As a pastor I had the responsibility to pray for new babies, to lead marriage ceremonies and to assist funeral services. The funeral services that I have held, inevitably ended at the cemetery, where a place or marker is established as a final resting place.

Recently, after a meeting I drove past a large cemetery where two of my family have their bodies laid. I drove in and walked around locating the place, the marble marker with their names engraved into metal.   Silently I just sat, thinking about them, their lives, the memories, the effect of these two people in my life.  As I sat, I prayed, I looked around and read many of the inscriptions, the names and dates, the families that could remember this life.

What’s the point in writing this? Well the cemetery is a place where I often find a renewed vision. It is so easy to put financial success, material acquisitions, the big holidays, the new car at the top of our lives. Working hard to achieve these things and find our value, to buy more, to obtain more in my opinion means less time and less of me going into the things that really last beyond the grave.

The house can be taken, damaged, burnt, broken into. The cars, in a year they are replaced by a better looking faster model, the holiday, becomes pictures no one wants to see. There must be more that is worth investing my life into, this one chance that I have!

This is only part of the picture, you see not only does this reflection help in what I am trying to pursue in life, it helps me focus on the thing I don’t want. Like fear to rule my actions, the chance to step out in faith, the chance to go for something bigger than me and take a risk. The chance to give to someone in a way that will really cost me, the chance to forgive, to love, to show mercy, grace, hospitality like I have never done before!

The Bible in Matthew chapter 6 records Jesus speaking saying, 19″Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20″But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal;…

This is a bit of a challenge by Jesus! is it wrong to work hard! enjoy life with your family and friends? To take some pleasure in the rewards for your work? No, I don’t think that’s true. But the words of Jesus call us to take a good look at where our heart is!

Jesus knows us, better than we can ever imagine, he knows that we can be consumer machines that never reach fulfilment in our material hunger.  I used to go to bed as a child with the Argos catalogue, looking for my next top 5 items. When they were acquired did I throw the book away? No, I found the next top 5.

Where is the balance, sell everything and give to the poor? Well Jesus did say that to some, but why? I think this is a heart condition. What is it that drives us? Motivates us, consumes our time, our thoughts our energy? is it stuff? The next purchase in the Argos book?

I don’t know the outcome you will arrive at, take a walk around the local cemetery and ask yourself some questions.

What will you be known for? Having a 3 bed semi with a nice carpet and double glazing? Or a person that wasn’t living for stuff, but lived to follow the most radical life giver the world has ever and will ever see!  Are you a person who is not held by fear, fear of failure, fear of inadequacy, fear of ridicule, a person who loves greatly, gives generously, forgives deeply, loves unconditionally? That is worth living for, they are values and characteristics of the king!

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Recently I have been watching the TV show about star gazing, I loved it. I rushed out to the garage and found my scratched, bits missing Christmas gift from years past tele scope and went to work setting it up again. Sitting in the cold garden at 10pm it all came back to me, focussing in on the moon and it’s markings, awesome!

Space is utterly amazing, it’s vastness, it’s un-chartered depths, wow! As a human race we can understand solar wind and electrons, we have sent voyager 1 to the deepest space we have never reached before, wow. We have people living in the International space station constantly orbiting us, visible from earth. The sun! Now that’s incredible!

I remember something really simple in my own life, the day I looked up. Sounds stupid I know, but I was about 13 and as a boy I can remember walking with my head down, looking at the floor. I lived in Harlow, so this was sometimes a safe method to travel, but on one occasions near the sweet shop I lifted my head, don’t know why, but I lifted it up and from that day that’s where it has been. It was a significant moment.

So what? You might be thinking well for me this is important, I spend so much time looking down around me, this problem, that problem, this criticism, or that wrong choice, and I forget to look up.

psalm 19:1-6 says;

1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.
3 There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.
4 Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun,
5 which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
6 It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is hidden from its heat.

Choosing to look up to God is incredible. If we believe what the Bible says, Jesus has restored our relationship with God when he died and was raised to new life. Because of this, in any and every situation of life we can look stop and look up.

This looking up is a simple, daily recognition for me of my love and dependence in what Jesus has done and is to me.

Now this looking up works in the ‘wow’ moments in life and the ‘why’ moments too.

When the good moments turn into the trials and mountains to climb, looking up is the way, to look up and remember your not alone, your not forgotten, your loved and a plan is at work. One that may lead you through the darkest valleys or the sweetest roads, but fixing you eyes upwards on Jesus the Christ is essential!

So look up! Star gaze and look at the king of all days.

One of the things I love to read is the accounts of Jesus in the Bible. Recently I was reading about Jesus in the book of Matthew, and a few things really jumped out . Jesus has all authority!

Authority in my house is constantly challenged by my children as they discover the boundaries to their world. Jesus, time and time again was having his authority challenged, but why? Why was he such an issue to the religious leaders of his day?

The authority Jesus showed pointed to their God that made himself one of us! Influential people would come and go, they would flex authority and stir up a crowd of followers, but this Jesus, he had weight and authority that was never before seen!

Chapter 8 of Matthews account of Jesus, gives us a glimpse at 3 levels of authority where Jesus showed his awesome ‘Son of God power!’

Physical – Jesus is met by a guy who is suffering from leprosy, not only a horrific sickness but a socially isolating one. This guy falls at Jesus’ feet and begs that if Jesus is willing! the man would be healed.How does Jesus reply? He reaches out, TOUCHES the man, and says ‘I am willing, be clean!’ The guy is healed! Wow!

Cancer, that’s something we are very aware of in our society, imagine Jesus speaking to a man riddled with cancer and healing his body! That’s the impact! Jesus’ authority reaches into the realm of the physical! Something that money can’t do, best doctors looked on bemused! but authority in action from the author of life! changes everything!

Natural – Jesus moves on from here, healing many, he then gets into a boat with his mates and has a sleep. A massive storm breaks out at sea and everyone is seriously in trouble, Jesus is still asleep.

Jesus’ mates woke him up and to the shock of all in the boat he simply rebuked, or sharply corrected the winds and the waves and all became still. Now we have just witnessed some of the most powerful typhoon winds the world has ever seen, and lives in the Philippines will be changed by them for years to come.

This is one thing in life, as smart as we think we are, we just can’t control. We predict the storms, we generate data and charts that plan the winds course but when it hits, we hold on until it lets us go.

It’s in a storm that Jesus speaks out his authority, controlling even the wind and the waves! Who can do this? Who has this authority? Some think Jesus was a good teacher! a prophet! some ink a mad man! a crazy fool! He lived, it’s proven, he died, that’s fact too, so who was he? If he did do as they witness claimed, this authority he showed points to one place!

Spiritual – Jesus came face to face many times with demonised people? Evil spirits allowed into the lives of people to enslave and trap. here in Matthews gospel Jesus is faced with two men, (could be one) but either way, it’s a life full of evil spirits.

For a long time, no one could walk by them, be near them, violent and uncontrollable they lived as outcasts, tormented by spirits. Jesus, speaks words of authority into the spiritual realm, a realm largely unseen by you and me.

Just words, words that anyone can speak, but the man speaking them here is like an image of a police officer standing in the road. Without a uniform on its a person in the road, but with the uniform on, the authority is seen, acknowledged and obeyed, the car is stopped at the order of the policeman. When Jesus spoke, commanding the spirits (of which there were many!) to come out, it wasn’t just a man speaking, there was real authority, and authority that even dared to forgive sins!!

This was the deal breaker for Jesus’ many listeners turn haters, to have this authority or at least claim to have the power to forgive sins is so that only God can do. The authority of Jesus broke into the physical, the natural and the spiritual world! limited by nothing! the author of life speaks and timings happen!

Have you heard him speak? Through experience, your life, your church, your bible? Are you ready to listen? Are you ready to let his authority rule over your life? If you are, then your stepping into a relationship that will change your yesterday, today and all your tomorrow’s! That’s real authority!!

Have you ever been walking along and a stranger greets you warmly with a smile and a nod? You may be thinking ‘what does he/she want? Have I got breakfast around my face!’ Or you may take the greeting for what it was worth, feel encouraged and be on your way. The point is, sometimes it’s the really simple things that can make a difference to us.

Take the Bible for example, a particular book written by a guy called James. He talks about ships being steered by a tiny rudder, a match that can set ablaze a huge amount of trees, or was that the Stereophonics? Anyway, your tongue, tiny in comparison to you, but very powerful, to build up or to bring down. Things that are small and simple, yet have huge effects and implications in life.

I remember a very elderly lady getting up in Church, walking slowly to the front, lifting her head she stood gazing at the congregation. In silence we waited, watched, but nothing. She just stood there looking out at us. The microphone buzzed and squealed as the sound guy started to panic boosting the audio levels, but she remained calm, still, waiting.

What she said was simple, ‘Read your Bible and pray every day if you want to grow’ then she shuffled back to her place, head down and still.

The service moved on and we all went home, but that simple truth stayed with me, why? She hadn’t just invented it, Jesus spoke the message before, that ‘man cannot live by bread alone, but on every single word from God.’ Matthew 4:4

The faith and relationship that we can enjoy with God because of Jesus Christ has to be a life that is fed and cared for. Much like how we care for and fed our physical state, our spiritual one is in need of spiritual food.

Perhaps you have made a commitment to God before and things have gone cold, or the challenges of certain life experiences have caused you to move away.

The message is simple, if you want to grow in your relationship with God, if you want to be the person you know God desires you to be, read His Word (the Bible) and pray each day. This is not a prescription like the doctor will give, this is a living relationship that requires you to respond, to move forward and closer to God, that’s done in reading and praying.

And remember this simple guide, as you open and read God’s word, ask Him, ‘Lord what were you saying then, and what do you want to say to me today?’

I don’t know about you but its really easy to be drawn to the amazing stories of powerful, life changing testimonies that have gone from real darkness to light, drug addiction to freedom and others. These are great, and I love them, and the transformation is incredible. However, I often feel that I don’t have much of a story, a testimony, and my guess is, I am not alone.

However, what I have started to see is that anyone who has encountered Jesus and begun following him as saviour has a story, and it’s the primary tool in our hands for telling our family, mates and neighbours about Him.

In the bible, take a read of Acts 26. In this chapter Paul has an opportunity to speak and defend his case before King Agrippa, and he does it well! Paul essentially gives his testimony and this is a great resource for us today.

Paul talks about what his life was like, before he met Jesus, his ideas, his passions, his story. Then something happened, an encounter and a moment that changed everything and that encounter was a collision with the truth of who Jesus is.

The outcome, was a transformation into a man who was set on fire with a desire to tell people of Jesus and live a life that pointed to this wonderful good news.

So what? Well I want to suggest that we all have a story, a life before, perhaps you don’t even remember it, if that’s the case, look in the bible at how you are described before Jesus! Lost and harassed like a sheep without a shepherd! Even and enemy of God! Ouch! But Jesus got your attention, moved the stage and started to renovate the home, i.e. you! So today, if your following him you can do it because of the Holy Spirit and the gift of life that Jesus has won for you on the cross!

So, next time you think, ‘I wish I had a testimony, a story or something to use to share Jesus with this person,’ STOP, you do have one! GO and read Acts 26!

Well, why are you still reading this? Go!!

So these last few weeks we have moved house, again, and now live in the Peak District, what a place! The Peaks are incredible for rediscovering that ‘wilderness and restless’ spirit that has been suppressed for a long time.

Early one morning I hiked up a little way, the morning mist was clearing from the valley below revealing stonewalls, animals gathering and people starting their days.

It is often in these moments of wilderness and seclusion I sense the presence of God. I was reminded of Geneses chapter 3 on this occasion. God is walking in Eden looking for Adam and Eve, as was his routine to walk with his loved creation.

Where were they? Hiding! Sin and disobedience had happened and they hid from the presence of God calling out to them ‘where are you?’

So often in my life I put God on mute, sometimes because of sin and disobedience, but other times in the busyness, the nature of work and family life fill my day and leave God on mute. This isn’t meant to be, and it takes a walk into the wilderness sometimes to help see that God might be calling, ‘where are you?’

What does God want when you answer him? He wants what he once had, to walk with you not just on a Sunday, or when it’s all gone wrong, but to shape your everyday in intimacy with Him!  He shapes our identity, how to be parents to our children, loving partners to our spouses, men and women of faith and integrity with the Good News voice for this generation!