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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.

Lighting the difference

Back in March I dusted off my limited skills with a camera. It was partly enforced. As the government took us into the first lockdown, churches all around the country had to close their doors. Our services had to move online which meant I needed to learn how to make videos, fast.

As the weeks went by, I scoured the internet looking for advice. Over and over again I was told that one of the most important aspects of videoing is the lighting. To make a good video you need good light.

The same is true in photography. Spring turned into summer and, spurred on by my son, I decided to take the camera out to try to capture some of the views on the Wash. My first trip was during lunchtime. I scouted out some possible locations and tried some test shots. The composition wasn’t too bad, but it all looked flat in the high sunlight.

I went back to take the same shots around sunset and the next day at sunrise, the so-called golden hours. I couldn’t believe the difference in the pictures. Whether I was shooting with the sun in front of me or behind me, the golden light transformed the scene dramatically. It even made a straggly weed look good.

That experience gave me a fresh understanding of a statement that Jesus made about himself. He tells us that he is ‘the light of the world’ (John 8:12). What does that mean? Jesus is claiming to be the one who brings hope to the world by shining the light of God.

And what happens as we let him shine his light on our lives? The Bible says that we will be changed, now and forever. The light makes a difference.

Why write this? It’s strikes me that it’s very easy to think of Christianity as a religion of rules and traditions. Yet, that isn’t how the Bible puts it. In its pages we discover a person. Someone we can encounter for ourselves. That someone is Jesus and Biblical Christianity is all about him.

If you want to know more about Jesus, we’re in the process of putting a series of videos on our YouTube Channel that go Step by Step through Mark’s Gospel. Each video is a short talk explaining a passage from the Bible, introducing Jesus.

Praying you all keep safe and well.

It’ll be different this year

It’s my final year at Leeds Uni. The church I’m attending asks if I would stay and play the piano for the Christmas day service. It would mean a long drive home afterwards and being late for dinner.

What do I do? I say yes and prepare myself for the phone call with my mum.

For the next twenty years, Christmas day is pretty much the same. Taking part in a Christmas day service and then the drive to my parents to see the family.

Getting married didn’t change Christmas. With only one side of our family in the UK and the fact that my parents live on a small holding with animals to look after, means that where we go for Christmas is normally a foregone conclusion.

Even moving didn’t change things. Yes, we live further away from my parents than we ever have. Yet, what we do at Christmas time has remained the same.

But this year it looks like it’s all set to change. Who knows what the restrictions will be by the time we hit December 25th? Will households be allowed to mix, or will we have to keep our distance? Whatever happens, I’m sure it’ll be different this year.

I think back to a time over 2000 years ago to the birth of Jesus. For Mary and Joseph, it was year of difference. The Roman Emperor had called a census which meant that Mary and Joseph had to leave home and livelihood and travel to Bethlehem.

A baby was born. But, no ordinary baby. The message Mary received from the angel Gabriel told her this baby, Jesus, was God’s son. Imagine the feeling of responsibility and the adjustment in their lives.

Yet, the Bible tells us that this was a change to celebrate; a saviour had been born who would bring hope, joy and peace to the world.

Christmas will be different this year and it’s sad that we probably won’t be able to do a lot that we normally enjoy. Yet, the message of Christmas – the birth of Jesus – hasn’t altered.

We’re looking at ways that we can hold a carol service this year. A celebration of Christmas and the message of Jesus. We’ve got some ideas, but at the moment we don’t know what we’ll be allowed to do. If you’re interested, keep an eye on our website or on our Facebook page.

Praying you all keep safe and well.

Daddy’s a hero!

‘There’s a puddle of water behind the toilet,’ my wife informs me. ‘Oh no!’ I think. I hope it’s nothing.

Roll on another night and the puddle has returned, water dripping from the inlet pipe. ‘I’ll sort it,’ I think to myself and quickly go to get some tools. I return, spanner in hand determined to show the leak who’s boss.

Leaning over, I engage the spanner on the nut and gently apply some pressure. I mean gently – I barely touch it. Then, crack! The pipe snaps clean off, water pouring everywhere.

For a few seconds I’m mesmerised by the flowing water and then I snap myself out of it. I spot an isolation valve and rush for a screwdriver.

By the time I return a lake is forming on the floor. In the panic I forget how slippery our floor gets when it’s wet. It doesn’t take me long to remember as I land flat on my back in a ¼ inch of water.

It knocks some sense into me as I remember the stop cock under the sink – why didn’t I think of that first? Like an army general I give out orders – ‘turn the taps on to reduce the pressure’, ‘get some towels’ – and I march to the kitchen to turn the water off. Small flood to clean up, major flood thwarted.

Adventure over, I finally make it to breakfast. My daughter has made up a new song. ‘Daddy’s a hero, Daddy’s a hero.’ I smile, but at the same time I feel a bit of a fraud. If only I’d turned the water off first, then none of this would have happened. But to my daughter, that didn’t matter. To her I was a hero!

That did make me think. The Bible tells me that Jesus came into this world to save people from something much worse than a flood. It says, he came to save us from sin by dying on the cross. That’s pretty big. Do I see him as the hero he is?

If you want to know more about Jesus, we’re putting out a series of videos that go step by step through Mark’s Gospel. Mark is a book in the Bible that tells us about the life of Jesus. This would be a great way to see what the Bible says and what it might mean for you.

Praying you all keep safe and well.

Are they a good signing?

Are they a good signing?

Under normal circumstances the football transfer window would have been closed weeks ago. Yet, this year is not normal.  Each morning there is a new story; a new connection between player and club; a new twist in the story.

As a long-term Arsenal fan, I’m particularly keen to know what’s going on this summer. Over the last few years we’ve dropped off the pace and have begun to slide down the premier league table. This summer has been billed a time to rebuild and there has been some exciting news, but we’ll have to wait and see.

If you’re a football fan, what do you do when a player is linked with or signs for your club? I find that I turn to that popular search engine on the web. The result is pages of facts, figures and opinions. All you need to know to discover if this is a good signing or not.

If you wanted to know whether Jesus was someone worth following, how would you find that out? You could put his name into an internet search and trawl through all the results. I did that and it returned almost 1 billion pages. A lot of people have written about him and there are lots of opinions out there.

A simpler way would be to turn to the Bible and find out about Jesus at source. In this article I want to invite you to do that. From this month we’re going to be doing a series of short videos walking step by step through Mark’s Gospel.

Mark is a Bible book that introduces us to Jesus and shows us who he is and why he’s so important in our lives. The plan is to take a section each week and think about what it’s saying to us today.

If you want to join us on this journey the videos will be available on our Facebook page and on our YouTube channel. If you want a copy of Mark’s Gospel to use please let us know and we’ll be happy to send you one.

Praying you all keep safe and well.

An antidote to a terrible evil

To be honest, it’s made me sick to the stomach. The news channels have carried the accounts of the murder of George Floyd. We’ve been reminded that the evil of racism is still very much alive.

It is easy to look on from a distance and think that this is an American problem. It’s not – racism is found all over the world. Yes, in one sense things have got better in recent years, but it’s clear that it is still a monster lying just beneath the surface.

How will we defeat racism? I think the answer is to grasp a truth that the Bible teaches from beginning to end – that every human being, regardless of colour, ability or heritage, is precious. True, some have tried to use the Bible to justify racist actions, but quite simply, they are wrong.

The Bible begins by telling us that every human being is made in God’s image. Human life is to be respected and honoured. All are precious to God and we should treat them likewise. Origin, appearance, ability and personality all must take a secondary place to this.

Yet that’s not all we’re told. The Bible is a book of God’s saving work through Jesus Christ. It tells us that we’ve sinned against God, but that he sent Jesus, his Son, to die so we could be forgiven if we trust in him. Who is this offer for? It is not just for a few; it is for all. God does not differentiate on skin colour or heritage. He invites all to come and know him through Jesus.

The only way to defeat racism is to see all people as equal and precious. As so many people have been posting in recent days, ‘Black lives matter’. The Bible both teaches me this and gives me a foundation for that belief.

If you want to know more about God and life with him, why not visit our YouTube channel. During these weeks where we are unable to meet we will be putting our services on this channel for people to watch. You are welcome to join us on a Sunday or whatever day works for you.

Praying you all keep safe and well.

A time for questions

She took me by the hand and passed me back to my mum. With an exhausted sigh she uttered, ‘never again!’ It’s a memory seared into my mother’s mind and one she loves to embarrass me with.

I was only a toddler and a family friend had thought it would be a nice treat to take me into London for the day. I don’t have any recollection of the day, but evidently, I talked non-stop. All the time I hammered her with questions. What? Why? When? By the end of the day, she was shattered.

Are you someone who likes to ask questions? Are you naturally inquisitive and always want to know the why’s and what’s of the things and events around you? Or are you normally more laid back and just let things go by? Has that changed in the last few weeks as our lives have been turned upside down through the Corona virus?

Times like this often prompt us to ask the big questions of life. As our normal pattern is disrupted, we find it unsettling. As the flow of life is altered, we begin to ask what living is all about. What are the most important things? As the suffering grows, we ask why? Why is this happening? Whose fault is it? Why doesn’t it just go away?

Last week, the results of a survey were released that I found fascinating. It showed that around a quarter of the UK population had watched or listened to a religious service since lockdown. That’s a huge difference to normal in a country where weekly attendance at church is much less (under 5% in England in 2015).

Why is that? I think it’s because people are asking questions and wanting to know if religion, if God has any answers. Have you found yourself asking that question? As you search for answers, have you wondered if God has any?

Over the last few weeks I’ve found myself asking many questions. Yet, I can also say that I’ve found the Bible is full of answers. I’ll be honest, they’re not always the answers I want to hear, but they are real answers that I’m finding are relevant for today.

On our YouTube channel I’m going to be sharing some of these answers in a series called ‘Short Answers to Big Questions’. Each video is just a few minutes long and the plan is to answer some of the big questions of our day.

If you want to know what the Bible has to say at a time like this, these are a good place to start. If you have any questions that you’d like me to answer, please leave a comment on the video or contact us here.

Praying you all keep safe and well.

 

 

 

Riding the rollercoaster

I’m not a fan of rollercoasters. I never have been and, generally, I stay away from them, even the little ones. Yet, that’s not always possible. At times I’ve been with a group of friends and I don’t want them to know I’m scared. So, I force a smile and stand in line.

The queue is always painfully long. The whole time I’m thinking to myself, ‘Why am I doing this?’ I’m flicking through different options in my mind seeing if there is a way out. There isn’t, so I quietly stand there waiting my turn.

I reach the front and the attendant smiles and calls me forward. I think they can smell the fear because there’s laughter in their eyes. I find a seat and pull down the restraining bar. Everyone’s in and the carriages begin to move. They slowly begin their climb upwards. My eyes can’t believe it, ‘Are we really going all the way up there?’ All the time my mind is racing; I’m trying to figure out if this is safe or not.

Finally, we get to the summit. As we go over the top the whole thing speeds up, now we’re in free fall. My stomach is about 100m behind me, my eyes are closed and I’m inwardly  screaming, ‘Please can I get off!’ But I can’t. I have to ride to the end with all the ups and downs.

Have you noticed – life can often feel like a rollercoaster? There’s a book in the Bible called Ecclesiastes. In it we read that there is ‘a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.’ It’s a reminder that life is not all plain sailing. As we travel from beginning to end there will be hard days and easier days; there will be times of joy and times of sadness. We won’t always like it.

As I write this article, we find ourselves in one of those harder times. The country is in lockdown, an unseen enemy prowls about outside and all of our lives have been affected. Where do you turn in times like these?

Over the last few weeks I’ve been encouraged with some of the statements the Bible makes about God. It tells us that God is a refuge. A safe place in the storms of life. It tells us that God is a rock. A firm place to stand as the winds batter. It tells us that God is an ever-present help. No matter where we are, God is close and able to help. These pictures have been a comfort to me, and I put them here, hoping they may be a comfort to you too.

If you want to know more about God and life with him, why not visit our YouTube channel. During these weeks where we are unable to meet we will be putting our services on this channel for people to watch. You are welcome to join us on a Sunday or whatever day works for you. I hope you all keep safe and well, and that you will be comforted by God in times of trouble.