Monthly Archives: March 2015

Easter Is For Life, Not Just For Christians

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“How many Easter eggs shall we buy? or “How would you like us to decorate the church?” is what they may as well have been saying, when they asked him: “Where do you want us to go to prepare the Passover meal for you?”

Because for these follower-friends, this was just another religious festival. Like preparations for an Easter party or Christmas service.

Unwittingly, however, because their lives were already intertwined with that of Jesus, they were asking a far deeper question:

“How can we participate in your imminent, agonising crucifixion, your magnificent, world-healing resurrection and your new life?”

For Jesus, celebrating the Passover on this occasion was not just another religious festival – this was the start of the events that are commemorated every Easter, in which he willingly and pre-knowingly gave everything he was, everything he had, so that everyone could have real life. He was about to live out the Passover in the most stark, brutal way, by being the sacrificial lamb itself.

The follower-friends may not have realised that they were enquiring into so much more than just a religious occasion, but they were with him all the way. They’d already given up lodgings, livelihoods and loved ones, in order to follow this Messiah and, to the best of their human ability (which inevitably waxed and waned), they were all in.

Their commitment and their passion and their understanding of what it meant to follow Jesus would grow in time to come, but they knew from the start that this Man was the one to watch, the one to follow. There was no turning back.

Jesus never asks people to ‘make a commitment’ (the unfortunate euphemism that Christians sometimes use for that step of faith towards Jesus); he calls them to follow and to trust him. And then to keep on following and keep on trusting.

Jesus Twitter

He’s the one that made the commitment to love us. He calls us to live in that love.

Some of us who started following Jesus years ago had no idea what that would mean. People sometimes talk about ‘counting the cost’ before becoming a Christian. Whatever Jesus meant by counting the cost, we cannot possibly know at the beginning what the implications of following him would be in years to come. We follow where he leads. And we find out where he’s taking us as we go along!

In 1987, when I prayed my first ever prayer, all I knew was that I believed in God for the very first time and that Jesus was the Way, the one to follow. I started to pray and to find out what it meant to follow him, and he began to change me from the inside out. The rest, as they say, is history. In fact, better-than-I-ever-could-have-imagined history – and probably-different-than-I-ever-could-have-imagined history. It’s been, and still is, an adventure.

The follower-friends had no idea of the ramifications when they asked, “Where do you want us to go to prepare the Passover meal for you?” But, by implication, they were inadvertently asking:

“How can we also sacrifice our lives for others, following in your footsteps? How can we share in your passion for those who are marginalised and oppressed?”

“How can we love others with your kind of love?”

“Help us to learn to pray as you’re about to pray at Gethsemane, in intimacy with the Father, in order to achieve what can only be achieved through prayer.”

“May we be ready to be misunderstood, rejected and insulted, just as you’re about to be, for carrying out mercy and speaking out truth.”

“Show us how to follow your ultimate example of non-violent resistance, thereby breaking down injustice and inequality just as you did.”

“Show us how to bring to others the healing and wholeness and happiness that you’re about to die for. Show us how to be your ambassadors in this world.”

“Show us how to receive and enjoy the real life that you’re making possible through your death and resurrection.”

The follower-friends lived out the answers to those questions in tangible ways in the ensuing years, many suffering martyrdom. Some of those questions are being answered along the way on my journey too. How they will play out in years to come will probably be completely different again.

When someone takes their first steps to Jesus, they may not know that those are the kinds of questions they’re signing up for. They may not even need to know. Like those early follower-friends, all they may need to know is that Jesus is worth following. He’ll show them the rest as they go along on their journey with him.

As we approach Easter 2015, I’m asking Jesus (figuratively):

“Where do you want us to go to prepare the Passover meal for you?” – with all its implied questions:

“How can I sacrifice my life for others, following in your footsteps? How can I share in your passion for those who are marginalised and oppressed?”

“How can I love others with your kind of love?”

“Help me to learn to pray as you prayed at Gethsemane, in intimacy with the Father, in order to achieve what can only be achieved through prayer.”

“May I be ready to be misunderstood, rejected and insulted, just like you were, for carrying out mercy and speaking out truth.”

“Show me how to follow your ultimate example of non-violent resistance, thereby breaking down injustice and inequality just as you did.”

“Show me how to bring to others the healing and wholeness and happiness that you died for. Show me how to be your ambassador in this world.”

“Show me how to receive and enjoy the real life that you made possible through your death and resurrection.”

Whether or not you’re someone who normally prays, you could think about joining me in that prayer. Who knows where it might lead? A new life? A new adventure?

Maybe Easter doesn’t have to be just another religious festival after all.

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Ran for Home

Well, that’s the Hastings Half Marathon done for another year. And I’m glad it’s over!

Apart from the fact that training’s been hard this winter for a variety of reasons, I seem to have lost some of that competitive edge – as a consequence of delving into a more contemplative approach to prayer.

Since 1987, when I took that initial step of faith, prayer has been my strength – the most vital and special element of my life. Recently I’ve enjoyed a more mindful, restful attitude to prayer (and to a lesser extent, to life), stopping to experience things like being held in love rather than just asking for things.

Suddenly, the idea of running hard over endless hours of training, just to try and gain a faster time, seems a bit pointless. All that hassle just for a number? Vanity, in both senses: meaningless and narcissistic. I get myself ready for a run, only to find my heart saying I’d rather be resting in my Father’s arms, my spiritual home, where I’m fully approved, fully loved, with nothing to prove.

Now, I’m not knocking races, running or competition. This just happens to be where I’m at right now. There’s plenty of value in all these things, and I’ll probably carry on competing. Perhaps with less drive.

But today…..today I was running in the Hastings Half Marathon for Seaview Project. Extra added motivation to race.

Years ago I found my home, spiritually and physically. Today I ran for homes for the homeless.

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If you’ve read my last post, Running for Home, you’ll know a bit about Seaview and why I was running for a charity that, amongst other things, helps homeless people back on to their feet.

If you’ve already sponsored me, thank you so much.

The total amount raised so far (online and offline donations) is a fantastic £648 + Gift Aid.

If you sponsored me, then you’ll probably also know that I set myself a challenge, and asked you to consider increasing your donation after the event if I managed to run under 1hr 35mins (which was going to be highly unlikely, especially after coming down with a horrible virus 9 days before the race!).

Well, my finishing time was 1hr 35mins 54secs: 2 minutes slower than last year, but as fast as I realistically expected. So I’m kind of pleased. But….

That doesn’t quite count as under 1:35, does it??

If you sponsored me and were considering upping the donation if I ran under 1:35, then I’ll leave you to decide whether that was close enough! 🙂

Please click here to donate – either again or for the first time!

Thank you and God bless you!

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Running for Home

Please follow this link to sponsor me in the 2015 Hastings Half Marathon, to raise funds for Seaview Project.

Homelessness can happen to anyone – even an international sprinter. You may have read this week about top Sierra Leone athlete, Jimmy Thoronka, who was found sleeping rough on the streets of London after being afraid to return to his home country where his family have been decimated by Ebola.

Although most homeless people are not international sprinters, the pattern is all too familiar: a history of bereavements, losses and trauma, often taking to the streets to escape from something worse, resulting in malnutrition, depression and suicidal thoughts.

I’m privileged and proud to be associated with Seaview Project, a Hastings-based charity with “an open access wellbeing centre offering help and inspiration for people living on society’s margins”.

Seaview helps homeless people to get re-housed and back on their feet.

SeaviewTheir “range of support services help marginalised people with addiction problems, mental health issues, ex- and at-risk offenders and rough sleepers achieve personal growth and fulfilment” (taken from Seaview’s website).

Most homeless people are forced by a vicious circle of life’s circumstances on to the streets.

A few choose homelessness for a variety of reasons. I was someone who was attracted to life on the road and the streets because I was rootless – spiritually and emotionally homeless – like many of the physically homeless people I meet.

You can read how my life turned around when I found a spiritual home in My Life’s Soundtrack.

I now work for St John Ambulance Hastings Homeless Service. As a nurse, I lead a team providing a nurse-led healthcare service at Seaview’s day-centre. You can read more about us in this RCN article.

My clients often tell me that Seaview is a ‘lifeline’ or a ‘life-saver’ to them. It literally is.

Like all charities, Seaview is dependent on the generosity and support of people like you and me to keep going.

So please consider sponsoring me in this year’s Hastings Half Marathon, as I run to raise money for Seaview – follow this link to donate.

You may know I’m a seasoned Half Marathon runner, so you may be thinking, “Why should I sponsor you to do what you normally do anyway?”

Well, training has been a huge struggle this year. With one cold after another this winter, a heavy workload and the demands of family life, my running’s dropped to once or twice a week – some weeks not running at all. I’ve gained half a stone, my pace has slowed right down and I’ve struggled to do the distance. So, another good reason to sponsor me, maybe?

In 2014, I ran the Hastings Half Marathon in just under 1 hour 34 minutes. This year, I’m more likely to take about 1:40. With less than 2 weeks to go (as I write this), and colds hopefully behind me, I’m trying to cram in some last minute speed training. If you sponsor me, would you also consider increasing your donation after the event if I succeed in finishing in under 1:35???

Most importantly, the best reason to sponsor me in this year’s Hastings Half Marathon is because it’s for Seaview, a lifeline for some of the most vulnerable people in our community.

Please follow this link to sponsor me in the 2015 Hastings Half Marathon, to raise funds for Seaview Project.

Thank you!

Roger Nuttall

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Is Yoga a Slippery Slope to Satan?

“I think us Christians can learn a lot from Buddhism,” I suggested in conversation with the young man I’d just met after the service at church last week. He was OK with that. He got where I was coming from.

This was in stark contrast to an online article the same week, on the relationship between Christians and Eastern practices, with a headline that read:

‘It’s a slippery slope from yoga to Satan’ – Irish priest.

Father Roland Colhoun had warned (particularly to the Catholic world) that those partaking in yoga and Indian head massages may be led into the “Kingdom of Darkness.”

I’m no expert on yoga or Eastern religion, but I know that for a lot of people the meditative, physical and ethical principles of Buddhism or yoga are not “religious” or even spiritual, but simply a healthy way of living, promoting positive ways of thinking and being. Many principles of yoga or Eastern spirituality such as Buddhism seem to be generally good for physical, emotional and relational health.

This very morning, at church again, as I was discussing this blog post, another friend revealed that she practises and enjoys the physical benefits of yoga, putting it this way: “It’s as spiritual as you want to make it”.

For the Christian, meditation or relaxation techniques such as mindfully focussing on our breathing, can be used to help us to pray, to be still and know God, to quieten our minds and listen to his still, small voice. All these practices are neutral: until we choose how we use them.

How we use that quietening of our minds will differ between, say, Christians, atheists and Buddhists. The atheist may focus on her breath, achieving a calmer state of being. The Christian may do this too, but also focus on the God who gave her that breath, by faith ‘breathing in’ God’s Spirit and grace, and ‘breathing out’ praise to God (or confession of sins).

There is huge overlap between ancient Eastern meditative practices and ancient Christian contemplation. For the Christian this should come as no surprise, believing as we do that God has made every body (not just those who believe in him), and designed us in such a way that whatever our beliefs, taking time to be still and to quieten our minds is essentially good for our bodies and minds.

A few months ago I had a fascinating conversation with a beautiful, jolly, love-filled, Catholic man, about contemplative prayer. After we discovered that we had a mutual admiration for Thomas Merton, the popular 20th Century Catholic contemplative writer, the man informed me with a wicked, tongue-in-cheek smile that Merton had been responsible for converting more Catholics to Buddhism than anyone else!

It probably isn’t true – I don’t know.

The point is that, although Merton extolled the benefits of contemplation from a distinctly Christian viewpoint, the parallels with Eastern or Buddhist meditation can hardly be lost on his readers. Some Christians recoil at the very thought of anything that may bear any similarity with another religion, holding tight to their version of ‘Christianity’ in fear that they may be negatively affected by some unhealthy spiritual influence.

I am in some sympathy with those people. (In fact, here’s a link to a very balanced BBC article on the concerns about yoga shared by Christians, Jews and Muslims alike.)

But when Christians live in that kind of fear, they betray how small their trust in Jesus is.

The wise, mature Christian has grown out of his childish clinging to the religion of Christianity and instead entrusts everything he knows to Jesus himself.

He closely examines the example of Jesus and prays for the ability to emulate him rather than church tradition.

He observes that Jesus, living in a society ruled by the Romans, never felt the need to denounce their pagan religion, only the hypocrisy within his own (Jewish) religion. What does that say to us?

And Jesus was drawn to, and commended, people of any faith background who had genuine, hungry hearts, rather than those who believed and did “the right things”.

Likewise St. Paul, in Athens*, surrounded by statues of Greek gods, chose not to warn the Athenians about the dangers of false gods, but to find common ground with their culture, with its gods and poets, to communicate the good news of his Jesus to them. In fact, there were already hints about the God of the Universe within their polytheistic literature, perhaps divinely planted there.

Christians, like me, may see things that we think are wrong in other religions, but Christianity in its various expressions can be equally wrong: for example, when its beliefs and practices are exclusivist or prejudiced.

People will often find what they’re looking for. If they’re just looking for relaxation, then they will probably find just that, whether through yoga or churchgoing. If they’re genuinely looking for truth or wholeness, then they will find those too – though it may take a while. Jesus knew what he was talking about when he said “Seek [or keep seeking] and you will find.”

Years ago, I was searching for truth, above all else. My journey took me through Buddhism and other ideas, and led me eventually to Jesus.

Twenty-seven years later, I still believe in him; that he is ‘the way, the truth and the life’. He not only satisfied my need for truth; he turned my life around, satisfied my need for love and is continuing to make this broken man whole.

And I’m enthralled and thrilled at being part of a church that’s not trying to prove its truth, or defend Christianity or the Bible, but is simply intent on blessing the people of Hastings with all that Jesus offers.

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“And how can you say that your truth is better than ours?

Shoulder to shoulder, now brother, we carry no arms.”

(Mumford & Sons – I Gave You All)

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A few years ago, a friend of mine, a spiritualist, was searching for more, and as he was meditating, he encountered a vision of Jesus that he said was more powerful than anything he’d ever experienced. He ‘became a Christian’ and was baptised. His conversion to Christianity was sadly short-lived, but I remain hopeful for him.

I’ve also heard countless stories of Muslims who, desperately seeking the reality of a relationship with God, have encountered life-transforming dreams and visions of Jesus, and consequently put their faith in him – often in face of serious death threats, such is the strength of their conviction.

Like them, I believe that truth and wholeness are ultimately found in Jesus. I could be wrong. Either way, I have enough confidence in him not to be worried about people exploring other faiths or practices.

In other words, it’s what’s in a person’s heart, their goal, rather than the validity or spirituality of their current faith or practice, that will determine where their search will lead them.

Is yoga a slippery slope to Satan? Or could it, like Buddhism or meditation, be a slippery slope to good health, and perhaps for some, even to Jesus? Who knows?

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*The Bible: Acts 17

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