Tuesday, 27 December 2016

What a friend

If it were possible to arrange when, where and into what circumstance you were born what would you choose? A home of great wealth? A family of high privilege? Surroundings of exquisite comfort? Thankfully, the when, where and how of our birth is something that none of us could ever arrange – it is a gift from God. However, the one person who had full control of His birth chose a most unusual path. Consider this – if the powers that Jesus had were at our disposal, would we have decided upon the path that His life took? Surely not. We would have most likely opted for powerful parents, fabulous wealth, plush surroundings, and an easy life. But instead, Jesus chose for His upbringing a poor home in an oppressed backwater under the thumb of mighty Rome. He chose to be born in the land of the shadow of death (Isaiah 9:2, 6).  He entered our world at its darkest depths.
All this is made more remarkable when we grasp Jesus’ full identity. When the angel announces to Joseph who the baby in Mary’s womb is, he says:
“You shall call Him Emmanuel which means God with us.” (Matthew 1:23)
In other words, the Jesus who was once laid in dingy, dirty manger was no ordinary child but rather the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Luke 1:32-33).  Doesn’t such an identity demand a certain level of pomp and ceremony?  Or at least dignity?  Or publicity?
However, Jesus’ coming into our world was in humility and shows how our God identifies with us in our frail humanity. To see the nature of God, we naturally look up to the heavens.  Christmas tells us to look down into the manger; there is true deity.
Our God does not simply give orders from on high and bid us get on with it. NO! He comes down to earth in the flesh, living the life we could never live, and then dying the death we all deserve. It by this humility and great suffering that Jesus now offers to us the joy of sins forgiven and the wonderful promise of life everlasting. As the words of the opening carol at most candlelit services puts it:
He was little, weak, and helpless,
Tears and smiles like us He knew
And He feeleth for our sadness
And He shareth in our gladness

Or more simply:
“What a friend we have in Jesus – all our sins and griefs to bear.”

May we know this wonderful Jesus this Christmastide and beyond.
Parish article for the 12 days of Christmas, December 2016 AD

Friday, 23 December 2016

This is how bad political correctness has got

Evidence if ever one were needed, that Western civilisation is now rapidly falling apart

Thursday, 22 December 2016

A poem, beautifully read for the 3rd day before Christmas

Lance Pierson reads this so beautifully and you'll be impressed by his sound effects...

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Six wise men?

We do not know for certain that there were three wise menthis is simply an inference from the three types of gifts they brought (Matthew 2:11). There could have been six wise men, for all we knowone for each end of the box.

– Douglas Wilson, God Rest Ye Merry, p. 146

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Best Christmas card cover of 2016

There is so much contained in this simple card and I love how it communicates that Christ is not just the Christmas no. 1 but Lord of all life.

This will definitely be staying up beyond Christmastide!


To all who know Christ - A very happy Christmas to you. To everyone else, have a long weekend on us!

Saturday, 17 December 2016

What a paradox we all are!

“Know then, proud man, what a paradox you are to yourself. Humble yourself, weak reason; be silent, foolish nature; learn that man infinitely transcends man, and learn from your Master your true condition, of which you are ignorant. Hear God.”

- Blaise Pascal, Pensées, 121

Thursday, 15 December 2016

A poem for the 9th day before Christmas

This one is known as a much loved carol but the poet Christina Rossetti wrote it as a poem in response to a request for a Christmas poem. It was published posthumously in Rosetti's Poetic Works and became a carol after it appeared in 1906. It has two well-known settings but I think I prefer the Harold Darke version (2nd video below).

King's College choir singing Gustav Holst's version

Harold Darke's version

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Poem for the 11th Day before Christmas

Impressive how John Donne fits the whole Christmas story (and more besides) in 14 rich lines. Hearken ye and be filled...

Monday, 12 December 2016

A poem for the 12th day before Christmas

Over the next 2 weeks I will try and link to the some favourite Advent/Christmas poems being read on the wonderful web. The quality is not always great but they should give you a flavour of some brilliant poesy. To kick us off, C.S. Lewis' The Turning of the Tide read by a man with an exceptional beard!

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Joy to the world

Christmas is most definitely here as it's been a few weeks since the launch of the 2016 John Lewis Christmas advert. This features a family dog, enviously watching the neighbourhood's wildlife leaping on a brand new trampoline on Christmas Eve. As well as animals taking centre stage, John Lewis has also cast a black family for the first time, including a six-year-old girl, who is beaten to her trampoline present by Buster – the family dog – on Christmas morning.

Image result for nativity scene silhouette pattern freeIn many ways, this year’s John Lewis advert captures the unusual nature of the true Christmas story found in Scripture. Consider for a moment the various animals which feature in the story of Jesus’ birth. Soon after Jesus has been born, Mary places Jesus in a manger – a feeding trough for animals (this explains why many Christmas cards feature animals gazing at the Christ child). Further, when the angels first proclaim the good news of Jesus’ birth, who is it they announce this to? Shepherds, who were out in the fields caring for their flocks. Lastly, consider the wise men. The Scriptures don’t make clear what they travelled on but, given the arduous journey they would have had to undertake, and given that National Express/Southern Rail didn’t exist back then, it is more than likely that they came either on camels or on horseback. The birth of Jesus Christ unusually features numerous animals. Similarly, it features an unusual family. Joseph and Mary are not wealthy or powerful (unusual given Jesus’ identity as the Son of God). Further, Mary conceives Jesus out of wedlock (perhaps not unusual in our day but it would have been scandalous in 1st century Jewish culture). All this to illustrate that Jesus’ coming into the world is for all people and all situations. Jesus arrival that first Christmas signalled, the beginning of God’s work to redeem and transform not just us human beings, but the entire cosmos. The book of Isaiah speaking of what Jesus’ coming will mean for the world says this:

The wolf will live the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the goat
The calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them

It may seem impossible now but Christ’s first coming started a transformation that will be seen in full technicolour when He comes again – to judge the living and the dead. A time is coming when animals and all forgiven sinners (i.e. Christians) will live in true peace and abundant joy will be overflow everywhere. This is why Christmas for the Christian is time of real rejoicing; by believing in Jesus we experience real transformation and receive the greatest gift – eternal life. The hymn Joy to the world describes all this well:

He [Jesus] comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found
Far as the curse is found

May we forgiven sinners rejoice in this good news, and share it gladly with all we know and love. Happy Advent

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

How a rose explains Predestination

“If I were to plead that the rose bud were the author of the root, well! I might indeed be laughed at. But were I to urge that any goodness in man is the ground of God’s choice, I should be foolish indeed.” 

- Charles Spurgeon

Monday, 28 November 2016

Are there any superlatives left for God?

Do we know what it means to praise? To adore? To give glory? Praise is cheap today. Everything is praised. Soap, beer, toothpaste, clothing, mouthwash, movie stars, all the latest gadgets which are supposed to make life more comfortable – everything is constantly being “praised.” Praise is now so overdone that everybody is sick of it, and since everything is “praised” with the official hollow enthusiasm of the radio announcer, it turns out in the end that NOTHING is praised. Praise has become empty. Nobody really wants to use it.

Are there any superlatives left for God? They have all been wasted on foods and quack medicines. There is no word left to express our adoration of Him who alone is Holy, who alone is Lord.

 Thomas Merton, Praying the Psalms, 10

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Pastors should visit come rain or shine

pastor shepherdI've recently started visiting regularly in the parish. I was doing this a few weeks back when it was warm and sunny and I jokingly said to an elderly couple that the Summer is great for visiting. Their response: "you lightweight; pastors should be out come rain or shine!" I was a bit taken aback by their criticism especially as the couple in question only come to church on special occasions (perhaps I should have responded "and parishioners should be in church come rain or sun!") Anyway I was reading Chaucer's description of a pastor and noticed that like the elderly couple, he thinks a good pastor visits whatever the weather. This is from prologue to the Canterbury Tales:

Wide was his parish, with house far asunder
yet he neglected not in rain or thunder

In sickness or in grief, to pay a call
on the remotest whether great or small

Perhaps I should be out come rain or shine!

Monday, 12 September 2016

Put away the Che Guevara t-shirts, stop the revolution and go to church!

Image result for ordinary church
Kevin De Young makes a wonderful and compelling case why you should be at church every Sunday. Here's a taster:

Don’t give up on the church. The New Testament knows nothing of churchless Christianity. The invisible church is for invisible Christians. The visible church is for you and me. Put away the Che Guevara t-shirts, stop the revolution, and join the rest of the plodders. Fifty years from now you’ll be glad you did.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

15 years after 9/11: a Christian reflection

11th September 2001 is a marker in world history. It is the "where were you when..." moment of our generation. Much like July 20th 1969 was to a previous generation (Armstrong landing on the moon) and May 8th 1945 to a generation before that (V-E day), 9/11 is a day when everyone remembers what they were doing when they first heard or saw the news.

Sadly, since then the fears and anxiety created by terrorist threats have become an ever present reality. We wonder if we will ever be free of that sense of unease in our lives. Recent events including the murder in Paris of an 80 year old priest celebrating communion, continue to feed that unease. 

Therefore, on this the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attack, it is worth pausing to consider how Christians should respond when horrible things happen (whether it be the carnage resulting from Islamic terrorism or an unexpected diagnosis in health or the sudden death of a family member). As someone has put it “Where is God when it hurts so bad?”

Part of the answer Scripture gives, is that the sadness we feel when bad things happen is one of God’s ways to tell us that this world is not all there is. The book of Ecclesiastes puts it like this:

“God has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men.”

In other words, the world is filled with much that is good and lovely but often things/people/circumstances ‘interrupt’ our joy causing us to wonder if this life is all there is. When, for example, relationships end and we feel heartbroken or when death strikes and we experience desolation, these are huge pointers to our longing for eternal life. All of us yearn for a world where there is no suspicion (of potential terrorists or of anyone else), where there is no need for scanners (at the airport or at the DGH) and where there is no sinfulness (big and public as at 9/11 or small and hidden such as anger or lust).

Astonishingly, the Bible offers us the chance to be part of such a wonderful sin-free world for ever! It is an offer which comes through a man – Jesus Christ – who lived the perfect life that none of us ever could and who died the death that each of us deserved. It is only by believing in His death and resurrection that God promises eternal life (rather than everlasting torment) – a life where there will be no more sickness, suffering or sorrow but limitless joy!

The phrase is true for the Christian believer: all will be well in the end. May we – whatever our suffering – put our trust in Christ as we await that day when all truly will be well, where evil will be finally overthrown and where Christ will welcome all who trust in Him into His everlasting kingdom. Amen.

Parish magazine article for 11th September 2016 AD

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Overpopulation is a myth so have lots of children...

... it's good for the planet! Well argued for in this article. Here's a taster:

Everything is headed in the wrong direction for environmental scaremongers. If we’re already experiencing the negative force of climate change — which I’m told we are every time we have ugly weather somewhere in the country — shouldn’t things be getting worse? Well, the real trouble is always right over the horizon.
Take India. Not only do they have to deal with Americans despoiling the earth, its population has exploded from 450 million in 1960 to 1.25 billion today. Yet by every tangible measurement of human progress the Indian people live better now than they did before the colonialists started using refrigerators. And it’s not just India.
Read the whole thing here

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Oh to be a pastor in Chaucer's making (pt 1)

This is from the prologue to The Canterbury tales:

A holy-minded man of good renown
there was, and poor the Parson of the town,

Yet he was rich in holy thought and work.
He also was a learned man, a clerk,

Who truly knew Christ's gospel and would preach it
devoutly to his parishioners, and teach it

Benign and wonderfully diligent
and patient when adversity was sent

For so he proved in great adversity
He much disliked extorting tithe or fee

Nay rather he preferred beyond a doubt
giving to poor parishioners round about

From his own goods and Easter offerings
He found sufficiency in little things

Oh to be a such a pastor
Lord I need thy power!

Thursday, 28 July 2016

How Jesus differs from Prince Harry

Prince Harry recently confessed that he should have spoken more openly about his mother (Princess Diana's) death. During an interview with the BBC he said:
"It is OK to suffer, but as long as you talk about it, it is not a weakness.
In other words, to talk about one's struggles and to be 'honest' about one's hurts is not something weak and lame but rather strong and brave. Part of Prince Harry's plea was - I think - to commend a more emoting society (among the British) rather than the aloof and distant feeling that sometimes typifies UK society (best captured I think by the phrase stiff upper lip)

Bottom line is that Prince Harry was saying it's okay/should be acceptable to 'let it all out' - to share one's sadnesses openly. Not so fast says Jesus Christ! Whilst reflecting on the immense pre-crucifixion suffering Jesus underwent, Prophet Isaiah reveals how little emoting, Jesus did:
"He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before his shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth." (Isaiah 53 verse 7)
So me thinks that [perhaps] keeping your trap shut is the better/more Christ-like option?

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Monday, 20 June 2016

A Father like no other

What image comes to mind when you hear the word God? And as you picture Him, what exactly is it that He is doing?  Is He standing?  Sitting?  Moving or stationary? Is He looking at you? What expression is on His face?  What about His hands?  Are they clenched in a fist?  Are His arms crossed or on his hips?  Is He pleased?  Is He powerful, or does He look like a kind old grandpa?  Is He strong or weak?

How we see God plays a powerful role in how we respond to him. At various points in my childhood, I thought God was like a cosmic force in the sky ready to zing a bolt down to strike me if I misbehaved. Yet the Scriptures present a very different picture of God. In the Gospels, Jesus exhorts us to call God, Father, “our Father.” The picture of God in the Scriptures is of a Father who is good, loving and kind, which is not often how we think of God. If it isn’t as the strict disciplinarian more akin to a Sergeant Major then we think of Him as the dozy grandfather all cuddles and smiles. Neither of these depictions faithfully matches the description of God as a good Father given in the gospels

Perhaps part of the challenge is the fact that fatherhood today is not esteemed in our culture. Think, for example, of how dads are often portrayed on TV – e.g. Daddy Pig in Peppa, Ben in My Family, Phil in Modern Family and off course Homer in Simpson – bungling and lazy, oblivious to the needs of the family and irrevocably incompetent. This has led in various ways to fathers who are either ruthless (and who in the worst cases abandon their families) or to dads who are ‘around’ but not that focussed on serving and blessing their families and who are not that bothered to try.

How vastly different this is to our heavenly Father. Neither harsh nor disinterested, God is the concerned Father who seeks the wellbeing of all His children. One of the clearest descriptions of God’s goodness comes from the Psalms: As a father has compassion on his children so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him. To fear the Lord is to esteem Him as our Creator and King. He made the heavens and earth, you and I and therefore deserves our joyful adoration. But far from being aloof and austere (as the high and mighty sometimes come across), God is compassionate and loving. Nowhere is this more visible than in His gift of His Son to be our Saviour. Greater love has no Father than this that He gave His one and only Son to die for our sin. Hallelujah!

Parish magazine article for June 19th 2016

Friday, 22 April 2016

Why we need St George

Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.

—G. K. Chesteron, “The Red Angel” (1909)

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Our God dies to conquer death. Can yours do that?

No human experience is closed to God. We cannot put a sign outside any area of human life that says “God has no business here,” “God may not enter.” We [may] set up obstacles and roadblocks, but the Lord bursts in regardless...
                                                                                                  ...Jesus’ death does not contradict His sovereignty. It is a revelation of His sovereign Lordship. Jesus’ life and death reveals that God is Lord not only over all things He is Lord in all things.

Read more of that here

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Best response to food fadists

This is nicked from an edition of The Spectator:

A certain Lord X, in his RSVP to a posh dinner writes:
Lord X thanks Bentley Entertainments greatly for the kind invitation and accepts with pleasure. Regarding his dietary requirements, Lord X does not eat, mushrooms, gravy, aubergine, capers, artificial sugar (or natural sugar for that matter) & wine that is not from the Burgundy region. He is technically glutten-free, wheat intolerant, diary-free and also cannot eat fruit, however he will forgo this for apples. He does like peas and steak.
The reply to Lord X goes as follows:
Dear Lord X, we are delighted you can attend the dinner but, having noted your complex dietary requirements, suggest you eat before you come.

Monday, 22 February 2016

What a eulogy! (have some kleenex nearby)

I'd never heard of Monty Williams before, but earlier this month, his wife of 20 years and mother of his 5 children was killed in a head on car accident. What Monty Williams said at her funeral is at once stirring and startling (especially if you're not a Christian!). As a husband of nearly 6 years, I watched what he said with both heartache and tremendous admiration. I commend it to you below but I warn you, have some kleenex nearby...

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Mission agencies are you listening?

In my opinion, Africa doesn't need missionaries from other continents in the same way they may have in past generations. Africa needs Africans, whatever colour, to be trained to minister to their own people. 
A salutary word to many of the mission agencies among whom it has been all the rage to talk about (and prioritise) reaching the unreached. Whilst I understand this zeal for evangelization, I have become convinced that for most of sub Saharan Africa what is most needed is not so much the reaching of the lost, as it is to disciple of the nations. This in fact is what Jesus calls the Church to do and something that is often overlooked in the Great Commission.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Abolishing marriage destroys the Church

Make marriage in any serious degree unstable, dissoluble, destroy the permanency of marriage, and the Church falls. Witness the enormous decline of the Church of England.

— D H Lawrence (1885-1930); staggering to think how prophetic such a twisted and messed up man was. Kyrie Eleison.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

European men are soft and irresponsible...

...says the Danish journalist below, following the tepid response that German men had to the recent sexual abuse many of their women received at the hands of Muslim men. The sad thing is the interviewer doesn't really want to consider this painful reality and instead pretends there isn't any problem. When is Europe going to wake up?

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Luther's recommendations for your devotions

“You should diligently learn the Word of God and by no means imagine that you know it. 

Let him who is able to read take a psalm in the morning, or some other chapter of Scripture, and study it for a while. This is what I do. When I get up in the morning, I pray and recite the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord's Prayer with the children, adding any one of the psalms. I do this only to keep myself well acquainted with these matters, and I do not want to let the mildew of the notion grow that I know them well enough. The devil is a greater rascal than you think he is. You do as yet not know what sort of fellow he is and what a desperate rogue you are. His definite design is to get you tired of the Word and in this way to draw you away from it. This is his aim.

Let the man who would hear God speak, read Holy Scriptures.”

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Another one bites the dust - Reflections on Bowie's death

One of the striking things about paintings of public executions in earlier times is the contrast between the French and the English approach. French artists typically ignored the gathered crowd and focused in detail on the face of the one about to be executed (there is, indeed, one picture of a woman about to be executed where her face has one of the most haunting expressions I’ve ever seen).  By contrast, English artists focused on the crowd, whether jubilant, mocking, or distraught, and left the victim a somewhat shadowy figure.  Public execution was after all, in part, public entertainment; and English artists had the courage (or lack of good taste) to represent it as precisely the kind of popular entertainment that it was.

I was reminded of this recently, when I switched on the news and on every channel/website the focus was on David Bowie’s death.  His death is very sad -- whatever his problems or faults or sins, two children have lost their father, siblings a brother and, if his parents are still alive, mum and dad have lost a son.  What is interesting (though hardly unpredictable) is the way in which the media have focused on the grief of the wider public, on people who never knew him and many cases presented a person’s death as entertainment.

I didn’t always enjoy Bowie's music but he was clearly a popular and talented entertainer. And he continues to entertain in death -- not just because his records will get some major airtime (including the just released album Blackstar) but because the media are able to play his death as one more showbiz event, burying the tragedy of real death, real bereavement, and terminated relationships. Of course, apart from grief, a good response to Bowie’s death (as with any other death) is to reflect on our own death and to ask how prepared we are to meet our Maker. As the poet John Donne movingly puts it:

“Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind,
and therefore, never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”

Wonderfully in Jesus Christ and by believing in Him, the Bible assures us that we receive forgiveness of sins and are made ready to stand before a Holy God (John 3:16). It is in taking this simple yet life-changing step that we can be made ready for that day, when the bell shall toll for thee.

Parish magazine article for the Second Sunday of Epiphany 2015 AD (with thanks to an article by Rev Dr Carl Trueman)