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Is it real?

Last week I watched a photography vlog on YouTube. The guy was talking about a photo and how the different parts worked together, or in this case, didn’t work. He was particularly concerned about the placement of a large rock in the foreground. It didn’t look right, so with the editing software, he just picked it up and moved it.

It was a neat trick and shows how far photo editing software has come, but it did raise a question; how do I know that what I’m looking at is real?

Over the last few years, the term ‘fake news’ has been one that we’ve all become familiar with. The internet has become an information hub, yet not all of it’s true. Some just pretends to be true but is actually false and misleading. An article about covid, a piece on war in Ukraine, a statement about our government; how do I know that what I’m looking at is real?

You might ask the same question about the Bible. At its heart there’s an incredible message about God stepping into this world in the person of his Son, and giving himself to die for us on the cross. But that’s the end. Jesus rose from the dead and invites all people everywhere to come and know him. But, how do I know that what I’m looking at is real?

Here are some reasons that I find compelling. First, the accounts of Jesus’ life, miracles, death and resurrection were written by eyewitnesses or those who spoke to people who were eyewitnesses.

Second, it’s rooted in historical events. The death and resurrection of Jesus would have been easy to disprove if they’d never happened, but it wasn’t.

Then third, and maybe you’ll think this sounds a bit weird, there’s the evidence of lives that have been changed by coming to know Jesus. Lives talked about in the Bible, lives that fill the pages of history, and lives that are being lived today. My own life has been changed by Jesus.

So, is it real? That’s a great question to ask in so many situations, and I’d encourage you to ask it about the message of the Bible. If it is, what difference would that make?

If you want to know more about Jesus and the difference the Bible says he could make in your life, please get in touch.

Life

What’s that noise? Your ears strain in the quietness trying to pick it out again. Nothing… but then, barely audible, you hear a gentle tap, tap, tap. Turing around, your eyes focus on a small brown object lying in a tray of sawdust.

There’s the sound again, this time accompanied by a gentle wobble. A tiny hole appears in the smooth surface, slowly growing with each tap. It’s not long and the creature inside begins to emerge through the hole.

You watch it straining and pushing, but it can’t break free. Each heave is followed by a pause; but then, with another shove, the shell is gone, the creature is free. Lying down, the chick is exhausted, but it’s made it. It’s out, it’s alive.

In April, we celebrate Easter. But what’s it all about? It is a celebration of life. On Good Friday, we remember Jesus dying on the cross. This is a sobering time. Jesus died a painful death; the cross was a device fine-tuned to inflict pain. Yet, Jesus did more than just suffer death. The Bible says that Jesus died to deal with the sin that separates us from God.

But how is that a message about life? Later that day, Jesus’ body was taken down from the cross and put in a tomb. A stone was rolled across the opening and a Roman guard was stationed outside. There was no way of entry or escape. Yet, early on the Sunday morning, Jesus burst out!

Some of his followers came to the tomb early in the morning. When they got there, it was empty. ‘What’s happened?’ they asked themselves. Then they were given a message, ‘He is not here, he has risen.’ Jesus is alive!

And the message of life doesn’t stop there. The Bible claims that this resurrected life is a life that we can know in our own lives. Both today and forever.

If you want to know more about what the Bible teaches and what it might mean for you, why not join us on at 10:30am, Easter Sunday morning as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. You can join us in-person at our building on Gracious Street, or via the stream on our YouTube channel.

This service is one of the ‘Passion for Life’ events we’re putting on over Easter. If you want more info check out our events page

 

 

Not just words!

The storm is still brewing and has been a for a few weeks now. It may change by the time you read this, but I’m not sure it will. The activities of No. 10 Downing Street during national lockdown are big news and plenty of people are still calling for Boris to resign.

Now, why do I mention this? My aim is not to enter a political debate or to argue for a particular outcome. I simply want to ask the question: why are we so upset?

If we dig in, the answer is straightforward – hypocrisy. The narrative goes like this. At a time where our Prime Minister and the government had imposed difficult and unprecedented curbs to our freedoms due to the covid pandemic, these rules were being broken at the very heart of the same government administration. They said one thing but did another.

What exactly happened and who did what? Is Boris culpable? To be honest, I don’t know what to think. There are reports being written and investigations that are ongoing. Maybe, there will be some clarity in the end. The message from the country, though, is clear; we don’t like hypocrisy and we think it’s wrong.

Yet, are our politicians the only ones who struggle to do what they say? Isn’t this something we all do? Have we ever broken a promise? Have we ever told our kids off for something and then gone and done the same thing ourselves? We have, haven’t we? I know I’m guilty.

But this is one of those areas where Jesus is so different to everyone else I know or have read about. He was not a hypocrite. He lived exactly as he taught. As we read his teaching, we read some hard things. One of the most well-known is this command, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’ (Matthew 5:44).

But for Jesus, these weren’t just words. It was how he lived his life and was evident even at the point he was being crucified on the cross. As Jesus hung on the cross, he saw around him those who had caused his impending death. What would he do? The Bible says he prayed, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’ (Luke 23:34).

If you want to know more about Jesus and the difference the Bible says he could make in your life, you can contact me through our website.

It still looked beautiful!

We needed to get out. Christmas had been good, and we’d enjoyed seeing the family, but most of it had taken place indoors. I stared out the window, but it just looked grim. Clouds hung in the sky speaking the constant threat of rain. In the end though, the craving for fresh air won, so we got in the car and headed off to Thetford Forest.

I have to say I was pleasantly surprised, despite the weather. It was winter, so not much colour. The light from the sky was blah, so no interesting shadows. Yet, the landscape had a beauty to it. Although the greens were muted and there were a lot of browns, it still looked lovely.

It made me ask why. Why is the world such a beautiful, interesting and varied place? What answer would you give to that question?

Recently, I watched the first episode of the BBC series ‘Universe’. Two things impressed me. The first was the computer-generated graphics. The second, although probably more important, was that the presenter, Prof. Brian Cox, wasn’t afraid to ask the big questions of life. ‘Where did we come from?’ ‘Why are we here?’ ‘What’s it all about?’

Yet, when he gave his answers, personally I found them deeply unsatisfying. It didn’t excite me to hear that life came from the random work of the stars and that our legacy was a brief period of life that won’t be remembered when the lights eventually go out in the universe. Now, I understand that I’m a Christian and Prof. Cox is an Atheist and it’s unlikely that we’ll ever agree on these things. But, I just found his answers left me empty and didn’t seem to explain the beautiful reality of life and the world around us.

Some of you may feel I’m old fashioned and have my head buried in the sand, but I still prefer the historical answer to the questions of existence. That behind it all is a creator God who made the world with intention and purpose. It’s the answer we see in the Bible and one that I find fills my life with meaning and fits with what I see around me.

However, it is an answer that comes with a health warning. If God made us, that does affect the way we see ourselves and go about our lives. If there is a creator, then we must, in some way, be accountable to him.  How you are with God becomes a question of ultimate importance.

Do you agree or disagree? I’d love to hear your thoughts so if you want to get in touch, you can contact me through our contact page.

Try something new

The other day I did something I’d never done before. I booked an Airbnb! In early 2022, Anita and I celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. I thought it might be nice to upgrade from tenting especially considering the winter temperatures.

New Year can often be a time to try new things. We reflect on our lives and make, or at least intend to make, changes. Maybe turning over a new leaf or using New Year to kick-start a new fitness regime.

In many ways, January 1st is the same as any day. Yet, as it sits at the turn of the calendar, we so often use it to ask deeper questions and examine whether we are living the life we want to. It’s a time to consider change and think about doing something new.

How you ever thought about reading the Bible, or at least part of the Bible? I can think of lots of reasons why you may not have considered it before. It’s an ancient book – completed over 1900 years ago. Maybe, you’ve got an old translation in archaic English. I’ve got one of those too, and while there is a richness in the language, I don’t find it easy to understand. Or you might see the Bible as a religious book, and you don’t want anything to do with that.

Yet, I can also think of a whole load of reasons why you should. The Bible claims to be a message from God. That’s worth checking out, isn’t it? Countless people, including me, will say their lives have been transformed by reading it. It’s also the book that tells us about one of the most, if not the most, remarkable characters of history: Jesus.

As you make plans for the year to come, could I urge you to consider including a plan to read at least one book from the Bible? I’d recommend starting with the book of Mark which is in the New Testament – it’s a short account of the life and teachings of Jesus. Most Bibles will have a contents page at the beginning that you can use to find it.

If you don’t have your own Bible (or you have one in an older language version) and would like to begin reading, do let us know through the contact page. We will be very happy to send you a copy of the book of Mark in new and modern English.

Wishing you all a Happy New Year.

Christmas Travel

It’s Christmas day and we’ve piled into the car for a three-hour drive. It’s the usual trip across country to see family. Leaving Whittlesey, I’m wondering how my parents would feel if we stayed at home next year. I know, bad son moment! It’s not that I’d ever go through with it, just that Christmas is busy, and driving isn’t as pleasurable as it used to be.

For us, Christmas always involves travelling; it’s part of our family tradition. And I know we’re not the only ones. Maybe that’s why this year, as I think about the Christmas story in the Bible, it’s the journeys that people took that really stand out to me.

Think of Mary and Joseph. Before they even set foot on the road from Nazareth to Bethlehem, they’d taken a huge emotional journey. Mary was a teenager looking forward to her upcoming marriage and going about life as normal when suddenly an angel appeared and told her she would be pregnant. What? How? ‘A miracle from God,’ was the answer.

Joseph, hearing that his fiancé was pregnant and knowing he wasn’t the dad decides the engagement has to be cancelled. Another visit from an angel, this time in a dream, and Joseph changes his mind. So much for them to get their heads around. The 90 mile walk south to Bethlehem could well have given much needed head space.

Then you have the shepherds and the wise men. Both see a sign in the sky. The shepherds an angel, the wise men a star. Knowing that something incredible had taken place, they made their way to Bethlehem and discovered an ordinary family with an extraordinary child.

Which of these is the greatest journey taken that first Christmas? None of them! That label has to go to Jesus. Who is he? The Bible’s claim is that he is God’s son who left heaven behind and came down and became one of us. Does that sound far-fetched? Unbelievable? It’s certainly a big claim. But what if it’s true?

If you want to know more about Jesus and why he made that amazing journey, why not come along to one of our special Christmas services – dates and times are in the advert below. Last year we held our Carol Service outside in the car park and we’re hoping to do the same again. If you’re interested in coming, keep an eye out on our Facebook page or our events page for details.

Wishing you all a very happy Christmas and New Year

Find your happy

Blaise Pascal was a French philosopher who lived in the 1600s. He once made this observation:

“All men [people] seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end.”

As I read those words for the first time, they resonated with me. The passion for happiness is a powerful desire and at work in all my decisions. Even the times that I want to wallow in my misery, it’s because that’s what I think will make me happy!

Life has taught me that I’m not on my own in this. The pursuit of happiness is all around us and fills our lives day by day. We are all on a quest seeking the holy grail of joy, delight and true extraordinary contentment.

But where do we find true happiness? What can satisfy the thirst within us?

Looking back over my life, I’ve searched for the answer in several different places: money –  trying to get more or living without it; people and relationships; job fulfilment; gadgets and tech; perfecting my surroundings; holidays… The list goes on.

Yet, while I’ve known happy times in all of these, they fall short of the satisfaction of ultimate joy. I’m left seeking for more.

The Bible contains a promise of joy. It’s a joy with a difference. It’s a happiness that reaches to the deepest depths of our soul and will never fade or disappear. Jesus even claims that bringing this joy was the purpose of his life and his death, ‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full’ (John 10:10).

But is such happiness possible and can God be the one to give it to us?

That’s a question that we’re going to be exploring together on the first three Sundays of November, in our morning services. I want to invite you to come and join us.

The services will be in person at our building on Gracious Street and also live-streamed on our YouTube channel.

If you have any questions, you can contact us here.

 

Will it make any difference?

I was just a kid visiting my grandparents. After several glasses of squash, I needed to visit the bathroom. I knew the way, so left the room and headed upstairs.

On the way back I paused on the landing. My attention was taken by the door on my right. No one was around so I tiptoed over and slowly turned the handle. Opening the door, I gasped and my eyes popped out of my head.

The room was packed with audio recording gear. Reel to reel tape players, a mixing desk and all kinds of other equipment. This was my Grandad’s recording studio where he made his radio programmes broadcast in Poland. I wasn’t meant to be in there, but how could I resist?

I love anything tech, but that’s not always a good thing. Particularly, when you’re confronted by a glossy picture or demo video of the latest gadget. I don’t need much persuasion to want to buy it.

Between my bank balance, a sensible wife, and then kids who dare to require a share of my monthly income, I’ve had to develop defence strategies to resist the urge to click the purchase button. One of these is a simple question, ‘What difference will it make in my life?’

Often the answer comes back a resounding, ‘none’! It might look nice and call out, ‘come and get me’, but at the end of the day it doesn’t do anything different to what I already have. Or it does, but I don’t need that function.

There are lots of things we might like to have. But do we need them? There are lot of things we might want. But will they make a difference? ‘What difference will it make in my life?’ A great question to ask.

I wonder, have you ever asked that question of the Bible as a book, or of the God that the Bible speaks about? Would it make any difference to your life to know him and follow him? Would that difference be a good one or a bad one?

On October 16th we’re streaming an evening of music. Performers range in age and in standard with a mix of styles. If you enjoy music and seeing others playing, it will be a good evening.

It’s not all music though. During the evening, some people from our congregation will be sharing the difference that Jesus makes in their life. Why not join us on YouTube and hear for yourself?

Has there been anything like this since then?

That’s the thought that ran through my head as I watched The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe with my daughter.

It was an anticipated event. We’d just read the book by C.S. Lewis and now it was time to watch the Pevensey children being whisked off into the magical world of Narnia. Yet, we don’t get to Narnia straightaway.

At the start of the film, we find the children in London during World War II facing the danger of enemy aircraft and falling bombs. As happened to so many of the 827 000 evacuated children in real life, the four Pevensey children were sent into the countryside to stay with a complete stranger.

How difficult must that have been? A friend of mine told me how she was evacuated from Liverpool to South Wales. There was the emotional heartache to leaving home to deal with, but also the disruption to life and to education.

As I watched the children getting on the train and heading into the unknown, it made me think of the impact of the last 18 months. Has there been a time since WWII where there have been so many legal directives put on our lives which have affected normal day to day living to such a degree?

I never thought I’d ever see the day when it was illegal to leave the house. When I couldn’t go over and help a friend out. When my children would go for months without entering a classroom.

It seems, though, that all this is now something of the past. As I write, we’re on the pathway back to ‘normality’ again. Are there more bumps on the road? Who knows? But we’re looking forward to ordinary life again.

For us as a church, we’re excited to restart many of the groups we stopped at the beginning of lockdown. Our clubs for primary age children are due to start back in September. Both will be on a Monday evening. WypeOut, our club for secondary age, will be back on Thursdays.

Seedlings, our toddler group, should be back in full swing with sessions on a Monday and Wednesday morning. The same too for our monthly Coffee morning (Coffee Connections) and Lunchbreak (Lunch with a talk).

There are details for each of these groups on our website as well as details of our Sunday services. If you want to know any more info or would like to come along do get in touch.

Whether you’ve been before or not, it will be great to see you.

Not the world’s best dad!

We walked in through the door and were greeted with a friendly smile. ‘Name please?’ When we answered, the smile flicked off for a millisecond before turning on again. Something was wrong, but I couldn’t quite figure it out.

It was the day of my son’s music exam. He’d worked really hard and was all psyched up and ready to go. He looked cool, calm and collected; I was a bag of nerves. The time in my calendar was 10:49am, so here we were. It was 10:25, plenty of time to get settled in and warmed up.

We were ushered through to the practice room, a nice space with a honky old electric piano. He did some scales, while I tried to tame the piano so we could practice the beginning and end of each piece. It was all going well until the lady with the smile returned, but this time minus the smile.

‘What time did you say your exam was?’ she asked. ‘It’s just we’ve got you down at 9:49?’ ‘No, that can’t be, it says in my calendar 10:49!’ But it was, I’d made a mistake when I copied it over. We were sent home with the slight hope that we might be able to re-schedule or alternatively we could rebook for November.

I felt so bad. How could I have messed it up? I’m normally so good with times, double-checking and triple-checking to make sure I’ve got it right.  I have to say, it wasn’t my best ‘dad moment’. I looked at my son and all I could do was say ‘sorry’.

When we got home, we were able to re-schedule to an appointment in Lowestoft. It’s a bit of a trek compared to the centre in Peterborough, but at least he can do the exam.

Last month, I wrote how thankful I am that God shows grace when we bring our mistakes to him. I was thankful for that as I drove home that day.

Yet, I was also struck with another teaching of the Bible. The Bible uses the picture of adoption to describe what happens when someone puts their trust in Jesus. That means they join God’s family, they become his son or daughter and he becomes their father.

But what kind of a father? One who is perfect. One who will never let us down or ever make mistakes. A way better father than me.

Praying you all keep safe and well.

Faced with mistakes

As I write this article the news is filled with the evidence being presented by Dominic Cummings at a joint hearing of the Health and Social Care Committee and the Science and Technology Committee.

How much of it is true? I’m thankful I don’t have to decide that. I’m sure that the calls for a public enquiry will at some point happen and I’m happy to leave it to them to decide.

All this has raised a question in my mind. How well have our government handled the Covid pandemic? Now, I’m aware that such a political question will have a multitude of different answers ranging from terrible to brilliant. Yet, whichever political persuasion you are, I’m sure we can all admit that not everything has gone smoothly. Mistakes have been made and there have been errors of judgment along the way.

As a country we have faced a set of circumstances with many unknowns. Our leaders have had to deal with complex questions without obvious answers as they have sought to balance the various aspects of well-being. Throw into the mix that none of us gets everything right and I’m not sure the presence of mistakes should surprise us.

How will the media react when the mistakes are exposed? How will social media respond? Both are places that are notorious for being unforgiving and lacking grace. We don’t know what will be found, but I’m sure there will be some calls for resignations. Maybe they will be right, maybe they won’t.

Where am I going with all this? It’s really to say how thankful I am for the message of the Bible. Yes, I feel your quizzical look, ‘how does that relate to mistakes in Covid?’ Well, as someone who has made and is making mistakes, I’m thankful that God is a merciful God, and he doesn’t give up on me.

How do I know that? The Bible tells me just what God did to fix my mistakes. He sent his Son Jesus to die on the cross for my sin, so I could be forgiven and be made right.

Mistakes have consequences and when I get things wrong, I must take responsibility. Yet, the Bible assures me, that as I bring them to God, he will be gracious with me. That is such an encouragement to know.

Praying you all keep safe and well.

New but for how long!

I’m excited! Next week I start my study makeover. I’ve been here 5 years and the paint’s starting to look a little tired. Time to freshen it up. I also fancy a colour change, hence the can of natural slate colour paint that’s sitting in the corner ready to be used.

New furniture is on the way. Post Covid, my study will be used by our Sunday morning secondary school age group. To create space, I’ve planned a few layout changes. No refresh is complete without some gadgets. I won’t say which, but there are a couple of new ones I’m looking forward to playing with. I can’t wait to get started and see how it will all look.

Yet, I’m also a realist. I’ve done this enough to know what’s going to happen. I’ll get the work done and step back and look with a sense of satisfaction. For the next few days there will be a buzz as I get to work in my new, fresh surroundings. But it won’t last.

As the days flow into a week, or maybe this time a bit longer, the excitement will diminish and I’ll start wanting another project, something else to get my teeth into. It’s going to be fun, but I’ve learnt that the satisfaction doesn’t last.

Have you ever experienced that? Spring is a good time to do up the garden; change the planting or lay a new patio. How many days before you look out of the window and the ‘wow’ has disappeared?

We can get so excited at completing a project or getting the latest purchase through the post. It’s new, it’s different, it’s great. But invariably the delight dims and it’s all old hat. It just doesn’t last.

What strikes me about the Bible is its claim to offer something different. At its core is an invitation to come and know God by trusting in his Son, Jesus Christ. How can I be sure that won’t get tired or lose its wonder? Because, says the Bible, God is so big and so glorious that he’s able to amaze us every single day, now and for all eternity.

If you want to know more why not join us at one of our in-person services or on the live stream. Details of times and links can be found on our website – whittleseybaptist.org.uk

Praying you all keep safe and well.