Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Christmas is History

So many people get ‘wrapped up’ in Christmas and talk about their feelings at this time of the year – generosity, festivities, goodwill, warmth, family, gratitude.  Many say, “the world’s in a bad state so let’s have a little more Christmas spirit, let’s all try to be a little nicer at this time of the year, let’s smile at the person on the bus, let’s not growl at the nice girl behind the desk.  After all, it’s Christmas”.

Nothing wrong with that.  We could all do with a little more kindness and a lot less harshness.  But if that’s all it is, then it is in danger of becoming just entirely subjective and personal.  When people talk about how it makes them feel and how they hope to behave then they miss one important fact - Christmas is first and foremost something OBJECTIVE, not SUBJECTIVE.  It is HISTORY not PHILOSPHY.  It is FACT, not FEELING.

Paul said, “For the grace of God HAS APPEARED that brings salvation to all men” (Titus 2 v11). That was it.  HAS appeared.  The appearing.  God has done something in history.  He has acted.  Man was lost in sin and darkness and no amount of feeling or different spirit or attempt to change behaviour would help.  God acted because he had to.  There really was a virgin, there really was Joseph, there was an actual birth, there was Herod, there were shepherds and there were Magi.  There really were.  FACT.  These were not fictional characters in some made up legend – a created, simple and beautiful story - but actual, real, historical, flesh and blood figures, who lived and breathed and eventually died like the rest of mankind.

We are in grave danger in 21stC society of losing the real historical basis of the Christmas message.   Secularists play around with it as if it can be put in the same category as Cinderella, Toy Story or It’s a Wonderful Life.  “We love the characters but we know they are not real!”“It’s a shame Christians peddle this story every year, we’re past that now”.  Really?  Might as well dismiss the founding of the USA, the world wars or the sinking of the Titanic as fiction.  He has spoken.  He really has.  And grace has appeared – only when we have grasped that, can our behaviour really be changed forever by the wonderful Babe of Bethlehem.

Friday, 14 November 2014


It's not often I get to write about science.  I like science.  Good science always confirms what the Bible says.  There never is a real contradiction between God’s truth and what honest scientists discover and Christians have nothing to fear from science – quite the opposite.

But you will have heard in the media the last few days the fuss over the landing of the probe Philae on the comet 67/P.  It was 25 years apparently in the planning, Philae has traveled 4 billion miles since 2004 and the overall cost is estimated at around 1.4bn euros.  I watched incredulously as some scientists jumped about like overgrown schoolboys in their excitement, when the probe finally landed.  It was like they were playing a rather sophisticated video game.  A phrase came to mind, “The only difference between men and boys is the cost of their toys”.  What a load of nonsense and what a total waste of time and money.  

I wondered why they were doing it – what was the point of it all?  Ah.......then I heard someone explain that on the radio.  One of the main purposes, he said, is to help us understand more about the origin of the universe.  Ok, so let me save them all a lot of time and trouble and expense.  Genesis 1v 1 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”.  There you have it in a few succinct words in all its glorious simple complexity and complex simplicity.  Any inexpensive copy of the revealed word of the living, eternal, supreme, creator God tells us more about the universe than all of this expensive pointless nonsense.  

“Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1 v 22)

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Why is Prayer so Difficult?

Every Christian I know affirms three things about prayer...
  • It is Important
  • We don’t do enough of it – personally, corporately or any other way
  • We are going to try to get better at it

Every church I know or ever been associated with would acknowledge that prayer’s important, yet the prayer meeting is the worst attended meeting of the week.  That's almost universally true.  Something’s not quite right – somewhere between theory and practice there is a disconnect, a breakdown between what we say/think is important and what we actually do.  Somewhere in my life and your life this strange process takes place – a massive gulf between belief and behaviour.  We know prayer changes things, makes a difference and affects people and circumstances as God works in answer. Yet, strangely we don’t really do that which we affirm is important - it becomes difficult, awkward, sidelined, uninteresting and forgotten about.  How come?

Maybe there is something in that. Maybe the reason why it is so difficult, is precisely because it is so important.  Our enemy doesn’t want us to do it – so in his subtle way, he distracts us, keeps us busy and sidelines us from the key task.  Maybe if we did less and prayed more, greater things would happen. Families transformed, communities transformed, churches transformed, societies transformed, workplaces transformed by the power of God in answer to believing prayer.  If you find yourself agreeing to that statement, then stop right now and go and pray.  Praying for the next few minutes is far more important than reading the rest of this blog.  Go on....well?? 

But still we don’t do it – not really.  We need to change something.  Stop being a hypocrite. Either stop pretending it’s important – change our belief – or start practicing it in reality – change our behavior.  Well, what do you think? Send me your comments or better still – see you at the next prayer meeting!

Monday, 8 September 2014

40 Years Ago Today - 8th September 1974

He was just a callow youth with many insecurities.  His god was sport, all kinds but especially if it involved a ball. But in some remarkable ways, strange things were happening in his life.  There was a restlessness and a questioning about eternal issues.  So during the summer, he started reading a Gideons New Testament he had been given a few years before in school.  Then when Sunday rolled around he would go for a summer walk and deliberately pass by a local evangelical church – a church with a reputation for attracting many young people - people of his own age.  He would stand across the road under the awning of the local shops and watch the many young people who were arriving for the 6.30 service.  That was strange he thought – why would they want to be there on a summer evening?  He would walk for an hour or so and then arrive back past the church as they were leaving.  Taking up the vantage point across the road, he would watch with fascination as they poured out.  What was going on in that place?

So it was that he ended up going to that church on Sunday evenings and meeting some of those young people.  He listened attentively for a few end of summer Sundays as the summer gave way to the autumn and each week heard a message he had never heard before.  It centred on Jesus and his love – a love so great that it took him to a cross, and there he sacrificed his life for people like this young man.

He wanted to do something about it, to talk to someone but the pastor was always busy and surrounded by the crowds.  But he jumped at the chance one Sunday night to go with some of his new found friends to a local area, where they were going to engage in open air witness.  He had come to understand enough of this message to know it had to be shared, but not enough to personally grasp it for himself.  But that all changed as they stood at the side of the road as the sun sank and he realised what Jesus had done for him.  Sitting in the back of the car, he came to Christ – willingly, gratefully and totally. It was 8th September 1974.  40 years ago today.

Now that young man is late middle aged and the pastor of Newtownbreda Baptist Church.  For that was me.  This is my story and for 40 years I have tried hard to follow that Jesus I first met 4 decades ago.  It may be a tired cliché to say “I have failed him many times; but he has never failed me”.  But cliché or not, it is still true.  To God be the Glory, Great things He has done.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Listening to God

I was preaching yesterday on the lost art of listening to God.  When I came to Christ at 17, it was drilled into me, as part of my discipleship, to have a daily “quiet time”.  I still do.  But so many seem to have given up on that idea.  How did that happen?  Let’s get back to listening to God.

I was struck by Christ’s words in John 10 v27 “My sheep listen to my voice” yet how few of us really do listen to his voice or hear it among the clamour of all the other voices of a stressful every day existence. 

But Noah heard his voice.  Instructed to build an ark, what seemed like an unbelievably stupid thing to do, he spent 100 years of his life (1/6 of it) working at the project.  He was criticised, rebuked, mocked and jeered, but he held firm, because he heard the voice of God.  Listening to God has a way of empowering you for the most difficult of tasks.
There are various ways we hear his voice.....

We can hear God’s voice in creation – how therapeutic to walk in the great outdoors and see how “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19 v1) ”Their voice goes out into all the earth” (v4).  We hear God’s voice primarily through the Word (that’s one reason why it is the Word!) and no Christian, who desires to grow can ever afford to neglect the Bible on a consistent basis.   

We hear his voice in the public gathering as Nehemiah discovered when he gathered the people together and Ezra preached from a raised platform. 

But we also need lots of solitude and quietness to hear his voice - the still small voice of our God.  Take time.  Close the door.   Switch off the Iphone and the television.  Get alone with the Creator and say as Samuel did, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening”.  How important this is if we want to know God’s direction for our lives, our families and our jobs, our ministry.  God’s direction.  The Creator’s voice.  And what a privilege it is to hear him and then to obey.  Glorious!!

One of our ministry leaders summed it up beautifully in an email to me, explaining how she got involved in her particular ministry....

“...........the one thing that is very clear to me now is that I hear God most when I make extended time and space to listen to him. It sounds too obvious but it is something that is missing for lots of us.  When I felt God was directing me .................., I couldn't get enough of time in His presence.  He was really working in my life and using your preaching, my personal bible study and the stirring of the Holy Spirit to fill me...................................that I literally couldn't walk away from it.  

Not all times in my life are so marked with clarity on hearing God's voice and direction, but when it happens, there's no mistaking it and it's incredible2".