Monday, 24 December 2012

Happy Christmas 2012

Christmas is one of my favourite times of the year, even if it is also one of the busiest. It still continues to attract attention from so many who find church difficult at other times. The carols seem to invoke memories of school or of Christmas's past or maybe echo's of something we have yet to find. I love it because even if just for that once in the year, many want to sing the songs, go to a church and look for something "other" something special as we celebrate the birth of Jesus - God's intervention in the history of humanity.

I could say a lot more but instead, let me say to those who read this blog - Happy Christmas, celebrate all that God continues to do for us. Remember that he loves you regardless ...

More importantly - find a little time in your Christmas schedule to go to a Christmas Eve service or to a Christmas day service in your local church, take part, seek as the wise men did, and find the Saviour who loves you. If you are in the Harlow area of the UK - we have services on Christmas Eve at 7pm and Christmas day at 10.30 am.

Happy Christmas and a blessed 2013

Friday, 30 November 2012

Immanuel God with us

As we enter the session of Advent and prepare to celebrate Christmas once again, you might like to spend a moment or two considering what it means that God came to earth. We sing the songs and read the scriptures that talk of Immanuel - "God with us" - which the gospel writer repeated in his account of Christ's coming.

Perhaps you are happy with the idea, like many, that its really just a fairy-tale, just another children's story. On the other hand even though its historically recorded, maybe its been exaggerated to make it seem supernatural. How could God, being all powerful, become a frail human? Why would God do such a thing? If God exists at all doesn't God simply watch from afar, having little concern for us?

Consider the world and the troubles it manages to give itself? Wars, starvation, lack of health care, the poorest often suffering the most.  This Immanuel, God with us, that we so easily write off, might, if the words are true, have the answers that we are seeking - peace, wise government, justice, right living ...

If like me you believe that God did just that, came to earth, lived and died among us and has given the Holy Spirit to each and all believers - then God continues to be with us. What does that mean to us? Are our lives changing as we become more aware of what is on God's heart for the communities we live in? Are our attitudes to justice and mercy being challenged by the gentle prompting of the Holy Spirit? Does loving God affect the way we love others as we see them more as God does?

Consider, reflect and ask yourself  "so what" as you travel towards Christmas.

[Don't forget, you can comment on these blogs - it's always interesting to share our thoughts and reactions]

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Forgiveness - Tough Stuff

Sometimes its hard to hear Jesus' words and put them into action in the face of things that we experience. Phrases like "turn the other cheek", "forgive as you expect to be forgiven" ring in my head as I think of the impact of other peoples carelessness.

Earlier in the week our dog was severely mauled by another dog. The owner knew it had a problem, my dog happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and landed in the vets with a heap of stitches a fluid drain and a haircut that needs hiding from the world.

31st Oct - Halloween, We were out at a meeting and returned to find smashed egg running down the windows and door of the house, the effect of trick or treaters not finding us home to give them a present. My thoughts were not happy ones.

Did the dog owner intend to hurt my dog? No. Did the children who egged my house intend to mess up the house? Yes! Both for the same reason a careless disregard of others.

And then there are those who are my brothers and sisters in Christ who unknowingly or deliberately cause me offense, Jesus tells us how to go about handling such things in church life but often folks are not willing to do that. What then?

What about my own carelessness in regards of others? Those times I put myself and my wants before my wifes. Those times when I get things wrong and others are badly affected. Those times when I don't find time for my daily devotions or rush them to get on with the real Pastoring ...

Forgive as you expect to be forgiven ...

In forgiving we open up possibilities for handling things differently, trying to move on from the event or situation and bring some good or positive result from it. The dog owner is seeking help for his dog. The trick or treaters ...., those in church who hurt me - I look to find a better relationship with while helping them to change if thats needed. Those I hurt - I hope they will forgive me.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

A Christian Community - meeting needs

Our church has just finished its 3rd event for its 350th year celebration, mixed in with harvest festival. One of our aims this year and in the years to come, is that we become a known and important part of the local community.

As we prepared for the festival various local groups and organisations got involved, offered help or produced exhibits for the church. Community is a two way thing, it should never be just the church pushing an agenda of evangelising the area or on the other hand the community expecting the church to be there for them when they remember it. It needs to be a win win situation both those who are part of the church and those who are not but are in the wider community, need to feel involved, appreciated and need to enjoy the experience. Church needs to be a place of welcome and belonging.

A local Art group produced paintings of biblical events and people, the gardening club produced incredible floral displays and one person produced a beautiful front of church display of flowers, fruit and vegetables. The local primary school produced a diorama of Adam and Eve and a local florist, a garden centre, a funeral home and a baker all helped in various ways.

Community working together produced a display in the church and a lot of fun through games, bouncy castles and craft, that let everyone enjoy themselves, many staying far longer than they intended, meeting all sorts of needs for all sorts of people across a wide age range.There is biblical precedent for this, when Jesus was talking to the community, they stayed so long that his disciples worried about what they would give them to eat. Jesus knew their need and met it, thousands were fed. One of our floral displays interpreted this passage.

Jesus met their need to hear him, to be healed and then to be fed. The various groups helped us financially, practically and with their skills while many picked up a bible to read the stories so that they could interpret them. We provided a place to show, a place to have fun, a place to bring all of their "offerings" as we brought thanks to God for all he gives us. In doing all of this bridges have been built which I pray will allow a two way flow as we become very much part of our community.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Transformed by Christ

When my children were small, there were some toys called Transformers, they have more recently been brought back to life with the transformer movies. Robots that can change and become something else, like sports cars, planes, tanks and so on. They could even join together to form bigger robots. As the children played with these toys they changed shape regularly, but the transformations were limited.

Some of us find it hard to undergo even one transformation in life, letting go of the past and moving on into the future. Its often not very easy, especially if the past is still having a marked and possibly negative impact on who we are and how we behave. How often have I heard the comment "Its how I am get used to it because I am not going to change"? It always puts up my antenna because it seems like the cry of person locked into a behaviour pattern that they are unwilling to address, even if it has a bad effect on others.

As I read some of the things that Jesus had to say, one of the things I see is that he was about transforming people. Calling them to shed the old habits, religious rites, learned behaviours and attitudes and becoming something new and wonderful in him.

You must be born again - he tells Nicodemus, to the man's confusion and surprise.

Sell all you have, give it to the poor and follow me - the wealthy man is told.

Give up your families and livelihoods the disciples are told as Jesus calls them together.

Lives are changed when they come into contact with Jesus, we are transformed. The old is gone the new is put on. But we have choices, we can hold to the past, we can continue to live by the old habits and attitudes or we can allow the full open heart surgery of Christ to remodel, to transform us into those who he means us to be. We can allow Christ to be totally in control or we can try and fit him into our way of thinking and doing so that we can justify being as we are.

Which will each of us choose, to let Christ transform us or to cling on to the things that have shaped us and so made us so often less than we might be in him?

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Forgiveness, a gift

(Reposted as it dropped out of the blog)

Forgiveness is a difficult thing for many people, especially when we have been deeply hurt by the actions or words of others. Is forgiveness dependent upon something else, that is does the ability or the need to forgive rely on something that someone else does first or is it a choice that the one forgiving makes irrespective of the situation - in effect a gift we give?

It seems to me that there are various ways of looking at this. Jesus tells us we need to repent of our sins and accept forgiveness so that we might be born again and travel the road of the disciple. There is Moses in the desert asking God to forgive the people and so not destroy them, the people having made merry the wrong way and worshipped other idols. Then there is Jesus telling Peter that forgiveness knows no limits in terms of repeated offense.

I have often heard folks say that you cannot forgive unless the offender recognises their fault and repents and asks forgiveness. While that may ring well with us and seems to tie up with salvation (If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins ...), since we are told to repent (turn from) our wrong doing and accept Gods forgiveness, is it always the case that we cannot forgive until recognition and a desire to apologise or put it right, occur?

On the cross Jesus asked God to forgive those responsible even though they were jeering at him or had washed their hands of responsibility. We are told in Colossians to forgive those we have a problem with so it would seem that we are to forgive unconditionally. God has already sorted out the price of our wrong doing via the cross, in doing so he offers forgiveness to all who will accept Christ and accept the need for forgiveness. The offer has been made to all regardless of them accepting it. It is in accepting God's gift that we are set free from the cost of our sin or wrong doing. Forgiveness is often seen in psychological circles as a release in the one forgiving from building up anger, resentment and such, in effect removing the chains that those actions or words have put onto us. So perhaps the point is that we offer forgiveness, and so set ourselves free from the impact of someone else's actions or words against us?

What if the person concerned does not think they have done anything wrong - after all those who called for Jesus' execution thought they were doing the right thing? Adding it all together I think we do well to forgive regardless of the state, understanding or response of the person or people concerned so that we harbour no grudge, bitterness or desire for retribution. In effect it is a gift we give. That does not mean we don't need to be careful or sensible about things like boundaries in such situations else we could just become the punch bag for someones anger or angst. It does mean that we forgive as we expect to be forgiven.

 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Light a flame

You would have to be in a complete state of isolation in the United Kingdom, not to have noticed something of the Olympic flames' 70 day hike around the country. Passing from hand to hand as each bearer takes up the flame and in turn passes it on to the next. Today and tomorrow its in Essex, where I live, and tomorrow we will all be up early to see the flame pass through Harlow.

Years back I recall a children's song we sang in church which has the words

Light a flame within my heart
That's burning bright
Fan the fire of joy in me
To set the world alight
Let my flame begin to spread
My life to glow
God of light may I reflect
Your love to all I know

Some of you will know that there is a praise bus going ahead of the flame, so that the good news of Jesus can be given out - That God loves us. When we are alight with the love of God, there is, at least in my experience, a burning desire to find ways to show that love to others.

As that love is shown then others, who may not have heard this wonderful truth, will hear it, see it, experience it and it might just touch them as it touched us. The truth will dawn and will set each one free. The fire spreads like that, heart to heart, each being lit by the Christ to become a part of his torch procession, a procession which will be lit always, a flame that is never extinguished.

Some of us in Harlow will be praying through the night tonight, my slot will focus on renewal - the renewal that comes for a deeper walk with Christ and so spills out into our churches, communities and country. A flame lit or re-lit in our hearts that will spread like wildfire and will go on past the time when the Olympics in London have long been forgotten.


Friday, 8 June 2012

Come on and Celebrate ...

We have just celebrated the Queens diamond Jubilee - 60 years on the throne, a great occasion and one where the whole UK celebrated with the commonwealth and the rest of the world. In all of this the Queen is and has been a figure of respect and unity.

Jesus is the head over the Christian Church, he is the unifying factor of all peoples and of his Church. He has been for nearly 2000 years. Its in Christ that we have unity, even when at times we seemed fractured and broken as churches. Church history is littered with broken churches and splits. BUT the Church in all of its multi coloured forms is one under Christ.

Our church is one such multi-coloured form, a Baptist church formed in 1662 - so for us this year is a celebration of 350 years of witness and faithful service to Christ, our head. This weekend we will be celebrating with Potter St Baptist Church, which emerged from the same root as Harlow Baptist church at the same time.

We are celebrating with services
10.45am - Joint Celebration @ Harlow Baptist church, Fore St Harlow - CM17 0AB
4.30pm (ish) - Joint Celebration @ Potter Street Baptist church, Potter Street, Harlow - CM17 9AW

and a shared lunch and games afternoon
12.30pm - onwards Lunch and games

Jesus is Lord, over his Church, over the churches, over his people!

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Christ in you ...

Paul tells us "... Christ is in you, the hope of glory" but what did he mean and what is the result of this?

Many churches will have celebrated Pentecost this weekend - the London Pentecost Festival is one such, a bible college friend recently asked - do we need another Pentecost as the hymn (O God of burning cleansing flame) says, or do we need to take the first one seriously. Having reflected a little on this today, I found I was struck with this thought, do we too often look to special occasions to give us that lift - the big Christian celebrations, the big gatherings, the celebration of events like Pentecost? Trying to recreate them in our churches and setting up tensions that should not be there?

Every Christian has the Holy Spirit given to them from the moment that we believed in Christ, scripture tells us this over and over. The gift is already given and while there are times when God pours out more (and I suspect that is what Booth was referring to), I don't think we have even begun to understand the gift that he has already given. Maybe we don't need repeated Pentecosts what we need to is to live in the light of what God has already given us, his Holy Spirit.

How often are we fearful of sharing our testimony - the things God is doing with us, among Christians, let alone among those outside of the Church? How often do we consider that it is someone else's calling to be the evangelist or missionary? Too often I suspect.

The passage that we looked at today was Ephesians 3:1-13, Paul, the writer, gives us no option, the church has a mission - to proclaim the mystery of Christ, revealed to the Church that the Church, that is each of us, might be witnesses to those who don't know. There is no wriggle room here, Paul has a commission from God, he is empowered by the Holy Spirit because of God's grace and that same grace empowers the Church. Try putting your testimony down on paper - this site gives a few hints.

So rather than looking for more Pentecosts perhaps we need to need to take on board what we have - Christ in us - the hope of glory, the Holy Spirit.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Overcoming Mountains

Have you tried walking up a mountain, well OK so mountains in the UK are not so big, but its all a matter of perspective isn't it? In April I managed Sca Fell Pike and Snowdon, neither was easy but there is a joy in overcoming such mountains.

Walking up a mountain for sensible people takes preparation, planning and above all determination. A mountain guide I recently went up Sca Fell Pike with told me that climbing mountains is mostly about mental strength, when your body is telling you its tired and had enough, thats when your mental strength is needed to carry you on.

I think Paul in his various attempts to describe the Christian life has similar thinking. He talks of life in Christ as a race - a race which he wants to finish well, doing what God has called him to do, spreading the gospel message. Its a favourite theme of his and one he calls us to take seriously - throwing off all that hinders or is likely to stop us reaching the goal. Preparing for (our bible reading and study), planning (prayer) and doing all that God calls us to do.

God also does not ask us to go it alone, just like the friends I walked up the mountains with, God calls us to life in his church so that we may strengthen, help and encourage each other on the journey.

Sometimes the issues before us can seem so large that we might want to turn aside from the race that Paul talks of, sometimes the hill before us seems too high or rocky to climb. The measure of our faith is the strength we gain from relying on Christ in such situations, allowing him to be our strength means we can dig in to that faith reserve and overcome the mountain.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

A question of Authority 2

Recently when looking at Jesus and his disciples' journey to Jerusalem and preparing to preach on Matthew 20:20-28, I was drawn into the whole question of authority and to looking at Jesus' take versus the understanding we find in ourselves.

James and John's mother was seeking to secure places of honour for them in the coming kingdom. The right and left seats next to the throne being for the most trusted advisors and thus the most powerful people other than the king in the kingdom. These would have authority given by the king to carry out his wishes.

Jesus answer has a couple of surprises. First he does not have the authority to grant these places, that remains with the Father - God. All authority is Gods and in this instance it has remained with him.

The second is that Jesus tells them that he came to serve not to be served and so this is the example that they, and we, must follow.

Exploring this in the context of church leadership and the constant wrestling with servant and leader thats goes on in church life, I read Paul's words to Timothy (especially v14-26) when advising him on leading his church. Paul clearly expects Timothy to have authority as a leader and advises careful use of that authority to correct, encourage and so transform his people.

Every one of us who owns Jesus as Lord and saviour is called to a ministry within his church, some obvious, some not so obvious. We have the ultimate example in Jesus Christ of the servant King – he calls us to follow him and learn that serving will set us free, will equip us for more works in him and will make for an harmonious and vibrant church. We each must accept that some are given authority and that such authority must be used well and carefully, servant hood is a good preparation for such authority.

We are each of us called to be servants and not rulers regardless of our calling in the church. Just as the disciples in our reading were called to be servants and not rulers and yet later would be given authority by Jesus himself. If we take this to heart there will be many fewer disagreements in church life.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

A question of Authority

Authority and who has it and possibly more importantly, who wants it, continue to plague pretty well all organisations.  We see it in all walks of life, churches included; part of the reason behind the reformation and the arrival of non-conformist denominations has to do with who tells who what to believe or not. Interesting that today in the UK, the government continues to try to tell Christians what they should and should not believe.

Jesus was questioned about this - "Tell us by what authority you are doing these things?". The religious folks knew that they had authority over religious affairs because it had been given them "by God" hadn't it? So if they had not given this Jesus authority to do as he was doing, then it must be wrong. While the question is not answered to their satisfaction, clearly Jesus' authority came from God and he respected that authority and the responsibility that came with it.

Perhaps what the religious leaders had forgotten is that with authority comes responsibility? They were responsible for ensuring that the nation followed Gods ways and commands and yet they had instead focused on rules and regulations and their own importance. They had messed up big time.

There is a duality here and it exists regardless of the type of church governance that we have in our churches. On the one hand church leaders need authority to enable them to handle their responsibilities and so lead, on the other hand that authority, which ultimately comes from God, must be willingly given by the church and all must it accept it and its limitations.

This is often a battle ground in church as some who have not been given authority try to exercise it by various means and on the other hand those given it can mis-use it and abuse it. It is a difficult equation to get right.

The earliest model we have suggests that church leaders need certain qualities that enable them to get this balance right - they should be filled with wisdom and the Holy Spirit.

Jesus own words on the kingdom and authority give us the complete opposite to what we might think - If you want greatness in God's kingdom, learn to serve. With authority comes responsibility and if we are called to exercise it - then we must learn to serve so that we handle it well. Jesus had all authority and yet was the model servant. The servant king.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

A Topsy Turvy Kingdom

As Easter approaches I have been reading the various accounts of Jesus' journey to Jerusalem and the conversations and stories that are related in the gospels about this.

From this I see that Christs kingdom simply does not stack up with our worldly experiences and understandings, its a topsy turvy kingdom. Why can I say that? Well because with earthly kingdoms its about power, authority, respect and wealth. Then when we work we expect to get paid more than some one doing less of a job or who we consider less important or skilled.

In Jesus' kingdom its not about obeying rules and regulations its about living a life surrendered to him and which simply reflects the gratitude of what he has already done for me.

Jesus answers his disciples questions after their confusion at his telling a rich guy that he needs to give away his wealth with the parable of the Vineyard (Matt 20-1-16); Its all about gratitude not about reward for service, we can't earn what Christ has already won - our salvation!

He goes on to explain that greatness in his kingdom equates to serving (Matt 20:20-28). We are called not to abuse others because we have authority or power in a given situation. We are called to serve. Jesus our example, shows the ultimate service to us on the cross, he calls us, his people to follow him.

We can pollute the churches mission with ways that do not reflect Christ's kingdom values and invariably they cause strife and upset. If we follow Christ's ways we might avoid a few more of these.

There's much more to read ... try it for yourself and read through the journey to Jerusalem accounts (Matt ; Mark ; Luke ) . Maybe they will cause you to reflect on what might need to change in your life to come into line with Jesus' kingdom model.


Saturday, 4 February 2012

Too many expectations

Reflecting on my first year in Harlow, one of the things that has been a recurring theme has been the perception that those who don't go to church have of those of us who do.

From the person who had never been to church in their 80 years and wondering if they would be able to come into a service, were they the sort of person who would be welcome? Then there are the ones who thought they had to be a better person than they were and those who were not good enough to go to church because surely their lifestyle would not be appreciated? Then there have been folks who I have talked to as I prepared their family for a funeral who had long since had no connection with church but wondered if they would be welcome. They think the church folk will have too many expectations of them and they would be unable to meet them.

Too often the view that those who don't come to church have of us is that we are exclusive, good folks who welcome those who are like us and so behave as we do - heaven forbid! From my own experiences of church folk they are just as capable of fighting with each other, suffering addictions, anger, relationship issues as anyone else.

Perhaps the real issue is the way in which we in the church project our image sometimes exclusive, distant, disconnected from our communities. As I read the web page of a new church which a friend of mine is pastoring I came across the word again that sums up what we should be - Incarnational!

We are called to engage as Jesus did with everyone, not condemning but challenging, not judging but setting an example, we are called to be part of our community and in so doing we will project a positive, inclusive image of Christ's Church. Jesus tells us his burden is light and Peter tells us that burdens (anxieties, loads, problems) can be laid at Christ's feet. As Isaiah reminds us all are called to be refreshed and transformed by God, all are welcome.

Incarnational means we are meant to be in among the community not keeping ourselves apart from it showing the love of Christ, and showing that it is for all people with no exceptions - all are welcome to be part of the Church. When folks know that they are welcome and feel a sense of belonging, they may start the journey to believing and eventually to working out how that needs to affect their lives.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Common Union

This last weekend I revisited a subject, Active Participation, with the church that was originally prompted by a college (and now Pastor) friend who came up with the phrase when we were investigating scripture and its relation to church life - we are called to Actively Participate in all that Christ is and wants us to be part of - his Church.

What stuck me was the way in which communion as the central point of the service that Sunday, provided a focal point for so much of what God wanted to do through the service. The worship planned by one of worship leaders, the prayers, the sermon (1Cor 10:14-33 but especially verses 16, 17) and the sharing around the table all led to one point - the presence of Christ calling us to actively engage with him and so in his work and mission through his church, well our expression of his Church. A number felt able to be anointed with oil and prayed for during communion as the tangible power of God was among us to touch's folk's lives.

The point, for me, of verses 16 and 17 is that we are blessed and so bless through taking part in communion or our common union with Christ and with each other. Further we are called to take part, actively participate in this with Christ - we symbolically take into ourselves the very body and blood of Christ and so share in his death and resurrection. Dying once again to self that Christ may be Lord of our lives and we might grow in him.

The Message rendition tells us that in this union with Christ and each other - Christ is not reduced to our level but he raises us to what he is - stunning really stunning - he raises us up in our common union with him. What a saviour we have!

Sermon link if you are interested