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Cross of Stability?

Cross of Stability?

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1 v18)

One of the highlights of my week is getting together with a bunch of other crazy people at 9am on Saturday morning in order to attend ‘MetaPwr’ – a hit-intensity fitness class led by Spencer from Faith Within Fitness. This class requires us to subject ourselves to a tough 20 minute workout, designed to build core muscles and improve overall fitness. In theory, it is the perfect way to start the weekend, especially if followed by coffee in Eden Coffee Shop!

A recent class was held in the main hall at St. Peter’s Baptist Church, a venue which always increases the workout intensity as the room is always too hot (for me!). However, one of my fellow victims remarked that he liked the venue, as looking at the wooden cross in the hall helped him to ‘remain stable’ during the exercises.

The cross – a source of stability? That was too interesting a thought to ignore!

A quick internet search confirms that considering the cross of Christ as a source of stability is not a new concept. For example, the Rev. Tomas Bissland, Rector of Hartley Maudytt and Chaplin to Lord Bexley in the 1830s, wrote a book claiming that the faithful preaching of ‘the cross’ was not only the ‘effectual means for conversion of the sinner’ but also the source of ‘stability of the church’. Whether the sinners he had in mind where those engaged in a such a pedestrian lifestyle that a Saturday morning high-intensity workout should have been the prescribed penance I do not know! However, just as with my workout friend, it is clear that the Rev. Bissland saw stability within the story of the cross.

All that considered, as I have thought again about the Easter story again, it has struck me how the cross of Christ is something which actually causes instability within what may otherwise be considered the ‘normal’ way of the world. As a result of Jesus’ sacrifice everything is turned upside down. Weakness is shown to be a source strength. Defeat becomes victory over death. Suffering leads to salvation. I think St. Paul picked up on this too, when he wrote to the Corinthians:

“Some demand signs and others look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to some and foolishness to others, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor 1 v22-24)

The cross disrupts those seeking stability by their own means, be that through religion or philosophical discussion and the pursuit of wisdom.

So, where does this leave me? When I look at the cross and consider all that Christ has done, I find myself questioning where my hope is placed and what I hold on to in order to make sense of everything. I find I am all too easily sucked in to believing all the promises of security offered by our current culture. The cross challenges me to test again what is the source and foundation of what I rely upon for stability.

One for All

One for All

“You’ve received a free upgrade.” The words every Spring Harvester longs to hear when they arrive at Butlins. This year, for the first time in five, we were welcomed with this sentence, upgraded from standard to silver! We knew it was going to be a great week!

This is the first year we attended with two children and this meant a very different experience for us. No more after hours entertainment or leisurely lie ins, nope, up at 7.00am for breakfast in time for Big Start and back home for 9.30pm. The time in between was spent trying to persuade small children to go to their groups, going on the funfair numerous times and enduring the never ending requests for ice cream. However, all this added up to the best year we’ve had so far. What an absolute privilege to holiday, worship and learn with thousands of Christians from across the world, as well as with our own children.

The theme for 2017 was Unity under the banner ‘One for All.’ We explored John 17 with Krish Kandiah, who opened up the truths of Jesus’ final prayer. The idea that most captured my imagination was this: what if we put aside our differences, what if we agree to disagree, what if we unite in Jesus, the one whom we all strive to serve and honour and glorify? What if we were so passionate about reaching people for Jesus, about sharing his love and plan for them, that we couldn’t care less about denominations, about ‘religion’ or about which church people choose to worship at? What if we put aside our differences and put our energy into building Christ-based relationships with those we sit next to on a Sunday morning, those who worship in a different building, those who are from a different class, country or culture?

Imagine if we could offer the world a ‘free upgrade’ on their view of Christianity, the church and of God. What an incredible difference we can make, if as individual Christians, we commit to being united!

Into That River We Dived

Into That River We Dived

It was a game changer for me. I can still hear the haunting ballads and bluesy harmonica even when no music is actually playing. The River album by Bruce Springsteen. Serendipity maybe, but I’d recently been revisiting the album when ‘The Boss’ turned up on BBC4 last Friday talking about the songs on the album followed by videos from the tour of 1980-81. No wonder the songs, especially the title track, had such impact on me as a nascent teenager, I thought as I watched Bruce reflecting on their meaning and subjects: of life, love, death, longing and regret. By employing that age-old metaphor of a river he evokes all that we have ever known of running water brought to us by the creative arts and our own experiences. What poignancy towards the end of the song, ‘Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse that sends me down to the river, tho’ I know the river is dry…’

At St Peter’s we’ve been thinking about authenticity and fellowship, the drivers and the barriers. A while back I wrote a poem about a prime minister who wished he’d gone further with his reforms. He was asked what had stopped him. I went on then to think about pictures of a productive river from Ezekiel in the Old Testament. This draws my mind to descriptions which point us to ‘a river whose streams make glad the city of God’ and ‘a river with the tree of life for the healing of the nations’. Are you feeling that the river of life is running fast or slow for you, or does it feel like that river is all dried up?

Whether you are curious about where you can find living water or just want to find authentic fellowship and a group of close friends, in a world of shallow paddlers, why don’t you give us a try at SPBC? ‘Take the plunge (waist-deep), the water’s lovely!’

Life: don’t settle for arid when you can be awash.

Get up and go again

Get up and go again

I love skiing but I am not very good at it!

Today I fell quite hard, which leaves me sore.

Today I blame the snow, too much ice with lots of slush. At other times I might have blamed others – reckless skiers or snowboarders – or poor equipment, or poor light. Sadly the biggest factor was my poor technique or lack of concentration!

It is rather like life. Sometimes I fall quite hard and look around for who or what to blame, when really I am the main cause.

It reminded me of the song…You (God) lift me up when I fall down, all through the storm your love is the anchor, my hope is in you alone.

I did get up from my ski fall, and had another go. I fell again, re-enforced myself with Swiss chocolate and some water and did the run again. This time I didn’t fall even though the conditions were the same.

Life’s a bit like that. We fall over and it hurts and it is difficult to get up and go again. God wants to help us up, if we will let him. We just need to ask.

Accepting Adventure?

Accepting Adventure?

I enjoy walking……but am unaccustomed to really long walks. In mid October I and four others completed a walk along a peninsula near Albany, Western Australia. The weather was glorious, with an amazing variety of flowers and stunning views. The walk itself was varied and turned out to be something of an allegory on life. It included enjoyment, hard work, strenuous effort, companionship and care, fear and surprise.

After walking along Bald Head peninsula ridge we decided to return by way of a rather beautiful beach. Our guide, an experienced walker called John, knew the way and was familiar with the terrain. We made our way across rocks and through bushes, from time to time glimpsing huge turquoise waves crashing onto a white sand beach a long way below us. Thanks to recent erosion it was difficult to find a good path down. John led the way via a fairly vertical but negotiable bit of scrubland. By following his every step and words of guidance, by listening to his encouragement and refusing to think ‘I can’t do this’, we made it safely down to a sandy path which we could walk and slither and slide down, all the way to the beach (great fun!).

We set off again and I realised that we had two rocky headlands to negotiate. At one point I had to step across a deep crevice: John stepped across it first. I watched someone braver than me do it second and then with John showing me exactly where to put my hands and feet I finally made that step of faith! At other points the path was very narrow with a sheer drop on one side to the waves crashing below. I discovered that as long as I concentrated on John and simply copied what he was doing I could ignore my fear.

We made it around both headlands with some tedious stepping from rock to rock, keeping well away from the powerful waves. A steep climb took us back to the hilltop path and the final walk back to the car. Seven hours after we had set out. I now have lovely memories of beautiful scenery, caring friends and family and an adventure completed!

Lessons learned?

Always have an experienced guide!

Follow him closely and concentrate on copying him and doing exactly what he does.

Listen carefully and accept his guidance and encouragement!

And what I believe Jesus says to each of us:

“Follow me, I will be just in front of you, all you have to do is to stay close to me and copy what I do. I will lead you into some scary situations but I will never leave you alone. Listen to me, hear me telling you how well you are doing and how pleased I am with you. Stop looking at what might go wrong and listen to my encouragement. Don’t listen to your fears, focus on me and simply take the next step. Sometimes you will be able to see the way ahead, sometimes it will seem too difficult but you can trust me. Not only do I know the way, I am the way.”

Truths in Tension

Truths in Tension

It was great to see church and community united in candlelit celebration as we considered ‘Hope at Christmas’ through word, dance, and song.  A modern rendering of an ancient proverb says, ‘Hope postponed grieves the heart, but when a dream comes true, life is full and sweet.’ I think it’s evident that we hold truths in tension every day and manage to marry apparent dichotomies:  I can be an idealist yet still a realist, pragmatic yet perfectionist, made happy when listening to sad songs.  On a previous Sunday we heard about lament at advent and at Christmas we consider God coming as a child, first and second comings, death and life, joy and sorrow, a baby in a manger who points to the events of Easter. As we pin our hopes on various outcomes this year end I pray that our dreams come true, that ‘longing fulfilled is a tree of life’.  As the Victorian poet Christina Rossetti put it so well, ‘Love came down at Christmas’.  You just can’t beat Rossetti at Christmas (she also wrote In the Bleak Midwinter) but for my attempt at a contemporary take on the message of hope please keep reading…

Jesperanto  (he’s behind you…)

(Dickinson:) “Hope” is the thing with feathers – that perches in the soul…’

(Tutu:)  ‘Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.’

Saint Paul said: ‘Hope that is seen is no hope at all.’

Sentiments so earnest and high-minded, yes top-drawer reflections for sure,

So lofty, and I get lofty, but lofty’s in my head-space and just right now

I want hope in my heart-space, in my time of dis-grace when I feel out of place.

Lofty is heaven to earth, King’s College to my Tech., fine dining to

My KFC. Waitrose for Lidl, Aldi. Tatler not ‘What’s On TV’,

Film Noir, silent cinema to ‘I’m a Celebrity’ (please get me out of here!)

Financial Times over Farmers Weekly, more The Sixteen than East

Seventeen. Gown to Town, The Savoy not a plain boiled saveloy.

And I think my homeboy Job gets it, for keeping it real, says:

‘What strength do I have, that I should still hope?

What prospects that I should be patient? [keep going]

My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle and they

Come to an end without hope. Who can see any hope for me?

When I hoped for good, evil came; When I looked for light

then came darkness.’ All my splendour gone and buried.

A stand-off, a face-off when I needed a human face-on

Hands on, feet on, velvet-cheek-brushing-mine-on.

But the thing is, the King didn’t cling-on to divine loftiness

Gave it all up to be a slave and a slavering milk sop to boot,

Ivory tower spliced iced pavement in one loving nosedive

Top Trump bling became a hiker on a road we could reach him.

And Why?

To lift us up, to bring us life, to see through our veneers,

dry our very real tears, hold our hands, to see us through;

High Celestial hope no doubt but with – like us – skin on.

Parkrun Church

Parkrun Church

There’s something I do every week at the same time that I love, to the extent that my enthusiasm for it spills over to others. I love to share with them how it works, the wonderful sense of community that goes with it, and encourage them to come and see for themselves.

It’s parkrun, and it happens every Saturday morning at 9am at Worcester Woods Country Park with around 500 people usually taking part.

If you don’t know it, parkrun started with a group of people getting together to do a 5km time trial on a Saturday morning in Bushy Park in 2004. Since then it has grown in numbers and reputation from this modest start to now have over a million people registered and parkruns held in 422 places every Saturday morning at 9am in the UK, as well as in a dozen other countries. All of this is delivered by volunteers, and nobody pays a penny. The founder, Paul Sinton-Hewitt, has received many awards including a CBE. His ambitious vision is that every community that wants a parkrun should have one.

Five years ago my brother-in-law mentioned parkrun to me. He’d started doing it in Cambridge and had seen that there was one in Worcester too. So my eldest daughter, Harriette, and I went along for the first time in October 2011 – almost exactly 5 years ago. Since then, I have done parkrun 200 times (out of a possible 262 I think, not allowing for Boxing Day and New Year’s Day specials), which reflects how smitten I am.

From the start, I was very taken by how well-organised it was, the sense of community and how friendly and welcoming people were. It is a very supportive, non-judgmental environment. In fact, it has a lot of the attributes I would hope for in a healthy church – but a different dress code! Quite a few people from St.Peter’s Baptist Church run it regularly, and I’ve got to know lots of new people as friends through it.

I hope you can see the parallels with church. They are certainly not lost on me. In fact, I think that church could learn a lot from parkrun. It is wonderfully inclusive, very welcoming of newcomers, a strong and supportive community, it’s good for you and it has the ambition to change the world.

These two worlds came together for me this year when I ran the Worcester 10k. When I opened my race pack, I saw that my number was 1633 and it had “John” printed on it. It made me smile as John 16:33 is a Bible verse that has a lot of significance for me. In it Jesus says to his disciples; “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world”. I kept that in mind during the race, especially towards the end when it seemed very appropriate!

john-drew_worcester-10k

____________________________
The Bible has several references to running. Here are a few;

Hebrews 12v1-3: . . . and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

1 Corinthians 9v24-26: Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly . . .

Philippians 2v13: Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labour in vain.

John 20v24: Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.

Ball, Goal, Ball, Goal?

Ball, Goal, Ball, Goal?

I know two people who coach sport, grass-roots football and elite hockey in their cases, but the idea of coaching others has gained currency in many other walks of life, including the workplace. I enjoyed an opportunity last night to join a team coaching discussion, not with the sporty types but with practitioners who are called in to coach boards of directors and other organisational teams. As I reflect on the evening there are some great take-away messages. Put simply coaching is helping and enabling others to get the best out of their skills and abilities, whereas mentoring is more about advising and passing on your accumulated wisdom. A coach acts like a catalyst for others.

So, if I was to coach a team I might think about team dynamics, personality types, team roles, what motivates people, what are their individual strengths, what are the blockages to working as a team, or in fact are we just a group of individuals doing parallel tasks at the same location? I was reminded of The A Team, a uniquely diverse set of individuals who accomplished amazing things, albeit fictional, when they worked together as a team – all for one and one for all – like Dumas’ famous musketeers, like the real heroes of Hollywood’s The Great Escape.

I’d hope that as I get older I progress at coaching others to be the best version of themselves that they can be, whether that’s family members, work colleagues, or people in our church family. Wherever God has put you, amongst friends, with colleagues, as a leader or as a buddy, mentor or coach maybe ask how you can be a better team player today. Or, in the words of Hebrews, let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds.

A Gospel a Month

A Gospel a Month

I am taking up the challenge to read a gospel a month and wondered if there were others out there who would like to join me. My aim is to do this at least until Christmas but possibly for the rest of my life. Whatever other bible reading programme I am following I figure it shouldn’t take too long to read a gospel as well. For me, it’s about getting to know Jesus better and making sure that He is first and central in my life.

This month is Matthew.

Matthew introduces Jesus, as a Jew of that time would expect him to be introduced, with his genealogy followed by stories of his father Joseph.

I remember reading this genealogy as a new Christian and thinking “How boring.” Now I read it and remember all the stories associated with those names. Abraham, Rahab, Tamar… good kings, bad kings, mixed up people, all real people with interesting characters and messy life stories, people who mattered to God and whose lives teach us about how God works in our world.

The people who first heard Matthew’s gospel were people who had grown up with these names and these stories. This rooted Jesus in their own soil, their own culture. Matthew is saying “Jesus is real, he was born here, he lived here and here and here. He is the Messiah you have been looking forward to. He is the one the prophets spoke about.”

    As you are reading with me, here are some questions for you to consider!


An angel came to Joseph in a dream and gave him a message from God. The magi were also warned in a dream. Has God ever spoken to you through a dream? Did you act on what He told you to do? Do you have a story to share?

Jesus’ contemporaries who were looking for a ‘Messiah’ met Jesus and found that he fulfilled many of the old prophecies but often did not fit their expectations of what Messiah would be like. What are your expectations of Jesus? Does your image of Jesus fit the real Jesus?

Heat and Dust, Lost and Found

Heat and Dust, Lost and Found

When the weather changes to beyond warm it can be hard to concentrate on little else and keeping cool becomes the object of the day. The recent hot spell we experienced reminded me of the film title Heat and Dust and reflecting on the storyline I mused awhile on free spirits, conformity, true freedom and how to attain real happiness and fulfilment. I guess it’s okay to let your thoughts run on in the heat!

When I was a teenager in the 1980s, in accordance with my musical tastes, I was very much a New Romantic busy writing deep and pithy poems such as ‘windmills, turning, only to arrive where we began’! Also at the time, but not on my turntable, was a Christian heavy rock band from Stockport which my brother liked – 100% Proof – I can’t remember much of their music, only the song title Freedom. Taking their musical cues from AC/DC they belted out this refrain: ‘freedom, freedom, how can I find freedom in this life?’. Well, those were the words I think they sang.

On Sunday I heard a familiar story, The Lost Son (the parable formerly known as The Prodigal Son!) Heat, dust, freedom, fulfilment, lost and found, they are all in that parable (or maybe it’s a parabola…).

In Psalms (32) I read today that ‘for day and night your hand was heavy on me, my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer’. We like to think of a light-touch God, not a heavy-handed one, but I think it’s talking about true freedom and fulfilment again…when we’re living out of sync with the truth it’s an exhausting place to be, we’re like a horse that can only be controlled with bits and bridles.

In the last book of the Bible God promises a future freedom from hunger and thirst and that ‘the sun will not beat down on them nor any scorching heat’. Phew! Where do I sign up?

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