Blog

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.

Who are you looking for?

I remember my first time flying on a plane. My parents were taking my sister and I on holiday to central Europe and I’d convinced myself we’d be travelling by train and boat. When we got to the airport I was just confused. It wasn’t what I’d expected. It took me a while to figure out why we had to check in our bags, and why there was no train.

Unexpected events can be hard to process. That was the experience of the followers of Jesus on the first Easter Sunday morning. One of them, Mary Magdalene, set out early with a group of women to go to Jesus’ tomb. When she got there, she saw that the stone which had covered the entrance had been rolled away and the tomb was empty. Jesus’ body had disappeared.

Although Jesus had told his followers several times that he would die and then rise from the dead, it wasn’t what she expected that morning. The empty tomb should have been a cause for excitement; instead, it was a place of sadness. Later, Mary stood outside the tomb, crying by herself. We can understand her pain and grief.

Turning around she saw a man. It was Jesus, but Mary didn’t recognise him. She thought he was the gardener. He asked her two questions. First, ‘Why are you crying? Then, ‘Who are you looking for?’ She pleaded with the man to show her where she could find Jesus’ body so that she could carry it back to the tomb and lay it to rest.

It wasn’t until Jesus spoke again that Mary saw things clearly. The Bible tells us he called out her name, ‘Mary’ and at that point she realised who he was. Her sadness turned to joy, and she went back to tell the others.

As I write this, I’m struck by the questions that Jesus asked Mary outside the tomb. The first is a compassionate rebuke. Why was Mary crying? Jesus had told her he would rise from the dead so why was she so sad. Yet, there is no harshness in Jesus’ tone. His words are gentle and kind.

The second is a probing question. Who was Mary looking for? In her mind she was looking for someone who used to be alive, not someone who was alive. She was looking for someone who she had known, not someone she could still know. Yet, Jesus wasn’t just someone from the past, he was alive and stood in front of her.

I wonder, how do you think about Jesus today? Very few would deny that he existed, and his teachings have been respected by many people from different religions. Is Jesus only a figure from the past? The Bible makes an incredible claim that we celebrate at Easter time. It says that Jesus rose from the dead. If that’s true he is someone we can come to know today, not just as a man who lived a long time ago, but as God’s Son who is alive now.

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.

 

You don’t still believe that?

How did the world get here? Where do we come from? These are some of the basic questions of life. I remember learning two very different answers to those questions at school.

In my science classes I was told that the universe originated with a big explosion and over a long period of time stars and planets formed. Then, at some point, life began on earth as a very simple organism. Through countless mutations over millions of years, it evolved into the varied life forms we see today.

Yet, when I went into my RE lessons, our teacher explained to us that the Bible teaches that God made all things in a short span of time.

As I listened, I found myself left with a choice. Who did I believe? Did I believe my science teachers, or did I go with my RE teacher?

In one sense, the logical conclusion would have been to side with my science teachers. Of the two they seemed more level-headed and their position more thought-through. Yet, that’s not where I ended up. Why not?

The first reason is the Bible itself. The Bible claims to be different from every other book. It tells us that its words are God’s words. If this is true then the accounts of creation in the Bible aren’t early man’s efforts to explain our existence, but rather God’s of how we came about.

Next, the limitations of science. As I think of the different theories of origins, I’ve come to realise that it is impossible to prove any of them scientifically. We can come up with different explanations about our origins and some may seem more plausible than others. Yet, we cannot be 100% sure unless we can go back and see it for ourselves. Here’s where the Bible stands apart. It claims to be the words of God who was there when the world was made.

Third, it makes sense. When I look at the world around me, I don’t see a world that could have come about by random chance and accident. Instead, it speaks of design. To me there must be an intelligence behind the complexity and beauty of the world in which we live.

Then, lastly, the hope it brings. If God created the world there is a reason why we are here. There is a basis to ask questions of purpose and value. If I am just a result of the chance forces of nature then I am left stranded and wandering in the big questions of life.

Whenever I tell people that I believe God created the world I do get some funny looks. Often people will respond by saying, ‘you don’t still believe that do you?’ I understand the response. I realise that I’m definitely in a minority. Yet, I do genuinely think it is the most credible answer.

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.

Thinking Climate Change

On November 22nd 2018 the US was experiencing a major cold snap. Donald Trump signed off one of his many tweets with the sarcastic retort, ‘whatever happened to Global Warming?’

Just eleven months later, in over 60 cities around the world, thousands of people from all walks of life gathered in protest seeking to raise the profile of the issues of climate change and campaign for action.

Whether you are a believer or a doubter, there can be no denying that climate change is one of the live issues of our day. Today many are raising concerns of the future and issuing a call to change how we live and function. They are urging us to act in ways that lessen our impact on the planet and preserve it for the generations to come.

Over the last few months I’ve been thinking through how I should respond to this as a Christian. As I’ve looked at the Bible, I’ve found the following four principles that have been helpful.

The Bible teaches that the world does not belong to us. It was made by God and we were put here to look after it. We are not free to treat the world as we want, but to manage it well. For me, that means I shouldn’t be uncaring about the state of the world.

Central in the Bible is the command to love; love God and love others. To love someone is to desire and work for their good. It seems to me that the biggest barrier to positive change is the cost that it will bring, whether economic or to our lifestyle. If my focus is on the good of others, then I should be willing to pay that cost.

What’s the problem with the world? The Bible tells me that the answer to that question is always human sin – our disobedience to God. Now, I accept that’s not the most popular of the Bible’s teachings. It’s not nice to be told that we are the problem in the world. Yet, if it’s true, fixing climate change fixes a symptom, not the problem itself.

Lastly, the Bible teaches that this world will not last forever. We’re told about the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus and it ends with a promise that Jesus will return one day. On that day the world, as we know it, will end. If it’s true, think of the implications. The state of our planet is definitely important, but should it be our first priority. As Jesus said, ‘what good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?’

As a Christian, these principles help me to respond in what I think is a balanced and helpful way. Do you agree or disagree?

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.

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.