Saturday, 14 December 2019

Christmas 2019

Christmas evokes all sorts of thoughts, memories, joys and sorrows depending upon our experiences, beliefs and lives. One of our local magazines asked local church ministers to reflect on a question each Christmas. This year it related to Christmas traditions. One of mine as a child, was that we waited, excited, for Christmas morning and being allowed to unwrap the presents left for us over night. It was always fun.

As we go through life we gain experiences. People we love die and we can no longer share Christmas with them, sadness, a good friend died on the 4th Dec this year and I will be conducting his funeral this coming week. We often spend a moment when the family are together to remember those who have left this life that we have known and loved. Then there are those who have come into the world - this year we had a new grand-daughter, Alice and my sister, Lynn had a grand son, Jacob. Children bring a sense of joy to the celebrations.

My wife and I spend time writing Christmas cards to those who we know both local and far away. I know that some feel that sending cards is "old hat". But I find that as I see each name, it invokes memories of times when we knew each a little better, things we did together. Memories are good things I find.

As a church minister December flies by in a flash with all of the activities - school concerts, Christingles, Carols services, community events and church events. I love it all, every one a reminder of what Christmas is all about, God's love expressed through Jesus. And yet the Christmas story is tinged with joy, hope and sadness. The baby that we rejoice over, came to save us through his death. Recently I saw a group of people come alive in faith in Jesus as result of what he did on the cross, joy has dawned in their lives, you might like to listen to this (When love came down to earth).

Whatever your past or present experiences I hope you have time to consider Jesus this Christmas; Jesus came because God loves you. If we can find room in our hearts he can help each of us find peace, joy, hope and love.

I wish you a happy and blessed Christmas, no matter what your experiences are or have been.

Saturday, 23 November 2019

Division and Chaos 2

This is an unusual posting from me as its not dotted with scripture, its more a reflection on a little division and chaos in the Christian world.

My last posting was on the division and chaos that I was reflecting upon in our society and politics. But as I have continued on this track I have found myself reflecting upon the nature of the Christian church in this age.

Reading some things on the web recently smd some posts of others commenting on things going on I wonder if I am in fact a product of a by-gone age. It would appear that if I take seriously the things I have been reading I am an infernalist, possibly callous, a homophobe and probably a few other 'phobes as well. In the Christian world we seem to have adopted the pugilistic, threatening language type of debate, that seeks not to have reasoned discussion and acceptance of difference of views. Instead it seems to seek to shut down any opposing view as inconceivably wrong and thus bigoted or phobic.

In one series of posts related to the ongoing discussion on universalism, or the idea that no matter if we accept Christ or not, all will eventually be saved, I was led to look deeper, to find that since my views differ from the writer of the book promoted, it seems my understanding is so flawed that I am someone who since I differ with the author on heaven and hell I am one who "To believe in it even in part . . . one must at some level have lost the capacity to distinguish clearly between love and spite."
Well that tells me.

Another series of posts related to the recent events around Churches together in England and their not affirming the appointing of a president who was in a same sex relationship. Both sides of the discussion got heated and I chose not to engage as I was more than likely going to be seen as a bigot or some such, because I hold to a view that marriage is between a man and a woman, what is now called a traditional view by some.

It seems to me that the church has more than adopted the mode of activity of our society in its "debate", putting off good, loving and honest discussion in favour of pushing aside anything we don't agree with using language that shuts down discussion and reason in favour of they who shout the loudest win the day. To some degree I think its bullying behaviour, frighten the opposition with accusations and language that shuts down rather than reasons. Just like out politicians and lobbyists.No amount of forceful language is going to change my view, in fact pretty much the opposite.

Having a different point of view, no matter how firmly held and researched and prayed through, counts for little when it comes to trying to engage in these sorts of discussion. As result I often don't bother, since it achieves little and simply seems to inflame rather than promote reason.

I accept that others have different views to me on scripture, how to read it and its interpretation, but why is it not possible for those same people to accept that I and others like me have opinions different from theirs that deserve some respect?

In many respects we seem to have become "of the world" rather than "in the world". In the end there is one Judge and we will all find out the truth, and there can only be one, can't there? God's truth. We will all be right in some things and wrong in others. We use words like justice and mercy to justify views and then act without either when debating with each other.

I seem to recall that Jesus tells us something that we should remember and seed our discussion with -
Joh 13:34  "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
Joh 13:35  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

Here is a preview of a song for Advent, which brings us back to love.

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Division and Chaos

Over some months I have been pondering over and praying about the situation we in Britain find ourselves in. A referendum that managed a small majority to leave the European Union has caused major issues.

I was preparing for the start of a sermon series early in September and the series is working through Galatians. The thing that I began to see was the way in which division can come is not always from where you expect. Paul was trying to correct something that was affecting those churches and reading his other letters churches in other parts of the regions. Something that you might have expected from other faiths wanting to put the early Christian faithfully down or divide and conquer them. But no this came from within. Paul refers to those trying to add extra conditions into the simple salvation by grace that he preached in Galatians:
Gal 2:4  This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.

Strong language - false believers, some who were trying to convince the Christians that they were not saved if they were not circumcised. And it got worse, later Paul took a stand against Peter who had bowed under pressure and it seems at that point would not share the Lord's table with "Christians" who were uncircumcised. What a state of play, polarized views, division. Fortunately the whole thing was sorted out by the church meeting together and discussing, praying and then agreeing the way forwards.

It got me to putting together some thoughts from my prayer and study for the division that the Brexit / Remain thing has caused in Britain. My conclusion - God was not /is not on either side in this debate, the church has not heard God's direction, in my opinion. This debate that has successfully done what nothing that I can recall in my lifetime has achieved - its divided churches, its divided political parties, its paralyzed government as MP's seem like infants in a playpen, all fighting to get the toys they want and no one managing it. I don't believe that God is in such division and chaos. But I know there is one who thrives on it, working in the background to sow discord and division - the same one who attempted to break Jesus away from his earthly task.

Mar 1:12  At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness,
Mar 1:13  and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

The Christian church has an opportunity, if we can surrender our partisan views first, I think, to speak into the chaos and to encourage healing in this dire situation.To bring order to the chaos and to speak out on letting partisan views go and instead truly seek first the kingdom of God and then his direction for the country. We could set an example, but we might well simply remain as divided as the rest of the nation.

Thursday, 25 July 2019

A rock in a moving sea

Change is a large part of life today, life can seem to be in a permanent state of flow, much as the sea is constantly moving in tune with the position of the Moon and its orbit..

A majority of the people in the UK want the change that will come with leaving the EU, hoping for a new "golden age". Sweeping away 40 years of working in one form or another with our European neighbours.

Our Prime Minister has been removed and replaced by someone, who IMO, should have taken the post last time and done what he said he was in favour of, getting the UK out of the EU.The last one lasted only a short while, I wonder how long this one will last, especially if he can't deliver on his big promises? And then what? More change.

Many saved for their pension over decades only to find that their pensions are no longer worth what they were led to believe. As they retire, life changes, money is more restricted, things taken for granted can no longer be.

As I write we are in a heat wave, some of the hottest temperatures recorded in this country, its almost too hot to do anything. I am used to walking up mountains with wind, rain and even snow. This year my mountain walk up Ben Nevis was in temperatures ranging up to 28deg C at the bottom.

Recently in my daily bible reading I have been working through the book of Isaiah, an Old Testament prophet who lived at a time of change as well. Israel, a powerful nation that had initially relied upon God to guide it and aid it had forgotten their roots and gone their own way. The result is that Isaiah warns them of the huge change that they will face in the years to come, the nation dwindling in power, attacked and overcome by other nations, the people would be capture and taken away.

In the midst of all of this, God gives hope, there will be a time of restoration and more, a time when a new way will be brought to them by God's anointed one, the saviour. In the massive changes that they would face a promise stood, a promise of hope, a promise of salvation, something to hold on to, a rock in a moving sea of change. The psalmist recognised that in psalm 62.

Change is a part of life, sometimes it can be planned, sometimes it is unexpected and worrying. But in the changes of life there can be a constant, a Rock that will not change, an anchor that won't budge no matter the weight of the waves, Jesus. Jesus who asks us to build our faith on the rock that is a solid foundation for all things, him. God's promise to us that has been realised and made complete. My experience of faith in Jesus is that no matter what I face in life, no matter what changes, I face them better when I look to him for guidance, he has become the rock in my life that does not move and allows me to handle the swirling waters of the deep that life at times tries to engulf me with.The waters may break around me but will not overwhelm me. I hope the same is true for you.

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

The Sower and the Soil

Recently I had been preparing for a family service at a local church which has no minister at present. Our church and this church work together on a project that we call Kidz Klub, aimed at 5-11 year olds, and I had agreed to go and speak at this service working with one of their service leaders. The subject  "the Sower" Matthew 13 1-8 is what we are using this summer for our Kidz Klub theme.

In preparing and then leading this service I found myself considering the two sides of the story that I was looking at. The first, the seeds and what happened to them, the second the sower.

We often read of decline in church attendance, falling numbers of believers and so on and over time churches have come up with lots of imaginative ways to try to attract people, some work after a fashion others seem not to work well. I asked myself are we more interested in numbers than we are in deep rooted disciples of Jesus who in turn will take their part in sharing the message of the gospels? Are we looking for quick apparent results rather than deep rooted faith that grows through discipleship and nurture?

The Sower parable gives us ways in which the seed, the word of God, is impacted by the ground in which it is sown:

The path - hard, unyielding on which nothing can take root, the seed lies there to be eaten by birds and so there is no impact. What in our lives, our churches, our communities would be the equivalent of the hard path? What prevents the words of God penetrating and taking root? In conversation we concluded that in such case we might need to take a concrete breaker with us.

The Rocky Soil - looks better than the path, the seed takes root, but underlying rocks prevent any real roots and so the sun scorches the young plant and it dies. How often do we see immediate and expressive responses to the gospel message only to find that shortly after the enthusiasm has gone and the impact has worn off. Perhaps we in church life need to help remove the rocks so that the roots can establish and the impact can grow?

The Weedy soil - Again this looks like an improvement, seeds grow and the result looks good. But life crowds in, pressures take charge and choke off any further development. Its sad but in my opinion its the state of many who go to church in this country. The solution, if there is one is two fold - sharing the need for the commitment to be disciples and to make it a priority but also churches need to be pro-active and imaginative in how they disciple.

Good soil - Well prepared, well looked after soil leads to seeds that grow into wholesome and productive plants, disciples who in turn will be productive in the Kingdom, drawing many others to faith in Jesus and so bring glory to God.

The point of this? Christians are called to be sowers and I see that as a challenge. The church can blame its decline on lots of  things - cultural change, lack of time, money, resources, too many alternatives for people other than church and so on..It can try to mimic culture with an entertainment based attitude to worship and its services which may well attract people but do they become disciples? Perhaps what people need is a church that is authentic in its message, living it out as well as preaching it, a church that does not try to mimic and adopt its culture but challenges it fearlessly. A church which is focused on preparing the soil of peoples lives to receive the seed, the word of God, sows it and encourages it to grow and be fruitful.

Oh, I think I read something about that kind of church in the bible.