Sunday, 22 December 2013

Happy christmas 2013

 This year we have sent cards to our far away friends but not to the those in Harlow Baptist Church, our home church, opting instead to give the money we would have spent to Operation Christmas Child and putting a card in the church hall instead. Different, maybe, but hopefully the lack of a card for some will help others who really need to hear "Happy Christmas" who might not have otherwise heard that wonderful greeting.

Our prayer is that this Christmas, whatever you are each doing, where ever you are going to be - at home, with friends, with relatives or on your own, you will know the joy of Christmas and be able to celebrate it, knowing that God is with us "Immanuel".

We will be celebrating as we sing carols with all of our friends at Harlow Baptist Church, we hope you will be able to celebrate with a church near you. Go on treat yourselves this Christmas :-)

Happy Christmas, to all of those who read this blog and to all of our friends.

from Tony and Nicola

Monday, 9 December 2013

Telling the story

As I prepared for Christmas this year, a theme kept recurring, that of telling the story. As I pondered this I began once again to marvel at the breadth of God's story in the bible. The thread that runs through all of it, showing how much God cares about his creation and in particular, humanity.

I sat this week in a carol service, not one that I had organised, so was able to simply participate without any responsibility and absorb the thoughts and challenges as well as singing carols. One of the items was a series of interviews with folks in the street of the town where the service took place. People were asked some questions about Christmas like:

 "What's your favourite at Christmas?".
 "What is Christmas all about?"
"What is the Christmas story?"

And so on ...

A number had no idea that Jesus Christ was the point or that the story is more than just a nice tale which means we can party, meet friends, family and enjoy lots of food and presents.

Another discussion on another occasion, reminded me that for many children and young people today, there is no understanding of the Christmas story as in the bible.

So the point of these thoughts? Well you may recall, if you read the bible, that God told the Israelites to make sure they continued to tell the story of his great miracles and works for them, of his goodness. "Tell your children and your children's children" . It is repeated in a number of places.

So that's our role, to tell the story, tell it with joy and wonder, tell of the great things that God has done and continues to do for us. Tell of the God who has come among us, to help us find him once again, to bring to fruition all that he promised throughout scripture. Tell of the God who performed miracles in insignificant peoples' lives and brought John the Baptist and Jesus into the world, of the God who sent amazing Angels to bring messages to Mary, Zechariah and the shepherds outside Bethlehem.

Some will think its good that fewer know the whole story and that its time it vanished altogether, Christingle services, Carols services, Christmas services will all see many who don't know the story. I say let people hear the whole story and be allowed to make their own minds up. Lets tell the story and speak it out and let people know the whole story and not the sound bites that are so often a part of media culture today.

Share the story in your own family over Christmas as well.

Tell the story to a world that deserves the whole story.

Monday, 11 November 2013

A great gift

Last week I shared a posting on my facebook page which reflected my views on Halloween being celebrated by dressing up children to look like things from horror films. The result was a number of positive and negative comments on the article and some interesting discussions.

Always tricky when faith seems to indicate that we can't simple go with the flow. However it does call us to mind that while God's people are called to be a prophetic voice, often in the wilderness of the society in which we live, the way we live speaks out more about us than critical, judgemental words about the way those who don't share our beliefs, live theirs.

Simply nay saying others while we don't behave any differently is never going to impress anyone. However the gift we have is to be different and to show how amazing a community God's church is when it lives God's way.

God gave us a great gift, an amazing gift, in Jesus. A chance to be all that God wants us to be, free from the pulls and draws of so many things that damage our lives and force us to be less than God's best for us.

I reflected a little more as I prepared for remembrance Sunday as we were going to be looking at Micah 4:1-5, God's word through the prophet had been telling the people that God had had enough of their wrong doing and was going to bring war. But the hope, the gift embedded into this was a promise that peace would come and it would bring an incredible restoration. Peace is another great gift that God promises. In that peace, strong nations will resolve their differences by coming to God, people will be secure and safe - God's desire will be our desire.

Church Community
Some one recently said to me, having come to church a few times, that they had had no idea that church did anything outside of Sunday services. They commented that they had been deeply affected by the non judgemental welcome they received and were amazed at the way the community of the church works all of the time, supporting each other, caring about and for each other and being there for them as well.

By this will all people know that you are my disciples, Jesus said. Our great gift to others, is not to put them down or exclude them for not understanding our faith or our desire to live differently, no, its the fact that by living differently we can in fact be an attractive people, living at peace, living in love, living in community for each other. A community which draws others and welcomes them and allows God to transform their lives as he is ours.

Friday, 11 October 2013

What kind of witness?

Recently I had a mail item in the church mail box which concerned me. It offered something to people for free and made quite a thing out of helping folks learn to read the bible. At first glance what's wrong with that? As a Christian I am all for people reading the bible and helping them make sense of it as best we can. After all as Timothy tells us its a good diet for us.

The publicity was for a course, run by a church group that many mainstream Christians would not accept as Christian. However I don't want to get into that at the moment. The point is that what they seemed to be doing is attracting folks to the free bible study course without saying who was behind it and so what the underlying things that they were going to be teaching about the bible actually were. A sort of stealth approach possibly because the truth might put some off from coming.

It got me thinking about what we do through Church and our faith lives, under the heading of "outreach". How much is either so "in your face" that folks are put off and so propagates the label that we Christians are intolerant, rule based people and such or is done by stealth so that there is no obvious connection to the church or our faith even though that's the underlying reason for doing it.

I know that some won't agree with me, but shouting out loud in the streets seems to put most off  and sometimes seems to draw attention to the message giver rather than the saviour we serve. Personally that's was my impression of a  you tube clip put up recently trying to show the police in the UK victimising a street preacher as he shouted out his message and refused to reduce his volume after complaints. What kind of witness is that? Perhaps we need to use more effective ways to touch people with the truth and in case you are wondering, I have done plenty of street work and door knocking myself. Chris Duffet gives some excellent ideas on the Light Project web site of ways to connect in public.

What kind of witness does it give if we are not being open and honest about who is doing whatever it is? Our saviour was up front and open about who he was, talking to and ministering to groups of people where-ever he came across them, in his earthly ministry. Yes he upset people, yes there was opposition to him, but he also attracted people who would give up lifestyles and lives to follow him and give out the message. His honesty earned him ridicule, torture and death. But his witness sparked a movement that has endured through the centuries, witnessing to the God who calls to us, his people, through an incredible witness, Jesus.

We, that is the church, are ambassadors for an incredible saviour, lets not be afraid to let people know who we are, but lets also not frighten folks away with our sometimes well meaning but badly thought out methods. Last year handing out free dough-nuts and chocolate in a high street with lots of shops, car dealers and
other businesses, telling folks why we were doing it, surprised many and got folks talking and sharing.

How we witness what we believe plays a key part in how those who see or hear it take it. Let's try and be good witnesses ...

Monday, 23 September 2013

Harvest - need or greed, a time to take stock

Living in a country which is one of the richest, economically, in the world can give us a false sense of what is what. I recently saw that the use of Food banks in England has shot up over the last year and certainly there are many who through no fault of their own are struggling financially while others are in that place because they have over extended themselves to have what they want.

As I have been preparing for harvest, I have been wondering how this compares to say farming families in the drought ridden or war torn parts of Africa? What about those in areas of the world where our first world "needs" have resulted in stripping the land bare and then produced landslips and floods when the rains come down? Is it about need or greed, our desire to live well and prosperously, their desire simply to survive? Gandhi said, many years back that "the world has enough for everyone's need but not for everyone's greed."

Its easy to put such things as famine, drought and war out of our minds as we seek to provide ourselves with a good standard of living, I include myself in this! Jesus said we would always have the poor with us so maybe we can put up a case for looking the other way. However we have also been given responsibility for God's creation, all of it. So I don't think we can simply get on with our lives and look away. Often it is our very way of life that is creating the ecological and other problems that mean 3rd world counties cannot produce enough food, have adequate medicines and have to cope with drought and flood.

The church I am in is supporting the Baptist Missionary Society's' Hungry campaign this Harvest to help farmers in Uganda recover the land that is rightly theirs but through war they have been dispossessed of. Check it out if your are interested.

The point, it seems to me, is that if, as Christians, we want to be in tune with God's heart, them justice and mercy are absolutely key. Christ's compassion for humanity meant that he did something amazing for all of us, gave us life through his death. Is it time for each of us to take stock and give more of the bounty we receive, in compassion, to those who struggle to survive? To curtain our greed so that we can meet their need? Will any of our children or grandchildren die of easily curable or preventable diseases or malnutrition or flood?

Harvest is a celebration of God's plentiful provision for all, salvation, love and life. Lets praise God for all we have and lets be fair in how we share it.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Relationships Continued (4)

As my youngest son and his fiancée prepare for their wedding this Sat (3rd Aug), in the church that we all went to before I came to Harlow, I have been reflecting a little on how we prepare for what should be a life-times journey. In a society where we want everything as we want it and we want it now - possibly why the fast food shops like McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Burger King are so popular - fast, easy and throw away if we don't like it. Maybe that's why we can't buy wedding cakes in those places - they take too long to make well and are not easy to mass produce.

Good food needs thought, care and love. To make what will hit the spot for the person or people we are cooking for, the ingredients need to be good and wholesome, the cooking done well and the presentation makes it all look good and appetising. The result carried out with love, is good.

As we prepare for the life long journey, called marriage that we are going to share with our partner (and before you ask no I don't hold with same sex Christian marriage). That too needs to be prepared with thought - it should not be rushed into, that's why we do marriage prep. with the couples that marry in the church I Pastor. It takes care, getting to know your partner, learning to love them for who they are and not who we might want them to be and accepting their traits even if they are sometimes annoying. It takes good ingredients - compassion, compromise, sharing, caring, forgiving, supporting among others.

The whole is carried out with love. A love that grows as the marriage grows, a love that can overcome all things , can take joy in each other and can bond two people more firmly than if they had used super-glue.

My wife and I are celebrating 36 years of marriage this year, we have been blessed that our children have found good marriage partners and my prayer is that they will enjoy life long marriages that will grow in every respect as they go on. Christ is central to our marriage and is important to our children, part of the preparation for a Christian marriage must be to put God in the right place - above everything else. If God is relegated then self will win and self is a destructive force in a marriage.

Fast food beef burgers and chicken snacks are no substitute for the real thing and the real thing takes time to prepare and get right, just like a good wedding cake. Marriage takes time to prepare for and to mature and blossom, the real thing has no imitations, no quick and easy alternatives.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Responsibility - measure with the right yardstick

Responsibility is a strange word in many respects. We can expect others to be responsible and yet not consider our own actions, attitudes and words through the lens of being responsible for them. Its OK to hold others to account but when they try to hold us to account we can get cross, react badly and try to make ourselves feel better about it by soliciting others to our case.

Sounds a bit like any soup opera on the TV, the ability to do what suits me but not wanting responsibility for the impact that that has on others. Yet sometimes as Christians we play out the same drama as if its all OK almost as if the result we want makes how we achieve it fine. But actually its not fine, its never fine to be careless as a Christian about the things we do or say and the attitudes that we hold. David found this out when he took what he desired, Bathsheba, even though she was someone else's wife and God disciplined both of them. Peter when he erred towards the old Jewish practices rather than stick with what the church council had agreed had Paul on his case to correct him.

In both cases they had chosen to act and their actions had not met the standard required of God's people. Possibly one acted on impulse after all he was King so he could have whatever he wanted and who would dare question his choices or actions? The other may have been bowing to people pressure, taking an easier option for a while. We can't tell for sure.

What about those of us who are Christians? How often do we actually reflect on our actions or words or lack of them? How often do we consider before we do something?

Paul tells us to take captive every thought to make them conform to the ways of Christ. In effect be responsible for what we do, say, omit, don't do or say - measure them with the right yardstick - Christ. Every Christian has been given the gift of the Holy Spirit to guide us and lead us into all truth. Let's be responsible for the thoughts of our hearts and the words of our mouths and not justify them by our own, often skewed, agendas, desires and emotions.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Surprise endings ...

Do you like surprises? I am in two minds, some surprises are nice - like when the children invite us over or when we can unexpectedly get together. Others are not so good - like cars breaking down or pipes suddenly bursting.

This Sunday in church part way through the sermon, there was a loud bang, the air shook and so did the building, definitely a shock - was it the second coming? No, unless we were being left behind or something. Was it part of the building falling? No, no sign of dust, large pieces of masonry dropping on us. Turns out it was an Air Force jet generating a sonic boom having been sent to intercept an airliner that the air traffic people had lost touch with. I suspect the arrival of a jet must have been a bit of a shock for them.

Jesus told a mixed group of religious leaders and onlookers that their idea of heaven and hell was skewed, that they were in for a shock when the time came as to who would be in Heaven and who would end up in Hell. Just in case we are in any doubt, Jesus also points out that words are not enough, the truth of our faith is borne out in how we act towards each other. When we accept Jesus as our Lord and saviour it is always a life changing experience, our lives, our attitudes, our thoughts and so our actions will change to be more like His.

The shock will be that for far too many, Jesus is going to be saying "I never knew you" on the day of judgement.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Attractive lives

A while ago I heard a song which suggested that perhaps the best thing we could do as Christians was to get out of God's way and let God do the reaching others thing. Well I guess we have all come across the heavy handed if well meaning "evangelist" sailing in with all guns blazing and large bible to hand just in case, so I understand the sentiment. However I don't think scripture gives us that option.

Col 1:10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.

2Ti 4:2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction.

And if we need a real pointer from Jesus - Matthew 28:18-20 should be enough.

Jesus tells us in the parable of the lamp on a stand, that what is in each Christian is not for hiding but should be seen by all - why would you turn a light on than cover the bulb up so that all is dark again? But even a little light can turn  darkness  to light. 

Christians are called to live lives that shine out to others, not because we are perfect but because we are trying to be better, trying to allow the things of our faith to grow and blossom in our lives and so be something beautiful to others.
Have you noticed recently the blossom on the trees for those few fleeting days? It draws attention, its beautiful and picturesqueIt draws attention not because it shouts out or gets in the way but because in achieving its purpose, to attract insects to allow pollination, it attracts us. So each Christian and each Christian church should attract not because it shouts the loudest, or because its music or drama is the best, but because by being what Jesus asks us to be - the beauty of that life will draw attention and so attract others.

Thats what we are seeing at our church, people coming, staying and becoming part of our community not because we are the best church, the most modern or the most culturally clued in. No I think its because we are simply trying to be all that Christ has asked of us, selfless, loving, kind, generous .... Like the blossom on the trees we attract because being a Christian is like a light on a stand, it does not go unnoticed and God will draw people to those who do their best to live for him.


Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Responsible for our walk

In church life I have heard people ask to be told what to do, as if its good that the church leaders take responsibility for them, their decisions and the results of those decisions. Its also fair to say that in some churches the leaders prefer to tell the church what to do and in others it is what is expected.

I am reading a book at present by Graham Cooke and Gary Goodell, Permission Granted (to do the church differently in the 21st Century), based on the work of the Third Day church movement. They say ...

"People must learn how to police their own lives well. A lot of leadership time can be wasted on policing things for others that they are not doing for themselves."


"The only acceptable control in church life is the fruit of self control that comes out of our ongoing relationship with the Holy Spirit".

As disciples of Christ we are going nowhere fast if we expect our church leaders to police our lives and give a step by step guide to what to do and what not to do. Our church leaders are not infallible.

What do you do when it seems your spiritual life is in a rut and going nowhere or worse still is heading off the cliff and looks like its about to be wrecked? Look for a new church, a new experience, that's a common one in my experience. But I wonder if you ask yourself - am I responsible for this? Were the choices I made or am making the cause? If we don't take personal responsibility for our lives and especially for our faith lives, we cannot expect to grow.

Yes, I know there are always good reasons not to find time to pray, wait on God, read the bible, go to church, attend a home group, cell group or bible study group - but then ask what things do I do regularly that I would not miss? Watching sport, going to the pub (bar), playing sport, playing computer games, meeting folks at the coffee shop ... I am sure that the list is big.

If being a disciple of Christ is important and we want to make godly choices in our lives - we need to invest in our future at least as much as drinking coffee, watching sport ... etc.

If you love me you do as I have told you ... Jesus told us and how do we know that a person is obeying Christ? Their life speaks it out in the things they do - which is why James tells his readers than the truth of someones faith is born out in the way they live.

I am a hill walker and I know that preparation is the key to enjoying this and being safe. In effect the key to making the right choices as situations present themselves. Learning to use maps and compasses, learning what to take as back up, learning to read the weather signs.

As Christians the same is required - preparing ourselves to make choices by filling our hearts and minds with the things of God, the bible, fellowship with other Christians, godly council from others - but ultimately making our own decisions based on good preparation and taking responsibility for them.


Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Stillness in a frantic world

From my experience of business and from what I hear more recently, earning a living is a pretty frantic way of life. Many commute by train, plane or road, spending extra hours on the laptop, pad or mobile to catch up, stay in touch or feel needed. It seems to me being still simply does not figure in the modern way of life. Its all about getting the most we can out of every moment - every input, every piece of information, every experience ...

A business friend recently sent me some pictures of me in my early days in my last business role, at my desk, around me were the trappings of that life - phones, computers, I had several, whiteboard with time plans and schedules, to do lists and stick-it notes with yet more info. The other, sorting out an issue in one of the data centres, usually a rush on round the north circular (if rush was possible on that road). Every moment of my time was spoken for. There is a great danger in church life that we too nearly emulate the culture that we live among. Busy, busy, busy. Rating our achievements by the number of events, number of meetings or number of services we manage to put on or attend. Every moment accounted for!

In our church we have been looking at Nehemiah since Christmas, the start of his venture for God was started in prayer, took months of prayer and fasting to mature and continued in prayer and seeking God. A look at Jesus' ministry shows us that he too took time out to pray and be still.

The psalmist knew a good thing - "Be still and know that I am God", when all around is in turmoil - when the world is being shaken and troubled - God remains the same, the one we can look to and in whom peace and stillness may be found.

With a little stretch I can imagine Jesus, calling to us in the same way that he spoke to the waves that frightened those in the boat with them - disturbing their peace.

"Quiet!, be still"

Stillness in a frantic world is more important than ever in our churches - it cannot simply be about doing as much as we can, organising as much as we can, showing how hard we are working. It is, I think,  about hearing God like Nehemiah and investing time in quietly listening, focusing in on God. The key is that we have choices about how we live, how frantically or calmly we live and who pulls our strings.
Even as the waves and wind obeyed Jesus and were still, perhaps we need to take note of him and be still more often.

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Heart broken people

The book of Nehemiah is a challenge in many senses, its a challenge to those who would profit from the poverty of others, its a challenge to those who don't allow their faith to affect how they live, its a challenge to those who cause trouble for or among God's people.

As I have been preparing sermons from the book another thing struck me, Nehemiah is a man who spends a lot of time seeking God because his heart has been broken by the state of God's city and people. First he hears of the state of Jerusalem after the return of the Israelites from exile (ch1), then risks his life because of that (ch2). When trouble flares its to God he turns looking to honour God. Chapter 5 finds him angry at the state of the people and what they are doing to each other, because it reflects on God's honour.

In an age of rapidly changing press stories and where we are bombed out with pictures of underprivileged nations, starving children, war and destruction, it is all too easy to remain unaffected by these things. Nehemiah was cup bearer to the king, an important official, he did not need to be concerned with Jerusalem but he was. He did not need to be concerned with the people in Jerusalem once he arrived, so long as they built the wall, he could have had his own supplies by right. He chose to be concerned to sort things out and chose not to exercise his rights.

God's honour was Nehemiah's main concern, today we can so easily accept things as they are, accept the social norms that are pushed onto God's people by society and government. I guess the big question for Christians is Will we be concerned about God's honour in these things or will we let it pass us by while we get on with our lives? Can we allow ourselves to be broken hearted for the things that break God's? It takes people who are heart broken by what they see and hear, heart broken enough to, like Nehemiah, make themselves heard, who stand up for truth, morality, justice, mercy.

A song we have been using in church recently echo's this with the words ...

"Break my heart for what break yours, everything I am for your Kingdom's cause ..."

Are we broken hearted? There is a price to being heart broken for God, What's on God's heart may well be in opposition to what our culture or the country we live in wants to do. Nehemiah left the security of his position (offered his life), faced opposition and trouble (stood firm) but through relying on God, saw the result of God's call on his life (God's work completed).