Sunday, 14 December 2014

Toys and tinsel

Christmas is close upon us again, only a matter of days before the big event. The big supermarkets are vying for best Christmas advert for 2014. I would guess that in the UK Monty the penguin has certainly drawn a lot of attention. A child's toy that becomes real in the child's mind and searches for love and the child's realisation that the penguin needs a partner. The child's present for the penguin, another toy penguin. Touching and fun. Love amidst the promotion of products and the toys and tinsel.

Celebrating is a big thing at this time of year, for Christians and for many who don't believe, we like to celebrate and be happy and to make others happy, or at least many of us do. The toys and tinsel bring a sense of excitement as children wait expectantly to be able to open the presents containing the toys and gifts that they hope for and the tinsel and lights that deck out our homes help set the scene.

"Look to the skies there's a celebration", is a modern Advent / Christmas song which we sing in church. It reminds us that Christmas is a time of celebration and excitement, it reminds us that on that first Christmas the waiting was over, God's gift, God's saviour, Jesus, had come and nothing would be the same again. Not a toy or any tinsel in sight at the time, an animals feed trough for a bed, a draughty stable for a room, the one who changed the world arrived in a simple setting.

And yet ... simple it may have been, lacking in the toys and tinsel that our modern celebrations include, the light of the world arrived, to shine on humanity and call us back to God. A light to all, a light to help us see through our misunderstandings about God. A "light" that says come to me.

Amidst the toys and tinsel this Christmas find a few moments to consider what Christmas means to you, Christian or not, is it only the toys and tinsel, the parties and food, the family gatherings that make it Christmas? Or maybe its about love, God's love for us, defined in the arrival of that small baby on that first Christmas, that would change the world and offer us hope, peace, love, joy ...

A cause to celebrate indeed. Have a great time celebrating Christmas.

Friday, 24 October 2014


In this busy life that we lead, patience is something that is not usually in the forefront of our thinking. For example yesterday I was conducting a funeral and while the hearse and limousines were parked outside the church, the road was blocked for a little while. One person could not wait, and they may have had good reason, but in breaking a parked cars mirror, they ended up spending a lot more time there than they intended. Another was so impatient to get out of a parking place that they could not wait for the limo to move up the street a little to let them out.

Our world seems driven by last minute panic, communication, sat-navs, the internet all help to make everything seem instant. Yet with all of this and with our diaries in our phones, we still rush from place to place, often late, often without time to think or prepare, patience is almost a dirty word.

A song of the 60's reminds me that 50 years ago the same seemed to be the case as well. "Slow down, you move too fast, you got to make the morning last". Perhaps no matter what labour and time saving gadgets we come up, we will have the same problem, we use all the time end up trying to do too much and so rush from thing to thing. As we rush we become less patient, more intent on the next thing or place to be.

A recurring theme in scripture is being still. God's words to the Israelites as they seemed to be staring certain annihilation in the face, was "be still, I will fight for you". Hard to do when you just want to run like the wind . Its a theme in a number of Psalms, finding that place to be still, waiting upon God. Stillness helps us calm down, helps us re-focus and de-stress. The panic of the disciples in a boat in a storm was calmed along with the storm when Jesus simple said "Quiet, be still".

I don't think it's the gadgets that make us impatient but its our inability to give ourselves enough time for each event or activity, trying to cram too much into our time. Taking time to be at peace, to be still, for me usually means a walk in the country and a stop as I reflect and look. Find your place and time to be still, to learn to be patient, more gets down well that way, in my experience and it usually gets done better.

Monday, 22 September 2014

God of surprises

"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us ..." is part of Paul's prayer in Ephesians 3. As I have unpacked my thoughts on a difficult situation and its outcome, this week, this scripture reminded me that in my fallible humanity, it is hard sometimes to figure out what surprising thing God might do through it.

Yet God does do surprising and amazing things, things that astound and encourage us, at least that's my experience. From Paul's writing that seems to have been his experience as well. Our God always has the ability to do what we could not dream of or expect, his ways and his will often bringing about so much more than we could expect.

I guess one of the issues for us all, is that in our limitations we focus on what we can tangibly understand or grasp, a solution to a problem, how to formulate a new mission opportunity and such like things. Tangible is safe and secure, tangible is achievable and  comfortable. The secondary problem is being able to trust God when our trust level is damaged or even broken down by experiences or what we are in the middle of. But God is the same yesterday, today and forever, surprising and doing the unimaginable. Walking out with God is often unsafe, insecure and pretty scary by our measures of things. But God will not let us down, he equips us for the task he calls us to and strengthens us to handle it, he asks us to put out faith and trust in him, our hands in his hands.

One example of this trust in God, is Stephen, called to serve the church giving out charity to the widows of the church, God leads him into dangerous territory which leads to his untimely death One of my favourite leadership examples in the Bible is Nehemiah. I man who was prepared to trust his life to God's call, who even when opposed stood firm and found that others began to stand with him. The account of Nehemiah provides some surprises as his trusts to God's call on his life, not seeking anything for himself but helping and encouraging the people to step up to the task of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.

The wonder of seeing God do something unexpected, surprising and amazing, is faith building, trust building and just plain amazing.


Monday, 18 August 2014

What Kind of God?

Over the last while we have been looking at the book of Acts in our weekly service at the church. While there is lots of really encouraging stuff to get our teeth into and take on board, there are also some really tricky parts.

Recently we covered Acts 4:32-5:11, which is a tale of two parts and since the second part is often a real no no for some, a God who strikes people, in this case Ananias and Sapphira, down ... no that cannot be the God we know and want to proclaim. surely?

The problem possibly is that we like the idea of a cuddly cute kind of God, who is all about love and goodness and a loving God could not possibly do something as harsh as that. After all who wants a God who disciplines and does hard things to correct his people?

One of my lecturers at bible college used to tell us that when we read scripture we need to ask"what kind of God?" and "so what?" God wants his people to be holy, right with him and as such things which pollute that or could cause his people to have very wrong ideas, need to be stopped short. Ananias and Sapphira thought that they could lie to the church and to God, What kind of God did they see? One that clearly was not all around and all knowing. So what? Well would that be a god worth serving, a god worth trusting? But God did know their innermost thoughts and attitudes, because nothing is hidden from him. As result they are punished - perhaps because the illusion that they had, would have undermined the wonderful generous nature of what was going on in the church at that time.

What kind of God? A God who is awesome, amazing and Holy, God who will not have his people led astray and so brings discipline. The sin being very public, the result being very public. Similarly God had dealt with other public wrong doing for example with David when he used his authority to take someone else's wife, and with Belshazzar when he used God's temple vessels for his own banquet.

So what? Thinking that we can hide things from God means we have a wrong view of who God is and there will be consequences with such an attitude.

As Gods' people we should realise that nothing is hidden, but all can be forgiven if we admit and repent, turn from our wrong doing. What kind of God? A God who loves us enough to correct and discipline us, as any loving parent would do. So what? Often discipline is hard to take, but usually, with hindsight we realise that it was needed and has put us back on the right path. God has what is best for us in mind.

Friday, 27 June 2014

He is beautiful ...

Some weeks back I was looking for some inspiration and a lift, in the midst of various pressures around me. Evening services are rare on Sundays in my locale and so I thought I would go further afield with Nicola, my wife. We found a church with an evening service, which seemed to fit the bill for us. Modern style of worship, preaching, contemporary songs ...

For us it was nice being somewhere where we were not known, nothing was expected of us and we could sing, take part and receive the sermon and think about it. In fact a song that they sang that I had not heard before really spoke to me and encouraged me to get back to early morning walking and praying and listening to God - something that has been a struggle when our dog was older and could not walk far.

We all need times of refreshing among our busy lives, we all need to set apart times to speak to and listen to God. It is in reflecting that we can find the deeper things of God, reflecting on our incredible God and what he has done for us. For me marvelling at what God has created as I walk leads me to be humbled at what Jesus has done through the cross and the hope he offers to all of us who will accept him and walk with him. Its in those moments that I think I see he face most clearly. He truly is beautiful.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Restored and Forgiven

On Sunday I preached from John 21:1-9, looking in part at the exchange between Peter and Jesus. A number of things come from reading this but the big one for me was related to forgiveness and restoration.

If you know the Easter story, you will know how bravely Peter had said he would follow Jesus, even if it meant dying with him. When the chips were down, Peter, as Jesus had told him, denied that he knew Jesus for fear of his life. A monumental failure.

So what would be our' response to a monumental failure or even a small failure, on the part of a friend, which caused us hurt and damage? Insist on reparations (some making up for it); public humiliation (maybe it might make us feel better); Ignore it and drop them as a friend?

Jesus did none of these things, didn't even mention it, he simply took Peter aside and ask him if he loved him. Oh, and in the process charged him to shepherd, look after, care for the church that would grow in Jesus' name.

Why was this possible? Well I think the look from Jesus post Peters denial of knowing him and Peters heart broken reaction at the realisation of what he had done, tells it all. He broke in tears, recognising his failure. Peter had made no attempt to make light of it as he met Jesus, he made no attempt to justify it, after all the rest had all run away. He simply walked with Jesus and was restored, knowing that he was forgiven, because he had faced his mistake and not tried to hide it or justify it.

We will all mess up at times, some more often than others, but recognising that we have should break our hearts as we realise that the cross was for just such as us and forgiveness from Jesus is possible if we can only admit that we got it wrong.

Monday, 24 March 2014


The sun making an appearance in the last few weeks had me thinking how good it feels to have the sun light brighten things up. There is no doubt in my mind that many of us are cheered up when we are in the sun-light. Its why so many head of to warmer places for their holidays, to soak up the sun. There is warmth, a colourfulness to everything that it touches. The warmth that it brings stirs new life and plants shoot up and bloom.

A few weeks back as we drove home in a rainstorm, my wife and I were talking about how dark it was in the middle of the day, only to find bright rays of sun shine coming through and a lovely double rainbow. Again the light cheered us up.

We talk of Jesus as the light of the world, he said he is just that. A light that can shine through any darkness in our lives and give us the warmth that comes from knowing God. A song I like, reminds me of the fact that just as we sun light to see things in colour, the light of the Son can set our lives ablaze with colour as we begin to see things very differently.

Just as sun light warms our physical selves, so the light of the Son lights our spiritual selves.  For me that light guides my direction, my attitudes and my actions. Let the light of the Son of God touch your lives and see everything in full colour.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Jesus in the storm

You may remember the song "You raise me up" made popular by Westlife but originally by Secret Garden. There is a line in it that I think sums up life.

"When troubles come and my heart burdened be"

All of us have struggles as some point in our lives, storms to brave and overcome. Some of us can manage it on our own, sometimes, others need help. Understanding our need for help and having the courage to call out, to ask, is so important.

John Donne wrote

"No man is an island, entire of itself .." as he put down his thoughts and he goes on to suggest that each has impact on each other, we rely on each other. You can read the whole mediation here.

The disciples in the boat on the stormy lake, were afraid for their lives while Jesus slept in the boat, unconcerned about the turbulence of the storm. The disciples knew the waters, they fished there for a living, but the storm was beyond their ability. Jesus awoke, calmed the storm and peace returned.

The disciples needed something as they were beyond their abilities, sometimes we need help, from friends, relatives, even from complete strangers. Admitting the need is a strength not a weakness.

When we call on Jesus, all things are possible. Storms calmed, illness healed, lives changed. Recognising our need for him in our lives is a strength that will produce a rich reward. Life in all its fullness, life that will not be trouble free, but life that has the help that we need to deal with them and overcome them. Turning to him can never be a sign of weakness or failure but a sign of strength.

Monday, 20 January 2014

A tinted view

There are some news stories that really make me wonder what we are about in this country.

Stories like that of Edwina Currie questioning if food banks were really needed in Britain, just reinforce the issues raised late last year by other politicians questioning food  banks and their supposed agenda. Then there is the issue of benefits claim reform and of course the building up of fear of the possible influx of European union nationals as more countries have joined and now take advantage of migration opportunities. Before anyone thinks this is a comment on the current government, we have also to ask why we are in the economic mess we are in, since that has created many of the problems and fears? Politicians often look through tinted windows seeing only what they want to see.

Possible those giving out their opinions and those converting them to print or news bytes, might benefit from getting a ground level view. It seems to me that being detached from the real folks, those that struggle, those that can't make ends meet, those that have been caught up in the pay day loans cycle of debt, those who can't find a job that enables them to support themselves and their families, gives a view through a tinted window.

Its all too simple to focus on the negative, those who abuse benefits, those who abuse the hospitality of another country, those who use food banks but have the funds for tattoos and pet food. All too simple to miss the point that many more in our country do rely on food banks (as many in Harlow do), can't find jobs with adequate pay, struggle when benefits claims changes remove all payments during reassessment and many migrant workers positively contribute to the economy of this land. The windows being looked through are tinted.

What's all this  got to do with faith in Jesus? Well quite a lot, in my view. The other day I conducted a funeral and after meeting the family of the person selected this passage to read ...

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:
I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’

I got to thinking again about what this means as a follower of Jesus. We are called to wipe the tints off of the windows we look through and regardless of our politics, regardless of our economic situation, recognise that many do need help, support, comfort and compassion and that we might well be able to help to give it. Food banks and Credit Unions are a part of that, they are not perfect but imperfect is, in my opinion, better than nothing at all.

There is no doubt that reforms of our social systems are needed but they should surely focus on fairness with compassion and dignity? Jesus showed His compassion over and over during His earthly ministry, going against the established norms of the day to include, encourage and heal many on the margins of life. Shouldn't we be the same?

Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’