Monday, 30 December 2013

Funeral of Rita Genway

Text from the funeral of Rita Genway, a long standing member of St Martin's Church.

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him… Therefore encourage one another with these words.

These words, written in Paul’s 1st letter to the Thessalonians, seem particularly appropriate today, as we gather to celebrate and thank God for the life of a much loved individual, whose faith in God, even in the midst of terrible suffering, remained steadfast right up to the very end of her life. 

Rita was born in Bloxwich on the 4th November 1935, and was one of five children.  Tragically Rita’s parents Harold and Lillian, they lost two of their children in childhood, first Iris who died at the age of 4 from whooping cough, and then Lesley who died at the age of 5.  Rita was incredibly close to her two remaining sisters Betty and June, who were with Rita right up to the very end of her life. 

Rita grew up in a home where the Christian faith played a very important role.  Bot her parents had a very strong faith, and as a family they worshipped together at All Saints Church in Bloxwich. 

Despite the loss of two sibblings, Rita had a very happy childhood.  During the war her father kept pigs in the back yard, and shared everything they had.  If there was anyone in any particular need, Rita’s parents would assist them in any way they could.  This undoubtedly greatly influenced Rita, and the kind, thoughtful and incredibly generous person she herself became.

During the war her parents took in many evacuees, it was therefore not uncommon for Rita or Betty to come home at night and find a stranger sleeping in their bed.

Rita’s parents also fostered lots of children, and so the house was always full and always busy.  Rita used to help run the Sunday School in the local Community Centre, and she would take whatever children were staying in her house at the time to Sunday School. 

Rita attended school in Bloxwich before transferring to Walsall Technical College which specialised in secretarial work.  It was here that she met Ron Gittins who has been a lifelong friend, to both Rita and Ray, and lives only a few doors down from them on Daisy Bank Crescent.

After leaving school she went to do secretarial work in the Walsall Town Clerk's Office.  Here she met Shirley York, who became another lifelong friend, and also godmother to Rita and Ray’s daughters Elaine and Nicola.  Rita left the town clerk's office when expecting Elaine. 

She returned to paid employment some years later, after her friend June invited Rita to accompany her on a catering course that was being run at Walsall College.  As a result of this course, Rita was offered a job as head cook at Park Hall Infant School.  Everything was cooked from scratch, and it was Rita’s responsibility to draw up the menu, and supervise the cooking.  She would often go into school on a Sunday afternoon in order to start preparing the meals for the week ahead.

For the past 51 years Rita has been married to Ray, and throughout that time they have been inseparable.  They met outside the Express & Star Office in Wolverhampton.  Ray was on his way to Queen's Dance Hall with a group of friends, and Rita had been invited by one of the group to join them.  That was in May 1961, and the following year, on the 24th November 1962 they got
married at All Saints Church.

Rita and Ray were incredibly close, and although they’ve faced lots of challenges along the way battling ill health, there love and devotion to one another has been evident for all to see.  Rita was a magnificent wife. 

In 1965 Elaine who was born, followed by Nicola in 1969.  Of the many special memories Elaine and Nicola have of their mother, include the two week annual vacation by the seaside, where Rita would build a sand car which the girls would then pretend to drive. The other abiding memory was the wonderful smells wafting down the street that would greet them as they returned home from school.  When Elaine was young, Rita used to accompany her to many different dance festivals

On the way into Rita and Ray’s house is a sign which reads ‘Grandmas Babysitting Service Little people always welcome, services include, meals, lessons, entertainment and lots of hugs.’  It was an apt sign to have, for Rita’s three grandchildren, Isabell, who called her Grand Moo Moo, a name she came up with as a small child, and Matthew and Nathan, who knew her as Grandma. 

When Nicola went back to work after having Matthew, Rita and Ray looked after Matthew a great deal.

Rita was incredibly creative, and used to come up with wonderful ideas of how to entertain the grandchildren.  She collected endless supplies of boxes for Matthew and Nathan to play with, and out of them Rita would construct boats, ships, and castles.  She also shared her love of baking with them, making cakes together.  And the boys loved Grandma’s spaghetti bolognaise. 

Rita also helped Isabell to make mammoth greetings card, which she could take back with her to America, and also taught Isabell how to make scones. 

No matter how ill she was, Rita, was always delighted to see her grandchildren and would often talk about them. 

Amongst Rita’s other interests, she loved watching football, and supported Liverpool FC.  She only ever visited the city of Liverpool once, but supported the football club because she liked the way they played, and she remained a loyal supporter, even when they weren’t doing so well.  Rita would also go with Ray to watch Walsall play. 

She also liked to visit National Trust properties, and was a keen gardener, and liked to visit garden centers for a cup of tea. 

In 1996 Elaine & Rob emigrated to the United States, and Rita and Ray have visited them on several occasions. 

Rita has suffered a lot of ill health over her life.  But she was a fighter, and no matter how ill she was, would always say, “There are other people worse off than me.” 

Rita drew immense strength from her faith in God, which has been central to her life.  Even in the most difficult of times, Rita knew that God has with her.  In 1963 Ray and Rita moved to Daisy Bank Crescent, and since that time have been members of St Martin’s Church.  St Martin’s was a huge part of her life.  She was involved in the home groups, flower arranging, and the mother and toddler group when her own children were young.  She threw herself into anything that was going on, and she and Ray became much loved members of the church family.  

Of the many cards Ray has received following Rita’s death, they all mention how faithful and good Rita was, this is a testament of Rita’s faith in God, and how she touched so many lives.

One of Rita’s priced possessions was a small holding cross, which she always kept with her.  When in hospital, or really suffering, she would hold on to that cross, both as a form of prayer, but also as a sign of holding on to God, and the knowledge the even in the darkest of times, God holds on to us.

It reminded me of the words of the hymn ‘The Old Rugged Cross’.  ‘So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross, till my trophies at last I lay down; I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it some day for a crown.’

Over the last few months, when we knew Rita’s cancer had spread, and that there was nothing more the doctors could do for her, we talked about the hope that we share in Christ, and the crown that we would inherit. 

This is why our reading from Revelation 21 was chosen, because it talks about the promise of new life to come that is found in Jesus Christ.  Rita in this life suffered a lot, and although she was determined to carry on fighting her illness, so she could spend as much time as possible with her family, she knew that when she died she would be going home to God, going to a place where suffering and pain would be no more. 

Revelation 21 talks about the new heaven and new earth and promises us that God will ‘make his home among his people.  He will wipe all tears from their eyes, and there will be no more death, suffering, crying, or pain. These things of the past are gone forever.

This is possible because of the victory that Christ won for us on the cross.  We have just celebrated the birth of Jesus.  In the Gospel of John, Jesus himself tells us why he came.  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16).  It is because of Jesus’ death on the cross, and his resurrection that Rita had hope in the face of death, and why we too can also share in that hope. 

That is why for the Christian Death is not extinguishing the light; it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come. 

As a child I loved reading the Narnia books by CS Lewis.  In the Last Battle, the final book of the series, CS Lewis has this wonderful description of what heaven is like.  He writes The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning…. All their life in this world and all their adventures had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” 

It is for this reason, that Paul was able to write ’do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.’  Because of Jesus, and the victory he has won for us, there is hope, even in the face of death. Hope of the new life to come. 

Today as we celebrate Rita’s life, we celebrate also the victory Christ won for us.  At the end of this service we will sing that great hymn of praise which reminds us of the victory over death that is ours in Christ. 

Thine be the glory, risen, conquering Son;
endless is the victory, thou o'er death hast won;
angels in bright raiment rolled the stone away,
kept the folded grave clothes where thy body lay.

Lo! Jesus meets us, risen from the tomb;
Lovingly he greets us, scatters fear and gloom;
let the Church with gladness, hymns of triumph sing;
for her Lord now liveth, death hath lost its sting. 

No more we doubt thee, glorious Prince of life;
life is naught without thee; aid us in our strife;
make us more than conquerors, through thy deathless love:
bring us safe through Jordan to thy home above. 

Thine be the glory, risen, conquering Son;
endless is the victory, thou o'er death hast won;

Friday, 20 December 2013

Christmas Talk 2013

When Walt Disney promised his daughters that he would make a movie of their favourite book ‘Mary Poppins’  he had no idea it would take 20 years to fulfil this promise.  What he hadn’t bargained for was the book’s author PL Travers, who did not want to see her beloved creation ruined by Hollywood.  The relationship between Walt Disney and PL Travers, and how Mary Poppins was brought to the big screen is told in the film ‘Saving Mr Banks’, which is currently showing in cinemas.  At the end of Saving Mr Banks, it gives the impression PL Travers came to accept and even like the film of Mary Poppins, but in reality she hated what the movie had done to her beloved character.  She accused Walt Disney of betraying her originally dark protagonist by turning her into the bundle of joy that was Julie Andrews.  The film is certainly different to the book.  In the book Mary Poppins is a no-nonsense, dark and disciplined character, who uses more self-discipline than magic, but this was lost in the film version.
You could argue that something similar has happened to the Christmas story.  Much of the story has been sanitised, with the darker, far more troubling elements in the nativity often ignored or overlooked.  For example most nativity scenes, whether performed in schools or churches, finish with the wise men visiting the infant Jesus.  But rarely do we go onto tell what happens next.  The Apostle Matthew records that “When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.” (Mt 2:16).  Because of this, Mary, Joseph are forced to flee to Egypt with Jesus, where according to the Gospel of Matthew they stay until Herod’s death, before returning to Nazareth, because it was not safe for them to return to Bethlehem. 
You may say that this would not be appropriate to show or talk about at Christmas, especially if children are present.  But Herod plays an important part of the story and if we leave him in the Christmas narrative, we can address the shadow of evil hovering of Christmas to this day, in places like Syria, where the innocent are suffering and dying on a daily basis, and where the international community seems unable to bring an end to the bloodshed.  Herod still stalks the earth. 
It was into this dark, troubled, and violent world that Jesus, the one who laid the foundations of the earth (Hebrews 1:10), the one through whom all things were made (John 1:3), became Emmanuel, God with us. 
Because of the incarnation, in our darkest hours, in our saddest moments, when fear and violence and loneliness seem to rule the planet, we can take comfort that we are not alone.  That God entered human flesh, and lived as one of us.  
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who was killed by the Nazi’s shortly before the end of the Second World War, wrote, “We are no longer alone; God is with us.  We are no longer homeless; a bit of the eternal home itself has moved into us.”
Jesus came as the Light of the World, and as we heard in our reading from John’s Gospel, The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome.’ (John 1:5).  Because of Jesus, we have hope.  We have hope for the future, that we will be redeemed; hope for the present, that we are not alone.  He gives us hope even for the past, hope that our failures are not greater than God’s love.  And even as the smallest light can dispel darkness, so the light of Christ comes to dispel the darkness in our lives, and the darkness in our world. 
None of us had any choice over how or when we were born.  But God did, and he chose a simple stable.  In doing so, he announced in a dramatic way that he had come to be available to us all, and that he came to stand on the side of the poor, the weak, the disposed, the homeless, and those on the margins of society. 
If we idealise and over sentimentalise the nativity the danger is that it removes the birth of Jesus from the realities, and struggles of ordinary life. 
Rather than the romanticised manager that we tend to think about at Christmas, the stable or cave where Jesus was born would have been smelly, dirty, cold and untidy, and the manager he was placed in simple and crude, a very strange bed for a King to lie in.  Probably someone may have gone as far as to place clean straw under the baby, but elsewhere the straw on the floor would have been anything but fresh. On the wooden posts, there would be signs of where generations of animals had rubbed their itching, flea-bitten backs.  In Christina Rossetti’s carol In The Bleak Midwinter, she writes Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him nor earth sustain; Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign: In the bleak mid-winter a stable-place sufficed The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.
We sometimes think that in order for Christ to enter our lives, we need first to get our lives all sorted out, and cleaned out.  But what the message of Christmas shows, is that just as Jesus was once born in a cold, dark, dirty, unrenovated barn, in a place normally reserved for animals, so he wishes to be born today in cold, dark, dirty, unrenovated hearts.  He does not postpone His birth in us until we have swept out the moral refuse. He comes to us as we are – into our broken, and less than perfect lives, with all our impatience, selfishness, evil thoughts, pride, deceit, and pretence.  We do not need to first sanitise our lives for Jesus to come in.  We don’t need to go in search of God, he came in search of us to rescue us by entering fully into the world.  This is the message of Christmas. Emmanuel: God with us.
And the question we need to ask ourselves is, are we going to allow Christ into our lives and to renew and refresh them, no matter how messy, or messed up they may be. Jesus today says “Here I am! I stand at the door [of your lives] and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” (Rev 3:20).  Are we willing to allow Christ into our less than perfect lives afresh this Christmas, & let his light and love radiate out for all to see, just as God’s love radiated out of that lowly manger where Jesus lay?  

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Beyond the Tea Towels & Tinsel: What is Christmas About?

The following information below was written by Anne Le Bass, a priest in the south east of England, who put together this information about Christmas to help people understand what's in the story, and what isn't.  I've made a few small alterations to the tex. To download the original handout click HERE.


For Christians the birth of Jesus is more than just a comforting story to brighten up a dark time of year. Nor is it a story primarily for children (or even necessarily suitable for children if we take it seriously). It encapsulates important themes in Christian belief.


Jesus certainly existed. There is no credible reason why anyone should invent him. No one in the earliest days of the church would have risked their life to follow a fictional character, so the Church would never have got off the ground if he hadn’t been real. Many of those who wrote the books that we now call the New Testament, although they may not have known Jesus themselves, knew people who had done.

If Jesus existed, he must, therefore, have been born. His first followers, however, do not seem to have been very worried about the circumstances of his birth. It wasn’t important to them. It isn’t referred to in the Epistles, most of which were written before the Gospels, and very little, if anything, essential to Christian faith depends on the details of Jesus’ birth.

Only two of the Gospels record any birth stories (Matthew, who tells the story of the Magi and Luke, who tells the story of the shepherds). There are interesting differences between the two versions, though that doesn’t stop us squashing them together in Nativity plays. Matthew, for example, has the Holy Family escaping to Egypt after the Magi’s visit. Luke has them apparently going back to Nazareth via Jerusalem when he is six weeks old. In Matthew the news that Mary is pregnant is announced to Joseph in a dream – Mary is not consulted, and her views are not recorded. In Luke the angel comes to Mary, and she is a major player in the story.


Starts with a genealogy which begins with Abraham, the father of the Jewish people. God had
made a covenant with him, that he would be the father of a multitude, God’s chosen people.
Matthew’s genealogy aims to show that Jesus is the true inheritor of that promise ; those who
follow him aren’t being traitors to their tradition. There are lots of reminders in the story of Old
Testament prophecies, (see, for example 1.23, 2.6, 2.15, 2.17, 2.23) These serve the same
purpose – Jesus isn’t an interloper, betraying the heritage of the Jewish people.

The genealogy includes 5 women. The first four could all in some way be regarded as unlikely
or even dodgy – outsiders in some way (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba ). They are all,
however, vital links in the chain – God uses them to advance the story, to keep the line going.
The final woman is Mary, who, it is plain was also regarded as an unlikely mother for a

Matthew continues with the annunciation of Mary’s pregnancy to Joseph (Mary’s reaction
is not recorded). He decides to stand by her, though others may think that this reduces his
dignity. Like the four earlier women in the genealogy, God works through an unlikely channel.

Jesus is born in Bethlehem, but we’re not told that the family have travelled there – the
assumption is that they lived there all along. There is no stable or any suggestion that there was
“no room at the inn”. There is no mention of Nazareth until the end of the story, when Joseph
takes Mary and Jesus there on their return from Egypt, apparently because he feels it will be
safer than Bethlehem.

Herod and the Magi. The magi are only in Matthew. We’re not told how many of them there
are, and they are not kings. There are no camels…! Their significance is that they are outsiders
– Gentiles – and that they see the true identity of the Messiah when the Jewish rulers don’t. God
works through outsiders (like Ruth in the genealogy) if his own people don’t see him.

The flight into Egypt and the massacre of the children of Bethlehem. Jesus is seen as a
challenge to the power of Herod. He is a new king. Matthew’s story has been called the story of
two kings (Herod and Jesus) and some wise men.

The return from Egypt after the death of Herod to Nazareth – a new home for Joseph and
Mary, not a return to an old home.

The annunciation in the Temple of the birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah by an angel.
He and his wife Elizabeth are elderly and childless. Zechariah can’t believe it and is struck
dumb until John is born.

The annunciation of birth of Jesus to Mary by an angel (Joseph’s reactions are not
recorded). They are living in Nazareth, which is, apparently their home town.

Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. Elizabeth greets Mary as “the mother of my Lord”. Mary speaks
words (called the Magnificat in later Christian tradition) which praise God because he “has
brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly”).

The birth of John the Baptist and his naming. At which Zechariah speaks the words known
to later tradition as the Benedictus, announcing that this child will announce the time when the
people of Israel will “be saved from our enemies and from the hands of all that hate us” and “ by
the tender mercy of our God , the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those
who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”)

The birth of Jesus is set against a backdrop of political oppression in the rule of Caesar
Augustus. There is no record of a universal census at this time, but the point is that the people
of Israel are subject to the whims of rulers who can decree that they should all traipse about the
country for no very good reason.

The journey to Bethlehem. There is no donkey, nor any scenes of them going from inn to inn
and being turned away. There is no innkeeper (grumpy or otherwise).  The word translated as
"inn", is in fact a mistranslation, and more likely refers to an upper room in a family home.  It is
likely Joseph had relatives in Bethlehem, and they would have stayed with them, but because
the upper room was occupied, it meant the couple had to sleep downstairs in the open living
space where animals were kept at night for safety and where they ate from troughs dug into the
earth at one end of the room. Whilst nativity scenes depict a stable, it could have been a cave.  
There are no oxen, no cattle lowing (or doing anything else), no cats, dogs, birds, mice nor any
other animals. 

The annunciation to the shepherds. More angels. Opinions vary on the significance of the
shepherds. Some commentators say that they were regarded as the lowest of the low – living
out in the fields with the flocks meant they couldn’t keep the purity laws. Others suggest that
these shepherds may have been looking after the sheep used for sacrifice in the Temple in
Jerusalem (not far away) and so are a reference to Jesus’ self sacrifice (the Lamb of God who
is sacrificed, in the thought of the time, to end all sacrifice), or are a comment on the failure of
the Jewish religious leaders who should be “the shepherds of God’s flock”. There could also be
echoes of the story of Moses, who was looking after his father in law’s sheep when he
encountered God in the burning bush – once again unlikely people encounter God in an unlikely
way and begin a chain of events that will lead to a new liberation.

The circumcision and naming of Jesus. "Jesus” is a form of the name Joshua, which
means “God saves”. Joshua was the OT hero who succeeded Moses and led the Hebrews into
the Promised Land after the Exodus. Naming is important in this story – see the debate around
the naming of John, whose name means “God has given grace”.

The presentation of Jesus in the Temple at 40 days old. The sacrifice was a religious
requirement. Those who could afford it were to bring a lamb, but a pair of pigeons or
turtledoves was the permitted “budget” sacrifice for those who couldn’t. This tells us that Mary
and Joseph weren’t rich.

Simeon and Anna, devout elderly people who have been “looking for the redemption of Israel
(i.e. the coming of the Messiah) acclaim Jesus, who no one else has noticed. They bring to an
end the series of moments of “recognition” or annunciation which we have seen in Luke’s
For the sake of completeness…

MARK’S Gospel begins with the adult John the Baptist announcing the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He makes no reference to Jesus’ birth, except in a curious aside, (6.3) when Jesus is referred to by a hostile crowd as “Mary’s son”. It wouldn’t have been normal to refer to someone as the son of their mother, rather than their father, unless they were illegitimate, or their parentage in some way dubious. Mark’s Gospel is almost certainly the earliest, and may, therefore preserve an early rumour that Jesus was conceived out of wedlock, which would have meant he was regarded with suspicion and disapproval.

JOHN’S Gospel begins with the famous passage, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….and the Word was made flesh and lived among us.” It is a meditation on the significance of Jesus, who was God’s expression of himself, in John’s thinking, bringing light and life to the world. However “he came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.” John’s writing, late in the first century, is heavily tinged with Greek thinking. For him Jesus is, in some sense, a pre-existing divine figure; the other Gospels spell out far less clearly what they mean when they call him the “Son of God”.


For Christians the birth of Jesus speaks of God being present on earth in a way which we can see and touch, in human flesh (carnosus means fleshy ) subject to all the things that happen to human flesh – including suffering and death. Because we know that he has experienced what we experience we feel that he can understand and help us.

One of the titles given to Jesus in the birth stories is “Emmanuel” which means “God is with us.”

Incarnation is also significant for Christians because we see in it God putting aside his glory and coming among the least and the lowest (coming down to earth literally) “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God,  did not regard equality with God   as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross. (Philippians 2.5-8)

The Kingdom of God
The Christmas story represents a new beginning, the coming (“advent”) of God’s Messiah to bring in a new kingdom. During the preparation for Christmas (Advent) we think about the ways in which we still need God to come to us. We think about issues of peace and justice, forgiveness and reconciliation. This is why Advent is a time of reflection and penitence – during it we become aware of our needs and the needs of the world. The Nativity stories have a strong element of challenge in them to the status quo of the world in which they happen – the Roman and Jewish rulers fail to see, or to stop, the birth of this “new king”.

The Word of God. Jesus is seen as God’s expression of himself. He had spoken through the prophets in the Old Testament, but now he speaks through a son, someone who in some way “embodies” his message. It’s not words, but the Word. Knowing God through a person is very different to knowing him in words – people are deep, subtle, responding in different ways to different circumstances, growing, learning and changing; they can’t be reduced to lists of rules and instructions. 


ADVENT begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas (not Dec 1). The colour of altar hangings, vestments etc. is purple (or blue in some traditions), and it is a penitential season, when the emphasis is on awareness of what needs to change in the world and in us.

During Advent we sing special Advent hymns, although inevitably Christmas hymns and celebrations creep into the Advent season!

Many churches use Advent candles – four candles for the four Sundays, plus a fifth lit at the first Communion service of Christmas. The Christmas candle is white, the others are either all red, or three purple and one pink (for the third Sunday in Advent- Gaudete, or “rejoicing” Sunday).

Other Advent traditions are the Advent candle, with 24 markings to burn through during December, Advent calendars and the Jesse tree, which uses symbols of Old Testament stories, told each day, to lead up to Christmas.

CHRISTMAS begins at the first celebration of Communion for Christmas. In many churches this happens on Christmas Eve, shortly before midnight (Midnight Mass). The altar hangings, vestments etc. are gold or white.

There is often a crib scene in the church (ours is put together at the Crib service on Christmas Eve afternoon).

The Christmas season in church lasts until CANDLEMAS, on Feb 2, the feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. It includes the feast of EPIPHANY on Jan 6, when we remember the visit of the Wise Men, and the weeks after that (sometimes called Epiphanytide) which focus on stories of people becoming aware of Jesus (Epiphany means manifestation, or showing).

CHRISTINGLES are a Moravian tradition, quite recently used in this country, often in aid of the Children’s Society; a Christingle service can take place at anytime during the Advent or Christmas seasons.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Bible Reading Resources


As Christians it is important we make it a priority to read the Bible regularly.  The following guidance is designed to help you in reading the Bible.

  • Set aside time: Carve out a regular time and place each day, with as few distractions as possible to read the Bible.
  • Pray: Before you read the Bible ask God what He has to say to you through his word.  Pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit to help you understand what it is you are reading.
  • As you read the Bible ask yourself the following questions:
    • What is it saying?
    • What does it mean? What did it mean to the person who first wrote it, and those who first read it (here Bible notes & commentaries are very useful)
    • How does it apply to me, my family, my work, my neighbours, and the society around me? 
  • Have a note book and pen close at hand: to jot down any thoughts and ideas that come to you as you read the Bible.


When it comes to studying Scripture, Bible reading notes are particularly helpful.  They give you a short passage of Scripture to read every day, and a short commentary to help you understand the passage.

There are many different Bible notes available, here are some that we recommend:


  • Daily Bread - 3 months of readings  (available also in large print)
  • Encounter with God -3 months of readings
  • Every Day with Jesus - 3 months of readings (available also in large print)
  • Inspiring Women - 2 months of readings
  • Life every day – written by author and speaker Jeff Lucas - 2 months of readings
  • The MANual - Bible notes for men, 2 months of readings. This has 6 books taking you through the whole year.
  • Explore Time with God - an introduction to daily bible readings with  28 days of readings.
  • New Every Day - 30 day readings for older people  (Slightly larger print)
  • UCB word for today - 3 monthly readings

  • Grace for the moment - by Max Lucado (two volumes)
  • Daily readings by Spurgeon


  • SACRED (Simply A Chapter Read Each Day) written by the Rev Phil Moon, Vicar of Little Aston, this reading plan takes you through the Bible in forty months, reading one chapter of the Bible each day with accompanying notes.  Variety is maintained by moving between the Old and New Testaments reasonably regularly, and by separating out similar genres of literature.  There will be eventually six volumes of SACRED published, each volume costing £6 (or £1 a month).  For more information about SACRED please contact Phil Moon on  0121 352 1076 or speak to Simon.


Developments in modern technology mean it has never been easier to access the Bible.

USEFUL WEBSITES - a fantastic website, with numerous versions of the Bible available in many different languages.  It also has a Bible search facility, and reading plans and devotionals for you to follow.  It is also available as an app. – lots of online Bible resources – this website is particularly useful for preachers, as well as those who want access to online commentaries, sermons, and other resources - from this website you can download a calendar and lectionary (Bible readings for morning and evening prayer) throughout the year.  This can be displayed as a web page (with the bible references linking to the corresponding passage) or as a file that can be loaded into various desktop calendars (such as Outlook) and onto smart phones & tablets. - Pray as you go is a daily prayer session, designed for use on portable MP3 players, to help you pray whenever you find time, but particularly whilst travelling to and from work, study, etc. It is not a 'Thought for the Day', a sermon or a bible-study, but rather a framework for your own prayer.  Lasting between ten and thirteen minutes, it combines music, scripture and some questions for reflection.  The aim of pray as you go is to
o   become more aware of God's presence in your life  
o   listen to and reflect on God's word   
o   grow in your relationship with God
Pray As You Go can be accessed online or downloaded as an app for smart phones & tablets.


There are numerous apps available for you to download onto your smart phone and tablets, all of which are free.  These are my must have recommendations: 
  • Pray As You Go (see above) – downloadable as an app for your phone or tablet.
  • You Version The Bible App – the most popular Bible app available.  Hundreds of Bible versions and reading plans in dozens of languages.  Download numerous Bibles for offline reading.   They also have a Bible for Kids app. 
  • Biblegateway App (see above) – more than 90 different Bible translations, including NIV, KJV, ESV, NKJV, CEB, The Message, Amplified Bible and many more.  Easy to use & reliable Bible search.  Daily Bible verse in the translation of your choice.  Daily Bible reading plan.  Bible audio in a number of different translations and styles.
  • Olive Tree Bible Study – The Olive Tree Bible Study App has been designed for deper Bible study.  Learn from great scholars through thousands of resources including commentaries, maps, and dictionaries all available off line.  You can also highlight Bible verses, take notes & bookmark passagesm and have everything sync to all your devices.
  • Logos Bible Software - With the Logos Bible app, you open up more than 40 free Bibles and other books. When you sign in with a free Logos account, you get access to additional resources and tools, such as devotionals, reading plans, favourites, highlighting, and note taking. The Logos Bible app syncs across all your platforms, so you can pick up right where you left off on any web-enabled device.

These are just a few of the hundreds of Bible apps that are now available.


There are lots of helpful books and commentaries to help you in reading the Bible, here are two recommendations:
  • Tom Wright’s ‘For Everyone’ commentaries – written with the average church goer in mind, Tom Wright’s commentaries are  designed to help you understand the Bible in fresh ways under the guidance of one of the world’s leading New Testament scholars. Thoughtful questions, prayer suggestions, and useful background and cultural information all guide you into a deeper understanding of the Christian story and the Christian life.
  • The Bible For Dummies – takes you through the different books of the Bible, in a fun and entertaining way.  You’ll find answers to such questions as: Where did the Bible come from? Who wrote the Bible? How is the Bible put together? Follow the history of the Bible from its beginning thousands of years ago as tattered scrolls to its status as the bestseller of all time. The Bible For Dummies covers these topics and more. 


Find what suits you
Try different reading plans
Ask questions
Share what God is saying to you with others
Encourage one another to read God’s word 

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Why Reading The Bible Is Important

Go into any book shop and you will see a display with the current best selling books.  But the best selling book of all time, and the book that continues to be a best seller is unlikely to be in that display.  It is the Bible. 

The Bible is a uniquely popular book.  It is estimated to have sold over 6 billion copies.  In an article in The Times, it said that ‘If cumulative sales of the Bible were frankly reflected in bestseller lists, it would be a rare week when anything else would achieve a look in… It is wonderful, weird, or just plain baffling in this increasingly godless age – when the range of books available grows wider with each passing year – that this one book should go on selling hand over fist, month in, month out. . .’  The writer ends by saying, ‘All versions of the Bible sell well all the time. Can the Bible Society offer an explanation? “Well,’’ I am told disarmingly, “it is such a good book.’’’

The Bible is also uniquely powerful.  In May 1928, the Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin said, ‘The Bible is a high explosive.’ It has the power to change and transform not only lives, but he world. 

And it is uniquely preciousAt the Queen’s coronation the Dean of Westminster gave a copy of the Bible to the Queen, with these words “we present you with this Book, the most valuable thing that this world affords.”  Paul said “All Scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the people of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (1 Tim 3:16).  And the writer of Hebrews says “The word of God is alive and active.” (Heb 4:12)  God speaks to us through the Bible, it is uniquely precious.

And yet when it comes to reading the Bible many Christians struggle.

Bible Reading Habits

Last week I conducted a survey of the Bible reading habits of people in St Martin’s.  I would like to thank everyone for the honesty in answering the questions.  What the results demonstrate is that 8% admitted to never reading the Bible.  60% said they read the Bible several times a month.  12% several times a week, and 20% said they read the Bible daily.

The biggest reason people gave for not reading the Bible regularly was time, with some people admitting to laziness.  The other big issue hihlighted in the survey is that many people don’t know where to begin when reading the Bible, and struggle to apply what they read to their lives.  Others find aspects of the teaching in the Bible difficult to understand, particularly the OT, as one person wrote “I don’t find the OT relevant or believable.”

But what was encouraging about the survey was that 42% of people said they would be interested in using Bible notes or a plan, so clearly quite a lot of people in St Martin’s would like to receive help in reading the Bible.

I want to now explore why should we read the Bible, and then I want to offer some practical advice on how to read the Bible.

Why Read The Bible?

If you are going to build a house, the first thing you need to do is build solid foundations.  If we are going to grow and mature as Christians there are four things which need to form the foundation of our Christian lives.  They are:

·        Prayer
·        Bible
·        Service

And encompassing all of this is:

·        Worship

We know that in order to be strong and healthy, it is important to eat a regular and balanced diet.  You may decide to skip the occasional meal, or fast for a couple of days, but if you don’t eat regularly you’ll very quickly feel the effects, and you can become malnourished, weak and ultimately die. 

We can apply this analogy to our Christian lives, because we need to nourish ourselves on the word of God.  Jesus said: ‘People do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’ (Matthew 4:4).   That is why it’s vitally important we make it a priority to set aside time to read God’s word not just once in a while, but to make it a regular habit.    

The Bible is God’s manual for life.  Ronald Reagan said “Within the covers of one single book, the Bible, are all the answers to all the problems that face us today--if only we would read and believe.

As we read the Bible, we get to know more about the character and nature of God.  We understand how our lives fit into God’s plans for the world.  And most crucially of all, God speaks to us through his word.

There have been many times in my life when I have been looking for help, guidance, encouragement or support, and I’ve read something in the Bible, and it speaks directly into the situation I’m concerned about.  It’s as though the words jump off the page, and as if it was written with just me and my situation in mind.  This shouldn’t a surprise to people, because the Bible is God’s living word.   Quoting from Hebrews again ‘For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.’ (Hebrews 4:12)  As God speaks to us and we learn to hear his voice, our relationship with him grows, and our love for him deepens.

There is incredible power in the words of the Bible, and it is the primary means in which God speaks to us.

In 2008 the Taking The Pulse survey interviewed 3000 church goers about their Bible reading habits.  57% of them said that the Bible shaped their daily life a great deal.  The Psalmist writes ‘Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path.’  The question is, if we don’t read the Bible regularly, what shapes our daily lives?  If the Word of God does not guide us, what does?

We need to rediscover the power of the Bible to change and transform.  Gandhi said You Christians look after a document containing enough dynamite to blow all civilisation to pieces, turn the world upside down and bring peace to a battle-torn planet. But you treat it as though it is nothing more than a piece of literature.”  We need to recognise the incredible uniqueness of the Bible, and through it allow God to speak to us, to encourage, equip, inspire, challenge and teach us.

I guarantee you, if you set aside time to really study God’s word, you will be changed in incredible ways.

How To Read The Bible?

How do we read the Bible?

Setting aside time

The big issue raised in our survey is finding time.  We all live extremely busy lives, but if we think something is important, we’ll make time for it.  As Christians, one of the most important things we can do is make time to read God’s word. Be realistic, it doesn’t have to long, reading the Bible for a few minutes every day, is better than never reading the Bible. 

At what time you’ll read the Bible will depend on the sort of person you are, and the life you lead.  For some it will be first thing in the morning, for others in the middle of the day, and for some last thing at the night.

When Jesus prayed he would go off to a solitary place where he knew he wouldn’t be disturbed.  Find a space where you won’t be disturbed. 

Whatever you decide to do, plan ahead.  Because failing to plan, is planning to fail.  Write it in your diary, and guard this time.

Choosing the right Bible

Choose a version of the Bible that you find easy to read.  There are so many different versions of the Bible out there, that there will be one that will suit you.  The great thing about modern technology is that it has never been easier to read the Bible.  I have several different versions of the Bible on my phone and tablet, which I have downloaded off the internet (click here for more information), and it hasn’t cost me a penny.  The great thing about this is it means I always have the Bible with me, because I always carry my phone with me.  And on my phone I have an app which sends me a daily verse of Scripture, which you can reflect on during the day. 

Technology has changed the way we can access scripture.  For example if sitting down and reading the Bible is something you really struggle with, you can download for free an app called ‘Pray As You Go’ or you can access it via the internet.  Pray as You Go gives you a daily reflection with music, a Bible reading and prayer, which lasts 12 to 13 minutes.  It is something you can listen to when you’re driving in the car, out walking, sitting at home enjoying a cup of tea, or whilst doing the washing up.  I use it a lot, and have found it incredibly helpful, and is another way of exposing yourself to the Word of God.

You can also get audio versions of the Bible, so you can listen to them on a CD, or download them onto your phone, computer, or MP3 player. 

Use Bible Notes

One of the other big issues our survey showed is that people don’t know where to begin when reading the Bible, and they struggle to understand what the text may be saying.  This is why Bible reading notes are so useful.  Every day you are given one or two short Bible passages to read, and then there will be a short reflection to read based on those readings. 

The advantage of Bible notes is that it gives you a passage of Scripture to read every day, and it helps to explain the passage to you, and how it relates to us personally.  There are literally dozens of different notes for you to try, and it only costs a small amount each month, and some are free.  

Use Bible reading plans

As well as using Bible notes, I also follow a Bible reading plan, such as the readings for morning prayer which are printed in the newsletter.  There are lots of different plans available, some which for example ambitiously aim to cover the Bible in a year, others which may explore a book in the Bible.  You can find these plans online, and can download them free of charge onto your phones, tablets and computers.  Or have a word with me, so I can help you find the right plan for you.

How to read the Bible

When you read the Bible, remember it is the living word of God.  Before you even read the Bible passage, ask God what He has to say to you through his word.  Pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit to understand what it is you are reading. 

It is often helpful to read the passage more than once, and ask you read it, ask yourself three questions:

1. What does it say?
2. What does it mean? What did it mean to the person who first wrote it and those 
who first read it? (This is where the notes may be helpful.)
3. How does it apply to me, my family, my work, my neighbours, the society around
me? (This is the most important stage. It is when we see the relevance to our own
lives that Bible reading becomes so exciting and we become conscious that we are
hearing God’s voice.)

You may find it helpful to have a notebook and pen with you to jot down any ideas that come to you as you read the passage.

  • The more you read the Bible, the more you will be able to identify and hear God’s voice.  The more you read the Bible, the closer you will come to God. 
  • The more you read the Bible, the more you will develop the fruits of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and self control.
  • The more you read the Bible, the more your faith will be strengthened, and the more you will come to trust and rely on God.
  • The more you read the Bible, the more you will grow in your understanding and love of God.
  • The more you read the Bible, the more deeply rooted in God you will become.
  • The more you read the Bible, the more you will be able to weather the storms of life.  

The Psalmist writes this: Blessed is the one… whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.  That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers. (Psalm 1:2-3)

I hope that you, with the psalmist and with millions of other Christians, will determine to make the Bible your ‘delight'.