Previously on Phils Blog......

 

September 2017

Nehemiah, lived about  2500years  ago.  

He had a job  working for the king of Persia, Artaxerxes as the king's wine waiter.   Nehemiah would choose the best wines for him to drink and would then taste them, to make sure they were fit for a king and to check they weren't  poisoned. Nice  work if  you can get it, unless of course the wine was poisoned.

 

One day Nehemiah  heard some bad news. When he was younger he  lived in  the city of Jerusalem which was the greatest city in Israel,  but what with  wars and  invasion and all  sorts of trouble,  the  city  was all but destroyed. That's how Nehemiah ended up in Persia. Still, he had assumed that the city would have been rebuilt to some extent.

 

He  just couldn't believe it when  he heard  that the city was still in ruins, and especially the Temple.  No one  had  bothered to try and rebuild  it. Nobody really cared. This really got to him. You know when you get something on your mind and it goes round and round in your head? Well, Nehemiah was almost driven to distraction by the state of Jerusalem

He had to do something, so he prayed. and in his prayer he was a bit cheeky as he reminded God that Jerusalem was a city close to  his heart  and the Temple had been built to his glory so he really should do something about it.

 

A  couple of months later,  he  was pouring the king a glass of Chateau de Babel '95  and he  was still  thinking about Jerusalem and the Temple.  It must have shown on his face because the  king said, 'What's up with you, Nehemiah - you've got a face as long as a fiddle. It looks like you've found an obol and lost a drachma.'  (which was the ancient Persian version of, found a pound coin and lost a tenner )

Well,  Nehemiah took a deep breath  and he told the king about the state Jerusalem  was in.

 

As it turned out King Artaxerxes  was very sympathetic and suggested Nehemiah get some men together, some builders and labourers,  and get back to Jerusalem to start the rebuilding .

 

 Within a few weeks everything was ready  and Nehemiah  set  off for Jerusalem  on  top  of  the world,  but as things  turned out, there were  lots  of problems. There were people who'd moved into the area who didn't want the city rebuilt and they threatened to attack and kill Nehemiah and his workers.  

So once again, Nehemiah prayed. But not only did he pray, he posted guards. The attack on them came to nothing and eventually the would be attackers gave up and the workers were left to get on with their work. Little by little that work was done.

 

This story of Nehemiah is an encouragement to pray, to  take things to God that concern us, and speak freely to him.

But it's also a call to action. Nehemiah could have prayed as much as he liked but it was in speaking with the king he was able to put a plan into action to rebuilt the city and the Temple. Surrounded by enemies, he prayed for protection, but by posting guards he made doubly sure

 

There's a lot of truth in the old saying 'God helps those who help themselves'

We should never expect God to do the work we can do. There are times in life when divine grace meets with human responsibility.

We can't expect things to drop down from heaven like magic when we have the wherewithal to take care of business ourselves .

 

May God bless our thinking, lead us into action, and prosper our efforts.

 

Phil

August 2017

I've been writing a monthly article in our Parish magazine for about eight years now. With time off for good behaviour and the odd scribbling of a long gone curate I reckon that's just over eighty articles give or take.

 

One of the problems with writing this is, that it's all prepared in advance and that makes it difficult to be topical or to respond to various things that happen, when they happen. But sometimes that isn't such a bad thing.

There is also the panic that ensues when I get the 'Magazine Deadline Warning' from our esteemed editor.

 

We live in a world of rolling news on the television and radio, where events and opinions can be passed on in an instant,  and where a reaction or response or sound bite  is expected almost immediately. There is little or no time to let things sink in, reflect upon the issues, think things through and then give a reasoned reply.

 

When William Caxton  introduced the  printing press to England, in 1476, it was a most revolutionary invention but  he could never have imagined what we'd end up with - Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin, e mails, Rolling News, Fake News and mass communication on an unlimited scale.

 

All of this information (not all of it true) and opinion (not all of it informed) is both a blessing and a curse.

While it's important to be informed about local and world issues and keep up to date,  the sheer volume of information can be overwhelming and  leave us with no time to think.

 

When we used to rely on the Post Office to deliver a letter it would take a few days to arrive, give us a bit of time to read, and perhaps re read, then think about and then write a reply. Now e mails and the various social media groups seem to demand an answer now, or yesterday if possible.

 

Some things however, never change and some news remains true in every generation. The Gospel - the story of Jesus Christ - has always been referred to as Good News.

In days of depressing headlines and the doom and gloom merchants in the media good news is very welcome. This isn't news that's forgotten and  thrown away like yesterday's papers

 

This Good News is the sum total of Gods love for us, his creation, which comes to a head in his Son Jesus who opens up the way to a new relationship with him, and the opportunity to find forgiveness, healing and a sure foundation in our lives.

 

Whatever the headlines or the latest social media sensation, this good news remains true yesterday, today and tomorrow, that God loved the world so much he gave his one and only Son, Jesus Christ, so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Good news indeed.

May God bless you and those you love, and keep you in his care

 

Phil

July 2017

 

I'm told there is an old Chinese saying along the lines of, 'May you live in interesting times'. Actually it's believed to be a rather understated curse because  'interesting times' can bring uncertainty, disruption and fear. Most of us prefer things to be stable and peaceful,  whether it be in our own lives and relationships ,in our community and country, or across the world.

 

And yet we have seen some very interesting and  quite surprising developments and changes over the last year or so - the Brexit vote, the election of Donald Trump as president of the USA and our recent General election which, against all the odds, resulted in a hung Parliament and  saw Canterbury elect a Labour MP for the first time since the constituency was formed in 1918.

We do seem to be living in interesting times.

 

Added to this are the terror attacks in our country,  at a pop concert in Manchester, and on the streets of London, and the constant threat of further incidents. Interesting times indeed, whether we like it or not.

 

Terrorism by its very nature seeks to instill fear in us. The clue's in the name.

These acts of violence seem so random and can make us feel so vulnerable. The places with which we are so familiar and where we feel comfortable and safe, become potential targets.

While the response by our police, security and emergency services  has been outstanding, this violence shocks and appalls us.

And yet, history is one example of conflict and strife after another. Looking 2000 years ago Jesus himself lived in a time of great political upheaval, terrorism and lawlessness.

 

Still, we are rightly angered and saddened that people going about their lawful business  should have been killed or injured in this way. There can be no justification for such action, and we can be left in a place of darkness and with a sense of helplessness.

What can we do in times like these?

 

Oliver Cromwell, before a great battle is said to have encouraged his troops with the words,  'Put your trust in God, my boys, and keep your powder dry!' - a call to piety and practicality.

 

Pray for those who have suffered in these attacks, and for those who are living in fear.

Pray for our security forces and all who work to protect us.

Pray that God will confound the plans of those who would do harm, and even though we might think it's a long shot, turn their hearts from violence.

 

Practically, we have heard many stories of courage, compassion and sacrifice in these situations, and  these are the values that will help see us through the days ahead. That, and looking out for any signs of trouble, and looking out for each other.

To allow hatred to blind us to our common humanity would be to sink to the level of these murderers.

May God keep us safe, strong, vigilant, and working together that we may overcome evil and live in peace.

Phil

June 2017

God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are all there in the Bible .

I God - 3 persons - a mystery of faith

We can spend time worrying or wondering about that  or trying to figure it out, but faith  doesn’t always work like that.

 

What the Bible does tell me is that God is love.

And love cannot exist in a vacuum.

You have to have someone to love, and hopefully love you in turn.

Love involves a relationship and the relationship within the Godhead is reflected in the love we share together here on earth

This love of God is so great it bubbles over into an act of creation and a constant care for that creation.

This love is shown in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ which assures us that whatever life may throw at us, God is with us every step of the way, and for all eternity.

This love is shown in the power of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian, to guard and to guide us on our journey.

 

So spare a thought for all those preachers up and down the country on Trinity Sunday who will tell their listeners that it’s impossible to explain the Trinity… as we then go to attempt to do just that!

 

It’s good to wrestle with the mysteries of our faith, but it’s far better to go beyond explanation to experience those good things God offers us here and now.

Would you rather have a book that explains what love is, or would you rather love and be loved?

Because Christianity is not merely a set of beliefs or a bunch of rules but a relationship with the living God who loves you.

 

May the love of the Father, the peace of the Son, and the power of the Spirit be with now and always.

Phil

May 2017

Excuse me while I have a little rant.

I bought a book  a week or so ago, paid for it and as the assistant handed it to me I said, 'Thank you'. He replied ' No worries'.

What? No worries? Of course there are no worries! I'm buying a book not negotiating a peace deal for the Middle East.

A simple transaction is the least of my worries. No worries indeed!

The correct reply is 'You're welcome'.

 

Every morning I get up, make a cup of coffee and switch on the radio and catch up on the news. Usually it's mostly doom and gloom.

What a way to start the day. As if I didn't have enough to worry about.

 

The problem these days with rolling news and mass communication is, there's plenty to worry about.

Donald Trump in the White House and the Brexit negotiations,

the international situation, terrorism, the economy …and if that's not  enough there's the next bill to drop through the letterbox, and the car is due its MOT.

 

Some people's lives seem to roll along so easily. Nothing seems to faze them or bother them. Their rule of life is, no worries.

I have a friend like that. Any problem no matter how bad, its 'Ah, don't worry'. There are times I could quite happily strangle him, because if you’re a worrier there’s a worry for every age and occasion. And if you find you have nothing to worry about, that's worrying.

 

Of course we have concerns about family and friends and ourselves, and yes, there are times and those awful situations where our worry is natural and justified, where the future, always uncertain, is dark and seems to hold no hope. But generally, worry accomplishes nothing.  Can any situation be changed by worrying about it? No. And what’s more it can even make things worse. It can take  up all out thought, time and energy. Its like something we chew and chew but can neither swallow or spit out.

 

The Bible does not give us an unreal picture of life. Rather it recognises life as it really is with our sufferings and struggling,  but it reminds us that in all those situations  God offers us strength here and now, and a sure  hope for the future.

 

Jesus said  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?*  

 

These words aren’t just happy little platitudes or religious clichés. This the man who prayed in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane before he was arrested and crucified.

We see times of pain and trouble in Jesus life and in those times he prays and when he could, he did something about it.

Above all he trusted in God to get him through and bring good even out of the worst of times. Jesus did indeed suffer and die on that cross, but the love and power of God is greater than death itself and Jesus was raised, and offers us a share in that resurrection.

 

Can any one of us by worrying add a single hour to our lives?

Of course not. There arethough, those things which concern us, and often, rightly so

But worry is a waste of time. It steals our joy and keeps us busy doing nothing. Better perhaps to have a bit of faith and trust our future to God who's love will see us through today, whatever tomorrow might bring, and for all eternity.

It's worth noting that the phrase ' don’t worry'  appears 365 times in the Bible, one for every day of the year.

 

May God grant you trust in him that you might know peace, and a sure hope for the future

 ​

*Matthew 6:27

Phil

 

 

April 2017 - Easter

I'm not much of a gambler. Apart from the odd raffle ticket and a one pint wager with a friend on the result of a particular football game I just don't  gamble. It's not a moral choice, but having worked some years ago as a bookies runner, I just don’t have enough faith in any nag in the 3:30 at Kempton Park to risk my hard earned cash.

I know a few people who enjoy it though, with all the anticipation, the uncertainty, and the hope.

Like some other things, gambling can become a problem and in extreme cases, an addiction and so we are all urged to gamble responsibly.

 

Then there are those who gamble on their own particular skills and enjoy ‘extreme sports’ such as  snowboarding down mountains, bungee jumping or motor racing.

But gambling and risk taking are a natural part of life.  As we know, nothing is certain, but we do try to minimize risks and ensure that what we do doesn’t cause us any danger or hardship.

On a very basic level, looking both ways when we cross the road, checking the gas is turned off and the doors are locked before we go to bed are pretty obvious ways we minimize risk.

We might take out insurance policies as we don't want to gamble on the financial well being of our families should anything go wrong.

 

Yet risk taking and gambling are at the heart of what it means to be Christian.

 

Firstly we have Jesus whose faith in God the Father led him to gamble his very life in the belief that God would never desert him, but rather do something incredible and new through his time of trial and darkness; his utmost trust in the God who even  has power over death itself.

Jesus wasn't being mindless and fatalistic here, as we read of the struggle he had  with himself and with God on the night he was betrayed and arrested.

That trust in God however, led him to surrender himself to death on a cross and be buried, but then , incredibly, three days later, raised from the dead.

And it is  that resurrection life is we are invited to share.

 

And then there is our response to Jesus. Are we willing to take the gamble and accept he is indeed who he says he is – no less the God with us – the one who took on our humanity to live amongst us and stand alongside us in all that life brings for good or ill. The one who died on a cross, and in dying there took the guilt and paid the price for the sins of the whole world.

Through Christ we can find our sins forgiven, our peace assured, and those first steps on the journey of life with God forwever.

 You can bet your life on it!

 

G.A. Studdert Kennedy, better known as Woodbine Willy, was a padre serving the troops in the First World War. He wrote this

 

HE WAS A GAMBLER TOO

And, sitting down, they watched Him there,

The soldiers did;

There, while they played with dice,

He made His Sacrifice,

And died upon the Cross to rid

God’s world of sin.

He was a gambler too, my Christ,

He took his life and threw

It for a world redeemed.

And ere His agony was done,

Before the westering sun went down,

Crowning that day with its crimson crown,

He knew that He had won.

(G.A. Studdert Kennedy)

 

 

May God bless you and give you joy this Easter time

 

Phil

March 2017
 

A little boy  was set a project at school to investigate his family tree. So he came home, found his mother and said, 'How did I get here?' Well, she didn't want to get into the birds and the bees she said, 'The stork brought you.' 'Oh.' he said. So off he went and found his father and said, 'Dad, how did you get here?' His father didn't want to get into all the details either, so he said, I was found in a gooseberry bush' 'Really?' said little Johnny. So he went and asked Granny.  'Granny, how did you get here?' And Granny said, 'the angels delivered me .' Next day the boy presented his project. It read : 'There has not been a natural birth in our family for three generations.'

There’s a lot of interest in our ancestors and where we come from with magazines and websites set up to help us trace them.

There's even a television programme, Who Do you think you are, which traces family histories of various celebrities.

If we know our history we will know more about ourselves

 

There is a lot of this in the Bible  where history is vitally important, and naturally, there's a lot of begetting.

Abraham begat Isaac, Isaac begat Jacob, Jacob begat Judah, Judah begat Perez and Zerah whose mother was Tamar and so on. This is part of Jesus family tree and it goes back many, many generations.

 

I cant go back that far, and knowing just a little of  what some of  my forebears got up to, I'm not sure I want to. One thing is certain though we all got here the same way.

 

This month we celebrate our mothers  - those who brought us into the world  and have nurtured and cared for us.

Being born (and I know it's stating the obvious) is something common to our humanity. That’s how we get here.

But there's another kind of birth which is crucial to our Christian lives.

Jesus said "No one can see the K of G unless he or she is born again".

 

Being  born  again  doesn't  mean  you  jump around  and clap your hands in church. It doesn't  mean your spiritual battery has  an extra charge of the Holy Spirit, and it certainly doesn't mean you're a better Christian than ordinary run of the mill Christians like me.

 

Jesus is talking about a spiritual rebirth. We're all born the same and we're all born with a tendency to go our own sweet way and reject God.

To be born again simply means opening up to God and allowing him into our lives. To recognise where we mess up and sometimes fail and put our trust in Jesus Christ as the one who died on a cross for the sins of the whole world, rose from the dead to demonstrate God's power and who can guide us in on our journey.

All that God asks of  us  is to have faith in his son and respond to his call.

To be born again is to respond in the quiet of our hearts  and the business of our lives.

 

Families know us better than anyone,  and mothers probably more than any others. - and they still love us

Just like God does.

 

May God continue to bless us and those who have cared for us

 

Phil

 

February 2017

 

Happy St Valentine's day - that annual celebration of romantic  love where we can express our deepest feelings for  our significant others by sending cards and presenting them with chocolates, roses and other tokens of our affection.

I did hear of one man who bough this wife a new belt and bag on Valentines Day but she wasn't happy. Still, as he explained it made the Hoover work better.

 

There are actually two saints called Valentine, who are both remembered on 14 February. They both lived in the third century AD, and were both killed during the Roman Empire’s persecution of Christians. One was a doctor and priest, the other a bishop.  Which is terribly unfortunate, as there is always a need for doctors and priests

 

The linking of Valentine’s Day with romance came many hundreds of years later, in the Middle Ages, and is said to have originated with the idea that birds began to choose their mates on 14 February.

 

But what is this thing called love?  It has sometimes been described as a kind of madness . In less enlightened days when those suffering from mental illness were imprisoned and beaten, Shakespeare wrote 'Love is merely a madness and, I tell you, deserves as well a dark house and a whip as madmen do, and the reason why they are not so punished and cured is that the lunacy is so ordinary that the whippers are in love, too.' (As You Like It Act 3 Scene 2)

 

While it may be true that romantic love can sweep away rational thought and turn the most logical of people into starry eyed fools there are different kinds of love.

We have love within our families and love for friends and as we grow older we realise that love is something that doesn't run out and there's always more of it. Naturally I love my children  but when my grandson was born I realised that I had a lot more love to give.

Love isn't  just some fuzzy feeling. It is worked out in our relationships and involves a bit of hard work, whether it's changing nappies or finding forgiveness when we feel we've been wronged.

 

St Paul, writing to the church in Corinth, gives us an uncompromising description of love.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

.

It involves commitment, thought and self sacrifice and is some  distance away from the tangled emotions, red roses and candlelit dinners we associate with romantic love. It involves an act of will. It is constant and unchanging.

For the Christian it's a reflection of the love God offers us through his son Jesus Christ. This love is not for one special person or for any particular group, but for each and every one of us, whoever, wherever and whenever.

 

 As I await the piles of cards that inevitably pour through my letter box on February 14th, may God grant us a deeper awareness of the love he has for us, and keep us loving those around us

 

May God bless you and keep you in his care

Phil
 

Phil

 

 

16th May 2016

The Radio 4 programme, Desert Island Discs was created by Roy Plomley in 1942 with a very simple format. Guests are invited to choose eight records they would take with them if they were to be stranded on a desert island

 

Guests are also automatically given the Complete Works of Shakespeare and either the Bible or another appropriate religious or philosophical work. They are then asked which book  they would choose to take with them. Guests also choose one luxury, which must be inanimate and of no use in escaping the island or allowing communication from outside.

 

The most requested piece of music over the first 60 years was "Ode to Joy", the last movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, and the most requested luxury, a piano, (although John Cleese  of Monty Python fame  did ask to have  his friend and fellow Python Michael Palin with him,  'on the condition that he was dead and stuffed').

 

The current television programme 'The Island'  hosted by Bear Grylls has shown the reality of living on a desert island though, with terrible storms, cold, biting and stinging insects,  wild animals, and hunger. And the other castaways you have to work with to enable you to survive who don't always see eye to eye.

Not for me, thanks!

 

John Donne wrote those well known words, ' No man is an island, Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main'.

 

And so it is. We are very much part of our families, our group of friends and our various communities where we work out our relationships and responsibilities and where we can find meaning and fulfilment in our lives.

Nevertheless in our busy world the thought of escaping to some idyllic uninhabited  tropical paradise or some other some solitary place, if only for a short time, can be very tempting.

 

Solitude and silence have always been a feature of Christian life.

Jesus used silence and solitude quite a bit during his life and ministry. He didn't only  get away by himself just get away from people, but He used silence and solitude as a means of getting closer to God

 

He chose to spend forty days alone in the wilderness.

He spent time alone before began to choose and call his disciples. It's always wise to pray before making big decisions.

When John the Baptist was murdered by King Herod Jesus went off in a boat by himself, probably to grieve, pray, and think through the implications of John's death.

There were those times when the crowds all wanted a piece of him and Jesus would withdraw.

And on the night before his crucifixion, when he was betrayed and arrested, Jesus  went to the Garden of Gethsemane, stayed apart from his disciples and prayed

 

It's not a matter of running away, but rather  finding a space for a bit of peace and quiet, to recharge his batteries, and  find refreshment and strength in his relationship with God.

And it doesn't have to be a long way from the busy ness of life. Jesus ' advice is that

'when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you'.

 

Time out with a bit of prayer can work wonders in giving us space to think, to put things into perspective, and catch our (spiritual) breath, finding that peace that only God can provide.

 

May you find the space and quiet  to spend time with God, that he might refresh and strengthen you.

 

Phil

11th April 2016

(March)

One of the phrases in the English language we most likely don't want to hear is, ' I told you so '

You can imagine 1066 and the battle of Hastings where King Harold might say. 'Take that bow and arrow off him before he puts somebody’s eye out'.

'See ... I told you so'.

It may be that when were younger we were told, 'If you tease that cat he’ll scratch you'

'See... I told you so'.  And then you go and find the antiseptic cream and a sticking plaster.

 

Easter gives the opportunity for the most classic 'I told you so' of all time.

After the events of Good Friday where Jesus is tortured and crucified - nailed to a cross where he died - Jesus meets up with his disciples.

 

Firstly the women who had gone to the tomb  had seen him. At first no one believed them.

 

Then Jesus appears to the disciples in the room where  they were hiding from the authorities, scared that what was done to Jesus might just happen to them.

Jesus himself stood among them and d they were terrified, as you would be. They thought they were seeing a ghost!

And Jesus offers them his hands and feet,  still marked by the nails that held him to the cross. 'He says touch me and see. A ghost doesn’t have flesh and blood'.

 

Later the disciples go fishing and a stranger on the shore advises them where to cast their nets, and they catch more fish than they can handle. This stranger builds a fire and they cook the fish. The stranger takes and eats a piece of fish. This is no ghost. They recognise him. This is Jesus,  their master who was crucified yet who stands among  them now - raised from the dead!

 

The Jesus story is one where God shares every aspect of our humanity and that which is common in our lives  and even after his death and resurrection  Jesus does not become wholly spiritual and un-human. He can be touched and he can eat.

His resurrection body is changed  but not to the point where the disciples cannot recognise their lord.

The disciples aren’t suffering from mass hallucinations - they haven’t been on the old vino.

This is reality

A meeting between the men and women who make up his followers,  and the man who led them and promised this would happen

This is Jesus whom they saw arrested and tortured and nailed to a cross and killed.

This Jesus who, by the power of the living God stands before them now, fully alive.

 

It can’t be explained away - these men and women,  like us ( hopefully), weren’t stupid. And after a lot of doubt and confusion and fear their hearts and minds were open enough to recognise God at work in this most incredible way.

A good number of them went on to proclaim this truth,  and a good number of them suffered and even died because they could not, and would not, deny this truth - that Jesus, who was killed and was buried, is alive, risen from the dead.

 

And we are invited to share in this experience,  not only at Easter, but every day of our lives  because Jesus' resurrection means a new dawn for the world, for every man and woman, and this for all eternity.

 

Here we find an end to fear, secure in the knowledge of God's love and care, and a power that that is greater even than death itself.

Here we find forgiveness and peace with God, peace with our neighbours and peace with ourselves.

 

You might like to consider this and give it a go.

You might even hear a very welcome, 'See ... I told you so'.

 

As we come to the lords table , as the bread is broken and the wine pored out and shared - we remember that sacrifice Christ made on the cross and we remember his glorious resurrection - we say with confidence - the lord is here.

 

And as we open up day by day to the call of our risen lord we will find the truth and the power of his resurrection.

 

May God bless you,

 

Phil

 

 

(April)

A recent survey asked a number of people  the question What is your least favourite and most  favourite sound?

 

Least favourites included the sound  of a dentists drill, the radio alarm going off  on a Monday morning, and some who, like me, went to school back in the dark ages remembered the sound of fingernails scraped down a blackboard.

 

Among the most popular answers were birdsong, the  sound of running water  - a waterfall or river - and while some mentioned the sounds  that children make, others who were parents claimed it was the sound of silence when he kids were finally in bed.

Music too was a popular choice although the type of music, from opera to heavy metal, was quite varied.

 

It’s always been a natural part of Christian worship to sing and to make music,  or if you’re not very musical,  just to make some kind of joyful noise.

It’s a natural response to the God who created us and loves us - the God who through his Son Jesus Christ, call us to himself.

 

And even in those times when life it difficult we are encouraged  to  lift our hearts and our voices to God and recognise his unchanging love and faithfulness.

This is not to put a brave face on or pretend everything is ok, but to go to God honestly and openly, and in him find hope and have our spirits lifted..

 

There's the story of three men who used to meet everyday to pray, and after their prayers they would sing a couple of hymns. Now they weren’t great singers  and  in fact they were so bad they wouldn't have even made it on to The X factor, but they loved God and they happily sang their hymns of praise.

One day another man joined them. Now this man had a tremendous voice, and he began to take over the group, organised them and  trained them musically, and eventually people came from miles around to hear the incredible, almost heavenly,  music they made. They toured the world, sold millions of recordings  and made lots of money.

After one of their shows an angel appeared in their dressing room  and surprised them by asking “What happened to all the great music you used to sing?”

“What do you mean" they answered angrily. "We’re the greatest  singers in the world now”

“Well, all I’m saying is, it’s not as good as when you just used to sing to God from the heart".

 

It doesn’t matter if you’re the greatest singer in the world, if you can carry a tune, or if you’re  tone deaf and cacophonous .

It’s where our heart might be and how its how sincere is our praise.

We are drawn closer to God, not by how good we might sound when we pray or sing, but how real and genuine we are.

 

So, we are encouraged to come before God with joyful songs.

But if you can’t manage that, make a joyful noise.

 

Praise his holy name.

For the lord is good and his love lasts forever

his faithfulness continues through all generations.

 

May God bless you and those you love,

 

Phil

 

 

(May)

Spoiler alert (in a discussion or review of a film, book, television drama, etc.) a warning that an important detail of the plot development is about to be revealed.

 

Spoiler alerts save a lot of bother. Rather like the news on television when they give the football results they tell you 'If you don't want to know the score, look away now.'

There was an episode of the old comedy show The Likely Lads which had our hero's Terry and Bob desperately trying to avoid finding out the score of a football match, which they hoped to watch on television later that night. Meanwhile an acquaintance of theirs was determined to spoil their enjoyment by telling them the result. As it turned out (spoiler alert) after much running around and hiding, it turned out that the game had been postponed.

 

Some people enjoy Whodunnits  - detective mysteries where the murderer is only revealed at the end - and there are those who turn immediately to the end pages before they start the book. They need to know.

 

The long running  murder mystery play by Agatha Christie, The  Mousetrap is known for its twist ending, which the audience are traditionally asked not to reveal after leaving the theatre.

As I'm never likely to go and see it (I have enough suspense in my life, thank you) I've asked a few people who have, what the ending is. They won't tell me.

 

In life, what happens next and how does it all end is a question we might often ask. The lead singer of the Doors, Jim Morrison once sang ' The future's uncertain and the end is always near' but  he was a right misery at the best of times.

 

I'm always struck at how this is very much a feature of Easter  (I know Easter is long past but please bear with me). We go through the story but we already know the ending

 

That story takes us from a meal Jesus has with his disciples where he reminds them of the greatest commandment -  that they, and we, should love one another. He's then arrested, tortured and interrogated and eventually nailed to a wooden cross where he dies. We remember and commemorate this on Good Friday and usually that would be that, death being a pretty final state of affairs.

 

But then we come to Easter Sunday and the incredible happens. Jesus, dead and buried, rises from the grave and we celebrate this event in the knowledge that God has overcome the power of our greatest enemy, death itself, and offers us a share in that resurrection.

 

Still, there are those Good Friday times in life. It may be illness, the death of a loved one, work or financial problems, worry about family, security, and the present and the future can look bleak.

And sometimes when we have little or nothing to worry about, we'll find something to worry about.

Then again we might look around the world and see war and hunger and oppression and conflict, while the  latest headlines keep us in a state of apprehension.

 

On the other hand, the preacher Tony Campolo coined the phrase, 'It's Friday, but Sunday's coming' and so it is for the Christian. While we might go through our particular Good Fidays (and here I should insert a spoiler alert) God goes with us to strengthen, comfort and ultimately  bring good out of our trouble.

That's not to say we're wrapped in cotton wool and God waves a magic wand to make all the nasty stuff disappear. Life can be tough and in the worst of times, almost crush us. When we consider Christ and his death on the cross we see there is sometimes no easy way through our situation, but what seems so final

can be a new beginning.

As Jesus said, 'In this world you will have trouble. But be of good cheer! I have overcome the world.'

And so he has. Even in the worst of times we are assured that God has prepared a future for us beyond suffering, pain and even death itself.

 

Be of good cheer and may God bless you,

 

Phil

 

1st February 2016

It seems that every other week there's a new film comes out based on some comic book super  hero or another - Superman, Batman, Iron Man, The Hulk, The Fantastic Four, X Men - all with super powers.

At certain times there must be a good few of us who have thought it would be great to have a super power.

A recent poll asked that if it were at all possible, what super power would  people choose  and gave the participants some options: Invulnerability. Reading minds. The ability to fly. X-Ray vision. Invisibility. Super strength. Great intelligence. Incredible luck.


Have a think. Which of those, if you could choose only one, would be your super power of choice?

I think invisibility would be really handy when I might need to get away and disappear sometimes - like when there's housework to be done - although riding a motorbike, you do wonder sometimes if car drivers can actually see you.

I could go to the doctors too.

'Doctor there's a man here says he's invisible.'

'Tell him I can't see him.' (Sorry, couldn't resist)

 

25%  of the over 9000 people polled chose the ability  to fly, which was the most popular choice. Apart from all the practical uses like not having to wait for public transport or getting into Canterbury without sitting in a queue of cars at Wincheap and finding a parking space, there must be something quite incredible to be truly free as a  bird and see the world go by beneath us.
As much as we’d like to have super powers sometimes, (an extra pair of hands perhaps which wasn't on the list) the fact of the matter is, we’re only human.

 

'Only' human is a strange way to describe ourselves though and although there are millions and millions of us, there is nothing 'only' about being human.

 While we're all pretty much the same, we're all very different. If you have a look at the end of your finger, your fingerprints are unique. No one else in the world has exactly the same as you.

And we all have our own stories and history, hopes and fears, each one particular to us individually, and each one  typical of what it is to be human.

 

The Christian understanding is, we're all created by God, and created in the spiritual image of God with the capacity to experience love, peace, and hope, and live and work in community for the common good.

Of course it doesn't always work out like that but that's what God intends for us.

 

God is not in the super hero business, but rather he calls ordinary (if there is such a thing) human beings to himself, to seek after all that is good in life, and in our human situation, and to know that peace that only he can give.

That is not to wrap us up in cotton wool, but rather to give us wisdom and purpose in life and to recognise our true worth so we can face whatever life might throw at us in the knowledge of God's love for each one of us .

God loves us, and has shown this by diving into our human situation in the person of Jesus Christ who experienced all that it is to be human.

He knows at first hand the joys we have in life, but also the pain and sorrows too, and Christ's death on the cross is proof how far God will go in walking and standing alongside us.

But it is beyond that, where God demonstrates even further what he intends for us. Christ is raised from the dead, and promises us a share in that resurrection.

 

We might not have super powers, but the power of God is available to us every step of the way, and for all eternity.  We may be only human, but God love's each one of us as if we were the only one

 

Keep warm and well this month and may you walk close to God in his blessings

 

Phil

 

21 December 2015

There are many traditions and superstitions that relate to the New Year.

 

In the North there is the tradition of ‘first footing’. The first person to enter your home (the first foot over your threshold) after the stroke of midnight is said to  influence the year you're about to have. Ideally, he (and it’s always a he) should be tall, dark-haired, and good-looking. To symbolise prosperity he’s expected to bring with him certain small gifts such as a lump of coal, a silver coin, a bit of bread, or some salt.

 

The first footer should knock and be let in rather use a key, even if he is one of the householders. After greeting those in the house, he should make his way through the house and leave by a different door than the one through which he entered. No one should leave the premises before the first footer arrives and  the first traffic across the threshold must be arriving rather than departing.

First footers must not be cross-eyed or have flat feet or eyebrows that meet in the middle – which on all three counts explains why no one ever asked me to do the honours!

 

Many of you will be familiar with the famous painting by William Holman Hunt – The Light of the World. We have a copy of the picture in St Mary’s church. It shows Christ standing outside in the dark, holding a lantern and knocking on a door. It refers to Jesus statement from the book of Revelation, ‘I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.’

 

It’s a reminder that God has made himself available to us through his Son Jesus Christ. This we celebrate at Christmas, but so often the baby Jesus gets packed away with the decorations and lights for another year. We can overlook the fact that the baby grows up to demonstrate God’s love and power, through his life, his death and resurrection.

The story of ‘God with us’ can become tangled up and lost in other traditions and superstitions.

 

But here at the start of this new year, 2016, Jesus knocks on the door of our hearts as he has for many years. He offers himself to bring the light and the grace of God into our lives.

 

While we all hope for a happy New Year, and health and prosperity in the coming months, God offers us so much more. The assurance of his presence with us, here and now, and for all eternity

 

One feature of Holman  Hunt’s picture is quite telling. There is no handle on the outside of the door. It can only be opened from inside.

 

Happy New Year, and may God guide you and guard you through the coming year

 

Phil

 

23 November 2015 - 1 of 2

The December edition of our Parish magazine always, quite rightly, focuses on Advent and Christmas. It's one of the highlights of the year as we remember the birth of Christ - God with us - and remember the words of the Angels, 'Peace on earth and good will to all people.'

As I write this, the media is full of the shocking news of the terror attack in Paris on 13th November.

Friday night. The working week is over and people want to relax, have some fun and spend a bit of their hard earned cash.

A rock concert, an international football match or a good meal at a favourite restaurant seem a good way to start the weekend, till the bullets fly and the bombs

explode.

 

The events in Paris that night with so many dead and  injured  brought shock, fear and a natural revulsion among so many of us. There is also great sympathy and concern for those who were caught up in this horrific situation.

Here we see yet another evil act in our world that has its fair share of evil  - where lives are destroyed and  our very understanding of basic human kindness and tolerance is brought into question.

 

What security can we have in a world that seems so crazy and  so random. The world's gone mad, but the world has always been mad

 

When Jesus was born, Herod the Great was  king, a megalomaniac and a tyrant whose paranoia led him to murder a number of members of his own family and once he's heard of the birth of Jesus, a new born king, he had a number of innocent children massacred to wipe out any threat to his power. Herod may well  have been king but the Romans were the true rulers as they maintained their empire with violence and intimidation.

There were those who fought against with Roman occupation, terrorists  - or freedom fighters depending on your point of view - plotting, murdering and inciting rebellion. Eventually the Romans ran out of patience and  70  years  after the birth  of  Christ,  they besieged and destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple.

 

Throughout history, there has been war, violence and  atrocious acts of inhumanity and cruelty.

 

It's all a far cry from any notion of peace on earth, goodwill to all people, and our celebration of God's love for us in giving us his son.

But that is why the Christmas message is one of hope and light when things may seem quite hopeless and dark.

It's not a magic and it's certainly not a cure all for the problems of the world.

What Christmas is, is an offer and an opportunity.

God offers us his son to be our inspiration and our salvation and in that, gives us the opportunity to embrace new and eternal  life - a life based on forgiveness of our sins, and peace - peace with God, peace with our neighbours both here and afar, and peace within ourselves.

 

Jesus himself told us to seek first the kingdom of God as a start to working our way  out of the mess we sometimes find ourselves in.

 

This Christmas the offer and opportunity remains

First seek after peace with God -  it's there in Christ

Seek after forgiveness of your sins -  its  there in Christ

Seek after real security today and for the future   - it's there in Christ.

 

To some this may seem unrealistic and a bit drippy but the Christ child grows to be a man and is tortured and killed by an unjust and depraved system in his death on the cross. Beyond that however  is his resurrection and the basis of all our Christian hope - that God's power is greater than any earthly power and greater even than death itself. Empires rise and fall, there are wars and rumours of war and the world staggers from one crisis to the next.

In all that God, through Christ, offers us security, peace and the power to change things for the good.

 

Phil

 

23 November 2015 - 2 of 2

Hide and seek. It's a  game we play when we're kids, but it can be something we play all our lives. We can hide who we really are and what we think ..

 

 Politicians and pop stars are probably best at this - they have to put forward an image that is attractive to the public - if David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn  were found kicking a kitten, or frightening old ladies it wouldn't do their election prospects much good.

Or what if some punk or heavy metal band  were found sat in their slippers in front of the fire watching Blue Peter and sipping tea,  it wouldn't do much for their image.

 

 We all of us hide - so often we put on a show - and the real us can't be seen.

Sometimes it’s out of fear . We fear that maybe people won't like us if they see the real us. So we pretend we're something or someone else.

It may be something to do with style or fashion. We can hide behind a certain way of dressing,  or a certain way of thinking or talking.

 

Sometimes that means hiding in the crowd,  just going along with everyone else - right or wrong - or hiding from people who we're afraid of.

 Sometimes we even hide from ourselves.

It could be that some  people don't like themselves. We hear about those  who go in for plastic surgery - get their nose changed  or ears or other bits. I wouldn't know where to start.

 

 But it goes deeper. There are those who,  deep down inside really don't like themselves, or they carry around a lot of guilt and regret from the past..

What's this got to do with Christmas?

Christmas is the end of the greatest game of hide and seek in history.

Us hiding and God seeking.

 

The Bible tells us that it is in our nature to go own way - to tell God to get lost -  and that as a consequence things go wrong.  You don’t have to look too far to see the evidence. However well-intentioned we are, we have a tendency to mess things up.

Last  century its estimated that over 80 million people died in wars, and we've made a pretty good start this century to try and beat the record.

Conflict doesn’t only occur between nations, but between communities, between families,  and within families,  and between individuals.

 

There are lots of different ways of hiding  but the Christmas hope is that no matter what,  God never stops reaching out for us.

God is always there, calling us to a new relationship with him

Christmas shows us God stepping down,  standing alongside us,  to show his love for us  and to restore that relationship.

 

God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that all who believe in him should not perish but have everlasting life.

And that eternal life starts now

 

There's no hiding from God. He sees us just as we really are, and when we stop trying to hide  and accept Jesus’ offer of life, an offer of a renewed relationship with God,  he can help us to work on our relationships with other people. He can even help us to learn to love ourselves.

 

Love God,  love others, and accept the love God has for you. This is the basis of our Christian faith.

 

I'm sure many people have heard this message many times before. It may be that it continues to pass them by or they may reject it outright, or they might be more comfortable hiding.

But God never withdraws his offer of friendship.

 

This is no Christmas present, but a present for life.

 

Phil

 
 
April 2015

The custom of setting aside a day for the playing of harmless pranks upon one's neighbour is recognized pretty much all over the world.  Some precursors of April Fools' Day include the Roman festival of Hilaria, the Holi festival of India, and the Medieval Feast of Fools.

As well as people playing pranks on one another on April Fools' Day, elaborate practical jokes have appeared on radio and TV stations, newspapers and web sites.

 

 In one of the best known hoaxes, the BBC in 1957 broadcast a film in their Panorama programme purporting to show Swiss farmers picking freshly-grown spaghetti, in the Swiss Spaghetti Harvest. The BBC were flooded with requests to purchase a spaghetti plant, forcing them to declare the film a hoax on the news the next day.

Not wanting to look foolish we have to be on our guard on April 1st, at least till midday when the jokes stop.

 

Foolishness is something that plays a plays a part in our Christian faith. In fact St Paul in his first letter to the church in Corinth talks about the foolishness of the cross, and to be honest, it does seem a pretty strange way for God show his power and his love for us.

He points out that some people look for miracles and signs and spiritual fireworks, while others look for logic and cold reason, while the Christian believes in Jesus Christ, the son of God, crucified, buried and yet raised from the dead.

 

Signs and wonders last about as long as a firework and are soon forgotten.

Reason is important, but can only take us so far in our understanding of the universe and what makes it tick. It seems strange that as our understanding, and technology and science has progressed and continues to progress, we still live in a world torn apart by war and violence, hunger and disease.

As Mr Spock from Star Trek (Leonard Nimmoy who died last month) might say, 'Illogical'.

For all our talk of world peace, and all our international conferences and treaties, we can never seem to get it right. There is always some conflict going on somewhere, someone hurting, someone hungry....

 

Christianity is  not a philosophy or a logical formula brought about by negotiation or human wisdom.

Rather it's the belief that it was God who created us and gave us the means to live good lives and share in all the good things he has given.

Unfortunately we reject Him and wander away to do our own thing - hence the problems we have in the world.

 

In Jesus we see God stepping down into our situation and demonstrating God's love for us, all the way to the cross where he takes upon himself all the sins of the world, and then by his resurrection, opening up for us a new life guided by his Spirit, and overcoming death itself.

We cannot logically or scientifically explain this and the Christian life is  one of faith, learning about God, and building a relationship with Him. 

 

This year Good Friday and Easter Day are a few days after April Fools, which is pretty good timing as the Bible reminds us that the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

And while we're on the subject of foolishness, we read in Psalm 141, 'The fool has said in his heart there is no God'.

 

Phil

 

 

 

March 2015

It’s been said that the key to success is good preparation.

I’m not much of a cook but I can manage a half decent stir fry. Just bung it all in a wok,  add a bit of soy sauce and there you go.

But its really not that simple

You have to buy the ingredients, peel and wash them. It takes about 5 minutes to cook but it’s the preparation that takes the time.

Whether is cooking a meal, painting a room or going on holiday, its all the stuff that’s done before that determines  how it ends up.

 

The same is true of our Xian life

We have the season of Advent to prepare us for Xmas and Advent speaks to us of anticipation and a promise waiting to be fulfilled, God with us in the person of Jesus Christ

 

And before Easter we have our time of preparation, Lent beginning with Ash Wednesday

 

Historically, Lent has been a time of self-examination and prayer as we consider the events and the reasons that led up to Christ’s death on the Cross.

In some traditions on Ash Wednesday last years palm  crosses are burnt and the ash used to mark the foreheads of believers as an outward show of their spiritual state.

Then there’s self denial – the idea of  giving up something for the duration. – usually a luxury or pleasure like chocolate.

Some prefer to fast – or to spend more time in prayer

Some use it as a time to give up something that they’ve been trying to give up for ages  - like the booze or the fags.

To some extent this has fallen out of fashion and the focus is on doing something positive,  perhaps supporting a charity or getting involved in some matter of social justice.

 

However we do it,  Lent gives us the opportunity to stop and think about ourselves in relation to God and to recognise how we've wandered away from him.

And we do this not in a sense of self pity, or false pride,  not to make ourselves look pious  or even try to please God somehow by going around looking miserable. We do this to understand more the fullness of  the love God has for us, and prepare ourselves for  Gods incredible demonstration of that  love.

Lent leads to Good Friday and Christ's death on the cross to pay the price for the sins of the whole world. And beyond that is the  power of God's  love seen in resurrection and the offer of eternal life to each one of us.

 

Lent can remind us that, whatever our situation, God goes before us, and is with us always, to encourage and guide us through life, and beyond that to eternity

 

Yes, Lent is a time for self examination but  also an opportunity to prepare ourselves for the Easter experience  and to put our lives back into perspective, with God at the centre.

 

 

May the good Lord shine his light upon you and guide your every step.

 

Phil

 

 

February 2015

They seek him here, they seek him there,
His clothes are loud, but never square.
It will make or break him so he's got to buy the best,
'Cause he's a dedicated follower of fashion.

 

In 1966 the Kinks had a big hit with this song, poking fun at the state of youth culture, Carnaby Street, Mods, and the whole pop art swinging London scene in general.

You may have some old photos that show what be could be described as crimes against good taste. I know I do, but red velvet flares and kaftans were cutting edge back in the day.

Fashion changes rapidly and what is ‘cool, in, and trendy’ one day is seen as pretty ‘square’ the next. (Even words like cool, trendy and square I realise will cause raised eyebrows and sneers from younger folk today, as languages changes as fast as clothes.)

 

But as Shakespeare wrote, ‘the apparel oft proclaims the man’ and it’s often true to say that people will judge you according to the way you dress.

Clothes also help us to recognise people in their particular trade or profession.

You wouldn’t expect a plumber or construction worker to turn up for work in a Moss Bros suit and it’s probably my age but I have a bit of difficulty with doctors dressed casually in jeans and t shirts. I want the white coat and stethoscope.

The church itself is currently in talks about fashion, and the great and the good who make up General Synod are currently debating the wearing of robes at some of our church services, hoping to relax the traditional rules.

Different churches, and different ministers, have always developed or chosen their own particular style. Some argue that robes tend to act as a barrier between clergy and people, especially those who are unfamiliar with church, and would prefer a more informal way of dressing for worship, while others claim that robes are actually a help in creating the right tone for worship. Whatever is finally decided, rules will not be relaxed for Holy Communion and robes will continue to be a legal requirement.

Whatever is decided by Synod, I can assure you that the clergy won’t be modelling hoodies and trackie bottoms here at St Marys’ however ‘on trend' they may be.

Times change as does fashion, but however we dress it up and present it, the truth remains that God loves us, calls us to turn to him and live our lives in the light of his Son our Saviour Jesus Christ.

A few years ago I was at a rock festival when striding towards me came a six foot tall, heavy built, shaven headed man. He had heavily tattooed arms and enough ironmongery in the shape of piercings to raise the price of shares in British Steel. (The nose ring was particularly impressive). As he passed by you could see, in white paint written on the back of his donkey jacket, ‘Property of Jesus’.

The apparel does indeed oft proclaim the man.

 

Phil

 

 

January 2015

If Saint Paul's day be faire and cleare, It doth betide a happy yeare ; But if by chance it then should rain, It will make deare all kinds of graine; And if ye clouds make dark ye skie, Then neats and fowles this year shall die; If blustering winds do blow aloft, Then wars shall trouble ye realm full oft.

 

St Paul's day falls on 25th January and tradition has it that the weather on that day determines the what kind of year it's going to be, even claiming to predict the threat of war if there are strong winds. Fortunately even though our  weather forecasters don't always get it right, they don't presume to make such extravagant claims.

 

According to writings in the New Testament Paul, who was known as Saul during these times was a fanatic who dedicated himself to the destruction of the early church.

Through him, Christians in the area of Jerusalem suffered terrible persecution as he sought to wipe out this new religion.

 

While Paul was travelling  from Jerusalem to Damascus to collect some Christian prisoners and deliver them to the authorities,  a bright light  flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

Saul was baffled an asked who the voice belonged to.  “Who are you, Lord?” he  asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” the voice replied “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

To cut a long story short Saul was cared for by the Christian community in Damascus and was converted to Christianity and baptised. You can read the full story in the Book of Acts chapter 9.

Of course a few people were a bit suspicious of this man who had made their lives such a misery - and who wouldn't be - but Saul, changing his name to Paul, began preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ.

The fanaticism he brought to his persecution of the church he now applied to his new found faith, so much so, that his former friends tried to have him killed.

 

Paul  is generally considered one of the most important figures of the early church. In the mid-30s to the mid-50s, he founded several churches in Asia Minor and Europe. He used his status as both a Jew and a Roman citizen to great advantage in his ministry to reach both groups with the Gospel and was a prolific writer. Fourteen of the twenty-seven books in the New Testament have traditionally been attributed to him.

 

Today, Paul's epistles continue to be vital roots of the theology, worship, and pastoral life in the Protestant and Roman traditions of the West, as well as the Orthodox traditions of the East. This was no academic exercise, as over the years he was imprisoned, beaten, and ultimately killed for his belief.

 

Basically, Paul showed the relevance  of the life death and resurrection of Jesus and what it means to each individual.

He saw that the focus of Jesus' life had very little to do with religious systems, and regulations and everything to do with God's grace and human faith.

There has always been a tendency for us to think that somehow we can work our way into God's good books, or by keeping certain religious rules, we can keep ourselves onside with God.

The problem is that you never quite know if you've been good enough to meet God's standards, or if you've kept enough of those sacred rules to avoid God's anger.

 

St Paul pointed out that not one of us can actually meet God's standards. We all fail at times, mess up, or just go our own sweet way. But Paul knows that God knows this and so, in Christ he sees God's great rescue mission to save us from the mess we're in.

 

God offers us forgiveness and new life as a free gift, not as a reward for trying to be good . All he asks is that we respond in faith and trust him to guide us on our journey.

There is a certainty and assurance in this. With a bit of faith we can stand firm and carry on in the knowledge that God is for us and there are no hidden tricks or banana skins in our relationship with him.

 

It's always worth spending a few moments to be thankful for St Paul whose single mindedness and clarity of vision stripped away all the religious claptrap to reveal the basics of God's unconditional  love for us  and how our response can shape our future and indeed, our eternity.

 

Phil

 

 

December 2014

'So here it is, Merry Christmas, everybody's having fun ....' or so Slade would have us believe as their prehistoric hit single blasts out once again. There's really no avoiding it so grit your teeth and keep smiling. Or it may be Paul McCartney 'Simply having a wonderful Christmas time',  that old crooner Bing Crosby and his White Christmas, or like Wizzard you might 'Wish it could be Christmas every Day.' Like it or not these songs have become the soundtrack to the Christmas season.

 

There used to be something of a competition in the pop charts to have a number One Christmas hit single, which has left us with a good number of these songs we enjoy (or endure) at this time of year.

Times change, and we now appear to have a competition between the big stores and supermarkets to produce the most impressive advert in the run up to Christmas.

 

John Lewis have their penguin, Aldi have Jools Holland, but the advert that has caused most comment and some controversy has been Sainsbury's with their depiction of Christmas Eve in the trenches in 1914.

Sainsbury's reconstructed the trench scenes with the help of a war historian to celebrate the supermarket's 20 years of support for the Royal British Legion, which runs the annual poppy campaign, and shoppers can help to raise extra money for the Legion by buying the chocolate bar featured in the advert.

 

The advert has divided opinion as it has been argued that it is totally inappropriate to use the images of The Great War to promote commercialism, and it's been described by some as a disrespectful and  cynical marketing ploy.

For all the respectful tone and the much welcomed  endorsement of the Royal British Legion, the ultimate objective here is to persuade us to buy our tinsel, our crackers and our sprouts from one particular supermarket.

 

It's more like a short film than an advert

Soldiers check the letters and gifts they've received from home and both sides sing the carol Silent Night in their own language.

Next morning  one young soldier, Jim, begins walking towards the German lines and after the initial suspicion of a trick or an attack, more soldiers leave their trenches and meet in no mans land. There are introductions where Jim meets Otto and a game of football with army greatcoats as goalposts is played. Too soon we hear the guns start up again and the men begin to return to their respective lines.

As he leaves, Jim hands Otto his coat and when Otto returns to his side of the divide, he is moved to discover that Jim has gifted  him a bar of chocolate, slipped  into his coat pocket.

The tagline reads. 'Christmas is for sharing.'

 

In a year in which we marked 100 years since the start of the World War One, the advert perfectly demonstrates the futility of war and so many wasted lives, even if it is a cleaned up version of war, with very little mud or blood.....

 

But what struck me was a sense of our common humanity. Soldiers on both sides feeling deeply homesick, separated from their loved ones. Both sides suffering untold fear and misery, and yet both sides calling a truce and meeting in the middle.

Whatever might divide people, we all have shared and familiar hopes and fears.

 

While Christmas is seen as a time for family and friends, at its heart is something that is universal - that God gave his Son to a world in desperate need of peace and reconciliation. God loved the world so much he gave his Son,  not for a select few, a particular nation or race, but for all people regardless.

 

I'm sure we always hope to have a good Christmas and to take some time out to enjoy a day or two away from our usual work and worries.

God's offer however is for life as he invites us to draw close to him and find a peace and security that never changes,  whatever might go on  around us.

 

On behalf of myself and all at St Mary's may you enjoy a blessed and peaceful Christmas and a healthy and prosperous New Year

 

Phil

 

 

Reverend Phil Brown - An Apology

I would like to apologise unreservedly for my article in July's article where I might have raised people's hopes regarding the England Football Team in the World Cup, England's cricketers against Sri Lanka and Andy Murray at Wimbledon

To paraphrase Psalm 118 - It is better to find refuge in the Lord than in humans - especially sportsmen and women who didn't do as well as we thought they would!

 

 

July 2014

If you don't want to know the score, look away now...

 

You may be fed up  with the World Cup by now, or you may be caught up in the excitement as England have battled their way to the Quarter Finals and are in with a real chance of lifting the trophy. (I'm writing this the day before the tournament actually kicks off, so please  excuse  my optimism)

 

Actually its been a refreshing change this year, to see how the country has approached the competition and in particular the England team's chances of winning it. We usually have to put up with the whole INGERLUND circus and wild expectations of victory that have no real basis in reality, and possibly border on the mass delusional. Let's face it, it's 48 years since England won the World Cup and we were so embarrassed by the whole experience,  we've never done it again.

 

 Having said that there's always the hope that we might just manage to do better this time, or .....could we really win it? Why not? A few good performances, a couple of favourable dodgy decisions from the referee and a bit of luck, and we are the champions. You see how easy it is to get carried away. But it's the hope I can't stand.

 

We all have a bit of hope, and more often than not, it's to do with much more important things than a football match. There is so much to hope for. We hope that things go well for us, for our families and our friends. We hope to have a good job, have enough money to pay the bills, we hope we'll enjoy good health, we hope it'll be sunny this weekend and maybe, just maybe, our lottery numbers will come up this week. But the future is always uncertain and so much of what we hope for is out of our hands.

 

Still,  we hope for the best and we might touch wood or cross our fingers. We might even have a bit of a pray about it.

 

Hope is one of the three virtues of the Christian faith alongside faith and love. For the Christian, our hope is bound up with trust and a confident expectation under God's care and guidance.

Christian hope is a lot more than just vaguely wishing that when we die we'll go to heaven. Yes, we have a belief and hope that through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we will indeed one day enjoy eternal life with the God who created us. But our hope is also here and now as God promises to be with us on our journey.

 

We read in the book of prophet Jeremiah that God assures us, 'I know the plans I have for you - plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'

We may not know what tomorrow will bring but knowing that God goes before us and has good things prepared for us  is a tremendous base for hope.

That's not to say that we'll be wrapped in cotton wool and are expected to hope for some never never land where everything is sweet and always sunny. We know life's not like that.

But keeping God's promises in mind, we can face whatever life throws at us today, however good or ill, with a realistic  hope and expectation for tomorrow.

Or as Martin Luther King once said, 'We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.' 

God grants us the promise of his presence today and forever, and God keeps his promises. That's where our hope lies.   

 

And while we're at it, here's to Andy Murray winning Wimbledon and the England cricket team convincingly beating Sri Lanka and India.

We hope!
 

May God grant you a true hope in every situation, and the assurance of his care and guidance now, and always

 

Phil

 


March 2014

In ancient  times you couldn’t jump on a bus or a train,  there were no cars,  and journeys were often long and very difficult, travellers could arrive at their destination at night after avoiding  walking in the heat of the day.

Jesus told a story where a traveller arrives at midnight and the man he’s visiting has nothing to give him to eat. So he goes to a friend  of his and tries to borrow 3 loaves of bread.

'Get lost' his neighbour says. .'We’re all locked up here and the kids are all in bed. I can’t help you'

 

Well this man keeps on and on and on at him, to the point where his friend   gets so fed up  he gets up and gives him the bread he wants. And Jesus explains that if this man won’t get out of bed and help out because he’s a friend,  then he’ll do it because his friend won’t give up. He’ll keep asking till he drives him crazy and he gives in.

Jesus told this story to encourage us to pray, and to keep praying.  

 

He told many stories to help us understand a little of the nature of God but sometimes, like in this instance, he puts a twist on it, because here Jesus is telling us what God isn’t like.

God  isn’t like a grumpy old bloke who’s been woken up in the middle of the night by a friend in trouble.

He’s not someone we have to pester and pester to get what we want.

 

We've all know  how some children can wear their parents down wanting sweets, ice cream or the something else that takes their fancy. It's very tempting to give in  just to shut them up.

 

 God however, isn't  backward in supplying his children’s needs.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

Think about it, Jesus says.  "Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? You know how to give good things to your children. So how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

 

The lesson of this parable is that we don't have to bash God’s ear till he gets so fed up with us he gives in.

God answers every prayer,  but sometimes the answer is no. Like a parent who loves and cares for a child, sometimes no is the right answer. If we know that God loves us and wants the very best for us, we will understand and better accept that.

 

This starts out as a story about someone needing a favour from a friend, and Jesus leads us further and further into an understanding of what our real needs are. He’s not suggesting we  just sit back and our material needs will fall down from heaven like magic. We  have to do the business to provide for ourselves,  our families and our communities

To be precise, Jesus is saying here that our greatest need is God himself. Get that sorted and everything else will fall into place.

We all have  physical,  mental and emotional needs but  so often we neglect our spiritual needs

 

Phil

 

 
February 2014

According to research done by The Economist in Dec 2007, over 100m copies of the Bible are sold or given away every year. It's been said that the Bible is the book that most people own but not many open

 

The Bible is a little library of all sorts of different types of writing - there’s history, poetry, law, biography, personal testimony. It takes us through God’s dealings with his creation,  helping us to understand why things are the way they are and  pointing us to Jesus Christ as God with us - the one who can save us and grant eternal life.

 

In times of trouble, and sorrow - in the very worst of times - Christians throughout the ages have turned to this book for instruction, for comfort, for reassurance - and ultimately to find that hope that only God can give.

These words have guided the church and the individual down many a rocky road and over many a high mountain.

 

Imagine for a minute you’re a soldier a few hundred years ago, fighting a massive battle in France. The battle has raged for hours,  you're vastly outnumbered, exhausted,   and  the enemy are  the point of overrunning your positions . Imagine your commanding officer  standing up and saying ' Oh dear. I'm not quite sure what to do about this. We're in a spot of bother...'

It’s hardly going to inspire confidence is it?  It would come as no surprise if the whole army didn’t turn around sharpish and scarper…

 

But, in the middle of this same battle  when you’re right at the point of giving in,  imagine your commanding officer, King Harry up there on his horse, sword in hand and  shouting above the roar of the battle.

'Once more unto the breach dear friends, once more, or close up the breach with our English dead...follow your spirit and upon this charge cry, God for Harry, England and St George!

Your spirits would rise, the  adrenaline would kick in and  you’d find new strength and resolve.

 

It could be said that in our society we have more words than we know what to do with. The media, politics, and advertising, bombard us constantly, and with the rise of social media such as twitter and facebook everyone has an opportunity to express their thoughts  in words and have an audience. It's said that talk is cheap and perhaps it's never been cheaper than it is today.

 

A  few well chosen words can change things and  can give courage and hope. But  the fact that King Harry  speaks his words in the midst of the battle, alongside his men, give those  words a far greater influence and deeper  impact.

In the same way Christians  believe that the God who caused the Bible to be written is the God who spoke to us face to face  in the person of Jesus Christ.

 

God became human and lived among us. He shared all those things that make up our human experience and establish what it is to be truly human.

Life isn’t just random. We are created for a purpose and life has meaning. We are created to draw near to God and to enjoy those good things he has prepared for us such as peace, forgiveness, joy, good relationships and the assurance of eternal life.

The Bible is much more than words. It is the record of God in action in our situation then, right here and now and for always.

 

Phil

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas 2016

Looking through some old boxes the other day I came across an LP* from the 1950's that  belonged to my Dad. It's by a singer called Paddy Roberts. At  the time he was seen as a bit risqué and not music for polite company, but, like a lot of things as times and values have changed, he now comes across as rather quaint and harmless.

I remembered one particular song on the album that speaks of the idea that, like it or not,  we've been conned or suckered  into the whole commercial idea of Christmas

 

Merry Christmas you suckers, You miserable men,
That old festive season is with you again,
You’ll be spending your money on cartloads of junk,
And from here to new year you’ll be drunk as a skunk.

Merry Christmas you suckers, It’s perfectly clear,
That you fall for it all a bit sooner each year,
If it goes on like this you will find pretty soon,
That you’re singing “White Christmas” as early as June.


 

Sound familiar? It seems our Christmas begins earlier and earlier each year and is increasingly pre packaged  by all those companies who want to sell us stuff.

As a friend once described it to me, Christmas is a time of compulsory enforced merriment, whether you want it or not. He also said there should be a system of fines and other criminal penalties for broadcasting Christmas adverts before the end of November. Not a bad idea.

 

Nevertheless, it's always good to take some time out and celebrate, maybe let our hair down and party, and spend time with our loved ones.

The thing is, with Christmas we have a choice, as with so many things in life,

We don't necessarily have to buy into the whole package. Christmas speaks to us in so many other ways than spend, spend, spend.

 

For the Christian of course it's one of our major festivals - a celebration of God with us, who enters our world and  takes on our humanity in the person of Jesus Christ, to be a light in darkness and lead us day by day and for all eternity, to God our Father.

Bound up with this is the hope for peace as we consider our common humanity as Jesus offers us peace with God, and though that, peace with others.

 

For a number of people there is little or no sense of celebration because in some respects Christmas day is just another day. The hungry, the homeless the lost and lonely may not have the means or the inclination to party.

The same is true of those who are sick and suffering, along with their families at this time, who face a future which is uncertain and anxious.

It is a difficult day too for those who've lost loved ones, and I'm conscious and prayerful of those in our village for whom this will be the first Christmas after the death of someone so loved.

I remember the first Christmas after my mother died many years ago, my Dad and I ate beans on toast and shared a bottle of whisky. There was precious little joy in our house that day.

 

But cut through the tat and the tinsel, the constant barrage of advertising and appeals for our money, the bogus jollity, and Christmas speaks to us something much more deep and profound than we can ever imagine.

If we stop for a few moments we might hear just the words of God speaking to us of a sure  hope for the future,  a true sense of thanksgiving and celebration, a cast iron  promise of love and care and guidance today and forever, and a real reason for celebration.

Whatever our Christmas might bring, and whatever it might mean to us, God is with us - always.

 

May the light of Christ shine upon you to guard you and guide you through this season and beyond

From myself and all at St Mary's we wish you a truly Happy Christmas

 

Phil

 

 *For our younger readers LPs were long playing records we had back in prehistoric  times before mp3 and i players and what have you came along. It was a flat round piece of vinyl with a groove in it and you put a needle in the groove to make the sound. Ask your Grandparents...

November 2016

If you've ever lost something precious, ( and I mean really lost something. Not just put your keys down and spent 20 minutes looking for them),  there's often a process you go through. First there's a sort of panic and you rush from place to place where you might have left it - a knee jerk emotional response.

Then someone might say, ok calm down and think. Where was the last place you saw it - and you have to calmly and slowly  retrace your steps

 

As they say, it's always in the last place you look

(Well of course it is. If you found it you wouldn't keep looking...)

 

Being lost is one of the themes of the Bible.

Here is God, the source of life and light,  the one who loves us and offers us the means to live in peace and security and to have lives that are fulfilling and free from fear

 

And here's us,  humanity,  and for whatever reason  we wander off  and we eventually get lost

 

Jesus gave us three parables  on the  theme of lost and found.

There's the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost prodigal son.

 

On the surface, the stories concern ordinary everyday things. We have  the loss of an animal, the housekeeping money going missing  and a young lad going off the rails.

 

In all these things there is the important message that God doesn't abandon us. No matter how far we wander away and however lost we might be, God looks for us till he finds us or he waits for us to come to our senses and turn back to him

Here is a God who is not distant and who doesn't stand back and forget about those  who are far away from him.

Here is a God who either actively searches for those who are lost, or who waits and is ready welcome back and forgive those  who have wandered off

Here is the God who sends his son Jesus Christ into the world to do just that

 

We have the image of Jesus as the good shepherd most familiar in the words of Palm 23,

 

The Lord  is my shepherd.......

We may have heard it so many times the words have lost their impact,  but it speaks of the absolute security we have if we put ourselves in Gods care.

Images of being led to  green  grass  and  fresh water, being refreshed and being guided  down right safe paths, and being with us at all times,  - even though we walk  through  the valley of the shadow of death.

 

 

Jesus offers us the image of himself as the good shepherd and a shepherd so committed to his flock he is willing to lay down his life for them, and  we know that Jesus did in fact lay  down his life for his sheep in his sacrifice on the cross..

 

We all get  lost at times, and not just geographically

But emotionally

In our relationships

We may get lost in fear and anxiety

we might mess up in a number of ways

and of course we get lost spiritually as we wander away from God and lose sight of him

God is our home and we can never know fulfilment till we find our way back home to him

 

Jesus offers himself as our guide, but perhaps the first step in finding our way home is when we recognise those times we are lost.

 

May Christ, the good shepherd guard you and guide you, this day and evermore

 

Phil

 

 

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