ‘The Servant Queen’, a tribute which examines her life and significantly her faith. By any measure Queen Elizabeth’s life is remarkable. The young princess was born into the Royal Family but as the daughter of the second in line to the throne there was no expectation in her early years that she would ever become Queen. That all changed when her father was crowned King George VI. Soon after that Britain faced the challenge of World War II and the threat this presented to our nation.

In her forward to the book she reminds us of the words quoted by King George in his 1939 Christmas Day speech. ‘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 out 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.”’ Although the Queen never mentions it herself it was she, as a 13 year old girl, who drew the King’s attention to these inspiring words that sustained a nation in its hour of greatest peril.

The Queen’s own testimony is that throughout her life she has consistently placed her hand into the hand of God and found in him a source of strength and courage. Time and again in her Christmas Message she refers to her faith in Jesus Christ and the way that this has informed her life of service to our nation. As British Monarch she deserves the highest respect of her people yet she considers herself first and foremost the servant of another King. That king is Jesus – King of kings and Lord of lords.

So at this time of celebration and rejoicing we wish Her Majesty a very Happy Birthday and encourage everyone who reads this to join her in placing your hand into the hand of God.

 

This blog post featured in the June 2016 edition of Hook Focus

The Secret of Happiness

Are you happy? Not necessarily at this precise moment in time, but would you describe your life in general as happy? I have met many miserable people, but have yet to meet anyone who genuinely wants to be unhappy. Every day we make decisions, big and small, in the hope that the result will make us happy, whether we are conscious of this or not.

Given the significance of happiness in our lives you may be interested to learn that researchers from Harvard University have conducted a 75 year, longitudinal study into happiness. The research, known as the Grant and Glueck Studies, began in the late 1930’s with 268 Harvard students. A few years later 456 disadvantaged youths from inner city Boston were added to the study. These people have been interviewed at regular intervals throughout their lives to measure the happiness as their lives have unfolded.

The headline discovery has been that happiness does not depend upon wealth, social position, career progression or lack of it. Rather ‘happiness comes from choosing to be happy with whatever you do, strengthening your closest relationships and taking care of yourself physically, financially and emotionally.’ I am not sure where I read it first but the statement ‘happiness comes from wanting what you have rather than having what you want’ seems to sum up the first part of the study’s findings.

These findings are not as new and as ground breaking as they might seem at first.  Around AD 46 the Apostle Paul wrote ‘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.’ He had found that true happiness and contentment was not based upon his physical circumstances or health. If you read the rest of his writings you will discover that the ultimate source of Paul’s contentment was the security of knowing that his life was in Christ.

I wish that I could say that every follower of Christ was as happy and content as Paul was. Sadly many Christians are as miserable as anyone else. However I find that when people learn to fully put their trust in Jesus Christ they become happier than they would be without him.

If you would like to find out more then why not check it out for yourself and come and join us.

 

This blog post featured in the May 2016 edition of Hook Focus

Christ will come again!

This article will be published a day or two after Easter Sunday so for followers of Jesus the events of the first Easter will still be fresh in our minds. Many churches on Easter Sunday will proclaim the festal shout:

“Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again!”

The connection between the first two statements and Easter should be obvious. But what about the last one: Christ will come again!

For a period of 40 days after Christ’s Resurrection on the first Easter morning, he appeared to his disciples many times, giving them convincing proofs that he was alive. At the end of that period Jesus went to a mountain with his disciples. While they were there a cloud came and took Jesus out of their sight and he ascended into heaven.

Understandably his disciples were dumbfounded and stood gazing into the sky watching as their Lord and Master disappeared before their eyes. Immediately two angels appeared and said: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

Traditionally the church celebrates this event on Ascension Day, 40 days after Easter. Nevertheless the Easter Festal shout anticipates Christ’s return because that is the climactic day that followers of Christ look forward to. That is the day when all our hopes and expectations in Christ will be fully realised. That is the day when all injustices will be righted, all pains will be healed, all sorrow will finally cease.

It is also the day when all mankind will stand before Christ to give an account for their deeds. His followers need have no fear of this judgement because Christ’s death has made a way for our wrongdoings to be forgiven. Not so for those who have not put their trust in him.

The joyful, festal shout on Easter morning is entirely appropriate because we look back with gratitude to Christ’s death and resurrection and look forward to the hope that this offers us. If you don’t yet have this hope then ask God to give it to you.

 

This blog post featured in the April 2016 edition of Hook Focus

New Life

I wonder what comes to mind when you think of Easter? Every year it seems that no sooner has the Christmas merchandise been cleared from the shop shelves that they are immediately restocked with chocolate Easter Eggs and Bunnies. For most, Easter is a welcome break from school or work at the beginning of spring. Days are becoming noticeably longer, there is new growth in the fields and gardens, flowers are coming into bloom and buds are appearing on trees and shrubs.

The origins of the Easter festival are complex. The English word Easter has its origins in pagan festivals celebrating an Anglo Saxon goddess called Ēostre (or Ostara in the Germanic form). Customs relating to eggs and bunnies can be traced to these pagan roots. In many other languages the name for the Easter weekend derives from the Hebrew word Pesah which referred to the Jewish Passover festival. This was the season when Jews remembered God rescuing them from Egypt after 400 years of captivity and slavery. The final sign that changed Pharaoh’s heart was the sign of the death of the firstborn son in every household. Only God’s people who had roasted a lamb and painted blood on the doorposts and lintels were ‘passed over’ and saved from this final plague. Pharaoh relented and released the Israelites on their 40 year journey to the Promised Land.

It was the Passover season when Jesus was crucified and rose again. The parallel between the Passover lamb and Jesus was striking and the early church celebrated Christ’s death and resurrection. As the church spread, announcing the good news of new life that Jesus offers, pagan festivals were often Christianised in order to encourage converts to focus their attention on the risen Christ.

The apostle Paul teaches that Christ’s resurrection gives us hope of our own resurrected new life. As you enjoy the new life in nature this spring, and perhaps indulge in chocolate eggs and bunnies, reflect on Christ’s death and resurrection. There is a welcome for you at any of the local churches this Easter, where we would love to help you experience the new life that Christ offers us.

This blog post featured in the March 2016 edition of Hook Focus