Oh I do like to be beside…..

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Perhaps you can remember the good old days, when you visited the seaside and heard the brass band playing;

Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside
I do like to be beside the sea!
I do like to stroll upon the Prom, Prom, Prom!
Where the brass bands play:
“Tiddely-om-pom-pom!”

Well, if you strolled along the Clacton prom prom prom yesterday you would have seen something entirely different.  The Churches Together in Clacton celebrated their event, “Praise On The Prom”.

Expertly hosted by BBC Radio Essex presenter, Andrew Merchant, the afternoon featured contributions from many of the Clacton Churches.  We have been running this event for a few years now and, in my opinion, it improves every year.

Yesterday was a little different to the norm.  Instead of “just” an open air worship event with music and drama, around the fringes of the arena you would have found people holding placards saying “I will Listen”, “Free Hugs”, “Free Water”.  I was on the water stand and gave out 96 bottles of water to people!  The Free Hugs and Listening gave people passing by an opportunity for the church to engage “hands on” with them.  Yes, people did stop for a hug or a chat and welcomed the opportunity to be prayed with!

One of the roles that I have is as chair of Churches Together in Clacton and I have seen at first hand just how much effort the organizing team have to put in each year. “Thank you” seems to be such a small thing to say for all your hard work John, Pam, Dan & Hannah but, this event would not happen without you.  Tony and the set up team worked from 8am on the Sunday morning, it was a long day for all of them!

The music group from the Church I have the privilege to minister at, put in a long shift yesterday too!  I hope none of them are suffering too much today!

So, why do we bother?  The Psalmist says;

How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! (Psalm 133 vs. 1)

We come together to show that the Church is UNITED.  We may be different denominations, have different ways of doing things, have different styles but, in the essentials, we are UNITED.  Jesus is Lord, knowing Jesus makes a difference, lives are changed when we live in the relationship we were made to live in – when we know God as our heavenly Father.

We come together to celebrate the freedom we have in this country to worship God.  In many countries of the world, Christians live in fear because they are persecuted.  We must not take our freedom for granted but, use it wisely.

The Psalmist then goes on to say;

It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down upon the collar of his robes.  It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. (Psalm 133 vs. 2 – 3)

I don’t know if you have ever experienced anointing with oil?  I have, I didn’t enjoy it.  It’s a messy experience!  Sometimes, Christian unity can be a messy experience.  During the preparation of this years Praise on the Prom, things did get messy.  I saw many of the committee in tears at times with their frustrations.  I know many of the organizing group wanted to walk away and give up on it.  Some people outside the group just did not grasp the vision and thought the group were doing things wrong!

One of the things that I admired most about the organizing group was the way they worked through the issues.  They pulled together, they did not give up, they kept on.  When John learnt he could not tow his trailer in the carnival, he pulled it by hand instead!

And the result of all this?

For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore. (Psalm 133 vs. 3)

And there were blessings, it was a fantastic afternoon.  People were spoken to, people who would not normally attend church joined in.  Faces were painted.  People were prayed with.  Water was drunk.  One passer-by who took a bottle of water from me asked, “why does the church care?” my reply “because Jesus does”.

So, all in all, I felt really blessed yesterday and I am certain many others did too.

 

 

 

A touch of the Marvin’s

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Oh wondrous news, great rejoicing Radio 4 Extra is repeating a wonderful series that I first listened to years ago, and it still makes me laugh all these years later “The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy”.  For those of you who are scratching your head and thinking, “what on earth is he on about?” let me tell you a little about it. The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy is an electronic book published by Megadodo Publications coming out of the great publishing houses of Ursa Minor Beta.  What makes the Hitchhikers Guide so popular is the comforting words on the cover “Don’t Panic”.

Of course (for those worried that I have finally flipped my lid), it is a work of fiction written by Douglas Adams.  Whilst I do not agree with a lot of what Adams has written, it doesn’t stop it from being a brilliantly inventive comedy with some really well written characters.

One of the characters that I have a soft spot for is Marvin the paranoid android.  Marvin, as he likes to remind everybody, has a brain the size of a planet and, when he is set a menial task, complains about it and usually rounds off his moan with the phrase “life, don’t talk to me about life”.

Well I have been reflecting on life so, I am going to talk to you about life.  Jesus once said to His followers;

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

(John 10 vs. 10)

Life, for many people, is about existence.  Get up, go to work, get home, eat, sleep, repeat. Many find themselves wondering if life really has any meaning or purpose at all.  As one commentator said “you live and learn then you die and forget it all”.

But, I think to hold that view ignores part of what makes us human, you see we were created with a desire to know our creator.  Augustine of Hippo (no that isn’t a joke – it is his name) said; Our hearts are restless until they can find rest in you.

I believe that the Bible teaches that God created us because He loves to create, to love and to bless and that life in all its fullness is to live in the light of that love and blessing.

Of course the world isn’t perfect and life isn’t always perfect. So, how can we live life in all its fullness this side of perfection?

To help me understand this I looked at my garden.  I am a hopeless gardener but, every couple of weeks a gardener comes in and does battle with the weeds, the lawn, and tidies up.  What is amazing is that the work is never ending, weeding, mowing the grass and so on.  She does this not because she has nothing better to do but, because if we are to enjoy the garden she needs to remove all of the obstacles that stops the garden from flourishing.

Day by day, God wants to work in our hearts and remove all of the obstacles, weeds and rubbish that have built up and as He does that, life in all its fullness will begin to flourish in you.

 

Gracious God, keep me close to you today and enable me to walk in your presence.

Lord, may I be close enough to you to feel the beat of your heart and may my eyes see the wonders of your grace.

 

A Trip Down…

Memory-Lane

As somebody once quipped “nostalgia aint what it used to be”.  Well, last week I took a nostalgic trip and visited Swineshead and Boston in Lincolnshire.  I was born in Boston, I have a number of relatives who still live there.  It was lovely to walk down the streets and see how things have changed and, of course, it evoked memories of the past.

Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed my visit, I don’t think it’s healthy to live in the past and mourn over the “good old days”.  You see, when we live only in the past, we are unable to move on or accept that people and life changes.  To live solely in yesterday, makes our ability to live today somewhat more difficult.

The opposite side to this is, as Edmund Burke said that “those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it”.  That is one of the problems that we read over and again in the Bible with the ancient nation of Israel.  They forget the past, and so repeat the mistakes of the past.  When Jesus speaks to the Church in Ephesus in the book of Revelation He says;

Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. (Rev 2 vs. 5)

As one commentator suggests “cultivating spiritual memory leads to spiritual health”.  So, here are some things I am trying to remember which I hope will help you too.

Firstly, I want to remember that I matter to God (you matter to God).  God is not interested in numbers, He is interested in individuals.  Because I (you) matter so much to God, He sent Jesus to die on the cross for me (you).

Secondly, I want to remember that God is concerned with the attitudes of my heart (your heart).  Therefore, how I live today matters to God.  Am I (you)loving, forgiving, compassionate?

Thirdly, I want to remember that God wants me (you) to grow in my (your) relationship with Him.  To do this, He sent His Holy Spirit to work in my (your) heart.  Therefore, I need to remember to listen for the prompting of God’s Holy Spirit.

Fourthly, I want to remember that God has promised to always walk with me (you).  Therefore, no matter how difficult life seems to be, I (you) am not alone no matter what seems to be happening around me.

Now, if I (you) can keep remembering all these things, that would be a trip down memory lane worth taking!

A Fishy Story

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For the past couple of weeks I have been preaching on one of my favourite books of the Old Testament; Jonah.

Perhaps it’s the fisherman in me that loves the idea of a big fish, or the rebel in me that enjoys the idea of running in the opposite direction to the one being asked to go in!

But, I confess, it’s neither of these.

I was reading that In Jewish synagogues on the day of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, a passage from the story of Jonah is read, and the whole congregation responds with the words “We are Jonah.”

You see, this book is also about us; sometimes the story of Jonah is just like looking into a mirror and sometimes, I don’t always like what I see!

There are times when all of us can be disobedient to God

– there is Jonah,

There are times when all of us are insensitive to others

– there is Jonah,

There are times when all of us are dissatisfied with the way God has worked,

– there is Jonah,

There are times when all of us are selfish.

– there is Jonah,

But, what makes the story so powerful to me is that we also see the compassion of God.  You see, when I look into the mirror of Jonah, I see the compassion of God reaching out to me despite the fact that “I am Jonah”.  The Psalmist says this;

The LORD is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion.

Ps 116:5

It’s in God nature to be compassionate, not a little compassionate but full of compassion.  And this story is about how the compassion of God works to bring about a transformation in the heart and life of one of His people and then in the city of Nineveh.

But, there is another uncomfortable moment.  The story finishes on a rather challenging note when God says;

“But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”

(Jonah 4 vs. 11)

And we are left with a question, do we share God’s concern for those who do not know Him?  What are we doing to share His message with those around us?

Mud, glorious mud!

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Mud, mud glorious mud

Nothing quite like it

for cooling the blood

so follow me

follow

down to the hollow

and there let us wallow

in glorious mud

(Flanders and Swan)

 

 

What a weekend I have just experienced!!!  I did not believe you could get so much mud in one place and no, I was not at Glastonbury!!!  Until this weekend, I had not really appreciated The Song of the Hippopotamus by Flanders and Swan.

I have just come back from The Gathering 2016.  It was my first time and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  What I experienced far outweighed any expectation I had!  I experienced mud, mud and more mud along with fellowship, fun, some great teaching and encouragement.  I was challenged and excited by what I could see was happening in the lives of so many men.  Oh and in case you hadn’t picked it up – there was mud, a lot of mud!

The experience that I will take away with me is best summed up in this photograph which we saw at the meeting on Saturday night

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The rainbow appeared over the Big Top just as the Saturday night session began.  The rainbow was used in the story of Noah (in the Old Testament).  After all the flooding had subsided God makes Noah a promise.  To symbolise God’s trustworthiness, He puts a rainbow in the sky.  God then tells Noah that each time he sees the rainbow, it will remind him of God’s promise.

The rainbow over the Big Top spoke to me of how God keeps on loving us, despite our weaknesses and failures and He longs for us to live in a relationship with Him.  On that Saturday night, hundreds of men stepped forward and gave their lives to Jesus, they said “yes” to that relationship – I still have a lump in my throat when, I remember seeing those men step forward.  The mud we waded through over the weekend became glorious mud!

So, whenever I come back from any conference I ask myself a question “will you go again?”  My answer is “I have already booked”.  Come rain or shine I will be there, even in the mud I will be there because, even mud can truly be glorious!

 

Who’s Fault?

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As we approach the referendum (sorry, you are probably sick of hearing about it), my mind has been turning to what happens post referendum.  I am not qualified to discuss the economy (maths not my strong point), or even the political fallout but, one thing I have observed is that whenever there is a vote the “blame game” begins soon after.

As far back as the Garden of Eden, humanity has played the blame game.  You may remember the story, God finds man hiding in the garden because he has broken the rules by eating the fruit from the tree of good and evil.  When God asks him to own up, he promptly blames the woman and, when God confronts her, she blames the serpent. And on and on the game goes.

One company used to use the slogan “where there’s blame, there’s a claim” you see, the blame game can be quite profitable!  I used a well-known search engine (the one whose name rhymes with frugal) to look up “UK claim companies” and got 86000000 results in less than ½ second!

The problem with playing the “blame game” is that we tend to ignore our own responsibility in a given situation.  The problem with the human heart is, the human heart (cannot remember who said that).  The oft repeated story, The Times sent out enquiries to famous authors asking for their views on “what is wrong with the world today”, GK Chesterton (writer of the Father Brown mysteries among others) replied

Dear sir,

I am

Now, let me make this absolutely clear (sounds a bit like a politician!!!!), I am not advocating that we all walk round in sack cloth and ashes crying “mea culpa” (that’s your actual Latin).  What I am advocating is, that we are honest with ourselves and, most importantly, honest with God.  Why honest with God?  Well, in 1 John it says these words,

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

(1 John 1 vs. 8 -9)

 

When we are honest with God about the reality of our lives, we can receive His forgiveness and discover His peace.

Everything in the garden…

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Not everything in the garden is lovely.  Well, certainly not in mine anyway my fingers have never been green (the photo is a stock one, not my back garden – honest)!  But, this is a truth in life too.  There are good times and there are hard times, a time and a season for every activity under heaven as the writer of Ecclesiastes says.

This was brought home to me very much yesterday.  We had a wonderful service, celebrating our church anniversary.  We had a fabulous fellowship lunch, shared with some really good friends.  Our afternoon was to be spent in the company of some very dear people, and then…

As I came to reflect today on what had happened yesterday, I found myself thinking about the old proverb that says;

All sunshine and no rain makes a desert

The Bible is not silent about the hard times in life, just a quick glance through the book of Job confirms that.  I want to assure you that , if you are in a difficult place right now, God is not punishing you or walking away from you or abandoned you.  There is no easy “off the cuff” answer to hurt, pain or suffering.

So, where is God when we hurt?  I have come to realize that God is right there in the midst of it with us.  You see, God doesn’t isolate Himself from His creation but, in Jesus Christ, God comes to be with us as one of us, in the weakness and suffering of a Saviour who was born in a manger and hung on a cross.  That is the God we know, and we know that God will be with us whatever happens to us, to rejoice with us, and weep with us, and walk with us every day of our lives up to the very last one and beyond.

This morning, all I wanted to do was get into the words and the comfort of scripture and spend some time in God’s presence and I found these verses really helped me

 

Job 5:11: “He sets on high those who are lowly, and those who mourn are lifted to safety.”

Psalm 27:13-14: “I believe I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord; be strong, and may your heart be stout; wait on the Lord.”

Isaiah 41:10: “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, yes, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”

John 16:33: “I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.”

Romans 8:28: “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose”

Romans 8:37-39: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities nor powers, neither things present nor things to come, neither height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 15:13: “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Spirit.”

2 Corinthians 1:3-4: “Blessed be God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble by the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

Philippians 4:6: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with gratitude, make your requests known to God.”

Hebrews 13:5: “Let your lives be without love of money, and be content with the things you have. For He has said: ‘I will never leave you, nor forsake you.'”

 

A good dunking!

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What a wonderful morning we had this morning!  One of the greatest privileges of being a Baptist Minister is that I get to conduct services of Believers Baptism, and that was what I was up to this morning – that’s the picture you can see above.

 

During the service, June (the lady being baptised) told us her story of how God has guided her to this point in her life.  I got to share with the congregation what I believe the Bible teaches us about God’s ongoing love for us.  We were reminded :-

God is aware :- We sometimes wonder if we really count for anything in the world.  But to God, you are not a number, you are a person of value

God is able :- It’s God’s presence in our lives that makes the difference.  He can give us the strength to  keep going and will never let us down.

God is available :- The promises of the Bible are not just for those people hundreds of years ago, they are also for us today.  We can know God’s presence in our lives, all we have to do is ask Him.

As we came to the moment of Baptism we shared with June a special verse from the Bible to remind her of God’s love for her.  I think this verse is for all those who place their trust in God;

Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;  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. 30 – 31)

 

 

 

 

The body beautiful

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Have you ever stopped to consider how amazing the human body is?  When the Psalmist tells us we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139 vs.14), he certainly knew what he was talking about!

I have been really astounded by the Invictus Games that have been filling our news recently, wounded service personnel with amazing sports talent that just leaves me completely awestruck!  What astounds me is that, even after the trauma these human bodies have suffered, the “ability” to rise above “disability”. As one who is built more for comfort than speed, I have great admiration for any athlete!

The Apostle Paul uses the metaphor of the human body several times in the Bible (for example Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 & Ephesians 5).  It is a powerful image, one that we can easily grasp and understand;

All of you are Christ’s body, and each one is a part of it.

(1 Corinthians 12 vs. 27)

You think about it, the human body is unified yet it is also diverse, hands and feet are different, nose and eyes are different and yet, we need them.  The Christian church should be unified and yet, it is also diverse.  I believe that a healthy Church is one that is made up of all kinds of different people, who have different backgrounds, different life experiences, different skills and abilities placed by God in the ”one body” together. When each part of the body is functioning, the church is an amazing and beautiful body that looks like Christ.

But, as Paul writes to the Church at Corinth, he was writing to a body that was not functioning as well as it might.  That body was facing immense pressure from the world around it and was divided internally.  In short, this was an ill body!

The challenge is, how can the body of Christ be kept healthy?  There are lots of answers to that question but, in the recent church service where we focussed on this, we were offered three commitments

  • Commit to Love One Another

Love is foundational.  Paul goes on in 1 Corinthians 13 to say if I haven’t got love, if I am not motivated by love, if I am not committed to love, then I have nothing.  We become nothing more than a clanging bell and a resounding gong, all noise and nothing gained!

Oh Lord,

Help us to love one another

As Christ Loved the church

May we truly love one another

  • Commit to Forgive One Another

There isn’t one of us who is perfect.  There isn’t one of us who has never made a mistake.  I am sure I am not the only one who, from time to time, engages mouth before brain! (please tell me I am not the only one!!!!)

A book that has really helped me I called Hit by friendly fire – what to do when fellow believers hurt you (the author is Michael Milton).  I was so touched by this book, I bought every copy I could find and passed them out to others.  It helped me to move on in my journey of forgiveness.

Forgiveness is not easy but, forgiveness leads to freedom

  • Commit to Encourage One Another

It’s easy to point the finger and it’s easy to find fault in others Paul writes in Philippians 4 vs. 8;

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

(Philippians 4 vs. 8)

At the risk of being declared ‘heretic’, I would go one step further than Paul, I believe we should not only think on these things but, should share and talk about these things.  I believe we need to do this for each other. Look for the things to encourage.

Look for the things that are a blessing and commit to encourage one another.

I believe if we took on these commitments, we would be moving toward the body beautiful!

 

 

Stand back!

mystery

When I was a child (many many moons ago) there was a program called “Ask The Family”.  It was a quiz come general knowledge type program in which two family teams would compete against each other.  It had quite a distinctive theme tune and was presented by Robert Robinson (go on admit it – you remember it too).

There was always one round that interested me in particular.  A picture was shown of a household object taken from up close or, a strange angle and you would have to try and work out what it was.  It was only when the camera panned back, that the image would become clear.

I suppose most of us live our lives without appreciating fully that we are part of a bigger story.  We see our small part in the life of the world without appreciating we are part of much larger picture, we are part of God’s story.  We all have our part to play, we all have our gifts and talents that can be used for the help and for the benefit of others.  If I can mix my images for a moment, try and think of a jigsaw puzzle each of the individual pieces makes a whole picture.  If one piece is missing, the picture is incomplete

Today, God encouraged me to stand back a little and get a glimpse of the bigger picture and I was reminded of a verse in Proverbs that says;

Where there is no vision, the people perish

(Proverbs 29 vs. 18)

Why not ask God to help you see the bigger picture

ps. As for the image above? You would struggle to eat your dinner without it!