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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.

Planned in advance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A blind man sees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lost for words

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Why the bath?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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