The Good Shepherd


This morning, I sat down for my quiet time with my Bible, journal and reading notes.  I have been working through the section in the Gospel of John where Jesus talks of Himself as “the good shepherd” (John 10 vs. 1 – 30).  The particular verse that I was focusing on this morning was verse 27;

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

In our modern western culture, we are aware that sheep are driven and guided.  We may marvel at the skill of our modern shepherds controlling their sheep dogs to guide the sheep where they need to be.  However, there is something special about the image that Jesus presents us with, a shepherd walking ahead of his sheep calling for them to follow.

Of course, these verses and images are familiar to those of us who have been a round church circles for a little while.  However, my notes encouraged me to think of things in a slightly different way this morning.  I found that, what they suggested, was profoundly helpful.

Let me explain.

I am used, at the end of the day, to stopping and reflecting back.  I reflect on my whole day.  I think about those things that went well, those things that did not.  I will ask myself if there were times that I felt especially close to God or, were there times when God felt absent.  I ask myself if I have encountered God in places, or people, where I did not expect Him.  It’s a good thing to do and is part of my daily routine.  When I have done this, I take the opportunity to hand the day over to God complete with its successes and failures.

My notes today suggested that, as well as doing this at the end of the day, why not do this also at the start of the day?  I sat with my diary in front of me and looked at the list of appointments, the tasks that needed to be done.  I was aware of the things that I will accomplish, those things that needed to be put aside.  I was aware of the pastoral visits and how I would seek to bring the comfort of God in various situations.  I thought about the conversations of celebration and those that would be a little harder.  Most of all, I became aware of the clamor of voices that would fill my day and I thought of Jesus words;

My sheep listen to my voice

I then used my imagination and tried to picture Jesus in my day.  What did He look like?  What was He doing?  What was He saying?

I had, at that point, what I can only describe as a really profound experience. The picture I saw was of an outstretched hand.  It was almost as if I was being invited to reach out and hold Jesus hand!

As my prayer time came to a close, I was left with this real assurance that, whatever today holds, I do not journey through it alone.  I can reach out and put my hand into the hand of Jesus and travel with Him.

Why don’t you give it a go and see what Jesus says to you?




Light into Darkness

It was a time of feasting in the city of Jerusalem.

The feast of Tabernacles and 8-day festival of music and dancing, food and friendship.  An 8-day party!

A time when the Jewish people remembered God’s provision in the wilderness and looked forward to the day when all people will flow into Jerusalem to worship God.

It was at the end of the first day of the feast and the whole city was in darkness apart from one lamp in the heart of the great temple.  Gradually, one by one, torches and lamps were lit from this one source until the light spread out across the city until the whole place was illuminated. A blaze of light and colour.

And then a silence fell over the people as a controversial teacher stood in front of them and declared

“I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but, will have the light of life.”

 The crowd were stunned, shocked, amazed and angry.  Who was this man who could dare to say this?

Okay, to be honest, I don’t know if that is exactly what happened or not.  There is, perhaps a bit of artistic license in my telling of the story but the basis of it, is what happened at that Feast of Tabernacles and Jesus said those words, they are recorded in John’s Gospel, chapter 8.

I was thinking about them today.

As I drove into my office this morning I was listening to the news on the radio.  It was full of the atrocities in Syria, the problems in London and the political difficulties that are happening in the world.  As I listened to the radio, I was acutely aware of the power and strength of the darkness that is in the world at the moment.

As I sat with my Bible I re-read John 8 and I also read some, familiar, words from John 1

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 

(John 1 vs. 5)

I said in Church, on Sunday, that one of the major problems in our world today is not so much the presence of evil but, the loss of hope.  As a Christian, I should not only be aware of the hope that Christ brings into my life but I should, must, be willing to carry that light out into the darkness of the world.  The famous prayer of St. Francis of Assisi says;

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy. 


Those words became my prayer today, may they be yours too.

Feeling Neglected


Something interesting happened this morning which, sadly, my photo does not do justice too.

My wife, Paula, was setting up the song and reading boards (yes, we still have them) when she called me to come from my office to look at something, “just look at that” she said.  I took a look at it and, in the half light of the building, I was amazed to see that the white card background stood out brightly in contrast to other cards used.  Paula then explained to me how difficult it had been to put the name card into the runners “I don’t think it has ever been used before”, she commented.

I don’t know the age of the cards but, I do know that it has not been used for at least 10 years because, that’s how long I have been in Clacton and I have never preached on the book of Ezra before.

I first began to think about Ezra at the end of last year and, at first, I just couldn’t get my head around what we could possibly learn from that book.  From a historical point of view I could see that it was contemporary to Nehemiah.  I could see the overall picture of the book but, what I could not see was how this could possibly fit with the context in which I am called to preach.

Eventually, after a lot of prayer and study, a few ideas began to emerge and I saw something within the book of Ezra that I had not seen before.  Over the next couple of weeks, I am going to be sharing that with the folk who attend the fellowship where I minister.

Like many preachers, I draw inspiration from different sources. However, I guess I am not alone, when I say there is always the temptation to preach from those bits of the Bible that I like and leave aside those parts that I struggle with.  The Apostle Paul, writing to Timothy says;

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.                                                                                                                                                                     (2 Timothy 3 vs. 16 – 17)


All means the bits I like and the bits I don’t!

As I write this I am painfully aware of the damage that people can do with the Bible too.  Some, seek to use parts of scripture as a justification in holding onto certain attitudes and values and I believe this is an abuse of scripture.  I use that strong word, deliberately. 

To read the Bible as a text book and leave aside the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit, is a dangerous thing to do.  You see, Paul talks about “God-Breathed” and we need that breath of God blowing into our hearts and minds as we look at scripture. We need to not only read words on the page but, to know the heart of Him who inspired them to be written.


Out of Sorts

It’s interesting how things sometimes fit together.

Over the past few weeks, I have been feeling a bit “out of sorts”, a bit low, not comfortable in my own skin. There have been some issues to wrestle with, through work and some things I have been heavily involved with in the past, I can no longer be involved with.

All of this has led to me feeling very unsettled. It’s not a good feeling

For those disciples, that very first Easter must have been a very unsettling experience. Just as everything seemed to be going so well, the crowds cheering for Jesus on Palm Sunday, it all goes horribly wrong. Jesus was arrested, put on trial, crucified dead, and buried.

Just as their whole world seems to have fallen apart, they discover that Jesus has been raised from the dead and is alive and amongst them! We are, possibly, so familiar with the story we lose the impact of those words.

Just when it was finished, over, final, God does something incredible.

I was reflecting on this today when our post came.

There was a beautifully handwritten envelope that contained an Easter card. I paid real attention to it because the painting was done by a friend of mine, David Senior. It is always a treat to get a card from David because they are always special.

The painting is called “Resurrection”. What I love about it is the shading, the effect of the light. It’s a picture of hope symbolised by the presence of light.

Yes, I am out of sorts. Yes, I do feel a bit down in the dumps at the moment but, there is hope. I believe things will get better because, somehow, in the midst of darkness the light of Christ can shine.

Turning The Clock Back

How did you cope with the time change?

For those of my readers who are wondering  what I am on about, in the UK last weekend we moved our clocks forward one hour to British Summer Time.  Twice a year we go through the ritual “Spring Forward, Fall Back”.

I always struggle for a few days whether forwards or backwards, it takes me a few days to adjust my thinking.

It’s interesting that, this year, the date fell on the start of Holy Week.  This got me thinking more and more about time and one particular character, Judas Iscariot.  I am not going to give you a biography of Judas but just a couple of quick things to note.  Firstly, he was the keeper of the common purse who was helping himself to the disciples funds (John 12 vs. 6).  Secondly, he was to betray Jesus (John 18 vs. 1 – 11).

Judas is often portrayed as the villain of the piece.  For those of us who have been betrayed by those close to us, Judas has become a name to be used for anger or insult “you Judas!” we say (albeit not verbally).  When it comes to choosing names for children, Judas is never going to feature in anyone’s top ten.

The final thing we know about Judas is, he took his own life.  He killed himself.

I wonder how Judas actually felt.  Perhaps he began his journey with Jesus full of hopes and dreams.  Maybe he was full of enthusiasm and a keen follower to begin with.  Maybe, he was full of wonder at the miracles and never missed an opportunity to sit at the feet of Jesus to hear the parables and soak up the teaching.  The other disciples must have thought he was fairly trustworthy after all they gave him the common purse to look after.

Somewhere along the line, things began to go a little wrong.  Maybe it was the pressure of debt.  Maybe it was the responsibility of home.  Maybe he had only meant to borrow it but, somehow the money began to find its way from the common purse, to his private purse.  Perhaps he fully intended to pay it back but, it just never seemed to happen.  The other disciples would have trusted him less.  Let’s face it, John says he was helping himself and if John knew it, you could guarantee it that the others were aware.

Finally, for 30 pieces of silver (yes, again it’s the money) Judas agrees to betray Jesus.  He has now left the league of petty pilferers and entered the big league.  The guys he was now dealing with would expect their pound of flesh (quite literally).  There was no going back.

I wonder if, as Judas stood on the brink of taking his own life, he just simply wished he could turn the clock back.

I know, in my life, I have often wished the same.  I wish I had not done certain things, if only I could turn the clock back then…. 

I wish I had approached that situation differently or responded differently or…. 

But, I guess, I am not the only one.

Regret is a very powerful emotion and feeling.

Sometimes, in the face of our regrets, we feel as though we are completely powerless.  That our past has a great hold over our present and, ultimately our future.  But, I don’t believe that it has to be this way.  Our past can be forgiven and used to help build our future.  Our mistakes do not have to have the last word.

One thing I have been thinking about, is that if Judas had gone to Jesus and asked forgiveness, He would have received it at any time.

In those early days, when the money was just a “short term fix”.  In the middling days when there was no way he could pay back what he had taken.  Even at the last minute itself.  God puts no time limit on His forgiveness.

For me too?  Yes, even me with my regrets, I too can find God’s forgiveness.

And you?  Well now, that gives you something to ponder about doesn’t it?







Feeling Wound Up




I was feeling pretty wound up this morning when I got into the office.

I am sure you know the feeling.

I had been out of the office for just one day and it seemed like there was an Everest of paperwork all needed doing ready for the next lot of meetings.  The answerphone was full of messages that needed attending too.  To make matters worse, I was about to lead devotions at our homeless project and had no idea what I was to say!

I decided just to read something comforting from Psalms;

The Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit

(Psalm 34 vs. 18)

“That will do” I said.  It is comforting, encouraging and will lead nicely into prayer. I put the bookmarks in my Bible and prepared to rush on to retrieve the paperwork I had left on the photocopier.

It was at that point, I felt that God almost “grabbed me by the scruff of my neck”!

I stopped for a moment and I really felt God was speaking to me just from the words at the start of that verse;

The Lord is close…

“Do you believe that, do you know that?” I just felt Him ask.

In truth, the biggest reality was the stress and pressure I was feeling at that moment in time.  But, instead of helping me to do more, God seemed to be asking me to stop.  I then picked up a devotional book and read the passage for tomorrow (yes, I was so stressed I got the date wrong!).  Here is what I read;

We listen to sermons and homilies affirming the benefits of a life of communion with God, but somewhere deep down we really believe it is action, not prayer, that will satisfy our needs.  We may think that prayer is good when there is nothing more important to do, but we have strong reservations and doubts about Gods’ effectiveness in our world, of God’s personal interest in us.  We are no longer conscious of God-with-us

(Henri Nouwen – Clowning in Rome)

That was it!  I had, somewhere along the line, stopped being aware of God’s presence with me and that is what God was seeking to remind me.  It was amazing, as soon as I reached out to God, He was there and the stress was gone.



Finding Hope


I had a lovely passage as part of my daily quiet time this morning.  It came from Isaiah 65;

“Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.  But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.                                                                                                                               (Isaiah 65 vs. 17 – 19)


I took some real encouragement from these words.

Yes, they are spoken to the nations of Israel and Judah and they give hope of a restoration of the restoration of the people after the exile and they reveal something about the nature of God.   They also say something of how God treats us.  God is forgiving, creative, re-creating and rejoices over us and, within these words, there is the promise of hope for the future.

As I thought about this, I reflected that we all need hope.

If we are ill, we hope that we get stronger

If our team does badly, we hope they will improve

If we lose our job, we hope to find a new one

If we are in a time of waiting, we hope the answer will come quickly

The problem with hope is, that it can sometimes let down.  Circumstances can work against us, people fail us and some hope can prove false.  We can even find ourselves in a position where we lose hope all together and feel “hope-less” and that can cause us to not live stunted lives in the present.  As Henri Nouwen observed;

A man or woman without hope in the future cannot live creatively in the present

 You see, it is not hope itself that is the problem, it is what we place our hope in.  The words that were spoken by Isaiah are words from God.  When we put our hope in the promises of God, He will not let us down or fail us, some more words from Isaiah;

but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.                                                                                      (Isaiah 40 vs. 31)

It’s good to receive hope.  I like it when I am encouraged and hopeful (or hope-filled).  But, I know that many people are struggling and have lost their hope.

My reading had a bit of a sting in the tail today! 

I felt that God was saying to me “yes receive hope but, what are you doing to give hope to others?” 

Perhaps that is a question we all need to think about




Some Thoughts About Spam

This morning, I switched my computer on and did a bit of clearing up. 

I was amazed at how much rubbish had got on there.  We have a name for that rubbish, it is known as “Spam”.

I remember Spam (I think you can still buy it in) and I used to quite like it, when I was a kid, the name is supposed to have come from either Shoulder Pork and hAM or SPiced hAM.  Nobody is really that sure.  I can remember having to peal open the can using a key hoping against hope that the tin  strip would peal back and not snap.  Then I could enjoy a really healthy meal of “spam fritters and chips” or putting it into sandwiches extra thick!

I suppose spam lost something of its magic for me when the Monty Python team did their famous sketch.  The restaurant where every meal contained Spam and the Vikings in the background singing

Spam spam spam spam

Wonderful spam lovely Spam

If you haven’t got a clue what I am talking about, I suggest you search it on the internet!

It’s this constant repetition of the word spam that is thought to be the origins of the computer term for the constant repetition of e-mails or comments posted (usually by a bot).  They want to entice you to click on a link to goodness knows where on the internet, although I suspect goodness has little to do with it!

This got me thinking about the way that our lives are constantly bombarded with information and messages that demand our attention.  I think there are so many that, we almost become oblivious to them.  In some cases, the temptation to “click on the link” is so strong that we have been dragged into places that it would be better that we did not go.

Perhaps, like me cleaning up my computer, we need to do that with our lives at times.  The Psalmist says;

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts.                                                       See if there is any wicked way in me,                                                                                                                      and lead me in the way everlasting.                                                                                                                  (Psalm 139 vs. 23 – 24)

Why not take the opportunity today, to come to God and clear away some of the Spam in your life?



The Beast From The East

Like many people, we are having a visit from a weather condition known as “The Beast From The East”.  It’s been quite an interesting few days.  A very slippy drive into work this morning proved very challenging!

In our Church, we run a group that supports the homeless vulnerably housed.  We were very busy this morning with hungry, cold folk.  Many were surprised to find us open given that so many services are really struggling to run in the present conditions.

During the morning, when things quietened down, I got chance to go and do a quick walk round of the Church building.  Given conditions, I just wanted to check all was well.  On my tour I found this in the entrance porch of the main Church building;


The main doors have a small gap at the bottom and the snow had blown through!  It made me think, how such a small gap could lead to something unwanted getting in.

In a strange way, I think the same can happen in our lives too.

I am going to use an old fashioned word here, the word is “sin”.  There is a danger that we can end up categorizing sins as “big sins” and “little sins”.  For most of us, we wouldn’t dream of committing “Big sins”.  But, when it comes to the “little sins” well, they don’t really matter, or do they?

Interestingly, the Bible doesn’t categorize sins in this way.  Sin is simply sin.  I think the reason why the Bible doesn’t differentiate is because God recognizes that even a little gap can allow the unwanted to get in.

How did I deal with the unwanted result of “The Beast from The East”?  A brush soon cleared it.

How can we deal with the unwanted in our lives?  Because Jesus paid the price for our sin, we can receive Gods grace, love and forgiveness.  All we have to do is ask

Schools, guns and all that….



I wanted, some time ago, to write a blog about the recent tragic events in America.  I have held back simply because, I was not too sure what to say and how to put it.

In some respects it is none of my business because, I am not an American, I have never been to America and none of the victims are known to me in any way shape or form.  However, through news media, social media and the fact that what happens in one part of our world has an effect on the whole world, I feel that I have as much right as anyone to add my voice to the rest.

On hearing the news I was tempted to join the thousands of others with the comment “thoughts and prayers”.  I chose to remain silent at that time and, having seen the reaction, I realized that many who commented with”thoughts and prayers” were well meaning but,the emotions being felt were too raw.

I have no love for Donald Trump and I believe that allowing the general public to carry guns is ridiculous, expecting teachers to carry firearms in school is unbelievable!  I would support those people who are calling for gun control and the sooner the NRA is stripped of power the better.

But, in the aftermath and the shock, we all need to ask ourselves some very serious questions.  There is something fundamentally wrong in the world and that is what needs to be addressed.

Where young people feel disenfranchised and older people are afraid, something is wrong.  Where hatred and violence are allowed to flourish unchallenged, something is wrong.  Where people in the majority world are left to starve and fight for existence and some nations produce more and more food waste, something is wrong.

Jesus said some words that I have been reflecting on today;

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful                                          (Luke 6 vs. 37)

Jesus draws our attention to one of God’s prime characteristics, He is full of mercy.

God is loving and God is merciful and calls on us to show love and mercy not just to each other but, the whole of His creation.  We cannot live in isolation from each other, putting barriers up and creating obstacles.

As I read these words, I began to think about what they addressed in me.  I felt that they were saying “be like Jesus”.  Not easy but, essential!

What needs to change in me so that I can become more like Jesus?

What needs to change in you so that you can become more like Jesus?