As we pass Michaelmas on September 29th it’s time once again to celebrate Harvest Festivals and to begin our “Michaelmas Meals” at Blythe Bridge Chapel. I’m told that, despite the August rains this year, the farmers had a good growing season. The fields have yielded up crops in great measure and we can once again celebrate that “all is safely gathered in”.
Of course this isn’t always the case. When I lived in Lincolnshire I had what I described as “a small orchard” – with three apple trees, a pear tree and a plum tree. One year my plum tree was laden with fruit but I had no pears at all on the pear tree. The next year it was the other way round! The following year I had an abundant crop off both trees – more than I could manage to pick – and as an added bonus I had dozens of blackberries from the brambles in my garden. God had indeed been good to us providing all, and more than we could possibly need.
Unlike the farmers who sowed their crops and watched them grow to maturity I had someone else to thank for planting the trees which supplied me so generously with fruit.
That’s how it can be with God’s kingdom. We may plant seeds of faith in people’s hearts and minds which grow to maturity long after we have moved on elsewhere, with someone else being blessed by the fruits of our labours. All that we can do is to plant and to let God nurture that seed, confident that God will bring faith to fruition in his own good time.
Saint Paul reminded the church in Corinth that “each one of us does the work which the Lord gave him to do: I planted the seed, Apollos watered the plant, but it was God who made the plant grow. The one who plants and the one who waters really do not matter. It is God who matters, because he makes the plant grow. There is no difference between the one who plants and the one who waters; God will reward each one according to the work each has done. For we are partners working together for God, and you are God's field.” (1 Corinthians 3:5-9)
Jesus said “ I tell you, take a good look at the fields; the crops are now ripe and ready to be harvested! The one who reaps the harvest is being paid and gathers the crops for eternal life; so the one who plants and the one who reaps will be glad together. For the saying is true, ‘Someone plants, someone else reaps.’ I have sent you to reap a harvest in a field where you did not work; others worked there, and you profit from their work.” (John 4:36-38)
I have often been surprised by stories of people who have come to faith many years after the seed was planted, and by people who have come up to me to tell me of a simple seed planted in their heart by myself or by somebody else which has changed their life. I am convinced that God will continue to produce fruit from the seeds which I have planted long after the time has come for me to move on, and I believe that he has a harvest for us all to gather in, which may have been planted many years ago by someone else at a different time and in a different place.
Jesus said “the harvest is plentiful, but the reapers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest” (Luke 10:2). God calls on you and I to be planters of seeds and to go out and claim the harvest which is already there.
In my February letter I talked about life being unpredictable, how we can never tell what the future holds for us and that in many ways that is probably as well.
I could not have anticipated what would happen to me on a quiet Sunday afternoon in August 2014.
We had held a very successful outdoor service in glorious sunshine in the morning and I was returning from leading a service to commemorate the centenary of the start of World War One, everything was quiet and the road ahead was clear. I was anticipating Sunday lunch and attending a service in the evening.
As I crossed a Crossroads over a busy country road (similar to the crossroads near the Oak Tree Farm Rural Project between Hilderstone and Sandon) all that changed. There was an almighty bang and my car was written off in an instant. I had collided with a car travelling along the main road which I had not seen as I started to cross the road.
Amazingly both myself and the other driver walked away from the accident unharmed. It could all have been very different.
In that instant I knew that God was with me. Protecting both myself and the other driver from serious injury. Going ahead of me into “the valley of the shadow of death”. Holding me safe in his arms.
The psalmist says
“The Lord is my protector;
he is my strong fortress.
My God is my protection,
and with him I am safe.
He protects me like a shield;
he defends me and keeps me safe.” (Psalm 18:2 GNB)
I can certainly say that I knew God’s protection that day in a very real way, and I am convinced that it is a protection which we can all rely on whenever we face dangerous or difficult times in our lives.
Five years on and we are commemorating the start of another major conflict as we remember the eightieth anniversary of the outbreak of World War Two in September 1939.
Many of the servicemen going to war in those September days of 1939 placed their trust in God’s protection, just as their fathers had done in the August of 1914. Many were not to return, but I believe that God was with each one as they so often faced terrible danger in yet another global conflict, and with those who they left behind. As we remember their bravery we must pray that global conflict never occurs again.
In many ways the world of 2019 is not that different from the world of 1939, with an alarming rise in nationalism, dangerous political posturing from some of the world’s leaders and with the added threat of terrorism. As Christians we need more than ever to pray for peace, to put our trust in a God who is “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1) and to place this troubled world into his hands.
May God go before you into the unexpected events of your lives, be you protector, your refuge and strength whatever life has in store.
Driving down a country lane a few years ago I noticed a man standing in one of the fields. Not that surprising – but that same man was there in the same place in the same field a few days later, and this caused me to look a bit more closely. There was a very realistic looking scarecrow in that field which had me fooled at first glance!
I was reminded of the Wizard of Oz and of Dorothy’s first encounter with the scarecrow which came as a surprise to her. “Now which way do we go?” “Pardon me, this way is a very nice way... It's pleasant down that way, too...... Of course, some people do go both ways...” said the scarecrow, with arms pointing in different directions.
We all find ourselves faced with difficult decisions and don’t always know the best way to go.
Recently I have found myself faced with one of the most difficult decisions of my ministry. A year before the end of their invitation period, normally at the end of their fourth year in a particular location, Methodist Ministers have to prayerfully decide whether to seek to stay in their present location or to continue their ministry elsewhere, sometimes entering into a new season of ministry, and as I will have been here for five years in 2020 I find myself reluctantly facing that same question “now which way do we go?” Is it right for me to continue to serve our local churches or is the time right for me to enter into a new season of ministry in 2020?
One thing that I am sure of is that whatever the answer God will be there with me. Because that is what God promises us all. The psalmist says “where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast ” (Psalm 139:7-10). In the letter to the Romans Paul says “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
We all need to hear these words and if you’re facing difficult decisions just at the moment then maybe this is a word for you. We all have to place our trust in God and he will show us the way, in a much clearer way than the scarecrow, and he will be with us in the decisions and in the answers. Because our God never leaves us and is particularly close when we need him most, as the famous “footprints in the sand” remind us.
Our God is the God of the difficult decisions, of the hard choices, of all directions and of all places. He may not promise us a “very nice” or “pleasant” way – but he does promise to always be there with us.
As we enter June we are quickly approaching the longest day. The summer solstice on June 21st marks the most hours of daylight and is a turning point in the year.
Many people will be remembering another “longest day” this June. June 6th marks the 75th anniversary of one of the most momentous days in history. It was on June 6th 1944 that 200,000 allied servicemen were directly involved in D-Day, “the longest day”, as Operation Overlord sought to regain Europe from Nazi occupation. It was a day that would change the course of World War 2 and ultimately change the course of history. On the anniversary commemorations in the UK and in Normandy will mark the courage and bravery of so many young men who risked their lives that day and whose lives would be changed forever as a result of that experience.
Three days later, on June 9th, the church will be remembering yet another momentous day. A day which was to change the course of history. A day which was to change people’s lives forever as a result of their experience.
It was the day of Pentecost. Jesus’ followers were still frightened and confused by what they had experienced. They had encountered the risen Jesus, many of them had been present at his ascension, but they were fearful of what the future held, frightened to put their lives at risk by speaking out for the gospel. But all that was about to change.
“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” (Acts 2:1-5)
On that momentous day God’s Holy Spirit was poured down on the apostles and the Church was born. They were no longer timid and afraid. They wanted everyone to know about the love and the power of God.
As a society we readily celebrate Christmas and Easter and yet Pentecost seems to pass almost without a mention. And yet Pentecost was, and is, one of the most momentous days in history. Without Pentecost the Christian Church would not be here to bear witness to either Christmas or Easter. It truly was a day that changed the history of the world.
And the amazing thing is that Pentecost truly could be seen as the longest day in history. A day which has not ended after two thousand years. God is still pouring out his Holy Spirit on believing Christian people today, just as he did at the first Pentecost and just as he has done throughout the history of the Church. We can all experience the power of that spirit for ourselves, just as the first apostles did two thousand years ago. And all we have to do is to be open to that spirit, to letting our lives be transformed by God’s spirit entering us, to be open to our lives being changed forever as a result of our experience.
So are you prepared to take the risk of letting God’s spirit change you this Pentecost time? Are you brave enough to let God transform, change and challenge your life? Are you ready to be part of the on-going “longest day in history”?
Did you have a good Easter?
As we enter May Easter already seems to be quite a distant memory. Something which has been quickly forgotten by a world which has over indulged on Easter Eggs and Hot Cross Buns for a few days but which has quickly returned to normal.
When Moses returned from Mount Sinai his face glowed with the glory of God to such an extent that it had to be covered by a veil, but that glory gradually faded until he “returned to normal” and could be seen by the Israelites once again (Exodus 34:29-35; 2 Cor 3:13).
For a number of years I attended a Christian celebration called “Easter People” where we celebrated together all that it meant to know the risen Christ. To be “Easter People” in today’s world. It was a very joyous time.
I remember once returning from Easter People full of excitement at what it meant to know the risen Christ and someone saying “they’ve been to Easter People – but they’ll be normal again soon,” expecting the glory to fade from our faces as we ‘returned to normal’. But the truth is that, if we truly are followers of the risen Christ, then that glory will never fade from our faces. It will be normal for us to glow with God’s love.
So what does it mean to be ‘normal’ as a Christian? Does it mean, as that person who saw me on my return from Easter People suggested, that we become dull, complacent, disengaged Christians bound up in our traditions but with little vitality? After all, that seems to be the popular image of Christians today and one which is so often borne out by church goers who are comfortable the way that they are. But is that really what it means to be “Easter People”?
The book of Acts is full of examples of what it means to be Easter People. Examples of a church that was vibrant, alive and outward looking. The actions of the early believers show us what it means to be “normal” as Christians: devoting ourselves to the Apostle’s teaching and to the fellowship, breaking bread together, praying together, witnessing and performing miracles in Jesus’ name, giving to all as they have a need, continually praising God (Acts 2:42-47). The letter of James reminds us that our faith must be lived out in action (James 2:14-26) and in the first letter of John we read that “our love should not be just words and talk; it must be true love, which shows itself in action.” (1 John 3:18). Surely this is what it really means to “return to normal” as Christians.
If we are to “return to normal” then we need to rediscover our passion for the gospel and for evangelism both as individuals and as churches. We need to live out our faith in action, to speak out for the voiceless in our society, to act to bring about a fairer world for all. To seek to truly be Christ’s voice, Christ’s hands and feet in our society today. Then we can truly be “Easter People”. But to be effective this demands that we all as Christians take action and become re-engaged. Our lives need to constantly reflect the glory of the risen Christ.
So how quickly do we allow the glory of resurrection to fade from our lives? Do we continue to live out our resurrection hope in everything which we do as followers of Jesus Christ in a new and dynamic way? Are we good “Easter People” for a few days, until we “return to normal” or are we “Easter People” every day of our lives? Are we prepared to “return to normal” as followers of Jesus serving him not only with our words but with our actions too?
What is your favourite book? On World Book day recently children at some schools were asked this question, and together with the staff dressed up as a character from their favourite books. I’m not sure how many “Harry Potters”, “Gruffalos” or “Long John Silvers” turned up for school that day!
As a child my taste in books changed. Over the years I got interested in adventure stories, mysteries and science fiction, particularly enjoying books like “1984” and “Brave New World” in my teenage years. I wonder how many of the predictions in these books have come true in our society today!
People like different types of books. Some people prefer thrillers, or stories of good triumphing against the odds, or stories of intrigue and betrayal or a good “Mills and Boon”. And in many ways these stories have a resonance in our daily lives. We all experience good and bad times. We all experience the feeling of betrayal from time to time. We all hope to know what it is to love and be loved.
The Easter story contains all of these elements and much more besides. If we fully engage with the events of the first Easter we find out that it is about far more than just new life on Easter Day. It is a thriller where the tension mounts as events move towards their inevitable climax on Good Friday. It is a story of intrigue and betrayal as even those closest to Jesus desert him and one of his closest followers betrays him to the authorities. It is a story of God triumphing against the odds, against even the worst that the world can do. And above all it is a love story – showing just how much God loves every one of us “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us (1John 3:16)”. Unlike “1984” and “Brave New World” it is a story in which everything which Jesus predicted happened just as he said that it would “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law. He must be killed and after three days rise again (Mark 8:31)”.
At the start of the first “Harry Potter” book Dumbledore says that both “the bad and the good” were true. In the Easter story both the bad and the good were true. They had to be, because only then could we truly receive God’s promise of salvation, of new life through the sacrifice of God himself on the cross of Calvary.
So find time to read a good book this Easter. And find time to read The Good Book this Easter time, engage with and fully understand all that Easter really means for each one of us.
Have a blessed Easter time.
Are you ready for “Jif Lemon” Day? I remember that as a child the excitement of Shrove Tuesday complete with copious quantities of pancakes was the first major event which we looked forward to after Christmas and that it was eagerly anticipated for many weeks in advance. I particularly looked forward to pancakes with lashings of Golden Syrup – not at all good for me – no wonder that I’ve always had a “season ticket” at the dentist....
As you read this Shrove Tuesday 2019 will be upon us, and with that the start of yet another Lent as we begin to look forward to Easter and the events at the very heart of the Christian faith. Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday are not just dates on the calendar - they are significant festivals which mark a turning point in the Christian year as the days lengthen and Easter again draws near.
Traditionally Lent has been a time of fasting, and for many people that means giving up a “little pleasure” and otherwise continuing life as normal. For others, including members of other world faiths, it may mean going entirely without food for a day or at least during daylight hours.
Whilst self denial is certainly one aspect of fasting the prophet Isaiah makes it clear that true fasting demands much more than this and that it is about an attitude of mind and heart, not just about an absence of food or of a “little pleasure”. “(The Lord says) is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?” (Isaiah 58:6-7). God’s people are called on to engage with the needs of our community and our wider world, not half-heartedly nor as an optional extra but as part of what it means to be truly his people. In a world of inequality and need God’s people are called on to serve the needs of others and not just to walk by on the other side of the road. And surely this is the type of fasting that we can all engage in this Lent.
Enjoy “Jif Lemon” day, and as you enter Lent just think about how you can engage in true fasting. And just imagine what a difference that could make not only to ourselves but to everyone around us this Lent time.
February might be the shortest month but it is often the most
unpredictable month of the year and the month when we can see the most severe
weather of the winter, and after such a mild winter we may well be wondering
what surprises February has in store for us this year. Meanwhile, school
children anticipating the first holiday of the year may well be wondering what
February half term has in store.
Some years ago I remember leaving the cold of the British winter behind as I took a group of young people to Florida for the February half term break. There was a huge amount of excitement as the youngsters prepared for a real adventure, not really knowing what was in store, and as we travelled to the airport in the cold of a British February we looked forward to enjoying the Florida sunshine.
The first two days in Florida came as a bit of a shock. We shivered through weather described as “untypically cold” and much more like the temperatures which we had left behind! However, by the middle of the week temperatures had warmed up again and I wasn’t the only one to get sunburnt in February!
We can never tell what the future holds for us and in many ways that is probably as well. Jesus said to his disciples “Do not worry about tomorrow, it will take care of itself” (Matthew 6:34 CEV). As Christians we can look forward to whatever the future holds confident that God will be there in all of the unexpected twists and turns, guiding us, supporting us and helping us to face whatever lies ahead. “The Lord says ‘I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will guide you and watch over you’” (Psalm 32:8)
One of my favourite hymns says:
I do not know what lies ahead
the way I cannot see
but one stands near to be my guide
He'll show the way to me
I know who holds the future
and he'll guide me with his hand
with God things don't just happen
everything by him is planned
so as I face tomorrow,
with it's problems large and small
I'll trust the God of miracles
give to him my all.
I may not know what the future holds, but I can know that God will be there beside me every step of the way. And knowing that I can face whatever lies in store with renewed confidence.
My youngest great nephew will be two years old just before Christmas. It seems no time at all since he was born! I had the pleasure and privilege of christening both my great nephew and his brother, and both services were very special occasions and a great pleasure to be part of. Members of the extended family had travelled from all over the country to be at the services and I met up with people who I hadn’t seen for a number of years. The birth of a new child is always special and it so often brings people together.
After my youngest great nephews christening my nephew and his wife talked about their hopes and dreams for the future and for the promise of a new young life. A new life with boundless opportunities and possibilities.
Christmastime brings people together as families gather to celebrate the special season, though for many that celebration will involve no thought for the special baby born at the first Christmas, or for the hope which he brings to our troubled world. And yet that baby born so many years in Bethlehem carried the hopes and dreams of all generations on his tiny shoulders. In that manger at Bethlehem lay a fragile baby born to a life with boundless opportunities and possibilities, a tiny baby born to be the prince of peace and to die on a cross out of love for you and me, a baby born to bring all people together. “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to me.” (John 12:32).
Christmastime many of us will sing these familiar words:
O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight
What are your hopes and dreams for Christmas this year? Will you celebrate with your family but forget the greatest baby of all time or will you make room for him and let him help you to fulfil your hopes and dreams?
As you celebrate Christmas remember that Christ came to us at the first Christmas so that our lives can have true meaning here, today in 2018, that he came to draw you and me and all people to him and that only through him can our deepest hopes and dreams be fully realised.
Have a blessed Christmas and a peaceful New Year
I’ve always been interested in musical theatre and thought that I knew my musicals quite well, so I was particularly intrigued by the question “which is the longest running musical of all time?” I guessed that it could be ‘Les Miserables’, ‘Cats’ or even ‘The Sound of Music’, but the answer surprised me and was none of these. Between 1960 and 2017 ‘The Fantasticks’ clocked up an incredible run of 21552 performances in New York and yet most people know little about it. Many people, however, are familiar with the opening song – “Try to remember” with its haunting melody.
At this time of year, and especially this year as we commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the end of The Great War, as a nation we will ‘try to remember’.
My earliest memory is from when I was almost three years old in the late 1950’s, almost sixty years ago but still forty years after the end of the Great War. The oldest member of one of my congregations will be a hundred years old next year and her memory stretches back much further than mine, but even she was born after the Great War. The truth is that the Great War is almost beyond living memory, but we here in 2018 are still called to ‘try to remember’, and to keep that memory alive to make sure that nothing like that conflict ever happens again.
Much has changed in the last hundred years – motor cars, jet aircraft, television, world travel, computers, social media to name but a few and the world is a much smaller place than it was in 1918, but one thing has sadly not changed. There are still conflicts in the world. There have only been two years since 1945 when no British service personnel have lost their lives in conflict. The threat of terrorism is greater than ever. The way of the world seems to be the way of violence.
God’s way could not be more different. “Come, see the works of the Lord. He makes wars to cease throughout the earth; He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; He burns the shields in the fire.” (Psalm 46:8-9). “He will judge between the nations and arbitrate for many peoples. They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will no longer take up the sword against nation, nor train anymore for war.” (Isaiah 2:4, Micah 4:3) “Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalm 34:14) “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9) “He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.” (Ephesians 2:17)
As we commemorate the events of that momentous day in 1918 we are called to ‘try to remember’ and to keep alive the memory of events which are beyond living memory with respect and gratitude, but that is not all.
The last line of that song from ‘The Fantasticks’ says “try to remember, and if you remember then follow, follow, follow”. We are called to remember, but we are also called to follow in God’s way. To pray for peace, to actively strive for peace, to seek reconciliation between nations and between all people and God. And only if we do that will we be true to all that we seek to remember.
Will you ‘try to remember’ with me? Will you seek to follow with me?
What a summer we’ve had this year. With sunshine and unusually warm temperatures from the beginning of May right through until almost the end of August the weathermen told us that that we had one of the two hottest summers on record, tying with the summer of 1976 in terms of the hot dry weather. Quite a contrast to the arctic weather and the “beast from the east” which we suffered throughout the winter!
By August Bank Holiday weekend the weather could not have been more different. Cold, wet and windy and talk of central heating being turned back on. Autumn had well and truly arrived and ‘normal service’ was resumed!
Rather than the gradual change that we’re used to in this country the seasons seem to have changed very suddenly this year.
God can often be working slowly in our lives over many years, but he can also act suddenly and bring about a complete change. When a group of fishermen encountered Jesus on the shores of Lake Galilee they immediately left everything and followed him “As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him.”(Mark 1:16-18). Saul encountered Jesus on the Damascus Road and his life was changed in an instant. Saul became the apostle Paul and his life would never be the same again (Acts 9:1-6). In 1738 John Wesley went unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street and there his heart was ‘strangely warmed’ in an instant and he was changed for ever. Whatever barriers we put up God can break them down in an instant and change our lives completely as we discover the depth of his love for us.
Maybe today is the day when God will change your life in an instant, or maybe today is the day when you will realise that God has been working slowly in your life for many years and in that instant you will know the change that he can bring as you enter into a deeper relationship with him. Just as suddenly as Summer turned to Autumn this year God can turn your life around if you will recognise him. Are you ready to let God change you?
Bill Shankley famously said that “football is not a matter of life and death – it’s more important than that.” For many people the football team is at the heart of their community and visits to football matches are a way of life. Sometimes things go well and at other times the team let their supporters down, but win or lose the fans still talk enthusiastically about their team on a Monday morning. There is a feeling that the world is looking for heroes, and to many those heroes are found on the football field.
Christians in our communities faithfully attend Church week after week and for many their faith is a way of life and the Church or Chapel is at the heart of their community, and yet how often do we hear Christians talking about their faith on a Monday morning? Why is it that it is OK to talk about football, but we are so often reluctant to share our faith with others? Why do we not get as excited about our faith as the fans do about football?
In the early church things could not have been more different. From the day of Pentecost onwards the believers were excited about the good news and took every opportunity to share their faith with as many people as possible. Peter and John told the Sanhedrin “As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20). Saint Paul said “For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16), “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20). So why is it that Christians today have lost that excitement and are almost scared to share their faith with those around them?
The message which we have is every bit as exciting as the best premiership football match. In Jesus Christ we have a hero who is the same yesterday, today and forever. A hero who will never let us down. With Christ we are always on the winning team.
Isn’t it time to share that really good news with the people around us. To let people know the excitement of being on Jesus’ team. To offer them a hero who will not fall out of favour and hang up his boots in just a few years, but will be there for them always. To ‘Gossip for God;’ wherever we are and on every day of the week, not just on a Sunday. Because one thing is certain – knowing Jesus Christ is not just a matter of life and death – it’s far more important than that, and in him we have the secret of a truly fulfilling life both here and in eternity.
When I first moved to North Staffordshire I had no idea what ‘lobby’ and ‘oatcakes’ were and certainly not what they tasted like. People were telling me how good they were – but I had no idea what an oatcake even looked like! They told me that oatcakes were really good, especially with cheese and bacon (which intrigued me) and I was unsure what to expect when I was told that the harvest lunch was a ‘faith lobby’. It was only when I had that first bowl of lobby and then my first oatcakes at a church breakfast that I discovered what lobby and oatcakes were really like – and how much I enjoyed them! However much people told me I had to taste for myself to really know how good they were. I’ve eaten lots of lobby and oatcakes since!
When I lived in Lincolnshire the local Agricultural Show was one of the highlights of the year with arena displays, vintage cars, agricultural vehicles, a parade, stalls and sideshows and competitions for things as diverse as painting, knitting, jams and sausage rolls and I remember some people talking one year about the things that they were going to enter into the various classes in that year’s show. It was all quite competitive and local people took great pride in producing the best cakes or jams. That reminded me of the ‘Murder Mystery’ play which we produced earlier in the year where the vicar was murdered because he chose someone else’s cakes as the best. No wonder I avoid being the judge!
Talking about the food sections in the show someone once asked if the judges tasted all of the scones, sausage rolls, jams and chutneys and they were assured that every single item was tasted and that only by tasting them could the judges decide how good they were. The judges have to experience the full flavour of each entry for themselves.
People can tell us all about God and how wonderful he is, but it is only when we experience his love for ourselves, when we let him into our lives that we can fully know the truth of how wonderful God really is and find out about everything that he has in store for us. However much people tell us we can never really truly know God until we encounter him for ourselves. The psalmist says “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him” (psalm 34:8). It’s not enough to just know about God. We have to experience the fullness of God for ourselves.
So are you ready to taste and see just how good God is, and how much he loves you? Are you ready to experience the full wonder of God for yourself?
One of the best known movie themes of all times is the “dambusters march” which was written by Eric Coates (no relative of mine!) for the film of the same name.
2018 marks the 75th anniversary of the night in 1943 when nineteen aircraft took off from RAF Scampton to attack dams in the Ruhr valley in Germany and the legend which was the “dambusters” was born. I cannot imagine what it must have been like to face danger of that kind, but on that night 130 young men were prepared to risk their lives in the cause of freedom, and the rest is history.
There are parts of the world today where being a Christian is a dangerous thing. Where people risk their lives every day for no other reason than their belief in Jesus Christ and his love for them, facing imprisonment, torture and in some cases death for their Christian faith. And yet it is in those places where the Christian faith is often at its most dynamic, growing often at an amazing rate. The Holy Spirit which was poured out at the first Pentecost is giving untold power to the persecuted church throughout the world.
Jesus warned his disciples to expect persecution (Luke 21:12) saying within the beatitudes that “blessed are those that are persecuted because of righteousness” (Matthew 5:10). The early church suffered massive persecution and yet Saint Paul said that “I am content with hardships, persecutions and difficulties for Christ’s sake” (2 Corinthians 12:10). Danger and risk can be expected by those who follow the path of Jesus Christ. Being a Christian can be a very risky business.
But what about those of us who are fortunate enough to live in a country where it is relatively easy to be a Christian, where we are not openly persecuted for our faith? Are we content with our comfortable religion, going through life without our faith giving us any real challenge, secure in our Sunday Morning Christianity? Or are we too prepared to face risks for Jesus Christ? Are we prepared to put our heads up above the parapet and speak out for justice and peace in the name of Jesus, even if that brings with it the risk of unpopularity? Are we prepared to go outside our comfort zone and let Jesus take us into a risky place where our faith can grow, where the Holy Spirit can really start to give us untold power to live our lives for Christ? Are we prepared to let him break down the dams of complacency, comfort and routine in our Christian lives?
Being a true follower of Christ makes us all “dambusters”. Called and challenged to take real risks for Jesus, to face danger for him and to let him break down the barriers in our lives that separate us from a fuller relationship with him.
As I write this letter it looks like spring has finally arrived, with blossoms on the trees and gardens alive with colour which we haven’t seen for many months. The earth which seemed barren only a couple of weeks ago is at last teeming with a new life which is full of hopes and possibilities. Nature had been waiting for the right time to come back to life.
It seems to me that our seasons are becoming a bit like railway timetables in the days of British Rail – everything running late! After a winter which seemed to last for ever spring has finally arrived at least a month later than usual. In the news the other day farmers were saying that their crops are at least four weeks behind where they would normally be at this time of year. Nothing seems to be happening at what we might normally think of as “the right time”.
Whilst things may not happen at what we think is “the right time” the writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us that “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens” (Ecclesiastes 3:3). God’s timing is always perfect. He is never “running late”. Writing to the Galatians Saint Paul said that “When the time was right, God sent his Son ... so that we could become God’s children.” (Galatians 4:4-5). What an amazing God and what an amazing gift!
God offers us all the chance to be his children and to receive a new life which is full of hopes and possibilities. This month we shall be celebrating Pentecost and remembering how God sent the gift of the Holy Spirit to the early believers, a gift which filled them all with new life and new possibilities – and a gift which he offers to all who believe in him today. “For God says, ‘At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you.’ Indeed, the ‘right time’ is now. Today is the day of salvation ’” (2 Cor 6:2). Are you running late, still waiting for the right time to receive God’s gifts? If so then maybe the right time is now. Maybe the time is right for YOU to receive that new life, to become a child of God and be filled with his Holy Spirit.
This year we have been studying a Lent course based on Disney’s “The Lion King” and considering some of the themes which come out of this classic animated film. Themes such as temptation, deception, hopes and shattered dreams, fear and loss and love. In addition there are themes of loyalty, friendship, responsibility, restoration and the triumph of good over evil which we have not had time to explore (perhaps the basis for “Lion King part 2”?). One of the most telling moments in the film is when Simba looks up in despair and cries out “you said you’d always be there for me – but you’re not” echoing the cry of Jesus from the cross. It has been a challenging but very rewarding Lent journey together.
The Lion King is one of many popular Disney films which have been adapted for the theatre and when I went to see the show I was fascinated to see how the whole scene came to life on stage with some very clever costumes, models and puppetry.
One of the highlights of the last couple of years for me has been the pantomimes which we have performed at Christmastime (to great critical acclaim?). A thoroughly enjoyable evening with lots of old jokes, a dame, ugly sisters, a smattering of custard pies and cries of “he’s behind you!”
Some years ago I saw a pantomime based on another Disney classic – “Beauty and the Beast”. Knowing the popularity of the Disney film I was fascinated to see how this might translate from the big screen to the small stage and was very impressed with the retelling of the story of love conquering all the odds (despite the best efforts of the evil witch!)
The thing that sticks with me most is the line which was spoken several times during the pantomime and repeated at the very end by the Beast. “It doesn’t matter how you look – what counts is what’s inside.” In an age obsessed with celebrity and appearance, where everyone is expected to be the perfect weight and size and to wear only the most fashionable clothes and where our children are looked down on by their peers if they don’t have the latest designer trainers, or an eyepad or tablet (both of which I would expect to find in the first aid kit) I think that this is a message to us all. None of these things really matter. What matters is who we are on the inside.
Jesus always looked beyond outward appearances to how people were on the inside criticising the rich and powerful and the religious leaders of his day and associating with people regarded as the outcasts of society, looking for the good on the inside. Speaking to the Pharisees Jesus said “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men but God knows your heart. What is highly valued among men is of no value in God’s sight” (Luke 16:15). In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus the beggar it is Lazarus, not the rich man who finds favour in God’s sight. Jesus said that “the good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart” (Luke 6:45). It’s what’s on the inside that counts.
So how good are we at looking beyond outward appearances and seeing what people are really like on the inside? Perhaps we need to take note of the message from Beauty and the Beast and not just judge people by the standards of our materialistic society. And who knows – we might be surprised at what we find. “It doesn’t matter how you look – what counts is what’s inside.”
As we enter March we find ourselves in the middle of Lent and looking forward to the celebration of Easter at the end of the month, with Holy Week falling in the last full week of March and the joy of resurrection and new life on Easter Day being celebrated on April 1st (who says that God hasn’t got a sense of humour!).
For many people Lent is a period where nothing particular seems to happen. No more than a pause between Pancake Day and the chance for another feast at Easter. A period when the biggest decision is how many Easter Eggs to buy before they disappear off the supermarket shelves.
But it doesn’t have to be like that. To Christians Lent is one of the most significant times of the year. It is a time to share the desert experience with Jesus. A time for prayerful self-examination. A time to reflect on how we deal with the things which tempt us, as we remember how Jesus was tempted in the desert but resisted the power of the Devil. A time of preparing ourselves to experience the pain of the cross and the joy of resurrection. A time for saying ‘sorry’ for those things which we know are wrong in our lives. And only if we genuinely do those things can we fully experience the joy of Easter.
For a number of years I attended a Christian celebration called “Easter People” where we celebrated together all that it meant to know the risen Christ. To be “Easter People” in today’s world. It was a very joyous time.
But if we want to truly be good “Easter People” then we have to be prepared to be good “Lent People” too. And then we can really experience the true joy of the Easter season, which is about so much more than Easter Eggs.
Easter Day this year may be celebrated on “April Fool’s Day”, but the real ‘April Fools’ are those who won’t know the joy of resurrection or the true challenges of Lent.
Don’t let Lent pass you by this year. Take time to pray, to examine yourself, to say “sorry” to God. Be a good “Lent Person”, and then you’ll be really ready to be an “Easter Person” too.
A few weeks ago, in early December, winter arrived with a vengeance with icy winds and snow falling and lying for seemingly endless periods as temperatures struggled to get above freezing. When the snows came on Sunday December 10th I ended up putting on waterproofs and boots and hiking in a blizzard from Meir Park to Blythe Bridge to take the morning service. I was pleased to find that I wasn’t the only one daft enough to go out in such weather and we ended up having a really good service! Sadly other events and services had to be cancelled or postponed and the backlog of services meant that I ended up with three carol services and an advent service on December 17th when the roads and pavements were a bit clearer. I was well carolled out by the end of that day!
If you've been watching "Call the Midwife" you will have been reminded of the winter of 1963 when the freeze came after Christmas and Britain shivered in freezing temperatures for three months. For me as a child it was a very exciting time as the ice slide across the school playground became smoother and smoother making it even more fun to slide on. I don’t think health and safety would allow that these days!
The psalmist seems to be familiar with our arctic winters:
“Praise the Lord O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion!
He gives a command to the earth, and what he says is quickly done.
He spreads snow like a blanket and scatters frost like dust.
He sends hail like gravel; no one can endure the cold he sends!” (Psalm 147:12, 15-17)
I'm sure that the psalmist was shivering too!
Looking out of the manse windows during the snowfall the patterns of the snow on the lawn, the bushes and the trees were fascinating, reaching all parts of the garden transforming them into Christmas Card images and creating beauty wherever the snow lay.
The prophet Isaiah sees the beauty that the snow can create:
“As the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return to it without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” (Isaiah 55:10-12)
Even in the depths of winter I am reminded of the awesome power of God’s word to reach and rest on all people and all places, transforming people and situations and creating beauty out of whatever it touches.
Maybe the winter snows are not all bad news but can be an exciting time in which God can speak to us in new ways. God’s word is speaking to each one of us again this wintertime and if we listen and respond to him then we too will “go out in joy and be led forth in peace”.
Read God’s word, look for him, listen to him and this could indeed be a very exciting time for you too.
- Pickford Place
- ST3 7DX