Jesus Wept

The shortest verse in the Bible provides us a deep and profound look into the heart of God:

‘Jesus wept’

As Jesus approaches the tomb of his friend Lazarus, he broke down and cried.

When Lazarus was seriously ill Jesus had been sent for but he hadn’t responded. Jesus could have left immediately and healed Lazarus and in doing so he would have saved himself the deep pain of mourning the death of his friend.

The Bible makes it clear that Jesus knew that Lazarus would rise from the dead but this didn’t stop him feeling sorrow and pain in the meantime. The miracle was around the corner but Jesus felt the deep pain and loss as any of us would as he was surrounded by sorrow and grief.

In this famous story in John 11 we encounter Jesus who clearly knows it is all going to be okay in the end. He allows the tragedy to unfold and at the beginning of the chapter he appears indifferent. By the end of the account though we see the pain that Jesus felt and this makes it all the more astonishing that he didn’t intervene sooner.

God doesn’t always spare us the pain of life but we do know that as we endure the sorrows that life can bring that he weeps with us.

God is at work! Sometimes he rescues miraculously, sometimes he intervenes in other ways but in every circumstance he walks with us. As we cry out ‘why God’, our words don’t bounce off an indifferent God, rather our cries are received by the God who weeps with us.

God feels pain but he doesn’t run the universe in a way that causes him the least stress and anguish and he doesn’t distance himself from our suffering.

One day God will make a new heaven and a new Earth and in this new creation there will be no more death, suffering or pain. It would be easier and much less painful for God to begin this new creation now but instead he waits and is at work in the suffering and brokenness of this world. He is at work in the sorrow and sadness bringing hope, love and comfort to everyone who will receive from him.

If you are consumed by sorrow and suffering then I hope and pray that you will know the presence and comfort of Jesus who weeps with you.

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From Scattered Sheep to Sent Shepherds

It’s amazing how you can read a very familiar part of the Bible and yet see something new in it!

Recently I was reading about the time when Peter said that he would never deny Jesus (Matthew 26):

31 Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written:

“‘I will strike the shepherd,
    and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’

32 But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”

33 Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”

34 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”

35 But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.

What struck me was the quote from Zechariah 13.7 which talks about the sheep being scattered when the shepherd is removed.

Peter couldn’t imagine a scenario in which he would deny Jesus but I think that he also couldn’t imagine a scenario without Jesus being with him. (Although Jesus talked openly about his death, the disciples don’t appear to have understood or to have taken this on board).

Peter did deny Jesus and no doubt he felt terrible about this and so it is wonderful when he meets with the risen Jesus and is restored (John 21).

Jesus says to Peter ‘Do you love me?’ and when Peter responds positively Jesus commissions him to take care of and to feed his sheep.

Jesus takes Peter, the ‘Scattered Sheep’ and commissions him as a ‘Sent Shepherd’.

It’s reassuring to know that Jesus doesn’t respond to our failure with rejection, but instead he sees our failures as growth and learning opportunities.

Jesus’ question to Peter isn’t about professionalism, level of commitment or even holiness. It is about love! If we love Jesus and we allow his love tom transform the way we are living then how much we succeed or fail doesn’t matter.

Peter was far from perfect. In Acts 10 he says ‘NO’ to God but even in that moment he was open to change and he learnt from his conversation and encounter with God. By the end of that chapter his attitude is different as he surrenders to God afresh.

Some of you reading this might feel like ‘Scattered Sheep’ but you need to know that God doesn’t write us off to be afraid, alone and lost forever. God longs to restore, strengthen and to build us up. If we love him then he will help us to become ‘Sent Shepherds’.

God is looking for our love, not our perfection but if we do love and walk with him then he will help us to grow and to become more like him.

Jesus quoted from Zechariah 13 and the start of that chapter speaks of the Messiah, what he would accomplish and the resistance he would face.

‘On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity’ (v1)

Jesus, our Messiah, died to offer cleansing from sin and impurity. We don’t need to be perfect to know him because his sacrifice cleanses us.

We don’t have to be good enough to know Jesus but we are called to love him.

Zechariah 13 finishes with these words about God’s faithful people who he would

put into the fire;
    I will refine them like silver
    and test them like gold.
They will call on my name
    and I will answer them;
I will say, ‘They are my people,’
    and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.’”

This was certainly Peter’s experience and it will be ours if we continue to love, look to and to call on God. At the end of the  struggles and difficulties we will be left with ‘They are my people’ and ‘The Lord is our God’.

If I owned sheep, I wouldn’t promote one of them to become the shepherd but this is what Jesus does and is doing!

God, I pray that as we love, look to and call on you more that you would transform and change us. Help us to be secure enough in your love and acceptance to accept that we will fail and that when we do to have the confidence that you will lovingly restore us. Thank you that you will never leave us or forsake us. Amen

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It’s Your Superpower too!

He spoke to me in a moment that I wasn’t feeling my best.

I had a lot on my mind and I was feeling weighed down but he didn’t know that.

He said

‘I’m glad you are going to be our regional minister. You are so creative and I appreciate your creativity’.

He was just being honest and the kindness of his words would have been appreciated on any day but on that day his words changed how  I was feeling dramatically and made a huge difference.

You have a superpower!

Yes, you. You really do have a superpower and it’s called encouragement!

Encouragement is so simple, it costs us nothing and yet it can make such a HUGE difference.

I got home yesterday evening after a long and heavy day. Everything had gone well but I was absolutely exhausted. I needed to send a quick email before I switched off and as I started to type an email popped in that said

Thank you for your MOST helpful focus on dreams  (you can read about that here) which affected much of my thinking and praying over the summer holiday.

I now have dreams for the coming term!

Every blessing as you think and pray about your dreams as you begin regional ministry.

It only takes a few seconds to say a kind word, to send an email, to write a card or even to give someone a chocolate gorilla.

Who can we encourage today?

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In the Hands of God

I love this sculpture of giant hands outside of Woodbridge Quay Church. When I was in the area recently I took this photo of my daughter curled up as a reminder that she is safe on God’s hands. I want her to have and treasure this picture as a reminder that God is with her always and that he is holding her.

Yesterday morning at church we were about to pray for children, young people and teachers and other staff members starting a new school term. I remembered the picture and showed it to everyone (thank goodness for the Dropbox connection between my phone and the church computer). This was supposed to be a simple encouragement to people starting a new term but it turned out that the picture spoke to someone else. Someone shared that when they saw the picture that they cried and then they knew what to do.

It is worth reading the story of the hands and how they represent so much more than what I have described here. The words I HOLD AND AM HELD are written on the hands and these words ‘bear witness to the act of putting our trust in God. In faith we hold onto Him – He is our Strength and our ever-present Help. Our Hope is in Him and He holds us securely and lovingly as our Father God.’

What a wonderful reminder.

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The Walk that Began 16 Years Ago

Earlier this month, my wife Tracey and I walked the West Highland Way which is a 96 mile trail in Scotland that runs from Milngavie to Fort William.

In a sense this journey began In 2002 when we drove along a part of the route and we were left in awe and wonder by the majestic scenery and views so much so that at the end of the drive we decided that we wanted to walk through this amazing countryside. On our return home we bought a map which suggested breaking the walk into 8 stages and we did some research into the places we would have to stay, we got very excited but then we realized that the journey would be much too long with our two sons who were both under 5 at the time.

Over the years our talk about walking the Way lessened and with our two daughters arriving the journey was still impractical and so over time our precious dream was lost.

During the second part of 2017, Tracey and I started walking each Friday as a way of finding some space together in our over busy lives and as we got up to the distances required to complete each stage of the Way our dream began to re emerge. We started to dare to believe that it was something we could actually accomplish and we worked out that with the help of some lovely relatives and a Scripture Union camp that we could be child free for the time we would need to travel to Scotland and walk the Way. In January, the dream came alive! We booked accommodation for each night of the walk and we stepped up our walks and also began increasing the weight in our backpacks.

As our walk start date drew nearer we got more and more excited but with the heat wave our training walks got shorter and shorter and a combination of factors meant that some weeks we didn’t walk at all in July and early August.

On day 1 of our walk we were due to be walking 14 miles and somehow we ended up walking 16. Around the 8 mile mark I was exhausted and so we stopped for a rest and I stumbled through the rest of the day but that evening I could hardly walk. I have to be honest and say that I thought my walk was over but in the morning I felt not too bad and so on day 2 we walked the few miles towards Conic Hill (see picture below) before heading up and over it (just over 350m high).

At the top of the hill I was so encouraged but by the end of this day and the next day I was limping into our accommodation (on day 3 I didn’t arrive until 9.45pm).

I started to work out if I could use public transport to skip a bit of the route on some days but then each morning I felt okay and so off we went.

No one was more surprised than me when we reached the finishing point and I had somehow managed to walk all of the way.

In 2002 we had a dream and that dream was lost for many years. I wonder if this is a parable or picture of our personal or church life?

We have this great dream of the Kingdom of God which is a reality in which people’s lives are transformed, where people recognize that God is king and where we clearly see God at work.

Perhaps in some of our churches the dream of the Kingdom has been replaced by the reality of what we can see around us. Instead of talking about God and what he is doing, our discussions become dominated with phrases like ‘we are very small’, ‘it will never work’, ‘we don’t have the resources’ etc.

As we walked our walk and lived our dream, I really struggled and at several points I nearly gave up and I wonder if this is a parable or picture of our personal or church life?

Perhaps you have leapt out in faith and you’ve ended in a place where you don’t have the resources to finish what has been started. This is the point where we can either trust in God or panic, where we can persevere in our walk with God or go off looking for quick fixes to try to make things safe and sensible.

The wonderful thing about living the dream of the Kingdom of God is that it is all about Jesus! We think that to be successful in Kingdom terms that we need vast resources and lots of people but in contrast, Jesus started with 12 and when he sent them out he told the to take nothing with them for the journey. We think we need to be powerful but in contrast Jesus taught that we need to become like little children. The dream of the Kingdom involves a complete reliance on Jesus rather than us trying to stretch what we have to be enough.

What dream has God given you? If you aren’t sure, then consider how can you create space to receive God’s inspiration and leading?

If you are believing for that dream to become a reality, are you willing to rely on Jesus or are you trying to build His Kingdom in your own strength?

As we walk the Way with Jesus, it’s encouraging that he is with us always. Let’s look to him allowing him to lead, strengthen and inspire us as we travel with Him through life.

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When God Surprises You

One Sunday morning we were praying and someone shared ‘I think there is someone here who needs to talk with someone who understands’.

Following the service someone got talking to the person next to them about a situation that was troubling them. They knew of someone with a child and the relationship was a real struggle. As they talked to about the issues and what was happening that person was able to share that when they were younger that they were the same as the child. They had lived with the same issues and God had brought them to church that morning for the first time and when they arrived they happened to sit next to someone who needed to hear what they had to say.

What an amazing story of the goodness of God

The person who shared what they believed that God was saying was encouraged.

The person who had arrived at church that morning burdened and confused had been given a fresh perspective by someone who understands.

Someone who was new to our church community was able to be a blessing just by being honest about their experiences.

Watching God at work is an amazing thing? Has God encouraged you in any way? If so, I hope you tell somebody.

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Sharing Some News With You

I wanted to let you all know that I have been called to become a Regional Minister in the Eastern Baptist Association. Sadly this means that I will be leaving Orchard Baptist Church in October in order to respond to this new calling.

I have been and still am so incredibly happy at Orchard; the church is in a good place, it is healthy and growing and the rest of the church are an incredible blessing to me. My ministry as a part of the Orchard family has been a real joy and a privilege.

In the light of this, it has taken various colleagues to encourage me to apply for the Regional role (one of them did this very persistently). As I have listened to and thought about their encouragements I began to reflect on who I am, my life experience and what God is calling me to at this time. I began to realize how much time that I was already spending helping other Ministers and Churches and as I prayed about this it felt like this is something which I should be doing more. There was no bellowing voice from heaven, no angel fanfare but there was a growing realization that I was being called by God.

A few weeks ago I had the surreal experience of being interviewed for the Regional Minister role. I was able to say with certainty that I felt called but also that I hoped that they didn’t appoint me because I am very happy as the Minister at Orchard. It was an all day interview with several sections and normally I expect that it would have been quite stressful but instead I actually found it enjoyable. Instead of trying to impress the interviewing panel to try to get the job, I was just able to be myself. Talking honestly about my experiences and what I think is important in church life was a pleasure and a joy rather than something I needed to present in a certain way to get the right result.

As I went through the various interviews that day it became even more obvious to me that who I am and where I am in life is the right fit for what the EBA needs in a Regional Minister at this time. It turned out that the interviewing panel agreed.

Tracey and I  have spent the last few weeks sitting on this news which has been quite difficult. Yesterday my appointment was shared with and confirmed by the Eastern Association Gathering and it was great to be prayed for as a part of this. This morning we finally shared about our news with the Orchard Church family which was very difficult for them to hear. We had already told the leadership team of the church and so they were able to prayerfully stand with us which has been real blessing to us and also to the rest of the church today. You can listen to what was said by myself and the leadership team through this link.

From October I will be joining Beth and Nick (the other two Regional Ministers in the EBA) in working with the churches across the region on this map. This will be especially across the central section from the coast across to Cambridge and just beyond.

I am excited by what God has for the EBA and I am grateful for his provision for our family in helping us to remain in the Colchester area. Your prayers are appreciated for us as a Regional Team as we follow God in faith, trusting in Him each step of the way as he leads us forward as an association.

You can find out more about the EBA at www.easternbaptist.org.uk

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She Came Last but the Crowd Cheered Loudly

It was sports day again this week and it reminded me of this amazing race that happened last year.

Who are we cheering on in life?

We have the power to do such good, simply through encouragement. So what is stopping us?

Honest about my faith

I had never been to a school sports day like it.

The largest cheer of the day was for someone who came last in what was the slowest time of the day by a very long way.

My daughter attends a school for children with learning difficulties and recently it was their sports day. It was a real joy to watch these young people taking part and it was refreshing to hear how much someone had improved being celebrated alongside who was winning the various races.

The highlight of the day came during the 200m when one of the runners sat down on the track with around 100m to go. A member of staff made their way over to the runner and helped her up and they both began walking towards the finishing line.

The girl involved was clearly distraught and she looked down at the ground as she trudged along…

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She Looks Young and Old at the Same Time

My wife and I were walking our dog recently when a passer-by stopped to say hello (it’s amazing how easy it is to meet new people when you are walking a dog).

He asked how old our dog was and when Tracey said she was only two he said that he was asking because he couldn’t guess her age because;

‘She looks young and old at the same time’.

As we walked along I began to ponder these words and it occurred to me that they are a good description of a healthy church.

Old enough to have experience, wisdom and maturity in faith but young enough to have enthusiasm, childlike faith and an openness to risk taking.

Do churches gravitate towards being respectable and places that are safe? Do we want to think about or try to apply the teaching of Jesus about ‘becoming like little children’ as we follow him?

Perhaps it is the opposite and the church you are a part of has no rules or structure and anything goes? Churches can also gravitate towards immaturity as being a stage of life to stay in when the Bible encourages us to grow in faith.

As I pondered some more it occurred to me that the words were also a description of healthy faith.

Old enough to have experienced God at work and to have learnt along the way but young enough to be curious and to realize that there is always more growing to do.

Some Christians seem to project a sense of them having arrived or that they have grown well enough in their faith. It’ s also easy when we have been Christians a long time to settle for where we are and to try to live a comfortable life of faith that doesn’t mean and great change is required.

It can be the opposite though with some people clinging to immaturity of faith as an excuse not to pursue growth in faith or holiness. For others faith is only about feelings and there is a resistance to learn who God is and what he wants because we just want him to make us feel good.

Where are you? Where is the church you are a part of? Are you young or old or hopefully both?

My prayer for the church and for your faith is that you would be really young and old at the same time.

To Ponder:

  1. Would you describe your faith as being young or old?
    If it is at one extreme or the other, what can you do to restore the balance?
  2. Would you describe your church as being young or old in faith?
    If it is at one extreme or the other, what could you do together to restore the balance?
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Surrounded by God’s Love

When I think of being surrounded it feels like it has a negative connotation. The police officer might shout ‘we have you surrounded’ to the criminals in a building. Soldiers might shout to their enemies ‘we have you surrounded’ as they try to encourage them to leave their hiding place.

Being surrounded though can also be positive. If I was in space, I would be glad to be surrounded by a spacesuit so I could breathe or in a hailstorm I would be glad to be surrounded by some shelter. Someone who is upset is glad to be surrounded by a hug as they revive comfort and someone feeling vulnerable feels safe when surrounded by bodyguards.

Psalm 33 v22 speaks of being surrounded by God’s love:

‘Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord, for our hope is in you alone’.

God’s love can give us security and being surrounded by it and God’s presence will help us to feel safe if we trust in and put our hope in him.

Pause and think about what it means to be surrounded by God’s love.

Will we put our hope in Him or are we looking for our security in other places?

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