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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.

What’s normal like again?

3 steps down, 2 more to go, in the governments 4-step roadmap to normality. Yes, I’m aware that my maths teacher would have a problem with that last sentence, but I can’t help but feel that the return of the rule of 6 or two households on March 29th was significant enough to be a step all by itself.

On May 17th we may get a bit more freedom as the earliest date for step 3 rolls around. Larger groups outside and the re-opening of some inside venues. Then step 4 – the one we’re all waiting for – at the earliest, June 21st.

Step 4 is supposed to mark the great return to normality. But what will normal be like? Will it be the old normal or will it be a completely new type of normal?

Will we be able to hug or shake hands? Will we still have to carefully count numbers when we organise something social to stay within the law? Will we still have to wear a face covering or can we smile at each other again and see it?

Recently our Prime Minister was asked to clarify some of the measures that may come into force or remain with us as we enter step 4 on the road map. It was clear from his reply that it’s too early to say. At the moment we just don’t know.

Like many groups in the town, we are trying to plan for the future without really knowing what the future will be like. It’s not the easiest way to do things.

In any ‘normal’ week – do you remember what that was like? – we’d have various clubs and groups running for people of different ages. We’d love to be starting them back up again. Yet, at the moment it’s too early to say with any degree of certainty when or how we might do that.

But I do want to let you know that we are preparing to open the doors again for our 10am Sunday morning service from the point we go into step 3, hopefully from Sunday May 23rd. If you want to come along and join us as we worship God together it would be great to see you. If you feel that you can’t come come out in person, we will continue to live stream the services on our YouTube channel so you can still join with us there.

For more details about our services and the measures we’re putting in place to be covid secure please click here.

Praying you all keep safe and well.

My Favourite Season!

What’s your favourite season? Do you like the Summer warmth? Schools are out and it’s the time of holidays. Paddling pools are filled in the garden. Hunstanton beckons. Light evenings sitting out in the garden.

Or maybe you prefer the Autumn colours. As the nights draw in the green landscape changes to beautiful oranges, reds and yellows. The stars fill the clear evening skies.

What about Winter? It begins with celebration. Christmas, New Year, or maybe some other festival. Then there’s always the hope of some snow. That morning you wake up and the outside has been turned into a magical winter wonderland is always special.

Then we have Spring. Two things tell me Spring has arrived. First, it’s light as I walk home from work. Then second, the daffodils are starting to come out. Spring is a time where the world around us seems to spring into life again after the hibernation of Winter.

If I had to pick a season, I think I’d say that Spring was my favourite. I love the burst of colour as the blossoms and Spring flowers emerge. Watching the birds build their nests is a reminder of new life and hope for the coming year.

Yet, that’s not all. The beginning of Spring coincides with Easter, a celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ around 2000 years ago. In the Bible, this is the most monumental event of all history. The Bible explains that on the cross, God, in the person of his Son, gave himself for us, to open a way to know God for all who will trust in him.

This year, I’m struck by how much the colours and vibrancy of Spring reflect the meaning of the message of Easter. Easter, with not only the death, but also the resurrection of Jesus very much at its heart, is a message of new life and hope.

Over the Easter holidays we’re going to be setting up an outdoor family activity called ‘In search of Easter’. It will be in three different locations around the town and can be a fun way to discover what Easter is about and what it might mean today. For details, check out the advert below and if you want more information do get in touch.

Praying you all keep safe and well.

Who are you talking to?

Have you even been caught talking to yourself? There you are in your house and you think no one is around. As you go about your work, you’re chatting to yourself; feeling relaxed, your using the full array of silly voices. Then from behind you comes a faint cough and the quizzical question, ‘who are you talking to?’

At the end of January, The Archbishops of Canterbury and York encouraged people everywhere to pray concerning the Covid pandemic. As they did, it got me thinking; what is prayer and how can it do any good?

Whenever we go through a hard time in our life it can be helpful to talk about it. In one sense, it doesn’t matter who we talk to, a person, an animal or even to yourself, articulating the problem can be a helpful step in dealing with it.

Is that the power of prayer? Is prayer putting our problems into words and getting them off of our chest? When I look at the Bible, that’s not the answer I see.

So, what does the Bible say about prayer? Here are four things. First, prayer is a conversation with God. Because of Jesus and his death on the cross, the Bible says we can know God for ourselves and one of the privileges of this is we can talk to him. Prayer is the way we do that in our lives.

Second, prayer is a conversation that’s heard. When you talk to yourself, you feel embarrassed when someone overhears, or I do anyway. But when you pray, you want someone to listen. The Bible tells us that God hears prayer.

Third, prayer is a conversation that can make a difference. I don’t know what you believe God is like or if you believe there is a God at all. The Bible says he is real and is infinitely powerful. There is no problem he cannot fix. If this is true, prayer is so much more than wishful thinking.

Fourth, prayer is a two-way conversation. The Bible teaches that God doesn’t just hear prayer; he also answers. True, it may not always be the answer we want, but our words are not left bouncing around the clouds.

If you want to know more about God, Jesus and the Christian faith I’ve been vlogging through Mark’s Gospel. Mark is a book in the Bible that focuses on the life of Jesus. The videos are available on our YouTube channel and our Facebook page.

Praying you all keep safe and well.

Oh no. Not that one!

Have you ever ‘googled’ yourself? With a name like mine, you don’t have to do much filtering to find out what the internet knows about you. Just type in your name and read the results.

A few weeks ago, I took this a bit further and searched for myself on Apple Music. I obviously didn’t have anything better to do! I was shocked to see that it actually returned a result. I was officially an Apple Music artist. Cue Excitement!

It didn’t last long though. I noticed there was one recording listed next to my name. Then I saw what it was. Oh no, not that one! It was a CD we did while I was at University. One I’d honestly rather forget.

I remember being persuaded to be part of the project. It was a world premiere performance and recording. The composer was supposed to be amazing and it was this exciting jazz fusion modern piece. Then the music arrived, and it didn’t make sense.

As one of the soloists, I had to meet up with the composer to practice with him. He’d written a bit of my part, but most of it he wanted me to make up. ‘Don’t just play notes,’ he told me, ‘get inside the piano, hit it, do anything.’ Totally out of my comfort zone.

As the search had spewed it out, I decided to have a listen. Had it improved with age? The answer is no! It still sounded like the chaos I remembered. (Health warning: I don’t advise you go away and have a listen)

The last year feels a lot like that piece of music. We have all had to live way outside of our comfort zones. The goal posts just keep moving. We settle into a pattern and then the rules change. Everything feels chaotic and random.

How are you coping with that? How are you finding it? I know I’ve said it before in these articles, yet I want to say again. I’m so thankful that the Bible tells me that God is unchanging. No matter what I face each day, I can know that God is as loving as he has always been, he is as faithful as he always be and I can totally rely on him.

Praying you all keep safe and well.