James’s Blog: The Stone & The Seed.

James’s Blog:  The Stone & The Seed.

(I had an idea, which became this little poem.  If I was an illustrator of any talent I would probably turn it into a children’s picture book.)

 

The paving stone,

set hard and set proud,

said, “I can’t be moved

from my home in the ground.”

 

“Beneath me the earth,

I crush all the life,

no root can take hold

with no hope and no light.”

 

But a small, humble seed

a challenge did make:

“Heavy you may be,

but you’ve made a mistake.”

 

The stone laughed out loud

at the tiny thing’s cheek,

“You can’t lift me up!

You’re too small and too weak!”

 

“It may take some time,”

the seed did reply,

“but I’m not stuck here,

for my goal is the sky!”

 

The years went on by

while the seed sought a gap,

the stone did not know

of the tiny thing’s trap.

 

And go visit now,

this is what you will see,

a humbled, broke stone

that’s been split by a tree.

James’s Blog: Anyone for Seconds?

James’s Blog:  Anyone for Seconds?

Daisy wiped the tear from her cheek with a perfect white handkerchief.

“I know you all understand my struggle. It’s just so…so hard,” she said. “Oh, that sounds silly. To say it’s ‘hard’. I just don’t know any other word.”

“It’s a perfectly good word,” said Thomas, reaching out and patting her on the shoulder.

“And it’s perfectly accurate,” said Maureen, her lips stretched in a thin line. Daisy nodded glumly.

Maureen continued. “That’s why we’re here. To support and help one another. We all understand. We ‘re all in the same boat here at the Over Eighteens.”

The Over Eighteens had been meeting weekly at Thomas’s house for the past year. There were seven of them. Daisy, Maureen and, of course, Thomas were the founding members. Billy (no-one called him William) and his wife Trish joined soon after, shortly followed by George. Jayne (yes, that was how she spelled it) was new to the group. This was her first meeting.

Every Thursday morning they gathered around the coffee table in Thomas’s lounge, squeezed on sofas (and chairs brought in from the dining room) and encouraged one another. That was the purpose of the group, to share and encourage, and to share and encourage in one particular struggle. The name Over Eighteens referred not to age, but to weight. The only thing in the group that could be called thin was Maureen’s lips. Everyone bore the same burden, of struggling with their size.

Thomas glanced at his watch.

“I think that’s enough for today.” He looked over at Jayne. “It’s been excellent to have you here this morning, Jayne. We always finish with a…well, I guess you could call it a creed of sorts. We say it together, you know, to make us all feel like we’re united in this.”

Jayne nodded nervously.

“Just listen, and you’ll pick it up soon enough,” Thomas said, nodding at the rest of the group.

“We agree that we’re overweight,” the group said, in unison. “But we don’t want to be. We’d like to be thin. In the meantime, we will support each other, listen to each other’s struggles without judgement, encourage each other and look forward to the day when we are all our perfect weight.”

Silence settled on the thoughtful group.

“Now,” said Thomas, clapping his hands together, “who wants a cup of tea?”

There was a chorus of responses as Thomas stood up and moved through to the kitchen.

“You should come over for dinner sometime, love,” said Trish, smiling at Jayne.

“That would be nice, “ said Jayne, smiling back.

“Cor, yes, I love it when we have guests,” said Billy. “Trish always goes to town with the deserts!”

“I’m surprised you have any room left for desert,” interjected George. “After all, I saw how much you put away at the All You Can Eat Pizza Buffet yesterday!”

“You can talk!” said Billy, laughing.

Thomas returned from kitchen.

“Kettle’s on,” he said, placing a huge, heavy plate on the coffee table. On the plate was the biggest chocolate cake that Jayne had ever seen. “Who wants a slice?”

Hands shot up around the room. Jayne kept her hand down.

“Ummmmm,” she said, as though she wanted to say something but wasn’t sure how to begin.

“Go on,” said Maureen, smiling with those thin lips. “Have some. Thomas is a fantastic baker.”

“I’m sure he is, but…” Jayne stopped.

“But what?” said Daisy.

“Well, shouldn’t we…well, I’m trying to diet.” Jayne bowed her head, as though she’d confessed to some awful crime.

“Oh, of course you are,” said George. “We’re all trying to diet, aren’t we?”

Ernest nods and grunts of agreement.

“The thing is,” said Daisy. Jayne looked up to see her wiping a thick smear of chocolate icing from her cheek with that no-longer perfect white handkerchief. “The thing is, that it’s difficult, isn’t it?”

More nods and grunts.

“After all, that’s why we’re here. Because it’s hard, as Daisy said earlier,” said Thomas.

“We’re all in favour of diets. That’s what we’re all after – the ultimate goal is losing weight – but it’s not quite that simple, is it?” said Daisy.

“I don’t know what I’d do without this group,” said Trish, through a mouthful of smushed chocolate cake, “to lift my spirits and help me feel better about things.”

“That’s right,” said Thomas, nodding. “That’s absolutely right.”

Jayne looked around at the group, as they grinned at her, encouragingly. She knew that she would feel more encouraged if they didn’t all have chocolate-stained teeth. She made a decision.

“It’s been lovely to meet you all,” Jayne said, standing up. “But I have to go now. The truth is, I think I’m in the wrong group.”

The gathering sat in silence as she left the room. After a short moment they heard the front door slam.

“That’s a shame,” said Thomas. “Now, who’s for seconds?”

James’s Blog: What’s a Father to do?

James’s Blog:  What’s a Father to do?

Being a dad is tricky, and I don’t always get it right, so when I do it tends to stick in the mind.

One Australian summer’s day, at the local pool, a young Calvin came to me with a two dollar coin that he’d found. “What should I do with this, dad?“ he asked, and in a moment of inspiration I replied, “Well, what do you think you should do with it?” Read more

James’s Blog: My Wife.

James’s Blog:  My Wife.

There was a very small window when Ruth was the more prominent one in our relationship. We were newly married and she got involved with the worship group at church, while I sat in the pew saying and doing nothing worthy of notice. In those days I was known as ‘Ruth’s husband’. Eventually I began preaching, and even ended up working for the church for a few months, so that was the end of that. Since those days Ruth has mostly been ‘James’ wife’. Read more

James’s Blog: Some Beautiful Waste.

James’s Blog:  Some Beautiful Waste.

It’s a picturesque time of year, as Christmas summons frosted grass and offers a horizon spotted with naked trees. But it’s cold and wet, and that makes it less picturesque. In these conditions, the autumnal waste creates work. Every couple of weeks I have to pull manky, slimy leaves from the drain behind our kitchen or we get an overflow of yucky water outside. There’s no Yuletide cheer in that job, let me tell you. Read more

James’s Blog: Reasons to be Cheerful.

James’s Blog:  Reasons to be Cheerful.

I cried out to God for help;

I cried out to God to hear me.

 

Is it possible for God to ever be far from us? Does He ever withdraw Himself? We can debate these questions all day long, but one thing is certain – sometimes it feels like He’s gone away. Read more

James’s Blog: Exchanging the Truth of God for a Lie.

James’s Blog:  Exchanging the Truth of God for a Lie.

It always begins with a lie.

In the garden, the first of us chose to reject the truth, and chose to believe a lie.  It broke us, sold us into slavery.  Ever since the first, the Father of Lies has been keeping us in our chains by sidling up to us, and in a pleasant tone of voice asking what seems a most reasonable question – “Did God really say…?” Read more

James’s Blog: The Small Things.

James’s Blog:  The Small Things.

I’m not an adventurous person, but the twists and turns of my life suggest that, for me at least, God implements such things as ‘compulsory adventures’. The problem is that being between adventures leaves me tormented by restlessness. I’m not exaggerating for effect (who me?).  ‘Tormented’ is a carefully chosen word.  I suspect this is a condition I’ll have to deal with for the rest of my days. It’s difficult. Read more

James’s Blog: Soul Jar.

James’s Blog:  Soul Jar.

The soul is like a jar.  It’s probably made of clay.  God seems to have a thing for clay.

Sometimes you go to someone’s soul jar and it’s empty.  You look at the person, and you see the bitterness etched on his face and you roll your eyes.  Words spring to mind: small-minded, tiny-hearted, empty soul.  No wonder, you think, that this soul jar is empty.  He is mean, wicked, horrible and anything poured into that jar would turn into vinegar the moment that it splashed against the sides.

But it doesn’t work like that.  The jar is not empty because of bitterness, but rather there is bitterness because the jar is empty.

Let me explain.

I watch a child dancing with breathless joy in the morning, while the world around me shouts “Fire and Fury!” and I think, She doesn’t understand and that’s why she dances.  But then God taps me on the shoulder and says, “No, James, she does understand, and that’s why she dances.  You may have lost your way for a moment.”

The jar starts full, but a swift kick here and a rough push there and a crack will show, and if we don’t attend to it then the soul starts to leak out.  If we don’t watch those chips and fractures then we’ll dry out.  It might take years, but it’ll happen.

“And it’s not just your jar, James,” says God.  “You know what Fred Craddock says the rule for all big families is, don’t you?”

“Yes, God,” I reply.  “The older ones help the younger ones.”

“Good.  Now fix your jar, and I can always top it up for you.  And when you see someone else in danger of leaking out all over the place, you know what to do, don’t you?”

“Yes, God,” I say.  “The older ones help the younger ones.”

How’s your jar?

How about the jars to your left and right?

Don’t just watch the treasure leak out.

James’s Blog: No Rest for the Righteous.

James’s Blog:  No Rest for the Righteous.

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt about spiritual warfare, it’s that Satan is no gentleman. He isn’t one to say, “Hey, James has had a really rough week. Let’s go easy on him for the moment.” Quite the opposite in fact. There may be times where the conflict is more overt, and I am more aware of it, but rarely do the guns actually stop.

As a preacher, I know that the build up to a sermon can be a time of conflict. The act of preparation, with the temptation to take shortcuts or play fast and loose with the truth, feels like a battle. When we’re working towards something specific, we can be conscious of the spiritual struggle, wrestling with motives and prayer, but it’s a mistake to think that after the event there’s a ceasefire. As soon as the seed has landed on the path is the best time for the birds to swoop. The moment the preacher sits down is as good a time as any to push him into pride or drag him into despair.

However, as relentless as the Enemy is, God is even more so. The truth doesn’t ever stop being true. There is not a moment where resisting the devil doesn’t cause him to flee from us. I don’t stop being a child of God because I’ve had a bad week. We are always vulnerable to attack but, equally, the Enemy is always vulnerable to the truth.

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