New Year?

Stay up or go to bed? That’s the question that rings around my head every New Year’s Eve. Get a good night’s sleep and be fresh in the morning, or see the New Year in with friends and family? I have to admit, sleep generally wins, but we’ll have to see how this year pans out.

Whether you celebrate it or not, the move from New Year’s Eve to New Year’s Day has a significance in our calendar. It marks the end of an old year and the beginning of a new one. As the bells strike twelve, a chapter in our life closes and a new one opens. It stands as a pivot between the past and the future.

The New Year gives us an opportunity to look back and reflect. What has happened in the last twelve months? The world around us is constantly changing and this can be a good time to take stock of that. And what about us personally? What were the disappointments and the joys? Where were the successes and the failures of the last year? As the days go by it is so easy to forget what’s happened. It’s helpful to spend a little time remembering.

The New Year doesn’t just give us a prompt to look backwards, it’s also an occasion where we can look forward. The next twelve months are a blank canvas that hasn’t been painted on yet. What will the picture look like at the end? How different do we want it to be from last year, or are we happy to copy and paste? Where will the high points be and what about the low points? What are our hopes? What are our fears?

January 1st can be a day of anticipation. Yet, over time I’ve learned that the year rarely works out just as we expect it to. Loss, tragedy and heartache seem to lurk around the corner and can strike at any moment. As much as we plan, hope and dream, the future is far from certain.

As a Christian, facing up to this uncertainty, I am thankful for a promise from God that we find in the Bible. It says:

“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5

To me that is such a comfort.

I do not know what the next year will bring. I cannot be certain of the joys I will experience or the difficulties that I will have to endure. I am not able to predict the heights or the depths that the next twelve months will take me to. Yet, I can know that God, who is infinitely capable, will be with me every step of the way, for that is what he has promised to me. In the uncertainty of life, that makes all the difference.

If you want to get in contact to talk about God or what the Bible has to say you can contact us at the church or through our contact page.

Planned in advance

How do you approach Christmas shopping? It’s a ritual that many of us will go through each year. What is your normal mode of operation?

Are you one of those people who are super prepared? January comes around and you already have your list for next December. You take advantage of the New Year sales to make sure you get the best value for money and then sit back for the next 11 months with a sense of satisfaction.

Are you an organised shopper? In September or October, you sit down and make a list. You know who you’re buying for. You figure out what you are going to get and where you’re going to get it from and then steadily work down the list. Everything is bought with time to spare so you can enjoy the Christmas period with a relaxed smile.

Maybe you’re more of a spontaneous shopper. You browse the internet stores and walk through the shops keeping your eyes open to see what takes your fancy. You enjoy the excitement of not quite knowing what you’ll get or whether you’ll get it all in time.

Or are you a panic shopper? It doesn’t matter how much you say to yourself you’ll start earlier next year, the days before Christmas simply disappear. Christmas Eve comes around and you’re still not ready. The hours are slipping by and so you dash out to the shops to see what you can find, desperately hoping you can get what you need.

The Bible tells us that the greatest Christmas gift was the gift of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. We’re told many things about the gift of Jesus. One of them is that Jesus was a gift planned a long time in advance.

One of the most famous promises of the birth of Jesus is found in the book of Isaiah. It is a passage that is often read at Christmas time or printed on Christmas cards and says:

‘For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’ Isaiah 9:6

When was this promise made? The staggering thing is that it was given by God through the prophet Isaiah around 750 years before the birth of Jesus.

Yet, that is not all. The Bible makes the incredible claim that God had already planned to send Jesus even before the world existed.

When we come to celebrate the birth of Jesus it is good to remember that Jesus was not a last-minute thought in God’s plan. The many promises of his birth remind me of how special Jesus is and make me want to know more of him.

This Christmas I’d like to invite you all to join us for our Christmas services as we think together about the birth of Jesus and its relevance to us today. Why not come along and join us?

A blind man sees

He sat by the side of the road as he always did. Without the use of his eyes he couldn’t find work and he had no one else to care for him. His only hope was the wooden bowl in front of him and the kindness of a passer-by.

His was a busy spot and the sound of footsteps combined into a constant beat. Sometimes people would stop and look at him. They laughed and joked; they called him names. Every now and then he would hear the sound of coins being taken from a purse and dropped into the bowl.

Today seemed to be just an ordinary day for Bartimaeus. He’d found his place outside of Jericho and had settled in to see what the day would bring. What happened next was beyond his wildest dreams.

It all began with a change in the sound of the road. Rather than people walking backwards and forwards, intent on getting where there going, they all came to a stop. Bartimaeus could hear the people lining along the road, pushing each other for position.

‘What’s going on?’ he shouted, pulling at the cloak of the person nearest to him. ‘Leave me alone,’ came the reply, ‘I’m trying to get to see Jesus.’ ‘Jesus? Do you mean Jesus of Nazareth?’ the blind man asked. ‘That’s right, now let go of my cloak.’

Bartimaeus had heard people speaking about this Jesus as they passed by him each day. He’d heard that Jesus taught people about God and performed miracles. How many times had he heard of a healing that Jesus had performed? Bartimaeus thought to himself, ‘maybe he could help me see?’

He sensed where the crowd was gathering, turned his head in that direction and began to shout out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ People from the crowd turned. ‘Be quiet,’ some said. Others told him to ‘stop making so much noise.’ He didn’t listen. Instead, raising his voice even louder, he cried out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’

His voice penetrated through the crowd and on the other side Jesus heard him and stopped. He turned to those lining the road and said, ‘Call him.’ They turned to give Bartimaeus the news. He sprang up and felt his way through the crowd until he was standing before Jesus.

‘What do you want me to do?’ Jesus asked him. ‘Teacher, I want to see,’ came the reply. ‘Go, your faith has healed you,’ said Jesus. At that moment, something incredible happened. Bartimaeus could see. He looked down and there were his hands. He looked around at the people, there were their faces. Jesus had healed him! He left his place by the side of the road; he left his bowl and with the crowd he followed Jesus.

The Bible tells us that Jesus was no ordinary man. Why not come and hear more at our Sunday morning services this month as we look at the miracles of Jesus and their relevance to us today?

Lost for words

Have you ever been lost for words? Have you ever had a time when you simply can’t say anything and just have to absorb what is happening?

Sometimes this can be our response to a tragedy. The shock can often leave us clambering for words. The same result can come from shocks of a more positive nature. Maybe your friends have thrown you a surprise party. They’ve managed to keep it secret and completely fool you. Then comes the moment of surprise and words escape you.

We can also be left speechless when we see something that amazes us. I still remember the first time I visited Niagara Falls. I stood at the top watching the vast quantities of water tumbling over the edge. I couldn’t find the words to adequately describe what I was seeing.

When I read about the life of Jesus in the Bible, I often find myself lost for words. The claims the Bible makes and the events it describes are truly astounding.

One day, the Bible tells us, Jesus entered a town called Capernaum. In the town there was a Roman centurion whose servant was very sick and on the verge of death. When he heard that Jesus was in town, he sent a message asking Jesus to come and heal his servant.

After Jesus set out along the road to the centurion’s house he was met by another delegation. These were friends of the Roman soldier. He’d sent them to tell Jesus not to come to the house, because he felt unworthy to have Jesus under his roof.

It may seem strange that the centurion changed his mind so quickly. Yet, the rest of the message explains a bit more. He told Jesus he knew that Jesus didn’t have to be in the room with the servant to heal him. He could be anywhere and just speak the word.

On hearing the soldier’s faith Jesus said, ‘Let it be done’. The friends then returned to the centurion and what do you think they found? The Bible tells us that when they got to the house, the servant who had been so ill was well again, and from the exact time that Jesus spoke the words.

Can you put yourself in the shoes of those friends? When you left the house, the servant was sick. You met Jesus on the road and heard him speak a healing command. As you approach the house are you full of doubt or expectation? You open the door and there is the servant, up and about as if nothing was ever wrong. Are you lost for words?

In our morning services in November we will be looking at some of the miracles that Jesus performed. Why not come along and find out some of the incredible things that the Bible tells us about Jesus?

If you want to get in contact to talk about God or what the Bible has to say you can contact us at the church or through our contact page.


Why the bath?

My first role as a minister was in a church in a small village in rural Herefordshire. About five years earlier the church building had been closed due to a rotten floor. The small congregation were now meeting in a portacabin.

The portacabin was pretty small so we decided together to begin a building project. We began to gut and renovate the original building so that we could use it for Sunday services and other activities. It was an incredible few months as we spent time working together and saw God provide the funds needed for the work.

Part of this renovation involved putting in a new baptistry – a pool that measured about 3m long, 1.5m wide and 1m deep – under the new platform at the front of the main meeting room. I still remember the builder’s look of confusion as he tried to figure out what we were going to use it for. He would regularly tell me he how he was progressing with our new bath!

Have you ever seen anyone being baptised? It can be a strange sight to see somebody standing in the water and then watching as they are put under and lifted back up. It’s not the sort of thing you come across every day. So why do we do it and what’s it all about?

The first thing to say is that it is something Jesus told us to do. As a church we are a group of people who follow Jesus and we want to live in his ways. Our understanding of the Bible is that Jesus taught that when somebody becomes a Christian they should be baptised. So that’s what we do.

However, that’s not all. Baptism is also a picture of what the Bible says happens when someone becomes a Christian. The Bible tells us that when someone put’s their faith in Jesus their sins are forgiven – they are washed away.

The Bible also tells us that a person is changed when they commit their lives to Jesus, they become a new creation. Both of these statements of the Bible are pictured in baptism as someone goes under the water and then comes up again.

Baptism is also an opportunity for someone to publicly show their faith in Jesus. As someone is baptised they make a statement that they are trusting Jesus and committing their life to following him.

Why am I writing about baptism here? The reason is that at 11am on Sunday 15thSeptember we will be having a baptismal service and I wanted to take the opportunity to invite anyone who wanted to come along. It would be a good opportunity to see what we do and to hear more about what it means to be a Christian.

If you want to get in contact to talk about God or what the Bible has to say you can contact us at the church or through our contact page.

Pictures of eternity in the garden

How have you been enjoying the warmer weather? Maybe you’ve taken the opportunity to get outside and spend time in the garden. If so, are you someone who likes to sit and relax or someone who likes to get their hands dirty and shape the space around you?

Over the last years there have been a number of garden makeover programmes on the TV and plenty of encouragement to make the most of our outdoor spaces. From planting to outdoor structures, there is lots of advice out there for the budding garden designer.

Some of the changes that you can make have an immediate effect. Planting a bed of annuals in flower immediately brightens a colourless space. A new patio, while being a good bit more expensive, instantly transforms the look of the garden.

Yet, some alterations take a little longer to have their full effect. If you plant a biennial in its first year, such as a foxglove, you won’t get to enjoy the flowers until a year after you plant it. Or take a fruit tree. We planted a pear tree last year and it still isn’t a metre tall. I think it will be a while before we can enjoy any pears.

At our last house we decided to plant a silver birch at the back of the garden. We weren’t there long enough to see it grow and enjoy the difference it would have made.

All this reminds me of a picture somebody once gave me to try to explain the difference between the shortness of this life and the length of eternity. Imagine planting an oak tree in your garden. It grows and grows and becomes a mature tree – a thousand years old.

One day you go out and realise you’ve put it in the wrong place. What do you do? You cut it down and plant another. What! But it took a thousand years to get that big! Yes, but what’s a thousand years? It’s nothing … this is eternity.

Can you imagine time in that way? Centuries and millennia are not the great units of time that we normally see them as; they are but short moments. How different is that to our experience now? Our lives here can seem long, but in comparison to the length of eternity they are but a fleeting breath.

Why do I write about this? The Bible tells us that its message is for us now. It tells us that Jesus can make a difference in our lives today. Yet, that isn’t all. The Bible also speaks about eternity. Its message extends to what will happen when this life finishes.

If eternity is real, then we will spend more time there than here. Surely then, it is something we should be thinking about.

If you want to get in contact to talk about God or what the Bible has to say you can contact us at the church or through our contact page.

Holistic Exercise

Yesterday my wife wondered out loud, ‘maybe we should start the Couch to 5k challenge’. I wasn’t sure how to respond. Over the last year or so more and more of my friends have been taking up the challenge. They’ve been telling me how good it is and how quickly or slowly they’ve been progressing. However, I’d never really considered it was for me.

Why not? I guess if you pushed me, I’d probably say I didn’t need to exercise any more than I already do – at least that’s what I try to tell myself. I look back on an active childhood, walking and cycling everywhere. I was fairly fit as a teenager and find it hard to think it’s any different now.

Last year that myth exploded. We went on holiday to Scotland with the plan to climb Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest mountain. The websites said that the climb should take between 4 and 6 hours to complete and the descent would be a lot quicker. No problem, I’d done it before so why not now.

It started well. We all felt fresh and ready for the walk. There was a bounce in our steps and I almost felt like I was jumping from one rock to the next. However, it didn’t last. The higher we got, the harder it became.

About half way up, the path begins to zigzag up the rocky side of the mountain and the incline steepens. My two teenage sons didn’t seem to notice and just kept going. I, on the other hand, slowed down to a snail’s pace, concentrating on just putting one foot in front of the other. If it wasn’t for a sheer determination not to be beaten by my kids, I don’t think I would have made it.

So, maybe I could do with a bit more exercise. Too many hours sitting behind a desk means it would be a good thing to be a bit more active. Couch to 5k? Maybe. I’m thinking about it.

Did you know that the NHS and fitness groups are not the only ones who tell us that physical exercise is good? The Bible does too. Yet, at the same time it also says that there is a kind of exercise that’s even more important.

For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.1 Timothy 4:8(NIV)

I always find that verse a challenge. I can be concerned about my physical fitness, but am I also concerned about my spiritual fitness? I might think about taking on physical exercise, but am I concerned about spiritual exercise? These are questions that are worth asking.

If you want to get in contact to talk about God or what the Bible has to say you can contact us at the church or through our contact page.

The best kind of life

On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your life? Would you rate it as high or low or somewhere in the middle? What if you were to have God in your life, do you think that would make any difference?

Why am I asking these questions? In the Bible, Jesus makes an incredible claim. He says that he came into the world to give people life. Not just any life, he said he came so people could have life to the full (John 10:10). Yet, what kind of a life was he talking about?

Many of us dream of a life where we have plenty of money. Maybe we’ve even put a figure on it. We know just how much we need to pay off the mortgage and live a comfortable life where we can do all that we want to do without having to work too hard. There is a certain amount of appeal about a life like that, but it isn’t what Jesus is talking about.

Another dream we might have is a life of perfect health. Illness and weakening bodies so often get in the way of us living the lives we want to live. They frustrate and hinder. A life without sickness or dodgy knees certainly has its merits, yet it isn’t what Jesus is talking about.

A life of adventure is a life of excitement. Whether it is the thrill of throwing yourself off a bridge attached only by a bungee cord or the discovery of new sights and places, there is never a dull moment. Certainly, that’s a life that appeals to many, yet it isn’t what Jesus is talking about here.

What about a life of leisure? Imagine sitting in your favourite armchair, your favourite drink in your hand, the dog lying across your feet and you’re watching your favourite show on Netflix. Does that sound attractive? Yet, again it isn’t what Jesus is talking about here.

So, what is Jesus talking about when he speaks of ‘life to the full’? He is talking about a life where we know God. He is speaking of a life where our sins are dealt with through the cross of Jesus, where we experience the care of God every day and know that we will spend eternity with him.

Jesus is saying that a life with God is the best life we can have. He is telling us that it is better than money, health, adventure and leisure. Yet, that is not all. He is also saying that he came into this world so that each of us could enjoy this life through him.

So, if you knew God, would it make a positive difference in your life? If we listen to Jesus, then the answer is an absolute yes. If you want to know more why not contact us through our contact form.

The best laid plans

Turning to our five-year-old daughter, the lady asked her, ‘so what plans have you got for the Easter holidays?’ My mind quickly listed them all and then ticked them off one by one as she gave her answers. Each was said with as much of a smile as she could muster. These were plans that she’d spent days or even weeks getting excited over. Yet, as she answered the question my heart sank.

As we’d put her to bed that evening everything had seemed to be normal. An hour later we heard a scream from upstairs. I rushed to her room and after opening the door discovered that our daughter was no longer in bed. Instead, she was sitting on the floor at the foot of the bed. Then I noticed her arm, it just didn’t look right.

The lady’s question was asked at the hospital as we were waiting for X-ray number 2. The first had shown a double break in the forearm. Surgery was required and a further visit the following week.

Those swimming lessons she’d been waiting for, the holiday at her grandparents and the rest would no longer be possible. I knew she would be bitterly disappointed, but what could I do?

That has pretty much been the last 24 hours for me. As I sit down to write this article it is the first opportunity I’ve had to stop and think. I have to admit to a sense of helplessness.

Last night I would have loved to have been able to make my little girl’s arm all better and put her back to bed. Partly because I wanted to take the pain away, but also because it would have been a lot easier. I had plans for a quiet evening reading a book. We’d made plans for the holidays. In a moment all those plans had changed, and I could do nothing about it.

Where do you turn in times of need? Who do you go to when you realise you aren’t in control of things in the way you thought you were? The Bible tells us that God is not like us. He is not at the mercy of circumstances, nor is he powerless to bring about change.

Knowing this has been a big help to me over the last few hours and as I think about the operation tomorrow. To know that I can pray to this God, and that he is able to help me regardless of the circumstances is a certainty that I can take into the uncertainty of life.

So, I feel helpless, but I also feel thankful. I’m thankful for my family. I’m thankful for the NHS and the staff who were so amazing last night. Most of all, I’m thankful that, as one Bible writer puts it, ‘My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.’

What’s in a nickname?

Nicknames aren’t always the most pleasant things. I had several at school, mainly due to my surname. Some were ok, others were annoying. Some seemed to fit, yet others were just unfair.

One of the disciples of Jesus in the Bible has been given the unfortunate nickname, ‘Doubting Thomas’. Whenever I hear that name, I always feel a little bit sorry for him. In his place I think I would have been exactly the same.

It all goes back to the Sunday after Jesus had died on the cross. The Bible tells us that Jesus had risen from the dead and appeared to his disciples, all except for Thomas who wasn’t there. By the time Thomas joined them, Jesus had left.

You can imagine the excitement of those who’d been there. Jesus, who they knew had died, was alive again. The one they had pinned all their hopes on hadn’t remained in the grave. He had died but was now alive. I can imagine them telling Thomas, probably all speaking at once.

How did Thomas respond? He responded in the way that I think I would have done; he didn’t believe them. The news seemed too unreal to him and he wasn’t going to be taken in, no matter how enthusiastically he was told. Thomas told them clearly that unless he saw Jesus with his own eyes and touched Jesus’ wounds with his own hands, he would not believe that Jesus was alive.

The next week things changed. The Bible tells us that the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. Jesus appeared and when he did, he spoke to Thomas. He offered Thomas his hands and showed him his wounds. He gently challenged him to leave his doubts and believe.

What follows are not the actions of a ‘Doubting Thomas’, but those of a believing man. The Bible tells us that Thomas got on his knees and said, ‘My Lord and my God!’ These words go far beyond an acceptance that Jesus was alive; they are words of worship and of commitment to follow Jesus.

Easter is at the end of this month. This is a time when Christians celebrate the death and the resurrection of Jesus. For me it is a time when I am challenged to think about what I believe. Do I believe that Jesus came? Do I believe that Jesus died? Do I believe that Jesus is alive? Yet, that’s not all. If I do believe these things, is it making a difference in my life?

Over this Easter I want to encourage you to think of those questions too. Maybe, like Thomas, you have heard the claim that Jesus rose from the dead. Do you doubt it, as Thomas did, or do you believe it? If you believe it, have you thought about what that means for you? Is it a truth that’s making a difference in your life?

Thinking Brexit

Brexit is a big deal right now. The news reports keep coming. People from both sides of the fence are putting forward their points of view, demands and desires. Huge questions remain unanswered. Will there be a deal? What kind of deal could it be? Do we need a deal? Would it be better to call it off?

Personally, I’m still trying to think through the possible outcomes and weigh up whether they are positive or not. What framework should I use to evaluate any future deal? I thought this month I’d share some principles that the Bible teaches that I’ve found helpful in thinking this through.

First, the Bible clearly teaches that I should think of others. Jesus said the second greatest commandment, after the command to love God, is to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’. That wasn’t just an instruction he taught, it was one he lived as he died, giving himself on the cross.

Often, we can weigh up political decisions and policies based on their effect on us. Budget day comes around and the chancellor announces the new tax rules, etc. So often my first concern is: how will this affect me? God urges me to think more broadly and make sure I consider the effect that these decisions will have on others. This is equally as important, if not more important, than the impact on myself.

How do I want our MP to vote? What do I want the government to work for? It has to be more than the best deal for me. It has to be the best deal for everyone even if that means it’s not the best deal for me.

Second, the Bible encourages me to think about the vulnerable in our communities. At one point in the Bible we have a definition of true religion that God accepts. Part of that definition is ‘to look after orphans and widows’. In Bible times orphans and widows were vulnerable groups who would have struggled to find the means to survive.

What is the Bible teaching here? Essentially, that God cares for vulnerable people and that we should too. This is important when it comes to the whole Brexit debate. I need to be thinking, how will this impact the poor, those who need care and those who need support? Yet, it surely means more than ‘thinking’. Am I willing to sacrifice in order to help when people find themselves in need?

As I’ve looked at these principles, I’ve found myself challenged and helped as I’ve thought about Brexit. I’ve been reminded that the Bible is relevant today in the decisions we make and the lives we lead. If anyone would like a Bible to read for themselves, please contact us through our website and we’ll be happy to send you one.

A Salvation Story

Over the last few years there has been an increase in superhero movies. This has been great for me as I’ve always loved superhero films. There are two main stables, DC comics and Marvel. Each have their own group of characters ready to save the day. The competition is fierce, driving the directors to push for bigger, more intriguing and visually stunning films.

If you remove all the twists each film has essentially the same story line. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Superman or Spiderman, Captain Marvel or Wonder Woman, they are all salvation stories. A world in danger and a hero, or group of heroes, who will save it.

A couple of months ago I finally got to sit down and watch the latest Avengers Movie, Infinity War. It ends completely differently to all the other superhero movies. The Avengers, the heroes, don’t succeed. Thanos, the bad guy, wins. Yet, even with this twist at the end it is still a salvation story.

Thanos, in his warped way, believes he is saving the universe. The Avengers pull together in an attempt to save the world and one of them, Ultron, gives his life to save those around him. Even though it doesn’t end as we might expect, the thread of salvation still runs through.

That brings me to the Bible. A bit of a strange connection you may be thinking. The Bible is an important book for us as Christians. We believe it is a book given by God. Because of this we want to read it and understand what it says. Yet, what is the Bible about? It is the ultimate salvation story.

In the Old Testament, the section of the Bible that speaks about the time before Jesus was born, we are told about God calling and rescuing the people of Israel. He doesn’t just rescue them once; he does it over and over again.

Then we come to the New Testament. Here we find that God’s rescue plan is bigger than anyone expected. It is a plan to save the world. How? By Jesus, His Son, being born, living a perfect life, dying for sin, rising from the dead and calling people to believe in him.

There is a big difference between the Bible’s salvation story and the latest Avengers plot line. The Bible doesn’t present this as a story for our entertainment or an event in an alternative reality. It presents it as an act of history with relevance to us all. If you would like a Bible to read for yourself then please let us know and we’d love to give you one. A great place to begin is the Gospel of Mark – a book that tells us about who Jesus is and why he came.