Message from Geoff Lanham on 25th March
During lockdown, I’ve had a weakness for watching Countryfile on the TV. Last week featured a wildlife cameraman who was trying to film something he’d never before managed to film. He was trying to capture footage of some fox pups. The preparations were very involved and extensive. At the end, he was waiting for eight hours before the pups finally emerged blinking into the light. Me, I would probably have called it a day after three hours. Have you ever spent a lot of time and effort doing something that bore no fruit? I can think of my early days in B1 church when grappling with video editing technology was a steep learning curve. On occasions, I had to spend hours late into the evening trying to edit and render a video piece only for the computer to crash at an inconvenient moment, losing all that I’d been working on, because I’d forgot to save it! I’ve wrestled for hours with sermons that just wouldn’t flow as the clocked ticked towards the deadline. Jesus was involved in an incident with a bunch of fishermen who were feeling particularly unproductive.
In Luke’s gospel we find Simon Peter and his mates pretty tired and hacked off after a hard night’s fruitless fishing. At this time, you’d normally expect the fish to be biting, but their labours have produced nothing. Empty nets mean no income. No income means empty stomachs. Into this disappointment comes Jesus. He’s been teaching by the shore, but the crowd has grown and now there’s no room. The shore along lake Capernaum is a zigzagging shoreline, so Jesus wants to borrow a boat. He could talk from the shore and still be heard. The fishermen don’t yet know it, but they’re about to be set a progressive challenge that will teach them all about trust and dependence.
Will they show Jesus their friendship in letting him borrow their boat? All they want to do is sleep after the night they’ve had. Jesus asks them to strike out a little from the land. After talking for a bit, He then asks them to launch out into the deep. Then He asks them to do something that seems utterly pointless. Preaching is his business, but fishing is definitely not. You can just imagine yourself saying “stick to what you know Jesus…this is my line of work.” Then it gets more bizarre. “Let down the nets for a catch” he tells them.
Now there’s a progression here. At any stage, the fishermen could have decided enough was enough. Little requests became more extraordinary. They could have refused, but when they didn’t, Jesus had something else to ask. You and I can often fail to enter the deep, because we’re not willing to meet Jesus’ small requests that disturb our routine. We’re not willing to thrust out a little from our present situation to trust Jesus. Those fishermen were good at their job. But no matter how experienced, Jesus showed them that their judgements were limited. They were amazed by the miraculous catch of fish, too heavy for the nets. No matter how clever or skilled we think we are, our judgements are limited and sometimes wrong. We need to trust that God has the deeper wisdom and broader perspective we need.
The writer David Adam wisely says,
“We often look for the sheltering wings of God: we look for God’s safety and comfort, rather than listen to his call to ‘launch out into the deep’. Yet faith is often revealed when we adventure and risk for God.”
Someone has observed that “When God calls, too often the human stalls.” Fear and comfort obviously play a part, but I also think that self-reliance feeds into our reaction. We can end up virtually doing things our way and on our own. We may pay lip service to prayer, but, in reality we’re not that desperate to rely on God for His wisdom. We’d rather be in control of our own schedules and agendas. It’s so easy, believe me, even for vicars to become self-reliant. We can be so busy always trying to fix things ourselves, that we lose the habit of depending on God. For so much of our lives, we can be on cruise control. “I’ve got everything covered…I’m in control” we tell ourselves.
In her book ‘Ambition: what Jesus said about power, success and counting stuff’, Bishop Emma Ineson writes about the phrase “Blessed are the poor in spirit”. She describes it as being about “a poverty of pride, a real, almost desperate, dependence on God for everything.” I wonder how we at KPC are demonstrating a poverty of spirit? Going forward, we surely need a deep hunger for the work of God’s Spirit. Wherever God is calling us to follow Him and to move out further into the deep, it will involve a laying aside of what Ineson calls “our own rights, claims and abilities in complete and utter dependence on the empowering and filling of his Holy Spirit…”
Are we really trusting God to lead and provide for us in this new uncertain season? We need to be saying to Jesus “we really long for you to come and live your life through us.” We don’t want to be living out of our own spiritual capital. Even if it means we feel weak and useless, Lord teach us the fruitfulness that comes from real dependence.
I’ll leave you with a saying of Augustine of Hippo
“God from whom to stray is to fall
And to who to turn to is to rise up,
In whom to remain is to rest on a firm foundation.
To leave you is to die,
To return to you is to come back to life.
To dwell in you is to live.”
25 March 2021
Message from Geoff Lanham on 18th March
I gather my predecessor, Michael, fought a valiant rear- guard action to prevent an encroaching tide of rabbits invading his garden. My sights are turned towards a different enemy…badgers. A number of days ago, I opened the curtains one morning to behold a scene of carnage on my front grass. Something had been conducting extensive excavation. The resulting muddy mess was reminiscent of a 1970s winter goal mouth area at a third division football club! Now I’ve never held anything against badgers. In fact, I once sculpted a badger out of chalk at primary school. But everything has changed. In went the motion sensor ultra-sonic devices. Various substances have been sprinkled around the bounds of the lawn, including chopped chillies and onions. I’ve declared war on this protected species or at least I’m on high alert. Various passers-by have sympathised with our plight. It’s been explained to me that the badgers come to feed on chafer grubs in the soil. Apparently at this time of year, the badgers came to sniff out this tasty banquet. As I’ve reflected on the lengths to which I’m going to keep the badgers out, two thoughts have come to mind. I’ve asked myself “How alert am I to a different kind of spiritual enemy?” and “What am I feeding the enemy in my own life?” Let me explain.
Most of us live at a rational level in daily life. Talk of the supernatural is restricted to occasional Sundays. We’ve all been so pre-occupied with avoiding the unseen threat of the coronavirus. Perhaps there’s been no extra space to be considering the machinations of a spiritual enemy. 1 Peter 5: 8,9 warns us, though,
8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith…
I think we can be a bit in denial about the forces ranged against our efforts. We may know this bit about roaring lions prowling around looking for someone to devour, but unconsciously we comfort ourselves with the thought that it won’t be us. In many churches today, we can talk about structural evil, but the devil goes a bit under the radar. He’s out of fashion and that’s just how he likes it. One group of people who took the force of spiritual evil very seriously were the Desert fathers and mothers of the 5th century B.C. They believed that demons could work through thoughts entering unawares and gaining control. Hence, there was a need for continual vigilance to combat their influence. It was believed that in the battle against temptation and the devil, the demons had power only for as long as they remained hidden. Hence, there was a need for scrupulous honesty in the area of the thought life. Friends, as we embark on a period of change and renewal with our vision sharpening, we can expect an intensification of the spiritual flak coming from the enemy. The one target we can guarantee will come under assault is our unity. Like a stalking lion picking off the weakest deer that has become separated from the herd, the enemy will go after the low hanging fruit of grumblers. My badgers remind me that we need to be on our guard to the threat, for pre-warned is pre-armed. Paul writes in Ephesians 4: 3 that we are to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” There’s a responsibility on all of us to be on alert and to prize our unity, whatever our worship preference.
Back to the chafer grubs. The truth is that unless I deal with treating the grubs in July, I’m going to be faced with the same problem next year. I could repair the lawn only to have it ripped up again. Not treating them will only send out the message to the badgers that I’m running my own “Eat out to help out scheme” for mammals! Paul tells us that there’s a continual struggle going on in all Christians between our old and new natures. Galatians 5: 17,
“For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.”
It’s like a tug of war. I once read that we should “Feed the good nature and starve the sinful nature.” It’s good advice. As we go through the self-examination of Lent, it’s good to be asking ourselves “What am I giving my mind to? Where am I allowing my thoughts to become pre-occupied?” For some it might involve applying a more rigorous filter to what we spend our time watching, listening to and reading. Where are we secretly playing with darkness? Starve the sinful nature. Refuse to take those opportunities for secret criticisms and condemnations. I sometimes think of it in terms of ridding myself of the “buts”! You know, those sentences that start positively but hinge around a “but” hinting of negativity to come. On a more positive note, we can be prioritising the renewal of our devotional life. It’s strange how we can convince ourself that relating to God, meditating on His word, listening and worshipping can be expendable in the maelstrom of daily life. Feed the good nature. Start the day checking your life against the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. Assess where the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are. Review your day in the evening. Reflect on where you have experienced God. These are all ways of taking the food away from the enemy and not giving him opportunity to feast. You can no doubt think of other helpful ways for you.
In the spiritual battle against the enemy, perhaps we need a daily awakening. Which world do I belong to? Who is my Lord? Who gets my allegiance? Paul talks about the need to put off our old nature and to put on the new self. Why not tell yourself each day this is what I’m doing. If we don’t, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised to open our curtains and find that the lawn has been wrecked again.
18 March 2021