Tomorrow at St John's, we are celebrating harvest festival.  Although people often think harvest is about fruit & veg, and perhaps other food, it's really about giving thanks to God for all the good things that we have.  Sometimes we convince ourselves that it's by the sweat of our brow and our own hard work and cleverness that we have so much, and we tend to give ourselves rather a lot of credit.  As I write this, I have a string of TV adverts coming to mind, maybe you do too.  (My wife has learned to smile when I sing some jingle from the past).


Of course, many of us have a part to play in 'bringing home the bacon' but that part is often not as great as we think.  As I reflect on my years in the overseas aid business, I thank God for the undeserved privilege of living in England where it's all-too-easy to take for granted the meeting of basic needs.


Interestingly, some of the most generous people I have met have been those we might consider poor - it is humbling to receive gifts from those who have very little.  Part of harvest is celebrations is thinking of, praying for, and being generous to those in need, holding lightly the good things we have.


Jesus said that "life does not consist of an abundance of possessions" (see Luke 12 to learn more) so I'll end by asking you - who could you bless with an act of generosity this week?  You might be surprised to find that you enjoy it more than you think.


Words have great power, and the Bible contains some great word pictures.  The letter of James in the New Testament makes the point that, even though it is small, the tongue can have a huge impact.  James likens the tongue to three things:

  • The rudder in a ship - small and mostly invisible, but able to steer a large vessel wherever the captain wants to go;

  • A bit in the mouth of a horse - a small thing that can (with the help of bridle and reins) determine the direction of the horse and its rider;

  • A spark - a tiny thing but enough to light a forest fire, even the huge ones we have recently seen on TV devastating chunks of the Amazon rain forest.


Words can be used for good or ill:  'I love you' and 'I hate you' are very short phrases but they are remembered by their hearers, often years after they are uttered.  I wonder what examples come into your mind as you read this. 


One of the saddest things I've seen was a stressed single mum screaming 'I hate you, I never wanted you' to her child - tragically, he will carry that memory for the rest of his life.  By contrast, being told 'I love you' by those closest to us carries amazing weight, especially when accompanied by loving actions.


In the course of daily life, we have the chance to use words in different ways.  I hope you will choose yours carefully.

Sporting parallels

I sometimes find myself in conversations discussing the parallels between Christians and sportspeople.  The Bible uses this illustration several times, and St Paul was particularly struck by this, so his writings included passages about athletes, boxers and so on.  I will briefly mention four of the reasons why sporting illustrations are used so often in scripture.  First, one characteristic of a serious sportsperson is their single-minded devotion to their chosen endeavour.  We see the positive side of this in commitment to training so as to be the best possible, and the negative side when a gifted player is drawn to other things and so never fulfils their potential.


A second aspect is willingness to experience short term pain for long term gain.  God never promises His followers an easy life - far from it - and Jesus spelt out some of the very significant costs of discipleship.  But none of these compares with the benefits - Paul calls the troubles (which in his case were life-ending) 'light and momentary' by comparison (see Romans 8 to learn more).


The third thing I'll mention is a disciplined approach to life.  The most important half hour of my day is just after breakfast, when I close the door of my study, spending time in prayer and Bible reading.  Sometimes it's tempting to get stuck into the specifics of what lies ahead, and it requires discipline not to be distracted by that and to concentrate on what I know is most important, even if there are urgent things clamouring for attention.


Endurance is the last thing I'll mention - keeping going through the ups and downs of life.  This is vital - we see this in football with so many decisive goals scored in the last few minutes.  The Bible says we should 'run with perseverance the race marked at for us' not giving up however hard things get.

Being ready

Imagine that the Queen or some other world leader announced that they were coming to your house for tea.  What would you do?  Most of us would do a mixture of tidying, dusting, cleaning, vacuuming and so on.  Maybe even some painting (it's said that the Queen smells fresh paint wherever she goes) and perhaps a bit of panicking into the bargain.


Preparation is a vital thing.  

In Poole, we have a reminder every time we go to the quay of Robert Baden-Powell and the Scouts, whose motto is 'be prepared'.  (I was never a Scout or Cub but my wife often says I should have been when I pack for every eventuality when going on a trip!)


Jesus often spoke about being ready, prepared and watchful - for the ups and downs and challenges of life, and the prospect of meeting our maker at the end of it.  I recently typed 'readiness' into my search engine and found images of pilots resting but ready to jump into their Spitfires and Hurricanes when required during the Battle of Britain in 1940.  I also remember playing golf with an RAF pilot who was on 3 hour readiness to fly to Afghanistan - naturally he had his mobile close at hand.  As I reflect on this, I think it's a good illustration of being ready but getting on with the daily round of life.  Whatever your situation, I hope you will be ready for the challenges that lie ahead.

Summer reflection

This summer we have commemorated the 50th anniversary of the first walk on the moon in the Apollo 11 mission.  I am (only just about!) old enough to recall being woken by my parents to watch grainy pictures of Neil Armstrong's 'giant leap for mankind' at 3.56am on 21 July and, like many of us, I have enjoyed the various films and TV programmes marking the anniversary.  As I reflect on the Apollo programme, two spiritual strands of thought come to mind.


First, I am struck by the way astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders described what they saw when they first travelled to the moon, orbiting it on Apollo 8.  The Apollo programme brought together an array of scientists, engineers and test pilots so we might have expected them to refer to a physics text book or a flight manual, but instead they read from the scriptures: their reading from Genesis chapter 1 reflects the unique and special nature of the Bible.


Second, I find myself thinking of Psalm 139 which says, 'If I go up to the heavens, you are there, if I make my bed in the depths you are there … even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast'.  We in Poole might never travel to the moon, but we all need to be reminded that God is there in the ups and downs of life.  Astronaut Charlie Duke (who walked on the moon in Apollo 16) wisely reminds us to keep things in perspective when he says that his walk on the moon lasted three days but his walk with Jesus lasts for eternity.

Summer reflection