Friday, 23 December 2011

My Father Loves me

My Father in Heaven Loves me ... in essence thats the message of Christmas for me.

He loves me so much that in spite of the stuff I get wrong and of the many things I do that sadden his heart, his executive action in coming himself, can sort out my and of course, everyone else's wrong doing.
From "The Nativity"

We often recite the words of John 3:16 - reminding ourselves that God loves the world but I wonder if Christmas with all of its joyful celebration impacts us as it should? For me Christmas's significance is that God chose vulnerability, poverty, humility ... as the signs of his coming. A Stable, a poor family with no influence (why else would their son be born in a stable?), a baby not an awesome fighter ready for battle. Love in action.

More importantly God chose me (and you) to receive the greatest blessing of all - the offer of new life, a new way, a new beginning - with him rather than without him. A life that as one writer says - is the "With God life", a life which is a life alive both physically and spiritually - With God! (watch this if you want to explore more). This is the God that we can celebrate at Christmas.

So enjoy Christmas if thats possible for you but hold in your heart the fact that God loves you that much, he holds nothing back in restoring you to himself and wants each of us to walk more closely with him in the year to come.

Our Father in Heaven loves us ...

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

A Calling from God

Recently a friend in San Francisco sent me a blog from the US which looks at "baby boomers" (those born between 1945 and 1965) answering God's call to be pastors (priests, ministers ...). I guess because I was born in the middle of that generation and have re-trained as a Pastor after a career in engineering.

The point is that some of that generation are seeking to serve God by becoming church leaders, in a very real way giving up one way of life in their middle years to take up a calling which means offering everything to God and relying on him.

As I have reflected on the Christmas story this month, several callings from God stand out :-
Zechariah, in the temple
Mary when Gabriel gives her the news
Joseph when he is brought up to speed

And there are different reactions - disbelief from Zechariah, acceptance from Mary and belief from Joseph. Zechariah's disbelief in God's plan or calling for him caused him to be struck dumb, Mary's acceptance could have cost her dearly  - a marriage, her reputation and possibly her life, Josephs would have damaged his reputation and meant accepting a son who was not his.

God's plan and calling for each of us can be costly just as it was for these folks. The key is knowing and trusting that we are following God's will for our lives, it is his calling that really matters and to accept this means faith, trust, acceptance and for many, acting upon it.

Following Christ does not of course mean we are all called to give up our careers and become church leaders, it does mean that we are called to seek God, and regularly look for what he wants for us and what might be in the way of our relationship with him growing deeper.

I am sure that there is some of each of the three reactions above in each of us, this Christmas may God's calling on your life become more clear to you so that you can follow it whatever it means.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Treated with contempt

How often do we hear that phrase - treating something or someone with contempt? In the present age many things are treated this way by many of us, authority, relationships or partners, parents, work, the police, even God.

If we are the object of someones contempt then we might well feel disrespected, disregarded, in effect of no value to that person. What if that person is someone that we love dearly, someone we have invested time and love into? How does it work that the object of that love should count us as nothing whatever?

We hear of it all of the time, children leaving their parents and not looking back, parents abandoning their children to find themselves or to grasp for relationship elsewhere.

The Exodus found God being treated with contempt by his people, God who had done so much for them has to put up with them moaning, disregarding his direction and considering him powerless and weak. Yet in the fact of Christ coming, we see something of God's real heart, the father of the wayward children comes to us himself, comes to those who have treated him with contempt, ignoring him among our busy and self focused lives. God has come to greet the prodigal, to offer us forgiveness and wholeness with him.

God doesn't walk away , didn't walk away from those who treat him with contempt, instead he offers his most precious gift, that we might learn to love him as he loves us.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Come on and celebrate

Christians are often referred to as killjoys because they object to some of the celebrations and excesses of those who don't believe. This time of year is one such, Halloween or to give it its proper title - All Hallows Eve, the evening before the celebration of All Saints day.
All Saints - Sweden

However we might think of Halloween and there are plenty of web sites giving the history from all sorts of perspectives, others that denigrate the stance of some Christians (like me) who don't take part in the ghoulish dressing up and partying. Recently I have had a few chats with folks asking me what they as Christians should do, be involved, go to the parties, keep their children out of school dances celebrating Halloween by dressing up etc.?

Its easy for us to "put it down" and blame Satan for corrupting people but is it enough for us to opt out? We are called to be salt and light in a very broken world. Maybe that means that we need to engage in a way that does not compromise our faith or celebrate evil or darkness. Have fun while celebrating all that Christ has done through his Church and through all of those who have loved him and served him. Offering alternatives, being able to explain without judging others our position on Halloween (for example), giving treats with an invite to find something out about Jesus.

Jesus went to parties mixed it with those who didn't know God and drew them to him - his Church should be doing the same getting among people, making comment by what they do for others, drawing others to celebrate Christ - once people experience the real thing celebrations like Halloween will be as nothing.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Finding space for wonder

A number of folks have let me know they are not getting updates. For those who have had trouble getting this via Facebook - try using the "follow by email" - it uses a Feedburner that should send you and email when there has been an update.

Another way if you have a twitter account is to follow on twitter where they are posted as well.

A couple of things recently got me thinking about the lives we lead and the need for rest, relaxation or quiet.

Part of the three peaks from Corn-du
Behind the falls
Earlier in the month I took three days out and spent them with one of my brothers in the Brecon Beacons, walking, chilling and relaxing. For me there is nothing at all like the beauty and majesty of God's creation to help me find a more relaxed and peaceful state of mind.

Standing behind a waterfall, water rushing over the falls with a sound like thunder, the air damp with spray, the water splashing and foaming - so very primeval, nature in the raw and so incredible. On another day we climbed a few small peaks - Pen-y-Fan, Crybin, Fan-y-big and at times as the clouds broke we could see the sun peeking through laying furrows of golden light on the hillsides, contrasting with the darkness of the clouds. Maybe a dim reflection of God's glory and a reminder of how amazing and wonderful God is.

One the last day we climbed Corn-du, the clouds cleared and the view was incredible we could see the peaks and the paths we had walked the day before - the view is breathtaking, magnificent and awesome. My Father made all of this for me to play on!

Last week I met with a bunch of other new pastors for a reflection day, periods of instruction, quiet, reflection and listening at Clare Priory in Suffolk. Again once I let the busy state of my mind subside I was able to listen to the gentle words of encouragement that God had for me. What a wonder that God is interested in me!

So often our lives are dictated by the must do, the must achieve, the deadlines, the push to reach the next goal - driven by purpose and plan with each new idea and task adding to the burden. I wonder who's agenda we actually follow - ours or Christ's - my yolk is easy and my burden is light Jesus tells us, but our programs and plans load us more heavily than a camel in the desert laden for the market.

If we don't find those quiet, reflective places where we can decouple and relax and hear God more clearly we risk missing his voice altogether in among the meetings and plans and lists. As one of the busy periods for church comes I know that my time out will help me hear more clearly and so keep the burden light.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Peace and Reconcilliation

I am certain that we have all come across situations in our families, churches, friend groups and colleagues that we could easily term hostile. I have experienced all of these at various times and at times have wondered how to handle them sometimes wanting to respond in anger or self-righteous indignation.

Rom 5:1 tells us that those who have accepted Christ as their Saviour have peace with God - our rebellion not only ended but paid for, by Christ. But how can we apply this to our own lives as we react, provoke or are the victim of other peoples' angst and hostility?

Well God's example is to provide the means for us to be reconciled through Christ's death and resurrection, quite a price, quite an example ... For us perhaps the action we can take is to reflect before acting, consider our anger or hurt and how we might overcome it by taking it to Christ in prayer and asking his help in moving on from it.

From a position where the emotional first response has been diffused, we might better figure out how to reconcile without judgment or needing to feel superior. In my family this has helped me restore some relationships between myself and siblings, in churches it has helped me bring correction without judgment or healing without condemnation and in the workplace has helped me understand better and so be able to work with those who I would otherwise have found it impossible.

Paul sums up his thinking on this in Rom 5:3-5 - trials produce perseverance, perseverance produces experience or character and character produces hope - full circle! Our hope of salvation causes us to behave differently to how we might have if we had not known Christ and the rest follows.

Seek to reconcile and not cause more problems, seek to forgive and not hold grudges, seek to restore relationship and not break it apart. Its a hard path, but then there is nothing easy about walking the path of the disciple.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

An Attitude of Gratitude

I wish I had coined this phrase, but someone in my church came up with it and it fitted a sermon I was preaching in that service beautifully as did the children's talk. One of those God moments when you have been given a tricky scripture to preach and yet you know you must and then things come up in the service that link so clearly that it just has to be God directing.

So whats this "Attitude of Gratitude" all about?

How many of us can say we truly like giving? If we are honest it is not easy to give away what has been hard earned and could be used for so many things ... our season ticket for the team we watch, a newer car, a bigger house, a holiday, a new computer / phone / PDA ... the list is endless.

When we consider giving, and lets keep this to money, and especially giving to our church and thus God's kingdom work, it is tricky - is it a proportion of our income, pre or post deductions, does it include occasional income, interest and so on? If we are having to ask those questions may I suggest we are asking the wrong ones in relation to giving.

The bible tells us that stingy giving results in stingy crops. But theres more, what the whole of 2Cor 9 is telling us it that giving money to God's work is a thought-out, prayed out decision in response in worship to God who has generously, lavishly given to each of us. Christian giving to God's work that is to his kingdom, needs an Attitude of Gratitude from us as a response to God who has already poured out his blessings on each of us.

What God has done through Jesus Christ is to offer us eternal live, salvation and relationship with him - life in its fullness or abundance. No, not everything we want or desire but a fruitful kingdom life where we are storing up treasure in heaven not here and now. A life where we hold lightly all that God gives in a material sense knowing that its been given that we might sow blessings into the kingdom of God through our generous giving. God wants generous givers. So lets work on not being stingy givers but a people with an Attitude of Gratitude for all he has, is and will do for us.

Postscript - after my churches harvest service I was blessed by the offering of foodstuff for our local Foodbank to help those without here and financially to those oversea that other organisations are helping. Generosity is very much a heart attitude ...

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Included or Excluded

Much is written and spoken about church and its ability to include or exclude, often its said it needs to be more inclusive of people especially those marginalized or discriminated against. A big problem is that belief, by its very nature, can act as a barrier as can be the ways we enact our faith.

Recently on holiday my wife and I visited "Le Mont Saint Michel" in France. A picturesque abbey on a spit of land, the Abbey is used by a small community of Monks and Nuns who celebrate services there. When we reached the main chapel, they were celebrating communion - taking bread and wine - in a sectioned off part. Others of the Roman Catholic faith were able to join them in this. Being Baptists that excluded us so we sat in the main church and listened and watched. However we were not really excluded, no we didn't share in the bread and wine, but we were there with other Christians who choose to observe their faith differently to us.

 It got me thinking as I sat there, what would others who had no faith make of it all would they feel included or excluded?

For me one of the signal features of Jesus' earthly ministry was touching the lives of those who were often the excluded of society, lepers, prostitutes, non Jews, tax collectors and so on. However he did not just touch their lives he highlighted their sin (wrong doing) - "leave your life of sin" he said to the adulteress; "your sins are forgiven" he said to another who wanted healing; give up your wealth he said to another. Jesus heralded a kingdom open to all but as he said to Nicodemus you must be born again, the old life must be transformed into new life in Christ. Exclusive entry, all have the same choice, not all will choose life in Christ.

Like Christ we must be open to all, allowing each person to recognize and understand the choice that Christ lays before each of us. We don't know if the adulterous woman reformed or if the rich man gave up his wealth but if they had never been included by Jesus, they would not have been challenged by the need to change and so be set free by the truth. The truth of the gospel is powerful in its challenge but wont be heard if we, Christ's church, are not inclusive. We must allow all no matter what their previous life choices may have been, to hear it. The kingdom of God is exclusive but is open to all, accepting Christ is the condition of inclusion.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Prayer is the Key

In preparing a sermon for this weekend I was reminded that prayer holds a special and important place in our relationship with God. The scripture (Jeremiah 29:1-14), has the exiled people of God being told that prayer will play a crucial part in their future, first that they should pray for the peace and prosperity of the city they find themselves in and that his future plans for them will come about when they come to a place of seeking him with all of their hearts.

 A Christian from Antiquity, Thomas Aquinas said this on prayer ...

We need to pray to God, not in order to make known to Him our needs or desires but that we ourselves may be reminded of the necessity of having recourse to God's help in these matters. “

There is nothing like prayer for deepening our relationship with God because it :-

Reminds us of our need for God's involvement.
Puts God in his rightful place.
Changes our perceptions of situations and needs and so affects our actions.

The exiles written to in Jeremiah had a lesson to learn and a relationship to get right. The same is true for each Christian and each Christian church today, we have a relationship to work on with God, a relationship founded in our prayer life.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

For this we have Jesus ...

I was reflecting earlier on the amazing privilege of being a Pastor - we get to be with people in the most difficult and the most happy and amazing times.

Just in this last week I have married a lovely couple that my wife and I took through marriage classes - sharing their joys, fears, helping them put down good roots for a long and loving marriage before and in God.

Last Saturday the church was full of folks from Belgium, Paris, Congo, the USA and England as well as people from our church and from another Baptist church - and possibly a few others I didn't get to speak to :-) - a day in which it was a privilege to share with them and those who celebrated with them. Truly a moment in time when God was powerfully present in the whole event and I hope was glorified. There was certainly joy in the house.

Today I am preparing to join with another family as they say good bye to the mum of their family. A time of sadness of tears, or memories and sorrow. A small group of family and friends will be at the service to share this sad moment. But also I hope and pray it will also be a time when God will be with them as they journey in this season of sorrow, struggling to understand death, heart-ache and this painful goodbye.

For me God is not a fair-weather friend only there on the big occasions or when things are going well, he is there with us in every season of our lives, with us in pain and sorrow, with us in joy and celebration, with us in the ordinary everyday - a God who loves us enough to die for us, who loves us enough to offer salvation to all who will receive it.

A God who is there for the joys and for the sorrows ...

For the joys and for the sorrows
The best and worst of times
For this moment, for tomorrow
For all that lies behind
Fears that crowd around me
For the failure of my plans
For the dreams of all I hope to be
The truth of what I am

For this I have Jesus
For this I have Jesus
For this I have Jesus, I have Jesus

For the tears that flow in secret
In the broken times
For the moments of elation
Or the troubled mind
For all the disappointments
Or the sting of old regrets
All my prayers and longings
That seem unanswered yet

For the weakness of my body
The burdens of each day
For the nights of doubt and worry
When sleep has fled away
Needing reassurance
And the will to start again
A steely-eyed endurance
The strength to fight and win

I am so grateful that in all things
I have Christ who strengthens me

For all things I have Jesus ...

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Hard Lessons

Spending some time recently preaching through Jonah has thrown up some thoughts. There are the obvious ones like was it a whale? Is the story real or not? Could a man stay alive inside a fish for 3 days? And so on.

However something that stuck me even more was how much it took for Jonah to learn that he was going to have to do what was right, in God's eyes. Unhappy to do as God asked, this prophet took a hike to the nearest port followed by a sea trip which nearly proved fatal for the crew. Jonah has to confess that he is the problem to them and ends up over the side, drowning he prays and is saved, only to find himself in a large fish and is finally spat out onto land.

A hard lesson to learn, that he could either choose his way or God's way - its a lesson that we are still having to learn and usually the hard way. All too often we rely on our own strength, ingenuity, resources or systems and all too often they fail us. Our banking systems, our pension funds, our work places, getting a University education to get a good job ... the list is long! Then theres those in the world who pay the price of our systems, who have no justice, find no mercy as their children die of hunger and malaria, for whom there is no education or work at a fair reward.

Christ tells us that dying to self is the right way but that means letting go of our "man made" securities making us vulnerable - the very things that often draw us away from God as we clutch at the false security they offer. Jonah had to become vulnerable to finally accept God's call and charge. Read the story, Jonah was to be God's instrument to turn the hearts of another people from their godless ways, another people who had to learn the hard way - serious fasting and humility.

Are we having to learn our lessons the hard way yet again, that not following God's guidance means we have to land hard before we turn and seek him and do his will?

Monday, 11 July 2011

Grace, an endless supply

Grace is a big concept in a little word. I was preparing a sermon the other day as I track my way through Jonah, one of the Old Testament prophets, and came across a provoking statement.

In the NIV it reads  "Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs."
I am sure we can all point to "worthless idols" that we cling to or at least used to cling to - money, property, job, health, sex, etc. etc. etc. but I wonder if  the import of Jonah's prayer is missed as we scan these verses - looking at salvation and considering how he could be in a fish.

We, that is the Church that has Jesus as its Lord and saviour, have a command to follow - to tell the world about salvation and so God's grace. A costly grace for Christ and a costly grace for us as we are called to sacrifice time, energy, emotions and love in telling others of Jesus. The Acronym God's Riches At Christ's Expense is often cited when Christian talk about grace, I wonder if having received that grace, the church should consider reflecting this to God's Riches At the Churches Expense when considering what having received that grace should mean to us in telling the world?

If we don't tell folks who don't know of the this grace, how will they know and following false gods they will miss this incredible grace from God. The folks on Jonahs boat were in awe of Jonah's God once he explained what was happening and were saved by Jonah's being sacrificed. A lesson for us all I think.

Read on in Jonah there is a wonderful twist at the end and a comment from God which calls me to action, since he is my God and he has commanded me to tell others. God has an endless supply of grace which he pours out on his people so that they can in turn reflect that grace to those who don't know of it.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

More Precious than Gold

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Its an evocative statement when we say that something is more precious than Gold. Gold carries with it a sense of value, of richness, of worth, so much so that many seek for Gold or its modern day equivalents as they try to find security and happiness in life.

Its all too easy to miss what is before us in life, my recent holiday with my family in Dorset (England) reminded me that happiness and contentment have a lot more to do with love and family than success or wealth, in whatever forms they exist. While being family can be difficult as we vie for position, sometimes looking to one-up each other with our achievements, it can be an amazing place where we can share our joys and sorrows, where we can encourage each other and be who we were meant to be.

To me spending a week with my wife, three grown up children their partners and girlfriend and our granddaughter was worth more than any gold or success that life has to offer. Love in that sense is intoxicating and heady, it revives and refreshes as I take in all that they are, their conversations, the fact that I am valuable to them and they are valuable to me, we share something that gold cannot buy.

The psalms remind us that God's commands are "more precious than gold", Peter reminds us that our faith is more precious than gold to God. Those who are truly in fellowship in faith with Christ and with each other share the love of Christ and of each other and this is something more precious than any gold or silver or success of worldly value. Treasure it and hold it precious.

Friday, 17 June 2011

It isnt right

I was reading an Old Testament book today - Habakkuk, before you switch off cos its OT just hang in there ...

Habakkuk was around at the time just before Judah was overrun by the Babylonians, he has seen what had happened to other countries and therefore what was coming for Judah. But something just did not fit for him, it wasn't right, that God was not defending his people, he was, to some extend blinded by the expectation that as God's chosen people, they would not fall foul of some marauding empire building nation. He, like most of Judah had not understood God's warnings of what would happen if they did not get right with him again and put down false gods and perverse ways.

This prophet complains not once but twice to God about what he see's - why is God not with his people? Why is God going to let a less righteous people overcome God's people?

Cholera compound - Congo
And what of us today? I see complaint after complaint in the news about the economy, about the health service situation (in the UK), about pensions - no one wants to loose out no matter who has to pay; yet in spite of our apparent troubles, we ignore the many in the world who have no money for food, no basic health care ( I saw children dying of malaria in the Congo a few years back, which should be preventable!) - exactly the kinds of things God says that his people were not doing.  

It isnt right  that we show so little concern for where our food comes from, how our pension funds increase in size (at whose cost?) and complain about our medical care while so many die through lack of basic medicine, clean water and food. Judah was concerned only about themselves and not about those struggling, with nothing - Justice and mercy were low on the agenda and I think, are in the western world today.

It is not until Habakkuk finally hears rather than just listens to God , that he understands the problem and he is able to put God back into the right place in his heart, God is sovereign and not Habakkuk or Judah or for that matter Babylon. When God is sovereign in our hearts we will see things more as he does and begin to feel as he does for the widow, the orphan, the homeless, those without medical care ...

When we start to care about others, our neighbours in this world, more than about our lifestyle, our spending power then we might more fully be called the people of God.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Simple Beginings

I am sure we have all heard of or read books on how to ... how to be better at something, how to be more confident. how to attract or get on, the list is endless of how to books.

Possibly one of the hardest things to achieve in any walk of life is consistency, many of us get bored or fed up quite fast, expecting results too rapidly is a human condition. Relationship with God takes time, time for us to learn to trust him, time for us to learn to hear him, time for us to learn to be in his presence, over praise and worship and talk with him.

No amount of how to books work on this front, they may give us some good and useful ideas but what is needed is discipline, time and a faith in the God who is among his people. What is needed is a heart in us that wants to find its place with God, in relationship, conversing with him regularly.

The simplest of beginnings can produce the most spectacular results - in prayer in bible reading, in listening, prayer and fasting, in worship. When we look to the giants of faith, their example can be too daunting and so put us off. Wesley and his multiple hours of prayer a day, Martin Luther spent 2 - 3 hours at the start of the day. But if we could ask them I suspect it started with a few minutes regularly that built in time as their experience of this time and its impact built faith in them and a desire to spend more time in this way.

If you struggle with daily spending time with God in these ways, try a few minutes at a time, see what a difference it will make daily in your life and in your relationship with God.

Oh and if you like how to books, try Richard Fosters "A Celebration of Discipline" or one that I am currently reading on reading the bible "Life With God" - but without discipline they can't produce results in your spiritual life.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Unexpected bonuses

One time having just finished working on a particular project in my industrial career, I had a surprise, my boss told me that the company were giving me a "bonus". An unheard of thing in that company, but there it was an unexpected payment for the hard work that had been put in.

Often we work hard and no matter how much effort we put in or how great our achievement we get the same salary cheque at the end of the month. I have known people get quite disgruntled that their efforts were not better rewarded. The fact is though, when we take on a job, we accept the terms and conditions which usually include a clause that extra hours will need to be put in as required to get the job done.

My life in Christ isn't like that, in accepting him as Lord and saviour, a package deal was credited to me without me doing anything. Christ had paid the price of the things I get wrong, given me an "excited expectation" of eternity with him, become a friend that I can trust and given me a lifelong role in his kingdom - to share that truth. A truly unexpected bonus with a value far in excess of anything I could ever earn for myself.

My hope is that one day I will see him face to face and offer him all the stuff that I did in life that was truly for him with no expectation of payment, reward or praise - it's kind of reverse about in that I already have more than I could earn from Christ, there is no need for me to do anything and yet my heart just wants to praise him and offer him the fruits of a life, which I hope is well lived in him.

Theres a Casting Crowns video on youtube that I think just sums this all up, try listening for a few minutes, it might just make your day.

                             Living he loved me,
                             Dying he saved me,
                             Buried he carried my sins far away ....

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Engage Brain

Ever heard the expression "Engage your brain before opening your mouth"?

People with mindsets or opinions can be apt to jump to conclusions when particular phrases or words are used and our reaction becomes pretty much a preprogrammed or "learned"  response to that phrase or word. As evangelical Christians we all accept the trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit), the deity of Christ, the death and resurrection of Christ and the need for forgiveness of sins through Christs atoning work on the cross.

We use words like crucifixion, resurrection, atonement, sin, forgiveness and phrases like the blood of the lamb, penal substitution, dying in our place, sin's penalty, being born again and so on. But so often our view is shaped by how we or possibly more often, how others (we have heard about or read), read scripture.

Then when someone comes out with a different view or uses a phrase differently to the way we like it used like salvation, sin, holiness, grace etc.we run to the metaphorical barricades and start hurling verbal missiles. Take a look at the comments on any web site that takes opinions from Christians and you, I suspect, might be surprised at the venom injected into the discussion. Remember this is between brothers and sisters in Christ.

The Bible seems to say something different when talking of false teachers 1Tim 6 - "But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. "

What we show is an argumentative, opinionated, often arrogant and intolerant  mindset - 1 Peter 3:8-12 tells those in the Church to live in harmony, love each other ...  and includes "they must seek peace and pursue it. Peter advocates a style of Christian living that is an example not a constant battle-ground.

We need to show those qualities or virtues in all of our dealings.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Relationships Matter 3

There are many myths about good and bad marriages and I cannot say I am an expert on either, having been married to one woman for 33 years, I have little experience of the myths, only of the reality. The reality is relationships are often hard work but have incredible moments and times which I would not swap for anything.

I know that when we married it had little to do with God, since neither of us were Christians but it did have to do with a funny sense of ownership. I wanted to be with the woman I married and I wanted it to last. My rose coloured glasses were stretched with early conflicts and misunderstandings, arguments and selfish attempts to get our own way with each other.

No one prepared us for that and to be honest, we struggled ... (maybe it would have been easier if we had asked God to work on it with us!)

From around 4 years into our marriage we have been blessed to have known (and in some cases still know) good Christian people who have stood with us, encouraged us and helped us as we have needed it. We have also had to let go of many of the selfish preconceptions that we had when we married as we have learned to compromise and "prefer" the needs of each other.

But relationships matter to God, and in reflection I can say that in the hardest times for example during post natal depression and the emotional disconnection that went with it or the death of my wife's mother and father close together or the medical problems we had with one of our son's early in his life, we have grown closer as we have handled it.

Possibly its only in looking back that I can see how much that I have been changed through the on-going relationship that I have with my wife and for that matter how much she has changed. I also see God's hand in our lives, how much scripture has underpinned us and helped us - I think that perhaps each day I have a better understanding of those verses, that God gave in 1 Corinthians 13, yes - written about the church, but speaks so much into all relationships of the love we should share and how it causes us to behave. It cements one truth I know I have learned - love is not a feeling is an act of our will - we choose to love in each situation and season just as God has chosen to love each of us and his Church.
Try listening to this song and reflect on what your relationship with you partner means to you ...

Shortly we will be taking marriage preparation classes with some couples preparing to start their marriage journey's hoping and praying that they will find these great truths in their relationship with each other and with God.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Relationships matter 2

This is my second thought on relationships, this time focused on divorce.

Divorce is a big issue for many Christians since God seems to have a negative view of it. God uses pretty harsh language through the prophets, likening Israel's (in the Old Testament)  behaviour to that of an unfaithful partner. Why is God so down on divorce? Possibly because it signifies the break-up of something that should have been being nurtured between two people and instead has fallen apart with all of the associated issues. God's language is even more vehement through Micah (a prophet) - "I hate divorce ...".

Divorce is a big issue for society, it breaks families, relationships, often generates huge patterns of long lasting hurt, anger and resentment and if stats are correct for 2009, affects over 99K children a year in England and Scotland combined!

I am sure we can all cite cases where the situation could only be resolved through divorce and there are, in my opinion, some which Christians should advocate divorce in for example where violence is being done to one or other or both and cannot be stopped or where children are being harmed. However many relationships break up for reasons which may well have been resolvable if only those involved had tried earlier or not given in to temptation or wrong encouragement.

But the real point is this, divorce, like living together rather than marrying, is not God's best for us. Being who we are means we understand too late what we have broken by the actions or lack of actions that caused the break-up. God's best is that we find partners who we will invest our lives with and who in turn will invest their lives in us.

When however it has gone wrong and a person is divorced, the next difficulty is can they remarry with God's blessing? Can they be married again in God's eye's? A question I have been asked a few times of late. In a perfect world with no sin, there would be no divorce because none of us would marry "the wrong person", non of us would "stop loving" our partner ... but we are what we are and the result is broken relationships and a desire often to form new ones with the hope of something better.

 Fortunately for us, God is forgiving, its in God's nature to forgive even when his people break relationship with him time and again he offers a new start. That new start is shown to us in Christ - we are told to admit our wrong doings and accept forgiveness for them, forgive as you expect to be forgiven. Then and only then can we move on, works in progress but hopefully the wiser for our experience able to try again with God working with us, making a better and more lasting result of a subsequent marriage.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Relationships matter

Over the last few weeks I have had a number of conversations with people around the church and on the edge of the church about relationships, married, civil partnerships, living together, divorce and so on. In this thought I want to consider living together.

God tells us throughout the Bible that he wants a relationship with each of us and often this comes up as a covenant or agreement between a person or people and God. Such a covenant has benefits and demands so that to enjoy the benefits the beneficiaries have to accept the need to take on board the cost.

Our relationships, Biblically anyway, fall into that same form, God puts a man and a woman together for a number of reasons, companionship, friendship, producing children. They leave their parents and agree to be only for each other for a life-time. A covenant agreement which in human terms is often framed in a marriage ceremony, with vows to seal it before God and to ask God's hand and blessing to this coming together of a man an a woman.

In this day and age many skip the formal covenant and opt for a more open ended (OK not always), relationship, living together. This appears to have a degree of freedom, perhaps a little less commitment while enjoying the benefits (Sex, relationship, children ...). In my view not God's best for us but and heres the KRUNCH - in God's view it seems that once a man and a women joined together as one, have made love / had sex or whatever you want to call it, they are married in our sense of the word - two have become one. No apparent certificate or ceremony, but then I don't read of Adam and Eve having a wedding with bells and songs God puts them together and tells them to populate the world!

Think carefully before you give in to yours or another's desire to gratify sexual need or to find happiness where previously you had none or to rush into moving in before considering the long term, it doesn't come free of responsibility.Think carefully before you take the step of living with someone - just because there is no certificate or ceremony  does not mean that there is not the same responsibility, cost and benefit equation coming into being over that relationship - the real difference is that God has been left out and to produce wholesome, long-lived, fulfilling relationships we need all the help we can get, especially God's.

One positive is that there are courses run by churches to help those considering long term relationships - marriage, no matter where they are starting from (single, married, living together). The Relationship central marriage course and pre-marriage course are good for exploring relationships and helping to build healthy marriages.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Golden Oldies

I reflect sometimes on things that people remember well and the things that we are constantly changing. Does each church reflect one culture as it incorporates new things or do they reflect a wide range?

A book I read a little while ago "Re-Emerging Church" suggests that there is a time window of opportunity for the church, related to the baby-boomer generation (born 1946-1964). As they are starting to retire and look back at familiar things of their childhood, one such is church because many went to Sunday school and are looking for familiar, comforting things. However when they drop by the local church often it does not resemble anything that they recognise. Modern hymns, casual dress code, changed or no liturgy etc. all of the things that they recall gone with the result that many don't go back again. A chance to re-engage with them and to possibly lead them to faith rather than comfort, lost.

When I think about it, given that I am a mid-generation boomer who didn't go to church as a child, my heart does respond when I hear some of those old hymns and tunes. Recently at music practice in church, my wife came out with a classic song and it started a session of singing some of those wonderful old hymns that left us exhilarated.

Thats is not to say that I don't love to sing the modern songs, although some, like some of the old ones really should have been binned at birth! But perhaps the point is that we should not make church to be how we like it and forget that others may find comfort in some of the old familiar things that we have tried to put out.

There is something profound and comforting, not to say challenging about understanding the Lord's Prayer when we say it or when the Creeds of the church are spoken out together or when we sing the verses of a well penned, easy to sing Hymn. After all they were written to remind us of the great truths of our faith.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Fun loving folks

I was at a party at the church hall earlier at which were a number of the church as well as many others. We were together celebrating a church members birthday. It struck me, looking around the room, that in this setting there was no difference between those from the church and those who were not. We were all having fun, children, teens and adults.

Sometimes it is thought that becoming a Christian means that we need to give up fun, parties, dancing and such. I think it means something much more profound - the joy we have in Christ should show through in our everyday lives.

I could say that Jesus' first miracle was turning water into wine, but somehow that doesn't really fit, there was no wine or other alcohol at the party and yet a lot of fun was had. I could say we are meant to have life abundantly - but I think that has more to do with spiritual blessings in this life and with eternal life.

It had to do, I think, with Spicing the party with a certain quality - folks from the church put the thing together, made much of the food, served it, cleared up, had fun dancing and chatting.

Church at its best is perhaps Christs people, being who they are, where-ever they are. Tomorrow we will be in church worshiping God in a more recognisable way and we will still be fun loving folks. People who love God, love each other and love our neighbours.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Lazy Journalism or Salt and Light?

I have a confession to make ... This week I reacted to something in the press which many other Christians had already responded to, believing that what I had read was true and putting aside one of my life traits of trying to find out both sides of things before making any decision on the "truth".

The case of the couple which led to the headlines, stated that a High Court judgment had decreed that there was no place in law for Christian views. I commented on this article in the Telegraph on their web site. Later in the week I read another article which exposed this as "lazy journalism" - not reporting what had actually been decreed.

This week also saw a web frenzy of "Christians" hammering Rob Bell and his soon to be released book Love Wins. The bloggers, twitterers and others have concluded that Bell's new book shows that he is now preaching universalism. Given that most have not been able to read the book, cos its not released yet, many are relying on the reporting of those with advanced copies or the short video publicising the book. They may be right but then they could also be wrong and it might also be a great publicity exercise to sell lots of books.

That is not to say that Christians are not persecuted as the example we saw this week of the Pakistani Minister Sharaz Bhatti, who stood against the blasphemy laws in that country and died as a result, gave the world. Here we saw a life, the life we are called to live in faith no matter the cost, call attention to it.

What, I wonder, do the non Christians make of all of our arguing, getting it wrong, not checking our facts before we pronounce or jump onto something?

One blogger recently commented on the need for the church to re-engage with its community as it used to and the opportunities for this that the current cut-backs in government spending offer.

What the world needs to see is a Church that gets on with transforming the communities in which it is; winning folks hearts and minds by its faith in action rather than spending its resources fighting court cases and producing millions of wasted moments reacting to news paper articles and potential publicity stunts. As James reminds us, the truth of our faith is shown in the action that results from it.

If we did more of this and less fighting among ourselves, if we did more of this and spent less time commenting on incorrect articles which seem to exaggerate differences, just maybe the salt and light we are, would have more impact and cause others to recognise the values and standards that Christ expects his people to show in the world.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

No quick fix

I have been looking hard at Acts 2:42-47 recently, that is the embryonic fellowship which was the first Christian church. While I would not want to turn the clock back and try to recreate that situation I think there is a lot we can learn about being God's people from it.

A key part is in verse 42, they were devoted to prayer, communion, meeting together and the Apostles teaching (scripture today). The one that, for me, underpins the rest is prayer. As a people of God, all that we do should come from our relationship with him and that relationship can only grow if we are prepared to put some effort into it.

Looking at it another way, if we want to do well in a career we put effort into learning about it, reading about it and practicing it. If folks find someone with a "useful" or helpful life style method, they listen to the DVD's, read the book's, do the exercises and stick at it if they want any results.

Then comes the problem - results take effort and are sometimes a long time in coming. Reading about the Lewis revival in the late 1940's prayer was heavily involved and not just a quick throw away one either. We live in an age of instant entertainment, instant news, instant conversation and connection, but one in which if we don't get instant results we look for the next "instant" quick-fix solution.

Actually there is only one way to find out what God wants and that is on our knees in prayer, there is no quick fix to this, its all about relationship and that just takes time. One lesson, among many we can learn from the Old Testament is that, when the Israelites stopped talking and relating with God their plans fell apart, when they got on their knees and put that relationship back on the right footing, God heard them and helped them.

If we want to feel God's power in the things we are doing or think we should be doing, then we must be rooted and grounded in relationship with him. The cross is not a quick fix to life's issues, its a gateway to a life-time of relationship with God ... if we are prepared to put in the effort.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Ordinary Witnesses

Of all of the things that trouble us people who believe in Christ,one that comes up frequently, is how to share what we believe, without looking foolish, getting it wrong or completely switching off the folks we are talking to. Some of us think they are not capable of witnessing to others.

When I look at the Bible I see a right motley crew of  disciples - tradesmen, manual workers, Tax men, revolutionaries and so on. Yet when they were sent out by Jesus, they came back with tales of wonder at what they saw from their witness to him. Ordinary people, like you and me, doing extraordinary things because Christ enabled them to. As we come to The Acts, we find even more amazing things, those with little education as well as those with a good education winning people to Christ with their witness, their words and their enthusiasm in the face of every trial and problem.

Maybe the clue is that they seemed to have no regard for what others thought of them, only that the way they lived should provide opportunity to "preach" the gospel to as many as possible. Paul worked among others to get to know them and so let them find out about him, Peter stayed with a tanner, not only an unclean profession but also tends to infuse its stench onto all who are in contact with the tanner. Peter is welcomed by the Centurion who asks him to visit, Paul makes friends among every type of person.

Perhaps our focus should be on what Peter says, that all who believe in Christ should be ready in every situation to give a reason for the hope that they hold. But more important and less remembered, the words that follow - "But do this with gentleness and with respect".

Theres no great teaching to take on board from outreach specialists, just a need to live among people, share their lives, be ourselves and care about their immortal future more than we care about our reputation and community standing.

Oh ... and know why you believe and what that has meant to you ...

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Ordinary Everyday People

In a time when so much stock is paid to celebrity and what you appear to be, Christians are called to be who they are in Christ, nothing added, nothing taken away (as the advert used to say); Ordinary Everyday People, being who they are in Jesus and living the best way they can.

One of the big issues with celebrity is that it can cause us to mentally downgrade our own ability to make a difference because we are not all famous, well known, owners of expensive cars or homes. Not being famous can mean to us that we have no part to play in God's big picture.

So what about Christian living? How can each off us regardless of circumstances make a difference for Jesus? Well simply by living our lives as Christ would, the recent WWJD bands remind us to ask the question What Would Jesus Do? Well in my reading of the Bible he would be living, working, talking, encouraging, correcting, bringing healing and wholeness to broken people and through his words and actions attracting others to join the kingdom life.

Everyday of our lives we can make a difference for God's kingdom by living it out with our actions. loving each other and our neighbours, loving God and seeking to please him in our actions and words.

As I talked with a young woman today who is a full time evangelist, I was reminded of something I heard years ago ... For each well known evangelist who sees many respond to the gospel message, there are thousands of "unknown" Christians who have befriended someone, helped someone, been a good neighbour to someone who in turn has trusted them and gone to hear that well known speaker and so be touched by the Holy Spirit and accept Christ for themselves.

So each of us has a role to play, no exceptions, no special cases, we are all called to make real the kingdom for others who don't know it or have not experienced it. When we do that we will find our invitations to an Alpha course, a seekers course, or to come to a church service and look for themselves, will not fall on deaf ears - their experience of God's love through us will call them to look further.

There are many who have no experience of Christ, lets be the ones who will take him to them; lets be those Ordinary, Everyday People - Jesus' kingdom people.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011


What is it that makes us happy? You might think that it is different for each of us although it might well centre around things like, being healthy, having money, having good friends and family. For some of course it might be emulating the style or life of their favourite  celebrity.

When someone asked George Valliant, the director of the Harvard study on happiness that has been running for decades, what he learned from the study, he responded: "That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people." A Researcher, Joshua Wolf Shenk. spent time trawling the archives of this project trying to find the golden key to happiness - his results can be read on-line.

I was reading the Psalms yesterday and found myself, singing away to myself leading to a pleasantly happy state of mind. There is something quite wonderful about spontaneous praise of our God. God even sings himself when he is pleased with his people as a Pastor I met recently shared with me, God rejoices with singing over those who look to him.

God is pleased, happy, when I rely on him and give him glory. When I am maintaining a fruitful and good relationship with God, it seems to me that I am my most happy. David's Psalm of praise as the Ark came to Jerusalem points to this same phenomenon "Let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice".

Seek the Lord, work on your relationship with him and look for those times of spontaneous, happy praise, when your heart will be glad.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Prayer's Place

How often have I heard folks tells me that they find it hard to pray? More times than I can remember. I wonder why so many of us find it so hard to pray and yet all who believe in Christ as Lord and Saviour, know that he is the one who hears us and responds.

But is he expected to hear us when we don't pray? Well my answer is yes and no! Yes because there are times when our world is so dark that we simply cannot pray and Jesus knows all about it and is with us in it helping us to travel through it. No because we cannot and must not take him for granted, assuming that even if in our busy lives we have no time for him he will know what we should have / might have prayed but didn't.

Relationship should not ever be one sided. Finding that  time each day to speak with, listen to and thus grow deeper in relationship with Christ is the bedrock of our faith journey. Without it aren't we simply doing our own things in our own strength and so expecting God to rubber stamp them for us?

John Wesley is quoted as saying "I have so much to do that I spend several hours in prayer before I am able to do it.", I would love to say thats me too, but it isn't. However I can say that my daily quiet time produces some of the best and most profitable thoughts, ideas, understandings and corrections as I journey with Christ.

If you are thinking how do I pray? Then remember Christs answer, what is called the Lord's Prayer, use it as a template to frame your prayers rather than as a prayer to recite. If we get our prayer life on a strong footing everything else will follow.

Thursday, 6 January 2011


The New Year heralds our move to a new church in Harlow, Essex and anyone who has moved house will have experienced the process of sorting through our "treasured" possessions" knowing that some of it just has to go!

If you asked my wife she would tell you that I hate throwing stuff away, because you never know when its going to be useful. But lets face it when it has sat in the attic or the garage for years, unused, gathering dust, it is not likely to be used again is it?

Our clearing has resulted in a heap of stuff, that we moved with us three years ago, having to go out. Charity shops, clothes banks and the recycling yard as well as "freecycle" (great for recycling things locally by giving to others for free) all benefit and I am having to learn to be hard on myself to get rid of things. De-cluttering my wife calls it.

Today I have to do the garage which includes boxes of old VHS videos (which don't play), paint pots, boxes of bits and pieces, posters, signs I made for one thing and another, many are things that took me time to make for an occasion or project but no longer have uses. There will be some painful goodbyes, but it has to be done.

In many respects our lives and especially our spiritual lives can become very cluttered with "baggage" and ideas and taboos that we hold on to like an old well worn overcoat that we don't want to let go off for fear of the void that it might leave in us.

The writer of Hebrews tells us to throw off all that "hinders" us or "holds" us back. That is anything that slows down or potentially derails our relationship with God through Christ in our walk of faith. What sorts of things - well I would suggest, personal and / or spiritual habits or attitudes that really don't stack up with scripture. Example - not finding time to for a one on one with God each day; Example - driving when we could walk; Example - holding a grudge against someone when we should forgive and let it go. Our walk with God should be a body, mind and Spirit one, total.

So how about spending a moment or two de-cluttering yourself? Check out what might be hindering or holding you back in your walk with God and getting rid of them, put them out, talk to someone about it if it will help, but don't just ignore them / it and carry the clutter with you.

Go for a less junk filled, de-cluttered walk with God that will fit you better for all that He has planned for you.