The big 250!

1769 was a notable year. James Watt, the Scottish inventor, received the first patent for his steam engine, an invention that would play an important role in the industrial revolution. Captain Cook, sailing on the Endeavour, reached New Zealand and became the first European explorer to map the islands. Sir Arthur Wellesley, better known as the Duke of Wellington, a future war hero and British prime minister, was born in Dublin.

It was also the year when Whittlesey Baptist Church began. Dating the beginning of a church is not an exact science. Our current building was built in 1836 and extended and added to several times over the years. This was a replacement for an earlier building put up in 1790. Yet, the church existed a long time before either of them.

There is evidence of a Baptist congregation in the town in 1669 and more than one by the year 1728. So, what’s significant about 1769? The church didn’t start meeting in that year, but it was the year that the congregation meeting in Gracious Street drew up a “Trust Deed” and officially began. 250 years later, we’re still here.

250 years is a long time. Life back then would have looked very different from now. The church began long before the Whittlesey Mere was drained. There was no need for a car park in those days as people would have travelled on foot or on horseback.

I think about all the people who have been part of the church over the generations. Thousands of people, most of them I’ve never met. As we’ve prepared for this year, we’ve found some old photographs dating back to the early 1900s. One of them shows a Sunday School Parade in the market square. The buildings, the clothes, the time was so different to today.

There are many ways that the church has changed over the years. Yet, with all the changes there is still a common thread that runs down through the history of the church. The message we teach, the good news of Jesus, and the things we believe are still the same as when the church first began. There is something very reassuring about that.

Throughout this year we are hoping to celebrate 250 years of Whittlesey Baptist Church. We have a few different events planned and if you’ve had any connection with the church in the past, or even if you’ve never had a connection at all, we’d like to invite you to join us. We’ll do our best to let you know what’s happening.

We’ve also set up a Facebook group for past attendees where people can share their memories and connect with people from the church. If you want to know more keep an eye out on our website for more details.

Strangers on the doorstep

There’s a knock at the door. You reluctantly mute the TV, remove yourself from the sofa’s embrace and get up to open it. Standing on your doorstep is a group of strangers, people you’ve never seen before. They tell you that they’ve just travelled half way around the world to see you. How do you respond?

You might expect a scene like that if you were a famous pop singer, movie star, Olympic gold medallist or royalty. People would have have read your name or know a little about you. You might have some fans who would make the trip. But really, a bunch of people who don’t know you, coming from who-knows-where, just to see you – that’s a bit odd isn’t it?

Let’s go back 2000 years to Bethlehem. Jesus was born into an ordinary family and his birth probably went unnoticed by most. It wasn’t broadcast on the TV or discussed on blogs far and wide. Yet, one day there was a knock at the door. When it was opened, standing on the doorstep, was a bunch of strangers who’d travelled a great distance to see Jesus.

Who were the strangers? They were magi, wise men, who lived somewhere in the east. Traditionally, we talk about three of them. Truthfully, the Bible doesn’t tell us how many there were. It does tell us that they brought three gifts with them. Three gifts that help us to understand why they would go to such lengths to be there.

On the surface Jesus would have looked like any other child, but the Bible tells us he was someone totally unique. The wise men came looking for a king. They had brought a gift of gold to give him. When they saw Jesus, they knew they had found him.

The wise men also brought a gift of frankincense. This was a perfume that was used in the Old Testament in the worship of God. When they found the baby Jesus, they bowed to him in worship and gave him the gift. What’s the message? Jesus was human like you and I, but also God.

The third gift was a strange one. Later in life, Jesus would die on a cross for sin. When they buried his body, they wrapped it in cloths with a large quantity of myrrh. That was the practice of the day. The wise men brought with them a gift of myrrh. Even so early in his life there is clear pointer to what will happen and its significance.

Jesus is more than a baby in a manger. We want to invite you to discover more of him over this Christmas time. Everyone is welcome. For more information please visit our events page.

A life changing encounter

It was more than just a dislike, he hated Christians. He had a plan that would hurt them and stop them spreading the message of Jesus. He’d got the necessary paperwork and was now about to set out on a mission to Damascus to arrest as many as he could and bring them back to Jerusalem.

Yet, by the end of that day everything had changed. By the end of the week he was meeting with Christians as one of them, no longer wanting to arrest them. It wasn’t long before he was out telling others the message of Jesus instead of hating the very mention of his name. By the time he returned to Jerusalem he was a Christian preacher, no longer a persecutor.

Who am I writing about here? It’s a man called Paul who we read about in the New Testament. He is a someone who ended up preaching the message of Jesus throughout most of Southern Europe and parts of the Middle East in the first century AD. He also wrote many of the books in the New Testament which is part of the Bible. Clearly, he became an influential Christian who was passionate about his faith in Jesus.

So, what happened to bring about this change? The Bible says that at some point on his journey from Jerusalem to Damascus Jesus met him. It was a dramatic encounter. The Bible speaks about a light and a voice from heaven that challenged what he was doing and, as a result of this, for three days Paul was unable to see. Yet, the circumstances are not the only drama. Paul’s life, his direction, his plans, his heart and so much more was changed forever.

I mentioned last month that this November we will have three Sunday morning services with the theme ‘Encounters: Meeting Jesus’. On each Sunday we are going to look at a passage of the Bible where someone meets with Jesus. The first will be Zacchaeus, a thief who regularly defrauded people. Next, we’ll look at Jesus’ meeting with a woman (we don’t know her name) who people looked down on because of mistakes she had made in her life. Then we’ll think about a rich man who came to Jesus with the questions of life and death.

In each of these encounters we see something of Jesus and the difference he can make in our lives. We’ll be thinking through how these things can affect us today. We will also being hearing from people in the church how Jesus has changed their lives. Why not come along and join us on these Sunday mornings? More info here.

Quizzical Disbelief

It was planned to be a surprise. Anita was going out of the country and the idea was to gut our kitchen diner and have it rebuilt and refitted by the time she had returned. Somehow, I’d managed to find out the colours, doors and cupboards she would like without giving the game away and now I was sitting with the designer who was about to submit the order.

As he clicked the button the conversation turned to small talk. ‘What do you do?’ he asked. ‘I’m a church minister’, I replied. Then came the awkward one. ‘What made you want to do that?’ I then had to make a split-second decision. Do I tell him that I do it because I enjoy showing people what the Bible says and being an influence for good in people’s lives or do I give the real answer? You see, it’s not that those things aren’t true, they just aren’t the real reason I’m a church minister.

I opted for direct honesty, ‘God called me to do it’. I still remember his face as he tried to compute my answer. It was one of quizzical disbelief. I can’t blame him for that. One minute we were talking about door handles and hinges and the next about a God who I was claiming was not only real but also speaks and intervenes in the lives of people today. There was a definite pause in the conversation before he moved it back to safer ground.

I acknowledge that I’m putting a big claim on the table. ‘God called me’ are not words that should be used lightly. So how did it happen? Was there an audible voice from the sky, bright flashing lights or something else impressive? Well no, there were none of those things. The call came over a prolonged period of time in which God used the Bible, other people in the church, circumstances and ministry experiences to completely change the course that I’d set for my life.

Ok, that’s all interesting, but why write about it here? The Bible is a book full of accounts of people’s encounters with God – of God speaking to real people and bringing change in their lives.  People like Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Mary who became the mother of Jesus, or the many people that Jesus interacted with during his life and ministry on earth. I want to encourage you that these encounters are not just things of the past, but it is possible to know and meet God today.

In November we’re going to be looking at three people who met with Jesus. Each came from a different background and their stories have different endings, but they are tied together by the fact that they met Jesus. Why not come along for an hour on a Sunday morning and hear about someone who can change a life forever. More details here.

Now why did he say that?

The other day I was getting our four-year-old daughter ready for nursery. We were messing around together and happened to lightly bump heads. It was one of those moments where you feel terrible. I expected a whimper or maybe some tears. What I didn’t expect was a fully-fledged telling off.

My four-year-old looked at me with a very serious face, put on her most adult like voice and told me that I should be more sensible. That I should pay more attention to others and I needed to be more careful as I played. Nursery teachers, I think she’s getting it!

Why do I mention that? Sometimes people say things we don’t expect and over the last few weeks I’ve been thinking of an occasion when Jesus did that. It took place in a town called Capernaum – you can visit the remains today by the Sea of Galilee – where Jesus was teaching and preaching.

There was a man who couldn’t walk and so his friends carried him on a mat to see Jesus. They had heard that Jesus could heal people and they wanted their friend to be able to walk again. When they got to the house where Jesus was there were so many people that the crowd was spilling out of the door. With no way for them to get their friend to Jesus, what would they do?

The Bible tells us they went up the stairs on the side of the house and took the man onto the roof. Then they made a hole in the roof and lowered their friend down right in front of Jesus. Now when I read this there are all kinds of questions that fire off in my mind. How did they have the nerve to dig through someone’s roof? How did people respond in the house as the dust started to fall and then, suddenly, there was a hole in the roof?

Yet, the hole is not the most striking thing that happened. No, that prize goes to the words that Jesus spoke next. Jesus looked at the man who couldn’t walk and had come for healing and said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven’ (Luke 5:20). Later we are told Jesus does heal him and everyone was amazed – you would be wouldn’t you? But that was not the first thing Jesus did.

So why does Jesus start there? The Bible teaches that being right with God, of which forgiveness of sin is a necessary part, is more important than being right in our bodies. We live in a time when a lot is made of our physical health and taking care of ourselves so that our bodies last for as long and as well as possible. Should we not also consider our spiritual health?

One of the key things we do when we meet together Sunday by Sunday is to look at the Bible to see what God has told us about himself, ourselves and how we can be right with him. You’re more than welcome to come and join us.

I don’t know

No, the irony has not been lost on me. Last month I wrote about driving in torrential rain, just wanting it to stop. Now, six weeks later and no rain in sight, what would we give for just a little.

The older I get the more I realise how many questions I don’t have the answer for. Will it rain? I don’t know. Will England beat Croatia (as I write, the game is this evening) and possibly the world cup? I don’t know. Or something a bit deeper. After a tragic event I often get asked, ‘why did it happen?’ I don’t know.

Why do I mention this? The main reason is the two tragic news stories I’ve been reading today.

The first is the rescue attempt of 12 boys from a Thai youth football team and their coach who have been trapped in a flooded cave complex in Thailand for more than two weeks. I’ve just heard the rescue went well and the boys and their coach are now safe. Surely that’s great news, so where’s the tragedy? Last Saturday one of the divers tragically lost his life.

The second is the horrendous loss of life, at least 155 people, in Japan due to heavy rains and massive mudslides. I can only begin to imagine the pain that people affected by these tragedies are going through right now. My heart goes out to them and I’m praying for them. I’m also asking why?

In one sense the Bible answers that question for me. It tells me of the origin of evil, of the reason for suffering and general answers to my why question. Yet, it doesn’t give me the exact answer for each specific situation. So why did these events happen? I could give you some general answers, but if you want specifics my answer is; I don’t know.

Is that all the Bible says that can help us. No, it teaches two things that really help in the uncertainty. The first is that there is a God who is in control of all things. This means the world is not an accident and the things we see are not random occurrences. It might not answer the ‘why’ question, but it tells me that there is an answer, I just don’t know it.

The second is that the God who is in charge of all things is a good and loving God and I can trust him in all things. The Bible says, ‘God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us’ (Romans 5:8). In the darkest of times I can look to the cross, the historical place where Jesus Christ, God’s Son, suffered and died for sinners, and know that God’s love in real.

I don’t know what you think of the Bible. My experience has been that it is a book that gives real answers that work and help in the real world in which we live. A world that is not always simple and easy, but often hard and complex. So, I would encourage you to get a copy of the Bible and read for yourself what it says about the ‘why’ questions you may have. If you want to know more or have any questions why not get in touch?

Rain Rain Go Away

Last week we were travelling back from Devon after spending a few days visiting family. After queuing for about half an hour to get onto the M5 everything looked good for a straightforward trip home. Then, suddenly out of nowhere, it started to rain. Not just a gentle spit, this was torrential rain that turned the road into a river.

I have to admit that I’m not a fan of driving in the rain. At the age of 18 I aquaplaned while driving in my first car, an old mini. It has left me with a deep respect for the danger a bit of water on the road can bring and how easy it is to go from being in full control to no control at all. When the rain came I took the necessary measures, slowed down, put on the lights etc. but really, I just wanted it to stop.

Yet, here’s the problem. I couldn’t do anything about it. I couldn’t lessen the rain and I couldn’t shift it over so that it was somewhere else. The only relief came as we passed under a bridge and the hammering sound on the roof dissipated albeit briefly.

I don’t know about you, but bad weather always reminds me how small and weak I am. It is a force beyond my control and something that I can do nothing about. As much as we might hope that if the BBC predict sunshine it might turn away the rain it’s just not possible. We can’t change the weather, just respond to it and make the most of it.

In the Bible there is a story about Jesus that is very different. He is sleeping at night in a boat on the Sea of Galilee and his disciples are with him. We are told that as he slept a huge storm blew up and the wind was so violent and the waves so big that the disciples, some were experienced fishermen, thought they would all die.

Through all of this Jesus slept until his disciples woke him in a panic accusing him of not caring whether they died or not. The Bible then says that something truly remarkable happened. Jesus got up and ‘rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm’ (Mark 4:39 NIV).

Can you imagine that happening? Can you imagine being there, seeing Jesus, hearing Jesus and then suddenly the storm is gone, and everything is calm? The disciples were amazed and asked, ‘who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!’ (Mark 4:41 NIV).

There is something different about Jesus. Want to know more? Why not come along to one of our services or get in touch and we’d love to help you explore that question.

A tale of three excuses

So, you’ve been invited to an event and they want to know if you are coming. What do you do? For me, the first thing I do is look at the date and try to figure out whether I’m available. Then I look at the event and decide whether I want to go.

If you’re free and you want to go the answer is easy, you reply ‘yes’. If you’re busy then everyone understands that and ‘no’ is ok. But what if you’re free, but don’t want to go? How do you respond then? How do you say ‘no’ without being rude?

Jesus told a story about a man who invited some people to a big banquet at his house.  Everyone had received the ‘save the date’ and now it was time for the big occasion. However, by the time the messenger came to tell them the feast was ready they’d decided they didn’t want to go and they needed a reason to save face.

The first replied that he had just brought a field and needed to go and see it. He’d probably seen it already before buying and it wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry, but it seemed a polite way to say no.

The same is true with the other two replies we are told about. The second had just bought five pairs of oxen to use on his farm so he replied that he couldn’t come because he had to go and try them out. The third declined by saying he had just got married.

In one sense these sound like legitimate reasons not to go, but Jesus is clear in the way he tells the story that each one was an excuse and the real reason was that the people didn’t want to come. When the messenger returned with the answers his master was angry at the insult and told his servants to go into the streets and invite those they found there to come and fill his banqueting hall.

Whenever Jesus told a story he didn’t just tell it to entertain, he told it because he wanted to teach something. Therefore, it is always important to ask the question, ‘What does this mean?’

In this story Jesus was challenging people to think about how they were responding to God. Jesus taught that God was inviting people to become part of his kingdom, to have their sins forgiven and come to know him, and that they could do this by trusting in Jesus. This story would have made them think about whether they were accepting God’s invitation or saying ‘no’ even if they were doing it politely.

Now, that’s all well and good for then, but what about now? The Bible teaches that God is still making the same invitation today. He is still inviting people to be part of his kingdom, to be forgiven and come to know him by trusting in Jesus. That means that the challenge of the story is true today. It asks us to think about how we are responding to his invitation.

This month we will be looking at some of the stories that Jesus told in our Sunday morning services. Everyone is welcome.

Everyone loves a good story

Summer is almost here, and the holiday season is just around the corner. Do you have any holiday traditions? Is there anything that you do every year because it just wouldn’t be a holiday if you didn’t?

One of those traditions for me is reading books, particularly fiction books. I remember each year as a child going to the library with my parents and my sister the weekend before our Summer holiday. We would each choose 6 books and then make sure we spent time reading them while we were away. We loved the stories and sharing the good books with each other.

It’s a tradition that’s stuck as I still read a lot when I go away, although nowadays a Kindle makes packing so much easier. I’m not the only one who likes stories. In 2016, £525 million was spent on fiction books and £894 million was spent on DVD’s and blu-ray discs across the UK. In the same year £1.3 billion was spent on cinema tickets and a further £1.3 billion on streaming and downloading digital video.

Why do we spend so much? It seems to me that the answer is essentially that everybody, or almost everybody, loves a good story. We love the journey that a book, film or drama takes us on. We love meeting the characters, the twists and turns of the plot line and the resolution of the ending. And, because we love it we are willing to part with our money to immerse ourselves in the experience.

The best stories don’t just have interesting characters, unexpected turns and satisfying endings, they also make us think more deeply about life. That’s one of the reasons I love Tolkien’s classic, The Lord of the Rings. It is filled with imagination, twists and turns, but it also makes you think about the nature and danger of evil as well as the big contribution that ‘little’ people make to life.

One of the things that Jesus is known for was his ability to tell stories, called parables, that made you think about life and particularly about God.  He was a master at taking things from every day experience and then weaving them into a great story that he would use to teach and to challenge. Some of them were very short, others were longer, but all of them make you stop and consider.

In June we are going to be having some special services on Sunday mornings and in each service we will be looking at one of the stories that Jesus told. We’re be looking at what they mean and what they teach. If you want to know a bit more about what Jesus said about God and about life then why not come along. These would be a great introduction to what Christians believe and what the Bible teaches.

That can’t be true

I once came across this saying, “If you tell a man that there are 581,678,934,341 stars in the universe he’ll believe you. But if a sign says, “Fresh Paint,” he has to make a personal investigation. Why do we do this? Why don’t we just believe the things we are told?

Sometimes it is out of curiosity. Other times it’s because what we are told is blatantly not true. Then there are also those things we are told that seem too incredible that they just can’t be true.

By the time this magazine drops onto your doormat it will almost be Easter. This is a time where Christians all around the world will celebrate Jesus dying on the cross for sin and then, on a Sunday morning, rising from the dead. Yet, can that really be true? Is it really possible for Jesus to die and then, three days later, be alive again? Can I really believe that?

I wonder if these are questions that you have ever asked. I know I have and I continue to do so. When I do I remind myself of the evidence that the Bible gives us for the resurrection of Jesus. Here are a few of them:

First, the Bible tells us clearly that Jesus died. Jesus received a Roman flogging and then was crucified. I will spare you the gruesome details, it’s sufficient to say that this was an extremely painful and brutal process. While he was still on the cross the Roman soldiers, seeing that he was dead, pushed a spear through his side into his heart. Even if he had of survived all that, he would not have been walking around just a few days later.

Second, the tomb was empty. When some women went to finish preparing Jesus’ body for burial they found his tomb empty. Maybe they went to the wrong place? However, the Bible is clear, these women had seen where Jesus’ dead body was buried. They knew the way! Similarly, the authorities in Jerusalem did not like Jesus or his disciples. They could have scuppered everything by just producing the body. They couldn’t because it wasn’t there.

Then, thirdly, the Bible tells us about people who actually saw Jesus after he had been raised from the dead. Much of the New Testament was written by people who claimed to have seen the resurrected Jesus. Yet, they weren’t the only ones. We are told that once Jesus appeared to 500 people in one place and the first readers are reminded that many of those 500 were still alive as they read those words. That’s a lot of eyewitnesses.

The resurrection may seem unbelievable as an event. It is outside of the norm of daily life and not something we would expect. Yet, does that mean that this Easter we are celebrating something that just isn’t true. The evidence would suggest otherwise. Jesus has risen and that’s something we can celebrate!

Trying something new

A number of years ago I came back from my summer holiday determined to keep fit. I decided I’d go swimming each week and set myself goals and targets. I checked the local swimming pools online and found one that had public lane swimming at a time that suited.

When the first day arrived, I was surprised to find myself more than a little nervous. I wasn’t nervous to go swimming, although I hadn’t been for a while I knew that I would at least be ok for a few lengths. No, the reason I was nervous was because I hadn’t been to this swimming pool before. I didn’t know what it would be like, where to go or quite how everything worked.

Now, we’re all different. Some of us thrive off new experiences and the unknown doesn’t faze us one bit. Yet, for others we like our routines and we need at least some level of persuasion to do something different.

How do you respond when someone invites you to something new? When the day arrives what are you thinking as you look for the building your meant to go to; as you enter through the doors; as you find yourself in a new and unfamiliar environment?

The reason I’m asking these questions is because I’m aware that over recent months I’ve often ended some posts with an invitation to come to one of our services. Yet, for many a church service would probably come under the category of ‘new’ experience. It isn’t a familiar environment, it’s a strange one.

With this in mind, I thought it might be helpful to write a little about what we do in our services on a Sunday morning and evening.

These are times when we meet together to worship God. We pray and sing songs that help us to think about who God is and what he has done. Not everyone is musical, and we try to sing songs that are easy to pick up.

We read the Bible and at each service there will be a Bible talk where part of the Bible is explained, and we think about its relevance to our lives. This talk is often done by me, but we also have others who will do this.

Our services are open to everyone and we have a welcome team who are there to help you find a seat and answer any questions you might have. Children are welcome too and nobody minds if they make a bit of noise. We do have a crèche for pre-school children that runs during the Bible talk for those who want to make use of it.

Through the year we have special events and it’s great to see different people coming along and enjoying themselves. Why not join in with one of our services and find out a little more about what the Bible has to say about God and our lives?

Another disappointment

So it’s official, the news that we were expecting. The England and Wales Cricket team have lost the Ashes. At least it wasn’t a complete whitewash. We did manage to draw one test!

Being English and a sports fan I’ve discovered that life is full of hope which is often dashed with disappointment. The recent ashes series has been a case in point. On several mornings that I’ve checked up on the state of play in the ashes to hear that England have the upper hand or at least are holding their own. Yet, the next report gives news of a batting collapse or a century or double century from an Australian batsman. The semblance of hope was smashed and I was left with disappointment.

This June we have the 2018 Football World Cup in Russia. Will it bring more disappointment? Who knows? History though doesn’t give much encouragement.

It wasn’t that long ago that we were told we had the golden generation of English footballers. Beckham, Gerrard, Lampard, Owen and others formed the back bone of a football team that so much was expected of. Yet, over and over again performances at the major tournaments were disappointing and we were left only with a sense of what could have been.

Actually, disappointment is not something exclusive to supporters of England teams. It is something that all fans experience at times whether they are supporting their national or local teams. In rugby I support the Saracens (they used to play 50 yards from the hospital wing in which I was born). Recently they’ve gone through a slump of not being able to win games. At least two they were winning only to be denied by a last minute try from the opposition. Hope dashed, disappointment reigned.

Why am I writing about this? It’s not because I’m sitting here frustrated and needing to vent, whether over the sporting disappointment or one of the deeper disappointments of life. The reason is that I’ve been spending some time thinking recently about what the Bible says about heaven. As I’ve done this the thing that’s struck me is that heaven will be a place without disappointment. One verse in the Bible puts it like this:

            an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. 1 Peter 1:4

Can you imagine that? A place where the joy never stops and the despair never enters. A place where we will never have to wonder when it’s all going to go wrong or what will be the next difficulty on the horizon. The Bible teaches that heaven is a wonderful place where the beauty of life will remain and never disappear.

I find it can often be difficult to think about future things. There is so much vying for our attention today that we don’t have time or desire to look ahead. Similarly, when we talk of heaven we are speaking about life after death which has a taste of the morbid to it. Yet, is it not important to be prepared and to consider these things? If there is a heaven should we not be asking how it is we get there?