Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The Cracked Water Pot

This is a lovely story, by an unknown author, which reminds us that God can use our imperfections and flaws.

A water bearer in India had two large pots, each hung on each end of a pole which he carried across his neck.

One of the pots had a crack in it, and while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the master's house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.

For a full two years this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water in his master's house.

Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect to the end for which it was made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do.

After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream. "I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you."

"Why?" asked the bearer. "What are you ashamed of?"

"I have been able, for these past two years, to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your master's house. Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don't get full value from your efforts," the pot said.

The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in his compassion he said, "As we return to the master's house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path."

Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, and this cheered it some.

But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because it had leaked out half its load, and so again it apologized to the bearer for its failure.

The bearer said to the pot, "Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of your path, but not on the other pot's side? That's because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you've watered them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my master's table. Without you being just the way you are, he would not have this beauty to grace his house."

MORAL: Each of us has our own unique flaws. We're all cracked pots. But it's the cracks and flaws we each have that make our lives together so very interesting and rewarding. We need to take each person for what they are and look for the good in them. There is a lot of good out there. Every day we look in the mirror we can wonder what flowers we'll unknowingly be watering that day.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Christianity and Mental Health

In 2008 I suffered a bout of depression, which lasted several months. It was a difficult period for me, getting up each morning to face a new day was a challenge. I had no motivation or desire to work, I had lost my sense of focus and joy in life, and my relationship with God suffered as I struggled to find the motivation to pray. Fortunately for me, my depression was very mild compared to what some people go through.
My experience is not unusual; in a report published in 2008 the The Royal College of Psychiatrists wrote that depression affects one in five people at some point in their lives. For example 25% of clergy time off in the Church of England is caused by depression. Yet as a nation and as a church we are still not very good at talking about mental health issues.
During my bout of depression, only Beata was aware of how I was feeling. One of the reasons for this was because there was part of me which felt that as a Christian to acknowledge I was depressed almost felt like failure, showing lack of trust in God – I realise however that this is NOT true. Depression and other mental health issues can affect Christians and non Christians alike – it is not a sign of weakness or lack of faith.
Fortunately understanding about mental health issues has increased considerably over the years, and there is less of a stigma surrounding this issue than there used to be, but we still have a long way to go. Talking about these issues and recognising that this is something many people (including Christians) struggle with is an important first step. If you know someone who is struggling with depression, anxiety, low self esteem, or any other mental health issue, the most important thing you can do is to be there for them, helping and supporting people by providing a non judgemental listening ear. The love, support, and prayers that I received from St Martin's when I eventually acknowledged that I had been struggling helped me tremendously.
If you are someone who is going through a difficult time at the moment, here are some tips which I hope will prove helpful.
  1. Try to keep hold of God's promises in the Bible. Even if God feels distant, he isn't — it's a feeling caused by the depression. He is present, and still cares and forgives.
  2. Make a choice not to withdraw from things that would normally bring a sense of pleasure, achievement, or closeness to others.
  3. Think back to times when you have had a sense of closeness to God.
  4.  Read encouraging psalms and Bible verses, a list is available at
  5. Keep a routine of prayer, even if this is really short.
  6. Seek medical help. Ask your GP what help might be available locally.
  7. Keep some contact with church. This may include going to smaller and quieter services, or turning up late and leaving early so that it doesn't feel too much.
  8.  Pray with trusted others, even if it's just for a short time. Ask them to pray for you.
  9.  Live healthily. Fitness, food, and sleep matter, and can often be overlooked when we feel low.
  10.  Say "no" to some things. Balance demands that you have space to recover.
Finally – remember that you are not alone! "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans Ch. 8 v. 38-39.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Who is Jesus: A Good Man, Prophet, Teacher or God?

This talk is taken from session 1 of the Alpha Course ( entitled 'Who is Jesus?' 

Martin Scorsese said on television that he made the film The Last Temptation of Christ in order to show that Jesus was a real human being. Yet that is not the issue at the moment. Few people today would doubt that Jesus was fully human. He had a human body; he was sometimes tired and hungry. He had human emotions; he was angry, he loved, and he was sad. He had human experiences; he was tempted, he learned, he worked and he obeyed his parents.

What many say today is that Jesus was only a human being – albeit a great religious teacher. The comedian Billy Connolly spoke for many when he said, ‘I can’t believe in Christianity, but I think Jesus was a wonderful man.’

What evidence is there to suggest that Jesus was more than just a wonderful man or a great moral teacher? The answer, as we shall see, is that there is a great deal of evidence. This evidence supports the Christian contention that Jesus was and is the unique Son of God.


Some people say, ‘Jesus never claimed to be God.’ Indeed, it is true that Jesus did not go round saying the words, ‘I am God.’ Yet when one looks at all he taught and claimed, there is little doubt that he was conscious of being a person whose identity was God.

Teaching centred on himself

One of the fascinating things about Jesus is that so much of his teaching was centred on himself. He said to people, in effect, ‘If you want to have a relationship with God you need to come to me’ (see John 14:6). It is through a relationship with him that we encounter God.

There is a hunger deep within the human heart. The leading psychologists of the twentieth century have all recognised this. Freud said, ‘People are hungry for love.’ Jung said, ‘People are hungry for security.’ Adler said, ‘People are hungry for significance.’ Jesus said, ‘I am the bread of life’ (John 6:35). In other words, ‘If you want your hunger satisfied, come to me.’

Many people are walking in darkness, depression, disillusionment and despair. They are looking for direction. Jesus said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’ (John 8:12).

Many are fearful of death. Jesus said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die’ (John 11:25-26).

So many are burdened by worries, anxieties, fears and guilt. Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11:28). They are not sure how to run their lives or who they should follow. Jesus said, ‘Follow me’ (Mark 1:17).

He said to receive him was to receive God (Matthew 10:40), to welcome him was to welcome God (Mark 9:37) and to have seen him was to have seen God (John 14:9).

A child once drew a picture and her mother asked what she was doing. The child said, ‘I am drawing a picture of God.’ The mother said, ‘Don’t be silly. You can’t draw a picture of God. No one knows what God looks like.’ The child replied, ‘Well, they will do by the time I have finished!’

Jesus said in effect, ‘If you want to know what God looks like, look at me.’

Indirect claims

Jesus said a number of things which, although not direct claims to be God, show that he regarded himself as being in the same position as God, as we will see in the examples which follow.

Jesus’ claimed to be able to forgive sins. For example, on one occasion he said to a man who was paralysed, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven’ (Mark 2:5). The reaction of the religious leaders was, ‘Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ Jesus went on to prove that he did have the authority to forgive sins by healing the paralysed man. This claim to be able to forgive sins is an astonishing claim.

Another extraordinary claim that Jesus made was that one day he would judge the world (Matthew 25:31-32).

Jesus said he would decide what happens to every one of us at the end of time. Not only would he be the Judge, he would also be the criterion of judgment. What happens to us on the Day of Judgment depends on how we respond to Jesus in this life (Matthew 25:40, 45). Suppose the vicar of your local church were to get up in the pulpit and say, ‘On the Day of Judgment you will all appear before me and I will decide your eternal destiny. What happens to you will depend on how you’ve treated me and my followers.’ For a mere human being to make such a claim would be preposterous. Here we have another indirect claim to have the identity of Almighty God.

Direct claims

Jesus said “I and the Father are one.” When he said this we are told that the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” “We are not stoning you for any of these,” replied the Jews, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere human being, claim to be God.” His enemies clearly thought that this was exactly what he was declaring.

When Thomas, one of his disciples, knelt down before Jesus and said, ‘My Lord and my God’ (John 20:28), Jesus didn’t turn to him and say, ‘No, no, don’t say that; I am not God.’ He said, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’ (John 20:29). He rebuked Thomas for being so slow to get the point.

If somebody makes claims like these they need to be tested. There are all sorts of people who make all kinds of claims. The mere fact that somebody claims to be someone does not mean that they are right. There are many people, some in psychiatric hospitals, who are deluded. They think they are Napoleon or the Pope, but they are not.

So how can we test people’s claims? Jesus claimed to be the unique Son of God – God made flesh. There are three logical possibilities. If the claims were untrue, either he knew they were untrue – in which case he was an imposter, and an evil one at that. That is the first possibility. Or he did not know – in which case he was deluded; indeed, he was insane. That is the second possibility. The third possibility is that the claims were true.

C. S. Lewis pointed out that: ‘A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.’ He would either be insane or else he would be ‘the Devil of Hell’. ‘You must make your choice,’ he writes. Either Jesus was, and is, the Son of God or else he was insane or evil but, C. S. Lewis goes on, ‘let us not come up with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.’


In order to assess which of these three possibilities is right we need to examine the evidence we have about his life.

His teaching

The teaching of Jesus is widely acknowledged to be the greatest teaching that has ever fallen from human lips.

Bernard Ramm, an American professor of theology, said this about the teachings of Jesus:
'They are read more, quoted more, loved more, believed more, and translated more because they are the greatest words ever spoken . . . No other man’s words have the appeal of Jesus’ words. They are the kind of words we would expect God to give.'

His teaching is the foundation of our entire civilisation in the West. Many of the laws in this country were originally based on the teachings of Jesus. We are making progress in virtually every field of science and technology. We travel faster and know more, and yet in nearly 2,000 years no one has improved on the moral teaching of Jesus Christ. Could that teaching really have come from someone evil or insane?

His works

Jesus said that the miracles he performed were in themselves evi¬dence that ‘the Father is in me, and I in the Father’ (John 10:38).

Jesus must have been the most extraordinary person to have around. Sometimes people say that Christianity is boring. Well, it was not boring being with Jesus.

When he went to a party, he turned water into wine (John 2:1-11). He received one man’s picnic and multiplied it so that it could feed thousands (Mark 6:30-44). He had control over the elements and could speak to the wind and the waves and thereby stop a storm (Mark 4:35-41). He carried out the most remarkable healings: opening blind eyes, causing the deaf and dumb to hear and speak and enabling the paralysed to walk again. He set people free from evil forces which had dominated their lives. On occasions, he even brought those who had died back to life (John 11:38-44).

Yet it was not just his miracles that made his work so impressive. It was his love, especially for the loveless, which seemed to motivate all that he did. The supreme demonstration of his love for us was shown on the cross. When they tortured him and nailed him to the cross he said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’ (Luke 22:34). Surely these are not the activities of an evil or deluded man?

His character

The character of Jesus has impressed millions who would not call themselves Christians.

Jesus was someone who exemplified supreme unselfishness but never self-pity; humility but not weakness; joy but never at another’s expense; kindness but not indulgence. He was a person in whom even his enemies could find no fault and where friends who knew him well said he was without sin. Surely no one could suggest that a man with a character like that was evil or unbalanced?

His fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy

Jesus fulfilled over 300 prophecies (spoken by different voices over 500 years), including twenty-nine major prophecies fulfilled in a single day – the day he died.

I suppose it could be suggested that Jesus was a clever con man who deliberately set out to fulfil these prophecies in order to show that he was the Messiah foretold in the Old Testament.

The problem with that suggestion is, first, the sheer number of them would have made it extremely difficult. Secondly, humanly speaking he had no control over many of the events. For example, the exact manner of his death was foretold in the Old Testament (Isaiah 53), the place of his burial and even the place of his birth (Micah 5:2). Suppose Jesus had been a con man wanting to fulfil all these prophecies. It would have been a bit late by the time he discovered the place in which he was supposed to have been born!

His resurrection

The physical resurrection from the dead of Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of Christianity. But what is the evidence that it really happened? I want to summarise the evidence under four main headings.

1. His absence from the tomb. Many theories have been put forward to explain the fact that Jesus’ body was absent from the tomb on the first Easter Day, but none of them is very convincing.

First, it has been suggested that Jesus did not die on the cross. It has been claimed that Jesus was still alive when he was taken from the cross and that he later recovered.

Jesus had undergone a Roman flogging, under which many died. He had been nailed to a cross for six hours. Could a man in this condition push away a stone weighing probably a ton and a half? The soldiers were clearly convinced that he was dead or they would not have taken his body down. If they had allowed a prisoner to escape, they would have been liable to the death penalty.

Furthermore, when the soldiers discovered that Jesus was already dead, ‘one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water’ (John 19:34). This appears to be the separation of clot and serum which we know today is strong medical evidence that Jesus was dead. John did not write it for that reason; he would not have possessed that knowledge, which makes it even more powerful evidence that Jesus was indeed dead.

Secondly, it has been argued that the disciples stole the body. Some have suggested that the disciples stole the body and began a rumour that Jesus had risen from the dead. Leaving aside the fact that the tomb was guarded, this theory is psychologically improbable. The disciples were depressed and disillusioned at the time of Jesus’ death. It would have needed something extraordinary to transform the apostle Peter into the man who preached at Pentecost when 3,000 people were converted.

In addition, when one considers how much they had to suffer for what they believed (floggings, torture, and for some even death), it seems inconceivable that they would be prepared to endure all that for something they knew to be untrue.

Thirdly, some have said that the authorities stole the body. This seems the least probable theory of all. If the authorities had stolen the body, why did they not produce it when they were trying to quash the rumour that Jesus had risen from the dead?

2. His appearances to the disciples. Were these hallucinations? The Concise Oxford Dictionary describes a hallucination as an ‘apparent perception of an external object not actually present’. Hallucinations normally occur in highly strung, highly imaginative and very nervous people, or in people who are sick or on drugs. The disciples do not fit into any of these categories. Burly fishermen, tax collectors and sceptics like Thomas are unlikely to hallucinate. People who hallucinate would be unlikely suddenly to stop doing so. Jesus appeared to his disciples on eleven different occasions over a period of six weeks. The number of occasions and the sudden cessation make the hallucination theory highly improbable.

Furthermore, over 500 people saw the risen Jesus. It is possible for one person to hallucinate. Maybe it is possible for two or three people to share the same hallucination. But is it likely that 500 people would all share the same hallucination?

Finally, hallucinations are subjective. There is no objective reality – it is like seeing a ghost. Jesus could be touched, he ate a piece of broiled fish (Luke 24:42-43) and on one occasion he cooked breakfast for the disciples (John 21:1-14). Peter says, ‘[They] ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead’ (Acts 10:41). He held long conversations with them, teaching them many things about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3).

3. The immediate effect. The fact of Jesus rising from the dead, as one would expect, had a dramatic impact on the world. The church was born and grew at a tremendous rate. As Michael Green, writer of many popular and scholarly works, puts it:

[The] church . . .grew… because Christians were able to say to inquirers: ‘Jesus did not only die for you. He is alive! You can meet him and discover for yourself the reality we are talking about!’ They did, and joined the church and the church, born from that Easter grave, spread everywhere.

4. Christian experience. Countless millions of people down the ages have experienced the risen Jesus Christ. They consist of people of every colour, race, tribe, continent and nationality. They come from different economic, social and intellectual backgrounds. Yet they all unite in a common experience of the risen Jesus Christ.

Millions of Christians all over the world today are experiencing a relationship with the risen Jesus Christ. I too have found in my experience that Jesus Christ is alive today. I have experienced his love, his power and the reality of a relationship which convinces me that he really is alive.

The evidence that Jesus rose from the dead is very extensive. A former Chief Justice of England, Lord Darling, said, ‘In its favour as living truth there exists such overwhelming evidence, positive and negative, factual and circumstantial, that no intelligent jury in the world could fail to bring in a verdict that the resurrection story is true.’

Earlier I said that when we look at what Jesus said about himself there were only three realistic possibilities – either he was and is the Son of God, or else deluded or something more sinister. When one looks at the evidence it does not make sense to say that he was insane or evil. The whole weight of his teaching, his works, his character, his fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy and his conquest of death make those suggestions absurd, illogical and unbelievable. On the other hand, they lend the strongest possible support to Jesus’ own consciousness of being a man whose identity was God.

In conclusion, as C. S. Lewis pointed out: ‘We are faced then with a frightening alternative.’ Either Jesus was (and is) exactly what he said, or else he was insane or something worse. To C. S. Lewis it seemed clear that he could have been neither insane nor evil and thus he concludes, ‘However strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that he was and is God.’

Why Does Unity Matter?

A sermon based on John 17:20-26, also adapting elements of Nicky Gumble's address to the delegates at Alpha's Europe, Middle East and Africa week.

The gospels frequently tell us that Jesus prayed, but we are very rarely told what he prayed for, and how he prayed. But in John chapter 17, we get a unique glimpse into Jesus' prayer life, as the whole chapter is one long extended prayer. In this prayer we see lots of things that Jesus prayed for. For example he prayed that his name would be glorified, he prayed for joy, he prayed for his disciples, and he prayed for protection against the evil one. But at the very heart of the prayer of Jesus is one overriding theme – he prays for the unity of the church.

But the great tragedy is that as we look back at the history of the church over 2000 years, so much of its history has been marked by disunity and division. But despite the problems facing the church, and at times the lack of unity, we strive toward our ultimate goal of unity, realising that our differences don't have to divide us. The church today needs to heed Saint Augustine who said. "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity."

This evening I want to draw out four things about unity that we see from Jesus' prayer in John chapter 17.


Jesus prays that 'I myself may be in them'. This is the most extraordinary truth of the New Testament – that Jesus comes to live in you and me by the Holy Spirit.
St Paul writes to the Christians and says, 'Do you not realise that Jesus Christ is in you?'
Let me ask that question today: do you realise that Jesus Christ is in you? Do you believe that?

Jesus lives in you and in me by his Spirit. That's what happened on the day of Pentecost – the Holy Spirit came to live in every single follower of Jesus. Jesus came by his Spirit to live in you and in me.

To have Jesus living within us, through his Holy Spirit, is an extraordinary privilege, and gives us tremendous power. But it also places an important responsibility upon us about how we live our lives, and how we conduct our business, because the Bible warns us that it is possible to grieve the Holy Spirit.

For example, I have encountered people who I describe as Sunday Christians. These are people who when they come to church are sweetness and light, but when they leave church they change completely. The way they behave, their attitudes and values, and the way they conduct themselves when they are not in church can seem a million miles away from how a Christian should live.

Of course, I have to recognise that there are times when I also do the same. One of the things my wife complains about, is that when I'm behind the wheel of our car I can change. I can become very impatient and irritable when I see people driving badly, and Beata complains that when I get irritated, I can become quite aggressive in the way I drive. I was listening to Richard Taylor, who was speaking at the Diocesan Renewal Conference in Lichfield last month, and he told the story about how after one Sunday morning service, he got stuck behind a white van, which was crawling along very slowly in the fast lane, and as a result was holding up the traffic. This really annoyed him, and so when he eventually managed to pass the van, he started shaking his visit at the driver, only to realise to his horror that the person driving the van was his worship leader!
But we can grieve the Holy Spirit in much more serious ways. I think speaking badly against other Christians and churches in particularly is something that the Holy Spirit doesn't like – even if we feel it may be deserved.

The Holy Spirit doesn't want us to speak badly against one another. Because the same Holy Spirit lives in all of us, whatever church or denomination we belong to. And it is the Holy Spirit that unites us.

We are united by the fact that we are sons and daughters of God, the Father; we're united by the fact we love Jesus; and we're united by the fact that the Holy Spirit lives in us. So unity comes from the Holy Spirit.


Jesus prays that "the love you have for me may be in them."

There is no higher love than the love God the Father has for Jesus his son. And Jesus' prayer for us (because he is praying for us), is that the love we have should be the same love that God the Father has for Jesus.

There can be no unity, without love, Jesus commanded us to love both God and one another. This is the great commandment, " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbour as yourself.'" (Luke 10:27). And he said, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:35)

The church theologian, Tertullian, writing in the 2nd century, remarks how it was the love that Christians had for one another, that attracted pagan attention. He writes, ""What marks us in the eyes of our enemies is our loving kindness... they say, 'look how they love one another'" (Apology 39).

If you love someone, it makes it difficult for there to be disunity. The Apostle John said, we cannot claim to love God if we do not love our brother (1 John 4:20). So if we as Christians talk about loving God and loving our neighbour it must show in the way we live our lives. Of course, there are times when we may have our disagreements, we may not always see eye to eye, but this does not need to lead to division.

The unity that Jesus prays for is not something that can be imposed on people, it can only come through a change of heart, which results from being touched by Spirit of God. When Christians are united, it becomes a real sign for hope in a fragmented, divided world.


Jesus prayed that we 'may be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me'. Jesus wants the church to be united – completely, visibly united. The psalmist writes "How good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity!" (Ps 133:1)
Here in Walsall we are fortunate that that there are many signs of real Christian unity, where Christians are coming together from different churches and denominations, and are working together to serve the people of our town. Something I am personally involved with is Walsall Street Ministry, where every Friday night Christians from various churches across the town go out into the town centre to offer people non alcoholic drinks and a friendly listening ear. And when people ask us where are we from, we don't say "I'm from this or that church" but simply that we're Christians from churches across the town, because ultimately there is only one church – that is God's church. Last Monday I was privilege to be at a meeting of church leaders from across Walsall, as we signed our support to bring the Street Pastors to Walsall, yet another sign of God's church here in Walsall uniting together to serve our community.

For me, what matters is not what church someone belongs to, but that through Christ we all belong to one family – God's family. This is why Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 writes "Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink." (1 Cor 12:12-13).

Jesus prayed for complete unity so that the world may believe.

One of the saddest and most off putting things in any society is disunity, and disunity within the church is I believe one of the greatest barriers to belief. A study was conducted which asked people to use single words to describe Jesus. They responded, "wise, accepting, compassionate, gracious, humble." Then they asked them to use single words to describe Christians, they said, "critical, exclusive, self righteous, narrow and repressive." Clearly there is a problem here, and I suspect a large part of it is to down to the fact what the world sees of Christians is not our love for one another and our unity, but infighting, and disagreements on various issues.

The reality is that when Christians and churches fight each other, people are not interested. But when churches unite, it is so attractive. When Christians are united together in love for one another AND for God, it provides a powerful witness to the world of God's love. This is why I believe so passionately in the church, because where else would you find these people from different backgrounds, different cultures, coming together as one body, caring and supporting one another through good times and bad. Bill Hybels, is one of the founding members of the Willow Creek Church in America, one of America's largest churches. This said this about the local church "I believe that the local church is the hope of the world. I believe to the core of my being that local churches have the potential to be the most influential force on planet earth. If they get it and get on with it, churches can become the redemptive centres that Jesus intended them to be. Dynamic teaching, creative worship, deep community, effective evangelism, and joyful service will combine to …strengthen families, transform communities and change the world" The church can only achieve this if there is unity.

When missionaries took the gospel of Jesus to other nations, they used to feed the hungry as an opportunity to share with them the gospel. Today, the food for evangelism is relationship. People are starving for relationship, and this is what we have to offer people. Relationship as part of God's church, and relationship with God.

What attracts people to church is when they see a community full of joy, unity, and love for each other. It is not so much what we say, but what we do, that will attract people to God.


What should unite us as Christians is our love for God, because it is this that binds us together.

Imagine for example, if we had thirty pianos, and they were all tuned using the same tuning fork, they would automatically be tuned to each other. They would be of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to the one tuning fork. So if thirty worshipers meeting together, look to Christ, they would be far more united, than if they turned their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship. Our unity comes from God, and we are to be united to him.

Jesus prayed for you and for me, and for all his followers, that we might be united, in order so that others will believe in the God who transforms and heals in order that churches will be renewed, cities transformed, and nations healed by Jesus. This will only be achieved when we allow the reality of the Holy Spirit to be at work in our lives, then and only then might we experience the joy, peace and love that comes from knowing Christ in our lives.

Monday, 15 November 2010

For the Fallen


Bruised and black clouds shed heavy tears on the fields of Flanders
fields become graveyards
in which were buried the flower of a generation.
Bruised and black clouds
shed heavy tears on the cities of Europe
of Japan,
cities shrouded in the dust of desolation
camps wreathed in the smoke of human cremations
people in confusion whispering - "Please God, never again".
Bruised and black clouds shroud cities
shopping streets
business centres
refugee camps
and people gaze on devastation
wrought by evil on innocence.
Bruised and black clouds
shed tears over a whole world
bowed – bloodied by battle
cowed and weary of war
her roads clogged by refugees –
with nowhere but earth to call home.
God of life
drawing life and death together in Yourself
uniting the lost and the loving
be among us as we gather.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Alex & Sarah's Wedding Talk

Sarah Francis & Alex Wheble

I love weddings, and it is a great privilege for me to be able to conduct Alex and Sarah’s wedding today.  Today we are doing several things, firstly we are celebrating the love Alex and Sarah have for one another.  We are also looking ahead to what the future holds for them as husband and wife, but most importantly of all we are asking for God’s blessing to be upon them as they begin this new and exciting chapter in their lives together. 

But what does it mean to love someone?  Here’s what some children had to say. 

Bobby age 8 said, "Love will find you, even if you are trying to hide from it. I have been trying to hide from it since I was five, but the girls keep finding me."

Rebecca - age 8  "When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn't bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That's love."

Chrissy - age 6 "Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs."

Terri - age 4  "Love is what makes you smile when you're tired."

When asked what most people think when they say “I love you” 

Michelle age 9 said "The person is thinking: Yes, I really do love him. But I hope he showers at least once a day."

Finally, some sound advice on how to make a marriage last. 

Erin, age 8 said "Don't forget your wife's name...That will mess up the love."

Dave, age 8.  "Be a good kisser. It might make your wife forget that you never take out the rubbish."

Needless to say, weddings are very special occasions, and so we make a special effort to look our best – and I am sure you will agree with me that Sarah looks beautiful.

Now, although I’m a man, and therefore don’t know much about these things, I do know that a lot of thought goes into choosing the right wedding outfit, particularly the bride’s dress.   But how does one dress for success in a marriage? What is the secret for creating a long, happy and fulfilling marriage?

Paul in his letter to the Colossians has some suggestions for a marriage wardrobe. “
Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, forgiveness and love.  These are the things you should clothe yourself in, if you want a good, lifelong marriage.

Love requires time & commitment

True love and isn’t just about emotions and feelings, true love is about commitment and sacrifice.  

Louis de Berniere in his book Captain Correlli’s Mandolin, writes the following: 

Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion, it is not the desire to mate every second minute of the day… No.  That is just being ‘in love’, which any fool can do.  Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away…  Your mother & I had it, we had roots that grew towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossom had fallen from our branches we found that we were one tree and not two.

To build a loving lasting relationship takes time & effort.  The Christian understanding of love is that love is not so much an abstract noun as an active verb.  Love involves doing.  It is not only what we say, but what we do, that counts.  Marriage is more than finding the right person. It is about learning to be the right person.

True love means putting the needs of the other person before yourself, and that is not always easy.  For your relationship to grow and develop, it will need to be nurtured and cared for, and that requires commitment and hard work.  But the more you invest in your marriage, the more valuable it will become.  

I came across this quote yesterday, which said: “All things need watching, working at, caring for, and marriage is no exception. Marriage is not something to be indifferently treated or abused, or something that simply takes care of itself. All things need attention, care and concern, and especially so in this most sensitive of all relationships of life.

Remember to build each other up, to strengthen and sustain, to keep companionship lovely and alive. Remember dignity and respect; understanding; not expecting perfection; a sense of humor and a sense of what is sacred and serious; common purposes, common convictions, and the character to keep a covenant - in these are the making of a good and solid marriage.”

At the beginning of the service I began with the words, God is love and those who live in love live in God and God lives in them.  If you want to know what true love is like you only need to look to God.   God is the source of all love.  In God we see what love truly is like.  God's love for us is unconditional; no matter what we say or do his love for us never diminishes.  God's love does not keep a record of wrongs, and it is totally self-giving.  This is how we know what love is really like. 

Paul, in his letter the Corinthians wrote these words about love. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

For Paul these words are not sentimental idealism.  For Paul it was practical, real and true.  He had encountered this kind of love for himself in his relationship with Jesus. 

In April, when I was on holiday in Kent with my family, we visited the Historic Dockyard in Chatham.  There we saw the ropery, where they have been making rope since 1618.  We watched as they made the rope, which was made by twisting three cords around each other.  The reason this rope was made of three cords, is because one or two cords can be easily broken, but three cords woven together cannot be easily broken.

Marriage is like a three-stranded cord. One cord is the husband. Another cord is the wife. A third cord is the Jesus. On your own, Alex and Sarah, you can be easily broken. Together, you acquire more strength. But when you build your marriage around Jesus, you become three cords woven together which are much stronger.

My experience is that the love of God is practical, real and true, and has the power to transform lives.  And you cannot build your marriage on a better foundation than the love of God found in Jesus Christ. 

Alex and Sarah as you begin this journey of marriage, my prayer is that you will discover true love in all its dimensions, in each other, but also in the one in whom we experience it most clearly, Jesus Christ, the source and the model of all love. 

So, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unityAmen.

Understanding the Trinity

Talk given at St Martin's by the Revd Phill Ball, on Sunday 7th November 2010.

Theology Teacher to me : "Now you’re sure you’ve got how God manifests himself all buttoned up?"

Ball: "I’m a hit hazy about the Trinity sir."

Theology Teacher : "Three in one, one in three. Perfectly straightforward. Any doubts about that see your maths tutor."

They're probably not the only ones to be confused about the Trinity.

This area of belief is notoriously difficult and mysterious, not to say deliberately mystifying.

Thomas a Beckect, when he was Archbishop of Canterbury, stipulated that one Sunday every year should he devoted to the doctrine, because he was horrified at how little it was understood.

It doesnt seem to have done the trick, to judge from what the guide book at Fountains Abbey says:

'Here in the Chapter House the monks gathered every Sunday to hear a sermon from the Abbot except on Trinity Sunday, owing to the difficulty of the subject.

Many modern Christians would sympathise.

And the Athanasian Creed (somewhat unhelpfully named, as it wasn’t written by St Athanasius!) positively revels in the doctrine’s incomprehensibility.

A health warning- don’t try and focus to much on this one, unless you revel in cryptic crosswords!

The Athanasian creed is a committee definition if ever there was one, because the Trinity

Is unhelpfully defined as:

But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one: the Glory equal, the Majesty co—eternal. Such as the Father is., such is the Son: and such is the Holy Ghost.

The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate: and the Holy Ghost uncreate.

The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible: and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible And yet there are not three incomprehensihible , nor three uncreated: but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible.

If anyone understand the trinity from that answers on a post card please!

Some might be compelled to say at this stage about the trinity:
But we might not understand calculus or particle physics or the differences between petrol and diesel engines, but it doesn’t mean they don’t exist, or can’t be right.


1) What does the trinity of God mean to you?

2) What holds the trinity together?

3) Is the Trinity relevant to your own beliefs, or your Christianity in the 21st Century?

But if it is so difficult to understand, so confusing and so baffling, that raises the interesting question, ‘Why was it ever formulated in the first place?’ Requiring people to believe something that even Abbots cannot explain is hardly a good sales pitch, so why did anyone conitue with it? Let me respond to that question.

First, why would we expect the infinite, eternal God to he easily grasped by our minds, which are finite, haven’t been around for very long, won’t be around in cosmic terms that much longer (unless God remakes them) and which we know to be affected by our moods, hormones, experiences and indeed digestion?

After all, we don’t apply that criterion in science. We don’t say, ‘Quantunm Mechanics is so hard to understand, it can’t be right!’

Secondly, should we not, in fact, expect the God who made the rich, complex, incomprehensible and yet surprisingly knowable world to have a corresponding richness, complexity diversity and delightfully deep but explorable depth?

Thirdly, does the doctrine of the Trinity not have precisely the ring of something that comes from beyond human understanding rather than something that was engendered by it?

It would have been easier if the Christians followed the Jewish model of God, even as a God of love and would have been like this.

But Jesus had walked among them as the son of God, and the spirit had come upon them at Pentecost.

So to understand God, they had to look at a different sort of God, and a different sort of love.

A relationship of love that holds the Trinity together, of mutual and equal parts, is how they came to see the trinity.

Before they made this relationship incomprehensible, in a definition of words.

It looks much more simply than words like this:
Its an important model of the trinity of God for many reasons.

God is no longer a distant and lonely aloof God.

But one god, with the three parts, held together in an eternal relationship, between the Father, the Son and the Spirit that make up together ,through the constant giving and receiving of love between them; the one God of love.

And has been for all eternity:

The spirit was hovering over the deep in Genesis is the Old Testament reference to the Father creator not being alone before out time began, in the New Testament at Jesus baptism we see all three of the trinity together, The father saying he is well pleased with his son, and the spirit in the form of a dove descending from Heaven to the son.

The God of Trinity is a relational and loving God, so what do we find them doing at Jesus baptism they glorify through this relational love each other. In Mark 1:11 The father says ‘You are my Son, whom I Love; with you I am well pleased.' The Spirit marks Jesus out as the one whom the favour of God rests on. Jesus willingly submits to the call and plan of the father, and accepts the anointing of the Holy Spirit to carry out the plan.

There is a mutual expression of love and trust, mutual submission, and mutual glorification.

It was this giving love that sent God as Jesus the son to live here as one of us, it was love he taught us, he died for love, and by the love of the trinity of God rose again, so we might live forever with the trinity, in a loving relationship.

Because in baptism in water like Jesus, we are washed clean, but it is when the holy spirit comes upon us at baptism, that Jesus lives in us, and we live in him through the spirit, and we are brought into a relationship with the trinity of God.

Looking Like this: 
Just Fantastic!!!

If we are in Christ, then we are in God, and we share in the Iife and the love of God.

We are taken up into the divine relationship, we are included with the trinitarian conversation, we belong within the eternal community.

We ‘participate in the divine nature’.

That is where we already are if we are ‘in Him’: and to be drawn ever more intimately into that Love is our calling.

That is the extraordinary privilege of being a Christian, and of being part of the Church.

And because that is where we are on the map of God, because we are located in the Son, because, as Jane Williams put it, the Spirit enables us ‘to stand in Jesus’ own place in relation to the Father”, therefore what is true of the Son becomes (in an important sense) true also of us.

It becomes true of us that we are eternally rooted in the love of the Godhead.

It becomes true of us that we are eternally loved.

It becomes true of us that we are eternally held in the love of the Father.

We are eternally held in the unbreakable bond of love that is at the root and at the heart of all things.

Ours is the utter security of being held in this eternal relationship of love.

The Father speaks over us what he speaks over the Son, ‘You are my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.’

But as ourseleves, We are not dissolved into the Son. We do not become God and are not

dissolved into God. We remain who we are. We remain — indeed, fully become — ourselves

We are not absorbed into the Trinity of God, but though Jesus we are brought as ourselves into that loving relationship ourselves.

But through the Son Jesus and through the spirit, before the Father,we are brought into the presence, love ,and into a personal relationship, with that relationship of eternal life directly with the trinity of the one God.

How awesome is that, literally there as not only as part of the relationship of the trinity, but drawn into the very relationship of the trinity.

Just to use one last visual view of the Trinity.

It's not the red of the father, or the blue of the Holy Spirit, or the Green Of Jesus the son, that gives us the true colour and image of God the trinity, and where we in our relationship with God lives,

And its not in the yellow or magenta either, but where the three colours meet endlessly in equal parts, it is there we are drawn into a relationship with God the trinity.

It is there that the colours and images are true, and not distorted or miscoloured, pure Trinity white, where the 3 primary colours make the one true eternal colour between them that The one god in three can be seen.

1) Has your view changed about the Trinity?

2) If so why?

3) If not why?

In summary:
  • The Trinity for all Christians in the 21st Century is a vital concept.
  • Through baptism we are all involved in a relationship with the trinity of God.
  • It is the mutual giving and receiving of love that binds the trinity together.
  • And binds our Christian lives in that eternal relationship, but as ourselves.
  • The relationship forged is eternal.

Monday, 1 November 2010


In mid September Christine and I were away and so missed the Pope’s visit to the UK. However, thanks to Sky and the BBC we were able to view some of the highlights.

What amazed me was the amount of time given to the Humanist society to create a “balanced” view. One of their speakers obviously could not cope with the numbers of people who turned out to see the Pope and stated that they were not Christians but tourists who just so happened to be visiting the various cities. I wish he could explain how he knew with such certainty.

Why is it that some people are so quick to denounce those who show themselves to be Christian? Why are some people quick to complain about Christians coming together? Do they find it strange that people have faith in God and His Son Jesus Christ?

I can’t answer these questions but I feel saddened when some people decry the faith held by others. I remember a simple saying - “I don’t agree with what you say but I will defend your right to say it.” Nowadays we seem to have many people who do not wish to extend that right to others. They have a right to say what they like but they do not wish us to profess our faith.

Everyone has a complex set of faiths, they have faith in themselves, in their Doctor and some even have faith in politicians but these are lesser faiths when compared to Biblical faith. This is faith in a person not of this world who has powers infinitely greater than any human.

The Bible, as always, addresses the question of faith - Hebrews (Chapter 11). “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see..........,By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what we see was not made out of what was visible.......................”

If you ever feel your faith faltering read Chapter 11 and remind yourself of the Biblical characters who showed great faith. Then take time to reflect on all of the blessings brought upon us by our God and rejoice in our faith.

God Bless