Sunday, 22 December 2019

True Feasting

‘Come, all you who are thirsty,
    come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labour on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
    and you will delight in the richest of fare.'
Isaiah 55.1

The other day I was going around Lidl with Katy, buying food for the Christmas period - it reminded me of the times when I would go around the same shop as a boy (though in those days it was a Sainsburys I think) with my mum. I have vague recollections of trying to push two trolleys at the same time - my mum didn't do food by halves when I was growing up.

It started getting me really excited about our Christmas Dinner. Christmas Dinner is one of the high points of Christmas for me, but in the past I've often feared that in looking forward to it, I might be missing the real point of Christmas. More recently I've had a change of heart and embraced it more fully for two reasons:

It is good and proper to celebrate the birth of our Saviour with feasting. At times we have shot ourselves in the foot by decrying our celebrations at Christmas rather than turning them to praise. Christmas isn't just about presents, but presents, properly used, can be turned to praise of the one who has showered us with such grace. The same is true of feasting in celebration of God's goodness and bounty to us. Our problem in the West is not that we feast on occasion, but that we are gluttonous all the other times as well. 

But there is a second reason why feasting at Christmas is a good thing - it helps us to look forward to the future feast that awaits us and which Isaiah describes. What an invitation from the Lord to us to share in his great feast at the end of time. And what a feast - it is free! In my trip round Lidl, I have to say I felt a certain apprehension as the till rang up the costs of our shopping trip! But the feast that the Lord offers costs us nothing. More than that though - it truly satisfies. Over Christmas, the pudding will eventually run out, the last pig in blanket will be scoffed, the final bit of turkey will be turned into soup and we will be left hungy again. Not so the feast that the Lord offers - it will satisfy.

The good news is that we don't have to wait - the Lord offers an hors d'ouevre now. "Listen, listen to me...". When we hear him in his word, we get a lovely foretaste of the feast. At St Patrick's we've just finished a sermon series on Revelation 12. In preparing for it, it has felt like I have sat down to several delicious meals as the Lord opens his word to me.

So, this Christmas, enjoy the feasting!

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Thank God for the Election pt.2

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority
2 Timothy 2.1-2

In my last post, I was writing about how Paul calls us to give thanks for those in authority. If that was true for Timothy in Ephesus, we have even more reason to give thanks for our political system and authorities. But that isn't the only reason to give thanks to God at this election time. The main reason is...

We don't worship a politician

Paul goes on to write: For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.

The number one reason for giving thanks this election time, as we see our politicians fighting to 'climb to the top of the greasy pole' (you've got to love that this is how a former British Prime Minister - Disraeli - described his victory), is that whoever wins isn't ultimately in power. That is reason to give thanks because:

...they will be answerable to the perfect authority - God 

Everything they do, they will have to give an account - not to a fickle electorate - but to the Living God. In other words - Justice will be done - wrongs will be righted.

...we have been reconciled to him

The truth that God is the final authority, on its own, is not good news for humanity. It will mean that all of our failures and rebellion will be finally exposed. However, the wonderful news is that God himself in Jesus Christ has stepped down to be our mediator. He has given his life as our ransom, so that we can be brought back into God's family. And this is an offer that is held out to all people, whichever group they belong to.

If we have accepted this offer, if we have been forgiven by God through Jesus, we are part of his family and so nothing can separate us from his love (Rom 8.39). What is more, he will use everything (including the disastrous decisions of politicians) for our good (Rom 8.28)

As a result, one feature which will mark out the Christian at this election time is their peace. We will fight for justice in our world and integrity in our leaders, but we will not be anxious. And that lack of fear about the future will mean that we speak carefully and generously - we will not claim to know the motives of others (even politicians!) when we do not actually know them. We will know that the most our politicians can do is manage a broken and sinful world, so we will not ask them the impossible task of being our saviour - we will know that they are merely weak sinners, like ourselves. Instead, even as we seek to help the marginalised and the oppressed - we will know and testify to the truth that the only true Saviour is Jesus.

Next week, we will think about one thing this passage encourages us to vote for...

Thursday, 21 November 2019

Thank God for the Election - pt 1

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority
2 Timothy 2.1-2

How excited are you about the upcoming election?! I asked this of our Lunch Club people - the response was not enthusiastic. But their response to the question was positively rapturous compared to the response to the question, "And what do you think about our politicians?"

So I want to give two things to give thanks for at this election time and one thing to vote for (we'll just cover the first reason to give thanks today)

Give thanks for our politicians and political leaders

That's what Paul commands Timothy in this letter. His reason is clearer in Romans 13. Authorities have been placed there by God to promote justice. Now it is true that they might be more or less obedient in the discharge of this responsibility, but the fact that they do it at all is good news for us. It is good that every government says that theft and murder is wrong. There may be corruption that means that individuals get off or get wrongly accused, but the principle is maintained. The alternative is truly horrific - anarchy. If the idea of authorites was something to give thanks for in Timothy's town of Ephesus in the Roman Empire, how much more is it true of us and our political parties.

My old vicar, Gary, used to say that at election time, each of the political parties offers us a shopping basket of policies. The items (policies) in each basket have been chosen for us, we have to choose which basket we want. In each basket there are things we like and things we don't - our job is not to find a basket which only has things we like (very unlikely) but to find the one that overall we like best. 

Talking to someone about this illustration, they said, "So it's choosing the better of two evils". But thinking more about it, I realised that for us in the United Kingdom, it is more positive than that. It is really choosing, "the better of several limited options." In all of the political debates, we understandably focus on the differences between the baskets. But it turns out that in the baskets, which we will be offered over the next few weeks, there is a huge amount that is good and is common to all the main parties:
  • the rule of law
  • the NHS
  • universal free education for children
  • anti-corruption
  • a police force
  • freedom of speech
  • the freedom of the press
  • democracy
  • a welfare system
  • tolerance
  • etc.
There are people in countries around the world, who would be thankful for any of our main political parties and leaders leading them. That is a reason to be even more thankful than Timothy would have cause to be.

more to follow...

Monday, 11 November 2019

Afraid of not being afraid

‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will now restore the fortunes of Jacob and will have compassion on all the people of Israel, and I will be zealous for my holy name. They will forget their shame and all the unfaithfulness they showed towards me when they lived in safety in their land with no one to make them afraid.'
Ezekiel 39.25-26

The everyday experience of fear is a horrible thing. When you are afraid of something it preoccupies your thoughts - it becomes a squatter in your mind - refusing to leave. It may be to do with a work situation, a relationship tension, a health worry, a reputational threat, a financial loss.

But these verses remind us that there is something worse than fear - not being afraid. God had blessed his people with peace, but in their foolishness they had come to think that they didn't need God anymore, because things were all right. Did they not realise that their experience of peace was a minute, by minute blessing of the Lord. And so they turned away from the one who was their peace. Did they reject him outright? No. More dangerously they simply demoted him. No longer their saviour, he was a saviour; no longer their provider, he was one of a network of service providers.

The message of Ezekiel is that we should not be afraid of things that would make us afraid. God intends that through the experience of weakness, when the future no longer seems clear, we would find the real peace of running to him. So if you are in a chaotic situation, or the future seems hopeless, be encouraged, you are on the cusp of finding true peace in the arms of the Almighty and Living God.

If though everything is good and the future seems bright...


Monday, 4 November 2019


Very short blog today. I discovered, in the excellent Clayton TV, that they have playlists. Some are for particular Christian artists/ bands (e.g. the fantastic Steph Macleod,  but they also have some themed playlists. The one downside of Clayton TV is its navigation system, so the easiest thing is to google: Clayton tv playlists.

Monday, 28 October 2019

Tracks in the heart...

"Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
in whose hearts are the highways to Zion"
Psalm 84.5

I read this Psalm in my quiet time recently and was struck by the second part of this verse - Highways to Zion in the heart.

In its original context it describes someone who is longing to go to the Temple in Jerusalem with God's people to meet with him and stand worshipping in his presence. Wherever they were, whether out in the fields, stirring a pot, telling a story to their neice, cutting wood, there was a longing for when they would next go up to Jerusalem for the worship feast. If you met them, you would probably notice that they talked about it often and naturally - a bit like us talking about our next holiday. But even more than that, you would notice that there was a strength in them. Even when things were hard. That anticipation, that longing, was the Lord's strength in them pulling them forward, "Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose hearts are the highways to Zion"

Fast forward to us. We no longer look forward to visiting the Jerusalem located in the Middle East. Instead we have a greater Zion/Jerusalem. It is described in Revelation. It is a city of stunning beauty and glory, that will come from heaven to the new creation and we will one day dwell there. God will be with us and he will wipe every tear from our eyes. 

God has placed in the heart of every believer a route to that city. Our prayer is that he would transform that route from an unused country track into a 6 lane motorway; that the Lord would grow our longing for this heavenly hope. 

As that highway in our heart grows wider and bigger, we will grow in the Lord's strength - "For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal" 1 Cor 4.17-18. We will find the greatest strength of all. The strength that faces all that the world, the flesh and the Devil throws at us, but stays standing steadfast.

But does this mean that we will become, "so heavenly minded that we will be no earthly use"? Will we become departure lounge Christians? 

No, for two reasons. The first is in the psalm itself - look at the impact - they bring life on the journey, "As they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of springs." They don't bring Zion into the desert (a mistaken theology made by some today), but their focus on Zion brings life around them as they journey to it. People and places are refreshed around them as they bring news of Zion.

The second reason is that the Lord has given us a foretaste of Zion here on earth. A foretaste of the assembly of God's people, where the Lord's presence is tangible: "For where two or three gather in my name, there I am with them" Matthew 18.20. Why not try this week to start orientating your week as a build up to Sunday. Make next Sunday the focus of your Monday. And in doing so, those paths in our heart will get widened and metalled, as we start looking towards the true Zion.

Thursday, 24 October 2019


Just a quick thought based on the last blog. It is striking how often companies and brands use straplines which sound profound but are nonsense. I don't just mean they are nonsense from a Christian worldview, but are nonsense within our culture's worldview.

I think that there is a reason for this and it is to do with our culture's shift in thinking around the notion of truth. In Vaughan Roberts recent series of Bible readings at Keswick (really excellent) - he talks about how in the Enlightenment (18th to 19th Century) thinkers moved from thinking that truth was found through revelation to the idea that truth was found through reason.

However, philosophy then found it impossible to find a basis for agreeing about anything. This led to our present situation of surrender. We will never find an agreed 'truth' so we will simply have to settle for deciding what is true for me. The problem is that this is subjective - we end up deciding that something is true because it seems true or feels true to me.

I think that modern nonsense slogans are the product of this. It no longer matters whether something is true - what impacts me is if it feels true or profound to me. And so advertisers are enticing us with what feels true. The problem (as we saw in the last post) is that it is often nonsense. So the truth we are constructing for ourselves is often nonsense. Isn't that a bit worrying - how can I trust my life to it? How will this truth bear the weight of my destiny? 

And that is another reason why the Bible is so wonderful. The Bible doesn't so much contain a powerful truth that I hold, but a Truth that is powerful enough to hold me.