A fresh start

Start the day over
Have you ever wished you could just start over? The time you hurt the one you love, a relationship fell apart or a project that failed. We can’t change the past, and so often we repeat the same mistakes, so where can we look for a fresh start? How can we start again and know there will be a different outcome?

No way back
It’s hard to imagine that God’s own people Israel, could fail and write off God. Yet they strayed, rebelled and cut themselves off from their only hope many times, it’s a wonder we have a Bible at all! Even though God, created, rescued and gave them a special land, held their hand, fed them, blessed them, loved, cared and provided for them. Yet Israel threw it all back in God’s face, in exchange for manmade substitutes, and in doing so broke their promise to God. A point of no return described in Jeremiah 11:10-11

They have returned to the sins of their ancestors, who refused to listen to my words. They have followed other gods to serve them. Both Israel and Judah have broken the covenant I made with their ancestors…Although they cry out to me, I will not listen to them.

God’s goodness
So is that the end of the story? No, God is all about new beginnings and second chances, he is gracious, loving and with him there’s always hope. Without God death, destruction and sin are impossible to overcome, as tatters of our relationship with God hold no hope of reconciliation. That is unless God acts first.

The time is coming
So how can God forgive such an unfaithful and adulterous people? How can God repair this decimated relationship? God will do it by making a new covenant, an unbreakable and even more intimate promise? Jeremiah 31:32 says:

It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them

New from the ground up 
The new covenant is not like the first, because this one relies on God alone. The new covenant is not just the old one repackaged it is different. Where the old involved God’s law written on tablets of stone, now Jeremiah 31:33 says he will put his law deep within us, into our minds and on our hearts. In other words we can be transformed, so that we begin to love the things God loves and hate what he hates.

My God, my people
In the old covenant God called Israel to be his people, yet ultimately they rejected him. This time we will accept God and one day everyone will know who God is! Our neighbours, our family, no one will have to ask who Jesus is. We still need to share Jesus now, but one day when this promise is fulfilled everyone the poor and rich, the young and old, everyone will know God.

But how?
But how can God do it? Without replacing humanity, how can he pull it off? Isaiah 53 explains how God can do it through Jesus.

Surely he (Jesus) took up our pain and bore our suffering, we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

God can’t over look sin, so Jesus who had no sin, took our place, he took our sin on himself. 

What we need
I know I need this new covenant, this unbreakable relationship with God, where my sins can be forgiven and my past and future transgressions can be wiped away. I long for God to change my heart, to root out my rebellion and make me new. Until Jesus returns we all continue to battle sin, yet now we have the Spirit of God to help us live for him. We have a new heart, a new desire to live for God instead of ourselves.

The most intimate relationship
If God was like a Father to Israel, holding their hand, drawing them close like a husband, then we have something better. We are in Christ, and he lives in us, we are inextricably linked by an unbreakable bond. We are safe, recreated and reborn. That is what it means to live a resurrection life, that is what the new covenant offers anyone who comes to Jesus. It is amazing!

Women and the church

The western world undervalues and misunderstands so many things and the importance of Mothers and women in general is one of them. Another thing even some of it’s members undervalue is the local church. I wonder if you grasp the significance of the church’s calling, it’s purpose and place in the world? On Mothering Sunday, the value of mothers and the church are brought into focus.

A hard time
For some people Mother’s day was dreadful a reminder that they are unable to have children, or that their Mother was anything but caring, the loss of a mother or child. As a church family we want to stand with you, as you pick yourself up this week. We want to weep, mourn and pray with you, if you will let us.

A new family
Yet the truth about the church is that when we join God’s family, the local church becomes our family too. A family with lots of children, mothers, fathers and brothers. Over the years I have had plenty of people who nurtured me, as a child, teenager and as an adult. Now I have the joy as a father, of seeing people nurture and care for my children too.

Jesus creates new families
In John 19 our reading from Sunday, we observed Jesus transforming loss and grief into a new beginning. Just as Jesus’ mother Mary stood near the cross, grief stricken and about to lose more than just a son, Jesus provided.

Jesus provides
On the cross Jesus wasn’t focused on himself, but on Mary. Jesus was dying for Mary and for us, to us bring life, as he defeated sin and death. Yet Jesus also provided a new family for Mary as he asked the disciple he loved to take Mary as his own mother. He didn’t say ‘please look after my mum’, he made them into a new family unit, a family formed by God.

Mother’s are amazing
Mothers are profoundly special, they care for their children before the rest of the world even know they exist. It can feel like a thankless task, yet mothers are vital to society and in helping us better understand God. As mothers demonstrate God’s sacrificial, patient, determined and careful love, and they comfort us and give us strength. Mothers love in ways that point us to God the Father, who loved us so much that he gave us the world and his only Son. 

The church is special
So mothers are special but how special is the local church? I don’t just mean your church but every gathering of Christ’s people? Well the local church is the means by which God chose to communicate his love and salvation. Colossians 3 describes what the church should look like: 

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

This ought to be the mark of God’s family, and what an attractive community that is. A compassionate and forgiving family united by love.

The church’s value
How valuable is the local church? Well Jesus died for the church and he is the head of the church. God the Father sent Jesus on a rescue mission to form the church and the Spirit empowers the church to live and witness to Jesus. 

How do we join God’s family?
If you believe in Jesus and commit your life to him, then you’re part of God’s family. Which also means that you are a mother, father, sister or brother to someone else in your church family. Which is why it’s vital to be a part of a church and to care for those in the church.

2020 Vision
If there is one thing the pandemic should have done, it is sharpen our understanding of the church. We know it’s not the building, we know it’s not what we do on Sunday. The church is an everyday thing, it’s loving God in response to his word the Bible, living in response to what we hear and loving and caring for each other in the process. The Christian faith is a community thing, it’s not a hobby we can do on our own. It’s about a gathered people who are sent out to share the love of God with the watching world.

What the King thinks of Meghan and Harry?

Yes, you read that right, I said what does the King think about Meghan and Harry. The coverage and responses to an interview between Oprah and the Sussexes has saturated the media, followed swiftly by accusations, judgements and a resignation or two. You’ll no doubt have your own opinions, yet what does Jesus think about it all? I certainly don’t have insider information on what God thinks on this specific issue, but as we look at the Bible we see evidence of the way God feels, responds and hopes we will respond.

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

Romans 12:15

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way
you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Galatians 6:2

Before doing or saying anything we should show compassion. We don’t know the full story, but we know enough to respond. As Christians we can recognise the emotional and mental struggles shared and weep as we heard about the couple’s miscarriage.

I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

John 10:9-11

The next thing we can do for everyone and anyone who suffers or struggles is to hold out Jesus. In whatever way our lives have been marked so far, Jesus offers us life. Not only that but Jesus offers us the love and protection of a shepherd who is willing to give up his life for his sheep. It’s easy to observe people like Harry and Meghan, those we consider privileged or well off, to make assumptions and even covet their lives. Yet life to the full is not found through anyone no matter how successful or attractive their life may seem, but only through Jesus. He is the only way to have it all. So how do we do it? How do we live like Jesus? What does he want us to do?

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”

Matthew 22:37-39

May the Lord help us to respond compassionately to what we see and hear, may we react differently to those around us. May our response reflect the heart of God, and in doing so may we point to the life Jesus offers to all.

Successful living

What does success look like? Where does your mind take you? Do you think about financial security, health, expertise in your field or a happy family? With all our ambitions where does God fit in?

Jesus had a very different view of success or to put it another way, what it really means to be human. For Jesus the most important part of anyone’s life is their relationship with God. Jesus’ first recorded words in Mark’s gospel make it clear: 

‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’

There is good news, great news in fact, but when God comes near we need to know where we stand. We have rejected God which is why Jesus calls us all to repent. In Mark 8 Jesus frames the issue by challenging the way that we look for meaning in this world. 

What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?’

Jesus makes it simple, we have a choice, we can focus on this life or on what matters, saving our soul. We can find life in Jesus, through the weakness and foolishness of the cross, and by believing be saved and embraced by God. Or we can live for the here and now, revealing that we are ashamed of Jesus. Not only will life be devoid of real and lasting purpose and joy, it will also mean forfeiting our souls. 

Jesus is kind enough to challenge us and show us what really matters in life. We can live for today and lose everything or we can embrace a different ambition, and accept a life shaped by death, humility, weakness and sacrifice.

This is the call of Lent, to examine ourselves, to take a spiritual health check and to remember the lengths that Jesus went to, that we might know life now and forever. Then we will be able to celebrate on Easter day with all of our hearts, as we see all that Jesus has done.

Grief, funerals and hope

It goes without saying that the last year has been especially hard for all of us. However it is also fair to say that those who have lost family or friends have had additional challenges and pain associated with their loss. Not being able to comfort your own family with a hug or a kiss, not being able to be with those who are dying or ill, being unable to attend a funeral because of restrictions. All of these and so many more factors have made things hard and will continue to do so until we are able to meet together again, both with joy and with our grief. 

So I thought I would share with you the hymns and a talk I will be giving today at one of our church family’s funeral, you might find it helpful as you process your own loss. As a member of our church, Angela was a friend to many and for that reason I know it is hard that you cannot attend the funeral. So in a small way it may help to know the hymns Angela had chosen, Lord for the years and Bless the Lord (10,000 reasons) and the Bible passage she chose 1 Corinthians 13.

A short talk on 1 Corinthians 13

Have you ever looked at something without your glasses on or whilst squinting in the sun and thought that looks nice, only to put them on or come into the shade and be truly amazed. Or maybe you have looked at the artwork for a piece of music and thought I like that song, only to hear it and be swept away. In our reading we heard about the value and power of love, a word that used to be translated as charity. A concept that speaks of sacrificial love, serving and loving others, even often in hidden ways. But even if we use all the words in the dictionary to describe love they still don’t it justice do they.

So let’s take a moment to consider love together, especially as Angela choose this passage for us. It helps us to make sense of grief, which is in itself an expression of love, and yet I think Angela wanted us to consider these words so that we can do more than just consider love. As Angela knew the God who these words speak about, the God who is the source of all love, and who demonstrated his love in the most powerful and world changing way.

I think Angela’s joy and positivity came from her understanding of God’s love and kindness. A love and kindness that she not only enjoyed for herself, but that she in turn directed towards others. A love you would have known as her neighbour, friend or family member. It’s true that Angela was a gift from God and a reminder of his goodness and love to us, whether we believe in God or not.

As Christians we have a confidence like no other, summed up in the writers final words. 

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 

Imagine being embraced by God himself and being welcomed to an eternity in paradise. In this life it is possible to be awe struck and overwhelmed by God’s love, yet one day we will experience that love in all it’s fullness and we will know it forever.

We all experience God’s love and provision each day, yet he has also recorded his love for us in the Bible. A love letter, in which his love shines most brightly through Jesus, God himself. The God who was willing to exchange praise for poverty, adoration for rejection and honour for shame. You can see God’s love in everything that Jesus did and said, yet the ultimate demonstration of love was shown through his death. A death which was underserved and yet also only the beginning of the story, as Jesus rose to life again. Through death Jesus defeated death and paid the price for our rebellion. Or to put it another way, Jesus made a way for us to know the God we turn our backs on and chose to live against. What an amazing love, what amazing grace, that our heavenly Father was willing to give up his only Son for you and me.

When we understand and experience God’s love for us in Jesus, it is life changing. When we truly know God’s sacrificial love we are empowered to love others in new ways. Then one day we will see Jesus face to face, the source of all love and charity. A love which will blind us, overwhelm us and then we will know real beauty. Then we will see love in all it’s glory. On that day we will know for certain that greatest gift of all is love.

So just as Angela responded to God’s love and gave her life to follow Jesus, I hope we will look to him ourselves. Not only for comfort in our grief, but also that our tears of grief might be turned into tears of joy. As we are reminded or discover for the first time the love of Christ, which outstrips and overshadows even the greatest love we have ever known. Amen.

Who is God? Who am I?

Two years ago, if someone told you that you couldn’t leave your house or sing hymns in church, you might have laughed it off. When something inconceivable comes along it’s hard not to dismiss it entirely. So when people try to explain who God is, we might be tempted to ignore them too.

Familiar concepts
Explaining strange concepts is hard, so to help you might take a shared experience and relate that to the new concept. Which is why in the Bible John weaves together the concept of life, light and truth, to describe who God is. The other gospel writers jump straight to the action, to Jesus’ life, yet John starts at the very beginning with God himself as the focus.

The key to it all
Do you remember the last time you went somewhere new and had to decipher a map. The best maps have a key to help you decipher them and find the real points of interest. John says that the key to understanding God is to know who Jesus is. He gives us a key ‘the Word’, and opens his good news like this. 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

John 1

Who, what, where?
John opens with the most important news in human history, before anything existed, God existed, and in the beginning ‘the Word’ created the universe. At the start of the Bible we are introduced to the beautiful, complex, creator God. The Word we are told was with God and was God and we know him as Jesus. Jesus, who is the source of life and light itself, which means we all need to expand or amend our view of him. Why? Because if we think that Jesus was just a man or even a great teacher then we’re not even close, if we think he was a prophet that doesn’t cut it either. The Bible says we exist because Jesus spoke everything into being and he sustains us, that means that we are alive because of Jesus.

Does he care?
Yet does Jesus really care? What do we know about the heart of God? Well the Bible reveals that God cares for you more than you can imagine. He cares enough to show up in person, to live as part of a poor family, to be rejected, over looked and abused because he cares for you.

Too much to say
The problem is that there isn’t enough space to tell you how much Jesus cares, but the good news is, that is what Easter is all about. So I pray that over the next few weeks we might listen together and discover more about God and how much he cares for us.

Want to know more now?
If you want to hear more now, here is a talk which explains why Jesus matters so much and what we discover about ourselves in the process.

We all worship something // Article

Our purpose is to worship
Matt Redman, the writer of many of the Church’s most loved contemporary worship songs said in a recent article: Human beings have been created to worship the living God – as Psalm 150:6 says: “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.” The Westminster Shorter Catechism says a person’s “chief end” is to “glorify God, and to enjoy him forever”. Augustine noted that our hearts are restless until they find their home in God, and CS Lewis warned us of the dangers of any other approach – “idols always break the hearts of their worshippers”.

Barking up the wrong tree
I don’t know about you but I have been through significant times of unrest, and the most memorable time was due to my heart being by worshiping the wrong thing. If we are honest we can all relate to that, although we would never have used the language of worship, but I’m sure we can remember when our aspirations, dreams or personal goals became harsh and heartbreaking gods with a small ‘g’.

Resetting our worship
The last year has forced many of us to abandon things and caused us to feel hugely restless. For some people Lockdown 1 removed unhelpful distractions or full diaries and left them with more time to worship God than ever before. Whilst others have found themselves more stretched and maybe even more reliant on distractions to get through. I know many people who have spent too much time on a screen, drinking or eating more than they would like.

Yet the pandemic does give us the chance to think about what worshipping God really means, especially for those who have been unable to make it to Zoom services or to meet in person. However rather than being starved of worship, some have rediscovered that our whole lives and not just that hour on a Sunday are our true act of worship. Worship seen in obedience to the government, in caring for neighbours, calling friends, now we begin to see how much God cares about our whole lives.

Frontlines as places of worship
All of us have different frontlines or opportunities or places where we meet and connect with others. The diocese has been running a course called Fruitfulness on the Frontline from LICC, which helps to widen our view of the opportunities to worship and glorify God. It has opened up every area of life and begun to show us how we can use them to glorify God. It has challenged us to take what to some is mundane and turn it into worship, so now we know that washing up, greeting a stranger, seeking justice and working well are all opportunities to worship and see God’s kingdom grow.

Remembering what it is all about
Matt Redman concludes: The year 2020 is one we’ll never forget – the amount of disruption and disturbance to our normal way of going about things has been immense – including in the area of our congregational worship. Not being able to gather in person has been painful at times. But alongside the discomfort and the chaos, maybe there’s also been a pruning – an opportunity to come out of this moment spirituality sharper than ever before – and focused once again on the things that carry the most importance. Everything has been stripped back, and we’re forced to think through once again what is our highest priority with worship, and what is peripheral. And, indeed, what is missing. Personally it has taken me back to some simple lyrics I wrote more than two decades ago:

I’m coming back to the heart of worship
And it’s all about You
It’s all about You Jesus.

These extracts are taken from an article in the February 2021 issue of Premier Christianity.

I would love to hear something you’ve always taken for granted and now offer up to God as an act of worship. And if this sounds like something that you would like to learn more about, look out for opportunities to attend a Fruitfulness on the Frontline course.

Do we share the family likeness

Sometimes we can over complicate things and one of the things we can feel totally mystified by is how we share and witness to Jesus. Yet if we take a familiar concept it might make things a whole lot easier.

I still remember the day when a stranger said “Are you Bill Bazely’s son? I recognised the smile.” I thought he was having me on for a second, I found it hard to believe that someone I’d never met could identify me by my smile. Yet you may have had a similar experience, with identifying you by your family likeness.  

In the Bible (John 2) we discover that Jesus once turned water into wine, and that it was because of this miracle that his disciples knew who Jesus was. It was in the abundant generosity of the miracle that they recognised the family likeness. They saw the work of God, their heavenly Father in what Jesus did. Yet it was more than just generosity, it was the way that Jesus also saved a family in the process. The disciples didn’t understand everything about Jesus, but they knew enough to see the family resemblance and put their faith in him.

How can you show that you are part of God’s family? 
How can you point to such a loving, caring, generous heavenly Father, the one who has graciously rescued us? When we remember who God is, and remember who it is we are trying to introduce to others, it isn’t so mysterious any more. Yes, we still need to be ready to explain the hope we have in Jesus as we live like our heavenly Father. Yet as we pray and seek to live like Jesus, there is every reason for people to ask who it is that makes us live like this. So as we model a godly character and seek to be generous like God, we will point people to Jesus.

Let’s pray for our neighbours, friends and family to ask us why we’re different, or to ask us about God. Once they are interested pointing them to Jesus is easy, we can invite them to read a gospel, read this blog, go to church, read a book or watch a talk. If you are interested in knowing more about the joy and generosity of God then you might like to watch this talk on Youtube.

The reality of home schooling // Article

This week I am sharing the words of the Revd Jenny Bridgman, Director of Studies for Pastoral Workers, Associate Vicar of Timperley, and mum of three primary aged children. Read on to hear her personal account of the challenges of homeschooling and the opportunity to reach out to friends, family and neighbours and “be the calming presence” they might need.

My day revolves around a whiteboard. Each morning, we copy very carefully the day’s timetable for each of the five people in our house:

9am – B Maths lesson
10am – Dad funeral, C Literacy lesson, Mum phone calls
11am – Mum meeting, E Phonics work
12 noon – Lunch
1pm – “PE”
1.30pm – Mum desk work, B Literacy lesson, E Painting, Dad meeting
3pm – Mum meeting, C “Storytime” live lesson
7pm – Mum teaching, Dad meeting, B, C E – bedtime!

It looks so orderly, but the whiteboard lies. It doesn’t tell you about the crumbs and spills, the toilet accidents and the squabbles, the meltdowns (mine, mostly) and the curveball phonecalls and the malfunctioning technology and the pressure. It doesn’t tell you that our youngest child has taken to regular toileting accidents because of her lack of routine, that the middle and eldest children cry to be in school with their friends (and that Mum and Dad are WAY too embarrassing to appear anywhere on the camera during live lessons). It doesn’t tell you about the sheer amount of Haribo needed as bribery for one sentence of writing: nor about slammed doors and frustration bubbling into anger and the 3am nightmares and the sheer endlessness of it all… You can read more here.

Maybe you could help support or pray for parents in our own church and community who are dealing with the realities of having become teachers overnight and working and living in ways that are unsustainable.

Jenny ended with these words: Through these days I am holding onto a prayer from the New Zealand Prayer Book, with the line:

It is night after a long day.
What has been done has been done;
what has not been done has not been done;
let it be.

What is your only comfort in life and death?

I don’t know how you would answer such a big question personally, but more than ever we are having to live our daily lives alongside an immediate threat of death in a way that is alien to most of us. I’ve watched as the number of puppies at the school gate multiplied, as people looked for comfort, companionship and help.

When many of us are having to spend too long looking at the same four walls a different perspective can feel like a breath of fresh air. So the perspective offered here directs the responsibility away from the government and scientists and to someone who truly can save us. Having a biblical perspective on life and death, a reminder of who God is and how we can come under his wing makes a real difference.

With all of that in mind the first part of the Heidelberg catechism came to mind. The first line is immensely comforting and challenging in equal part. These truths are hard to keep front and centre at times like this, so you may want to come back to them again.

If you’ve never read it before then you’ll see it is like a collection of promises from the Bible. Truths that continue to be poured out like balm from a loving, caring, powerful, sovereign God.

What is your only comfort in life and death?

That I am not my own, 1
but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, 2
to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. 3
He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, 4
and has set me free from all the power of the devil. 5
He also preserves me in such a way 6
that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; 7
indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. 8
Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life 9
and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him. 10

  1. 1 Cor 6:19, 20.
  2. Rom 14:7-9.
  3. 1 Cor 3:23; Tit 2:14.
  4. 1 Pet 1:18, 19; 1 Jn 1:7; 2:2.
  5. Jn 8:34-36; Heb 2:14, 15; 1 Jn 3:8.
  6. Jn 6:39, 40; 10:27-30; 2 Thess 3:3; 1 Pet 1:5.
  7. Mt 10:29-31; Lk 21:16-18.
  8. Rom 8:28.
  9. Rom 8:15, 16; 2 Cor 1:21, 22; 5:5; Eph 1:13, 14.
  10. Rom 8:14.

If you have been left without comfort, as the things you looked to have all but melted away, then here is something solid to replace them with. Solid joys to cling to, truths to rejoice in and reasons to praise the Lord.