Psalm 139. v. 1 - 18

Revelation chapter 5. v. 1 - 10

John chapter 1. v. 43 -end.

Do you like surprises? Sometimes, most times, but not always; for it depends upon the surprise and the place that it takes place, or occasion. A surprise party, a surprise visit, if we are not prepared, in the mood, or catches us in an unglamorous position, without our false teeth in, or our wig on or our make up and outfit on, may not be received graciously. There is a TV programme that my daughters and wife used to like to watch occasionally, called 'Don't Tell the Bride.' In it, there is a couple, usually, who have been living together in a relationship for a long time, but who are desperate to 'tie the knot;' be married. The problem is, they just don't have the money. So, the competition is, the TV company, will give them the money to marry [ a smallish amount, say about £12,000 ], but on the condition, that the GROOM only arranges and buys everything for the wedding; he has no assistance from the bride, who is expected to live away from her partner with no contact until the big day. So, he has to buy the bride's dress, shoes; the bridesmaid's dresses; book the reception and catering, organise his stag party, cars for the day, everything, without ever once consulting the bride to be. He has three weeks to plan and organise this.

Everything about the wedding is a total surprise to the bride until the day of the ceremony. Sometimes it all goes spectacularly wrong, with the bride in tears and very angry. But, other times it goes wonderfully right. The surprise works best when the couple really know each other, trust each other and put the other first; then it can be very emotional, joyful and meaningful.

It may surprise you, that God is NOT surprised by anything we do, ever. Psalm 139, which, probably is my favourite psalm, reminds us, that God knows when we sit and when we rise. He perceives our thoughts even before we know them ourselves. He even knew us before we were born; he saw us being formed. All our days have been written, the psalm tells us, in his book of life. Nothing, absolutely nothing we do, or don't do, surprises God.

Now, is this scary or is it a good thing? What it means, is our Lord and God is not taken aback by human beings evil, bad attitudes or wrong doing, or, even by the good and loving things we do. He is right there with us in it all. And he can help us.

So, is this all seeing and all knowing God a good thing or a bad thing? It depends on how you visualise God. Your concept of God is extremely important. Sadly, many Christians have a somewhat faulty view of God and it needs healing.

This raises the question though: if God knows what we are about to do - sees it all beforehand - then why doesn't he act when someone is about to perpetrate some evil act or say something nasty? It is all to do with FREEDOM. God's greatest gift to us is not just life. Life without freedom, lived as automations [ robots ] would not be enjoyable. Think about it for a moment: you couldn't choose to go here, or there when you want, you are directed every moment of every day. Our freedom is our greatest gift - it is LIFE. God could intervene, but he so values our freedom, that he will not. So, it means, if we choose to do evil we can, because, if God intervene in one act, where does it stop, Before we know it, we are taken over, controlled; our freedom is gone. Yet, when someone freely chooses to act generously, or kindly, lovingly, without reward, it means, it is a most beautiful act, deeply meaningful. Of course, God has not left us unaided in our freedom, in our choice making; he has given us the bible, his guide book for right living and the examples of the saints before to inspire us. But, God is genuinely hurt when we do wrong, and is already working to find a way around our poor choices, to mitigate their affects or even turn them into positives. He did this chiefly through Jesus on the cross.

Actually, l believe, God does help us - intervene - but only if we let him and invite him in to aid us. That's why your prayers are so important; they allow God to play a part. And, when you are in a daily loving relationship with another, that person can act on your behalf, even without being ask, because the mutual trust and respect is there. For instance, I can take decisions that will effect my wife, on behalf of us both, and vice versa, but it doesn't take away each others freedom as we are one in spirit and mind; and we always want the best for each other, and would not do anything to harm them, but may be proactive, sometimes, in protecting them. So, our prayers are very important, as it's a voluntary act, on our part, that allows God to help us. If we let him, God will gently prod and pull us towards himself, and guard and lead us, but we have to learn to discern his ways - his voice.

However, do you remember when we talked about our bride and groom earlier; about how the good surprises only ever came if the couple really knew each other and trusted and loved each other, that the surprise would be a good experience, so too with God. His is never going to surprise us in a bad way. He knows us better than we know ourselves, so he wants only the very best for us. And, he is never surprised by us, like a long married couple, elderly now, who know each other so well, they cease to surprise each other; so God knows us; he knows what we are like and need and he doesn't get offended by our tantrums and silly petty ways, actions.

He will surprise us though, always, by his patience with us; his acceptance of us and his forgiveness of us. Why? Because, as our Psalm says, ''We are faithfully and wonderfully made,'' the pinnacle of his creation; precious in his eyes. That's why, although he watches over us, he values us and loves us too much to interfere unless first asked. Then, like a couple united together in love, trust and joy, we are not surprised by each other, but can face life's surprises together; stronger together than apart, we travel not alone or unaided but with God our mighty creator. Bryan

COLLECT: Eternal Lord, our beginning and our end: bring us with the whole creation to your glory, hidden through past ages and made known in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Listen to ....

"How Great Thou Art" with lyrics by Chris Rice

"Wonderfully Made" sung by Ellie Holcomb

All I once held dear - Robin Mark




Genesis chapter 1. v. 1 - 5

Acts chapter 19.v. 1 - 7

Mark chapter 1. v. 4 - 11

What things have dramatically changed your life? What is it that has brought a new dimension or outlook to your existence, changing your attitudes and feelings?

Sometimes a change of location; moving house may have a dramatic effect, particularly if you suffered previously with bad neighbours. Maybe changing schools made a huge difference to you, or joining a new group after a bereavement. Perhaps, a life enhancing event for you, was finding a new job or changing career direction. All of these things can be life enhancing and bring a new verve to your life.

However, probably the biggest change to happen to us, is when we meet the love of our lives. When you fall in love, life is never the same again; it turns your life upside down and inside it. When you fall in love, another dimension is added to your life, as another person lives within you; occupying your every waking thought. Though apart at times, you are never really alone anymore. This all makes life richer, more colourful and less mundane. You have someone to share your hopes and dreams with, even your fears and anxieties. For me, more was possible with two than by myself. So, if you are in a long term relationship, take yourself back to those delightful heady days when you first met and fell in love. For, it's good to remember what brought you together and what this person means to you, because, after a number of years together, we can, all too easily, forget what it was. The problem we all face, is that, after those heady days of courtship are over, and love has settled into a necessary deeper more mature love, we can then start to take the other person for granted and neglect them; or we may become side tracked by outside interests or concerns and the joy of that partnerships fades.

This happened, in the film, a musical called, 'The Greatest Showman on Earth.' Here Barnum, the now famous circus entrepreneur, starts out a bit of a failure. But he marries a lovely supportive woman, has children and with their help gathers an addition family of circus performers, who at that time were seen as misfits in society. This enlarged circle becomes an extended family and it succeeds commercially. However, after time, Barnum, gets distracted by a wonderful singer, who can take his social status to a new height of respectability, something he craves for, as his circus act is seen, by some, as a poor persons entertainment. Eventually, an accident strikes the circus while he is away touring with his now famous singer and it brings him to his senses. He realises, that he has neglected his wife, children and extended family pursuing something other. He returns to his roots and finds joy again.

It strikes me, that this is often what happens with many christians and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit comes as another; that other half who will enrich, enliven and light up our hearts and lives, with the love of Jesus and God. Jesus will forever, remain a figure in history or a character on a page without the Spirits help. But, like any relationship, it can be magical and become mundane.

The Holy Spirit features prominently in our readings today. He hovers over the waters of creation in Genesis; He is received, by twelve disciples, after teaching by St Paul, about the difference between the baptism of John and Jesus' baptism. He is there at Jesus' own baptism and marks the turning point in his life ministry. He is present [ or should present ] at a Christian's baptism too, but because we practice infant baptism mainly, and many do not follow on to confirmation today, He is not properly known, felt or received. In other words He is neglected and ignored. As a result, we do not know what the love of Jesus is truly like and in all it's beauty. And, even if we have received the Spirit in adulthood more fully, often, over time we get distracted, side tracked and neglect the one person who can lead us all deeper, into Christ our lover and Saviour. Like any relationship, this can have direct consequences on our feelings and attitudes and will hamper the church's witness and mission. Like any good relationship, the Spirit adds colour, joy and depth to our own personality and to the church's life. So, may l encourage you to reconnect with the third person of the Trinity. It is never to late to return to your first love or to ask for this Person to fill your life afresh with the love of God's only Son. Simply pray in a quite place and ask God in Jesus' name to send the gift He promised us to you; then trust and know that it has happened and then cultivate this relationship. But, one aside; the Holy Spirit is given, not just for our individual benefit, but for the advancement of God's church here on earth. So if you are not prepared to be put to service and your talents and time to be used for the good of others around you, you may not be filled as richly. Or, ask me to pray for you for this friendship of the Spirit, and l would be privileged to do so. Whatever, do not neglect this relationship but, either seek it or rekindle it and like, Barnum earlier, you will find joy and love nearer to home than you perhaps realised.



Eternal Father, who at the baptism of Jesus revealed him to be your Son, anointing him with the Holy Spirit: grant to us, who are born again by the water and the Spirit, that we may be faithful to our calling as your adopted children; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Notice: All churches in the group are closed for the time being. Hopefully we will reopen mid to late February. Please do ring or email if you need help, advice or a prayer any time. Bryan



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