Following Jesus can feel like a White Water Raft Ride

In this past year, things have changed massively in our lives and the lives of the churches we are a part of. Now that we have the opportunity, do we want to go back to how things were or are we willing to continue in any of the areas that we have learnt about? Will we follow and obey God even when things seem overwhelming and we want to turn back?

This video is a part of a series of short videos we produced for the Eastern Baptist Association week of prayer. At 3 minutes of less, they are designed to provoke thought and to inspire us to seek God for his leading.

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Where is your Focus?

These two photo’s were taken by the same camera, from the same angle of the same view but they are very different because of their focus.

Where is your focus?

In the picture on the left, everything is blurred in the background because the focus is on the mug and I wonder if this illustrates what fixing our eyes on Jesus means? That we are so focused on Him that the things of this world grow strangely dim? Perhaps, a better analogy would be that Jesus should be the filter through which we see the world, that as we focus on him then we can learn to more consistently see the world through his eye and then we can respond accordingly.

The image on the right illustrates what often happens, that we can be so focused on and overwhelmed by what is happening around us that we lose sight of Jesus. In these moments, we need to spend time refocusing on Jesus, calling him out of the corner and back into the centre of our vision.

Are we being Led by our Lord?

Over the past few years I have heard a number of people in different contexts use the phrase ‘it’s time to give Jesus his church back’. If you think that this phrase seems overly harsh because you have a deep desire that Jesus should be Lord of his Church in every way then I would encourage you to consider what your church report would look like if the Angel Gabriel turned up for an Ofsted Godsted inspection? I don’t think there would be many churches that wouldn’t have the recommendation that they need to fix their eyes on Jesus more consistently and I think that this is something that we should aspire to do more.

We are here to make disciples

At the start of the first lockdown we held a series of meetings in the Eastern Baptist Association on Zoom which asked what might God be saying to us. What we discerned together was that discipleship is about relationships more than it is about programmes and that God is continuing to call us to make disciples as part of our everyday living and by connecting with people beyond the church in new ways.

All of this will require us to focus on God as we listen to and rely on Him! As we emerge from lockdown into the new normal, my hope is that we will prioritise fulfilling and applying these principles that we have discerned together.

If you want to hear me talk about our focus and these pictures then you can watch this short clip:

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The Emotional Turmoil of Holy Week

Man person crying tears

Have you ever stopped to think of the emotional turmoil that Jesus went through in the week leading up to his death and resurrection? His anguish in Gethsemane gives us a glimpse into the level of emotions that were churning inside him and whilst people often explain this as being about the cross, we need to also realize that there were many things that happened that week that caused the son of God deep pain.

We all know about the fickleness of the crowd who shouted HOSANNA (save us) one day and CRUCIFY HIM a few days later but have you ever considered that both of these shouts were linked to the salvation of the world? Whilst Jesus knew that the cries of crucify were essential to God’s plan, this wouldn’t have made the words less painful as some of the people who he had come to save at such a high cost called for his execution!

At Easter, we often focus on the beginning and end of the events of Holy Week, we know about Palm Sunday and then Maundy Thursday onwards but what about the days in between? The gospel writers record several examples of the Pharisees and the Sadducees asking questions that were designed to trip Jesus up. Can you imagine Jesus’ frustration? That some of the people who he had come to save were behaving like spoilt children who didn’t want to share their toys. They were trying to hold on to their power by discrediting Jesus at the time when the son of God was continuing his incarnational trajectory of making  himself vulnerable and completing his mission through sacrifice rather than by power.

As Jesus was responding to these trick questions, he must have been aware of Judas drifting away. Judas who had longed for Jesus to start a revolution to remove the Romans spent those days drifting deeper into despair and disappointment with Jesus to the point where he began his shocking act of betrayal. Jesus had invested so much in him and his other disciples and we can’t imagine the depths of his disappointment that he felt during the betrayal and also during Peter’s denial.

During those days, Jesus tied to offer hope, he spoke of the end of time and of the offer of salvation. He tried to prepare the disciples for his death by sharing bread and wine with them but as he poured out his heart to them at that passover meal, the disciples responded by arguing amongst themselves about which of them was the greatest.

As Jesus prayed in anguish in Gethsemane, in his hour of need, his disciples fell asleep. At the very time that he needed them, Jesus was left feeling abandoned, isolated and alone! As he hung on the cross, this sense of aloneness culminated in his cry of ‘My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?’ If we take scripture seriously we know that nothing can separate us from God’s love and that God will never leave or forsake us. I personally don’t believe that Jesus was separated from God as he died (even though I have heard it preached, it doesn’t fit with my understanding of scripture) and I certainly don’t believe that God had forsaken his son. For me, Jesus’ cry reveals the depths of emotion and pain he felt like he was drowning in as he hung on he cross.

When you think about all of this emotional turmoil, it is astonishing that Jesus still chose the cross! All of these situations that he faced could of dragged him back and diverted him from his sacrifice but instead he went to the cross because of ‘the joy set before him’.

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12.1b-3)

The joy of saving humanity helped Jesus to overcome and to see beyond the irritation and pain that people were causing him in those days leading up to his death.

This past year has been full of emotional turmoil for many of us and in the midst this, I hope we have found and will go on finding moments of pause to consider what the joy that is set before us is. What is the hope in our future? How are the sacrifices we are making going to bring hope and help to others?

Jesus chose to die so that we could live forever, he chose to give his life so that enemies of God could become his friends.

In our emotional turmoil and in the difficulties we face, may we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus so that we will not grow weary and lose heart.

If you would like to reflect more on the events of Holy week then I would suggest reading through the end of each of the gospels from Palm Sunday onward. You might also find these daily reflections I have written about the events of Holy Week helpful.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 

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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.


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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.”

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

The ‘George Floyd: our responses’ page on the Baptists Together website  has lots of material

If you want to learn more about the experiences of black people in church life then I would suggest you watch ‘Dear White Church’


Photo credit Vince Fleming on Unsplash

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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.

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