Is Lent primarily about giving things up or giving more time to God? (Lent short reflection 1)

Lent is most commonly associated with giving things up but if that is all that it means to us then we may be missing the point.

This is the first in a series of short videos which can be used by churches and individuals during Lent. Each video will ask a question which relates to the Biblical accounts of Jesus in the wilderness.

Churches are welcome to download and use the video in their own services, each one will be less than three minutes long so they can easily be used in services alongside any theme they are exploring for Lent. You do not need to ask permission to do use or share the video but it is always encouraging to hear how the content we are producing is being used. You can also use share the video link with individuals or for small groups to use as a discussion starter.

Posted in creative communication, Faith, video I have taken | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Are we Learning to Look to our Lord in Lockdown?

Philippians 4.8 Bible verse  with a background image of a person looking into the sunrise

So, let’s be honest, many of us are struggling! 2021 began with such hope, Covid vaccines were becoming available and the end to the pandemic appeared to be just around the corner and yet we find ourselves in lockdown again.

I was recently reading Philippians 4 and I was struck by how positive the chapter is, as Paul talks about rejoicing, peace and gentleness. As I read, I began to try to imagine how happy Paul’s life must have been to be able to write these things but then I remembered that Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians from prison.

Astonishingly, his lockdown experience didn’t leave him feeling defeated or deflated!

  • What can we learn from Paul and his focus and attitude in lockdown?
  • What does God have to say to us when times are hard and what does the presence of God mean when we feel isolated?
  • What is our focus in life and who or what are we looking to for stability and fulfillment in life?

I have recorded some thoughts about this and I hope you find them helpful, thought provoking and challenging. I would suggest that you read Philippians 4 v1-13 before watching to the video.

Posted in contentment, Faith, Life experiences, Life in all it's fullness, Listening to God, peace, Relationship with God, video I have taken | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What is it like to live as a black person in the UK?

If we want to take a stand against racism then we need to educate ourselves so we can have a better understanding. I am grateful to Keegan and his sister Dianah fo speaking about their experiences as black people living in Cambridge.

Posted in Faith, justice | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Being Shaped by God: Some thoughts and questions to help explore Acts 6

We are living in a world where everything feels like it is constantly changing. In Acts 6, the early church faced up to some major issues and as they did so, God continued to shape them. Are we open to God shaping us, even when it is painful along the way?

I was asked to write this article to help a church explore the passage and having written it it felt worth sharing more widely. I hope that you will find these thoughts and questions helpful.

Reading Acts 6 

The Problem

The Hellenistic Jews (those who spoke Greek and who thought and behaved like Greeks) complained that their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food by the Hebraic Jews (those who spoke Aramaic and who were immersed in the Hebrew culture). Whether this problem is an example of overt racism, where those distributing deliberately withheld food from a group, or whether it is an example of covert racism, where the withholding of food was to do with an unconscious bias within those distributing, is unclear. Jews and Greeks had always existed as opposites, but these first Christians were going to have to learn and accept that ‘There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3.28).

What prejudices do we have and how do they affect the views that we have of those around us?

Time to bury your head in the sand or to grasp the nettle?

Churches are places which usually prefer to avoid conflict. In my experience, Christians often prefer to bury their heads in the sand rather than to grasp the nettle of a problem so that it can be dealt with even, though this would be painful along the way. Thankfully, the Apostles were willing to grasp the nettle which they did by gathering the disciples together and naming the issue. It is especially significant that there is no discussion about whether what was happening was right or wrong but rather they jumped to putting the injustice right. It is reassuring to be reminded that neither overt nor covert racism should have any place in the church!

Would we rather hide from conflict or face it in order to move forwards? How can we ensure that the church that we are a part of is a place where there is a willingness to talk about difficult issues and to seek God’s leading in moving through and being transformed by him in the process?

The solution: Correcting the injustice

It’s especially significant that each of the seven who were chosen had Greek names. The body of believers who consisted of both Hebraic and Hellenistic Jews chose seven who are Hellenistic rather than a combination of people from both cultures. In this wonderful moment of church unity and discernment, the Spirit guides the church to implement Galatians 3.28 before it had even been written. Until this point, the leadership of the Church consisted entirely of people from a Hebraic Jewish background and in this meeting, there is a realisation that an ethnically diverse church should have an ethnically diverse leadership. That those who had been treated unjustly should be part of the solution to correcting that injustice rather than still being excluded from the decision making.

Are there those who we have unconsciously excluded from positions of leadership based on their ethnicity, gender, or age? If so, how can we correct this?

The solution: The Body of Christ at work

The Apostles recognize that they cannot do everything and so they choose to stick with their core calling of explaining God’s word to people and to prayer whilst releasing others to serve the church by distributing the food. It’s worth noting that neither of these roles are seen as more or less important and in fact the church was only to consider people who were ‘full of the spirit and wisdom’ to distribute food. This is an early example of the different parts of the Body of Christ at work and a reminder that service in the body doesn’t always involve what happens in and around Sunday services. It’s also a reminder that the church should reject the consumerist culture that suggests that we pay a Minister to do everything, and that we come to church so that they can serve us like a paid employee. The passage is a reminder that we are all ministers but that the ministries that God calls us to will involve us serving in different ways.

What is my part in the Body of Christ?

Sometimes we need others to encourage us so that can see more clearly what our gifts and calling is. Is there someone in the church who you could encourage by telling them how they are a blessing through the way they use their gifts and talents to serve God?

The result: Growth

As an injustice is put right and more people are released into service rather than the same few running around doing everything, the church continued to grow (v7).

Are there things that are stopping the church from growing? How can we remove these barriers?

God at work

Stephen, who was one of the seven chosen to distribute the food, ‘performed great wonders and signs among the people’ (v8). We see the Holy Spirit at work in and through him to the point where his face was like the face of an angel (v15).

Are we open to God’s Holy Spirit working in and through us or do we believe that He only works through others?

God is the Potter

The Bible says that God is the potter and we are the clay but it feels to me like sometimes that Christians behave like they are the potter and that church life and even what Christianity is can be shaped by us. In response to this sort of attitude, God says to his people ‘You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, “You did not make me”? Can the pot say to the potter, “You know nothing”? (Isaiah 29.16)

In Acts 6 we see God the Potter at work, shaping his church and the lives of his people. They act willingly and submissively like clay that is willing to be shaped by the master. How about us?

Are we willing to surrender completely by placing ourselves in God’s hands to be shaped knowing that the result will be of his choosing rather than ours?

Image by LuAnn Hunt from Pixabay 

Posted in Bible, change, Faith | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Monument that was always there: A Parable about God being with us.

I find that God speaks to and guides me through things that happen in everyday life. In this short video I tell the story of how God reminded me that he is with us always through a Monument that was always there.

Thanks to my wife Tracey for recreating the journey with me. I hope you find the video helpful.

I’m sorry that the zoom shot isn’t perfect but to be fair I was zooming into something a few miles away which is pretty difficult with a fairly standard camera.

 

Posted in creative communication, Faith, God is with us, Parable, video I have taken | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Black Lives Matter: How can we be a part of the change that is needed?

The Baptists Together General Secretary Lynn Green has made this helpful and challenging statement that I wholeheartedly agree with.
“The inhumane and merciless brutality demonstrated towards George Floyd last week was an appalling act of injustice and reveals yet again the ugly reality of deeply ingrained institutional racism in the USA.  The authentic response of a people who follow a God who delights in justice and righteousness is to stand together in solidarity and protest in the face of such insidious evil.  The death of George Floyd must also drive us to some serious heart-searching of our own. The spotlight is not simply shining on ‘them over there’ but also on us here in our own context.  Baptists Together hold a common value; that we are a Movement which shares a hunger for God’s coming Kingdom and seeks to confront evil, injustice and hypocrisy and challenges worldly attitudes to power, wealth, status and security both within and beyond our Union.  Right now, God is presenting us with the opportunity to grow more deeply into this value and, in doing so, to unleash a prophetic call and presence in our communities and nations.” https://www.baptist.org.uk/Publisher/Article.aspx?ID=579501

As I have been considering my response to the changes that we need to be a part of, I have been reflecting on Mark 5.21-43. In the passage, we read about Jairus who asked Jesus to come and heal his dying daughter and then a woman who touched the edge of Jesus’ robe so she could be healed and the way that Jesus stops to speak with her.

Jairus was in a privileged position as a community leader. The crowd parted to allow him to get to Jesus and he would have had every expectation that Jesus would serve him, after all isn’t that what happens when important people ask for things? The religious leaders were the group who were the most critical of Jesus and so it must have been hard for Jairus to ask Jesus for help. Asking for help is also hard for people who are privileged because we instinctively feel we should be able to cope because we have so much.

The woman, whose name we aren’t even given, had suffered with constant bleeding for 12 years and she had spent everything she had trying to find a cure. She was an outcast, someone who would have been considered unclean and unworthy by those around her in that society. This woman wasn’t privileged enough to have the crowd part for her, rather she had to force and fight to get to Jesus who was so easy for the privileged Jairus to access.

People in the crowd wouldn’t have seen this woman as someone who mattered greatly. She had no money and so she must have received charity from some but while she was deemed worthy of a handout, she doesn’t appear to have been valued in any deep way by those around her. I can’t imagine how painful it must have been for her to clamber through the crowd, watching people recoil from her as they realized who it was that was touching them.

I can imagine a little more about how Jairus might have felt as he looked on. He was desperate to get Jesus to his daughter as quickly as possible and for him to watch while Jesus stopped for a conversation must have been agonizing.

Jesus knew that the woman had been healed and he could have moved on and left it at that, but he made a point of stopping and talking with her instead. Jesus wanted her to know that she mattered to him and I think that this is something that Jesus still wants all people who have been oppressed and mistreated people to know.

It seems clear to me that if Jesus was on the Earth today that he would have been shouting Black Lives Matter along with so many other people.

Watching the video footage that captured the moments leading up to George Floyd’s death is shocking and it is no wonder that this horrendous act of violence has resulted in the outpouring of anger that we are seeing. Some people are wondering why there has been violence in some of the protests but if I’m honest I’m astonished there has been so little. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not condoning violence, I’m just acknowledging that I understand why people are so angry.

For those of us who relate more to Jairus than the woman in the passage, I would like to make these suggestions about how we can respond.

  1. Conversation: Jesus makes time to speak with the woman.

The first thing that we should do if we have not done so already is to listen. In the past few weeks, I have made the time to speak with some of my black friends and have listened to their stories in a way that I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t done before. I grew up in multicultural Wolverhampton and I have many friends from different ethnic backgrounds, but I have been shocked at some of the stories I am hearing from people at what has confronted them in everyday life. I was also struck by something that Will Smith said in an interview, “Racism is not getting worse, it’s getting filmed”. This public evidence of racism may be one of the factors that is encouraging people to speak up about their experiences which largely aren’t seen.

  1. Care: Jesus wanted the woman to know that she mattered

When someone says that ‘Black Lives Matter’, we need to realise that saying ‘All Lives Matter’ is an offensive response. When we talk with someone in pain, the most appropriate thing that you can do is to show care and love for their pain, not to point out that other people are in pain as well.

  1. Be willing to act in a way that won’t be popular with the privileged and the crowd around you: Jesus makes time to treat the woman with respect.

Would you have stopped to speak with the woman as Jesus did or would we be just focused on the dignitary who had asked for help? Are we willing to lay aside the demands of others (however worthy they may be?) in order to acknowledge, to care for and to speak up for the oppressed?

  1. Take Action: The life of this woman was transformed in her meeting with Jesus

In conversation with others (remember we need to listen first!), let’s consider if there are ways that we can act both by changing the way we treat people where necessary and advocating for the change that is needed. Two stories that come to my mind as I think about change that is needed in the church:

As a teenager, a visiting speaker to the church I was a part of said that although we were one of the many multicultural churches in Wolverhampton that we were the only one with a multicultural leadership. If we are part of churches with different ethnicities and that isn’t reflected in the leadership of the church or in who leads and preaches, then will we speak up and advocate for change?

I remember a South Korean by the name of Kwangsun Kim joining a church in rural Oxfordshire where I was the pastor. He insisted that we called him Sammy as his name would be too hard for us to pronounce but I insisted that we call him by his name and we even worked on pronouncing it together as a church. It felt important to me that we welcomed Kwangsun for who he was rather than expecting him to change to make things more comfortable for some in the church.

  1. Believe that all things are possible: Jesus raises Jairus’ daughter from the dead

As I look out on the scale of the problem and the injustices in society, it’s hard to believe that things can change. I know that God hates racism and injustice and I want to join him in his work so that we would see his Kingdom come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

The spotlight is not simply shining on ‘them over there’ but also on us here in our own context.  Baptists Together hold a common value; that we are a Movement which shares a hunger for God’s coming Kingdom and seeks to confront evil, injustice and hypocrisy and challenges worldly attitudes to power, wealth, status and security both within and beyond our Union.  Right now, God is presenting us with the opportunity to grow more deeply into this value and, in doing so, to unleash a prophetic call and presence in our communities and nations.”

If you want to read and consider further:

Kate Colemans blog ‘Are you M.A.D. with the world?’ is excellent and it also has links to further resources https://nextleadership.org/blog/are-you-m-a-d-with-the-world?fbclid=IwAR2MVgoecURThyx5YVx_2-pq-EuzlbMLTd-NrT8NUGnZ50JDe0rWYiDhJpE

The ‘George Floyd: our responses’ page on the Baptists Together website  has lots of material https://www.baptist.org.uk/Articles/579501/George_Floyd_our.aspx

If you want to learn more about the experiences of black people in church life then I would suggest you watch ‘Dear White Church’ https://youtu.be/8M5aBzgQljM

 

Photo credit Vince Fleming on Unsplash

Posted in Faith, justice, Life experiences | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Are we full and overflowing with the presence of God? A Pentecost Sermon

This is a talk I have put together using a variety of Bible passages, visuals and video clips that thinks about how we need to be overflowing with rather than just being full of and content with the presence of God.

You are welcome to share it or to use it in any online church services by downloading it and including it in your broadcasts. I hope and pray that it challenges you as much as I was challenged in preparing it.

Posted in creative communication, Faith, Holy Spirit, video I have taken | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

God is with us but are we with him?

People often say that ‘God is with us’ but I’ve rarely heard anyone ask whether we are with God.

Have you ever been with someone and they seem distant? Perhaps you have had someone say to you ‘you feel like you are somewhere else’ or ‘you seem miles away’. We all know that it’s possible to be right next to someone but not really with them at all becasue our or their mind is elsewhere. Is that what our relationship with God is sometimes/often/always* like? (*delete as appropriate) 

God is with us! It makes me sad at the beginning of our church services when people talk about coming into God’s presence, because I don’t think that that is possible for Christians, I believe that God is with us always. (Take a look at God is closer than you think to find out why).

Are we with God? My desire is to look to, talk with and connect with God more consistently each day. How about you?

God says:

I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people. (Leviticus 26.12)

God is with us but will we be with him?

One of the many wonderful things about God is that he is always accepting. Whether this is the first time you are trying to talk with him or whether you are trying to get back into talking with him more, go ahead he is with you and waiting.

Posted in Faith, God is with us, Relationship with God | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

The Church is like a Piece of Elastic

Someone recently said to me ‘churches are like a piece of elastic. However much you stretch them, they always ping back into place’. This made me chuckle but I hope that it isn’t necessarily true.

As we have been stretched in recent months, adjusting to life in lockdown will we just ping back to the exact way things were when we can meet again.? You can hear my thoughts on this in this four minute video.

 

 

 

Posted in change, church, creative communication, Faith, Listening to God, video I have taken | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Prayer for the UK

I wrote this just over a year ago but it still feels relevant today

Jesus, may we see your light shining even brighter in these coming days
May all those who are walking in darkness find the hope and salvation that only you can bring.
Help us, your people, to let your light shine in us and through us.
Amen

Honest about my faith

They lived in a time of despair and uncertainty, a people looking for hope and to these people, God makes a promise:

The people who walk in darknesswill see a great light.
For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine. (Isaiah 9.2)

The Jews who first heard this message through Isaiah hundreds of years ago would almost certainly have taken it to be a promise of a military leader who would come and defeat all of their enemies. Their hope was to become a secure and sovereign nation again and they longed for God to make this a reality.

We now know that these words spoke of Jesus who was the Messiah but in an unexpected way, he rescued us all, not from other nations but rather from separation from God.

Jesus came into this world and the people who…

View original post 99 more words

Posted in Faith | Leave a comment