Healthy living blog 2

Troubles can help us. The most unsettling times in life often turn out to be the most fruitful. Only as we look back on a time of trouble do we recognise what scripture calls ‘the treasures of darkness’.

When life is unsettling it gives us a powerful reminder of how useless it is to put one’s trust in one’s job or bank balance or popularity or whatever.

No one likes a time of trouble but such times show both our true worth and our true faith.

The letter to the Hebrews speaks of God shaking the world ‘in order that what cannot be shaken may remain’ It goes on ‘let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken’.

When we look back on troublesome times through which we have kept out faith in God this scripture comes alive in our experience.

Troubles remind us to take the eternal perspective of faith, to look beyond the up’s and down’s of life to our true security in the unshakeable kingdom of God. They shake away all false supports leaving believers with a faith that seems truer.

Only God is all-sufficient and sometimes it is only the troubles we endure that can teach us this saving truth.

Alternative medicine? We live in a society overloaded with information and that's not always good for our health.

Medical experts have recently warned those who visit websites promoting alternative cures for cancer that they could seriously damage their health by following herbal remedies in preference to more orthodox treatments like chemotherapy. Patients are so overloaded with information they find it hard to assess it all.

Isn't this a parable of life in the sophisticated world we live in? So much knowledge on offer yet so little wisdom to be our guide through it.

Christianity is less about knowledge than wisdom for life. It offers no alternate healing method but the very way to life itself. 'I came to bring people life', Jesus said 'and life to the full'. Through repenting, a turning over of one's life to God, we enter by fault and baptism into a depth of living that is wise to wholeness and healing.

Spiritual discernment should be the mark of a Christian since we have within us the Spirit which holds all things in being. God's Spirit lends us God's wisdom to discern what is vital to health of body, mind and spirit and what is not. The Holy Spirit imparts the perspective of eternity, helping us weigh accurately the knowledge that abounds around us so we can use it wisely to God's praise and the service of humanity.

Avoiding life’s sidetracks. If you stand for nothing you'll fall for anything.

Once you live by faith you get astonished at the way people seem to get misled into wasting their lives on trivia. Not that believers are incapable of serious error – just that, when you have got an overall view of where life's heading it does help you steer away from the many sidetracks on offer in life.

We only have one life to live and we're called to live it in the praise and service of God. That means directing our energies accordingly, so that through us others may be drawn to the goodness of the Lord.

If you stand for nothing you'll fall for anything.

The best protection against a wasted or deluded life is a life committed to God in Jesus Christ. 'Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him'. To do as the Apostle says is to make a stand in the name of One who is all loving, completely truthful and all-powerful : Jesus the Lord.

To stand in his strength is the best defence against a sidetracked life.

How do you get happiness?

I heard a story that gives us the answer. It came from the classroom, literally.

A teacher found that most of her class got through their reading work very quickly. This made it hard for the slow readers and hard to keep discipline.

She found an answer to the problem that made everyone happy. When the fast readers finished they were set the task of helping the slow readers. In this way the class stayed very happy whenever it came to reading time.

The children were given a task of service and in fulfilling that task they were satisfied.
The Christian Faith doesn’t promise us happiness other than in applying ourselves to the service of God’s will and the building up of his kingdom.

We are not encouraged to delight or find happiness in ourselves, much as God loves us, but in putting ourselves to God’s work.

I looked for my soul, but my soul I could not see. I looked for my God, but my God eluded me.
I looked for my brother and I found all three.

Happiness comes with self-forgetfulness. It can’t be worked up. It’s worked out.

As we work at serving our brothers and sisters and direct our energies more to their benefit than our own, we receive a ‘buzz’. That ‘buzz’ is as near to happiness as we ever get on this earth.

I was at the seaside walking on the promenade.  Something landed beside me.

It came from a seagull – and, no, it wasn’t what you might expect!

It was a clam.  The bird was continually dropping the shellfish until it broke.

Powerless to break into the clam by its own strength, the seagull invoked a higher power, that of gravity.

By working with gravity the bird got its dinner.  

This remarkable scene reminded me of how many an impenetrable problem can yield when we call on a higher power to assist us.

You will receive power says Scripture when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. But we need  wisdom to ask the Lord for that Spirit if we’re going to see things changed.

Just as the seagull could not peck the clam open, so there are many situations in our life that were never designed for us to tackle alone.  

It’s almost as if God lays on these situations to teach us wisdom and make us more open to the Holy Spirit, his power from on high.

I can do all things through him who strengthens me wrote Paul, who became wise through many trials.

Is there a situation in your life that refuses to yield, despite exhausting efforts?

Why not trust it to God right now - and see things impossible made possible!

A clergyman once congratulated Groucho Marx on the enjoyment he had brought into the world.

The entertainer replied by congratulating the clergyman for all the enjoyment he'd taken away from it!  

People don’t always see Christianity as a convivial business!

Yet – unless our churches are places for enjoyment in the most profound sense we’re banging our heads against the wall when it comes to mission.

Thomas Merton once made exactly this point.  He wrote: To live well is my first and essential contribution to the well being of all mankind and to the fulfilment of man’s collective destiny.  If I do not live happily myself how can I help anyone else to be happy, or free or wise?

The Gospel is so good! What a shame it is when this goodness fails to come across from Christians.

Our enjoyment of the Lord is costly, yes.  It does take a whole life commitment, that’s true beyond a doubt.

It’s also, though, a recipe for a fullness of life that’s nothing mean or narrow-minded.

Ask yourself today: ‘Is Jesus Christ basic to my human and social flourishing?’

As long as you experience Jesus like that you’ll never come across as a killjoy.

Kiss the earth. The American founder of the Catholic Worker movement, Dorothy Day, spoke of wanting to kiss the earth in worship because Christ’s feet once trod upon it.

It’s an awesome thought that captures the immense significance of God coming to walk on the earth.

I have a picture of the earth taken years ago by astronauts on the moon.  You may have seen it. There men looked back at the earth and it is but a handspan in the sky.

Now take a further step into space.  Imagine God looking from the extremity of the cosmos where the earth is hardly a speck of dust in his eyes!

Then imagine him coming to walk among us.

Then imagine no more, but see the evidence that he did so in the resurrection of Christ and 2000 years of the church’s witness.

However flawed that witness, however sinful the followers of Christ, the factual basis of Christianity has never been seriously undermined.

In a 33-year lifespan, in the birth, life and death of Jesus something happened that the only empty tomb in history confirms – God walked on this earth.

The earth has never been the same – and neither will anyone of its inhabitants once they capture the significance of Jesus.

Interior Life.  So much of life is really on the surface. All of us need to live at a deeper level.

Some years back the world’s media attention focussed on the South Pacific Island of Tikopia where hundreds of people were feared dead after a cyclone.  For five days all contact with the island was lost. Reconnaissance flights showed massive destruction and little sign of life.

When a photographer was finally landed by helicopter he witnessed nothing less than a miracle.

Every one of the 100 or so islanders had survived the 200-mph winds. They’d fled to mountain hideaways along paths that have protected their people for generations.

The islanders fled to the high country along paths they’ve used for centuries during cyclone emergencies.  They sought shelter in mountain caves from the howling winds and the gigantic waves that swept over the island.

Here, I thought is a parable of the importance of the interior life. Had the islanders forgotten the interior caves and the ancient paths they would have perished finding no hiding place on the surface of the island.  

So it is with a superficial society, one that has forgotten the interior life.

When the storms of life buffet us we can be secured by the spiritual disciplines, by the routes that lead us deeper into Christ.

It is the interior life that matters ultimately, the presence of Christ within, our abiding in him and he in us.

Love is giving. The love in your heart wasn’t put there to stay – love isn’t love till you give it away.

A simple rhyme with a deep truth – a costly truth.

Love isn’t love till you give it away…

We won’t be judged by the warmth of our emotions but by our outgoing deeds.

Truly, I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me says the Lord.

Are you doing it? Are you giving that love away?

The love in your heart wasn’t put there to stay – love isn’t love till you give it away.

It’s a struggle because all day long we’re actually conditioned to do the opposite – to consume, to purchase, to gather things to ourselves. This is the message of advertising in a consumer society.

Jesus Christ calls us as he has always called people – to swim against the tide.  

He takes lives offered to him and turns them inside out making them new sources of love.

Let anyone who is thirsty come to me…out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.

If our Christianity is going to shock people and make them sit up it will be through that outgoing flow from lives turned inside-out towards those in need.

What is the secret of caring for others?

It means being there when people need you – and not getting in the way.

We won't be any good at caring unless we're alert to the needy around us and can give time to serve them.  We also need to become experts at not getting in the way of the caring process.

To put yourself out for other people is Christ-like only as long as it is unobtrusive and self-less.  C S Lewis once described the opposite quality when he spoke of a lady who ‘spent her life in the service of others’.  He added 'you could tell "the others" by their hunted look!'

To be an effective carer we need both the determination to make ourselves available to others and the humility to be at their service and not our own.  

As long as we're focused on ourselves and what we can give we have missed the point of true caring.  This can be as unobtrusive as just being there without a word. As Henri Nouwen once wrote, 'a caring silence can enter deeper into our memory than many caring words'.

To be effective in caring for others we need the Holy Spirit to turn us inside-out and give us outgoing love.  We also need prudence from the same Spirit before we can really be Christ-like.

Sense of inadequacy. Is it possible that people are waking up to a sense of inadequacy again?

A century ago in Britain there was little argument that men were sinners and fell short.

Then came the technological revolution, which saw us harnessing the powers of nature. We came to see ourselves as very much in charge of our lives. There’s so much now that comes our way at the click of a switch or the flick of a mouse.

Yet the brute facts technology brings to our TV screens seem to be getting to us. Humankind is far from accomplished when it comes to living in peace.

People are seeing our inadequacy more and more. They’re admitting that humankind needs mercy as it has never needed it before.

A message of mercy is becoming good news and Christians have it. In a world where people get what they deserve or worse we witness to a merciful Redeemer.

The One who rules, if only people could know it, rules with mercy and wants more of that mercy in his church and in his world.

Jesus knows our inadequacy but he’s not one to rub it in. Rather he yearns for the world to find the mercy he’s granted on Calvary.

Jesus wants to give us what we need in our inadequacy – not what we really deserve.

What’s good about mobile phones?

They give security – especially in dangerous situations.
They give us a sense of worth – where would a teenager be without one!
They help us keep close to one another and they bring us enjoyment

What’s bad about mobile phones?

They overwhelm us – so many demands press upon us!
They humiliate us, especially when they show us up.
They isolate us when people use them right in front of us as if we didn’t exist.
They distract us – our lives can sometimes be fuller without them.

Those distracting mobile phones are not just accessories of our life – they’re symbols of our life.

Just as a mobile can be used for good or ill, so we human beings have the gift of life from God that can be directed to serve him or to serve us.

The good things mobiles provide – opportunities to love and be valued, to overcome fear and plain enjoy ourselves - express their good use by you and I.

The evils they incur – stress, humiliation, isolation, distraction and boredom - reflect back upon the inadequacies of their users!

The Lord has made us for his abundant life and the choice to use what he has given to his praise and service will promote our health.  The selfish use of God’s gifts takes away from our wellbeing and that of the human community.

Think of all those who came to grief in a recent enquiry as their e-mails were posted on the internet.  Little did they think that their few sentences of office chit-chat would be broadcast to millions.

It’s now clear to all that every e-mail you send or receive can one day become the property of the whole world!  How much more reason to choose your words carefully! Better than that, as Jesus is swift to teach, the best guarantee against careless words is a change of heart.

We can’t guarantee our e-mails won’t come back to haunt us but hearts that are motivated by the Holy Spirit have an advantage in this sphere.  If we live by the Spirit our words and our e-mails are going to be constructive and not destructive. They will flow from a renewed heart that seeks to heal and not to hurt.

Our e-mails may get posted on the Web but we won't need to fear judgement.  If the Spirit of Christ is at work in us overcoming our sinful thoughts and words we won't need to fear the condemnation of God or man.

The gift and task of life. If we saw the dawn more often we might be better at seeing life as the gift it is.  Sunrise each day is the grand reminder of the gift of life. All that we are is given from beyond this world.

Life is both a gift and a task.  It’s no good taking the gift and doing nothing with it.  Today is given so we can make a difference to the world, and build God’s kingdom of truth and holiness, justice, love and peace.

Pity those, however, for whom life is just a task.  Those who live in drudgery for whom today is just another lifeless routine.  Pity them and pray their eyes may be opened to the wonder of God’s overall gift.

Life is both a gift and a task.  “Work out your own salvation”, writes St Paul, “for God is at work in you”.

We live our lives as believers like workmen building a concrete path.  They construct a wooden frame by their own efforts and then they pour in concrete.  So it is with Christian life. We accept it as a task and we also accept it as a gift, so that very often we see God completing our task to make it solid, like concrete poured into a wooden frame.

We are homo sapiens. What distinguishes us from the rest of creation is our quest for meaning or ‘sapiens’, which means ‘wisdom’.

Why is it that, whatever its abuses, religion continues on the earth? Surely because of the quest for wisdom deep within self-conscious beings such as ourselves.

This quest is not satisfied by knowledge. Never in the history of the world have we seen such an accumulation of knowledge through computers but this knowledge is often more frustrating than fulfilling.

Our minds hunger for truth beyond knowledge, truth that engages more than our minds – wisdom! It is Jesus who brings human knowledge to such a focus As Paul writes to the Colossians In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

In descending to us God seeks to engage with our hunger for truth by providing wisdom you don’t need to be clever to engage with. God’s wisdom is not an argument or a thesis but a person – the person of Jesus of Nazareth, true God and true Man, begotten not made!

Human beings are by nature full of questions about the tangle of life, about suffering, evil, death and about God himself. Through the incarnation God answers our questions with his own person come among us and with his own question, the one that resounds through the Gospel, ‘what do you think of Christ?’

Not pleasing yourself. Sometimes we get more satisfaction out of life by not doing something than by going off and working at many good things.  

I can think of occasions when the decision not to go somewhere and so to stay at home with my family has born more fruit than could ever have come from tempting alternative pursuits.

Truth is, the fast-moving world we live in deceives us into thinking life is a race in which we need to keep moving to achieve things.

God warned Saul that he required inner obedience before outward sacrifices and the warning extends to us.  To live a satisfied life is less a matter of outward achievements than of inner obedience so that the times we say “No” to things for God’s sake matter far more than all the other things we say “Yes” to doing.

Obedience is the key to being a disciple of Jesus, who changed the world by not pleasing himself.  Woe betide us if we get into thinking we can do as we please – there’s no ultimate satisfaction in that way of thinking since it takes us away from Jesus.  

The One who saves us has a self-discipline and obedience he wants to see growing in us as we grow to be like him.  That inner obedience isn’t just a source of satisfaction in life – it’s the pathway to joy.

Frustration. I was reduced to tears some weeks ago by my telephone company and Internet provider. The sheer frustration of weeks of pursuing both companies about a malfunctioning line got the better of me.

Then I felt guilty. Why was it that endless waiting in telephone queues could get the better of me when so many people in the world spend days queuing for basic human needs like food or water?

The truth is that frustration is frustration whether it’s a life-threatening matter or not. We get short of patience and then we snap. It’s just that in our comfortable western world the threshold for losing our patience seems that bit lower.

When we’re frustrated it’s a great comfort to read the words of scripture we find in 1 Corinthians Chapter 10 where we’re told God is faithful and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may endure it (v13)

In other words God allows the stresses and strains we bear in life as a means of testing us and strengthening our character. Even tears shed can humble us and deepen us, however humiliating they may be at the time.

God takes the long view. The more our patience grows the more we get attuned to His perspective.

What does it mean to be poor in spirit? St Francis of Assisi is the great example. When he felt God’s call he  cast all his worldly clothes to one side so he could belong wholly to the church as the poor servant of God – the ‘poverello’.

There’s a story of how the Bishop of Assisi once questioned Francis and his friars: Your way of life without possessions of any kind seems to me very harsh and difficult. My Lord, Francis answered, If we had possessions we should need arms for their defence. They are a source of quarrels and lawsuits, and are usually a great obstacle to the love of God and one’s neighbour. That is why we have no desire for temporal goods.

That’s poverty of spirit!  - and wisdom as well! As we see so much of our energies taken up nowadays with security, litigation and so on the words of Francis ring especially true. They echo those of the writer of Proverbs: The wealth of the rich is their strong city, in their imagination it is like a high wall…but humility goes before honour.

The ‘high wall’ riches can literally raise up can all too easily put worldly honour before humility.

To be ‘poor in Spirit’ is to put things the other way around.

Is Christianity guilt-ridden?  Do Christian believers heap guilt upon people?  

C S Lewis wrote about his guilty feelings about his sins as something like toothache.  He delayed dealing with his sin just as he’d delay attending to a bad tooth out of fear of the dentist.

In the same way people refuse to face up to their sins and do something about them.  Guilt is the deep down feeling that you’ve done wrong. People say Christianity is guilt-ridden because it encourages people to do something about sin.

Christianity is in fact guilt-ridding not guilt-ridden.  

The Founder of Christianity died and rose to bring us the forgiveness of sins which is the antidote to guilt.

Of course it is a very serious matter, facing up to your sins.  It’s altogether humiliating.

Guilt-ridding can only occur at a cost to our pride because we have to admit we have sinned and ask for forgiveness before we can get rid.

People who never seek such cleansing allow the negative effects of their shortcomings to burrow deep down within them.  Eventually they almost lose the capacity to feel guilt about their wrong-doing.

No wonder they complain at Christianity.  It offers them a grace they’d rather go without.

After 500 years the Mona Lisa was losing her smile. The curators at the Louvre in Paris have done all they can to help save Leonardo’s masterpiece.

It’s worth keeping her smiling. Six million people smile back every year.

How about you and I? Are we losing our smiles?

“Tell us something that will help us to live our lives better?” they once asked Mother Teresa.

“Smile at each other” she replied. “Smile at your wife, smile at your husband, smile at your children, smile at each other – it doesn’t matter who it is – and that will help you to grow up in greater love for each other.”

Good counsel from a Saint who once said she treated every person she met as if they were Christ – hence that smile!

It will take an effort from the restorers to put that smile back on the Mona Lisa. So it is, very often, with most of us, when we smile – an effort, an act of will to overcome all those negative feelings within us.

“Bring me sunshine in your smile”, Morecambe and Wise used to sing.

To smile is an effort. It is also a gift of the Holy Spirit that enriches the world for “when you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you.”


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