Thursday, 22 July 2010

A Christian Funeral

On Tuesday I attended the funeral of the Revd (Squadron Leader) Pete Tollerson.

Pete and I were ordained together at Carlisle Cathedral in 2001, and went through Post Ordination Training (commonly referred to as 'Potty' training) together, before Pete joined the RAF as a chaplain in 2004 and I continued in Parish ministry. Pete died from cancer at the age of only 45 on July 10th 2010, and leaves behind a wife and two young children.

Although a sad occasion, Pete's funeral was also a wonderful and inspiring occasion full of Christian hope, in which Christ's victory over death was celebrated. It is for this reason that I love this passage from Paul's letter to the Thessalonians: "My friends, we want you to understand how it will be for those followers who have already died. Then you won't grieve over them and be like people who don't have any hope. We believe that Jesus died and was raised to life. We also believe that when God brings Jesus back again, he will bring with him all who had faith in Jesus before they died…. [Therefore] Encourage each other with these words." (1 Thess 4:13-14, 18)

Pete had great confidence in this message, and wrote the following message which was included in the order of service:

"In the April this year a friend shared with me a picture he'd had during a time of prayer. He saw me walking toward Jesus and the vision of joy that lay behind Him. I looked back and witnessed the sorrow of those I was leaving and for a moment I experienced some conflict about which way to go. But focusing upon Christ I was given strength to keep on my journey toward Him.

My life and ministry have been all about that journey toward Jesus, the One who has been my light, my life and my great joy – He loved me and gave his life for me, He has guided me and granted me so many blessings – He has done me no wrong.

Today, maybe you don't believe in this Jesus; maybe you think 'when you're gone you're gone' – end of story? I would appear to you to think again, to ask your questions and give yourself no rest until you have come to a point of peace about your relationship with God through Christ. The poignant thing about my own death is we simply never know when we are going to be called into God's presence – we all need to be ready for that moment. My prayer for you is that you may come to know His love, His forgiveness and a newness of life that begins in the moment you believe and then lasts forever.

I look forward to meeting you again….. Pete"

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Taming the Tongue: The Bible and Gossip


There has been a saying which has always baffled me, and that is "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me."

I have always wondered who thought up this saying – because it is clearly wrong!! The truth is that words are tremendously powerful. The words we speak can do both a lot of good, but they can also do tremendous harm. Proverbs 18:21 says "The tongue has the power of life and death."

Apparently on average we speak between 16 thousand to 20 thousand words a day. So there are lots of opportunities for us to make an impact by the things we say, either for good or ill.

Carefully chosen, thoughtful words, spoken in love can build people up, encourage, inspire and motivate. But carelessly spoken, thoughtless words can kill enthusiasm, knock self esteem, lower expectations and hold people back. As this video illustrates.

There may be people here today who are living with the consequences of things said to them in the past. Imagine for example if as a child you were constantly tolled that you were no good, or you would never amount to anything in life, or that you were ugly, or fat, or not good enough, that can have a lasting impact on you. My own mother, for many years struggled with low self esteem, because as a child it was made clear to her by her mother that she preferred boys rather than girls. Words are extremely powerful, and as Christians we need to be aware of the impact of the words that we speak.

This is why the apostle James wrote "the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body." (James 3:5-6) That's strong stuff, but it is true! A harsh critical word, the spreading of gossip, a word spoken in anger, can quickly spread out of control, and cause lasting damage.


The trouble is it is very easy to get drawn into gossip.

Four preachers met for a friendly gathering. During the conversation one preacher said, "Our people come to us and pour out their hearts, confess certain sins and needs. Let's do the same. Confession is good for the soul." In due time all agreed. One confessed he liked to go to movies and would sneak off when away from his church. The second confessed to liking to smoke cigars and the third one confessed to liking to play cards. When it came to the fourth one, he wouldn't confess. The others pressed him saying, "Come now, we confessed ours. What is your secret or vice?" Finally he answered, "It is gossiping and I can hardly wait to get out of here."

Gossip is a problem we all have to face. A whole industry is based around it. Think about all the column inches in tabloid newspapers and magazines are devoted to gossip about people in the public eye. The truth of the matter is that most people love gossip, and Christians are as guilty as anyone else.


So what does the Bible have to say about the issue of gossip?

The Bible is clear – gossip is damaging, and harmful and as Christians we should have nothing to do with it. For example, the book of Proverbs says "A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret." (Prov 11:13) and "A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends." (Prov 16:28)

If you have ever played the game Chinese whispers, you know how quickly things become distorted, which is what happens in gossip.

It is quite easy for us to fall into the trap of gossiping, even when we don't intend to, and for Christians this is particularly relevant when it comes to prayer. I have experienced situations where Christians have in effect used prayer as the excuse to gossip about someone. Our excuse is that we are asking people to pray for a specific person or situation, when it actual fact what we are doing is really gossiping.

If someone shares with you some important piece of personal information, it does not give you the right to go and share that with others unless you have the clear permission to do so from the person in question.

Paul gives us some clear guidance in Ephesians 4:29, about how we should control our tongues. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

The guidance is clear, we are not to say or do anything which could hurt others, but instead build people up. There is a saying, 'Think before your speak', and it's good advice for us to follow. Before we speak about any person or subject that could be controversial we need to ask the following questions:

  1. T--Is it true? - if the answer is no, then it shouldn't be repeated
  2. H--Is it helpful? Even if it is the truth, do you really need to share it?

    Will it help anyone? Will it hurt anyone? Would it be better left unsaid? If there are no benefits to anyone, then what possible purpose could repeating it serve?

  3. I--Is it inspiring?
  4. N--Is it necessary?
  5. K--Is it kind? Our world is full of cynicism and scepticism, will

    repeating this story be kind? Can it be better left unsaid?

    Would you really be better off repeating this information?

If what I am about to say does not pass those tests, then it is better to keep my mouth shut.

The words that come out of mouths reveal what's on our hearts

The words that come out of our lips, points to something deeper that's going on in our lives. That is why in Jesus in Matthew's Gospel says, "the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart." (Mt. 15:18). It follows that if we choose to put good things into our hearts, good things come out of the mouth.

As Christians we are called to tame the tongue, to think carefully about the words we speak. In Psalm 141 David prays, "Set a guard over my mouth. Keep watch over the door of my lips. Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil." To pray that prayer, means to recognise the power of our words, and to ask God to help us control what we say.


As Christians the main commandment we are given is to love. "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another." (John 13:34)

The word that Jesus uses to describe love is agape, it is a uniquely NT term, for agape means a love that gives itself for the good of the recipient. And that is why this command to love is so important.

And so as we speak to others, we need to assess our words in the light of this command to love. Do our words promote and encourage love? Do they strengthen and build others up? Do we speak to people in the way we would want people to speak to us? This becomes a particular challenge, when others may be attacking us, when we are being falsely accused. But even in those moments when we may have to confront others, we need always to speak out of love just as Jesus did.

There seems to be so much cynicism and negativity around our society at the moment. But as Christians we can do something about that by speaking words of life and encouragement. Think how you feel if someone says some affirming encouraging words to you, it makes a difference.

Story of Johnny – Johnny who has Downs Syndrome, and works in his local supermarket packing bags, decided one day to try and do something positive to serve the people who come into the shop.

He decided to give every customer whose bag he packed a thought for the day on a piece of paper. Within a few weeks the number of people waiting in the line for Johnny to bag their groceries was 3 times as long as the other lines. When the store manager tried to get people to use the other lines, those in line would simply say they were willing to wait for Johnny.

Because of Johnny's simple act, it transformed the whole atmosphere and culture of that store, as a spirit of service spread across the shop. Johnny's idea wasn't as innovative, as it was loving. It came from his heart

It was a simple thing that Johnny did, but it was something that had a huge impact.

Words are tremendously powerful, they can either bring life and death. God gives us the freedom to choose how we use words and how we receive them. My prayer is that we will all strive to be encouragers and use our words to bless and help others.

God Believes In Us

This summer I will be visiting my wife's family in Poland. My parents in law live opposite what was once a very large Russian military base. A small part of the base is still used by the Polish army, but the majority of it now lies abandoned. On one occasion two years ago I decided to take my son, who was two at the time, on a walk through the old military base. As we were walking together I felt an incredible sense of love and joy as I chatted to my son, delighting in his presence, and seeing the world through his eyes. In that special moment, I became aware of what I would describe as God speaking to me, saying "the love, and joy that you feel when you look at your son, is how I feel towards you, you don't have to earn my love, I give it freely." That moment has stuck with me ever since because I am someone who needs reminding again and again just how much God loves me.

This message of God's unconditional love is at the heart of the Christian faith, and yet so often we can fall into the trap of believing that we have to earn God's love. We struggle with our own self doubts and question how God could love someone like us. But the good news of the Christian faith is that there nothing we can do to make God love us any more than he already does, or to stop God loving us. Victor Hugo the French playwright and novelist once said: "The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved; loved for ourselves, or rather in spite of ourselves." You may have been asked the question "do you believe in God?" But an equally important question is "do you know that God believes in you?"

If you are reading this article and have ever wondered if God could love someone like you, know that he loves and delights in you right now.



Luke 10:25-37 The Good Samaritan


In our Gospel reading today we read about an encounter between Jesus and an expert in Jewish law, who asks Jesus 'Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?' To which Jesus answers: 'Love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength and with all our mind, and love our neighbours as ourselves.'

Lets unpack what is actually been said here.


Christianity is first and foremost about relationships. One the one hand it is a relationship between God and ourselves, and on the other hand, it is about the relationship we have with one another.

The most important relationship is the one we have with God. We are to love him with our whole being, with our heart, soul, strength and our mind. And like any relationship, we have to work at our relationship with God.

But this relationship is not a one sided one, God loved us first. Paul in Ephesians 1:4 writes, "he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight." In other words, even before this world was created, God has known us and has loved us. God's love for us Unconditional, Impartial, Everlasting, Infinite, Perfect!

We nurture our relationship with God by setting aside time to pray, and read our Bibles, and gathering together as his family, the church to worship him. Because it is through our praise and worship that we can begin to understand the love that God has for us, and it builds up our love for him.

Being part of the church reminds us that we cannot be a Christian in isolation. As well as our relationship with God, to be a Christian means to have a relationship with others. This is why we have the second great command.


When the Jewish leader questions Jesus about how to inherit eternal life, Jesus first tells him to love God, and secondly to love his neighbour. There is an important order being stressed in this passage. God must always come first, others second, and ourselves last.

But a question is raised, 'who is my neighbour?' Jesus then goes to talk about the Good Samaritan. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho winds its way through some very rough desert terrain. It was a notorious area for thieves and robbers, even up to the 1930s it had a reputation for being a very unsafe route! This lone traveller was attacked, and left for dead. In the story we read that two men walk past. The first one is a Priest, who was probably on his way to the Temple in Jerusalem. The reason he did not stop to help the man was because he did not want to defile himself by touching a corpse. So for the priest, being 'ritually clean' was more important than showing compassion and mercy, he was more concerned about obeying rules and regulations than helping someone in need.

The next person to walk by was Levite, again he did not stop. Like the Priest he may have been afraid of making himself ritually unclean, but he may have also feared being attacked by robbers – who could have still been in the area.

The third person to walk past was a Samaritan. But unlike the other two men, this man stopped, took pity upon the man lying in the road, bandaged his wounds, and took him to a place where he would be cared for, giving the inn keeper two silver coins, enough for one month, and says, 'when I come back, I will give you more money, whatever it costs to look after this man.' His care and concern for the injured man continued didn't stop when he left him at the inn.

What makes this story so extraordinary is that Jesus chose a Samaritan – who the Jew's despised, to be the hero in the story. The message is clear, to love our neighbours as ourselves is a radical and demanding call. It calls for us to lay aside our differences, our prejudices, our fears, our misconceptions. In the story the Priest and Levite loved themselves more than their neighbour, because they put their interests first. It took a Samaritan, someone who the Jews despised, to show what it means to be a true neighbour.

There is a real challenge here for us today. To learn to love one another. To learn to put aside our differences. To learn to let go of attitudes that are harmful. To learn to put God first, others second and ourselves last.

I hope that as a church, St Martin's is known for its love for others, and its care for others. Because if we place love of God at the centre of everything we do, and then love of others we will draw people to God. When I was in NZ for a year, the church that I was drawn to was the one that showed by its life and its ministry the love it had for people. It was also a church willing to welcome people into its midst, who many other people would shun away from. I learnt a lot during my time in that church. If we are a people who are full of love, people will be drawn to this church, and lives will be changed.

My hope and prayer for us today, is that we will all grow to know what it means to love God with all our heart, soul, body and mind, and to love our neighbours as ourselves.


Thursday, 1 July 2010

Ministry in the Work Place

When we think of Christian ministry, we tend to think of it in terms of the activities we do in 'church'. For instance being a home group leader, running children's groups, cleaning the church building, or being a warden. And there is nothing wrong with this, these are forms of Christian service. But how many of us think of what we do Monday to Friday at work as part of our Christian service and ministry?

Mark Greene has written extensively of ministry in the work place, and in his book 'Thank God it's Monday' he quotes one person who said the following: "I've been working for seventeen years and it's only in the last year or so that I've recognized my workplace as a ministry. How many Christians die without ever realizing the ministry God had for them?"

So this morning I want us to think about ministry in the work place, the challenges and the opportunities that as Christians we face. What I want to say this morning, isn't just restricted to those who are in paid employment, it relates to all of us.

Why Work is Important

We only have to look at the opening chapters of the Bible to see how important work is in God's scheme of things.

First of all we see that God is a God who works. The Bible describes creation as the work of God. For six days God works, and on the seventh he rests from all the work he has done. God is a worker and it is something he chooses to do- it is part of his plan. And we see that God takes pleasure in his work. We're told that when God finished creating the heavens and the earth he said that it was 'very good'.

Work was part of God's gift to humanity in creation; it was part of his original plan. God has created us for work, and this work is given to us as a blessing. We see this in Genesis 1:28, God blessed them and said to them. 'Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground." And from Genesis 2:15 we read: "The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it."

There is a moral responsibility which is connected to the work we do. For example the Bible talks about the importance of working in order to support those in need, working in order to improve the life of the community as a whole.

God always intended us to be people who work, and God intended work to be a source of satisfaction and pleasure.

And in the New Testament Paul calls upon Christians to do their work for God. Paul writes to the Colossians 3:17, "whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." Work is one of the ways in which we serve God.

Why the workplace is so important?

In 1945 the Church of England produced a book called 'Towards the Conversion of England'. In it are written these words. "We are convinced that England will never be converted until the laity use the opportunities daily afforded by their various professions, crafts and occupations."

As Christians God has called all of us to be his witnesses in the world. The greatest mission field in the world today is right on our doorstep amongst our friend's neighbours and work colleagues. Britain today is a largely post-Christian society. Fewer and fewer people are attending churches; the level of Christian knowledge in our society is at an all time low.

And this is why being an effective witness in the workplaces so important. Because it is the place where we spend much of our time, maybe up to 40 or 50 hours a week. In the workplace Christians and non-Christians are able to meet and are subject to the same work cultures, and the same pressures. The work place is one of the few places where a non-Christian can actually see the difference that knowing Christ can make to a life, week in, week out. And through the workplace we will know many people, and have many friends, and we will be in contact with people at important points in their lives. For instance when people are facing divorce, illness, or bereavement.

So we see the wonderful opportunities that we have as Christians to minister to those we work with. As Emil Brunner said, what the Christian community needs to do is to regain the lost sense of work as a divine calling.

The challenges of the workplace

We only need to consider the issues facing workers today, to realize what opportunities we have as Christians to bring something positive into the work place.

British workers work longer hours than any other nation in the European Union. And increasingly people are suffering from increased levels of stress, anxiety, bullying, depression and less job satisfaction. And people are being forced to work these longer hours, because they fear that if they don't, their employers will find someone who will. For most people, job security is a thing of the past.

Also consider the values that shape the work place, and the desperate need for a positive Christian witness. For example, most contemporary workplaces will operate on secular values, and would see themselves not accountable to anyone else their employers or share holders.

The challenge for us as Christians is how to remind people that we are accountable to God for our actions. What assumptions and attitudes exist in your workplace, and how to they compare to the values and attitudes that God has, such as truth, honesty, justice, and fairness? And what are the values that we bring to the work place? Do we allow our Christian faith to have an impact upon what we do at work?

A further challenge is that increasingly people are seen in terms of what functions they perform in the business, rather than being treated as human beings. And as we work longer hours, people tend to see their work as a measure of their identity and worth. Yet the Bible reminds us that we are created in God's image, and this attaches a special worth and dignity to each individual person, irrespective of what we do. How can we ensure that this message is heard in the workplace?

So we can see both the challenges, but also the opportunities that we have as Christians in the world of work. So for the remainder of this talk I want us to consider how we can develop a Christian vision for the work place.

A Christian Vision for the Work Place

  1. Our work matters to God

The first thing we need to be reminded of is that our work matters to God. God is deeply concerned about the work we do, he is concerned about every part of our lives, and not just what we get up to on a Sunday morning. The work that I do as a Vicar in God's eyes is no greater or more important than the work you are involved in. We tend to talk about the priesthood as a vocation, a calling, but secular employment can be just as much a vocation. Think about how important it is for us to have Christian teachers, doctors, nurses, accountants, etc. In fact we need Christians in every walk of life.

If we look at the Bible we see that many of the great biblical heroes were people who had what we would term secular jobs. For example, Joseph who became the chancellor in Egypt, Daniel the imperial adviser to Nebuchadnezzar, or Nehemiah who was the cupbearer to king Artaxerxes.

  1. Our primary calling is to be a servant of Jesus Christ

Secondly we need to remember that our primary calling is to be servants of Jesus Christ. A man standing on the platform waiting for the train to take him to work was asked, Who are you? He replied… I am a Christian thinly disguised as an accountant.

If we begin to see our workplace as the context for mission and evangelism, it will change our whole attitude to those we work amongst. For example do we pray for those people we work for? When you go into work do you ask God for opportunities to share your faith with those you work with? And do you meet up with other Christians who work at the same business as you to pray and study the Bible & support one another? Jesus said, Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. The harvest is ripe, we should ask God to use us to share his love. The important point is that it is not about getting people into church, it is about telling them about the love God has for them.

Being an effective witness in the workplace doesn't require a degree in theology, just openness to God as the following example demonstrates.

Emily, a small Chinese lady, works at the United Nations. One day one of her co-workers wasn't feeling well. 'Can I get you a cup of tea?' Emily enquired.

'No' the other replied rather shortly. 'I don't like the tea here. I only drink camomile.' Emily left her, quietly slipped on her coat, took the lift down several floors and went down the street to a nearby shop. She returned with a box of camomile tea and gave it to this lady, who immediately enveloped her in a huge hug, exclaiming, 'Emily, I love you'. Emily replied, rather muffled from the epicentre of the massive hug, 'I love you too.'

Emily's story illustrates a number of important points:

  • We need to be ministry minded- Emily could have just smiled and gone on her way. Instead, because she was ministry minded, because she listened, because she saw the other person's need and desire, she took an initiative that totally transformed that person's mood and day.
  • Time is on our side- the opportunities will come. We don't have to create situations in which we can minister- they will happen by themselves. We simply need to pray and be alert.
  • Ministry is to individual people- Clearly camomile tea wouldn't have been a good idea for everybody, but it helped this one woman. We need to care for people and love them as individuals.
  • Ministry doesn't demand- it gives- Emily asked for nothing, not even the money for the tea. She gave expecting nothing in return. Our expressions of love for others shouldn't have any strings attached. We need to be sensitive and distinguish between the opportunities to serve and the opportunities to communicate the gospel verbally.

I've recently read the book 'The Practice of the Presence of God' written by Brother Lawrence who in the 17th century lived in a Carmelite
monastery in Paris.

Brother Lawrence worked in the monastery kitchens, a job which incidentally he didn't particularly enjoy. But despite this he believed that all work, no matter how mundane or routine it may be, could be a medium of God's love.

He wrote the following: "We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God."

His attitude to work is one that we could do well to follow, so that everything we do is given to God as an offering, and an opportunity to be his witness. Amen.