Monday, 22 February 2016

Getting Into God's Word

Everything in the Scriptures is God’s Word. All of it is useful for teaching and helping people and for correcting them and showing them how to live.’ (2 Timothy 3:16 CEV)

Let’s be honest, we all know that as Christian’s reading the Bible is something we should do every single day, but the reality is that many of us don’t. Research conducted by the Bible Society revealed that 35% of Christians claim to read the Bible daily, and 25% several times a week, but that still leaves 40% of Christians unaccounted for!  For a small but significant number of Christians, the only time they get to read the Bible is when they attend a service in church.  It’s important to remember that the Bible is meant to be bread for daily use, not cake for special occasions!

Fortunately with modern technology, it has never been easier to have access to Scripture. You can now download for free numerous differentversions of the Bible onto your tablet or smart phone, many of which come with helpful reading plans. Then there are helpful apps such as ‘Pray As You Go’ (click here for the android app, and here for iOS app) which provide a daily reflection on a passage of scripture, and for children there is the excellent ‘Bible App For Kids’.  There are also numerous Bible reading notes available, which you can have posted directly to your home.

To enrich my own study of the Bible, I have recently purchased the complete NIV Audio Bible narrated by David Suchet (available from Amazon). This 80 hour recording comes on six MP3 CD’s, which you can transfer onto your computer, smartphone, MP3 player, or tablet, so you can listen to it when and wherever you like. 

We’re used to the Bible being divided into chapters and verses, but that wasn’t how the Bible was written. Chapters were only introduced in the thirteenth century and verses in the sixteenth century.  Rather than listening to the Bible in small bite size chunks (a few verses here and there), I’m using the audio CD’s to listen to longer sections of the Bible. This I find is giving me a new appreciation of scripture, and opening up the word of God in a new and wonderful way.  It’s not taken the place of reading the Bible by myself, but I find it complements my study of scripture, and it is something that I would commend to others, especially if you are someone who finds reading the Bible difficult.

However you read the Bible, the important thing is that you do it, and remember that the primary purpose of reading the Bible is not to know the Bible but to know God.

God bless


Saturday, 13 February 2016

A video I put together, to mark our 13th wedding anniversary

Thursday, 11 February 2016

What are British values?

Article for the Walsall Advertiser Living Faith Column, published on Thursday 11 February 2016

Two weeks ago my wife, who is Polish, took the ‘Life In The UK’ test, which all applicants for British citizenship have to do.  In this test you have to answer 24 multiple choice questions relating to life in the UK, and are required to get at least 75% of the questions right in order to pass the test.

Some of the questions are straight forward, for example ‘When is Christmas Eve?’ but others are not so easy. For example: ‘When was the first public film shown in the UK?’, ‘What did the Reform Act of 1832 achieve?’ And ‘When did Sake Dean Hahomet die?’ (this is the man credited with opening the UK’s first curry house in 1810). It took one of our British friends, who has four degrees to his name, three attempts to scrape a pass on the practice test!  It is maybe not surprising therefore that a study by Thom Brooks of Durham University in 2013 described the Life In The UK test as a bad pub quiz, which many citizens born and bred in the UK would struggle to know the answers to.
For me it raises the interesting question of what does it actually mean to be British?  This has been an issue much in the news recently, with schools now required to teach ‘British values’, which the Government identifies as as democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs. 
Respect, tolerance and understanding, although not uniquely British values, are nonetheless values that we consider to be important in the UK.  These are values that are very much part of the Christian heritage of our nation, rooted as they are in the teachings of Jesus who called us to “Love your neighbour as yourself” and to “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (sometimes called the golden rule).    
It is because of these Christian values that Britain has had a proud history of welcoming refugees to our shores in times of crisis.  Whether that be the Huguenots fleeing persecution in France in the 18th century, or the Jew’s escaping the Nazis in the 1930s and 40s.
It is important that we don’t forget the Christian values of respect, tolerance and understanding that made Britain the country it is today, and that we don’t turn our backs on those who need our help today. 

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Mark 6:7-13 Called & Sent

Mark 6:7-13
Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.
These were his instructions: ‘Take nothing for the journey except a staff – no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt.10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.’
12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed with oil many people who were ill and healed them.
  • What does this passage have to say to us:
  • Jesus first of all CALLS the twelve to HIMSELF
  • Jesus calls us to himself, that is what it means to be a Christian, to come to Jesus, who has chosen us.
  • Jesus said “You did not choose me, but I chose you…” John 15:16
  • Jesus calls us to himself, so that we may know and experience his tremendous love.
  • Being called by Jesus is not about being perfect, or having our lives all perfectly sorted out. Jesus said “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17)
  • After calling the disciples to himself he then SENDS them out.
  • Ours is a SENDING God.
  • He doesn’t want Christians huddled together in the warmth and safety of a church building, trying to keep the world with all its problems at bay. He SENDS his disciples out into the world to do three things
    • Proclaim the Good news of Jesus
    • Heal the sick
    • Cast out demons
  • It’s the same task God calls us to today.  He sends us out to change the world to bring transformation and change to the world through the establishing of God’s kingdom.
  • He doesn’t send one or two of the disciples, the most promising ones, the ones who did best in their religious studies exam, he sends ALL of them out, all twelve – including James and John the sons of Thunder, include Peter who would deny Jesus, including Thomas who would doubt the resurrection, and even Judas who would betray Jesus.
  • If God can use people like them, then he can use someone like you and me.  We often think our lack of experience or training is a bar in being used by God, it’s not.  What matters is our willingness & availability to be sent.
  • WE are the people Jesus has CALLED, are the ones he is SENDING out – to tell others about Jesus, to heal the sick, and cast out demons, to bring transformation and change to the world.
  • When Isaiah had a vision of God, he heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’  Isaiah’s response was ‘Here I am, send me!’  What is your response?
  • Jesus CALLS us to himself, in order that we may be SENT into the world.
    • Jesus calls us: o’er the tumult of our life’s wild, restless sea; day by day his sweet voice soundeth saying, “Christian, follow me.”
    • Jesus calls us from the worship of the vain world’s golden store, from each idol that would keep us, saying, “Christian, love me more.”
    • In our joys and in our sorrows, days of toil and hours of ease, still he calls, in cares and pleasures, “Christian, love me more than these.”
    • Jesus calls us: by thy mercies, Saviour, may we hear thy call, give our hearts to thy obedience, serve and love thee best of all.

Isaiah 58:1-12: A True Fast

Ash Wednesday Talk


  •  What does Lent mean for you?

History of Lent
  • Observance of Lent, goes back to apostolic times, but the length of time varied, it wasn’t until the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, that Lent was fixed to 40 days.     
  • Observant amongst you may realise that it is 46 days to Easter, that is because Sunday’s aren’t included in the Lenten observance, because Sunday’s are mini Easters, when we celebrate Christ’s resurrection.
  • The reason Lent lasts 40 days is because 40 is a significant number in Scripture, and often signifies a time of trial & testing.
    • Moses spent 40 years in Egypt & then 40 years in the desert before being called by God to lead the Israelite’s out of slavery.
    • Moses spent 40 days and nights on Mount Sinai to receive God’s laws.
    • Israelites spent 40 years wandering through desert before reaching the promised land.
    • Ezekiel lay on his right side for 40 days to symbolise Judah’s sins.
    • Elijah went without food and water for 40 days on Mount Horeb. 
    • Jesus spent 40 days fasting and praying in the wilderness, and being tempted by Satan following his baptism.
  • In the early church Lent historically was a period of preparation for those people who were going to be baptised at Easter.  And this developed into a time of renewal and recommitment to the Christian life.
  • Although you won’t find Lent mentioned in Scripture, it’s a discipline many Christians find helpful.
  • But if you ask many people want Lent is about, they would view it as a rather dour, sombre, even depressing time of the year: 
    • ‘It’s the season when we give up things or activities that we normally enjoy – denying ourselves pleasure. It’s the season when we make sacrifices and fast. It’s the season when we do penance….’
    • As one person said Lent was a time when he “spent the whole season just wishing it were over!”
  • Is this really what Lent is all about?  Is it really all about giving up sweets, chocolate, alcohol, caffeine?  Or could Lent be so much more than this?  Could we be missing out on what Lent is really about? 

Lent - A Springtime

  • Word Lent comes from old English “lencten” – meaning spring. 
  • Spring – a time of renewal, new life, growth, transformation (think about the transformation that takes place in a forest as spring arrives). 
  • Lent properly observed can be a spring time in our walk with God. A time of growth & renewal, new life. 
  • Many people spring clean their homes, Lent gives us the opportunity to do some spiritual spring cleaning. It’s an opportunity to look afresh at our relationship with God. Getting rid on the things that hinder our relationship with God.

Fasting & Lent
  • Focus for Lent for many people is on what they are going to ‘give up’. 
  • Fasting is something Jesus encouraged us to do.  He said “WHEN you fast…” - not ‘If you fast.’ (Matthew 6:16)
  • The purpose of fasting is to take our eyes off the things of this world and instead focus on God. It’s to re-orientate ourselves to God.  
    • Analogy of listening to radio, with lots of noise & distortion & trying to tune into the one clear signal.
  • The danger comes however, when the focus of fasting switches from God to ourselves.
    • There was a brand new lawyer in his brand new office on his first day in practice, when he saw a prospective client walk through the door. He decided to make himself look busy and important, and so he picked up his phone and started talking. “Look, Harry, about that amalgamation deal. I think I better run down to the factory and handle it personally.  Yes.  No.  I don’t think 3 million will swing it.  We better have Rogers meet us there.  OK, call you back later.”  He then looked up at the visitor and says, “Good morning, how may I help you?” And the prospective client says, “You can’t help me at all.  I’m just here to hook up your phone.” 
  • If we see Lent as a time of spiritual one upmanship trying to outdo one another in our Lenten discipline, to look good in the eyes of others, or simply seeing it as an opportunity to try to lose some weight (a second attempt at our New Year’s resolutions), then we’re missing the point of it. 
  • That is why Jesus said “when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:17-18)
  • Lent is not about us. It’s about God.

Fasting & Isaiah
  • This is was the problem in Isaiah.  People were fasting, but their focus wasn’t on God.

“Shout! A full-throated shout!
    Hold nothing back—a trumpet-blast shout!
Tell my people what’s wrong with their lives,
    face my family Jacob with their sins!
They’re busy, busy, busy at worship,
    and love studying all about me.
To all appearances they’re a nation of right-living people—
    law-abiding, God-honouring.
They ask me, ‘What’s the right thing to do?’
    and love having me on their side.
But they also complain,
    ‘Why do we fast and you don’t look our way?
    Why do we humble ourselves and you don’t even notice?’
  • Their fasting and degenerated into self-righteousness. 
  • Outwardly it looked like they were doing everything right, ‘They’re busy, busy, busy at worship, and love studying all about me,’ says Isaiah.
  • But God is not impressed with the external trappings of religious rituals, it’s what goes on in the heart that really matters.
  • They were trying to show off to God, by their religious observances, but this masked the fact that their hearts were far from God.
  • There is a challenge for us here, what is the thing that motivates us as Christians?  Are we doing it for God, or to look good in the eyes of others?
  • Warren Wiersbe writes: “True fasting will lead to humility before God and ministry to others. We deprive ourselves so that we might share with others and do so to the glory of God…. BUT If we fast in order to get something for ourselves from God, instead of to become better people for the sake of others, then we have missed the meaning of worship. It delights the Lord when we delight in the Lord” (S. Is 56:9).  

The fasting that matters to God

“This is the kind of fast day I’m after:
    to break the chains of injustice,
    get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
    free the oppressed,
    cancel debts.
What I’m interested in seeing you do is:
    sharing your food with the hungry,
    inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
    putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
    being available to your own families."

  • Here we see the fasting that mattes to God. Here we see the heart of God.
  • It’s fasting that is accompanied by genuine repentance.
  • It’s not simply about abstaining from food, or TV, or the internet for a few days or weeks, but about the loving quality of our relationships, and how we care for the weakest and most vulnerable in society. The poor, the sick, the stranger, the refugee.
  • This is what matters to God, this is what Jesus’ ministry was all about, not personal piety, but service to others.
  • Archbishop of Canterbury: “The more the church cares for the poor, the more people recognise it for what it is: the Jesus movement.”  
  • This is what Lent should be about, focusing on the things that matter to God, and drawing nearer him. 
  • You will know if you have had a successful Lent, if at the end of it, you can say I have grown closer to God, and the things that matter to God.
  • So for me, Lent isn’t a sombre, dour season, to want to get through as quickly as possible, but a wonderful joyful opportunity to draw closer to God, and re-orientate ourselves to God.

 Break my heart for what breaks yours 
  • There is a wonderful modern worship song called Hosanna which has these wonderful words:
  • Heal my heart and make it clean. Open up my eyes to the things unseen. Show me how to love like You have loved me. Break my heart for what breaks Yours, everything I am for Your Kingdom’s cause, as I walk from nothing to eternity.
  • May that be our prayer this season of Lent.