Monday, 21 December 2015

Uncertainty and Faith - A Christmas thought

These are the notes I used to give the talk at our churches Carols Service last night (20th Dec), Not used word for word, I thought it was worth sharing.

Werner Heisenberg, who is considered by many to be the father of quantum physics, concluded with his principle that there was an uncertainty in the precise values of certain properties of atoms – one of the building blocks of all things.

The Guardian newspaper described it like this:

"It tells us that there is a fuzziness in nature, a fundamental limit to what we can know about the behaviour of quantum particles and, therefore, the smallest scales of nature. Of these scales, the most we can hope for is to calculate probabilities for where things are and how they will behave. Unlike Isaac Newton's clockwork universe, where everything follows clear-cut laws on how to move and prediction is easy if you know the starting conditions, the uncertainty principle enshrines a level of fuzziness into quantum theory."

Tonight we have been celebrating an event which for many is fuzzy, unclear, hard to believe. Angels appearing to people, telling them of the coming to be of things spoken of hundreds of years before, things that many had long forgotten or laid aside as simply dreams or wishful thinking. A king is born.

Consider how Mary must have felt visited by an Angel – Pregnant, without being married! Something which in those days meant that she could be stoned to death – her uncertainties had to be laid at God's feet. How would Joseph react, what about her parents and more importantly how would the village react – who was going to believe her story?

Consider how Joseph must have felt when Mary told him. How can I believe her? What has she done and if he was like any other men who is the father? Uncertainty all the way.

Fortunately God intervened, Joseph also had an angelic visit and was told of the King that Mary carried, and instead of disowning Mary, married her, owned the baby and their uncertainties vanished like mist in the morning.

For all of us, life has uncertainties, I am sure each of us can think of a few. How about what we believe? I am a scientist, an Engineer by training and profession (a degree in applied sciences – engineering) and am a Chartered Engineer. Science and reason were my certainties although I quickly found as I studied that much of science is based on assumptions. There is a fuzziness to it. But I also believe that the Christmas story is true, a fact. God came to us to complete us, to help us live as God would have us live, to enable us to know him and his love for us, to grow better at forgiving and loving each other.

There is a fuzziness to faith since we cannot prove it but have to take a step into the unknown, a step into the uncertainty that often surrounds us as we explore faith. I took that step well over 20 years ago, accepting Jesus as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Have you taken it yet? If you have then I hope like me that in spite of the fuzziness that is inevitable with faith that it enriches your lives as it has mine, I hope that it has helped you to be the person God wants you to be and I hope that it has given you a desire to share the Good News of Jesus with everyone.

If you have yet to make that faith step or are wondering what it means to be a follower of Jesus – a Christian – wondering if its about going to church or trying to pray or maybe being a good person or whatever – then let me encourage you to take the step of inviting the grown up Jesus, the saviour that the baby in the manger is, be the centre of your life today, if you need some help figuring that out – fill in one of our Alpha cards or contact me   (if you live near Harlow, if not find an Alpha or explorer course near you). We start that exploration into the fuzziness of faith on Tues evenings in January

In 1973, Werner Heisenberg who was a Christian, gave a speech before accepting the Romano Guardini Prize for his paper "Scientific and Religious Truth." He spoke of the relationship of the two truths.
A famous quote of his : "The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you.

Are you ready to explore the glass? The King of Kings is waiting for you there.

Have a Happy Christmas.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Peace an elusive hope

Peace is such an elusive thing as recent events and continuing situations of conflict around the world remind us. My wife and I had a lovely relaxing and peaceful holiday in Egypt in early October, such a beautiful country with friendly and welcoming people. Apart from the soldiers and checkpoints, it was easy to rest in the peace and tranquillity as we travelled and took a 7 day Nile cruise. Yet a couple of weeks later a plane was shattered in the skies over Egypt and many died, many families lost their peace. The tourist industry in Egypt is once again in turmoil, peace is gone for the many families that rely on that trade.

People peacefully going about their activities in Beirut, Baghdad, Paris, parts of Africa, Israel, enjoying the markets, the restaurants, shows going to school. Bombs and bullets and the peace is shattered for the survivors and the families of the victims.

Populations in villages and towns in Syria, caught in the middle of a conflict of ideology, power and hate. Where-ever the bombs come from, people have peace removed from them in the shattering crash of explosions and of buildings falling. There is no peace for them either. It could be any number of counties in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, there are so many where peace is just an illusion.

Perhaps the real issue is us, people, our desires, our perceived needs, maybe our greed. Some want what others have, some just want more. Some want to force their views and ways onto others. Some simply want to live in security and fight to rid themselves of those who would remove that security.

Practically speaking much is written and spoken about finding peace, its all too straight forward to propose non aggressive or aggressive solutions, to suggest ways to respond and not to respond to violence and aggression. For me the bottom line was talking with a friend some years ago about responses to such things and I asked myself how I would respond if armed people threatened the lives of my wife and children and I had the means to stop them. Would I allow them to kill them and do nothing to prevent it? I cant say that I would, I would resist in any way I could to protect them.

Peace is possible, but it takes both parties in a situation to want it, to turn from aggression and seek alternatives. The problem in many such situations is that peace is not what one or the other sides wants .... the Old Simon and Garfunkle song is something that reminds me of humanities situation.

We are approaching Christmas, which for all who believe in Jesus celebrates the coming of the Prince of Peace, the one who saves humanity from its wrong ways, its sin. Peace is an illusive hope if we will not work for it, pray for it, engage in it. Jesus came to bring us hope and the ultimate peace, peace with God. Peace which passes understanding is God's gift to us if will reach out and accept it. Peace with God, peace with each other, peace that (I am dreaming dreams) does not have to be maintained with troops and barbed wire or threats, because we all want the best for each other. Peace starts with me and you and spreads out in beautiful ripples.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

A privilege and a Responsibility

As a minister I have a tremendous opportunity and privilege to speak prophetically into our nations situations, but I also carry a responsibility to ensure that I offer balance and not bias, of course I have opinions, but I have no right to use my position to force my opinions upon others. I cannot assume that my views are the right views, even though they are what I hold, and so need to challenge people to think, and those who are Christians, to seek God on each issue and make, hopefully, informed understandings.

Coupled with that comes the responsibility for speaking into the life of those who are a part of the church I have been called to minister within. Challenging attitudes and life choices that as church we see as incompatible with our faith stance and ultimately with scripture and of course there will be bias, my understanding of scripture, but still I must wrestle with the fact that among Christians there are differing views. Alongside that comes the privilege of encouraging, discipling and growing those who want to grow in their journey with Christ.

Let me give some examples of this related to Christians:

Opportunity's would include speaking out on the current refugee situation in Europe and encouraging looking at the range of responses and attitudes and asking what would God want of us in this? They would also include supporting efforts to deal with homelessness and helping those with a lack of food, through our local food bank.

Responsibility weights heavy, when dealing with issues like sexual morality, not engaging in sex outside of a monogamous, heterosexual marriage and not engaging in adultery some of which cause much debate and divided opinion . But other issues also have to be dealt with such as how we treat or regard others, how we handle money and giving, to name a few.

But the other side is working with folks who grow in faith, seeing them blossom and find their way, strengthened by God. Being privileged to help them seek more of God, find out about their gifts and directions and seeing them working for God's glory. It includes the privilege of walking with others in their difficult situations offering comfort, support and care.

I know also that  I could not do what God has called me to without the wisdom, strength, love and power that he gives me through his Holy Spirit and the gift I cherish the most, is his grace, the knowledge that he will love me no matter what.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

I must become less ...

Achievement, being recognised, being famous, being someone who is noticed and acclaimed are goals that many today aim at. Whatever our profession, walk in life or vocation, it is all too easy to seek recognition and acclaim. Most professions have annual awards given to those who have achieved or contributed in a big or useful way. Most notable are the awards in the film and theatre professions. These goals can become traps that hold us as we seek them and yet feel we have not made it, driving us harder and more urgently and for some pushing them over the edge.

Many achieve amazing things in this life but will never be noticed, will never have a wikipedia entry about them, never receive an award or public acclaim, and actually that is no bad thing. Sometimes, possibly more often than we might like to admit, seeking acclaim can take over. I am reminded of Sheldon in "The Big Bang Theory" and his obsession with a Nobel prize for science. Then of course there is the argument among Jesus' disciples about who would be the greatest and who could sit with Jesus in heaven.

In the Christian world the same forces are in play, famous names attract big audiences and book sales, well known musicians get good media sales. Of course it should  all be about serving Jesus but fame and success can throw even the best off course.

Am I being a little cynical? No just questioning. Recently I was reading John the Baptists' reply when questioned about him and Jesus. "I must become less" or "slip into the sidelines" was John's response. For him it was not about glory or honour or fame. It was about doing well what he was called to do and then fading as Jesus' ministry flourished. His reward would be an eternal one.

The real joy and fulfilment comes, at least for me, in knowing that I have done the best I can for my saviour. Serving him is a joy and a wonder which no fame or acclaim can ever equal or come close to. I am sure the same is true for many, I hope it is so for you. Fame and fortune are fierce-some task masters, but Jesus' tells us to take up his yolk, which is light and easy to carry. In our ordinary everyday lives, the light of Christ will shine through, great things will be achieved. I salute the many who will never seek to be noticed and never will be and yet will do great things for God, the glory will be Christ's - we must be less and Christ must become greater.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Rest and Restore

I was thinking a little the other day about when and how we rest from the busyness of living. With shops open all hours, many places of work turning over to 24/7 operation and the government looking at extending Sunday trading for shops, there will be even less time for folks to spend relaxing. It would be easy to judge all of this by our more recent history, with Sunday being a "day of rest".

Historically of course most people did not have a day of rest as such in this country and in spite of God's instructions to his people as they journeyed to the promised land, Israel seems to have an ongoing problem with this as well. Certainly those who were slaves in the early church would have had a problem with finding a day of rest.

But then God is serious about us humans needing time off and time not to be busy doing something else but time to reflect, to spend in prayer or worship (and be refreshed and strengthened in God's presence) but also in allowing our bodies to recover from the pressures of life. The old adage "a change is a good as a rest" does not allow that, simply working hard at sport or exercise does not let our bodies rest and recover.

As the summer comes upon us, many will be trying to get the most out of holidays, hopefully finding time to rest as well as trying to experience different things. Finding time to let our bodies recover and be restored is important and needs to happen, IMO, more frequently than just on our summer holidays. It needs to be something we intentionally do, regularly.

What do I do? Sometimes go and watch birds or find a beach and watch the waves,
other times relax in the garden or read a book. Sometimes just find somewhere to be quiet or walk a bit and stop in the countryside. Whatever it is it includes time doing nothing, allowing my mind and body to rest and recover. I hope you have or will find those places, times to do the same.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

It's still a wonderful world

It would be easy to listen to the depressing news stories and be overcome with the horrors that are show to us. Wars which leave large numbers of people migrating in fear, migrants drowning in attempts to reach safer places, groups fighting for some misguided belief that allows them to murder others, people being abducted, famine, disasters. It could seem that the world is a pretty unsafe, dismal place to be.

And yet ...

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.

Creation, however we think it happened, is amazing. The diversity of life on this planet is astounding and the harmony that God created across it is mind blowing. Bringing order from chaos. Yet amid that diversity, wonder and order also lurks a darkness - we cannot control nature and often our activities cause nature to redress what we get wrong - global warming, sink holes where large scale mining or mineral excavation has taken place to name but a couple.

We were meant to live in harmony with God's creation and with each other, to enjoy but not destroy, to look after and not abuse. 

Now that might sound a bit dark, but the real point is that if we take a little time to look, if we take a little time to be still amidst God's creation we can gain something of the beauty of it all. The majesty and wonder, for me, is often almost overwhelming.

This week my wife and I had one of our Grand-Children for a few days, the wonder of watching a child grow up and find out about the world is something else, the joy she expresses when she sees something different or exciting is infectious. We spent a morning at a bird sanctuary and were all fascinated at the diversity and beauty of that small piece of God's creation. Water birds of many types including baby Swans, Kingfishers, a Heron and Kestrels.

We live in a wonderful world, (have a listen) a world that can and should be shared fairly with all regardless of their origins, a world that could and should be safe for all to grow and be nurtured in. A world where all have time to stop and be amazed at the beauty of this wonderful world that God has created and is good, very good.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015


Something I try to find time for, but often cut short, is reflection. That is taking time to look back over what has been happening in my life and especially what God has been about with me, what I am learning, being encouraged with and perhaps is changing.When I do find time, its always time well spent, but like many its time that is always hard to find.

Reflecting helps me to put things into a different perspective, lets me see just a little of God's bigger picture and nearly always, encourages me in ways I had not expected. You know what is is like, when we do things because we know we should, but have a sort of begrudging attitude as there are plenty of "more useful" things that could be done in the time.

Recently I put together a list of the outreach / evangelistic activities that our church is doing to help someone studying these things. I found myself reflecting on what we have been seeing as a church through these. Its hard to do that when you are helping to run them, organising them and such. So trying to put some key things about each down, and then thinking a little about the reason we do them, the impact they have and what God has been doing through them is really helpful, for me.

I recalled the story I was told a while back now of the caterpillar and the butterfly. The caterpillar crawling across a carpet, saw some colours and the change of them, but was fixed on moving slowly across it. Later as a butterfly it flew over the carpet and saw that it was a lovely Persian rug, with intricate patterns and colours and was all in harmony with itself.

Often when we are engaged with the detail, we don't see the bigger picture or the whole story of what God is doing, we see the issues, the things to overcome, the ups and downs or downs and ups, but the big picture is illusive amongst the details.

Looking over all of our churches efforts, there are folks who now come to church who didn't and possibly wouldn't have, if they had not come to our toddler group or coffee club of Cafe style outreach. There are families who have become connected with the church through our kidz Klub activities and our youth work. There are young people growing in faith through both of these. And then as I reflected over even more things, I could see God's hand, through helping others, visiting, encouraging,  watching their journey grow with him. And then there are the people who needed to know that they are loved even when they find it hard to love themselves. I felt blessed and in awe of all that God is doing ...

I encourage you, in your busy lives, take a little time to reflect and see the bigger picture of what God is doing.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

A crown of thorns

An Easter Reflection

Mat 27:27 Then the governor's soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him.
Mat 27:28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him,
Mat 27:29 and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. "Hail, king of the Jews!" they said.
Mat 27:30 They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again.
Mat 27:31 After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.

And the King took it all ...

Why didn't he save himself from this?
Why didn't he speak up?
Why did he just stand there and take it all?

Jesus, God incarnate, totally human, totally divine. In the hands of people who wanted him dead. His message of a new kingdom rejected because it spoke too plainly about the ways in which the priests and authorities were getting it wrong.

To make their point, their joke, even more harsh to this man they despised and rejected, they made him a mock king in their eyes, draping a cloak over him, making a crown of thorns. Pressing that crown onto his head, the thorns, cutting into his flesh and creating rivulets of blood.

And the King took it all ...

Isa 53:3 He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Isa 53:4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.

Jesus, should have been honoured and glorified, should have been revered not beaten, abused, insulted and ridiculed.

"He is a king, lets dress him like one, lets play with him, lets hurt him as we prepare him. How can he be a king, the son of God? Look at him, he can't save himself, there is no power, no might, just a deluded, broken man."

And the King took it all ...

He took it all for me, for me who truly deserves just punishment for my sin. He took it and did it all for me, not because I deserve it what he has done, but because he loves me ...

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Fairy tale Endings

Last night when we got home, Nicola and I sat and watched a rerun of a "chick flick", Pretty Woman. Nicola loves these sorts of movies while I am more an action and adventure type, but its always good to sit and spend a little time together :-)

Anyway, one of the phrases that came up when Vivian (Julia Roberts) was asked what she wanted by Edward (Richard Gere), "The whole fairy tale". He was offering a nice place to live, money, clothes and a car, for her to be there when he wanted. For her it was not enough, she wanted a different kind of dream and so turned him down, "I want the whole fairy tale" she told him.

If you have watched the film you will know that it all works out and the fairy tale comes true.

For many there is no fairy tale ending in life. I was coming home last night from something our church has started as a place to include folks who feel excluded, marginalised or just plain lonely. People who often feel the church has no place or time for them. We call it "Hope Cafe". Our friends come from the homeless in the town, some are recently off of the streets, then there are those who are alone or feel lonely, others who are looking for something they have not found as yet. For them there is no fairy tale ending. But at Hope Cafe we offer a listening ear, friendship and a chance to find out about Jesus.

Was the cross a fairy tale ending for Jesus, or for his disciples or for us?

There was no fairy tale in sight for Jesus, no one came to rescue him and take him away from all of that. It had to be done and it had to be completed, he was the only one who could do it.

For the disciples it must have felt like the worst of disasters, their leader, their teacher, the one they gave up everything to follow was dead!

Fortunately for them and for us, God's plan did not stop on Good Friday with Jesus' death. On the third day he rose again, death could not contain him. The real hope comes from the fact that Jesus rose from the dead and through him we are offered a chance to get right with God. The resurrection is the triumph of the saviour, Jesus, over death, over the cost of human sin (wrong doing). Not that I am saying that is a fairy tale ending, because in my experience fairy tale endings don't happen. Knowing Jesus as our saviour does not mean we will have all of our problems solved, all of our dreams come true and live happily ever after. It does mean that no matter what we experience in life, he is with us, he can be relied upon to walk with us in it.

Our friends at Hope Cafe don't get fairy tale endings but with help from many agencies some of the homeless ones have found homes, jobs and a chance, with support, to start again. The lonely are finding listening ears, the excluded and marginalised are finding a place that wants them there. Some have found or are looking into the saviour who loves them.

Monday, 2 March 2015

A Fire in my Heart

A while ago I started listening to a group "The Rend Collective", I had heard one of their songs and it inspired me enough to listen to more and buy CD's (yes I am old fashioned and like hardware!).

One track that I have been reflecting on is "Burn like a star". One line is "Burn like a star, light a fire in my heart".Matthew tells us in the words of John the Baptist, of one who will light a fire in us.  Jesus "will ignite the kingdom life within you, a fire within you". The fire of his Holy Spirit, purifying, making whole, empowering and encouraging us.

One of the prophets, Jeremiah said this "his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot".

I don't know what the lyrics were written to mean but I think they speak to how I have felt since Jesus first came into my life and how I still feel today. A fire was lit in my heart on that day that sometimes seems to burnsa little less and at other times burns with an intensity that is overwhelming. A fire calling me to dare dream of all that Christ can do, if I will let him, with me. Even in the times when I have struggled with people, with systems, with church or with life, that fire has not gone out and seems to encourage me in all of those times. It calls me to tell others, to want to see lives changed and hearts touched for Christ.

How often have I tried to rely on my own abilities? Far too often. But always I am reminded of whose I am and who has set the fire in me that sustains and nourishes my life in him, Christ. But unlike the words of a well known "Queen" song "Its better to burn out than to fade away", we are not meant to burn out with our own efforts, but to rely on God's power. Yes we will fade one day, but Christ is the one to whom the glory for all that we do must go and our prize is awaiting us in heaven.

If you are struggling or facing difficult times, if you are seeing great things as Christ works through you or if your are wondering if he could ever do anything with or through you; then I encourage you, look again for that fire that burns deep within, the fire of the Holy Spirit that all who believe in Jesus have been given. Dare to believe that there are greater things still to come as you serve the one who loves you.

We were born for greater things
We were born to chase Your dreams
Come my Lord, awaken holy fire

We are turning from our sin
We are praying once again
Come my Lord, awaken holy fire

We are aching for the real thing
Hearts are open wide

Sunday, 25 January 2015

A Taboo subject?

Few things are not open to discussion these days, and yet there are some, that when raised cause raised eyebrows, huffing and puffing and shouts of that's personal or discrimination.

I wonder, if you stop for a moment what subjects, if raised in conversation, would raise your hackles? Abortion or the right to choose? Murder in the name of religion (whichever religion)? Immigration? Poverty? Sexual orientation? Marriage or what it means? State controls over our lives? Tax cuts or increases? NHS Reforms? Lives endangered by radicals? Government snoopy our communications? Freedom of speech? I could produce quite a list but hopefully you get the picture.

Jesus, as we read, in the gospels, seems not to have had such taboo's - challenging the things that were not right in society in 1st Century Palestine. For example Jesus points out that observing outwards signs of religion makes no difference if a persons heart is not tuned to God. If our hearts are not in the right place in terms of understanding, compassion and faith, then what we think, do and talk about - our actions, will not be in tune with God. Jesus challenged wrong attitudes and thinking throughout his earthly ministry. The problem for us is that one persons wrong attitude seems to be another person idea of right.

If I take just one issue in the UK at present, the lack of funds for the NHS, many want the latest and often high cost treatments to extend life. We expect medical miracles as a matter of course, daily. But if anyone were to suggest that we pay 10% more in tax to pay for improvements, I suspect there would be an outcry. Money is often at the bottom of our basic reason for reacting to something, how does it affect my wealth or finances?

The same often happens related to church. Does money act as an enabler or disabler? One piece I read the other day suggested that perhaps in churches we can be so focused on the churches money and protecting how little it often has to work with, that we might miss the point that all that we have is God's and so our income, homes, cars ... are all God's and therefore are all part of the resources of His Church. Of course there is the other perspective that the church does not need our money etc. does it, because it has lots of its own? . Where our treasure is ... . How ready are we to hold that lightly to what we have here on Earth and invest it into God's Kingdom and treasure that is eternal?