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Stories from the Streets – an insight into the work of Street Pastors By Luke Randall and Sue Shaw, Instant Apostle, £9.99

Stories from the streetsThis book celebrates the excellent work done by the formidable army of ‘Street Pastors’, Christian volunteers who have become a welcome presence in their various towns and cities across the nation.
Founded on the streets of Brixton by the Revd Les Isaac, OBE, in 2003 as a response to critical social issues, there are now 270 Street Pastor groups across the UK and seven internationally. More than 12,000 volunteers have been trained to serve as Street Pastors, not only on the streets but in many other public spheres as well, such as schools and after terrorist attacks.
Whether offering a listening ear to a vulnerable clubber, mentoring a troubled teen, giving food to a homeless person or responding to a national emergency, Street Pastors have been credited with saving police and NHS time and money, reducing crime and improving neighbourhoods. The work is supported by churches of every denomination.


Doing housework can help you live longer.

 If you spend half an hour a day tidying the house, going up and down your stairs, and doing household chores, you are reducing the risk of an early death.
So says recent guidance from the World Health Organisation, as it urges people to maintain regular moderate exercise on a daily basis, of up to at least 150 minutes a week. It also recommends vigorous exercise of at least 75 minutes a week.
The WHO recommendation was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, and is part of the new global guidelines on physical activity.
WHO also warned that those who stay sedentary for 10 or more hours on a regular basis will have a “significantly heightened risk of death.”

Plants in your front garden.

What’s in your front garden? If it is sparse, why not consider adding some plants this year? Apparently, the presence of greenery can lower your stress levels as much as two months of mindfulness sessions. Plants can also help you to feel happier.
A recent trial study by the Royal Horticultural Society found that people who introduced ornamental plants such as juniper, azalea, clematis, lavender, daffodil bulbs and petunias had a significant lowering of the stress hormone, cortisol, and many reported that they felt ‘happier’.

Hilary, Bishop of Poitiers.

Heroes are not always men or women of action. Sometimes the fight for right over wrong can be even more powerful when done through words and argument.
Hilary was such a champion of the Christian faith. Born into a wealthy pagan family in Poitiers in 315, he first became an orator of Neo-Platonism. Here he learned how to think and argue, but soon he lost confidence in paganism. By 350, Hilary converted to Christianity.
Already well known and loved in Poitiers, Hilary was made bishop only three years later. His oratorial skills in defence of Christianity were badly needed: it was a time when the Western Church was under severe attack. The heresy of Arianism, which denied that Jesus was divine, was spreading everywhere. Hilary became the outspoken champion of biblical orthodoxy, defending it at both the Synod of Bitterae in 356 and the Council of Seleucia in 359. Although briefly exiled to Phrygia in Asia Minor by the Emperor for his stand, Hilary continued to defend Jesus’ divinity, and was praised by both Augustine and Jerome as ‘the illustrious teacher of the churches’.
When Hilary returned from exile to Gaul, there was great rejoicing. He continued to write many doctrinal and historical works. He also became the first known writer of hymns in the Western Church, stressing Trinitarian themes and the unique relationship of Christ to the Father.
There are three churches dedicated to Hilary in England. His feast day begins the Hilary Term at the Law Courts and at the universities of Oxford and Dublin.

A Prayer for Light

Fountain of light, source of light,
Hear our prayer.
Drive away from us the shadow of sin.
Seek us, kindly light.

You, who created us in holiness,
Who condemned our sin,
Who redeemed us from our sin,
Sustain us by your power.

Pour your gentle light into our dull minds,
Filling our heads with holy thoughts.
Pour your glorious light into our cold breasts,
Kindling holy love within our hearts.

From horror, lust and fear,
Guard us while we sleep.
And if we cannot sleep,
Let our eyes behold your heavenly host.
By Alcuin of York, c. 735 – 804, was later abbot of Tours.

A Scientist’s Letter to the UK Church:

Power, love and self-control I want to share a message of hope that Christians in the sciences around the world can bring to the church. Dr Francis Collins, who leads medical research in the US, spoke earlier in the pandemic about his faith and his hope in God to help us through this time. He expressed the grief that so many are experiencing, described an intensity of scientific work he has never experienced before, and shared his conviction that he is in exactly the right place just now - serving God with science. He is holding on tight to the words of Paul in 2 Timothy 1:7, ‘for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.’
Power In 2 Timothy the apostle Paul encourages his friend to ‘fan into flame the gift of God’ that is in him. I am thankful that scientists like Francis are using their own particular talents to understand this virus, and to help prevent or treat infection. The things they discover are not just useful, but at times they can also display the beauty and wonder of God’s creation.
Love A scientist shows their love for God, for people and for the rest of creation through their work in the lab. One scientist described his experiences to me: “I study God’s fingerprints in His creation to learn more of Him and the world He placed us in and to learn how we should take care of it and each other…I pray for inspiration and insight into how His creation works…and that He provides the opportunities to give the glory to Him.”
Self-Control It is largely our own and others’ selfish actions that can turn one animal’s friendly virus into our own species’ personal nightmare. Thankfully Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection are the solution to evil. Our ultimate and certain hope is that one day all Creation will be renewed. We can also have hope for today, that God is with us in our suffering. When we respond in positive ways to painful events, that is evidence that Jesus is alive and working in our lives.
Science will not solve all our problems, but with God’s help and wisdom we can use the tools of science to serve him and love others. Let’s pray together for the strength to cope, and for an end to this pandemic.

Give God your best and he will bless the rest.

‘Quarantine’ - the 2020 word of the year.

The Cambridge Dictionary has named ‘quarantine’ as its ‘word of the year’ for 2020. Apparently, it was the word most looked up between January and October of last year. ‘Quarantine’ even beat ‘pandemic’ and ‘lockdown’.
The Cambridge Dictionary has now added a new meaning to the word ‘quarantine’. It runs: ‘A general period of time in which people are not allowed to leave their homes or travel freely, so that they do not catch or spread a disease.’
The editors are also considering some possible new words for the dictionary. These include ‘Quaranteam’ (a group of people who go into quarantine together), Lockstalgia (a feeling of nostalgia for the lockdown period), and Coronnial (someone born around the time of the pandemic).

Did you know?

Five things I’d like to see in 2021:

I keep hearing people say that 2020 was a ‘year like no other.’ Friends have been writing a special journal recording the year, so they can pass it on to their grandchildren. Others just want to leave 2020 behind and look to a happier new year.
Both reactions are completely understandable. But I’ve been looking ahead to 2021 and thinking about the five top things I’d like to see in the year ahead. I wonder if you’ll agree with them or not? Maybe you could put together your own list.

1. Let’s make sure the vaccines are distributed fairly and speedily. Those who need the vaccine most urgently should receive it first, with a fair system for ensuring everyone else can be vaccinated quickly and efficiently. We need to ensure that everyone receives the vaccine wherever they live in the world – from the poorest to the richest. Especially, in those parts of the world where there is war, and people are living as refugees.

2. Let’s learn the lessons of the pandemic – not just going back to how life was, as quickly as possible. Many of us learnt to appreciate our family so very much more – especially when we could not be with them for months on end. We learnt lessons about how important our neighbours and local businesses are, how precious our NHS, medical researchers, care providers and other frontline workers are. Let’s not forget them.

3. Let’s value nature. Those of us with gardens, or with parks or fields nearby, have been massively blessed. I’ve learnt to pay attention to birdsong, to the changing colours of the trees, and how unexpected plants have taken root in our garden. Pets have played a major part in helping us endure the lockdowns, especially for people who live alone. May we all learn to value the natural world on our doorsteps in the year ahead and beyond.

4. Let’s bless technology. Without the use of the internet, meeting people ‘online’ or keeping in touch via email, Facetime or other technologies, 2020 would have been a whole lot tougher. Churches across the country moved their Sunday services online, and soon adapted to a different way of worshipping – not the same, but still helping us to worship together and see familiar faces. Let’s continue to give thanks for the science that made that contact possible in 2020.

5. Let’s value our church family. Imperfect we may be, like any family. But the months without being physically able to worship with them, share communion with them, sing alongside them have been hard. I value so much how many churches have risen to the pandemic challenge and sought to serve their communities in all kinds of ways.

May we take all this experience into 2021 and build upon it. Whatever 2021 holds for you and all those that you love, I pray that you may know the love of God in your life, and be able to pass it on to others. 
The Revd Peter Crumpler, a Church of England priest in St Albans, Herts, and a former communications director for the CofE, considers the New Year ahead.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

(An acrostic poem where the first letter of each line spells out the title of the poem)

Heaven’s gift of another year
As the old departs and the new is born,
Plans for a future and a hope
Preparing us for each new dawn.

Yesterday has gone forever,
New days and ventures lie ahead,
Even darkness turns to light
When we make the Lord our head.

Yielding to the Holy Spirit
Ever mindful that He’s there,
As we live our lives before Him
Rejoicing in His loving care.

By Megan Carter

Prayer for New Year 2021

 Dear Father God,
Here we are, nervously wobbling on the brink of this New Year. All our hopes, expectations, plans and possibilities for last year stolen by the relentless pandemic.
The landscape of our lives has been shaken and changed, Lord. Nothing is the same. Normality has been redefined. 2020 was a year like no other. How dare we move into the uncertainty of 2021?
Lord, we dare - because of the one, wonderful certainty we do have - that You have been with us through it all. Thank you that You sent Jesus to save us, to offer us that bigger reality of life for all eternity - if we put our trust in Him, Jesus, who never changes.
You promise that You will never leave us or forsake us. We will be able to navigate the challenges lie ahead, if we keep our eyes on Jesus, our compass; if we trust His Holy Spirit to lead us, however strange and unfamiliar the days of 2021 may be.
You are with us! You are with us! You are with us!
Thank you, Lord of the years, that You know and love each one of us, and that we are safe in Your hands. We can go forward.
In Jesus’ Name,
Amen.

Christmas Eve - How do you celebrate Christmas Eve?

It has its own customs, the most popular of which is going to Midnight Mass, or the Christ-Mas. This is the only Mass of the year that is allowed to start after sunset. In Catholic countries such as Spain, Italy and Poland, Midnight Mass is in fact the most important church service of the entire Christmas season, and many people traditionally fast beforehand. In other countries, such as Belgium and Denmark, people dine during the evening, and then go on to the Midnight Service.
The British are behind some countries when it comes to exchanging presents: in Germany, Sweden and Portugal the custom is to exchange on Christmas Eve. But the British are ahead of Serbia and Slovakia, where the Christmas tree is not even brought into the house and decorated until Christmas Eve.
Yule logs are not so popular since the decline of the fireplace, but traditionally it was lit on Christmas Eve from a bit of the previous year’s log, and then would be burned non-stop until 12th Night (6th January). Tradition also decreed that any greenery such as holly, ivy or mistletoe must wait until Christmas Eve until being brought into the house.

Believe in God and you’ll believe in miracles. Believe in the baby of Bethlehem, and you’ll experience one. - Anon

The Story is still the same!

'Christmas may look different, but the story is still the same!’ That’s the message for Christmas in 2020. Coronavirus will make our celebrations this year look very different from usual. However, the message of the baby born in Bethlehem is still relevant!
In one nativity play, the highlight was to illuminate Jesus, with a light in the manger, when all the other lights were turned off. At the appropriate time, all the lights went out, including the manger one. The silence was broken when one of the shepherds loudly whispered: ‘Hey, you turned off Jesus.’ Of course, nobody can turn off Jesus this Christmas!
The angels announced, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord.’ (Luke 2: 10,11). The birth of this baby brings great joy and good news for everyone! As the king of the universe, He has come as our Saviour. In an uncertain world, He offers joy and hope, because He holds this pandemic in His hands. This is a real cause for joy!
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favour rests.’ (Luke 2:14). We may feel anything but peace amid the anxieties over our current circumstances. How can a Jewish infant born to a peasant family in first century Palestine bring peace to our lives today? Jesus established peace with God through His death on the cross. Trusting the Prince of Peace for our lives brings God’s peace amid the huge uncertainties we face. As the carol says, ‘Joy to the world, the Lord has come, let earth receive her King.’


Was Jesus really born on 25th December?

Almost certainly not. But the story of how that date came to be chosen as His ‘birthday’ is one that stretches back long before His birth.
It seems to have started on the Greek island of Rhodes in 283 BC. That year the solstice fell on 25th December, and it was also the year that the Ancient World’s largest Sun God statue – the 34 metre, 200 tonne Colossus of Rhodes, was consecrated.
By 46 BC, Julius Caesar had made 25th December the official winter solstice.
In AD 274, the Roman Emperer Aureilian chose the winter solstice to be the birthday of the Sun God. He also decreed that Sol Invictus (the unconquered sun) was ‘Lord of the Roman Empire’.
50 years after that, and Constantine had become the first pro-Christian Roman Emperor. He wanted the Church to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on 25thDecember. Perhaps it was that to him, Jesus was more or less the same person as the mighty Sun God. Or perhaps he felt that the ancient Sun God’s association with goodness, light, warmth and life would help ease the people’s transition from paganism to Christianity.
Whatever the reason, the Church went along with it, and chose 25th December to be the date of Christmas. And in an ancient mosaic in the crypt of St Peter’s Cathedral, Jesus is portrayed as adorned with sun rays and riding in a chariot – just like Sol Invictus.
As for the huge, bronze 200 tonne Sol Invictus? He fell over during an earthquake and was sold off for scrap metal in 654AD by an enterprising Arab scrap merchant. Meanwhile, Jesus lives on…

Who is ‘Santa Claus’?

On the whole British people are happy with the title ‘Father Christmas’, a suitably neutral name for the central character in children’s Christmases, writes David Winter.
In America, however, and by a process of cultural indoctrination increasingly in other English-speaking countries, the same red-coated and bearded fellow with his sack of presents is known as ‘Santa Claus’. They are, of course, one and the same person, distantly related to a bishop in Turkey in the fourth century (hence the red coat and hat – a cope and mitre originally). His name was Nicholas, and he was known as a patron of children, who would from time to time distribute gifts to them.
From that comes the practice of giving presents at Christmas. We can’t give them to Jesus on His birthday, so we give them to someone else, in love and gratitude. That, at least, is the theory. Quite how the massive commercialisation of such giving developed probably owes more to smart marketing than Christian generosity.
It’s not Nicholas’s fault, of course, nor of the Dutch Christians who took the practice to America as migrants 300 years ago. In any case, his feast day, 6th December, is when ‘Christmas’ presents are handed over in Holland.

Thank Dickens for Christmas as you know it!

 Ever wonder where many of our Christmas traditions come from? A surprising amount of our modern Christmas celebrations can be traced back to the well-loved story of ‘A Christmas Carol’, by Charles Dickens.
When you read ‘A Christmas Carol’, you discover almost a template of the ‘ideal Christmas’ which we still hold dear today. Dickens seems to have selected the best of the Christmas celebrations of his day (he ignored some of the odd excesses) and packaged them in such a way as to give us traditions that we could accommodate and treasure – more than a century later.
So, for instance, in A Christmas Carol, Christmas is a family day, with a family-centred feast. In a home decorated with holly and candles the characters enjoy a roast turkey, followed by Christmas pudding. They give their loved ones presents. Scrooge even gives donations to charity (!).
And all the while outside, there is snow and frost, while church bells ring, and carol singers sing, and hope for mulled wine. In ‘A Christmas Carol’ there is even a Father Christmas – in the shape of Christmas Present. Only the Christmas tree itself came later, when Prince Albert imported ‘a pretty German toy’ that won the heart of the English court, and hence the rest of Victorian society.

We three kings of Orient are... what?

“A cold coming they had of it at this time of the year, just the worst time of the year to take a journey, and specially a long journey, in. The way’s deep, the weather sharp, the days short, the sun farthest off, in solstitio brumali, the very dead of winter.” (TS Eliot)
It was 1622, and the Bishop of Winchester, Launcelot Andrews, was preaching a magnificent sermon to King James I. Reckoned one of the best preachers ever, Launcelot Andrews’ words were later taken up by T S Eliot and transformed into his wonderful poem ‘The Journey of the Magi’.
What a vivid picture – we can see it all! The camels’ breath steaming in the night air as the kings, in their gorgeous robes of silk and cloth-of-gold, and clutching their precious gifts, kneel to adore the baby in the manger.
Yet the Bible does not give us as much detail as some people think. Tradition down the centuries has added a great deal more. For instance, we know from St Matthew that the magi were ‘wise’, or learned men of some sort, but we do not know if they were kings or not. The Bible tells us there were several; tradition has decided upon three, and even named them: Balthassar, Melchior, and Caspar (or Gaspar). But the Bible does tell us that the magi gave baby Jesus three highly symbolic gifts: gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. Gold stands for kingship, frankincense for worship, and myrrh for anointing – anticipating His death.
There is a lovely ancient mosaic in Ravenna, Italy, that is 1,500 years old. It depicts the wise men in oriental garb of trousers and Phrygian caps, carrying their gifts past palm trees towards the star that they followed... straight to Jesus.


Mistletoe’s smelly history.

 Did you know that the word ‘mistletoe’ means dung on a tree? The Anglo-Saxons thought that mistletoe grew in trees where birds had left their droppings. Mistel means dung, and tan means twig.

World’s oldest fake tree.

 Did you know that it is a family in Wiltshire, the Parkers, who claim to own the world’s oldest artificial Christmas tree? It was bought in 1886, and it is still put up every year.

The story of mince pies.

Did you know that mince pies have been traditional English Christmas fare since the Middle Ages, when meat was a key ingredient? The addition of spices, suet and alcohol to meat came about because it was an alternative to salting and smoking in order to preserve the food. Mince pies used to be a different shape - cradle-shaped with a pastry baby Jesus on top.

Why the world was ready for Christmas

Ever wonder why Jesus was born when He was? The Bible tells us that “when the time had fully come, God sent forth His Son…” The Jewish people had been waiting for their Messiah for centuries. Why did God send Him precisely when He did?
Many biblical scholars believe that the ‘time had fully come’ for Jesus because of the politics of the time. The Roman Empire’s sheer size and dominance had achieved something unique in world history: the opportunity for travel from Bethlehem to Berwick on Tweed without ever crossing into ‘enemy territory’ or needing a ‘passport’.
For the first time ever, it was possible for ‘common’ people to travel wide and far, and quickly spread news and ideas. And all you needed were two languages - Greek to the east of Rome, and Latin to the west and north. You could set sail from Joppa (Tel Aviv) and head for any port on the Med. And the Roman roads ran straight and true throughout the empire.
So, the Roman Empire achieved something it never intended: it helped spread news of Christianity far and wide for 400 years. After that, the Empire crumbled, and the borders shut down. Not until the 19th century would people again roam so freely. The time for Jesus to be born, and for news of Him to be able to travel, had indeed ‘fully come’.

Why was Jesus born in a barn?

Our pretty Christmas cards do not do it justice – the stable that Jesus was born in would have been smelly, dirty, and full of mess. So why did God not provide something better for His beloved Son? Why let Joseph and Mary scrounge around until they ended up in a smelly stable?
Perhaps because the King of Kings being born in a foul stable is a perfect picture of redemption. Jesus came from glory into a world filled with the dirt, filth and darkness of sin. And Jesus was not put off by darkness in the least – instead, He came to be the Light of the World. Thank God for His unspeakable gift. No wonder the angels sang “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:14)

Where did Christmas stockings come from?

No one is really sure, but a story is told of St Nicholas, a bishop who lived in the 4th century, who may have started the custom by accident. St Nicholas was of a wealthy family, and of a generous heart. As Christmas approached one year, he wanted to help a poor family whom he knew, but he did not want them to know it was him. So he climbed up on their roof on Christmas Eve and dropped some coins down the chimney.
The next morning the coins, to the great surprise of the family, were found in the stockings of the ladies, who had hung them to dry by the fire the night before. Every year after that they put their stockings out, in the hope that some more money would fall into them. They told the story of this amazing appearance to their friends and neighbours, and the custom caught on.

Where did Christmas trees come from?

There are two early stories that mention fir trees. The first involves St Boniface, who went to Germany in the 8th century as a missionary and found people sacrificing a child to their god under an oak tree. Boniface was appalled, and he rescued the child. He then chopped down the oak tree and found a tiny fir tree growing nearby. He gave this to the people and said: “This is a symbol of life. Whenever you look at this tree, remember the Christ-child who is the One who will give you life, because He gave His life for you.”
The second early fir tree story involves Martin Luther in the 16th century. It is said that one year he decided to drag a fir tree into his home and to decorate it with candles. He used it as a visual aid, telling people that the candles symbolised Jesus as the light of the world, and the evergreen tree symbolised the eternal life that Jesus gives to us. Many of the people who followed Luther were struck by the idea and took up the custom.

And there were shepherds…

Luke’s story of the birth of Jesus is brilliantly told – the angel’s visit to Mary to tell her she would be mother of the long-promised Messiah, the old priest in the Temple told by another angel that his wife would have a son to be called ‘John’, who would prepare the people of Israel for that event, and then Mary and Joseph making the 60 mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, as required by the Roman census. When they got there, no room at the inn, and they settled instead for a convenient stable, where Mary gave birth to a boy child.
Suddenly, Luke changes the tone. ‘And there were shepherds …’ – that’s what he actually wrote, just like that. ‘And there were shepherds’, doing exactly what shepherds do, looking after their flocks by night. But this night was different: yet another angelic message – a call to abandon their sheep and go into Bethlehem to see the baby Messiah. They were given directions and a ‘sign’ to identify Him. He would be lying in a feeding trough. Well, at least they would recognise that.
And why the shepherds, in this glorious story of our salvation? Because the event needed witnesses, and the chosen witnesses would be this bunch of scruffy, smelly shepherds straight from the sheep-pen. Nothing could speak more eloquently of God’s purpose than that. This was not a Saviour for the strong, rich and powerful, but for everybody. The carpenter and his wife guarded the Saviour of the world, and the very first witnesses were not kings or priests but a handful of shabby shepherds.

The man who married Mary

The traditional Nativity scene on our Christmas cards has Mary with the Holy Babe. Around her are the shepherds and Magi. We may also see stable animals, angels and a star! While Joseph is often included, his presence seems to be of minor importance.
After all, we praise God for Jesus with our familiar Christmas carols, mentioning angels, shepherds, Wise Men and Mary but the name of Joseph is absent! Why is Joseph given a low profile? For he is a man to be remembered.
Joseph was a resident of Nazareth. He worked as a carpenter and his skills would have included making furniture, repairing buildings and crafting agricultural tools. Although Joseph had an honourable profession, he would not have been a man of great wealth.
The gospel writers Matthew and Luke give Joseph a few brief mentions. After the birth of Jesus, Joseph and Mary go to the temple in Jerusalem to dedicate the Baby to God. Afterwards, they flee into Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod and much later return to Nazareth. 12 years later, Mary and Joseph go with Jesus to Jerusalem for the Passover feast. Here they lose Jesus, only to find Him in the Temple talking with religious leaders!
Apart from these verses, the New Testament is silent about the rest of Joseph’s life. However, we do know that Joseph was father to other children by Mary. His four sons are named, and they had at least two daughters. (See Matthew 13:55)
And we also know that Joseph was someone who quietly and humbly took on the awesome role in caring for the early life of the Son of God. Joseph would have taught Jesus many things – not just the skills of a labourer, but the lore of the countryside which was evident in our Lord’s teaching. Jesus grew up within a loving family and described God as ‘Father’, knowing also the good fatherly qualities of Joseph.
In the Christmas story, Joseph is placed into a situation that brought him misunderstanding and suspicion. But Joseph remained faithful in the knowledge that as long as God had spoken, the opinion of others mattered little. Before Jesus began His ministry, it is believed that Joseph died. It is likely Jesus took on many of His father’s responsibilities before He left home.
In the eyes of the world, Joseph was a nobody. He was not a man of valour, fame and fortune. But he was the one who had parental responsibility for the greatest person who has ever lived!
It is sad that we often equate ordinariness with ineffectiveness. Down the ages, God has used many ordinary people to accomplish great things. God continues to use ordinary people. Like Joseph, we need to know that doing God’s will is the most important thing in life. May we, this Christmas, respond to God’s call to us and please Him in all that we do.


Why begin at midnight with Holy Communion?

The hour was first chosen at Rome in the fifth century to symbolise the idea that Christ was born at midnight – a mystical idea in no way hindered by historical evidence! No one knows the real hour of His birth.
Certainly, in recent times, Holy Communion at midnight on Christmas morning has proved popular with modern families. One British writer pointed out its “domestic convenience” in 1947: “for where there are children and no servants, husband and wife may be unable to communicate at any other time.” (So things don’t change, then!)


Christingle - a generous present from the Moravians

It is the Moravians whom we have to thank for bringing us the Christingle. Especially one Moravian clergyman: John de Watteville.
On 20th December 1747, John de Watteville was taking a children’s service in his Moravian church in Marienborn, Germany. He led the children in some hymns and read out verses which the children themselves had written to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Then he explained to the children that true happiness only comes through knowing Jesus. Jesus, said John de Watteville, “has kindled in each little heart a flame which keeps burning to their joy and our happiness”.
John de Watteville then went on to illustrate that ‘flame’. He gave each child a little lighted wax candle, tied around with a red ribbon. He ended his service with a little prayer: “Lord Jesus, kindle a flame in these children’s hearts, that theirs like Thine become”.
The visual aid was a great success with the children; for the Marienborn Diary for that day concludes: “hereupon the children went full of joy with their lighted candles to their rooms and so went glad and happy to bed”.
The candle and red ribbon were remembered the following year, and the following after that.... The years came and went, and as the Moravians began to travel beyond Germany, so they took the custom with them: to Labrador, to Pennsylvania, to Tibet and Suriname, to the Caribbean and South Africa. In each country the Christians adapted it for their own use.
No one knows for certain when the word ‘Christingle’ was first used with regard to the custom. No one even knows where the word ‘Christingle’ comes from. Some people say it is from the old Saxon word ‘ingle’ (fire), meaning ‘Christ-fire or light’. Another theory is that it derives from the German ‘engel’ (angel), meaning ‘Christ-angel’.
In any event, the symbolism of Christingle gradually developed, until today the Moravians in the British Province use an orange, representing the world, with a lighted candle to represent Christ, the Light of the World. Nuts, raisins and sweets on cocktail sticks around the candle represent God’s bounty and goodness in providing the fruits of the earth. Red paper, forming a frill around the base of the candle, reminds us of the blood of Christ shed for all people on the cross at Calvary.
In Moravian churches, the Christingle Service is usually held on the Sunday before Christmas or on Christmas Eve. The website for the Moravian Church says: “We are glad that the Moravian Church has been able to make this contribution to the wider Christian world.”


The story of the Christingle

The word ‘Christingle’ actually means ‘Christ Light’, and celebrates the light of Jesus coming into the world. Stories of how the Christingle began look back to the Moravian Church, which is found in the Czech Republic. The Moravians have held Christingle services for more than 200 years, and according to them, this is how the first Christingle might have been made: Many years ago the children in a village were asked to bring a Christmas gift to put beside the crib in the church. One family was very poor, and had no money for gifts, but the three children were still determined to take something. The only nice thing they had was an orange, so they decided to give the Christ-child that.
But then they discovered the top was going green, so the eldest cut it out, and put a candle in the hole. To add some colour, one of the girls took a red ribbon from her hair and tied it around the middle of the orange. It was hard to make the ribbon stay still, so they fastened it in place with toothpicks. The toothpicks looked a bit bare, so the youngest child added some raisins to them. Christingle
The children took their decorated orange lantern to the church for the Christmas Mass. The other children sneered at their meagre gift, but the priest seized upon it with joy. He held it up as an example of the true understanding of the meaning of Christmas, for the following reasons: the orange is round, like the world; the candle gives us light in the dark, like the love of God; the red ribbon goes round the ‘world’, as a symbol of Christ’s blood, given for everyone; the four sticks point in all directions, and symbolise that God is over all: North, South, East and West; and the fruit and nuts remind us of God’s blessings.
The Children’s Society first introduced the Christingle Service to The Church of England in 1968, and it has since become a popular event in the church calendar. This candlelit celebration is an ideal way to share the key messages of the Christian faith, while helping to raise vital funds to help vulnerable children across the country. Visit: www.childrenssociety.org.uk


The History of Christmas.

The Bible does not give a date for the birth of Jesus. In the third century it was suggested that Jesus was conceived at the Spring equinox, 25th March, popularising the belief that He was born nine months later on 25th December. John Chrysostom, the Archbishop of Constantinople, encouraged Christians worldwide to make Christmas a holy day in about 400.
In the early Middle Ages, Christians celebrated a series of midwinter holy days. Epiphany (which recalls the visit to the infant Jesus of the wise men bearing gifts) was the climax of 12 days of Christmas, beginning on 25th December. The Emperor Charlemagne chose 25th December for his coronation in 800, and the prominence of Christmas Day rose. In England, William the Conqueror also chose 25th December for his coronation in 1066, and the date became a fixture both for religious observance and feasting.
Cooking a boar was a common feature of mediaeval Christmas feasts, and singing carols accompanied it. Writers of the time lament the fact that the true significance of Christmas was being lost because of partying. They condemn the rise of ‘misrule’ – drunken dancing and promiscuity. The day was a public holiday, and traditions of bringing evergreen foliage into the house and the exchange of gifts (usually on Epiphany) date from this time.
In the 17th century the rise of new Protestant denominations led to a rejection of many celebrations that were associated with Catholic Christianity. Christmas was one of them. After the execution of Charles I, England’s Puritan rulers made the celebration of Christmas illegal for 14 years. The restoration of Charles II ended the ban, but religious leaders continued to discourage excess, especially in Scotland. In Western Europe (but not world wide) the day for exchanging gifts changed from Epiphany (6th January) to Christmas Day. By the 1820s, the significance of Christmas was declining. Charles Dickens was one of several writers who sought to restore it. His novel A Christmas Carol was significant in reviving merriment during the festival. He emphasised charity and family reunions, alongside religious observance. Christmas trees, paper chains, cards and many well-known carols date from this time. So did the tradition of Boxing Day, on 26th December, when tradesmen who ha
d given reliable service during the year would collect ‘boxes’ of money or gifts from their customers. In Europe Santa Claus is the figure associated with the bringing of gifts. Santa Claus is a shortening of the name of Saint Nicholas, who was a Christian bishop in the fourth century in present-day Turkey. He was particularly noted for his care for children and for his generosity to the poor. By the Middle Ages his appearance, in red bishop’s robes and a mitre, was adored in the Netherlands and familiar across Europe.
Father Christmas dates from 17th century England, where he was a secular figure of good cheer (more associated with drunkenness than gifts). The transformation of Santa Claus into today’s Father Christmas started in New York in the 1880s, where his red robes and white beard became potent advertising symbols. In some countries (such as Latin America and Eastern Europe) the tradition attempts to combine the secular and religious elements by holding that Santa Claus makes children’s presents and then gives them to the baby Jesus to distribute.

The story behind the hymn: O Come, All ye Faithful

Nobody knows who wrote this well-loved Christmas carol. It was originally a Latin Christmas hymn, ‘Adeste Fidelis’. It seems to have first ‘surfaced’ in English due to a John Francis Wade, who lived in the 18th century, and who made his living copying manuscripts and, sometimes, music by hand. Wade was a Roman Catholic, and all services in the church at that time were conducted in Latin, and so he knew the language well.
The story goes that in about 1750 he slipped this hymn into a manuscript he was copying for the English Roman Catholic College in Lisbon, Portugal. 35 years later, in 1785, it turned up in the Portuguese Chapel in London, where it became known as the ‘Portuguese Hymn’. From there the hymn appears to have ‘travelled’ across to the Margaret Chapel in London’s West End. Young William Ewart Gladstone, who later became British Prime Minister, greatly appreciated the services at this church. He said that the congregation were “the most devout and happy that I have ever seen.” The minister at that time was Frederick Oakley, one of the leaders of the 19th century Oxford Movement, who was later to convert to Roman Catholicism. Oakley believed strongly in the power of religious symbols and fine music, and before he bade farewell to the Margaret Chapel, he introduced this hymn to the congregation. Having started as ‘Adeste Fidelis’, and been for a while ‘The Portuguese Hymn’, this hymn soon became known – and loved worldwide – as ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’.
O Come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem;
Come and behold Him, born the King of angels;

O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ, the Lord!

Sing, choirs of angels, sing in exultation,
O sing, all ye citizens of heaven above!
Glory to God, all glory in the highest;

Christmas: Celebrating the Incarnation

C.S. Lewis called it the Grand Miracle and the Central Miracle. He noted that “Every other miracle prepares for this, exhibits this, or results from this...The fitness, and therefore credibility, of the particular miracles depend on their relations to the Grand Miracle.”
So if you can believe in Christmas – the incarnation of the Son of God: the Grand, the Central Miracle, you should have no problem believing the miracles in the Old Testament narratives or the miracle of the Virgin Birth, the miracles Jesus performed of feeding the multitudes, of His healing the sick, raising the dead, walking on water and calming the storms. You also need have no problem in believing in the bodily resurrection of Jesus and His ascension back into the heavenly realms, where He reigns as King of kings and Lord of lords.
In other words, to believe the essence of the Christmas story is to believe the miracle that will open the pathway to faith and eternal life, a life of following this risen Jesus as your Lord. To understand and believe the truth of the Incarnation will not only transform your idea of Christmas—it will change your life now and your everlasting destiny.


Christmas can’t come too early Every year it happens.

I hear Christians lamenting how ‘Christmas comes earlier every year.’
Since this September (or before!) supermarkets, shops and garden centres have been selling Christmas jumpers, socks and pyjamas and all kinds of other seasonal merchandise. Should we be annoyed or exasperated? Should we have gone around reminding people that it’s much too early for tinsel and mistletoe?
This year, of all years, the answer from churches and Christians of all denominations must surely be a resounding ‘NO.’
As people began looking to Christmas for some light in the gloom of the pandemic – and hard-hit businesses desperately need to increase their income and chances of survival – it sounds a woefully wrong note if the Church is saying ‘hold back, it’s not time yet…’
Because Christmas is that time of year when increasing numbers of people want to come to church services and share in the story of the new-born King. It is when carols are played in shopping centres, and there are openings to speak of the meaning of the season.
Churches might not be able to host big indoor carol services this year, but the challenge is how we take the Christmas message out into the streets and neighbourhoods around our buildings.
This year has been one like no other for millions of people, with little prospect of better news into the New Year. So we need to be declaring the Christmas message of hope and light and joy in the darkness. And to be doing so at every opportunity.
But also, we need to be doing so with sensitivity and care, for the many who will find it hard to be celebrating this pandemic year, and with the prospect of large family gatherings in doubt because of Covid 19 regulations.
Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell wrote in his 2009 book ‘Do Nothing Christmas is Coming’, “Christmas is one of the most joyful times of the year. It is also one of the most stressful. It is laden with expectations. It is often overtaken with grief. It might be the season of good will, but it can feel like the last straw on an already overburdened camel.” He added ruefully, “Wise men would not ride this one.”
Archbishop Cottrell is right that Christmas has to be approached sensitively, that we need to take care in how we celebrate, that for many people who have lost loved ones and livelihoods during this traumatic year, Christmas will not be easy.
We come alongside people with the news that the baby born in the manger grew up to be the Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief, who experienced suffering and bereavement. God, born as Man, who shared our pain as well as our celebrations, ultimately died on a cross to rise again.
Our mission is to bring a message of hope, and to do so with love, humility and sensitivity to a hurting disorientated world – one that’s eager for light in the gloom.
The Revd Peter Crumpler is a Church of England priest in St Albans, Herts, a former Director of Communications with the CofE, and the author of ‘Responding to Post-Truth’ (Grove Books).

A prayer for Advent

Stir up our hearts, we beseech you, to prepare ourselves to receive your Son.
When He comes and knocks, may He find us not sleeping in sin,
But awake to righteousness,
Ceaselessly rejoicing in His love.
May our hearts and minds be so purified,
That we may be ready to receive His promise of eternal life.

from The Gelasian Sacramentary, c.500 (oldest official prayer book of the Western Church)

Andrew - first disciple of Jesus

Andrew, whose feast day ends the Christian year on 30th November, is probably best known to us as the patron saint of Scotland, though his only connection with the country is that some of his bones were reputedly transported in the 8th century to Fife and preserved at a church in a place now named St Andrews.
In fact, there are so many legends about him all over Europe and the Middle East that it’s safest to stick to what the Gospels tell us - though the strong tradition that he was martyred by crucifixion is probably true and is perpetuated in the ‘St Andrew’s Cross’, the ‘saltyre’ of Scotland.
The Gospels record that he was one of the first disciples of Jesus, and the very first to bring someone else to Christ - his own brother. Like many fervent Jews at the time Andrew and an unnamed companion had been drawn to the desert, to be taught by the charismatic prophet known to us as John
the Baptist. Many thought that he was the long-promised Messiah, but John insisted that he was not. ‘I am the voice crying in the wilderness,’ he told the crowds. ‘Prepare the way of the Lord! One comes after me who is greater than I am.’ So when one day John pointed out Jesus to Andrew and his friend and described him as the ‘Lamb of God’, the two young men assumed that the next stage of their spiritual search was about to unfold. So, as Jesus made off, they followed him.
All the more strange, then (though, on reflection, very true to human nature) that when Jesus turned and asked them what they were ‘seeking’, all they could come up with was a lame enquiry about his current place of residence: ‘where are you
staying?’ Or, perhaps, they were hinting that what they were seeking could not be dealt with in a brief conversation. If they could come to his lodgings, perhaps their burning questions might be answered. The reply of Jesus was the most straight-forward invitation anyone can receive: ‘Come and see’. Come and see what I’m like, what I do, the sort of person I am. What an invitation!
The results of their response were in this case life-changing - for themselves, and for many other people. Andrew brought his brother, Peter, to Jesus. The next day Jesus met Philip and
called him to ‘follow‘. Philip then brought Nathaniel. The little apostolic band who would carry the message of Jesus to the whole world was being formed. They came, they saw, they were conquered! And right at the front of the column, as it were, was Andrew, the first disciple of Jesus.

Advent

Why do we need Advent? Many people say: “I can understand God, but I can’t see where Jesus fits into the picture.”
A theologian called Athanasius, Egyptian by birth and Greek by education, gave the answer to your question 1600 years ago. He said: “The only system of thought into which Jesus Christ will fit is the one in which HE is the starting point!”
Once we try to begin with our own human-based attempt at understanding God and the meaning of life – let alone the place that Christ occupies – we’ll be like the man who tries to do up his shirt buttons, beginning with the wrong button. He may hope that it will all work out, and that the shirt will eventually fit properly, but it never will.
So, you need to begin with Christ, if you want the picture to make sense. He is right there in the Bible, from the start. All Creation finds both its origin and its fulfilment in Him, its rightful heir (Colossians 1:15-17). You will notice from Colossians 1:17 that, far from Christ fitting into our system, we can only ‘fit’ – and thus find coherence and meaning – in His… or rather, in HIM.
It is through Christ alone that we can know the face of God, and His salvation in our lives. Jesus is fully God and fully human, Christ – the God-Man – is the perfect mediator. By His saving death He has bridged the gulf between heaven and earth (Philippians 2:5-11).
No one else will do. That was the blazing conviction of those first-century Christians. Beside Christ there was no other name (Acts 4:12). Historically, Christ’s name claims supreme recognition in all the areas of life that matter most. It happened in the world of worship – where the Druids, ju-ju men, witch doctors, temple priests and the gigantic gods Mithras, Serapis, Diana, Jupiter and Venus were all swept away.
It also happened in the world of suffering. When we put the leaders of history and of thought together, it is quite clear that none of them suffered as Jesus did. In Him we see God incarnate, living among us, loving, suffering, dying and reclaiming. This fact alone is enough to explain the beginning of hospitals in our world. They were never begun by a state department. They owe their origin to the influence of Christ, and reflect His compassion.
It happened in the world of creativity. Christ has inspired symphonies, paintings, soaring architectures and enduring literature. Take Christ away, and the writings of Shakespeare would be meaningless. Atheism, by its very nature, could never have this impact, for atheism has no wings.
It happened in the world of eternity. The pre-Christian epitaphs say it all: ‘I was not, I was born, I lived, I am not, that is all’. ‘Guesswork is over all’, Xenophanes had written. Into that world exploded the message of Christ, bodily raised from death, never to die again. That message alone is enough to change our view of the entire universe. The universe itself only fits because of Christ.
By the Revd Richard Bewes, a former Rector of All Souls Langham Place, London

RSPCA launches emergency appeal in wake of Covid

The RSPCA has been overwhelmed this year by calls for help from people who are ill with Covid-19.
The animal welfare charity was swamped with 442,344 calls, and responded to 106,676 incidents of animals in need just between 24th March and 5th August. That averaged out at 790 incidents a day.
Such a volume of need was especially a challenge to meet, as the charity was working with fewer officers, due to ‘furlough, shielding and ill health’, a spokesman explained.
He went on: “As well as operating an emergency service, rescuing animals in need,
RSPCA officers have also been collecting animals from the homes of people who have been admitted to hospital with Covid-19, who may not have anyone else to care for them while their owners are being treated.”
The charity has now launched an emergency fund-raising appeal, and said that its front-line animal rescue and care teams have been “stretched to their limit”.
With about 6,400 animals in the care of the RSPCA across England and Wales, it is the largest animal welfare charity in the UK.


Why should you bother to pray?

The great preacher C.H. Spurgeon once said this of prayer: ‘God says to His own son: “Ask of Me and I will give you the nation for your inheritance.” [Psalm 2:7-8] If the royal and divine Son cannot be exempt from the rule of asking, that He may have; you and I cannot expect that rule to be relaxed in our favour. God will bless Elijah and send rain - but Elijah must pray for it.’ And God promises us that if we really seek Him, He will make sure that we find Him.

Ode to Job

What mysteries this book unfurls
Of a God who works His grand design
As a curtain is drawn in the heavenly realm
And plans are unveiled for all mankind.

Who can fathom His intricate workings
And the purposes that He has planned,
Or know the moving of His ways,
How could Job ever understand?

They came from afar to offer advice
Why all of this pain and woe should descend,
They wrestled with all that had happened to Job Alas, no comfort could they give their friend.

God speaks to Job, who then makes reply,
‘These are things too wonderful to understand’
Our knowledge like Job’s is only in part
The bigger picture is held in Deity’s hands.

By Megan Carter

Catherine is thought to have been a noble girl who lived in the 4th century.

She was persecuted for her Christianity, and despised marriage with the Emperor because she was a ‘bride of Christ’. According to the legend, Catherine was no push-over intellectually, either: she disputed successfully with 50 philosophers who were called in to convince her of the errors of Christianity.
Catherine protested against the persecution of Christians by Maxentius, and then she herself was tortured: broken on a wheel (later called Catherine wheel), but the machine then broke down itself, injuring bystanders. Catherine was then beheaded.
This legend strongly appealed to the Middle Age imagination. Catherine became the patron of young girls, students, philosophers, nurses and craftsmen such as wheelwrights, spinners and millers.
In England 62 churches were dedicated to her, and 170 medieval bells still bear her name. ‘Lives’, poems, miracle plays, stained-glass windows, panels and paintings have all been done in Catherine’s honour.


Church of England launches its Anti-Racism Taskforce

A Taskforce has been set up to ensure racial equality in the Church of England.
The Anti-Racism Taskforce will carry out preparatory work ahead of the launch of the Archbishops’ Commission to address racism in Spring next year. It is expected to complete its work by the end of January.
The Revd Sonia Barron, Co-Chair of the Taskforce, and a former adviser to the Committee for Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns, (CMEAC) said: “The Taskforce has been set up at a critical time in the history of the Church of England, with the Black Lives Matter movement pushing racial justice right up the agenda. The Church has an opportunity that it cannot afford to miss – we cannot just pay lip service to issues of racism as we have done for so long. It is vital that we listen to all the different voices out there and having listened, fulfil our mission as a Church, by taking appropriate action.”
Fewer than four per cent of serving clergy identify as being from a UKME background, according to the latest statistics.
The General Synod voted in February to apologise for racism experienced by UKME people in the Church of England since the arrival of the Windrush Generation.
Speaking to the General Synod, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said there was ‘no doubt’ that the Church of England was still ‘deeply institutionally racist’.


The Church is the only society in the world that never loses any of its members, even by death. – John Blanchard

Nurture your friendships

Lockdown has damaged our social life, so badly that many of our friendships may not be the same for up to a year after lockdown. And although Zoom is ‘extremely good’ at slowing down the rate of a friendship’s decay, ‘nothing on earth is going to stop a relationship quietly sliding away, if you don’t once in a while meet up physically.”
So warns an Oxford University academic, Robin Dunbar, who is an evolutionary psychology professor. He was talking to BBC Radio 4’s Today.

Diamonds are for lockdown… engagement ringHere’s an unexpected outcome of Covid-19: it has inspired more of us to get engaged.
Engagement rings sales have risen this year, in some firms by up to 73 per cent, a survey of various jewellery firms has discovered.
When, at the beginning of lockdown, Dr Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical officer, suggested that couples could get round the coming isolation by moving in together, it seems that many listened to her.  They decided to give it a go and ‘test the strength of their relationship.’
“A lot of people have now resolved to go ahead and tie the knot,” said one jeweller. “Perhaps they are thinking: ‘life’s too short, let’s go for it’.”
Another jeweller said: “Maybe if you can make it through lockdown together, you can make it through anything.”
  

Lord, prop us up!

There is a story of an old farmer who always prayed the same prayer at his church meeting. 'Lord, prop us up on our leanin' side’. After hearing this many times, his minister asked him one day quite what he meant.

The famer replied: “Well, it's like this... I’ve got an old barn out in one of my fields. It's been there a long time, and gone through a lot of storms. One day a few years ago I noticed that it was leaning to one side a bit. So, I went and got some poles and propped it up on its leaning side, so it wouldn't fall. Then I got to thinking about how much I was like that old barn. I've been around a long time, and seen plenty of storms in life. I was still standing, but I was also leaning a bit. So, I decided to ask the Lord to prop me up, too, on my leaning side.

Our ‘leaning side’ is where we are weakest in ourselves. Sometimes we get to leaning toward anger, bitterness, bleakness in life. Then we too need to pray for God to prop us up, especially on that leaning side.  He wants us to stand tall and free, in Him.

Politicians are currently discussing the measures they should take to 'save' Christmas. This is somewhat bizarre - as Christmas does not need to be 'saved'. Here are some examples why the true meaning of Christmas does not need 'saving'. So let us go back to that first Christmas, 2000 years ago.
1. Judea was not in lockdown and therefore there were no travel restrictions and so Joseph and Mary were able to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
2. There were no restrictions on inns and hospitality venues. People were able to mix freely with people from other households from different areas - so much so that the inn was full and Joseph and Mary had to be put up in a stable.
3. The Inkeeper was able to do this as he had sufficient staff on the premises to check that they were ok - he did not have to furlough them.
4. Joseph was able to be present during the whole process of Mary's labour and Jesus' birth. He did not have to stand worrying outside.
5. There were no restrictions on choral singing - and therefore the angels were able to sing God's praises and inform the shepherds of the good news of the birth of the King of Kings.
6. There were no rules stating that masks had to be worn indoors and in public places - and no 'rule of six' - therefore the group of shepherds could all go together to visit the Holy Family in the stable.
7.There were no international quarantine regulations for international travellers - therefore the three Wise Men were able to visit and bring their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
8. It is not Christmas which needs to be 'saved' - but ourselves. The good news of Jesus' birth was the dawn of a new beginning - and God's love for us is the same - yesterday, today and forever - especially at this difficult time.
This Christmas is going to be hard for all of us as we can't celebrate in the way we normally do. But please do not talk about Christmas being cancelled. The heart of Christmas is very much alive in our lives and in our faith.

Fruit of the Spirit    (Gal 5:22,23, Ps 34:8)

Opportunities
To ripen your fruit in our lives,
Lord, give us opportunities.

To grow in your Spirit,
Know your warmth
And your light,
Allow the segments of
Self-control, gentleness,
Faithfulness, goodness,
Kindness, patience, peace and joy
To be lubricated and sweetened
By love,
Showing the world
Your nature transforming
Our natures,
In the fruit bowl of our lives
In Jesus.

Lord give opportunities
For the hungry to taste
Your ripening fruit in us,
See that you are good
And come to you.
Amen

A grain of sand at a time

This autumn, do you feel overwhelmed with all the things that you need to get done?   Then think of your life as an hourglass. There are thousands of grains of sand in the top of the hourglass; and they all pass slowly and evenly through the narrow neck in the middle. 

We are like that hourglass. When we start in the morning, there are hundreds of tasks which we feel that we must accomplish that day. But if we do not take them one at a time and let them pass through the day slowly and evenly, as do the grains of sand passing through the narrow neck of the hourglass, then we are bound to break our own fragile physical and mental structure.  Do not attempt more than God designed you to do. 

Lower your hostility

Keep calm, and keep kind, if you want to live longer. It seems that being sarcastic and irritable only makes heart attack victims more likely to die from a second coronary.

A recent study in the US on the personality traits of patients who had had heart attacks found that hostile personality traits (sarcasm, cynicism, resentment, impatience, irritability) was a common factor.

One doctor at the University of Tennessee said: “We know that taking control of lifestyle habits improved the outlook for heart attack patients, and our study suggests that improving hostile behaviour could also be a positive move.”

Going to church in the coronavirus pandemic

More than 17,000 online services and events have been provided by Church of England churches since the introduction of the lockdown and restrictions on public worship earlier this year.

Figures from the Church of England’s A Church Near You website, which allows people to search for church services and events, show that more than 17,000 online services or events are now listed, including Sunday Communion services, Bible studies and morning or night prayer. Many of these services take place regularly and this figure represents a snapshot of the likely total number.

The statistics do not include the Church of England’s national online weekly services broadcast on Sundays and shared on Facebook and YouTube. There have been nearly three million views of the national online services and posts about the weekly broadcasts have been seen 23.6 million times. Contributors have included the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, the Duke of Cambridge and Pope Francis.

The national online services are being watched by a wide range of ages and around one in five people viewing go to church infrequently or not at all.

Other figures in the report show that official Church of England apps from Church House Publishing – the most popular being Daily Prayer, or the Daily Office of morning, evening and night prayer - have been used more than seven million times so far this year, up from five million in 2019. Church of England social media posts have been seen 86 million times so far, nearly double the total for last year.

The growth in online services has been helped by the Church of England stepping up its digital training programme for congregations. More than 4,200 vicars and local church leaders have taken part in remote digital training courses so far this year, four times the number as in 2019.

The Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, said: “At a time when many have felt isolated and fearful, Church of England parishes and clergy have broadcast thousands of online church services and events, seeking to bring comfort and hope to their communities. We know that tens of thousands of those tuning in will never have had contact with their local Church of England parish before and may never have heard the Christian message. Their welcome presence is a sign of the great hunger we all have for spiritual meaning in our lives.”

When life goes wrong for us

Where is God when we are hurting? When we are sick or a loved one is sick, why doesn’t God always answer our prayer for healing? If He has not answered us, how do we know that He is even there at all? 

The words of Alister McGrath* are helpful;

“Experience cannot be allowed to have the final word… the theology of the Cross draws our attention to the sheer unreliability of experience as a guide to the presence and activity of God. God is active and present in His world, quite independently of whether we experience Him as being so. Experience declared that God was absent from Calvary, only to have its verdict humiliatingly overturned on the third day.

“So – where does that leave us? As with the Cross, it may be that our personal darkest hour may be also God’s finest moment for us. It may be there that He does His greatest work in and for us, albeit unseen by us at the time. Thus, instead of letting circumstances consume us, we are to be consumed with God. To that end, we should pray without ceasing, trust in His sovereignty, and find comfort in His love and hope.”

* Mystery of the Cross (Zondervan, 1990)

Zoom Zoom Zoom!

The pandemic is leaving a “lasting digital legacy”, and changing the UK’s internet habits and behaviour “indelibly”.  So says a recent Ofcom study.   

Since March we have broken the four-hour barrier, which means that, on average, we spend more than a quarter of our waking hours each day online. That is up from an average of three hours and 29 minutes this time last year.

Zoom has soared in popularity. Last December it reached 498,00 people in the UK; by April this had soared to 13million in the UK.

TikTok, which lets users share short videos set to pop music, had 5.4 million UK users in January; by April it had 12.9million users.

In February, 35 per cent of UK adults made a video call once a week. By April that had soared to 71 per cent. The largest increase has been among the over-65s, with now 61 per cent of them making weekly video calls. 

Older people favour Zoom, in order to ‘visit’ their relatives and friends; while many teenagers have become addicted to TikTok and endless videos.

Churches report rising food bank demand as a result of pandemic

Nearly 100,000 households sought food aid from the Trussell Trust’s network of food banks for the first time earlier this year, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Demand is surging further this autumn, as a result of the economic fallout from the virus.

The research comes after food banks run or supported by Church of England churches reported rocketing demand during lockdown with some opening food banks for the first time while some opened new food banks after lockdown. 

Just two examples: 

Hackney Church in East London was distributing parcels with enough food for 1,000 meals a week at start of lockdown. This figure rose to 8,000 and 9,000 meals a week in June, after the church opened a second food bank. It has since served 120,000 meals. 

In Co. Durham, the Shildon Alive food bank, founded by St John’s Church, has seen demand surge by 500 percent during lockdown.

Honey, honey!

If your grannie gave you honey when you had a cold, she was right.

Research published in The British Medical Journal has found that honey is especially good for treating upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs) such as the common cold.

Honey has anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties. These do better at soothing your cough and sniffles than any of the over-the-counter remedies. In fact, URTI sufferers who were given honey suffered their symptoms for up to two days LESS than those who did not use honey.

All good news, especially as honey is cheap, readily available, and has virtually no side effects.

HYMN:  The story behind … JUST AS I AM

 The hymn ‘Just As I Am’ must be one of the most famous in the world.   It has been sung by tens of millions of Christians at Billy Graham Crusades the world over, just for starters!  Yet it was not written by a professional who was ‘aiming’ at a specific market, as many songs seem to be written today.   Instead, it was written by an artist in Victorian times.

Her name was Charlotte Elliott, and she was born in Clapham in 1789.  She grew up in a well to do home, and became a portrait artist and also a writer of humorous verse.   All was well until Charlotte fell ill in her early 30s, and slid into a black depression.  A minister, Dr Caesar Malan of Switzerland, came to visit her.  Instead of sympathising, he asked her an unexpected question:  did she have peace with God?    Charlotte deeply resented the question and told him to mind his own business.

But after he left, his question haunted her.  Did she have peace with God?  She knew that she did not, that she had done some very wrong things.  So she invited Dr Malan to return.  She told him that she would like to become a Christian, but would have to sort out her life first.

Dr Malan again said the unexpected:  “Come just as you are.”  The words were a revelation to Charlotte.  She had assumed that she would have to put her life in order before she could hope to be accepted by God.  Instead, she realised that Jesus wanted her just as she was - and he would take care of the sin.   Charlotte became a Christian that day.

14 years later, in 1836, Charlotte wrote some verses that summed up how it had been between her and Jesus that day.  They ran:
Just as I am, without one plea,
But that thy blood was shed for me,
And that thou bids’t me come to Thee

O lamb of God, I come! I come!Just as I am, tho tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt
Fightings within, and fears without,
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!

Charlotte could not have dreamed that 150 years into the future, her verses would be sung by millions of people all over the world, as they responded to the Gospel presented at many great Billy Graham crusades, and made their way forward to do just as the hymn describes - to come to Jesus Christ, despite sin and fear and doubts, to come ‘just as I am.’

Moral questions from the pandemic

You may have missed it at the time. The movie ‘Contagion’ didn’t make much of an impact when it was released for public viewing in 2011. Perhaps it was thought to be unrealistic. It was about a highly contagious, unknown virus, transmitted by an infected bat to a pig in a Chinese marketplace. From there it spread like wildfire round the world.   

It was fiction then of course, but not so far-fetched as to be distant from reality, as we now know. Deadly viruses, and the plagues they cause, have been part of world history since time began. In the early days, when travel between continents was infrequent, their spread was slower and usually confined to local regions. 

The way the film’s imaginary plot develops bears an uncanny resemblance to what we have experienced this year. Panic buying empties supermarkets, whole populations adopt social distancing, scientists work flat out to identify the virus and then search for a means to combat it. Meanwhile, millions are infected, and quarantines are imposed. 

The story progresses far beyond the reality which is familiar to us. The irresponsible use of social media and false rumours of a cure lead to the looting of pharmacies. Emergency food supplies are ransacked, law and order break down. Troops police the streets. Then there’s a breakthrough: a vaccine is discovered. But that raises a new moral problem: who will get it first and what would be a fair distribution system? 

The movie is still available via Netflix, or you can buy a DVD online. Despite the inevitable carnage of the pandemic and the suffering it portrays, it contrives to have a relatively happy ending.   

In real life, we haven’t got that far yet. But, please God, we will. After all, most deadly diseases are now under control and both vaccination and immunisation are part and parcel of everyday life; old ‘uns take it for granted that their GP will summon them for an anti-flu jab each winter.   

But we may face an ethical dilemma when it comes to a vaccine for Covid-19. If there’s an initial shortage, who should get it first? Should money come into it? Are Christian principles applicable?

THE WAY I SEE IT:  What’s in a word?

We were in the supermarket queue. The woman in front of me was greeted by a friend, who asked how she was. ‘Well,’ she replied, ‘I’ve been under the doctor again with my legs’. Her friend knew what she meant. I knew what she meant and the woman at the till knew what she meant. But try translating that into, say, French: ‘J’etais sous le medecin encore avec mes jambes’. Now it becomes utterly baffling, and possibly indecent.

Words are funny things and our use of them even funnier. Most languages, and even local areas, have ways of saying things that are peculiar (in the proper meaning of the word). I remember years ago driving past a scrawled sign at the side of a major road in the north-east where there had been several nasty accidents. ‘Gan canny, hinnes’, it advised. Clearly ‘foreigners’ were welcome to kill themselves if they chose.

Mostly our little misunderstandings of what is said or written don‘t matter, but sometimes they matter a great deal. We ask, in the Lord‘s Prayer, that God will not ‘lead us into temptation‘. Why on earth would he want to do that? Later in the Bible we are told quite clearly ‘God himself tempts no one. But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it’ (James 1:13). The word translated ’temptation’ in the Lord’s Prayer really means ’tested’ - but every time anyone has tried to change it we all complain. Familiarity always trumps accuracy!

It’s also true of familiar sayings. ‘The exception proves the rule’ is commonly taken to mean that a single exception demonstrates the accuracy of the proposition. In fact, of course, it’s the old meaning of ‘proves’, which is (again) ‘tests’. The exception tests the theory. If there’s a single exception, then there’s no ‘rule’.

In practice, we assume that people understand - and if they don’t, they very quickly learn. Normally it doesn’t matter. One could hear what the woman said in the supermarket queue and remain baffled by her meaning (as many younger people would be) without it affecting us at all.

But sometimes it’s important. For instance, Jesus didn’t ‘come back from the dead’. He rose. Believe me, there’s a big difference!

‘O happy band of pilgrims’ - leave room for God to surprise you 

When we go on pilgrimage, (when this is all over!) we must decide where to go. Then we prepare for the journey. We read about it or google. We make plans: what to take, where to stay, and cost it all. There is a part of us that likes everything to be organised so that there are no hitches on the way. But we have to remember that pilgrimages are made in faith. Whatever our plans, we need to find a place for God in all the preparations and allow for those God-given moments, unplanned and unscheduled, where we can meet His love and grace. That is why we underpin the journey with prayer as well as preparation.

If we think of the journeys in scripture – Abraham or Elijah, the wise men or the shepherds – what characterised them was not the preparation, but the spirit of faith in which they travelled. We need to journey with that same trust in the God who may surprise us. David Sox realised that in the Holy Land. He had consulted maps and guides. But when he was there in person, the places made a special impression on him above and beyond what the books told him - even in the barren wilderness. ‘ At sunset the Bedouin scurry to light their fires and bring in their wandering goats; there is an eerie quiet in this region. Stopping in the desert at night and experiencing the quiet is unforgettable.’

Gerard Hughes wrote about a pilgrimage to Rome when he sat to enjoy a coffee at Grenoble. As he stretched out on a bench, he noticed that his boots were now without tread, his arms and legs were sun-tanned, and the soles and heels of his feet were hard. ‘But,’ he wrote, ‘the important change was within me. I felt a great sense of peace, the peace of at-oneness…I felt I was seeing more, hearing more, and living more fully.’

He had changed physically, but he had also changed spiritually. His experience is a moving testimony to the way in which God can surprise each of us when we go on a special pilgrimage or make our journey through life. God can meet us, often when we least expect it, and transform our lives.

Sorry

Our minister, an avid golfer, was once taking part in a local tournament. As he was preparing to tee off, the organiser of the tournament approached him and pointed to the dark, threatening storm clouds which were gathering. “Sir," the organiser said, "I trust you'll see to it that the weather won't turn bad on us.
Our minister shook his head. "Sorry," he replied. "I'm in sales, not management!” "

5th November:   Guy Fawkes - an early terrorist

Back in 1605 Guy Fawkes managed to stow a good few barrels of gunpowder under the House of Lords without anybody noticing. He was part of a Roman Catholic plot to murder James 1 of England and his parliament at the state opening.  Fortunately, Guy Fawkes was found - and stopped - in time. 

Need for healing

Heavenly Father,
We bring to you all those struggling with their mental health just now.
We pray:
For everyone who is smiling, when inside they’re in pain.
For everyone who is saying they’re fine, when inside they feel drained and empty.
For everyone struggling with fear and worry as the easing of the lockdown brings new anxieties.
Be with them in their suffering, as so much of their world has been stripped back and emptied.
When loved family and friends have been taken by illness,
Or made distant by lockdown.
Pour your healing balm into their pain and sadness.
May you walk with them besides still waters
May you speak to them in a still small voice.
May you heal them, and fill them, and bless them with your abundant love and fullness of life.
And may they know that they are loved by you for the beautiful unique person that they are, created in the image of their heavenly creator and loving Lord.

In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,
Amen.

In praise of peanut butter

One quirky change of life under Coivd-19 is that for some reason, we are eating more peanut butter.  According to a recent report in The Grocer, sales of the stuff rose by 35.5 per cent in the Spring. 

Peanut butter producer Kirstie Hawkins (Whole Earth brand) is delighted. “Peanut butter offers an easy way to add more nutrition to breakfast and snack choices.” 

Whatever the reason, sales of peanut butter, at £98.9million in the past year, are now £2million more than those for jam.

God is with us in our pain and fear’ – Bishop of London’s message of hope

The Bishop of London, Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, has said that despite this being a time of “great uncertainty and challenge” as the world struggles to “overcome a devastating pandemic that has cut short earthly lives, destroyed livelihoods, and separated us from the people and activities we enjoy,” yet still “we are not without hope.”

Speaking recently in St Paul’s Cathedral, she said: “Through word, prayer, song and symbol, we are reminded that God’s love for us can never be destroyed. God is with us in our pain and fear and will lead us to a yet more glorious day.” 

Bishop Sarah also praised the ongoing work of the “real heroes and heroines at work in intensive care units, the Emergency Department, oncology and elderly care wards.”

These people have been “giving their all, and are continuing to give their all, because we are still very much in the midst of the Covid pandemic.” 

“Yet,” she went on, ‘The hope we have in our hearts as Christians is eternal. Hope that is in Christ will not be disappointed.” 

1st November:  All Saints’ Day – the feast day of all the redeemed

All Saints, or All Hallows, is the feast of all the redeemed, known and unknown, who are now in heaven. When the English Reformation took place, the number of saints in the calendar was drastically reduced, with the result that All Saints’ Day stood out with a prominence that it had never had before.

This feast day first began in the East, perhaps as early as the 5th century, as commemorating ‘the martyrs of the whole world’. A Northern English 9th century calendar named All Hallows as a principal feast, and such it has remained. Down the centuries devotional writers have seen in it the fulfilment of Pentecost and indeed of Christ’s redemptive sacrifice and resurrection. 

The saints do not belong to any religious tradition, and their lives and witness to Christ can be appreciated by all Christians. Richard Baxter, writing in the 17th century, wrote the following: 

He wants not friends that hath thy love,
And made converse and walk with thee,
And with thy saints here and above,
With whom for ever I must be...

As for my friends, they are not lost;
The several vessels of thy fleet,
Though parted now, by tempests tost,
Shall safely in thy haven meet....

The heavenly hosts, world without end,
Shall be my company above;
And thou, my best and surest Friend,
Who shall divide me from thy love?*

1,255 ancient English churches were dedicated to All Saints - a number only surpassed by those dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

*(Maurice Frost (ed.), Historical Companion to Hymns Ancient and Modern (London: Clowes, 1962), no. 274, verses 1,3,6.

All Hallows Eve – or Holy Evening - 31 October

 Modern Halloween celebrations have their roots with the Celtic peoples of pre-Christian times. 

In those long-ago days, on the last night of October, the Celts celebrated the Festival of Samhain, or ‘Summer’s End’. The priests, or Druids, performed ceremonies to thank and honour the sun. For there was a very dark side to all this: Samhain also signalled the onset of winter, a time when it was feared that unfriendly ghosts, nature-spirits, and witches roamed the earth, creating mischief. So the Druid priests lit great bonfires and performed magic rites to ward off or appease these dark supernatural powers. 

Then the Romans arrived, and brought their Harvest Festival which honoured the Goddess Pomona with gifts of apples and nuts. The two festivals slowly merged. 

When Christianity arrived still later, it began to replace the Roman and Druid religions.  1st November - All Saints’ Day - was dedicated to all Christian Martyrs and Saints who had died. It was called ‘All Hallows’ Day’. The evening before became an evening of prayer and preparation and was called ‘All Hallows’ Eve’, The Holy Evening, later shortened to ‘Halloween’.   

For many centuries, however, fear of the supernatural remained strong. During the Middle Ages, animal costumes and frightening masks were worn to ward off the evil spirits of darkness on Halloween. Magic words and charms were used to keep away bad luck, and everybody believed that witches ride about on broomsticks. Fortune telling was popular, and predicting the future by the use of nuts and apples was so popular that Halloween is still sometimes known as Nutcrack Night or Snap-Apple Night. 

Today, Christians have learned to turn to prayer instead of charms to overcome the powers of darkness. And the deeper, true meaning of All Hallows’ Eve, should not be forgotten. As Christians, we all draw closer to Christ when we remember and give thanks for our loved ones and for others who have gone before us through the gates of death.  

"Be careful with your words. One said, they can only be forgiven, not forgotten."
Carl Sandburg; (1878-1967)

A Helping Hand

There is much we can do just to brighten
This world of all take and no give,
There's a great deal that we can contribute
Through the everyday lives that we live.

By supporting one's elderly neighbours
Or through lending a hand in some way
It's by taking a bunch of spring flowers
To someone to brighten their day.

It's by sparing a few precious hours
In the service of those most in need
It's all about setting a standard
And trying to give others a lead

It’s the way that we tend to treat others
And help and aid folks in distress
In the care and assistance we offer
That will set us apart from the rest.

The choice that we face is quite simple
The rewards plain for all men to see
As you did all of this to my brother
Then said Jesus, you did it to me.

Help our wildlife before it is too late

A quarter of mammals in the UK are at risk of extinction, and this decline will continue unless their habitats are restored and some species are reintroduced.

So warns the chair of Natural England, Tony Juniper, referring to a recent list of endangered animals issued by the Mammal Society, and approved by the United Nations.

UK mammals most in danger are the greater mouse-eared bat, the water vole, the hedgehog, hazel dormouse and Scottish wildcat.  The European wolf is already extinct.

Tony Juniper advises that reintroducing some mammals would help others at greater risk. For example, introducing more pine martens would help control the grey squirrels, which in turn would give our native red squirrels a better chance.

As one professor of environmental biology said: “Here in Britain we are managing to send even rodents towards extinction. Things have to change rapidly if we want our children and grandchildren to enjoy the wildlife that we take for granted.”

HYMN:  The story behind … Dear Lord and Father of mankind

Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
forgive our foolish ways!
in purer lives thy service find,
in deeper reverence, praise.

In simple trust like theirs who heard
beside the Syrian sea
the gracious calling of the Lord,
let us, like them, without a word,
rise up and follow thee.

 Drop thy still dews of quietness,
till all our strivings cease;
take from our souls the strain and stress,
and let our ordered lives confess
the beauty of thy peace.

This is the nation’s second favourite hymn, according to a poll taken by the BBC Songs of Praise programme in 2013.  But it did not originate in the UK, nor did it begin life as a hymn.  It began in the USA, as part of a poem about a drug-induced religious frenzy.

John Greenleaf Whittier had been born in Haverhill, Massachusetts in 1807. His family were part of a pious Quaker community, and so the young John had grown up in an atmosphere of reverence, of waiting upon God in prayerful silence.   Whittier wanted to be a poet, but his father directed him to journalism instead, in order to be sure his son could earn a living.  Obediently, Whittier took up his pen and began to write for the papers.  He was soon engaged in the fight against slavery, which he called the ‘national crime’. He was frequently abused and criticized for his stand, and found his solace in turning to his first love, poetry.

In 1872 he wrote a 17 verse ‘hymn-poem’ called ‘The Brewing of Soma’.  It was an attempt to depict the futile ways in which mankind tries to engage with God.  The story line is of priests of the Vedic religion (close to Hinduism) brewing soma, a sacred ritual drink with hallucinogenic properties. The priests are hoping that Soma will give them an experience of the divine, but instead they simply get drunk.  This failure is then compared to some Christians' use of "music, incense, vigils drear, And trance, to bring the skies more near, Or lift men up to heaven!"  But all their effort is in vain.   It is mere intoxicated folly.  

And so the poem runs for 11 verses.  Then, in verse 12, the whole scene changes, and we are not using props any longer, but simply looking into the loving face of the God of the Bible.  We come to Him in penitence, and are met with grace and love.   We encounter Jesus, and follow Him in obedience.  The result is peace, stillness, and eternal life.

The poem became the hymn in 1884, when Garrett Horder took the poem’s final five verses and made them the hymn we love today.  Here in the UK we sing it to the tune ‘Repton’, by C Hubert H Parry. 

You and your smartphone

Do you spend more than an hour on your smartphone each day?  If so, ever wonder why?   According to a new study in the USA, it may be that you are depressed. 

The study found that the more time we spend using a phone for any reason – including texting and browsing the internet - the most likely we are to have the blues.  On average, a depressed person spends about 68 minutes a day on their phone, while a non-depressed person keeps it to about 17 minutes.

“When people are depressed, they tend to withdraw and don’t have the motivation or energy to go out and do things,” said one scientist from Northwestern University.  Instead, they distract themselves by using their phones.  “…It’s an avoidance behaviour we see in depression.”

As more than one in ten people in Britain are reckoned to suffer from anxiety and depression, the findings suggest that monitoring phone data might be an easy way to pick up the problem.  The scientists were able to identify depressive symptoms with 87 per cent accuracy, using the phone data.

Understanding the Bible

 As we acknowledge Bible Sunday yesterday, it’s a good opportunity to ask the question: why should I read the Bible?

The Bible is the world’s best-selling book of all time. However, it isn’t one book, but a library of 66 books, composed by some 44 writers over a period of 1500 years in a range of literature including history, poetry, prophecy, letters and apocalyptic (end times). Despite having a number of different writers, the Bible claims one author: God himself!

This is the basis of the unity of its message and authoritative claim to be the primary way by which God speaks to us: All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work’ (2 Timothy 3:16). The Bible is inspired (‘the word of God in the words of men’) and presents itself as a manual for life, equipping us to live for God in every aspect of our lives. We also have the promise of the Holy Spirit to guide us in applying the words to our lives: the Spirit will guide you into all truth’ (John 16:13).

However, the Bible could also be described as a love letter from God, as He uses it to deepen our relationship with him. As Jesus said: ‘You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me’ (John 5:39,40). Christians follow a person not a book, and the Scriptures are intended to help us to know Jesus better.

At her coronation the Queen was given a Bible with the words ‘the most precious thing this world affords’. Does this reflect our own attitude to the Bible?

BIBLE SUNDAY: Who authorised the Bible, anyway?

Question: If it was the Church that finally decided which books should be included in the Bible, then isn’t the Church the top authority?

Answer: No; the Bible produced the Church, not the Church the Bible. This is the real issue: what caused a book to be accepted within the ‘Canon’ of Scripture?  (Greek: kanon, ‘standard’ or ‘rule’).

As far as the Old Testament was concerned:

1.  Books that were recognised by Jesus Christ as infallible ‘Scripture’ could not be broken (Matthew 5:18). In John 10:35 Jesus didn’t have to explain what He meant by ‘Scripture’, though elsewhere He did refer to its different categories (law, prophets, psalms) as pointing to Himself (Luke 24:44; Matthew 24:37). All was to be believed and obeyed.

2.  Books that were recognised by God’s people because of their impact. God’s people will always recognise His voice (John 10:27). Jesus clashed with the Pharisees for adding their traditions to the Scripture; yet all were agreed that the Old Testament Scriptures were God’s word.

3.  Books that were recognised by the New Testament. It is significant that the New Testament features hundreds of Old Testament allusions. Only two are from the body of books known as the Apocrypha (Jude 9, 14) – seemingly in similar style to Paul’s quotation from a Greek poet (Acts 17:28). The Apocryphal books were perceived to be on a lower level.

Next, what determined inclusion in the New Testament Canon?

1.  Books that are Christ-centred in their emphasis. It was inconceivable to the early Church that the Gospels, for example, which focused so much upon the life and death of Jesus, could have any lower place than that given to the Old Testament Scriptures.

2.  Books that are apostolic in their teaching. It was to the apostles exclusively that Jesus promised guidance ‘into all truth’ through the Holy Spirit’s inspiration (John 16:13). The result of this was the New Testament (1 Corinthians 2:12,13). Significantly, Peter brackets Paul’s writings with what he calls ‘the other scriptures’ (2 Peter 3:15,16).

3.  Books that are faith-building in their effect, and thus, to be read in the congregations (John 20:30,31; 1 Thessalonians 5:27; Colossians 4:16; 1 Peter 2:2; Revelation 1:3).  When the Christian scriptures take hold of the thinking of masses of people, they have the effect of ‘stabilising society, without sterilising it’ (historian T. R. Glover).

The books of the Old Testament were becoming largely accepted by AD 70; those of the New Testament by the end of the second century. The drawing of a line around them discouraged forgers and religious peddlers.

So no one really ‘put’ the books into the Bible; they put themselves in, because of their innate quality. No council by itself could have conferred authority upon the books; this, they possessed already. It is an authority that is inherent, not imposed. If art lovers say of a Renoir painting, ‘This is a genuine Renoir’, their acclaim in no way invests the painting with authority; it was already authentic. It is the same with the Scriptures; we can only recognise them as such…. and live by them.

 Felix of Thibiuca - the man who would not give up his Bible

Do you value your Bible? If so, Felix of Thibiuca (247 – 303) is a good patron saint for you. The year was 303, and Diocletian was emperor in Rome.  In February of that year he decided that Christians were NOT a good thing. So, he issued an edict:  all copies of the Christian Scriptures and all liturgical books were to be surrendered and burnt.  Diocletian had decided to ‘wind up’ this upstart religion.

The persecution began in Rome. By June of that year, the edict had reached North Africa, and Thibiuca, where Felix was bishop. Felix was arrested and interrogated. Yes, he said, he did have a copy of the Scriptures. No, he said, he would not hand them over.

Felix was a highly respected bishop, and even the authorities were loath to take immediate action against him. So they gave him three days grace to see sense, and back down. But Felix prayed and became only more certain that this was a conflict between the commandments of God and the commandments of men.

At the end of the three days Felix was referred to the proconsul. He still refused to hand over his Scriptures. His last words in public were memorable “God, I thank you. I have passed 56 years in this world. I have preserved my chastity; I have observed the Gospels; I have preached the faith and the truth. Lord God of heaven and earth, Jesus Christ, I bend my neck as a sacrifice for you, who abides for ever.” He was condemned to be beheaded at Carthage, and became one of the first martyrs to die under Diocletian.

Needless to say, Diocletian did not succeed in destroying the Scriptures. Today there are hundreds of millions of copies around the world, and tomorrow, Christians will thank God for the Scriptures when they celebrate Bible Sunday.   

Sleep easy 

Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.  That has been biblical advice for millennium.  Now a study at Oxford has found medical evidence that agrees.      

A study at the university’s sleep and circadian neuroscience institute has found that ending your day angry, or sleeping right after a traumatic event, can make bad memories stick.  Instead, sleep deprivation prevents the consolidation of bad memories, and therefore leads to fewer flashbacks.  The findings, published in the journal Sleep, may also suggest that the practice of giving sedatives in trauma treatment should be reconsidered.

Give Him a Call!

The phone was a great invention. How easy it is to press a few numbers on our small devices and speak to someone the other side of the world. There was a time when a phone in a home was a luxury item.  Now, it seems, we take it for granted that we have a gadget in our pocket enabling us to contact anyone, at any time, in any place. 

However, how many times have you wanted to speak to someone, only to be given a recorded message giving a variety of options?  Then you have to wait in a queue for ages before your call is answered. Sometimes a voice informs you ‘your call is important to us’ … but meanwhile you are left waiting, listening to endless music.  

Yes, a phone may be useful in all kinds of circumstances, but they can also be very frustrating!  So, it’s good to know that God can be contacted immediately we need Him. There is no celestial call centre where our messages are delayed or referred. With prayer we can call on God directly. This service is free with no charges. He hears our every call and we can be confident that our Creator will answer us in ways which are only for our good.

‘When you pray, I will answer you. When you call to me, I will respond.’ (Isaiah 58:9)

Discovering the vital route from Atlantic to Pacific

It was 500 years ago, on 21st October 1520, that Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan’s Spanish expedition to the East Indies discovered the Strait of Magellan at the southern tip of Chile.

His ships, backed by King Charles I of Spain (soon to become Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire) were seeking shelter in a bay after a foiled mutiny when they unexpectedly found that they could continue sailing west – though the route among many islands and channels was tortuous, with mainland South America to the north and Tierra del Fuego to the south.

Until the creation of the Panama Canal in 1914, this was a vital passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, though it has a cold, foggy climate and is prone to fierce storms. Wrecks of ships can be seen along its banks.

Magellan and his men took over a month to get through the strait (or straits). During that time the master of one of the remaining ships mutinied and sailed home.

The surviving ships continued on what became the first circumnavigation of the globe, though Magellan himself was killed in a fight with natives in the Philippines, and Spaniard Juan Sabastian Elcano took command.

From fisherman to rock man

‘Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it’ (Matthew 16: 17,18)

Here is the hinge moment of Matthew’s Gospel. The little company had reached Caesarea Philippi, at the source of the river Jordan. Part of it is a grotto – said to be the birthplace of the god Pan. Jesus would have been standing beside the ancient carved shrines to Pan - still visible today - as he addressed the disciples: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

The answers came quickly: John the Baptist back again? A famous prophet from the past? But then it became personal. “But who do YOU say that I am?”  It is the sixty-four thousand dollar question. Get it wrong – and even our very existence won’t quite make sense. People sometimes say, “I don’t understand about Jesus! God I can understand - but where does Jesus fit in?”  It was that great theologian, Athanasius - Egyptian born and Greek trained - who gave the answer sixteen centuries ago. He said, “The only system of thought into which Jesus Christ will fit, is the one in which He is the starting point!”

Get it right about Jesus, then - and everything else will begin to glow with significance. Get it wrong – and we’ll be like the man who does up his shirt buttons in the morning, starting with the wrong button!  He may say to himself, “Well, it’ll probably work out if I just keep on” – No, it won’t! It’s the same with Christ. Get it wrong about him, and the very meaning of life and existence will always remain a puzzle. Jesus Christ, the first and the last, is the culmination of all God’s saving purposes for our world; ‘YOU… are the very Messiah of God!’ exclaimed Simon.

Simon the fisherman had hit the jackpot and so became spokesman for us all. Jesus re-names him Peter - Petros ‘the Rock. That name – ‘Peter’ – would go world-wide. University colleges would be called by that name. Whole cities would be called after Peter – and countless thousands of churches, the same. Mums and dads all down history, by the million, would call their sons ‘Peter,’ and their dogs ‘Caesar’ – just one of the changes Jesus makes!

JESUS

If I could package faith into one parcel
And collect all hope into a single can –
If I could roll all love into one heart-ball
And commoditise it in a living man
I’d already have a fully detailed label
Prepared before the world itself began -
And it would have one name -
And that name – JESUS -
At the centre of God’s universal plan
To take the world along the course
God’s surge of love provoked
Till wholeness flows through everything
With God’s Spirit of life unyoked.

HYMN:  The story behind … O God, our help in ages past

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home!

Under the shadow of Thy throne
Still may we dwell secure;
Sufficient is Thine arm alone,
And our defense is sure…

A thousand ages in The sight
Are like an evening gone;
Short as the watch that ends the night,
Before the rising sun.

Isaac Watts (1674 – 1748) is often called the ‘Father of English hymnody’. Certainly before his hymns came along, congregational singing was a tedious business. 

Watts was born in July 1674 in Southampton.  (At the time of his birth, his father, an educated deacon in a dissenting Congregational church, was briefly in prison for his non-conformist beliefs.) As a boy, Watts showed outstanding ability with language (learning Greek, Hebrew, Latin and French).  He also had an unusual ability for easy rhyming in English.  (At the age of five, when scolded for giggling in family prayers, it was because he had seen a mouse on the bell-rope, and instantly composed the line:  ‘There was a mouse, for want of stairs, ran up a rope to say his prayers!’) 

Watts’ literary ability, combined with his interest in theology, made him very unhappy with the congregational singing of the day, which focused almost entirely on strict metrical versions of the psalms.  One Sunday after church, Isaac complained to his father about this.  His father challenged him to write something better.  Though only 18, Watts accepted the challenge, and produced his first hymn – which was duly sung the following Sunday. 

It was such a success that he wrote new hymn texts every Sunday for the next two years.  In all, he went on to write more than 600 hymns.  Some of them are still well-loved today: from this one,  ‘O God, Our Help in Ages Past’,  which is a paraphrase of Psalm 90, to ‘When I Survey the Wondrous Cross’, and the Christmas carol ‘Joy to the World’.

Egypt tops list as 3.7 million Scriptures given to children last year

Bible Society teams worldwide provided almost 3.7 million Scripture items for children last year.  More than 1.1 million children’s Scriptures were distributed in Egypt alone. This is the largest number for one nation, in a place where ministry with young people is a top priority.

Through festivals, competitions and quizzes, the Bible Society of Egypt engages with hundreds of thousands of children each year.

Inability does not equal inactivity

It is perhaps a well-polished truth, but one well worth remembering again:  when it comes to salvation, “We were justified by faith alone, through grace alone, but we are not sanctified by faith alone”.

In other words, we are made acceptable to God only through the death and resurrection of Jesus, who dealt with our sin.  But then the Bible calls on Christians to take their transformation into Christlikeness very seriously.  Repentance and conversion and receiving the Holy Spirit into our lives is just the beginning.   Now we need to do all we can to allow the fruit of the Spirit to grow in our lives. 

From now on, our daily walk is never alone: we are to keep in step with his Spirit, and to “work out” our salvation in our daily lives.  In other words, obedience to God is fundamental in our Christian pilgrimage.

St Paul stressed this again and again.  In Romans 12 he set forth 23 directives to clarify what we must do as we cooperate with the Spirit in our transformation.  St Peter adds (2 Peter 1:10,11)  “…make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ”.

When we truly want to “know Christ and the power of his resurrection”, we will see the Holy Spirit beginning to transform us.  As Augustine wisely noted about the walk into a sanctified Christlike life: “Without us, God will not; but without him, we cannot”.

As someone once put it:  “Each morning we must raise the sails of our boat and go where the Spirit leads. He brings the wind and he governs the speed and direction, but we must cooperate by ensuring that we join him on the journey.”

Prayer of thanks

Lord Jesus,
Thank you for coming to live as one of us.
Thank you for telling those wonderful stories of everyday people and events, which you filled with messages of truth and eternity.
Help us, Lord, to learn from your written Word and to recognise you as the living Word - and our Saviour, the only way to the Father.
In your name we pray, Lord Jesus,
Amen.

Hymns for People Over 50

Give Me the Old Timers’ Religion

Precious Lord, Take My Hand, And Help Me Up 

Just a Slower Walk with Thee

Go Tell It on the Mountain, But Speak Up

Nobody Knows the Trouble I Have Seeing

Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah, I've Forgotten Where I've Parked The Car

Count Your Many Birthdays, Count Them One By One

Blessed Insurance

It Is Well With My Soul, But My Knees Hurt

Volunteers have a longer, happier life

Volunteering may be as helpful to you as it is to the people you help:  a recent study has found that it may well improve your health and make you happier.

People who volunteer report having lower levels of depression and higher levels of well-being than average, while some research even suggests that it promotes a longer and healthier life.

A review of 40 papers on the subject by researchers at the University of Exeter has found that volunteers were a fifth less likely to die within the next four to seven years than average.  They have lower depression and higher levels of well-being and life satisfaction.

Volunteers often say they want to ‘give something back’ to their community, but experts say they struggle to explain the benefits that volunteers apparently receive.  An estimated 22.5 per cent of people in Europe devote part of their spare time to volunteering, compared with 27 per cent in America and 36 per cent in Australia. 

As St Paul wrote to the Galatians, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Gal. 6:10)

Hymns help reduce anxiety

Listening to hymns can make older people less anxious about death, according to a recent study.  Listening to religious music can also increase life satisfaction, self-esteem and a sense of control over your life. 

Gospel music, in particular, has a powerful ability to decrease anxiety about death.  The study, published online in The Gerontologist, found that “religion has been linked with desirable mental health outcomes among older adults.  This study shows that listening to religious music may promote psychological well-being in later life.”

Serve One Another

O God, who art the author of peace and lover of concord…whose service is perfect freedom’ (Collect for Peace, BCP).   

Paul wrote to the Galatians:  ‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.’ (Gal 5:1). To a church which consisted largely of slaves, he adds ‘serve one another in love’ (13). How does Paul encourage us to use our freedom to serve others?

Free to serve unselfishly         All of us would prefer to be served by others, but Paul’s challenge is ‘do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh’ (13). If you want to understand the word flesh, take off the h and read backwards ie self! If we are serving one another, it’s not about my needs, but looking to the concerns of others. How available are we to serve others? Do we offer the excuse of being too busy or resent the time? When stepping out of our comfort zone, be prepared to risk rejection and misunderstanding!!

Free to serve lovingly:       Luis Suárez was sent home from the 2014 World Cup for biting other players! Paul warns of the danger of Christians falling into the same trap: ‘If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other’ (15). We are called to love others, rather than using or exploiting them for our own purposes.

Are we prepared to think about people’s needs and put ourselves in their shoes? Paul tells us to ‘live and be led by the Spirit’ (16,18), for it’s the Holy Spirit who will enable us to see others with the eyes of Jesus.   ‘A Christian is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to everyone’ (Martin Luther).

HYMN:  The story behind … ABIDE WITH ME

One of the most famous hymns in the world came out of Brixham, near Torbay, Devon, in 1847.  In those days it was a poor, obscure fishing village, and the vicar was the Rev Henry Francis Lyte.   It was a discouraging place to be a pastor, but Henry felt that God wanted him there, and so he stayed, though it was lonely work, and he suffered constant ill health.  By the time he was 54, Henry had contracted tuberculosis and asthma, and he and his family knew he was dying.   It would have been so easy for him to look back on his life and feel a complete failure.  What had he ever much accomplished?   And yet – and yet – Henry knew that in life it is not worldly success that matters, but how much we respond to Jesus Christ, and how much we follow him. 

In September of 1847 Henry was preparing to travel to the south of France, as was the custom for people with tuberculosis at that time.   One day before he left, he read the story in the gospel of Luke about the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.  They were met by Jesus on the day of his resurrection, and they invited him to stay with them because it was getting late.  “Abide with us”, they said “for it is towards evening.” 

“Abide with us - for it is toward evening.”   These words struck a chord with Henry, who knew that it was getting ‘towards evening’ in his life.  So he sat down and wrote this hymn as a prayer to God – (the following are just some of the verses)

Abide with me

 Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide!
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Shortly after Henry wrote that hymn, he preached his last sermon.  He was so ill he practically crawled into the pulpit to do so.   A few weeks later, in Nice, France,  he died, and so of course he never knew that his hymn would go on to become world famous, and that nearly 100 years later it would be the last hymn played by the brave musicians on board the Titanic the night it went down.  

Prayer for Direction

Heavenly Father,
The world is broken. So many lives are broken.
People don’t know which way to turn, or who to go to for help.
And yet, you have provided everything we need.
You gave us Jesus, who is the Way to you.
Prompt us, by your Holy Spirit, to turn to him, instead of wandering aimlessly.
You gave us your written Word as a living guide book and manual for living in this world.
Open our eyes and hearts to receive your direction through it.
Thank you Father, for your unfailing love and provision for us.
In Jesus name,
Amen.

App for prayer

 

 

Apps to help you pray.

 

 

App - Lectio 365  Lectio 365 - daily devotional resource that helps you pray the Bible every day.

App - PrayerMate  PrayerMate - Helping you to pray faithfully and widely.

App - Pray as you go  Pray as you go - Daily prayer whenever you need it.

App - YouVision  YouVision Prayer - Bible reading plans and devotions.

App - Soultime  Soultime - Discover Christian Meditation.

Volunteers have a longer, happier life

Volunteering may be as helpful to you as it is to the people you help:  a recent study has found that it may well improve your health and make you happier.

People who volunteer report having lower levels of depression and higher levels of well-being than average, while some research even suggests that it promotes a longer and healthier life.

A review of 40 papers on the subject by researchers at the University of Exeter has found that volunteers were a fifth less likely to die within the next four to seven years than average.  They have lower depression and higher levels of well-being and life satisfaction.

Volunteers often say they want to ‘give something back’ to their community, but experts say they struggle to explain the benefits that volunteers apparently receive.  An estimated 22.5 per cent of people in Europe devote part of their spare time to volunteering, compared with 27 per cent in America and 36 per cent in Australia. 

As St Paul wrote to the Galatians, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Gal. 6:10)

Put together a Memory Book

Do you have grandchildren?  Then this winter, during those long dark days, why not spend some time putting together a sort of scrapbook of memories to pass on to them?  Things you might include could be:  where you lived when you were a child; what your school was like, what games you most enjoyed, who your best buddies were, what pets you had, what your first job was, and how you met your partner.  What was your first car, and where was your first home as an adult?   Add a selection of photographs that you have from the past.   

blurb website

Websites like www.blurb.co.uk has lots of ideas to help you create your memory book.

Is your face mask making your skin break out?

Face masks are giving us skin complaints. In fact, so many of us are now suffering that the complaint has been given its own name: ‘maskne’.

The causes are obvious. Our breath is warm and moist, and every time we exhale into our masks this humid air gets trapped. Masks move, and so we have friction. Added to that is the unpleasant fact that our salvia is actually teeming with bacteria (with more bugs per square inch than even a loo seat!).

Acne mechanica is the medical term for ‘maskne’. With all that bacteria being trapped and rubbed against our nose and chin, no wonder ‘mask breakouts’ are rising dramatically.

Stress is another cause for skin complaints, and the pandemic has given many of us huge stress this year. We may face crippling anxiety over job security, finances, the health of loved ones, social isolation, or even being trapped in an abusive household. No wonder our faces are breaking out in a rash!

Xartoon.

Bishop’s Harvest Appeal 2020 Peace of Mind – supporting wellbeing in Derbyshire

This year’s harvest season will not resemble previous years. How we will celebrate in church and in schools will be very different as the Coronavirus continues to affect every aspect of our lives. Many people have experienced loss during this pandemic – loss of loved ones, loss of jobs and usual routines. This has resulted in many people experiencing anxiety and other mental health problems, and sadly there has been an increase in domestic violence and abuse. That’s why this year the Bishop of Derby’s Harvest Appeal will focus on supporting the wellbeing of everyone in Derbyshire. This year’s appeal is Peace of Mind: supporting wellbeing in Derbyshire. There are a number of free online resources and events to support positive mental health and wellbeing. Included is an online reading group, poetry for health and community activities. Workshops are free and will be held via Zoom. You can book a place via the Learning in Faith pages on the Diocesan website. Alongside the events programme Bishop Libby has set a target to raise £15,000 to support Derbyshire Mind’s wellbeing programme ‘Enjoying Derbyshire’. Enjoying Derbyshire is a project that offers a diverse menu of activities and workshops aimed at improving mental wellbeing. You can find more information at:

mind - derbyshire

Forgive

Almighty God, most merciful
You know our thoughts and deeds
Our sins have been most plentiful
Forgive, we plead!

 

Our hearts are far from You, O Lord
You should be first, not last
Our neighbours have not known accord
Forgive our past!

 

Help us amend what we’ve become
Direct what we shall be
With justice, mercy, peace we come
Humbly with Thee!

Give people confidence

Sometimes we think that self-confidence is something you either have or don’t have, like a talent for music.  But really, it is something that is either created in you, or destroyed, as you interact with other people.

We can either intentionally encourage and empower other people, co-creating with them the confidence they need to pursue their hopes and dreams, or we can criticise and undermine them, or even cripple them with fears.  We all know people who make us feel better about ourselves for having spent time with them, and also people who make us feel worse!

Someone once said:  ‘Life is not so much about what happens to people, but what happens between people.’    So – why not make an effort to aim to encourage people?  Let them talk to you, and give them the opportunity to share their hopes and anxieties.  As the saying goes:  ‘A problem shared is a problem halved.’   The Bible puts it this way:  ‘Encourage one another and build each other up.’ (1 Thess. 5:11)

Soothing power of music

Does someone you love have heart disease?  Want to help prevent them having a heart attack?   Praying or playing music to them can be very effective safeguards, right up there with proper diet, exercise and not smoking.

Greek medical researchers have found that prayer and music, or so-called psychological interventions, can more than halve deaths and cardiovascular events such as a heart attack in heart disease patients.  Dr Zoi Aggelopoulou, a Greek nurse, said: “The nurses on our coronary care unit observed that patients were less likely to have another heart attack, die, or return to hospital when we talked to them about their treatment, played music for them or helped religious patients to say prayers.” Various medical studies have found that psychological factors such as depression, social isolation, low socio-economic status and chronic stress such as occupational or marital distress, can increase the likelihood of a heart attack in the first place.

 HYMN:  The story behind … Come Ye Thankful People Come

Come, ye thankful people, come,
Raise the song of harvest home!
All be safely gathered in,
Ere the winter storms begin;
God, our maker, doth provide
For our wants to be supplied;
Come to God’s own temple, come;
Raise the song of harvest home!

We ourselves are God’s own field,
Fruit unto his praise to yield;
Wheat and tares together sown,
Unto joy or sorrow grown;
First the blade and then the ear,
Then the full corn shall appear:
Grant, O harvest Lord, that we
Wholesome grain and pure may be….

By H Alford (1810 – 71)

Very probably, you will sing this well-loved Harvest hymn this month.  It was written by the Rev Henry Aldford, DD, a Victorian clergyman who had been a fellow student at Trinity College, Cambridge with Alfred Tennyson, and whose transparent goodness and friendliness seem to have made him liked and appreciated wherever he went.  

His ministry began as vicar of Wymeswold, a tiny village in Leicestershire with a badly neglected church.  Over 18 years, Henry rebuilt the faltering Christian community, faithfully visiting every person in his parish, and preaching his way through the Bible in sermons that were so clear that everyone could understand him.  He then moved on to the incumbency of Quebec Chapel in London for four years, before moving to the Deanery of Canterbury, in 1857, where he lived until his death in early 1871.

Henry was one of life’s good people; gentle, kindly, grateful for everything he had (he used to say ‘grace’ before AND after each meal), and eager to encourage all those whom he served.   He was prodigiously productive:  writing something like 50 books.   The best known of these was a four volume exposition of the New Testament, which took him nearly 20 years.  

His famous hymn draws upon two of Jesus’ parables:  the story of the wheat and tares (Mt 13:24-30) and also the story of the seed that grows unbeknown to the sower (Mark 4:26-29).  Both are parables draw from agriculture; both are about the ultimate harvest of our souls before God.  During this lifetime we properly give thanks to God for our harvest of his gifts of creation, but we should also reflect on what seed we are sowing in our lives, and what harvest we may expect; as one day God will gather together only his own for the eternal heavenly harvest. 

Litter Virus

A face mask is a helpful thing –
It traps those nasty germs!
An extra message I must bring
In these poetic terms:
When you’ve finished with your mask
A bin is simply found
So drop it in – an easy task!

By Nigel Beeton

Mind your back!

Lots of everyday activities can take a toll on your back, even if you don’t notice it at the time. Here are a few tips that will help you to avoid back problems: 

Firstly, while standing to perform ordinary tasks like ironing or folding laundry, keep one foot on a small step-stool.  Then, when bending from the waist, always use your hands to support yourself.   Don’t sit or stand in the same position for too long. Stretch, shift your position and walk about a bit when you can. When sitting, keep your knees a bit higher than your hips and bend them at a 90-degree angle. Your feet should be comfortably on the floor (if they don’t reach the floor, put a book or a small stool under them).  Finally, remember that even using a vacuum cleaner can take a toll on your back.  So tackle a large room in chunks, spending no more than five or ten minutes at a time on this task.  Simple tips like these will pay dividends.

Prayer when life is difficult

Dear Father,       There are times when we don’t understand why things are as they are; why those children are hungry and homeless; why that person we prayed for died when they had so much still to live for; why that relationship broke down; why that accident happened to that lovely lady. There are times when we don’t know how to pray, when we just don’t know…

Help us, Lord, at such times, to remember what we do know; that you are our creator; that you love each one of us with the love of a perfect father; that you sent Jesus for just such times as these, to be our hope, to be our Saviour, to be with us always, in all circumstances. Help us to remember your goodness to us in the past, to trust that you are walking with us in the present and to have confidence in the future, because you alone hold it securely in your hands.

Remind us every day Lord to trust in you with all our hearts and not to depend on our own understanding – which is limited by our humanity.

Thank you Father that we are your children and you do hear our prayers, In Jesus’ name, Amen.

How to Read the Bible in Public

But is this a necessary topic? I’m afraid so.  I have heard the British actor David Suchet declare that he has been up and down churches everywhere…. and that the dull and listless public reading of the Scriptures is generally a disgrace to the power of the Bible.

 “The music was wonderful today”…. “That was a great talk!”…. “I loved the worship!” Hardly ever do I hear gratitude expressed for a Scripture reading.  Let this be the background to that occasion when you find yourself called upon to read from the Scriptures in a public gathering.

We are not simply pronouncing words when we stand at the front. Unhurried preliminary prayer is vital to the task. What is this passage all about? Why is it here in the Bible? What is its main point? I need to ask myself which words - as I read them - could do with a slight emphasis, a mental underlining, a raised or lowered inflexion?

Yet others should not be thinking, ‘What a great reader,’ but rather ‘My goodness, that passage was speaking to me!’  The voice must be naturally your own. Do normal people speak with ’holy’ churchy affectation? Did Jesus, when telling his parables?

We are to keep the voice natural, yet with an underlying awareness that - without straining - we need to project. True – there may be a microphone – but be not deceived! It is only there to impart a slight ‘lift’ to the voice; it simply cannot do the job for you.

Across the years I have recognized various unfortunate ‘Categories’ of reader. Be warned! One could be named after an early English king, unfortunately known as Ethelred the Unready.  Such a reader turns up, but has clearly not thought the passage through at all; the reading is an utter non-event.

 By contrast we have sometimes been subjected to The Thespian. Here a well-intentioned reader is so intent on ‘acting’ the passage with ham-fisted phony ‘accents’ that it is truly cringe-worthy. Public Scripture reading can be truly supernatural in power – without it ever becoming unnatural in delivery.

Have you sometimes heard The Dollard give the reading?  It is delivered in a flat monotone throughout; it could have been a recitation of shares on the stock market.

Then there is what may be called The Queen’s Speech, immaculate; beautifully spoken and with perfect diction. But somehow the reading lacked ‘Soul’ – was it a communication from heaven and a life of prayer, or a performance from the local dramatic society?

Give yourself some practice sessions! Try Luke 15:11-24 as an obvious ‘story’, and then, by contrast, Ephesians 2:1-10; then 1 Kings 18: 20-39.

Treat public Bible reading as an honour. For centuries the Bible has been described in the British Coronation Service as The most precious thing that this world affords. We are to treat it like that!

By Richard Bewes

Growing a Servant’s Heart

We have seen how David was anointed to be the next king of Israel. God used the madness of Saul to help train the shepherd boy for his role as king (1 Samuel 16:18-19). God uses the same tools to grow us, so that he can use us as his servants in our church, workplace and community.

God uses solitude:       It was on the hills with his sheep that David learned how to be alone with God and himself (19). Away from distractions, David learned how to hear the voice of God and discern his purpose for his life.

We shouldn’t fear times of solitude, as they are vital if we are to hear his voice and walk with him. We need time to be alone with God and find a place where you can hear his voice without the distractions of life clamouring for our attention.

God uses secrecy:       David also learned the lessons of servanthood in obscurity, before he was called to public office (18).  He learned ‘how to play the harp’, so that at the right time he would be called into Saul’s service. In his experience of protecting his sheep against lions and bears (cf 17: 34, 35), David learned the art of being ‘a brave man and a warrior’.

We should never despise the days of obscurity, when we can feel we are not being used much by God. He knows where we are and in his time, he will use us when, where and to the extent he chooses.

God uses sameness:    David must have found the monotony of keeping his father’s sheep quite difficult, knowing that he was the anointed king. However, it was in the routine of life that he learned the valuable lesson of faithfulness. David applied himself to giving his best during the mundane times of life. As a result it was evident that ‘the Lord is with him’, as God the sameness of his life to shape David for bigger things.

We are also called to keep faithful in the small things in our lives, especially in our workplace and with friends and family. As we live consistently for Jesus on a daily basis, God will bring us into those places and relationships where we can be effective witnesses for him.

‘All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.’ (Gandalf in ‘The Lord of the Rings’)

The Blessings of God

What does it take for God’s blessing to descend not just on individuals, but on Christian organisations and local churches?  Some clues may be found in the biblical books of Ezra and Nehemiah.

In Ezra 7 we find “The king granted (Ezra) all that he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was upon him.”  What brings the hand of God upon a person or a group of people?  Ezra 7:10 reads:  “For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.”  Clearly one of the prerequisites for the blessing of God is that their heart is set to study the Bible, to obey it, and to pass the knowledge on. As Ezra 8:22 makes it clear:  “The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him.” 

Prayerfulness and spiritual earnestness are likewise vital and we find it as Nehemiah prays:  “Let your ear be attentive, and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants” (Neh 1:6).  Nehemiah also took sin and the confession of it extremely seriously:  “We have acted very corruptly against you, and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded…” (Neh 1:7).

So – if anyone wants God’s blessing, the Bible is clear on what needs to be done:   read the Bible seriously, and obey its teachings.   That is God speaking to us.  Second, be serious and committed in our prayers; that is us speaking to God.  Third, repent of any sin which we know to be in our lives.  That is obedience, and it will bring God’s blessing upon us.

Think happy thoughts   and help your immune system

A stressed mind can put your body at risk.  If you constantly think about negative things, and dwell on stressful events in your life, you could weaken your immune system and make yourself more susceptible to illness.

A recent study has found that simply thinking about negative events, even if they are only imagined, can increase the levels of inflammation in your body.  This inflammation, associated with the body’s response to trauma and infection, can weaken the immune system and has been linked to a number of conditions such as heart disease, cancer and dementia.

St Paul urged a better way of coping with the threats in our lives:  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Phill. 4:6)

Feeling rough?

Not feeling great today?  You are not alone:  it seems that most of us only feel 100 per cent fit and healthy for about 61 days a year.  The remaining 304 days we struggle with a variety of ills, from colds and sore throats to viruses and ear infections to cricked necks, heartburn and backache.  The research by Spire Bristol Hospital, also found that most of us feel run-down on at least two days every week.  Monday at 11.35am is the worst time of the week for feeling ill and Saturday lunchtime is the healthiest point in the week.  

How you might avoid a stroke

Now there is a good reason for you not to drift through 2014: those of us who have a clear purpose in life are 20 per cent less likely to suffer from a stroke, according to a recent study of over-50s.

Recent research at the University of Michigan found that people with defined goals for the future were at a much lower risk of suffering a clot on the brain than people with few objectives.  But it remained unclear whether setting aims later in life makes people more likely to keep up a healthy lifestyle or whether thinking positively about your life somehow protects you against a stroke.

About 200 people in the UK die from a stroke every day.  The NHS spends £2.3 billion a year treating the 100,000 people who suffer from one every year.  Writing in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research, the researchers concluded:  “Among older adults, greater purpose in life is linked with a lower risk of stroke.”

The Bible intends for us to have purpose in our lives.  God even promises: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way

Why we should be like donkeys

Are you a pet-lover? Many people own a dog, a cat or a budgie, but most of us don’t own a donkey!    Yet in Bible times, donkeys were essential to daily life. They did everything from helping to grind corn, to ploughing, to carrying people, to transporting their belongings.  Despite their small frame, donkeys are surprisingly tough.   They are content with poor fodder like thistles, and can travel an average of 20 miles a day. 

There are two occasions in the Christian calendar where donkeys walk into the picture. At Christmas, Mary travelled the 100 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem on a donkey. And although a donkey doesn’t get a specific mention in the manger story, that same one that transported her was probably there; where else would it have been? 

On Palm Sunday Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey. Jesus deliberately chose this animal rather than a horse.  Why?  In Bible times, the horse was associated with war, conquest and worldly might. But the donkey was a symbol of peace and humility. Jesus used this animal to show that he had come with the dignity of the king of peace. His entry into the Holy City also fulfilled Zechariah’s prophecy concerning the Messiah.  

Donkeys are hardworking and undemanding.  They wait for their master to put them to the work he has chosen for them.  And, remarkably, each one bears the mark of the Cross on their backs! 

Perhaps that is something we should learn—to wait for Jesus our Master, to be always obedient to him, to serve him with all our hearts, and to bear the mark of his grace in our lives.

Prayer for patience

Dear Father,
Waiting is so difficult. And we seem to have to do it so often, and in so many situations. Waiting for news, waiting for opportunities, waiting for test results, waiting for others – even waiting for you, Lord, when we so long for you to do something.
Please give us patience. Ripen in us that ‘patience’ part of the fruit of your Holy Spirit, so that we can wait without anger, without frustration, without stress, knowing that you are Sovereign, that your timing is perfect.
Help us to recognise that, in the end, simply trusting you can take the weight out of the wait.
So help us to trust you, Father, and to relax in your care as we wait.
In the name of Jesus.
Amen

Want to live longer?  Eat nuts.

This sounds unlikely, but is true:  eating an ounce of nuts each day may reduce your risk of dying from a variety of illnesses, ranging from heart disease to cancer.  People who eat nuts tend also to be slimmer, are less likely to smoke, and are more likely to have healthy habits such as exercising, taking vitamin supplements and eating fruit and vegetables.

The research was based on a study of nearly 120,000 men and women in the USA.  It found that as little as a handful of nuts a day are linked to a 20 per cent lower likelihood of dying from any cause in the following three decades.  Nuts contain unsaturated fatty acids, high-quality protein, fibre, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.  Researchers were not able to determine which types of nuts are the healthiest, but that peanuts, which are in fact a type of bean, have a similar effect on health as the walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews, almonds, Brazil nuts, pecans and pistachios. 

Being a good neighbour

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar...  Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge... Matthew 5:23-25 (NIV)

There is some really good legal advice in these verses, especially if you include ‘neighbour’ in this. “Settle matters quickly...” is advisable as disputes can easily be lengthy and very expensive.  They can also ruin relationships and make it difficult to sell your house because you have to tell buyers if there have been disputes which affect the property.

We are told to love thy neighbour and also that good fences make good neighbours. This is true as knowing where the boundaries are, sometimes in more than one sense of the word, is beneficial. Questions of ownership and position of boundaries are very often difficult to resolve and the cost of sorting it out is usually far in excess of the value of the land in question.  If there is a problem try to sort it out over a cup of tea. Deeds sometimes show the position of boundaries on the plans and say who is responsible for which.

It is not only fences and walls that come between neighbours. Pets, noise, car parking, overgrown trees, and rubbish can lead to complaints.

If there is a problem, legal advice may help and this does not necessarily mean going to court. The law should be a last resort. Even if you win you may not get all your money back and you still have to live with the neighbour. Some local authorities have mediation services to resolve problems.  

We should pray for our neighbours and enemies – even if they are sometimes the same people!

The story behind ‘Thine be the glory, risen, conquering Son’

Here is a hymn that is so well known and loved that it has simply burst the bounds of Easter, and gets sung regularly at other times of the year.  It has two stories behind it. 

First, the music.  The rousing music did not start out as a hymn, but was written by Handel for his opera ‘Judas Maccabeus’, first performed in 1746.  Originally the words ran ‘See the conquering hero comes’, for Handel’s opera tells the story (found in the Apocrypha) of the leader of the Jews, Judas Maccabeus, who led an army against the Syrians and restored worship at the Temple.  With its triumphant refrain after each verse, the music is easy to learn and sing, and can be (and has been!) played to great effect either by the trumpets, on an organ in a large resonant church, or even on guitars (!).

Secondly, the words.  They were not written until 1884 – 138 years after the music.   We owe them to the Rev Raymond Budry, a Swiss pastor from Lausanne.   Ordained in the Free Evangelical Church in Vaud, he spent 35 years as the pastor of Vevey on Lake Geneva.  Budry wrote the hymn in French (‘A Toi La Gloire!’) to console himself after the death of his first wife, and a year later (1885) it was published in Chants Evangeliques.  Soon it found its way into English – translated by a Baptist minister from Kingston-upon-Thames, Richard Hoyle.  By 1904 it had made the YMCA Hymn Book, and was being translated into other languages.  

It is not clear who first had the happy idea of teaming words and music, but when they did,  the hymn really took off.  The theme of ‘battle’ is never far from this hymn, whether it was the battle of Judas Maccabeus, or the battle over sin which was won by Christ on the cross and in rising from the tomb.  Easter, of course, marked the biggest victory over the biggest enemies of all time:  sin and death.

What would Handel make of it, if he could know that his battle music had become one of the world’s most popular and well-known Easter hymns?   He was a devout man, working for the poor, praying twice each day, and attending St Pauls’ Cathedral.  So it seems pretty certain that he would be delighted.

The Bible in 50 words

God made
Adam bit
Noah arked
Abraham split
Joseph ruled
Jacob fooled
Bush talked
Moses balked
Pharaoh plagued
People walked
Sea divided
Tablets guided
Promise landed
Saul freaked
David peaked
Prophets warned
Jesus born
God walked
Love talked
Anger crucified
Hope died
Love rose
Spirit flamed
Word spread
God remained.
anon

 

Who are you really talking to?

In the early 1950s a well-known department store in Birmingham wanted to extend its premises.  Close by this department story in Birmingham was an ideal site.  But there was a problem:  it belonged to the Quakers, whose Meeting House had been there for well over two hundred years. 

Still, why should a bunch of Quakers stand in the way of commerce?

So, the department store wrote to the Quakers, offering to buy the site.  Very grandly, they said, “We will give you a very good price for the land.  In fact, we’ll send you a blank cheque.  Please fill in whatever sum of money you think appropriate and we will honour it.”   

Then they sat back and waited.  Weeks passed. Finally a letter arrived from the Quakers. It thanked the department store for their generous offer but declined to accept it.  “Our Meeting House has been here for almost two hundred and fifty years,” they  explained,  “much longer than your store.  We have no wish to sell our property.   However, if YOU would agree to sell YOUR site to us, we are very interested in buying it.  We will give you a very good price for it.  Just state your selling price and we will honour it.”  
The letter was signed ‘Cadburys.’ 

The department store thought they were dealing with a small, meek congregation of Quakers.  Instead they were dealing with the Cadburys’ empire.  Cadburys could have bought the department store twenty times over!

Sometimes life gives us hard knocks.  Problems mount up and threaten to overwhelm us.  We can feel alone and very vulnerable, very weak.  But we can take heart in remembering that we are never alone. God has not forgotten us. Only our dimness of vision prevents us from seeing his great presence and power and provision.  We do not need to fear, but to trust God.  He is bigger and more powerful than anything which tries to overwhelm us.

Whatever problems 2020 throws at us, remember, we’ve got ‘Cadburys’ on our side. 

What’s in your hand?

September is usually the time when we get back to our normal routines after the summer break. With the current coronavirus pandemic, it’s very different this year! However, it is still a good time to consider how God can use us to make a real difference in our workplace, school, family, friends and community. He equips us with everything we need to make His love known.

When God gave Moses the job of bringing the Israelites out of Egypt, He asked the question, ‘What is in your hand?’(Exodus 4:2). Moses was holding his staff, which represented his livelihood (what he was good at); his resources (his flock represented his wealth) and his security (which God was asking him to lay down). God asks the same question of us: What has God given you? Our gifts, temperament, experience, relationships, mind, education can be used in the work God has given us to do. How will we use them to make a difference in the places where He calls us to serve Him?

John Ortberg, in his book It All Goes Back in the Box, speaks of Johnny, a 19-year-old with Downs syndrome. He worked at a supermarket checkout putting people’s items into bags. To encourage his customers, he decided to put a thought for the day into the bags. Every night his dad would help him to prepare the slips of paper and he would put the thoughts into the bags saying, ‘I hope it helps you have a good day. Thanks for coming here.’ A month later the store manager noticed that Johnny's line at the checkout was three times longer than anyone else's! People wanted Johnny's thought for the day. He wasn’t just filling bags with groceries, he was filling lives with hope!

What has God given you that will help and encourage others? 

St Protus and St Hyacinth - victims of mindless violence

On this, the 19th anniversary of the Twin Towers, we remember two innocent people who also met their death in the flames of mindless violence. These were Roman martyrs mentioned in the 4th century list of martyrs. Hyacinth’s tomb was discovered in the cemetery of Basilla, with his name and the date of his burial (11th September). Inside were charred bones, indicating death by fire. An inscription by Damasus says Protus Hyacinth were brothers, and another ancient source called them ‘teachers of the Christian law’. 

What the 23rd Psalm is really all about

The Lord is my Shepherd - that's relationship.
I shall not want - that's supply.
He makes me lie down in green pastures - that's rest.
He leads me beside the still waters - that's refreshment.
He restores my soul - that's healing.
He leads me in the paths of righteousness - that's guidance.
For his name’s sake - that's purpose.
Yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death - that's testing.
I will fear no evil - that's protection.
For You are with me - that's faithfulness.
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me - that's discipline.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies - that's hope.
You anoint my head with oil - that's consecration.
My cup runs over - that's abundance.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life - that's blessing.
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever - that's security
!

Have you done something which haunts you? 

Do you ever worry that your past failings mean that God will not accept you now?    Some of us have done many things which we regret – things that have caused us, or others, great pain.   We’ve given our children short shrift, we’ve betrayed our marriage partners, we’ve been dishonest at work, we’ve been ruthlessly greedy and ambitious -  no matter what the cost to anyone else.   And now the memory of the wrong we’ve done lingers, and makes us ashamed.   Our past failings make us very reluctant to turn to God.  Why should he forgive the damage we have done? 

If you think this way, then you have a big surprise waiting for you:  God isn’t like that.  You haven’t yet encountered his GRACE.   God knows all about you, and most of all he knows you need his help.  Jesus said that he came into the world to reach sinners - to help anyone who turns to him in true repentance to find forgiveness, and a new start.  

You can’t do anything to turn yourself into a good person.  But you don’t have to.  All that God asks of you is that you turn to Jesus in prayer, and say you are sorry, and ask him to forgive you, and to put his Spirit within you.   Then you find his GRACE – which means his loving-kindness, beginning in YOUR life.   Just try it.  Today let God begin to set you free from the past!

What you have in common with a woodcarving

Woodcarving isn’t as straightforward as it seems. You draw a plan of what you want to carve, and only when you’ve got that right do you start to start to shape your piece of wood.

The carver works his block with his plan alongside it. He cuts those bits of wood away that he doesn’t want, and shapes what’s left until it ever more closely resembles that original plan.  Only when the design on the wood and the paper plan are identical has the carver finished his job. He’s then made exactly what he’d hoped for, while working all along from that original plan.   

It’s the same for our lives. God is the master carpenter. As we go through life, God shapes us, cutting away those bits of us that he doesn’t want and which would spoil what he wants us to look like:  Jesus.  

But there’s one big difference between a human being and a block of wood. A block of wood has to sit impassively on the carver’s bench while he works at it. The wood cannot help the process along and has no idea what’s happening to it. 

God very much hopes that we’ll help him in the process of being shaped into his pattern. That’s why we read the Bible and worship and pray: only when we have some idea of what he wants us to be can we cooperate in the process.  However often we get it wrong and fail, there’s one promise we have. God will never give up on us, until he’s shaped us into exactly what he’s planned for us to be all along.

The story behind the Hymn – ‘Praise my Soul the King of Heaven’

Praise my soul the King of heaven,
To His feet thy tribute bring;
Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven,
Evermore his praises sing.
Alleluia!  Alleluia! Praise the everlasting King.

Praise him for His grace and favour
To our fathers in distress;
Praise Him, still the same as ever,
Slow to chide and swift to bless.
Alleluia!  Alleluia! Glorious in his faithfulness.

Father like, He tends and spares us;
Well our feeble frame He knows;
In His hands He gently bears us,
Rescues us from all our foes.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Widely yet his mercy flows.

Angels in the height, adore Him,
Ye behold him face to face;
Sun and moon bow down before Him,
Dwellers all in time and space
Praise Him!  Praise him!
Praise with us the God of grace!

By Henry Francis Lyte (1793-1847)

This stately poetic paraphrase of Psalm 103 has been included in probably more solemn ceremonies than any other hymn in the English language.  It was even chosen by Queen Elizabeth for her wedding to the Duke of Edinburgh in 1947.

Henry Lyte had been a brilliant theological student at university in Dublin, with a gift for versifying.  After graduation he moved to a tiny and remote parish in County Wexford to serve his curacy.  It was here, when he was about 25, that Henry had a religious experience which would transform his life.

A close friend of his, another clergyman, had fallen ill, and was clearly dying.  Henry went to visit him.  The friend was not as distressed as Henry had imagined he would be.  Instead the friend confessed that he had been re-reading the New Testament, with an eye on eternity, and had made a great discovery.  There was no need to rely on religious duties and formalities and good deeds to gain peace with God.  Instead, we can trust completely in the mercy of Christ and his saving power.   

Henry was sophisticated and had been very formal in his ministry.  But this encounter with his friend’s faith at death’s very door, made him reconsider his faith.  He wrote later that his dear friend ‘who died happy in the thought that there was One who would atone for his delinquencies’ made him ‘study my Bible and preach in another manner than I had previously done’.   And soon after this hymn appeared, in 1834.

Lyte rejoices in the majesty and wonder of the living God, who in turn loves us.  He captures the measure of the Psalm in enduring lyrics, which combine time, eternity, God and man all swept up into one embrace.  Its last verse summons all of the created order to join in a great act of joyous praise – surely a preview of eternity!

Don’t ‘go it alone’

If you are helping others at this time, remember to still leave space and time for yourself. Going the extra mile for other people all the time will only ensure one thing; your collapse. Work in teams. Even the Good Samaritan did not attempt to help the injured man all on his own; he brought in the innkeeper. By sharing the problem, they solved it!

Why are you facing such a temptation?

‘Happy is the man who doesn’t give in and do wrong when he is tempted, for afterwards he will get …his reward.’  James 1:12

Are you facing a temptation of some sort? It is easy to think of it as a bad thing. But it can become a stepping-stone rather than a stumbling block.  Just think: it is as much an opportunity to do the right thing, as the wrong thing. Temptation just gives you the choice!

God develops the fruit of the Spirit in us by allowing circumstances into our lives in which we are tempted – in order that we might express the exact opposite quality!  For instance: He teaches us to love by allowing unlovely people into our lives. It takes no character to love people who are lovely and loving you.

God teaches us joy in the midst of sorrow by urging us to turn to Him for comfort and strength when all other support is gone. 

God grows peace in us by helping us learn to trust in Him in situations where we’re tempted to worry or be afraid. Likewise, patience grows through having to wait…

You can’t claim to be good if you’ve never been tempted to be bad; or to be faithful if you have never had the chance to be unfaithful. Integrity grows through defeating dishonesty; humility grows as you refuse to give place to pride. Endurance develops when you reject the temptation to give up. 

The truth is:  when temptation comes into your life, see it for what it is:  a chance for you to grow closer to Jesus.

Psalm 90

‘War simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice.’ (CS Lewis on World War II). Coronavirus powerfully illustrates this, and Psalm 90 demonstrates a right response to the crisis: ‘Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.’ (12).  

The Shortness of Life
We live as though life will go on forever, but in reality our time on earth is short: ‘A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by’ (4). By contrast God, who inhabits eternity, sees the whole of history in a single moment. How can we see our lives in the light of God, who is ‘from everlasting to everlasting’ (2). True wisdom is making sure that we don’t waste the time we are given in this life!

The Fragility of Life
Living to 80 years old is definitely an achievement! We know how we wear out in life until we are dust again: ‘You turn people back to dust, saying, ‘Return to dust, you mortals.’(3). This is the result of turning from God to sin: ‘You have set our iniquities before you’ (88). True wisdom warns us not to trust in our own abilities or seek satisfaction in the things of this world.

The Love of God
During the pandemic, many have lost loved ones, yet if we allow God’s love to take hold of our lives, even death can bring us closer to God:
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.’ (14). True wisdom is able to ask: May the favour of the Lord our God rest on us’ ((17).

What’s in your hand?o:p>

September is usually the time when we get back to our normal routines after the summer break. With the current coronavirus pandemic, it’s very different this year! However, it is still a good time to consider how God can use us to make a real difference in our workplace, school, family, friends and community. He equips us with everything we need to make His love known.

When God gave Moses the job of bringing the Israelites out of Egypt, He asked the question, ‘What is in your hand?’ (Exodus 4:2). Moses was holding his staff, which represented his livelihood (what he was good at); his resources (his flock represented his wealth) and his security (which God was asking him to lay down). God asks the same question of us: What has God given you? Our gifts, temperament, experience, relationships, mind, education can be used in the work God has given us to do. How will we use them to make a difference in the places where He calls us to serve Him?

John Ortberg, in his book It All Goes Back in the Box, speaks of Johnny, a 19-year-old with Downs syndrome. He worked at a supermarket checkout putting people’s items into bags. To encourage his customers, he decided to put a thought for the day into the bags. Every night his dad would help him to prepare the slips of paper and he would put the thoughts into the bags saying, ‘I hope it helps you have a good day. Thanks for coming here.’ A month later the store manager noticed that Johnny's line at the checkout was three times longer than anyone else's! People wanted Johnny's thought for the day. He wasn’t just filling bags with groceries, he was filling lives with hope!

What has God given you that will help and encourage others?

Churches enjoy Zooming

Most churches who used digital channels during lockdown, in order to keep in touch with their congregations, found that their favourite platform was Zoom.

A recent survey by Ecclesiastical found that Zoom was used by 78 per cent; Skype by 12 per cent, and other platforms, including WhatsApp, by eight per cent.

Nearly one third of churches who used digital channels have also reported an increased attendance at their virtual services. 

That has led to some 38 per cent of churches saying that they would continue to use digital channels, even now that churches are physically open again.

Faithful Father,
Thank you for your presence with us, all the time. Thank you for your goodness towards us, all the time. Thank you for the forgiveness you offer when we put our trust in Jesus and what He did on the cross, so that not even the most desperate circumstances can cut us off from you. Thank you for the on-going possibility of a new start with bright hope for each tomorrow.
Thank you, thank you Lord,
In Jesus’ name.
Amen.

My past is forgiven.

Have you ever been half-way through a project and wanted to start again? In life we all have regrets about things we have done, said or thought. The good news is that Jesus died to forgive these things: ‘All sins forgiven, the slate wiped clean, that old arrest warrant cancelled and nailed to Christ’s cross.’ (Colossians 2:14, The Message). The resurrection is the guarantee that we can know Jesus’ pardon and forgiveness. Do we need to let go a load of guilt and unforgiveness that we are carrying?

John Bunyan – the man who wrote Pilgrim’s Progress

After the Bible, John Bunyan’s wonderful Christian allegory, the Pilgrim’s Progress, is one of the most celebrated and widely-read books in the English language. It has been translated into more than 100 languages around the world and keeps its place as a Christian classic. 

Names of people and places from its pages have been commonplace wherever English is spoken. We need only recall Mr Great-Heart, Mr Valiant-for-Truth, Giant Despair, Madame Bubble, the Slough of Despond, Vanity Fair, the Delectable Mountains, the Hill Difficulty and the Celestial City. 

Bunyan was born on 28 November 1628, at Elstow, near Bedford, England, of a poor family. He had little formal education and his father taught him to be a metal worker. His first wife died young. His second wife, Elizabeth, helped him considerably with his blossoming literary career. His conversion was the result of reading the Bible, and the witness of local Christians. From that time the Bible became the great inspiration of his life. He wrote more than 50 books on Christianity.  A Baptist by conviction, he had little time for the Established Church.   

Bunyan became a popular preacher, but because of his opposition to the Established Church and because he did not have a Church of England preaching licence, he was imprisoned in 1661. It was in prison that he wrote Pilgrim’s Progress. It was not only Bunyan’s greatest book, but was destined to become one of the most popular Christian books in the world.

Pilgrim’s Progress is an allegory, using the names of people and places from the Bible to teach spiritual lessons. The vivid and unforgettable imagery in the Pilgrim’s Progress covers the whole Christian gospel from sin and condemnation all the way through faith, repentance, grace, justification, sanctification, and perseverance to heaven itself.

Bunyan died on 31st August 1688. His portrayal of the death of Mr Valiant For Truth is Bunyan at his allegorical best. This brave old soldier of Jesus Christ had received his summons to ‘go home.’ Calling his friends together he says, ‘“My sword I give to him who shall succeed me in my pilgrimage …  My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me, that I have fought His battles, Who will now be my rewarder.” … So he passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side...’

Lord

 Help me to live this day

Quietly, easily,

To lean on thy great strength

            Trustfully, restfully,

To await the unfolding of Thy will

            Patiently, joyously,

To face tomorrow

            Confidently, courageously.

 By St Francis of Assisi

God can use everything we give him

The story is told of a man in charge of building a great church, who was pestered by an apprentice who wanted to design the glass for one of the windows.  Finally, he agreed that the apprentice should be given one very small window.  BUT – the apprentice would have to provide all the materials himself.

Undaunted, the apprentice carefully swept up all the stray bits of coloured glass that had been discarded, and set to work.  Slowly, and with great care, he pieced together a window of rare beauty.  When the church was finally opened, many people stopped to stare in wonder at his small, but so beautiful, iridescent window.

Our lives can be like that - no matter how small we may feel, or that we have only scraps to offer to God, He can still help us to use every bit of time and energy and love we do have, to build a life that is beautiful, and which will reflect the glory of God to others.

Monica and Augustine - mother and son

On consecutive days this month (27th and 28th) the Christian Church celebrates a mother and her son. The mother is Monica, and her son is Augustine. The story of their relationship and how, after a long process, they both came to share the same Christian faith is a moving one, and perhaps has a message for anxious parents today.

Augustine was born in 354 and grew up in north Africa in the area we now call Algeria. His mother, Monica, was a deeply committed Christian. His father was not. In those circumstances she was deeply (one might say desperately) concerned that her clever young son should also believe and be baptised. But, in the way of wilful offspring, he steadfastly refused. Eventually Monica’s patience ran out. She stood outside the priest’s house and noisily asked why a mother’s anxious prayers had not been answered. He appeared at a window and rebuked her. “It is not possible,” he said, “that God has not heard your prayers and will answer them in His own way.” 

He was right, but it took a long while. By now Augustine had a mistress and a young son, and had moved to Milan in Italy, where he became Public Orator. However, it eventually happened – a moment of conversion in a garden, instruction and then baptism by the great Bishop Ambrose of Milan. Monica’s prayers were answered. Her gifted son was ordained and shortly became a bishop in Hippo, north Africa, and one of the greatest theologians and teachers of the Christian Church. Monica died the year before that happened, but I think we may assume that she died content. Her priest many years earlier had been right!

So far so good

So far today, God, I've done all right.   I haven't gossiped, haven't lost my temper, haven't been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, or over-indulgent.   I'm really glad about that.   But in a few minutes, God, I'm going to get out of bed and from then on I'm going to need a lot more help.  Thank you.  In Jesus name. Amen

100 th anniversary of the death of William Booth – founder of The Salvation Army

This month marks the 100th anniversary of the death of William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army.   Most of us nowadays best know the Salvation Army through its cheerful music at Christmas,  but back when William Booth first founded it, it was dangerous and hard work to do Christian outreach in the East End of London. 

William Booth was born in Nottingham in 1829, and at 13 was sent out to work to support his mother and sisters.  He ended up in a pawnbroker’s shop, which he hated.  Like Charles Dickens, that early experience of seeing poverty on a daily basis marked him for life – making him keenly aware of the suffering of the common people.   As a teenager William became a Christian, and when he moved on to London as a young man, he joined his local Methodist church, and soon became a minister.

In 1855 William married a Catherine Mumford and the couple spent several years travelling the country. William preached in many Methodist churches, and was warmly welcomed.  But William felt more and more called to the common man, and so he returned to London.

One day in 1865 William was preaching outside the Blind Beggar pub in London and drawing the crowds.   He also drew the attention of several missioners, who invited him to lead a series of meeting for them in a large tent on the old Quaker burial ground in Whitechapel.   The date for the first meeting was set for 2nd July, 1865, and that night William knew he had finally found his life’s work: as a missionary to the notorious East End of London. 

A powerful preacher,  William Booth needed stamina and courage, for although the crowds responded,  there was also great opposition.   He would often  ‘stumble home night after night haggard with fatigue’, wrote his wife later.   Meetings  were attacked by locals with stones and fireworks.   William was often wounded, but went back to work next day, often in bandages.  Somehow he kept going,  shining the light of Christ’s love into those dark, dark corners of London’s soul.

After 13 years of struggle with variable results,  William had an inspiration:  in 1878 he changed the name of his ‘Christian Mission’ to ‘The Salvation Army’.   The new name inspired his group, and soon attracted wide admiration.  People liked the idea of a Christian Army fighting sin and marching forwards with Salvation.   The Army began to grow in size. 

Booth's electrifying sermons and graphic imagery of heaven and hell drove the Christian message home, and soon more and more people wanted to become soldiers in The Salvation Army.    The work spread abroad, and by the time William Booth died on  20th August 1912,  the Army had branches in 58 countries.

hands in a prayerful position.Teach us to pray

Lord, teach us to pray.  Some of us are not skilled in the art of prayer.  As we draw near to thee in thought, our spirits long for thy Spirit, and reach out for thee, longing to feel thee near.  We know not how to express the deepest emotions that lie hidden in our hearts.  ...We know that we are closest to thee when we have left behind the things that have held us captive so long.  ....we pray that thou wilt give unto us only what we really need.  ....give us the vision, the courage,  that shall enlarge our horizons and stretch our faith to the adventure of seeking thy loving will for our lives.       By Peter Marshall  He lLived 1902 – 1949; a former chaplain to the US Senate 

How will you become a better person than you are now? Have you ever denied yourself in order to try and please God? No matter what your dedication, it is unlikely that your efforts will ever have outshone those of Rose of Lima (1586–1617), who in 1671 became the first saint of America, and patron of South America. Her whole life raises the issue:  how do you draw closer to God?

Rose was born in Lima, Peru, in 1586, into a Spanish family that had once been rich. Her beauty earned her the name, and her character was just as attractive. She was eager to please, produced exquisite lace and embroidery, and was known for her charity.

Her parents hoped for a good marriage for her, but it was not to be. Rose did not want a husband and a place in the corrupt and wanton society of Lima at the time. Rose was an intensely spiritual person, and spent hours in contemplation of Jesus and St Mary, and took the ‘Blessed Sacrament’ on a daily basis. She devoted herself to prayer and simple acts of mortification. In those days ‘mortification’ of the flesh was seen as a way of keeping your earthly appetites under control, and therefore drawing nearer to God.

At 20, Rose joined the Third order of St Dominic, taking as her model Catherine of Siena.  Her love of God continued, as did her charity to others, but now a darker side to her spirituality began to grow. Rose lived as a recluse in a hut, and increased her acts of mortification. She wanted to suffer, because she thought it would bring her closer to God.

She cut off her hair and rubbed pepper and lye into her face until it was raw and blistered. She fasted until she could hardly stand. She drank gall mixed with bitter herbs. She filled her bed with broken glass, thorns and sharp things. She wore a tight iron chain around her waist.

She embraced every penance that she could think of, and yet still she suffered at times a feeling of terrible loneliness and desolation, for God seemed far away. Then she would pray: "Lord, increase my sufferings, and with them increase your love in my heart."  Sometimes she would indeed feel God near her, and then she would be in ecstasy for hours.

It is hard to explain why Rose thought she needed to inflect needless suffering on herself in order to get closer to God. One scholar has suggested that perhaps Rose wanted to “make reparation for the widespread sin and corruption” in her society at the time. She had said once that she wanted to pay for the sin of the idolatry of her countrymen. 

Again, this is hard to understand because the Bible never once says that any human being can ‘make payment’ to God for the sins of another person. We may grieve over the sins of others, but only Christ can offer them forgiveness. Only He has died for them.

In Uganda a number of years ago a nun asked a bishop for help. “I have done penance all my life. I have tried so hard to please God – but I still don’t feel any joy. What am I doing wrong?” The Bishop said gently: “Because, dear sister, you are hoping to find joy in what you have done for God. I am joyful because I have discovered what Jesus has done for me.”

Poor well-meaning but confused Rose: after a long illness which seems to have had some psychological as well as physical elements to it, she finally died, only 31 years old. 

The name above every name

Who is the Lord Jesus Christ – to give him his full name?  He is Jesus, the Saviour – this was the name given by the angel to Mary and Joseph.  He is Christ – the Messiah sent by God to bring in the new kingdom of justice and peace.  He is Lord – the One whom Christians worship as divine. 

There is a beautiful hymn on the divinity of Jesus, the one who ‘emptied himself’ and ‘took the form of a slave’ for our sakes, even becoming ‘obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.’  Therefore, God has ‘highly exalted him’, and given him the name above every name – one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord.  Jesus earned the honour on the cross, and he is now the risen and ascended Lord Jesus who sits ‘on the right hand of the Majesty on high.’ (Hebrews 1:3)

When I say, "I am a Christian," I'm not shouting, "I am saved!"
I'm whispering, "I get lost; that is why I chose this way."

When I say, "I am a Christian," I don't speak of this with pride.
I'm confessing that I stumble and need Someone to be my Guide.


When I say, "I am a Christian," I'm not bragging I am strong.
I'm professing that I'm weak, and pray for strength to carry on.


When I say, "I am a Christian," I'm not bragging of success.
I'm admitting I have failed and cannot ever pay the debt.

When I say, "I am a Christian," I'm not claiming to be perfect.
My flaws are all too visible, but God believes I'm worth it.

When I say, "I am a Christian," I still feel the sting of pain.
I have my share of heartaches, which is why I cry his name.

When I say, "I am a Christian," I do not wish to judge.

I have no authority; I only know I'm loved.

Don’t allow the modern culture to rule your life

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding.   (Psalm 111:10) 

“Remember,” said W.C. Fields, “a dead fish can float downstream, but it takes a live one to swim upstream.” This quotation, reproduced on T-shirts and in management books, appeals to our sense of nonconformist individuality. The reality, though, is that most of us want to belong and win approval. We fear the consequences of challenging toxic organisational cultures, disagreeing with accepted workplace wisdom, or showing any weakness. To go against the flow, to be distinctive in God-honouring ways, takes courage.

The psalmist emphasises that ‘the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom’. This godly fear is not to be placed alongside our fears of the opinions of our colleagues, important though they are, but takes precedence over them. Paul puts it starkly: ‘If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ’ (Galatians 1:10).

The biblical wisdom is not merely intellectual capacity, but is linked with discipline and discernment, shrewdness and skill. It’s also profoundly countercultural, as Jesus’ own teaching illustrates: in order to live we are called to die; the first shall be last; giving away leads to being entrusted with much (Luke 6:38).

In our relationships, Jesus calls us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44). Moreover, God’s wisdom, which looks foolish and weak in the world’s eyes, is seen supremely in the cross, where it is shown that ‘the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength’ (1 Corinthians 1:25).

The phrase ‘fear of the LORD’ uses the covenantal name of God, implying a committed relationship of reverence and awe. If we allow the culture of our workplaces and the time pressures we experience to squeeze the fear of God out of our ‘wisdom’, we risk becoming ‘practical atheists’, where our responses to situations are barely distinguishable from those of our non-believing colleagues.

Forgive

Almighty God, most merciful
You know our thoughts and deeds
Our sins have been most plentiful
Forgive, we plead!

Our hearts are far from You, O Lord
You should be first, not last
Our neighbours have not known accord
Forgive our past!

Help us amend what we’ve become
Direct what we shall be
With justice, mercy, peace we come
Humbly with Thee!

By Nigel Beeton

The story behind the hymn: Thou art worthy

Thou art worthy, Thou art worthy, Thou art worthy, O Lord.
Thou art worthy to receive glory,
Glory and honour and power.
For Thou hast created, hast all things created,
For Thou hast created all things.
And for Thy pleasure they are created;
Thou art worthy, O Lord.
By Pauline Mills, 1883

All sons occasionally say things that surprise their mothers, but few do it in front of entire congregations. But that is what happened to Pauline Mills, one Sunday evening back in 1883, when she visited her son’s Foursquare church in Hillsboro Oregon.

For her son, Pastor Dick Mills, had that morning promised the congregation that his mother would write them a hymn on any Bible verse of their choosing. He had simply forgotten to tell his mother about it before she arrived with him for the evening service.

But Pauline Mills rose to the challenge of Revelation 4:11. She was used to the unexpected (having raised six children) and used to crowds (being a regular speaker for women’s groups). Above all, she was used to music, having already written 300 songs.

And so, by the time the service ended at 10pm that evening, she presented her hymn to the congregation, complete with music, which she said that the Lord had given to her. Thou Art Worthy was warmly received by the Foursquare congregation, but that was just the beginning. Soon the little hymn was spreading from church to church, until today it is much loved and sung right around the world.


Jeanne Delanoue – care for the poor

Some people are pushy and a bit grasping. They get on your nerves. Pray that they go on to find God’s will for their lives, for then all that pushiness is put to good use.

Take Jeanne Delanoue. She was born at Saumur in 1666, and grew up small, authoritarian, and quite frankly, a bit of a bossy-boots. When she took charge of the family shop, which sold drapery and pious articles, she was known to be a bit greedy.

Then, when she was 26, she met two Christians, including the Abe Genetau and a visionary called Francoise Suchet. The encounter changed her life. Jeanne gave most of her goods away to the poor and transformed the caves and cellars of her home by the River Loire into a guest-house for the homeless. 

An earthquake in 1703 destroyed the caves, but it took more than that to stop Jeanne. She founded the Sisters of Providence, with the help of two other young women, kept helping the poor of her town. When famine hit in 1709, she and her two friends cared for 100 desperate people in Providence House. 

Jeanne was always a driven lady; she rose at 3am and spent her days looking after the distressed, the abandoned, single mothers and prostitutes. Her work was deeply appreciated by the town, especially during the years of war and hunger. By the time she died in 1736, Jeanne - perhaps always a bit pushy! - had founded and inspired 12 communities. 

Laurence Loricatus - the saint who couldn’t forgive himself

Have you done something bad which haunts you? Does the memory of it still follow you – and sometimes keep you awake at night? If so, then Laurence Loricatus (c. 1190–1243) is the saint for you. He was born at Facciolo (Apulia) and as a youth he killed a man. 

After that, life changed forever for Laurence. His guilt overwhelmed him, and he decided to expiate for it. He made the long and difficult pilgrimage to Compostella, but he found no relief.  So, he became a hermit at Subiaco – cutting himself off from all the comforts of normal life. But he found no relief. So, then he began to wear not a hairshirt, but a coat of chainmail next to his skin. It was a heavy, unyielding weight which bruised and rubbed his skin raw. 

Laurence hated himself and would not forgive himself, though God had forgiven him years before.  He is a caution to anyone in the same situation today. His continued ‘penance’ did no one any good. Instead, the suffering absorbed hours of his attention, and got him nowhere.

When we do something we regret, of course God wants us to repent of it. But then He wants us to put it behind us. Our bad deed needs to be quarantined and left behind in our lives. If we won’t put it down, our life becomes focused on our hatred of ourselves, instead of on God’s love for us. It took the Pope years to get Laurence to take off that chain-shirt. 

Pandemic amid millions of locusts

The six African countries where Send a Cow works face devastation, not only by the pandemic, but also the huge swarms of locusts which have destroyed thousands of acres of crops. 

In response, Send a Cow staff have supported struggling communities by teaching them how to prevent the spread of the virus, as well as good hygiene.

Send a Cow is also providing radio broadcasts with information, and emergency food supplies and seeds, so that the farmers do not miss the next critical planting window.

Now Send a Cow is asking supporters in the UK if they could commit to a personal challenge like a run, cycle or climb, to raise funds, or maybe even simply donating on behalf of their business or family.  One couple ran and cycled for 260 miles, raising £2000. “Whatever we can each do is greatly appreciated,” says Send a Cow.

 Can you help

Left-handed

Bobby went to the park one Sunday afternoon with his grandmother.  It was late summer, but still many flowers were in bloom. Everything was beautiful. His grandmother remarked: "Doesn't it look like an artist painted this scenery? Did you know God painted this just for you?" 

Only a few hours away from church, Bobby said: "Yes, God did it and he did it left- handed."   Confused, his grannie asked him why he thought that.  “Easy,” said Bobby, "we learned at Sunday School this morning that Jesus sits on God's right hand!"  

Maximilian Kolbe - Christian witness amidst 20th century suffering

Some people’s lives seem to epitomise the suffering of millions, but also to shine with a Christian response to it. One such person was Maximilian Kolbe, 1894 - 1941, a Franciscan priest of Poland, and publisher extraordinary.

Maximilian was born at Zdunska Wola, near Lodz, where his parents, devout Christians, worked in a cottage weaving industry. Like thousands of others at the time, the family and their village were ground into poverty by Russian exploitation. In 1910 Maximilian entered the Franciscan Order and studied at Rome. After his ordination in 1919, Maximilian returned to Poland, where he was sent to teach church history in a seminary. But a new factor had entered his life: he was diagnosed with tuberculosis.

Living in post-war Poland was difficult enough, but with tuberculosis as well? Most people would have quietly withered away. Not Maximilian Kolbe. Instead, the tuberculosis gave Maximilian a sense of urgency - a sense of the transitory nature of life.  He knew his time was slipping away. 

Instead of teaching history, he determined to do something to help the Christians living in Poland now, in the tatters of Europe after the First World War. And so, he founded a magazine for Christian readers in Cracow, who badly needed effective apologetics to help them hold to their faith in a chaotic world. 

Soon, the obsolete printing presses (which were operated by Maximilian’s fellow priests and lay brothers) were working overtime - the magazine’s circulation had leapt to 45,000. Then the printing presses were moved to a town near Warsaw, Niepokalanow, where Maximilian now founded a Franciscan community which combined prayer with cheerfulness and poverty with modern technology: daily as well as weekly newspapers were soon produced. The community grew and grew, until by the late 1930s it numbered 762 friars.

Then in 1939 the Germans invaded Poland. Maximilian sent most of his friars home, to protect them from what was to come. He turned the monastery into a refugee camp for 3,000 Poles and 1,500 Jews. And the presses continued: taking a patriotic, independent line, critical of the Third Reich.

Kolbe was arrested by the Gestapo along with four friars. They were taken to Auschwitz in May 1941. Their names were exchanged for tattooed numbers; and they were sent to brutal forced labour. 

But Maximilian Kolbe continued his priestly ministry. He heard confessions in unlikely places, and smuggled in bread and wine for the Eucharist. His sympathy and compassion for those even more unfortunate than himself was outstanding.

Then came the final scene in his hard life. At the end of July, 1941, several men escaped from his bunker at the camp. The Gestapo, in revenge, came to select several more men from the same bunker who were to be starved to death. A man, Francis Gajowniczek, was chosen. As he cried in despair, Kolbe stepped forward. 

“I am a Catholic priest. I wish to die for that man. I am old; he has a wife and children.” The officer in charge shrugged his shoulders - and obliged.

So Maximilian went to the death chamber of Cell 18, and set about preparing the others to die with dignity by prayers, psalms, and the example of Christ’s Passion. Two weeks later only four were left alive: Maximilian alone was fully conscious. He was injected with phenol and died on 14 August, aged 47.

He was beatified by Paul VI in 1971. In 1982 he was canonised by Pope John Paul II, formerly Archbishop of Cracow, the diocese which contains Auschwitz. Present at the ceremony that day was Francis Gajowniczek, the man whose life Maximilian Kolbe had saved.

Clare of Assisi - prayer and simplicity

In the year 1212 Clare, the 18-year-old daughter of a local Count, heard a young preacher called Francis. A few years earlier he had caused a sensation in the centre of the town where they both lived, Assisi in Italy, by stripping himself of his wealthy clothes and declaring that from now on he would live the life of a peasant. This, he said, was in obedience to the call of Christ, for whom the poor were ‘blessed’ and the rich were in peril of judgment.

Francis gathered a group of seven men prepared to embrace what he called ‘joyful poverty’ for Christ’s sake, but that day he was to enlist a female disciple. ‘You are a chosen soul from God’, he told Clare, when she expressed her eagerness to embrace the same strict rule as his male followers.

In due course, after a period in a Benedictine convent, Clare and her sister Agnes moved into the church of St Damiano, which Francis and his friends had restored, and gathered there a group of like-minded women. Eventually Francis made Clare the abbess of a religious Order, at first called the ‘Order of Poor Ladies’, eventually, and universally, to be known as the ‘Poor Clares’.  Unable to operate an itinerant ministry like the men, Clare’s sisters concentrated on a life of prayer and simplicity. In fact, their dedication to poverty was such that it affected the health of many of them.

Francis and Clare remained friends and colleagues over the next 14 years in this remarkable movement of renewal and mission. During the preceding century (as we can learn from Chaucer, among others) the religious Orders had in many cases substituted indulgence for discipline. Francis and Clare found this scandalous, and despite opposition from high places, set out to demonstrate that an effective Christian message required an appropriate Christian lifestyle. For them, poverty was not a burden but a joy - a release from the delusions of power and ambition. Their witness made an enormous impact on the poor people of Umbria and beyond, who saw an authenticity in their lives which spoke as eloquently as their words.

Clare helped to nurse Francis through his final illness, which lasted several years. She lived for 27 years after his death, like him suffering from the effects of long years of strict austerity. She died in 1253 and was canonised two years later. She is buried in the basilica of St Clare in Assisi, a few hundred yards from the basilica of St Francis. In life they proclaimed the same message of sacrificial love and service, and in their deaths they were not divided. Her special day was yesterday - 11th August.

On Going to Bed

As my head rests on my pillow
Let my soul rest in your mercy.
As my limbs relax on my mattress
Let my soul relax in your peace.
As my body finds warmth beneath the blankets,
Let my soul find warmth in your love.
As my mind is filled with dreams,
Let my soul be filled with visions of heaven.

A prayer of Johann Freylinghausen  (1670 – 1739) of the German Pietist movement.

Paul was thankful for others – brothers and sisters in Christ, fellow servants, ministry partners. In his correspondence Paul didn’t just leave it at generalised expressions of gratitude – he often took time to identify specific individuals for whom he was grateful and to let them know how much he appreciated their contribution to his life. Do we do that?  - Nancy Leigh DeMoss

Mary Sumner – founder of the Mothers’ Union 

The Mothers’ Union is now nearly 145 years old. It has accomplished a staggering amount in that time, and nowadays numbers more than four million members, doing good work in 83 countries. That is a far cry from the modest circle of prayer for mothers who cared about family life, which is how it all began with a rector’s wife, Mary Sumner. 

Mary was born in late 1828 in Swinton, near Manchester. When she was four, her family moved to Herefordshire. Mary’s father, Thomas Heywood, was a banker and historian. Her mother has been described as a woman of “faith, charm and sympathy” – qualities which Mary certainly inherited. Mrs Heywood also held informal ‘mothers’ meetings’ at her home, to encourage local women. Those meetings may well have inspired Mary’s later work.    

Mary was educated at home, spoke three foreign languages, and sang well. While in her late teens, on a visit to Rome she met George Sumner, a son of the Bishop of Winchester. It was a well-connected family: George’s uncle became Archbishop of Canterbury, and his second cousin was William Wilberforce. Mary and George married in July 1848, soon after his ordination. They moved to Old Alresford in 1851 and had three children: Margaret, Louise and George. Mary dedicated herself to raising her children and supporting her husband’s ministry by providing music and Bible classes. 

When in 1876 Mary’s eldest daughter Margaret, gave birth, Mary was reminded how difficult she had found the burden of motherhood. Soon she decided to hold a meeting to which she invited the local women not only of her own class, but also all the village mothers. Her aim was to find out if women could be brought together to offer each other prayer and mutual support in their roles as wives and mothers. That meeting at Old Alresford Rectory was the inaugural meeting of the Mothers’ Union.   

For 11 years, the Mothers’ Union was limited to Old Alresford. Then in 1885 the Bishop of Newcastle invited Mary to address the women churchgoers of the Portsmouth Church Congress, some 20 miles away. Mary gave a passionate speech about the poor state of national morality, and the vital need for women to use their vocation as mothers to change the nation for the better. A number of the women present went back to their parishes to found mothers' meetings on Sumner's pattern. Soon, the Mothers’ Union spread to the dioceses of Ely, Exeter, Hereford, Lichfield and Newcastle. 

By 1892, there were already 60,000 members in 28 dioceses, and by 1900 there were 169,000 members. By the time Mary died in 1921, she had seen MU cross the seas and become an international organisation of prayer and good purpose.

Feel the tug

Have you ever wondered how you can be certain about who and what God really is? One Christian put it this way: “I’m reminded of the story of the little boy who was out flying a kite. The wind was brisk and large billowing clouds were blowing across the sky. The kite went up and up until it was entirely hidden by the clouds. Then a man came by and asked the little boy what he was doing, staring up at an empty sky. “I’m flying my kite,” he replied. 

The man replied: “What kite? How can you be sure it is still there? You can’t see a thing.”  

The little boy agreed that he could see nothing, “but every little while I feel a tug, so I know for sure that it is still up there and is connected to me!”

When it comes to God, you don’t need to take anyone else’s word for it. You can find Him for yourself by inviting Jesus Christ into your life. Then you too will know by the warm wonderful tug on your heartstrings that though you can’t see Him, He is up there, and that He lives in you. You are connected!

Don’t chase what isn’t there

‘…those who chase fantasies have no sense.’  Proverbs 12:11

Have you ever been attracted to computer gaming?  For many people it has become addictive; and they spend so much time in their fantasy world that their own avatar and those of their fellow players have come to seem more real to them than their own family and friends. 

You can get so drawn into this virtual world that you can resent the time you have to spend in the real world. Instead, you have come to prefer living in your fantasy world, where you always have the power and control. Problems come when a person spends so much time in their virtual world that they are too tired and distracted to do anything productive in their real world.  

Some people say that Christians live in a fantasy world, that our faith has no basis in reality. But faith in God is not a crutch - nor is it a fantasy.  Jesus was an historical person who lived and died - and rose again. Those who follow Him as Lord find that knowing Him, and having His Spirit within them, gives them the strength they need to live the right way in the real world, and to reach out to other real people with God’s love.   

Thursday 6th August - Feast of  The Transfiguration. 

TransfigurationThe story is told in Matthew (17:1-9), Mark (9:1-9) and Luke (9:28-36). 

It was a time when Jesus’ ministry was popular, when people were seeking Him out. 

But on this day, He made time to take Peter, James and John, His closest disciples, up a high mountain. In the fourth century, Cyrillic of Jerusalem identified it as Mount Tabor (and there is a great church up there today), but others believe it more likely to have been one of the three spurs of Mount Hermon, which rise to about 9,000 feet, and overlook Caesarea Philippi. 

High up on the mountain, Jesus was suddenly transfigured before His friends. His face began to shine as the sun, His garments became white and dazzling. Elijah and Moses, of all people, suddenly appeared, and talked with Him. A bright cloud overshadowed the disciples.

Peter was staggered, but, enthusiast that he was - immediately suggested building three tabernacles on that holy place, one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. But God’s ‘tabernacling’, God’s dwelling with mankind, does not any longer depend upon building a shrine. It depends on the presence of Jesus, instead. And so, a cloud covered them, and a Voice spoke out of the cloud, saying that Jesus was His beloved Son, whom the disciple should ‘hear’. God’s dwelling with mankind depends upon our listening to Jesus.

Then, just as suddenly, it is all over. What did it mean? Why Moses and Elijah? Well, these two men represent the Law and the Prophets of the Old Covenant, or Old Testament. But now they are handing on the baton, if you like: for both the Law and the Prophets found their true and final fulfilment in Jesus, the Messiah.

Why on top of a mountain? In Exodus we read that Moses went up Mount Sinai to receive the sacred covenant from Yahweh in the form of the Ten Commandments. Now Jesus goes up and is told about the ‘sealing’ of the New Covenant, or New Testament of God with man, which will be accomplished by His coming death in Jerusalem.

That day made a lifelong impact on the disciples. Peter mentions it in his second letter, 2 Peter 1:16-19, invariably the reading for this day.

The Eastern Churches have long held the Transfiguration as a feast as important as Christmas, Epiphany, Ascension and Pentecost. But it took a long time for the West to observe the Transfiguration. The feast starts appearing from the 11th and 12th centuries, and the Prayer Book included it among the calendar dates, but there was no liturgical provision for it until the 19th century.

HYMN:  The story behind … ABIDE WITH ME

One of the most famous hymns in the world came out of Brixham, near Torbay, Devon, in 1847.   

In those days it was a poor, obscure fishing village, and the vicar was the Rev Henry Francis Lyte. It was a discouraging place to be a pastor, but Henry felt that God wanted him there, and so he stayed, though it was lonely work, and he suffered constant ill health.

By the time he was 54, Henry had contracted tuberculosis and asthma, and he and his family knew he was dying. It would have been so easy for him to look back on his life and feel a complete failure.  What had he ever much accomplished? And yet – and yet – Henry knew that in life it is not worldly success that matters, but how much we respond to Jesus Christ, and how much we follow Him. 

In September of 1847 Henry was preparing to travel to the south of France, as was the custom for people with tuberculosis at that time. One day before he left, he read the story in the gospel of Luke about the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They were met by Jesus on the day of His resurrection, and they invited Him to stay with them because it was getting late. “Abide with us”, they said “for it is towards evening.”   

“Abide with us - for it is toward evening.” These words struck a chord with Henry, who knew that it was getting ‘towards evening’ in his life. So, he sat down and wrote this hymn as a prayer to God – (the following are just some of the verses)

Abide with me

 Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide!
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting?  Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Shortly after Henry wrote that hymn, he preached his last sermon. He was so ill he practically crawled into the pulpit to do so. A few weeks later, in Nice, France, he died, and so of course he never knew that his hymn would go on to become greatly loved the world over. 

Sithney - the saint who preferred mad dogs to women

You know how some men find women’s interest in romance and clothes hard to cope with? Well, Sithney (or Sezni) should be the patron saint of all such men.  

According to a Breton folk legend, Sithney was a hermit of long ago, minding his own business, when one day God told him that he was going to make him the patron saint of girls. Sithney was horrified. He foresaw a future where thousands of young women were forever plaguing him to find them good husbands and fine clothes... the thought of it appalled him. So Sithney begged God for some other job, something more peaceful, than dealing with young women. “Very well,” said God.  “You can look after mad dogs, instead.”   

Sithney replied cheerfully: “I’d rather have mad dogs than women, any day.” And so it was. Since that time, young women have pestered other saints to bring them husbands and fine clothes, while sick and mad dogs have been taken to drink water from the well of St Sezni, patron of Sithney, near Helston in Cornwall.

Psalm 23 - a psalm for the pandemic

There are few psalms as personal and real as Psalm 23. It records David’s experience of God as his Shepherd going through dark times. In the midst of the effects of a global pandemic, this psalm speaks to the fears that can overwhelm us.

He Knows Me: ‘The Lord is my shepherd…’ Just as a good shepherd knows every sheep in his flock, so God know each one of us intimately.

He Provides for Me: He makes me lie down in green pastures…’ Just as the shepherd knows the needs of his sheep, so God will provide what we need in our lives and circumstances.

He Guides Me: ‘He guides me along the right paths…’ Just as the shepherd leads the sheep to the best pastures, so God provides the best for us, as we listen and follow Him.

He Protects Me: ‘Even though I walk through the darkest valley…’ Just as the sheep have no need to fear danger when following the shepherd, so we live knowing God’s presence and protection.

He Comforts Me: ‘your rod and your staff, they comfort me.’ As the shepherd’s rod defends the sheep, and the staff enables him to control the sheep, so God comforts us through His Word and discipline.

The final verses of the psalm (v5-6) offer the security of knowing that our lives are in His hands, even through death, as He leads us to the home we’ve been looking for all our lives.

Some years ago, a great actor was asked to recite Psalm 23, but asked one of the other guests to do the same. His remarkable rendition was followed by the other man, an older Christian speaking from the heart. Afterwards the actor said: ‘The difference between us is that I know the psalm, but he knows the shepherd.’

MU’s ‘Thank You Key Workers’ Appeal

 Mothers Union Thank You

The Mothers’ Union wants to help families of key workers by offering them a range of free day trips/experiences and short breaks. It is appealing to MU supporters to help make this possible.

As a spokeswoman for MU explains: “There has been an outpouring of compassion and care during the crisis from our hospital workers to our delivery drivers, carers to cleaners and our refuse collectors to bus drivers. But because of their personal sacrifices, quality family time has not always been possible. 

“Therefore, we are extending our existing Away from it all Programme (AFIA) to say a special ‘thank you’ to key workers in these unprecedented times.

“Any donation will help provide a range of day trips/experiences and short breaks for families of key workers, especially for those who have been kept apart or who are on low incomes - families who would generally be unable to have experiences like this.” 

Mothers Union donation to key workers family

Where is God book

Where is God in a Messed-Up World? By Roger Carswell, 10Publishing, £6.99

This book asks (and answers) questions that people are asking about God, life and suffering. Questions such as: ‘If God exists and really is a God of love, then why doesn't He stop the suffering and problems in our world?’

People often ask these questions in the wake of major tragedies. Glib answers don’t help.  Instead, Roger Carswell is realistic, admitting that there are things God reveals to us, and things He doesn't reveal.

But Carswell argues that the starting point is to find out who God is, and to figure out if He can be trusted – even if we don't have all the answers.

The author's own experience of suffering with depression, and the real–life stories that are included, make this a compassionate book. Carswell encourages us that our questioning need not be a barrier to entrusting ourselves to God.  He says: "God has not only been faithful to me, He has been overwhelmingly kind, incredibly merciful, consistently good and unbelievably patient."

William Wilberforce, Olaudah Equiano & Thomas Clarkson

During the 18th century many people in England were involved in the campaign to abolish the slave trade. The CofE remembers especially William Wilberforce, Olaudah Equiano and Thomas Clarkson - three very different but all tireless campaigners against the evil practice.

Thomas Clarkson (1760-1846) was an Anglican clergyman and one of the most prominent of the anti-slavery campaigners. In 1787 he helped form the first Abolitionist Committee, and his energy and hatred of injustice made him a ‘moral steam-engine’. He travelled hundreds of miles, gathering evidence from people caught up in the slave trade, from ship captains to doctors.

Olaudah Equianon (1745 – 1797) had been kidnapped in Nigeria, sold into slavery and sent to the West Indies. When he finally escaped, he made his way to London and became one of the most prominent black campaigners. His brutal autobiography of 1789 ran to nine reprints, and was translated into many languages, bringing home to people the horrors of the slave trade.

William Wilberforce (1759 – 1833), of course, became the main figurehead in Parliament.  He came from a wealthy family in Kingston-upon-Hull and represented the town in Parliament. He was recruited by Thomas Clarkson, who saw the need for a brilliant advocate within Parliament. Wilberforce was an inspired choice: not only wealthy and well-connected, but a gifted orator with a social conscience, especially after his conversion in 1785. He made his first speech in Parliament against slavery in 1789, but it was not until 1807, after a debate that raged for many years, that the Abolition Act was finally passed.

The Talking Centipede  

A man decided to get an unusual pet.  So he went to the pet shop and after some discussion, finally bought a talking centipede, (100-legged bug), which came in a little white box to use for his house.  The man took the box home, put it carefully on the table, and decided he would start off by taking his new pet to church with him. So next morning he asked the centipede in the box,   "Would you like to go to church with me today? We will have a good time."
But there was no answer from his new pet. This bothered the man, but he waited a few minutes and then asked again,   "How about going to church with me?” But again, there was no answer from his new friend and pet. So he waited a few minutes more, and decided to invite the centipede one last time.  This time he put his face up against the centipede's house and shouted, "Hey, in there! Would you like to go to church with me – or not?”
This time, a little voice came out of the box:  "I heard you the first time!  I'm putting my shoes on!"

Talking better with your hands

Do you move your arms about when you speak? Probably you do – at least sometimes. Gesturing while we speak has been common behaviour for thousands of years, but it has been less clear as to WHY we do it. 

Now a study by scientists at the University of Connecticut has found that there are changes in the size and shape of our chests when we gesture. These changes affect our speech in both tone and volume. 

Because of the way our bodies are made, our hand movements influence our torso and throat muscles and our gestures are tightly tied to amplitude. So, that means that, rather than just using your chest muscles to produce air flow for speech, moving your arms about as well can add acoustic emphasis and improve your overall communication. 

When tourists get lost

Have you ever got into trouble while abroad? The true story is told of a group of tourists who went to Israel some years ago and arrived in Jerusalem very eager to see the sites of the old city.

Four members of the group were so engrossed in taking pictures of each other by the Wailing Wall that they ignored the summons from the tour group leader to go back to the bus. A little while later, they realised that they were all on their own in Jerusalem. That’s when their problems started. 

The four tourists decided to head back to their hotel. But no one could remember the exact name of the hotel. So, they hailed a taxi, and asked it to drive around Jerusalem looking for the hotel. An hour or so later, the driver gave up and demanded payment.

That’s when they discovered that they did not have enough money to pay the driver.

So the driver took them to the police, who demanded some identification. That’s when the four tourists remembered that they had left their passports in the hotel safe...  

Some hours later, the tour guide tracked down the missing tourists. They greeted her with tears of relief as she provided the police with their passports, paid their debt, and prepared to lead them safely back to their hotel. The police gave some parting advice to the tourists: “From now on, you stay close to your friend!”

Stay close to your friend. It’s good advice for all of us. If your life is going in the wrong direction, if you have run up debts of wrong-doing, if you feel lost and alone, you need to take action. You need to stop going on like this. Turn around and go in another direction. The Bible calls this action of ‘stopping and turning around’ repentance. 

Repentance is when you stop one direction, and you turn to God. For the good news is that there is a heavenly tour guide on whom we can all call. Only God can save us from the mess we are in. He sent us His Son to forgive us our sins, to provide us with an identity, and, if we walk with Him, lead us safely through life.  As the Bible says: “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  (Romans 6:23)

The Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, proving a nap is good for you

Do you tend to avoid conflict? When you feel stressed, do you crave sleep? Then the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus would be good patron saints for you. But - you may find it hard to copy their successful method of avoiding trouble!

Legend has it that The Seven Sleepers were third century Christians who lived in Ephesus during the persecutions of the Roman Emperor Decius. When things got very bad, the Seven Sleepers decided to ‘go to ground’. Literally. They found a cave on the outskirts of the city and walled themselves in. The story goes that then God simply put them to sleep.

200 years later they woke up and peeped out of the cave again. Things had changed:  Ephesus had converted to Christianity. Unfortunately, the Seven Sleepers did not get much time to enjoy the new freedoms, because within a short time they all died – of extreme old age. 

The story was popularised in the 6th century by Gregory of Tours and Jacob of Sarugh, who venerated the Seven Sleepers as saints. But it was challenged by Baronius and many scholars since. It is sometimes called a Christianised pagan or Jewish legend akin to Rip Van Winkle. 

A possible moral for anyone today is that when you find yourself in a storm of conflict, you don’t have to fight all the battles yourself. You can indeed seek refuge in God. He may not put you to sleep for 200 years, but He will be a safe hiding place for your soul.

Psalm 40 – desperation to security

‘I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. (Psalm 40:1).

‘Dear God, I pray for patience, and I want it now!’ Most of us can identify with this prayer, especially as we face an uncertain future. Psalm 40:1-3 describes how David waited patiently on God (lit: ‘I waited, waited for the Lord.’). Do we also intensively wait on God?

David speaks of falling into a deep, dark well and sinking deep into the sludge: ‘a slimy pit of mud and mire’. This expresses his desperate helplessness that threatened to take his life. We don’t know what David was going through, but in our current situation we can easily identify with him.

David cried out to God, who answered his prayer: ‘He lifted me out of the slimy pit, he set my feet on a rock’. There is a world of difference between quicksand and rock, as God lifts us from desperation to security. Waiting on God is not inactivity, but it means engaging in service to God and others, as we discern His will and accept His wisdom and timing.

In response, David offers praise to God: ‘He put a new song in my mouth. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.’ His song is an expression of gratitude and trust in God, who can deliver us from every sort of pit and mire. People of praise never take their life for granted and they are credible witnesses to others, with a personal story of faith to tell.

‘Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, who does not look to the proud.’ Whatever our current circumstances, we can confidently turn to God alone for help, as our loving heavenly Father.

St Christopher, patron saint of motorists

The legend goes that St Christopher was a Canaanite who lived in the 3rd century.  He was a giant of a man, of fearsome appearance.  At first, he decided to serve the devil, but when he discovered that the devil was afraid of Christ and His Cross, Christopher decided to serve Christ instead. A nearby hermit instructed Christopher in the Christian faith and assigned to him a place near a river: Christopher’s job was to help travellers cross it safely. 

All went well, and Christopher helped lots of people on their way until one day a child came along and asked to be carried across. Christopher put him on his back and set off, but was soon staggering under the astonishing weight of this child. The child then told him that He was in fact Jesus Christ, and that He carried the weight of the whole world. The Christ-child then told Christopher to plant his staff in the ground: the next day it bore flowers and dates – confirmation that the child was indeed who He claimed to be. 

After some time more of helping travellers cross the river, Christopher went to the city of Lycia, where he preached the gospel with such success that the Roman emperor (Decius?) had him arrested and imprisoned – especially when Christopher refused to sacrifice to the gods. Two women sent into his cell to seduce him came out converted Christians instead. So, Christopher was beaten, shot with arrows and finally beheaded.

Christopher has been well-loved of the English down the centuries. Many wall-paintings of him have been placed on the north wall of churches, opposite the porch, so that he would be seen by all who entered. There was good reason for this:  as patron saint of travellers, it was believed that anyone who saw an image of St Christopher would not die that day. As the ancient saying goes: ‘Behold St Christopher and go thy way in safety’.

A kind of daily insurance policy against death - this was so good that in due course St Christopher became the patron saint of motorists. There is even a church in the Javel area of Paris where Citroen cars are made, that is dedicated to St Christopher. In modern times, with the increase in air and motorway travel, Christopher has remained popular.

When in 1969 the Holy See reduced his feast day, there was a sharp protest in several countries, led in Italy by a number of popular film stars. If you ever travel in a taxi on the Continent, look out for a little St Christopher hanging from the rear-view mirror beside the driver. Now you know why it is there!

HYMN:  The story behind … JUST AS I AM

The hymn ‘Just As I Am’ must be one of the most famous in the world. It has been sung by tens of millions of Christians at Billy Graham Crusades the world over, just for starters! Yet it was not written by a professional who was ‘aiming’ at a specific market, as many songs seem to be written today. Instead, it was written by an artist in Victorian times.

Her name was Charlotte Elliott, and she was born in Clapham in 1789. She grew up in a well to do home, and became a portrait artist and also a writer of humorous verse. All was well until Charlotte fell ill in her early 30s, and slid into a black depression. A minister, Dr Caesar Malan of Switzerland, came to visit her. Instead of sympathising, he asked her an unexpected question: did she have peace with God? Charlotte deeply resented the question and told him to mind his own business.

But after he left, his question haunted her. Did she have peace with God?  She knew that she did not, that she had done some very wrong things. So, she invited Dr Malan to return. She told him that she would like to become a Christian, but would have to sort out her life first. 

Dr Malan again said the unexpected: “Come just as you are.” The words were a revelation to Charlotte. She had assumed that she would have to put her life in order before she could hope to be accepted by God. Instead, she realised that Jesus wanted her just as she was - and He would take care of the sin. Charlotte became a Christian that day.

14 years later, in 1836, Charlotte wrote some verses that summed up how it had been between her and Jesus that day.  They ran:

 Just as I am, without one plea,
But that thy blood was shed for me,
And that thou bids’t me come to Thee
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!

Just as I am, tho tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt
Fightings within, and fears without,
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!

Charlotte could not have dreamed that 150 years into the future, her verses would be sung by millions of people all over the world, as they responded to the Gospel presented at many great Billy Graham crusades, and made their way forward to do just as the hymn describes - to come to Jesus Christ, despite sin and fear and doubts, to come ‘just as I am.’

Eternity in the human heart

‘He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.’ (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

The 60s hit ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ by the Byrds is based on verses in this chapter: ‘There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.’ The different seasons of life are not random, for God is in control and His timing is perfect: ‘He has made everything beautiful in its time.’

The verse goes on to say that God ‘has also set eternity in the human heart.’ This means that we all have an in-built sense that there’s more to life than what we can see, as we search for meaning in life. However, we can fill our lives with other things: career, pleasure, shopping and relationships. While good in themselves, these things can never ultimately satisfy. It is only a relationship with God through Jesus that truly satisfies. How does this challenge us?

Firstly, we are to live for God in all that we do, knowing that it all counts for eternity. This includes helping others find a personal relationship with Jesus Christ for eternity.

Secondly, we accept that there is lots in the current ‘season’ where it’s difficult to know what God is doing: ‘no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.’ However, we do know that everything has consequences for eternity.

Finally, how can we be more aware of eternity every day? Spending time with God in worship and prayer will bring us the true pleasure that belongs to eternity.

‘You made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.’ (St Augustine).

Mary Magdalene?

Fake news is not new. Perhaps one old example is the assertion that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. Back in the 6th Century, Pope Gregory is said to have confused her with two other women in the Bible. Medieval Bible scholars also attempted to name an unidentified sinful woman who had washed and anointed the feet of Jesus. As Mary Magdalene is mentioned in the next chapter, they regarded her as the same person!  After this, many classical artists painted Mary in various states of undress, perpetuating a falsehood.

So what do we really know about Mary? The Gospels tell us that she came from Magdala, a town in Galilee, and Jesus healed her by casting out seven evil spirits. After this she followed Jesus, with other women, on His ministry providing resources. Later, Mary watched Jesus die on the cross, and having cared for His needs while He was alive, wanted to care for Him after His death.

It was when Mary went to anoint the body of Jesus at the tomb that the risen Jesus appeared to her. He told Mary to go to His disciples and tell them about His return to Heaven. She was obedient and became the first emissary of the resurrection. In those days, the witness of a woman was worthless. Despite ridicule, Mary had the courage to speak about Jesus in a place of great disbelief. We have to ask ourselves, do we have the same courage as Mary? How prepared are we to stand our ground to share Jesus with others in the face of those who mock and scoff at us?

Although we usually associate Mary with the Easter story, this month on 22nd July, the Church celebrates her Feast Day. In this snapshot of Mary’s life we know she had experienced great distress and suffering. After Jesus healed her, Mary expressed her gratitude by being utterly committed and devoted to Him. 

Jesus can give everyone a new start; a new purpose and direction in life. Like Mary we can thank Him for blessing us, loving us and forgiving us and moving into practical forms of service. Only Jesus can transform our lives so that we can glorify God in all that we do.

The problem with a good story – and hers is as good as it gets – is that people can’t leave it alone. Down the centuries she has been John the Apostle’s fiancée until he left her to follow Christ. She has gone with Jesus’ mother and the same John to live in Ephesus and died there. In art and in literature she has become an alluring, sexual figure, disapproved of by the mother of Jesus. There is no historical evidence whatsoever for any of this. In fact, the Gospels suggest the two Marys were close in their shared devotion to Jesus.

Her popularity is shown in the fact that 187 ancient churches in Britain are dedicated to her, and a college at both Oxford and Cambridge. Whatever the details of her story, we cherish it because it shows that having a ‘past’ is no reason not to have a future.

Keep your distance!

I never thought the comment, "I wouldn't touch you with a six-foot pole" would become national policy, but here we are!

Do you have a sister? Is she ‘good news’ in your life? Macrina the Younger (c. 327 -79) should be the patron saint of all ‘sisters’ whose generosity helps their siblings to succeed.

Macrina the Younger was the eldest of 10 children. Their father was Basil the Elder, a leader in the church in 4th century Cappadocia. When Macrina’s fiancé died when she was 12, she decided not to marry, but instead to stay home and help educate her nine brothers and sisters.  Because of her self-sacrifice, they all learned to read the Bible and to have a deep faith in God.

Macrina’s life was not in vain: because of her example, two of her brothers, Gregory and Basil, entered the priesthood. They went on to become famous: Gregory of Nyssa became a much-loved bishop and Basil the Great became a great theologian. Along with another priest, Gregory of Nazianzus, they became known as The Cappadocian Fathers, and played a major role in protecting the 4th century church from heresy. Yet they would never have even learned to read without Macrina.

When in 379 Macrina fell ill, her brother Gregory rushed to her side. He found her lying on two planks on the floor of a small hut. Her poverty was absolute and her preparations for death complete.  She prayed: ‘Thou hast freed us from the fear of death. Thou hast made the end of this life the beginning of true life...May my soul be received into the hands...’ she died at the time of Vespers and was buried amid widespread grief and lamentation.

I encourage you to accept the, maybe rare, occasions when there is not so much to deal with. If you have days, or parts of days, without Zooms, or pre-recording, or scheduled phone calls / visits / preparation – accept the space, and don’t rush to fill it with outstanding emails or the next risk assessment or, or, or …  

It's OK to stop a while. In fact, we need to stop a while. And it’s OK if you don’t think any big thoughts in that time. Of course, there are big things to deal with, but if you are able to let them go for a while that’s probably a good thing. They'll still be there when you come back to them – and you might deal with them better because you’ve returned to them a little refreshed. 

Accepting the need to pace ourselves individually, will help us do that together as communities.  

Don't rush to pick up all the things that were paused when lockdown happened. Don’t assume you have to carry on everything that you took up because we were in lockdown - It’s OK that you’re not doing everything all at once: do less, be thoughtful about what is done – and if you have the grace of space and time, be thankful. 

“Do not strive … consider the lilies of the field that neither toil nor spin … but seek first the Kingdom of God, and your heavenly Father will add all the rest” Luke 12 

Bishop Libby

The Lockdown Lifts

There's life in the town!
No longer 'locked down'!
The people stroll out in the sun
The majestic trees
Sway in the light breeze
Like they wanted to join in the fun!

 

Like light after dark!
We can walk in the park!
Buy our tea, and sit out on the grass!
We can chat to our friends
As our loneliness ends
And we smile at the strangers we pass!

 

Yes there are still queues
Which cease to amuse
But things are no longer so black!
As they sing in that song -
You miss what is gone,
But it's great when at last it comes back!

By Nigel Beeton

Chinese government removes 250 crosses from churches

Chinese authorities removed 250 more church crosses earlier this year, according to Bitter Winter, an organisation which monitors persecution of Christians.

The crosses were removed from ‘Three-Self’ churches in Anhui province. The action was part of an on-going and wider campaign aimed at deleting Christian images and replacing them with Communist ones.

One congregation of 100 Christians defended their cross at the historic Gulou Church in Fuyang city. But the next day government officials returned, and it was taken away. 

An elder from a Three-Self church in Hanshan county said that to know that crosses were being taken down on many churches “makes us very sad because the cross [is] the primary symbol of our faith. But we don’t dare to disobey central government orders: little fish don’t eat big fish.”

 Learn more at

Covid-19 C of E update (14 July)

Still love your neighbours?

One side-effect of lockdown has been seeing more of our neighbours – which of course can be very nice indeed. But if those neighbours constantly play loud music or hold smoky barbecues, it can be tiresome. And just wait until they invest the latest craze:  a big bubbling hot tub for their garden.

The craze seems to have started when we realised that summer holidays were not happening this year.  Sales of garden Jacuzzis went up 490 per cent on eBay, and at Argos almost every style was sold out. On Amazon, hot tubs feature on the ‘most wished for’ list. 

But now social media is buzzing with complaints about neighbours who flout lockdown advice with ‘hot-tub parties’, and neighbours who are inconsiderate when emptying their hot tub – sending a flood of water over into your garden.

St Camillus de Lellis, patron of the sick (saint day - 14 July)

Sometimes those who suffer are best at helping others in a similar situation. Discharged from the Venetian army with an incurable leg wound, St Camillus (1550 – 1614) founded a religious order called the Ministers of the Sick (the Camellians). Both in their Holy Ghost Hospital in Rome, and by travelling to plague-stricken parts of the world, the Camellians dedicated their lives to caring for the sick. Camillus is the patron of the sick and of nurses.

Talking better with your hands

Do you move your arms about when you speak? Probably you do – at least sometimes. Gesturing while we speak has been common behaviour for thousands of years, but it has been less clear as to WHY we do it. 

Now a study by scientists at the University of Connecticut has found that there are changes in the size and shape of our chests when we gesture. These changes affect our speech in both tone and volume. 

Because of the way our bodies are made, our hand movements influence our torso and throat muscles and our gestures are tightly tied to amplitude. So, that means that, rather than just using your chest muscles to produce air flow for speech, moving your arms about as well can add acoustic emphasis and improve your overall communication. 

What is lurking in your garden?

Is there something alien in your garden which is beginning to worry you? Something that is growing too fast, spreading too fast, for you to keep up with?

Gardeners across the country are being asked by the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) and the University of Coventry to find – and report – the next Japanese knotweed before it ‘jumps the garden fence’ and causes havoc.

Japanese knotweedJapanese knotweed and Himalayan balsam both began innocently, as pretty ornamental garden plants. Then they escaped and have since marched across the UK like something out of War of the Worlds, causing immense damage to homes and waterways.

So now the question is: can you help a citizen science project to identify the next plant which could become a similar menace?  The project is called Plant Alert. It offers you an easy way to report any ornamental plants in your garden that you suspect are becoming aggressive.

Scientists say to look out for:  vigorous growth, prolific self-seeding, longer flowering periods. Plants which are logged on the Plant Alert app will be studied by botanists, and potentially restricted from sale.

Kevin Walker, head of science at BSBI, says: “Bitter experience has shown that species that are invasive in gardens are also the ones that are likely to ‘jump the fence’ and cause problems in the wild.”

THE WAY I SEE IT:  What have you missed most during lockdown?

It's a good question, because it is about the things that make us tick. When I examined my list, I found obvious things - going to church, live sport on TV, meeting up with friends for a coffee or a beer.

But as I thought more deeply about it, I realised that what I missed most was TOUCH. For nearly four months I have not touched another human being!

That is an astonishing deprivation. When a baby is born, its first experiences are all of touch. The strong hands of the midwife, mother’s excited and loving embrace, tiny hands reaching out to feel mummy’s face.  We touch our way into life.

And then it goes on. Holding hands with friends, being hugged by grandma, your first serious kiss, and perhaps a last tearful one at the end of a much-loved life.

We greet each other with a holy kiss, the Bible says. And why not?

Sight, smell, hearing and touch. Four senses. And I think lockdown has taught me that the greatest of these is touch!

Canon David Winter

Useful Links (websites) during Covid -19.:

Travel advice

Self development

Check your health with HNS

Children

Book of remembrance

Other interesting sites:
Star Viewing
Listen to radio stations around the world
BBC Bitesize
We get a deal
Grow Veg
Radio Garden
World Quizzing
Knitting Reference Library

Useful websites

Debts and lockdown

All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered round him (King David), and he became their commander…  1 Samuel 22:2

Over the lockdown period there has been a honeymoon for people in debt, when some official action has been put on hold. Honeymoon is perhaps not the best word; holiday may be better.

At the beginning of the coronavirus emergency, the Government introduced regulations to temporarily prevent court officials such as bailiffs seizing goods in people’s homes or on highways (where your car may be).

There has also been a suspension of enforcement of house possession orders. In addition, many banks have agreed mortgage repayment holidays, or agreed overdrafts at lower interest rates. Some taxes such as VAT or other taxes will not be collected during the emergency. Many court hearings on are hold.

It all sounds too good to be true. This has been a unique experience offering a breathing space to people in debt, but what happens when the debt holiday ends? Many people must be very concerned at the reduction in income at the moment, and dread what will happen when things begin to get back to normal and the little brown envelopes start coming through the letterbox. So, what can you do? You can start preparing now.

Put some money aside every week if you can.

Set a budget and stick to it.

Talk to the people you owe money to. Make a note of what was said and confirm it by email or post.

Get advice from a debt counsellor or free advice agency.

Do not be afraid to ask for help or more time.

Do not do nothing!

Look out for each other. If you know of someone in trouble, suggest they get help.

As always this is a light-hearted comment on a complex subject. Always get proper professional advice.

Sick of preaching

Our new vicar had just been prescribed bifocals. The reading portion of the glasses improved his vision considerably, but the top portion of the glasses didn't work so well. In fact, he was experiencing dizziness every time he looked through them. He tried to explain this to the congregation on Sunday: "I hope you will excuse my continually removing my glasses. You see, when I look down, I can see fine, but when I look at you all, it makes me feel sick."

Did you know?

Handle wrote the "Messiah" in just over three weeks because he was in debt and needed some money.

Thomas More, Reformation martyr

These days, lawyers and politicians are held in the lowest esteem by the public, along with tabloid journalists and estate agents. St Thomas More was both a lawyer and politician, who is today much admired for holding steadfastly to his faith-based principles. He lived in dangerous times, when anyone, even queens, who displeased King Henry VIII could find themselves in a condemned cell in The Tower of London.

Sir Thomas More held the office of Lord High Chancellor and at one time was the king’s most trusted adviser. But when King Henry took personal control of the Church in England in order to divorce his first wife, More courageously opposed him. 

Thomas More was a social philosopher and the author of ‘Utopia’. This book described an imaginary republic governed by an educated elite who employed reason rather than self-interest for the general good of everyone. He was himself one of the pre-eminent scholars of his age.

As a Christian theologian he supported orthodox doctrine, vigorously opposed heresy and argued strongly against the new Protestant ideas taking hold in Europe. Although holding the highest political and legal office he was far from being a pragmatic politician and opportunist lawyer. In every matter he was a man who held firmly to what he believed was right in God’s eyes.

When Thomas More fell from favour with the king, as a result of his unflinching views, he was falsely accused of taking bribes. When this charge failed, his enemies accused him of supporting a celebrated seer of the times who was strongly critical of the king. This too failed. He was then required to swear to the Oath of Supremacy, acknowledging Henry’s position as head of the Church of England. This he could not do in conscience.

He was put on trial and condemned to be hung, drawn and quartered for his treason, a punishment later changed to beheading. He died in 1535 and on the scaffold his final words were ‘I die the King’s good servant, but God’s first.’ He has been officially declared a martyr saint by the Roman Catholic Church.

Women in majority of deacons ordained last year, report shows

Women made up the majority of deacons ordained in the Church of England last year for the first time, according to the latest statistics.

A total of 570 deacons were ordained in 2019, with women making up just over a half, or 51% of the new intake.

Deacons are the first of three orders of ordained ministry.  Whilst all clergy continue as deacons throughout, the majority are also ordained as priests at the end of their first year of ministry.

The statistics show that women made up around 32% of the 20,000 active clergy last year, with a growing proportion of senior posts such as Bishops, Archdeacons and

Cathedral Deans, occupied by women, from 25% in 2018 to 27% last year.

Women were in the majority starting training for ordained ministry for the third year running, with equal numbers of men and women sponsored to train for ‘incumbent’ posts – such as Rector or Vicar - over the last two years. However currently only 25% of incumbent posts are occupied by women.

The number of stipendiary, or paid clergy, remained stable, at 7,700, between 2018 and 2019, following a period of decline. There were 7,830 Readers or licensed lay ministers compared to just under 10,000 in 2010. Readers and licensed lay ministers are not ordained but can lead worship and preach in churches, among other roles.  

The statistics show the number of stipendiary clergy from black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds stood at 3.8%, while 7.8% of people entering training for ordained ministry last year were from a BAME background.

Out of a total of 550 people beginning training for ordained ministry last year, nearly a quarter, or 24%, were under 32 years old and more than two fifths, 44%, were aged under 40.

The Rt Revd Chris Goldsmith, Director of Ministry for the Church of England, said: “In recent years there has been an increasing diversity among our clergy, but we will not be content until those in public ministry truly reflect the whole church and the communities which they serve.”

Sadiq Khan thanks the churches

Sadiq Khan has praised church leaders for providing hope and leadership throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

Speaking recently to Premier radio, the Mayor of London praised the support he has received from faith leaders in the lockdown. 

He spoke of “the massive contribution… (that) the leadership of the Christian community has provided. I've spent some time talking to the Archbishop, but also Bishop of London as well as Cardinal Nichols and a number of other faith leaders in the Christian community.”

Music in our churches and cathedrals

The Church of England, together with the Royal School of Church Music, has encouraged the Government to be proactive in ensuring music-making can resume in church buildings, once it is safe to do so. 

Responding to the latest guidance, the Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, said:We are encouraging the Government to be alert to the consequences of our choirs’ continued silence - and to take a proactive approach to allowing singing to return to our churches and cathedrals as soon as it is possible to do so safely.

“We look forward to a time where worship and music can once again be combined, in all their different expressions, as they have for centuries, turning our hearts to God.”

During the Coronavirus pandemic, the Church of England partnered with the RSCM to provide free hymns for parishes for use in streamed worship, which have been downloaded more than 45,000 times.

Reopening of church buildings for public worship

Following the recent Government announcement that church buildings were able to reopen for public worship from 4th July, the Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, who leads the Church of England’s Recovery Group, said that the months since lockdown began “have been an extraordinary time - the first period without public worship and the sacraments in England in more than 800 years.”

We will not be returning to normality overnight - this is the next step on a journey. We’ve been planning carefully, making detailed advice available for parishes to enable them to prepare to hold services when it is safe and practical to do so. It is important to say that the change in Government guidance is permissive, not prescriptive.

"I would particularly like to thank clergy and lay leaders for all they have done during the time our buildings have been closed.”

Bishop Sarah warned that there will still be restrictions, “and we must all still do everything we can to limit the spread of the virus… The online services and dial-in worship offerings we have become used to will continue.

“This has been an incredibly difficult time for the whole country, especially for those who have been ill, who have suffered financial hardship, the loss of livelihoods and indeed, for many, those they love. We know that is not over and the Church has a task ahead to bring consolation and hope.

“Churches and cathedrals have risen to the recent challenges, finding new ways of meeting for worship, of serving our neighbours, and of reaching new people with the love of God. The challenge before us now is to take the next steps carefully and safely, without forgetting all that we’ve discovered about God and ourselves on the way.”

Name above all Names

Name above all Names, what’s in a name?
Alpha, Omega, Beginning and End,
Apostle and High Priest, the sinners Friend.

Walking on water, calming the storm,
God incarnate calling us home
Creator, the I Am, nailed to a tree
Lion of Judah dying for me.

Risen, the Victor, conquering King
Coming with clouds redemption to bring
To gather His bride for heaven above
To reign with the Lamb whose name is Love.

By Megan Carter

Feast of SS Peter & Paul, the two most famous apostles  They are remembered this month, for they share a feast day.

 St Paul, apostle to the Gentiles

Like Peter, Paul (d. c. 65) also started life with another name: Saul. This great apostle to the Gentiles was a Jew born in Tarsus and brought up by Gamaliel as a Pharisee.  Keen was he to defend the god of his fathers that he became a persecutor of Christianity, and even took part in the stoning of Stephen. He hunted Christians down and imprisoned them, and it was while on his way to persecute more Christians in Damascus that he was suddenly given his vision of Christ.   

It was the decisive moment of Paul’s life – Paul suddenly realised that Jesus was truly the Messiah, and the Son of God, and that He was calling Paul to bring the Christian faith to the Gentiles. Paul was then healed of his temporary blindness, baptised, and retired to Arabia for about three years of prayer and solitude, before returning to Damascus.

From then on Paul seems to have lived a life full of hazard and hardship. He made many Jewish enemies, who stoned him, and wanted to kill him. Nevertheless, Paul made three great missionary journeys, first to Cyprus, then to Asia Minor and eastern Greece, and lastly to Ephesus, where he wrote 1 Corinthians, then to Macedonia and Achaia, where he wrote Romans, before returning to Jerusalem. 

After stonings, beatings and imprisonment in Jerusalem he was sent to Rome for trial as a Roman citizen. On the way he was shipwrecked at Malta; when he finally reached Rome he was put under house-arrest for two years, during which time he wrote the four ‘captivity’ epistles. Later Paul may have revisited Ephesus and even have reached Spain.  Tradition tells he was eventually martyred at Rome during the persecution of Nero, being beheaded (as a Roman citizen) at Tre Fontane and buried where the basilica of St Paul ‘outside the walls’ now stands. 

The belief that Peter and Paul died on the same day was caused by their sharing the same feast day.

Paul was not only a tireless missionary, but a great thinker. His epistles played a major part in the later development of Christian theology. Paul’s key ideas include that Redemption is only through faith in Christ, who abrogated the old Law and began the era of the Spirit; that Christ is not just the Messiah, but the eternal, pre-existent Son of God, exalted after the Resurrection to God’s right-hand; that the Church is the (mystical) body of Christ; that the believers live in Christ and will eventually be transformed by the final resurrection. 

It is difficult to overemphasise the influence of Paul on Christian thought and history:  he had a major effect on Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Luther, Calvin and others. In art, Paul is depicted as small in stature, bald and bandy-legged, with a long face, long nose and eyebrows meeting over deep-set eyes. His usual emblems are a sword and a book.  In England he was never as popular as St Peter, and ancient English churches dedicated to him alone number only 43. 

The history of the relics of Peter and Paul is not very clear. Tradition says that Peter was buried at the Vatican and Paul on the Ostian Way under his basilica. Certainly, both apostles were venerated from very early times both in the Liturgy and in private prayers, as testified by Greek and Latin graffiti in the catacombs of the early 3rd century.

St Peter, ‘the Rock’

St Peter (d. c. 64AD), originally called Simon, was a married fisherman from Bethsaida, near the Sea of Galilee. He met Jesus through his brother, Andrew. Jesus gave him the name of Cephas (Peter) which means rock. Peter is always named first in the list of apostles. He was one of the three apostles who were privileged to witness the Transfiguration, the raising of the daughter of Jairus, and the Agony in the Garden. 

When Peter made his famous confession of faith, that Jesus was the Christ, Jesus recognised it as being the result of a revelation from the Father. He in turn told Peter that he would be the rock on which His Church would be built, that the ‘gates of hell’ would never prevail against it. Peter and the apostles would have the power of ‘binding and loosing’, but Peter would be personally given ‘the keys of the kingdom of heaven’.  Jesus also forewarned Peter of his betrayal and subsequent strengthening of the other apostles.  After His Resurrection, Jesus appeared to Peter before the other apostles, and later entrusted him with the mission to feed both the lambs and the sheep of Christ’s flock.

Peter played a big part in the early Church, and he is mentioned many times in the Book of Acts, where in the early chapters he organised the choice of Judas’ successor, preached with stirring authority at Pentecost; and was the very first apostle to work a miracle. Peter went on to defend the apostles’ right to teach at the Sanhedrin, and to condemn Ananias and Sapphira. It was Peter who first realised that Christianity was also for the Gentiles, after his meeting with Cornelius. Later he took a prominent part in the council at Jerusalem and went on to clash with St Paul at Antioch for hesitating about eating with Gentiles.

Early tradition links Peter with an apostolate and martyrdom at Rome. The New Testament does not tell us either way, but Peter being in Rome would make sense, especially as Peter’s first epistle refers to ‘Babylon’, which was usually identified with Rome. Peter’s presence in Rome is mentioned by early church fathers such as Clement of Rome and Irenaeus. Tradition also tells us that Peter suffered under Nero and was crucified head-downwards. There is no conclusive proof either way that St Peter’s relics are at the Vatican, but it is significant that Rome is the only city that ever claimed to be Peter’s place of death.

St Peter was a major influence on Mark when writing his gospel, and the First Epistle of Peter was very probably his. (Many scholars believe that the Second Epistle was written at a later date.)

From very early times Peter was invoked by Christians as a universal saint. He was the heavenly door-keeper, the patron of the Church and the papacy, a saint both powerful and accessible.

In England there were important dedications to Peter from early times: monasteries such as Canterbury, Glastonbury, Malmesbury, Peterborough, Lindisfarne, Whitby, Wearmouth, and especially Westminster. Cathedrals were named after him, too: York, Lichfield, Worcester and Selsey. In all, it has been calculated that 1,129 pre-Reformation churches were dedicated to St Peter, and another 283 to SS Peter and Paul together. 

Images of Peter are innumerable, but his portraiture remains curiously the same: a man with a square face, a bald or tonsured head, and a short square, curly beard. Not surprisingly, his chief emblem is a set of keys, sometimes along with a ship or fish.

Who do you tell your problems to?

One day a chaplain found a woman crying at the back of the hospital chapel.   He suggested they pray together about her problems, but she refused.  “It won’t do any good,” she said hopelessly. “God won’t hear me.”   

The chaplain thought a moment.  “Okay, then, let’s curse God together, shall we?”

The woman was shocked.  “Certainly not,” she said. “He’ll punish me.”

The chaplain replied: “So you believe that God will hear you if you curse him, but not if you pray to him?”

The Bible is full of verses encouraging us to come to God in prayer.  “Call upon me and I will answer you,” says the Lord (Jeremiah 33.3) .  The key to having your prayers answered is NOT to go to God for a miracle now and then, but for a relationship all the time.  Jesus said that if we come to him, and stick around, then his Father will hear us. 

As for right now?  “Come to me, all you who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” Jesus urged.  That promise can be yours today.   The Psalmist said:  ‘I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and he heard me.’  (Psalm 3:4)  He will hear you, too.

In the Bishop Libby covid update issued today (26 June) she says after the “Government announced that church buildings will be able to reopen for public worship from Saturday, 4 July, providing physical distancing remains in place. The Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, who leads the Church of England Recovery Group, said: “I welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement … that we will soon be able to begin to meet and worship together in our church buildings again … We will not be returning to normality overnight - this is the next step on a journey. We’ve been planning carefully, making detailed advice available for parishes to enable them to prepare to hold services when it is safe and practical to do so. It is important to say that the change in Government guidance is permissive, not prescriptive.” Detailed advice for parishes will be updated, as necessary, in the coming days to reflect the detail of the Government guidance once published. We are not expecting this government guidance until next week. Weddings will be able to resume, along with other services.

As we begin to reopen our church-buildings, we are aware that during the period of lockdown many parishes have begun to consider prayerfully the place of their buildings for the future of Christian mission and ministry in their communities. For some, there has been a wrestling with very difficult and challenging questions about how buildings best serve the opportunities and challenges in particular places moving forward. The bishop, archdeacons and area deans, together with the DM&M team, positively welcome these discussions - and are on-hand to listen and help frame those conversations."     Covid update

Early Morning

In the quiet of early morning
As a new day is unfurled,
It’s a privilege to sit and gaze
At the beauty of God’s world.

 

The golden rays of sunshine
The grandeur of the trees,
The nodding of the flowers
In the gentle morning breeze.

 

A carefully woven tapestry
With joy in every strand,
A vision of sheer loveliness
Created by a master hand.

Colin Hammacott  

 

More than other idols, personal success and achievement lead to a sense that we ourselves are god, that our security and value rest in our own wisdom, strength and performance…. The false sense of security comes from deifying our achievement and expecting it to keep us safe from the troubles of life in a way that only God can…  Idolatry is not just a failure to obey God, it is a setting of the whole heart on something besides God…. Jesus must become more beautiful to your imagination, more attractive to your heart, than your idol. - Timothy Keller

Actual complaints received by a resort chain (before lockdown!)

On my holiday to India, I was disgusted to find that almost every restaurant served curry. I don't like spicy food.

We booked an excursion to a water park, but no one told us we had to bring our own swimsuits and towels. We assumed it would be included in the price.  

The beach was too sandy. We had to clean everything when we returned to our room. 

No one told us there would be fish in the water. The children were scared. 

It took us nine hours to fly home from Jamaica to England. It took the Americans only three hours to get home. This seems unfair.  

We had to line up outside to catch the boat and there was no air-conditioning.

I was bitten by a mosquito. The brochure did not mention mosquitoes.

During the war, the rose window in the great Rheims Cathedral was shattered into bits by an indirect hit. The parishioners lovingly got down onto their hands and knees to gather together all the tiny pieces of broken glass. When the war was over, they hired the most skilled workmen available to rebuild it, piece by piece, from the gathered fragments. Today’s rose window in Rheims is more beautiful than it ever was. So God can take our broken lives and reshape them as we pray, ‘Lord, please forgive my mistakes of this day.’ - Reuben Youngdahl

St Alban, Britain’s first Christian martyr

Alban was the very first Christian martyr in Britain - or at least the first we know of. A ‘martyr’ is someone who has died for the faith - the word literally means ‘witness’. He was probably killed during the persecution under the emperor Diocletian in the early years of the fourth century, in the late stages of the Roman occupation of Britain. His martyrdom took place in the amphitheatre outside the Roman city of Verulamium, which is now St Albans, in Hertfordshire.

The church historian Bede, writing six hundred years after Alban‘s death, records that Alban was a Roman citizen (possibly a soldier) who gave shelter to a priest who was being hunted by the Romans. During the priest’s stay in his home, Alban was converted to the Christian faith. When the soldiers eventually tracked the priest down, they arrived at Alban’s house and insisted on searching it. What they found was Alban dressed in the priest’s clothes, while their real prey escaped. They arrested Alban and demanded that he make a sacrifice to the Emperor - a common test of loyalty. He refused. He was then condemned to death and taken into the amphitheatre, which still stands in the fields below St Alban’s Abbey, to be put to death. One of his executioners was converted, Bede claims, but the other one took a sword and beheaded him.

He was buried nearby, on a site where a shrine was later erected. In the early fifth century two Continental bishops, Germanus of Auxerre and Lupus of Troyes, were sent to Britain and record that they visited the shrine of Alban at Verulamium. The date of their visit was given as 429.

The martyrdom of Alban is a reminder that Christianity was planted first in these islands during the Roman occupation, though it was all but extinguished in England in the dark centuries that followed, until people like David, Cuthbert and the other Celtic missionaries restored the faith in many parts of the land - especially in the north. The fact that his shrine existed and was venerated right through to the time of Bede also demonstrates that the faith did not die out completely, even in the south of England.

Not a great deal is known about Alban apart from the story of his martyrdom, but what we do know is probably enough to give him a substantial claim to be the patron saint of England ahead of the foreigner St George.

Fathers’ Day, a time to celebrate male role models

 Fathers Day

In the UK, USA and Canada, the third Sunday in June is Father's Day. It’s usually a good time for sons and daughters to take their father to his favourite restaurant, or to watch a favoured sport, or whatever else he enjoys doing.  

How will you celebrate it this year? If your own father cannot be with you, how about a Zoom meeting?

How do these special days ever get started, anyway?   Well, Father’s Day began because way back in 1909 there was a woman in Spokane, Washington, named Sonora Louise Smart Dodd. That year she heard a church sermon about the merits of setting aside a day to honour one's mother. Mother's Day was just beginning to gather widespread attention in the United States at this time. But Sonora Louise Smart Dodd knew that it was her father who had selflessly raised herself and her five siblings by himself after their mother had died in childbirth. So the sermon on mothers gave Sonora Louise the idea to petition for a day to honour fathers, and in particular, her own father, William Jackson Smart.

Sonora Louise soon set about planning the first Father's Day celebration in Spokane in 1910. With support from the Spokane Ministerial Association and the YMCA, her efforts paid off, and a ‘Father’s Day’ was appointed. Sonora Louise had wanted Father’s Day to be on the first Sunday in June (since that was her father's birthday), but the city council didn't have time to approve it until later in the month. And so on June 19th, 1910, the first Father's Day was celebrated in Spokane.

Gradually, other people in other cities caught on and started celebrating their fathers, too. The rose was selected as the official Father's Day flower. Some people began to wear a white rose to honour a father who was dead, and a red one to honour a father who was living. Finally, in 1972, President Richard Nixon signed a presidential proclamation declaring the third Sunday of June as Father's Day - a permanent, national holiday.

Summer Solstice – longest day of the year

June, of course is the month of the summer solstice, the month of the Sun.  Sol + stice come from two Latin words meaning ‘sun’ and ‘to stand still’.  As the days lengthen, the sun rises higher and higher until it seems to stand still in the sky. The Summer Solstice results in the longest day and the shortest night of the year.  The Northern Hemisphere celebrates in June, and the Southern Hemisphere celebrates in December.

While the Druids worship at Stonehenge and elsewhere, here are some Christian alternatives that honour the Creator rather than the created.

 A Canticle for Brother Sun
Praised be You, My Lord, in all Your creatures,o:p
Especially Sir Brother Sun,
Who makes the day and enlightens us through You.
He is lovely and radiant and grand;
And he heralds You, his Most High Lord.

St Francis of Assisi

God in All

He inspires all,
He gives life to all,
He dominates all,
He supports all.
He lights the light of the sun.
He furnishes the light of the night.
He has made springs in dry land.
Hs the God of heaven and earth,
of sea and rivers,
of sun, moon and stars,
of the lofty mountain and the lowly valley,
the God above heaven,
and in heaven,
and under heaven.

A prayer of St Patrick

The queue

While waiting in a long queue early one morning for the supermarket to open for us ‘seniors’, I was surprised to see a young man saunter along and try to cut in at the front of the queue. A furious old lady waved her cane at him, and he quickly backed away.

A moment later, the young man tried again. He managed to dodge the old lady, but then two old men started shouting at him. Again, the young man backed away.

But he wasn’t giving up, and soon the young man approached the queue for the third time. By now, all of us pensioners were ready for him, an angry wall of opposition.

 The young man stood there for a moment, and then shrugged his shoulders. "If you people won't let me unlock the door, none of you will ever get in to shop."

Peace be with you

(Jn 20:24-31, 14:5,11:16)

Through absence,
Through doubt,
Through questions
And fears,
Through locked doors
And longing
Jesus comes.

 

His risen presence
Bringing blessing,
Hope and healing,
Restoration
And His precious,
Faith-affirming
Gift of peace.
 

Coronavirus and local churches

‘Going to church’ is not what it used to be. With our church buildings closed, many of us  now ‘go’ to services transmitted via YouTube or other social media. They last only about 45 minutes, half the length of a normal Sunday church service.

Some churches also transmit a daily prayer slot, or provide a children’s programme on line once or twice a week.  All such seem to be popular and attract those who may well not have visited the relevant church for years!

So – what are the positives in all this?  For there are some!

Many non-regular church people watching.  It would seem that many people in isolation are watching these streamed services at home, many more than usually attend the church in question. Many churches are reporting increases from viewing of 20%, 50% or even 100%. 

Advantages of social media viewing.  It is easier to ‘attend’, especially for the elderly or disabled, and you can have a cup of tea alongside you if you wish! 

Popularity of format.  Some say they like the ‘personal’ approach with the preacher as he/she seems just a couple of feet away, which means the sermon is more likely to be listened to!  It’s usually shorter also.  It may help bring calm to worried people.  Some may be seeking answers from the Christian faith as to why God has sent or allowed this worldwide plague.

What about the negative aspects of online services?

Middle-class and/or resource dominance.  Many churchgoing people, particularly the elderly and less well-off, do not have a smart phone, a tablet or computer. 

Primacy within the preaching is not known.  How far the Gospel is actually being preached is unknown; how many people are coming to faith is unknown.

Long-term impact uncertain.   Online services cannot give the connectedness of face-to-face interaction, though they may suggest a wider and simpler framework for the future.  They cannot help loneliness to the same extent, nor can the minister get to know people personally.

One probable long-term implication

Helpful service supports faith image.  Churches which are now serving their local community, especially with meals, food banks, and other like services, are building an image of love and care.  Finance for such is often being donated by the churches, and volunteers are coming forward.  Those churches which do the most are likely to emerge the stronger, or at least more respected than they were.

Churches soon to lose a friend in the media?

 Are British Christians in danger of losing their best friends in the media?

One of the many casualties of the coronavirus shutdown has been the country’s local and regional newspapers.

As businesses have closed or cut back, they have withdrawn advertising in local titles. Sales have dropped as people in lockdown can’t venture out to get a newspaper.

In response, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has called on people to buy a paper to help local, regional and national publications survive the coronavirus shutdown.

Speaking at a Downing Street briefing, he said: “A free country needs a free press and the national, the regional and the local newspapers of our country are under significant financial pressure.”

The thousands of local papers and their associated websites and social media feeds have often been – alongside parish magazines – the best ways for local churches to promote their services, activities, and events to the community around.

Local titles have often given the best coverage to grassroots church projects and been open to publishing regular Christian comment columns.

But now the outlook looks increasingly bleak. Even before the lockdown, local titles were facing major challenges with much advertising revenue going to Facebook, Google and other digital platforms. People are increasingly consuming their news free online, with often the originators of the news receiving little or no payment.

Research shows that people value local news. Objective, professional reporting cannot be replaced by community Facebook or WhatsApp groups. The local and regional media play a vital role in holding elected officials to account, and keeping people informed of decisions being taken in their name. They highlight the work of numerous local charities from food banks to debt counselling services and publicise their fund-raising. They promote voluntary groups that bring people together.

Christians can play their part by paying for their news – online or in print – promoting support for the local media in their church networks and supplying them with news and information.

Good tips to help you avoid the virus

If you receive a package in the post, it is a good idea to leave it alone for 72 hours before opening it, in order to reduce the risk of infection.

That is just one of a number of tips which the website is offering to anyone who wants to reduce their risk of infection transmission. Information

This website is run by researchers from the universities of Bath, Bristol and Southampton, who are working closely with Public Health England.

Lawyers in Lockdown

 For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver… (Isaiah 33:22)

The last few months has proved a busy time for many solicitors. Sadly, the added stress, uncertainty, isolation, and changes to daily life brought on by coronavirus has led to many disputes. People have ended up fighting their business contacts, colleagues, neighbours and even family members.  

Strangers may also prove a threat. There are increasing numbers of scam emails, as crooks try to hack into your computer or try to get you to invest in some get-rich-quick scheme. Then there are those advertisements for gambling on television. They are disguised as ‘fun’, but in reality, they are anything but fun: gambling during lockdown can escalate very quickly.

The lockdown has thrown up some questions: what to do if the post office is prevented from delivering mail to tenants on an estate and whether you still have to pay rent for a student accommodation if the student has gone home. The tenants have a right to receive mail and the answer to the other question is probably ‘yes’, because student lets are often for a fixed period without an option to end the letting early. 

People are spending more time close together, although in isolation. This can lead to domestic violence and anti-social behaviour. Neighbours, tenants and landlords can get on each other’s nerves.  Anti-social behaviour indoors or outdoors is always taken seriously by the authorities.

Some of us are spending more time in the garden and this can lead to noticing problems about that tree which overhangs your house and the branches that bang on the roof in a high wind or the fence that needs a repair.

Being a good neighbour/colleague/family member is more important now than ever. It is always best to first talk to people - at a safe distance!

Why sometimes you need a broken heart

There is a Hasidic tale which evokes Deuteronomy 11:18, and seems especially apt for now:

‘The pupil comes to the rabbi and asks, “Why does Torah tell us to ‘place these words upon our hearts’? Why does it not tell us to place these holy words in our hearts?”

‘The rabbi answers, “It is because as we are, our hearts are closed, and we cannot place the holy words in our hearts. So, we place them on top of our hearts. And there they stay, until, one day, the heart breaks, and the words fall in.”’

It’s often the case that our own breakthroughs seem to happen when we, ourselves, break open, isn’t it?

This has been, without doubt, a time of breaking open; if not for us personally, then almost certainly for some of those we know and love.

And we’re all affected, in different ways. We’ve all experienced disorientation. We’ve all lost direct contact with people we love. Many still have no physical contact with others. There’s a place for keeping calm and carrying on, but there’s time enough to honour sorrow, too.

The words of the Aaronic blessing have flowed so beautifully through the world, in song, this season. So often, it’s when ‘all is well’ that we perceive God’s blessing in our lives. But how resonant, those words, from within a place where all is not?

Perhaps we can treasure those words that may have rested gently on our hearts, awaiting the time they fall a little further into place. May we thus be open, within this historic opening. And may, indeed:

‘the LORD bless you
and keep you;
the LORD make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face towards you
and give you peace.’

One in 20 starts praying since Coronavirus began

Is the nation turning to God in prayer? Well, not quite yet, but recent research from Tearfund has shown that prayer is more common than many would think, with just under half (44%) of UK adults saying that they pray, and one in twenty (5%) saying they have started praying during the lockdown.

In addition, a quarter (24%) of UK adults say they have watched or listened to a religious service since lockdown, 5% of whom say they have never been to church before. Some churches are seeing double, sometimes triple, the number of people watching their Sunday meetings online that would normally attend in person.

I am struck by Augustine’s prayer, ‘You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you’. Could it be that as the noise and busyness of normal life have subsided, restlessness has started to surface and, faced with new fears and uncertainties, hearts have started to turn to God?

Let this research give you a new courage to offer to pray for people you know who are struggling, or invite them to watch an online service. And let’s also turn our prayers and actions beyond our immediate horizons to remember that we are part of a global community.

Barnabas , Paul’s first missionary companion

Would you have liked to go to Cyprus on holiday this year? If so, spare a thought for the Cypriot who played such a key role in the New Testament.

He was Joseph, a Jewish Cypriot and a Levite, who is first mentioned in Acts 4:36, when the Early Church was sharing a communal lifestyle. Joseph sold a field and gave the money to the apostles. His support so touched them that they gave him the nickname of Barnabas, ‘Son of Encouragement’.

Barnabas has two great claims to fame. Firstly, it was Barnabas who made the journey to go and fetch the converted Paul out of Tarsus, and persuade him to go with him to Antioch, where there were many new believers with no one to help them. For a year the two men ministered there, establishing a church. It was here that the believers were first called Christians. 

It was also in Antioch (Acts 13) that the Holy Spirit led the church to ‘set aside’ Barnabas and Paul, and to send them out on the church’s first ever ‘missionary journey’.  The Bible tells us that they went to Cyprus, and then travelled throughout the island. It was at Lystra that the locals mistook Barnabas for Zeus and Paul for Hermes, much to their dismay.

Much later, back in Jerusalem, Barnabas and Paul decided to part company. While Paul travelled on to Syria, Barnabas did what he could do best: return to Cyprus and continue to evangelise it. So, if you go to Cyprus and see churches, remember that Christianity on that beautiful island goes right back to Acts 13, when Barnabas and Paul first arrived.

In England there are 13 ancient church dedications and not a few modern ones. Barnabas the generous, the encourager, the apostle who loved his own people – no wonder he should be remembered with love.

Psalm 46 – a psalm of comfort in anxious times

To say that we are living in uncertain times is an understatement! Psalm 46 speaks into our anxiety and fear, just as it did to Israel originally. At this time, we must focus on God, who alone can deliver us in such times.

He is our refuge: ‘God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.’ (1). In the midst of our difficulties, God promises Himself to be our refuge, strength and help. A ‘refuge’ is a place of trust, where God promises to protect us. When the whole world is turned upside down, we can come to Him without fear.

He is our resource: ‘There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.’ (4,5). Jerusalem was able to withstand enemy attack, because of the water that resourced it. For us, this is a picture of the presence of God’s Spirit, who resources us when we are under pressure. This psalm promises that God’s is with is in all our troubles on a daily basis: ‘The Lord Almighty is with us...’ (7,11).

He is our ruler: ‘He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’ (10). When we consider all that God has done in the past, we can see the way in which He has worked among us to provide, protect, and deliver us. We are called to ‘cease fighting’ God and surrender our lives to God. Let’s worship Him, as we let go fear and as we depend on Him in this current time of crisis.

‘A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; our helper he, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing’ (Martin Luther).

Columba of Iona, missionary to the UK

In 563 AD St Columba sailed from Ireland to Iona – a tiny island off Mull, in the Western Highlands. He brought Christianity with him.

Columba (c. 521 -97) was born in Donegal of the royal Ui Neill clan, and he trained as a monk. He founded the monasteries of Derry (546), Durrow (c.556) and probably Kells. But in 565 Columba left Ireland with twelve companions for Iona, an island off southwest Scotland. Iona had been given to him for a monastery by the ruler of the Irish Dalriada. 

Why would a monk in his mid-40s go into such voluntary exile? Various explanations include: voluntary exile for Christ, an attempt to help overseas compatriots in their struggle for survival, or even as some sort of punishment for his part in a row over a psalter in Ireland. Whatever the reason, Columba went to Iona and spent the rest of his life in Scotland, returning to Ireland only for occasional visits.

Columba’s biographer, Adomnan, portrays him as a tall, striking figure of powerful build and impressive presence, who combined the skills of scholar, poet and ruler with a fearless commitment to God’s cause. Able, ardent, and sometimes harsh, Columba seems to have mellowed with age. 

As well as building his monastery on Iona, Columba also converted Brude, king of the Picts. Columba had great skill as a scribe, and an example of this can be seen in the Cathach of Columba, a late 6th century psalter in the Irish Academy, which is the oldest surviving example of Irish majuscule writing. In his later years Columba spent much time transcribing books. 

Columba’s death was apparently foreseen by his community, and even, it seems, sensed by his favourite horse. He died in the church just before Matins, and it is a tribute to this man that his traditions were upheld by his followers for about a century, not least in the Synod of Whitby and in Irish monasteries on the continent of Europe.

Here is a prayer of St Columba:
Christ With Us
My dearest Lord,
Be Thou a bright flame before me,
Be Thou a guiding star above me,
Be Thou a smooth path beneath me,
Be Thou a kindly shepherd behind me,
Today and evermore.

The Frailty of Life

According to one survey, during the lockdown, a quarter of adults in the UK have watched or listened to a religious service and one in 20 have started praying. While the majority of people who contract Covid-19 survive, it reminds us that we are much more frail and weak than we like to think. As the prophet Isaiah says, ‘All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures for ever.’ (Isaiah 40:6-8).

Isaiah’s words really resonate at this time. In more normal times we can avoid facing up to our vulnerability, but this pandemic has forced us to recognise our weakness and fragility.

However, this shouldn’t lead us to despair or fear; rather it is an opportunity to worship and praise for His constancy and care. In Peter’s first letter he quotes this passage from Isaiah and says, ‘For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God’ (1 Peter 1:23). Peter contrasts our mortality with the eternal Word of God, which bring us new birth and life through the power of the Spirit. Jesus died for our sins and rose again to make us right with God, so that through faith in Him we can know eternal life. We don’t need to be afraid of our frailty, for God is a dependable foundation on which to build our lives and face eternity.

‘We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree. And wither and perish, but nought changeth Thee.’ (Immortal, invisible, Walter C Smith).

 Without the Trinity, there is no Christianity

The Trinity is easier to say than to explain. Christians believe in one God, made up of three equal Persons. It is fundamental to the Nicene Creed, which sets out the definitive doctrine of the Trinity for more than two billion Christians worldwide, including all Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians and Reformed Christians.  

The theologian Ian Paul, writing on the Book of Revelation, points out that chapter five has a wonderful depiction of the Trinity in action. He writes:  ““…another figure appears in the drama, the lion who looks like a lamb. … Here is the one who fulfils the hopes of God’s people Israel, as the promised anointed Davidic king who was to come. Here is one who is fierce and powerful enough to conquer their enemies, and tear them apart.

 “And yet when John sees Him, He is like a weak and vulnerable lamb who has been slaughtered, just as the Passover lamb eaten by the people, the suffering servant who was ‘wounded for our transgressions’ and the lamb offered as an atoning sacrifice. He is the one who was slain, but now stands, and shares the throne with God, and with Him sends the Spirit to enact His will on earth. Here we have the most explicit (and perhaps the most complex) Trinitarian statement in the whole New Testament.”

 From the Rev Dr Ian Paul’s blog: Tell us about the Trinity

Christian Aid’s concern for women during Covid-19

The ACT Alliance, a network of 135 faith-based actors and churches operating in 120 countries, has called attention to the gendered dimension of Covid-19.  It is urging that the international community, including churches and religious organisations, should take this into account.  

Women are afforded fewer rights than men worldwide, and although the disease itself might cause higher mortality amongst men, it is clear that the social impacts of Covid-19 will impact women the most.

Women living in poverty do not have the ability to take time off work, do not have adequate access to housing to self-isolate, and cannot stockpile provisions. o:p>

Poor women, girls and vulnerable groups are least likely to be able to access healthcare and treatment. The situation will be critical for women migrant workers, women on the move and those living in refugee camps or slums.

Daniela Varano, Communications Officer at ACT Alliance said: "Domestic violence cases have risen dramatically as women and girls across most countries have been quarantined, often with their abusers. It is crucial that all governments put in place affirmative actions and inclusive policies that level the playing field.”

ACT Alliance, together with its members, has launched a Global Appeal to support the most marginalised communities during this crisis.

Praying for end to coronavirus crisis, for frontline workers and the world’s poor

British adults are praying for an end to the Covid-19 crisis, as well as for frontline workers and those living in poverty both in the UK and around the world, according to a new poll commissioned by Christian Aid.

The research, undertaken by Savanta ComRes, found that one in four (26%) British adults say they have prayed for an end to the Covid-19 crisis since lockdown, while an equal proportion (26%) say they have prayed for people working on the frontline and other key workers since the crisis began.

One in five (21%) British adults say they have prayed for people living in poverty in the UK or around the world since the lockdown.

The poll also indicated that the Covid-19 lockdown is slightly more likely to increase than decrease people’s faith in God (5% vs. 2%), life after death (4% vs. 2%) and the power of prayer (5% vs. 2%). This was particularly true of younger Brits aged 18-24.   

Chine McDonald from Christian Aid said: “At times of crisis like the world is experiencing now, faith can play a key part in helping people to cope with daily realities and pressures.”

Online book of remembrance opened at St Paul’s

St Paul’s Cathedral has launched Remember Me, an online book of remembrance for all those who have been living in the UK who have died as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. People of all faiths, beliefs or none are invited to contribute to Remember Me.  

HRH The Prince of Wales , who recorded a video message,  said: “This virtual book of remembrance is here not just to recall our loss and sorrow, but also to be thankful for everything good that those we have loved brought into our lives.” 

Family, friends and carers of those who have died can submit, free of charge, the name, photograph and a short message in honour of a deceased person via the Remember Me website. The deceased person must have been living in the UK. Remember Me will be open for entries for as long as needed.   It is intended that the Remember Me site will become a physical memorial at the Cathedral.

Remember Me website

Gardening Against the Odds?

The Conservation Foundation has relaunched Gardening Against the Odds as a virtual network and is getting some excellent interest.

As a result, it may be making a radio series soon, featuring some of the projects it has discovered over the years which show how people combat ‘odds’ – mental, physical and environmental - by gardening, even when they have no garden. 

These people plant seeds which they watch grow, eventually producing growth leading to flowers and fruit. Sometimes they work alone, sometimes there is an opportunity to share, producing a sense of community.  All this is nothing new, but many people are discovering the benefits of gardening as a result of lockdown – discovering how gardening can help combat loneliness and depression with a sense of caring and wellbeing sometimes with life changing results.

This is a very topical issue and so if you have discovered the benefits of gardening recently – or know someone who has – the Conservation Foundation would love to hear from you as soon as possible.

Please contact : davidshreeve@conservationfoundation.co.uk.

 More Information     Facebook

The Coronavirus, Church & You Survey

You are invited to take part in this national survey…details below

The Covid-19 pandemic has obviously had a profound effect on churches. The lockdown has severely restricted ministry in areas such as pastoral care, fellowship groups, and serving the community. On the other hand, for those with online access, worship has taken on new and creative forms over the last few weeks. Many clergy and ministry teams have risen to the challenge of operating in the virtual environment.

As we pass the most severe period of lockdown, it seems a good time to assess how churchgoers have responded to the experience, and what they think the future might hold. How well have people coped with the pandemic? Has it strengthened or weakened their faith? How has it been for clergy and ministry teams trying to work in this new environment? How have those receiving ministry found this novel experience? Will virtual ministry become part of the post-pandemic landscape, and will this be a good move for your church?

We have developed a survey over the last few weeks in discussion with bishops, clergy and lay people which we hope will enable you to record your experience of the pandemic, the ministry you have given or received, and what you think will happen to churches in a post-pandemic world.

In an article to launch the survey in the Church Times, the Bishop of Manchester, David Walker, wrote: “This survey is an attempt to go beyond anecdote… It will capture evidence of both excitement and fears for the future, of where stress levels have changed, and whether personal faith has weakened or grown.”

This is an online survey, which we estimate it will take you about 20-30 minutes to complete. Most of the questions simply require you to tick boxes, though there are options to specify your particular circumstances, and an opportunity at the end for you to tell us your views in your own words. Alongside questions about the pandemic and ministry there are sections which ask about you: these are important because they will allow us to see how the lockdown is affecting different sorts of people in different contexts.

The survey can be completed on mobile phones, though it is more quickly completed on devices with larger screens such as tablets or computers. Information

Please forward this link to any churches or churchgoers you feel might want to take part in the survey and support this research. We should have some initial results within a few weeks and will make these available as widely as we can.

 The Revd Professor Andrew Village, York St John University email:  a.village@yorksj.ac.uk

 The Revd Canon Professor Leslie J. Francis, Visiting Professor York St John University

God gives His gifts where He finds the vessel empty enough to receive them. - ib C S Lewis, writer

Whit Sunday -  Day of Pentecost: Whit Sunday

Pentecost took place on the well-established Jewish festival of Firstfruits, which was observed at the beginning of the wheat harvest. It was seven weeks after Easter, or 50 days including Easter.

A feast day to celebrate the country’s wheat harvest does not sound exactly world-changing, but that year, it became one of the most important days in world history. For Pentecost was the day that Jesus sent the Holy Spirit - the day the Church was born.

Jesus had told His disciples that something big was going to happen, and that they were to wait for it in Jerusalem, instead of returning to Galilee. Jesus had plans for His disciples, but He knew they could not do the work themselves. They would need His help.

And so, they waited in Jerusalem, praying together with His other followers, for many days. And then on that fateful morning there was suddenly the sound as of a mighty rushing wind. Tongues of flame flickered on their heads, and they began to praise God in many tongues, to the astonishment of those who heard them. The curse of Babel (Genesis 11: 1- 9) was dramatically reversed that morning.    

That morning the Holy Spirit came to indwell the disciples and followers of Jesus. The Church was born. The Christians were suddenly full of life and power, utterly different from their former fearful selves. The change in them was permanent.

Peter gave the first ever sermon of the Christian Church that morning, proclaiming Jesus was the Messiah. His boldness in the face of possible death was in marked contrast to the man who had denied Jesus 50 days before.  And 3,000 people responded, were converted, and were baptised. How’s that for fast church growth!

Of course, Pentecost was not the first time the Holy Spirit had acted in this world. All through the Old Testament there are accounts of how God’s Spirit guided people and strengthened them. But now, because of Christ’s death and resurrection, He could INDWELL them. From now on, every Christian could have the confidence that Jesus was with them constantly, through the indwelling of His Holy Spirit.

Joan of Arc: saving France from the English

How far would you go to respond to God’s call on your life? When, as the daughter of a peasant family in Champagne in 1426, 14-year-old Joan heard heavenly voices calling her to ‘save France’ from the English, she decided to obey the call, no matter what the consequences. 

Teenage girls who want to rescue their country from foreign troops were considered every bit as crazy back then as they would be now. But Joan eventually came to the notice of the Dauphin (Later Charles Vll) who decided to make use of her obvious ability to inspire people – in this case, the French, to fight. And so Joan, dressed in white armour, rode at the front of the French army when they relieved Orleans in April 1429.  Her presence and belief in her divine calling to get rid of the English, did wonders for the morale of the troops, who loved her even more when she sustained a wound in the breast, and made little of it.

A campaign in the Loire followed, and then in July the Dauphin was crowned at Rheims with Joan at his side, carrying her standard. More battles followed that winter, until Joan was captured and sold to the English. They attributed her success to witchcraft and spells, and imprisoned her at Rouen. She was brought before judges, where her spirited and shrewd defence were outstanding.

But the judges declared her false and diabolical, and she was condemned to die as a heretic. She was burnt at the stake in the marketplace at Rouen on 30 May 1431. Joan died as she had lived; with total faith in God and certainty that she was obeying His will for her life. She died with fortitude, looking at a cross and calling on the name of Jesus. Her ashes were thrown into the Seine.

Joan’s integrity and courage are what shine down the centuries. Here is a patron saint for you if you feel that God is calling you to do something extraordinary: something that is way, way beyond your comfort zone; but something that could right wrongs and make a difference in the world. Are you up for it?

Mothers’ Union offers range of resources

The Mothers’ Union has made a very practical response to the coronavirus.

As their website explains, “We know that our work and experience in re-building communities and supporting family life is going to be more important than ever once the threat of COVID-19 subsides. Our members will be some of the first in line to support those around them.”  

In the meantime, MU has drawn together a range of resources to “help nurture our members and their friends and neighbours through this challenging time.”  The resources will “help combat feelings of loneliness, to nourish faith and to help you continue to feel connected to your friends and community.”

These include: rainbows, prayer cards, prayer resources, puzzles resources, and Bible study resources.

Information

Mend and make do

According to handicraft expert Kirstie Allsopp, a missing button was the number one reason why 350,000 tonnes of wearable clothing may end up in UK landfill this year. 

But that was before lockdown.  Now you have time to make do – and mend!  Rescue and reuse your clothes.  After all, it saves money and the planet. 

What kind of stress do you have?

These are stressful days.  The towering storm clouds of coronavirus and financial trouble are casting a long shadow over all of us.

Many of us deal with our stress by expressing it. Loudly! We lose our temper, swear, shout and even throw things at our loved ones. We over-react to various personal setbacks because we can’t retaliate against the virus or the stock market.

But some of us do the opposite: we under-react. We display ‘quiet stress’.

“We quietly hold our stress within: we don’t speak up about how we feel.  And crucially, we become inert. We don’t act on situations that require action.” So warns Jillian Lavender of the London Meditation Centre.

“We stay in unhappy relationships and unfulfilling jobs. We feel overwhelmed, yet we ignore important admin tasks. We procrastinate.  Quiet stress creates an emotional paralysis that keeps us ‘stuck’ in unhappy situations.  Inaction is just as much of an inappropriate response to stress as over-reaction is”

A further danger of ‘quiet stress’ is that instead of taking positive action, people can withdraw into themselves, and turn to comfort eating or drinking too much. This further lowers their immune system.

The Valley of Dry Bones has a future hopeThe Valley of Dry Bones has a future hope

 ‘A dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones. An' I hear the word of the Lord!’

At this time of global pandemic, we live with stark reality of death and life. Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones (37:1-14) was given when God’s people were in exile in Babylon. They felt dead, being separated from home and God! The vision answers God’s question: ‘can these bones live?’.

We can also feel cut off from God, facing the loss of job, business, home or health, with churches unable to meet on Sundays. This vision assures us that God has power over death and can breathe new life into what is hopeless.

When Ezekiel is told to ‘prophesy to the bones,’ God brings them back to life: the bones come together and are covered with muscles and skin. He then prophesies to the wind, from the four corners of the earth, to bring the bodies alive. The physical bodies are then filled with God’s breath to bring new life. The miracle of this story is that God not only makes these bones live, but also brings the life of His Spirit. 

The Covid-19 virus robs people of their life by suffocation, so that they can’t breathe. Our hope beyond the pandemic is that the gift of God’s Spirit will bring new life to our lives, churches and world. Life will certainly look very different in the future, but we can be assured that God is with us and that we are safe in His hands.

‘I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’(vs14)

Christians and the bubonic plague of London

The Reverend Richard Peirson was one of the exceptions.  Most of the other clergy in the City of London had fled the Great Plague in 1665, but Peirson stayed behind to look after the parishioners of St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street, where he was Rector. The parish was densely populated and the pandemic was catastrophic. The church’s register records 636 burials that year in the month of September alone, with 43 interred in one day.

Houses of infected people were marked with a red cross on the door, with occupants kept inside for 40 days. Handcarts were pulled along the city streets to cart away the bodies; the drivers’ cries of “Bring out your dead”, became etched in the memories of subsequent generations. Relatives were banned from attending funerals.

The official count numbered 68,596 deaths in London alone, but other estimates suggested two or three times that number. Bubonic plague – for that is what it was – was incurable. Poor people were fatalistic about it but complained that even their ‘spiritual physicians’ had abandoned them. Clergy of the Church of England were often supplanted by non-conformist preachers.

It wasn’t just the St Bride’s Rector who put his life in jeopardy by staying at his post. While most wealthy people, along with King Charles II and his court, escaped the plague-ridden city, Churchwarden Henry Clarke also chose to remain at the church. When he succumbed to the illness, his brother William took over. William survived for a fortnight.  

Plague cases continued to occur sporadically at a modest rate until mid-1666. That year the Great Fire of London destroyed St Bride’s Church and much of the City of London. It was rebuilt to a design by Christopher Wren, but almost obliterated once more in 1940 during World War II before being restored yet again.

Today’s Rector, Canon Alison Joyce, says that compared with her predecessor Richard Peirson, she has it easy. Like everyone else, she is confined by the lockdown rules to her Rectory next to the church. But her pastoral work continues, and she collates sermons and archive music to create a Sunday webcast service. Alison writes, “these days it is a ministry of telephone calls, emails and Facetime. I offer such practical help and support to the vulnerable as I can . . . I keep a candle burning before our main altar and continue a ministry of prayer.”

Alison says she is surprised when people regard the faith as a kind of celestial insurance policy against bad things happening to them. The first followers of Jesus knew that in dedicating their lives to following the crucified and risen Christ, their discipleship would take them into the very heart of darkness, not away from it. 

She adds, “Hope is no hope at all unless it can engage with utter despair and meaninglessness.”

John & Charles Wesley, evangelists & hymn-writers

John and Charles Wesley were the founders of Methodism. Two of 19 children born to Samuel and Susannah Wesley of Epworth Rectory in Lincolnshire in 1703 and 1707, their father was the local rector, while their mother was a spiritual inspiration to her many children.

Both John and Charles went to Christ Church, Oxford (1720 and 1726). John was ordained, and Charles and some friends formed a ‘Holy Club’ while still at college. It consisted of men who dedicated themselves to Bible study, prayer, fasting and good works. Such regular disciplines soon earned Charles the nickname ‘Methodist’. The name stuck.

Both Charles and John felt called to the mission field, and so in 1735 they sailed to Georgia. Their time among Indians in America was not a success – they struggled for any real spiritual authority in their ministries. Feeling failures, they returned to England in some depression. John summed it up: “I went to America to convert the Indians; but, oh, who shall convert me?”

Then the Wesleys made friends with some Moravians. They stressed that salvation cannot be earned, but must be received by grace through faith in Christ.  Charles was the first to experience this ‘true’ conversion, when on Pentecost Sunday, 21st May 1738, he wrote that the Spirit of God ‘chased away the darkness of my unbelief.’

Only three days later, on 24th May, 1738, it was John’s turn. As he wrote in his journal: “In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed.”

John and Charles Wesley then devoted the rest of their lives to sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. In doing so, they turned England upside-down. When the established Church threw John out, he took to the fields, preaching to coal miners and commoners. His itinerant evangelism took him 250,000 miles on horseback and to preach over 40,000 sermons.  His small ‘societies’ attracted some 120,000 followers by the time of his death.

Charles became the most prolific and skilled hymn-writer in English history, writing hymns that are sung widely today, such as ‘Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.’ In all, he wrote more than 6,000 hymns.

The legacy of the two brothers lives on. As well as Methodism, their teaching has widely impacted the holiness movement, the Pentecostal movement, and the charismatic movement.

St Alban, helping a stranger in need

Alban should be the patron saint of anyone who impulsively offers to help a stranger in need… and finds their own life turned upside down as a result.

The story goes that Alban was a Roman citizen quietly living in England in the third century.  Then, miles away in Rome, the emperor, Diocletian ordered a persecution of the Christians. Nothing to do with Alban… except that suddenly he found a desperate priest on his doorstep, being hunted down by local soldiers. Alban decided to give the priest shelter, and within days was converted to Christianity himself, and then baptised.  

As if this was not brave enough, when the soldiers arrived, Alban decided to take the priest’s place. He dressed up in the priest’s clothes to enable the priest to escape. Not surprisingly, the soldiers then arrested Alban himself. Now a Christian, Alban refused to offer sacrifice to the Roman gods, and so was condemned to death.  

But the story doesn’t end there, for Alban went to his execution with such holiness and serenity that one of the executioners was converted, and the other executioner’s eyes fell out (or so the story goes). Alban was buried nearby, and the shrine built to his memory was soon known for its healing powers. Alban’s cult extended all over England, and nine ancient English churches were dedicated to him.

One-line quiz questions

 1. What time of day was Adam created? - Just a little before Eve.

 2. Who was the fastest runner in the race? - Adam. He was first in the human race.

 3. Why are atoms Catholic? - Because they all have mass.

 4 Why didn’t they play cards on the Ark? - Because Noah was always standing on the deck

 5. Why didn’t Noah ever go fishing? - He only had two worms.

 6. Did Eve ever have a date with Adam? - No — just an apple.

 7. Why did the unemployed man get excited while reading his Bible? - He thought he saw a job.

 8. Does God love everyone? - Yes, but He prefers ‘fruits of the spirit’ to ‘religious nuts’.

 9. Why couldn’t Jonah trust the ocean? - He just knew there was something fishy about it.

 10. What kind of man was Boaz before he married Ruth? - Absolutely ruthless.

 11. The good Lord didn’t create anything without a purpose. - Mosquitoes come close, though.

 12. What’s so funny about forbidden fruits? - They create many jams.

21st May - Ascension Day: 40 Days with the Risen Christ

40 days after Easter comes Ascension Day. These are the 40 days during which the Risen Christ appeared again and again to His disciples, following His death and resurrection. (Matthew 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; and John 20.)

The Gospels give us little of Christ’s teachings and deeds during those 40 days. Jesus was seen by numerous of His disciples: on the road to Emmaus, by the Sea of Galilee, in houses, etc. He strengthened and encouraged His disciples, and at last opened their eyes to all that the Scriptures had promised about the Messiah. Jesus also told them that as the Father had sent Him, He was now going to send them - to all corners of the earth, as His witnesses.

Surely the most tender, moving ‘farewell’ in history took place on Ascension Day. Luke records the story with great poignancy: ‘When Jesus had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, He lifted up His hands - and blessed them.’ 

As Christmas began the story of Jesus’ life on earth, so Ascension Day completes it, with His return to His Father in heaven. Jesus’ last act on earth was to bless His disciples. He and they had a bond as close as could be: they had just lived through three tumultuous years of public ministry and miracles – persecution and death – and resurrection!  Just as we part from our nearest and dearest by still looking at them with love and memories in our eyes, so exactly did Jesus: ‘While He was blessing them, He left them and was taken up into heaven.’ (Luke 24:50-1) He was not forsaking them, but merely going on ahead to a kingdom which would also be theirs one day: ‘I am ascending to my Father and to your Father, to my God and your God...’  (John 20:17)

Disciples at the Ascension

The disciples were surely the most favoured folk in history. Imagine being one of the last few people on earth to be face to face with Jesus, and have Him look on you with love. No wonder then that Luke goes on: ‘they worshipped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.’    (Luke 24:52,53)

No wonder they praised God! They knew they would see Jesus again one day!  ‘I am going to prepare a place for you... I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.’ (John 14:2,3) In the meantime, Jesus had work for them to do: to take the Gospel to every nation on earth.

Nature out and about

The lockdown this Spring at least gave Nature a brief respite. Wild goats, herds of deer, sparrowhawks, stoats, snakes, badgers, spawning toads and songbirds all seemed to have enjoyed the peace and quiet. 

We, in turn, have enjoyed watching them from our windows. As Mark Thompson, a presenter on Stargazing Life, said, “This lockdown is giving people a chance not just to connect with our families, but also to connect with Nature around us.  It has given us the change to recalibrate.”

St Sofa’s

We worship at St Sofa’s now
Since Covid came to stay
We don’t dress up or do our hair
But still we come to pray!

 

Our Vicar is a clever chap
A Zoom with his IT
And so we sit down ev’ry week
And meet up virtually!

 

Our Parish Church stands empty
With praise she does not ring;
But still her people gather round
To pray, and praise, and sing!

 

The virus is a nasty thing
Yet it has helped us see
The church is NOT a building
But folk like you and me!

Over 6,000 calls in first 48 hours to Daily Hope

A free phone line offering hymns, prayers, and reflections 24 hours a day while church buildings are closed because of the coronavirus received more than 6,000 calls in the first 48 hours.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, recently launched ‘Daily Hope’ as a simple new way to bring worship and prayer into people’s homes, during the lockdown period..

Dalily Hope phone detailsThe line – which is available 24 hours a day – has been set up particularly with those unable to join online church services in mind.

The service is supported by the Church of England nationally as well as through the Connections group based at Holy Trinity Claygate in Surrey and the Christian charity Faith in Later Life.

 

Within 48 hours the line had received more than 6,000 calls from across the country, with many being referred by friends, family or members. Calls have so far spanned more than 50,000 minutes, with some of those accessing the service listening to the music, prayers and reflections for up to 50 minutes at a time.

The Revd Canon Dave Male, the Church of England’s Director of Evangelism and Discipleship, said: “The volume of calls shows that Daily Hope is meeting a need.

“We have a duty in these strange and difficult times to find new ways of bringing prayer and worship to people wherever they are, and this is one more way of helping people to connect with God from their own homes.

“This is such a simple idea – planned and launched all within a few short weeks by a small dedicated team – but I pray it will bring real comfort, hope and inspiration to people at this time.”

Callers to the line hear a short greeting from the Archbishop before being able to choose from a range of options, including hymns, prayers, reflections and advice on COVID-19.

 Options available include materials also made available digitally by the Church of England’s Communications team such as Prayer During the Day and Night Prayer, updated daily, from Common Worship, and a recording of the Church of England weekly national online service.

C of E Weekly Service

Join the celebration of nurses and healthcare workers in an online service on 10 May by clicking above. Bishop of London and former Chief Nursing Officer Sarah Mullally lead the service, with contributions from the current Chief Nursing Officer and many more, in recognition of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale.

St Matthias, the replacement apostle

If you’re saying to yourself, ‘Who?’ you’ll be in good company. May 15th is the feast day of St Matthias the Apostle, and in describing him thus we have said just about all there is to know about him. He gets just one mention in the Bible, in the first chapter of Acts, immediately prior to the day of Pentecost, where it tells us that he was elected to take the place in the ranks of the twelve apostles recently vacated by the betrayer Judas Iscariot.

Eusebius, in the fourth century, says in his history of the apostolic era that Matthias was one of the 70 disciples sent out by Jesus (Luke 10:1), and that seems reasonable. When it was necessary to fill the vacancy among the apostles it would be natural to turn to someone who had followed Jesus from earlier years, as well as being a witness of the resurrection. Two names were suggested and prayed over. Then the apostles cast lots, following the Old Testament practice of the high priest’s Urim and Thummim, one assumes. When they did, ‘the lot fell on Matthias’.

Casting lots to fill vacancies on committees or councils, or even to appoint bishops, might seem to us to be rather risky. The Victorian preacher Campbell Morgan even suggested, that the 11 acted in haste and pre-empted God’s choice of Saul (later known as Paul), who at that time was busy persecuting the Church, arresting Christians and having them thrown into prison. He hadn’t yet travelled the Damascus Road.

Be that as it may, Matthias was elected, and for us he can stand for all those excellent, consistent, reliable and faithful servants of Christ who never make a headline, not even in a blog or parish magazine. Yet still he was chosen because he could be a ‘witness’, and so are we.

Doubtless he fulfilled that responsibility admirably, without, as we say, ‘setting the Thames on fire’. Let’s salute him on his day - the ‘Unknown Apostle’.

#FaithAtHome aims to make prayer a household habit

The Church of England has recently launched #FaithAtHome, a new programme which it is hoped will “make prayer a household habit once again.”

#FaithAtHome will feature weekly video content to help families to talk about faith and pray together. The videos will be led by children, young people, staff and school leaders from across the country.

The #FaithAtHome programme will run for an initial 11 weeks, until the end of July, and can be accessed at churchofengland.org/faithathomeIt will explore themes including courage, patience, generosity, resilience, love and hope.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said: “The aim of these resources is to offer simple ways for families and households to approach complex and difficult topics, such as illness, fear and bereavement.  The coronavirus pandemic has forced people to confront difficult and painful questions that none of us can explore on our own.

“My hope and prayer is that #FaithAtHome will not only equip children and young people to engage with difficult questions, but also inspire them.”

The Church of England’s Chief Education Officer, Nigel Genders said: "Home is the new normal, and faith at home is a habit we need to rediscover. #FaithAtHome will offer people of all ages and faith backgrounds a chance to pause, think and reflect, and to rebuild lost habits of prayer and faithful reflection in the home.”

Psalm 34

Amid the current coronavirus pandemic, we all live with fear and uncertainty. How do we deal with fear? I sought the Lord, and He answered me; He delivered me from all my fears.’ (Ps 34:4). In this psalm, David expresses real fears. He was on the run from Saul, who was trying to murder him! Yet David points to three simple habits that help overcome fear.

Praising God always: I will extol the Lord at all times; His praise will always be on my lips. (1). It was David’s pattern of life to praise God daily, whatever his circumstances. He was acknowledging God’s lordship over his life. Praise affirms that my circumstances are in His hands and He is with me in all that I am going through.

Seeking God continually: ‘This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; He saved him out of all his troubles.’ (6). David looked to God, who released him from all his fears. It’s easy for our fears to overwhelm us and rob us of the assurance that God loves us and wants the best for us. When we seek God, He hears us and responds, as He is not powerless to act.

Finding refuge in God: Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him.’ (8). David’s personal invitation is to taste and see that God is good. Our fears often tell us that the opposite is true for us. Fear tells us that God cannot be trusted and that He will abandon us. We can make God our secure refuge and not be afraid.

This psalm helps us to see fear from a totally different perspective: ‘Fear the Lord, you His holy people, for those who fear Him lack nothing.’ (9).

Creative things you can do with your Bible

Bible Society is urging people to make good use of their enforced time at home by using their creativity to read the Bible with better appreciation. To help with this, Bible Society is offering a range of creative Bible-based resources to help people learn new skills, such as journaling, colouring or doing crafts that are Bible-based. 

These include: 

Bless Our Nest (£5.95) - a colouring book filled with Bible verse designs, featuring colour charts and tools for Bible journaling.

Faithful Papercrafting (£12.99) - now you can create note cards, gift tags and scrapbook paper, mini cards, bookmarks and envelope templates full of inspiring Scripture.

Complete Guide to Bible Journaling (£14.99) - offering new creative techniques for Bible journaling.

Go here

Sometimes we need occasionaly to have a laugh so here are some items put in church notice sheets.

This being Easter Sunday, we will ask Mrs Brown, our children’s minister, to come forward and lay an egg on the altar.

 Baptisms: after Easter, the North and South ends of the church will be utilised. Children will be baptised at both ends.

 Coming up:  Theological Open House. We discuss thought-provoking topics. Your opinions are hardly welcome.

  Next Sunday Mrs Brown will sing a solo at the morning service before the vicar preaches on the subject of ‘Terrible experiences and how to survive them’.

 Players picked for St Andrew’s darts team will be pinned to the board on Thursday.

Also what the teacher says and what the teacher means….

If you have ever wondered what the teachers really think of your child, you may enjoy these snippets from real reports….and the thought behind them!

James has a remarkable ability in gathering needed information from his classmates. (He was caught cheating on an exam.)

Karen is an endless fund of energy and viability. (Your hyperactive monster can’t stay put for five minutes.)

Fantastic imagination! (He’s one of the biggest liars I have ever met.)

Margie exhibits a relaxed attitude to school, indicating that high expectations don’t intimidate her. (The lazy thing hasn’t done one assignment all term.)

Sue is a real athlete, with superior hand-eye coordination. (The little creep stung me with a rubber band from 15 feet away.)

Nick thrives on interaction with his peers. (Your son never shuts up.)

Nancy’s greatest asset is demonstrative public discussions. (Every time I give an assignment, she responds by sparking a classroom argument over it.)

John enjoys the thrill of engaging challenges with his peers. (He’s an incorrigible bully.)

Jane is an adventurous nature lover, who rarely misses opportunities to explore new territory. (Your daughter skipped class and nearly drowned trying to catch wriggly things in the school pond.)

What does church look like - send us a photo.

Send your photos to: colin_rosemary@outlook.com and we will put them on this website.

Terry Waite - on coping with lockdown

Terry Waite spent four years in solitary confinement in Beirut. He says: “In isolation, it is easy to become introspective and depressed. All of us, when we are honest and examine ourselves critically, will discover things about ourselves of which we are not especially proud. I had to learn how to grow a greater acceptance of myself and work towards a deeper inner harmony. 

“…. Today in lockdown, it’s important to keep yourself well. Don’t slob around all day in pyjamas and a dressing gown. Dress properly and develop a routine. It’s important to have a structure – get up at a certain time, eat regular meals and so on.

“If you have faith, then that will give you resources to draw on”, especially if you know some hymns, psalms and prayers by heart. “When I was captured, they were there to call on.”

Dalily Hope phone details

How do you feel about your health?

Having a religious faith may well make you feel better about your health, according to recent government figures.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has published data linking religious belief and health in an effort to “understand the circumstances of people of different religious identities.”

It found that 66 per cent of Muslims, 68 per cent of Christians, 69 per cent of Sikhs, 71 per cent of Buddhists, 72 per cent of Hindus and 77 per cent of Jews were satisfied with their health between 2016 and 2018.

In contrast, only 64 per cent of non-religious people reported being satisfied with their health during that time.

Michael Wakelin, chair of the Religious Media Centre, said: “I guess this has something to do with an attitude of gratitude.  If you are of the opinion that God loves you and He created you, you are more likely to be grateful for what you have.

“Also, if you have a faith you are more likely to be hopeful for a better future, so that even if things are a bit tough now, they will improve in God’s time.”

We can claim the gift of sleep

Many of us have had our sleep patterns disturbed in recent weeks.  After all, a pandemic, lockdown and growing financial crisis are hardly conducive to relaxation.

But the fact is that, whatever is happening out there, we desperately need our sleep. It is vital for the proper functioning of our brain and heart. Anyone who has ever been deprived of sleep for a period will remember their ever-diminishing ability to perform complicated tasks.

Sleep can also help us solve problems. We go to bed struggling with a decision to make or a relationship to resolve, and we wake up to find a solution presenting itself. The old advice to ‘sleep on it’ is true: we see things more clearly after sleep.

The Bible considers our sleep as a blessing from God.  As Christians, we can calmly commit ourselves to His loving care, secure that He who watches over us “will neither slumber nor sleep” (Ps 121:4). Knowing that God is with us, we can let ourselves go.

If you are having trouble sleeping, why not memorise one of the verses below, and repeat it to yourself as you lie in bed tonight?

I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me. (Ps 3:5)

In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety. (Ps 4:8)

 In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat for He grants sleep to those He loves. (Ps 127:2)

 When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.  (Prov. 3:24)

 ‘I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.’ (Jer. 31:25)

As the writer George MacDonald so aptly put it: “Sleep is God’s contrivance for giving man the help He cannot get into him when he is awake.”

Lockdown, you and IT

How are you getting on with technology?  The coronavirus pandemic has driven hundreds of millions of us to use it more than ever, as we sit at home in frustrated isolation.

If you are used to digital meetings and Zoom, it is not a problem, but for millions of grandparents wanting to see their families, or non-techie people wanting to see their friends, it has been quite a learning curve.  So, is there a patron saint of computers and electronics and all the difficult stuff?

Some people say the patron saint of the internet should be Saint Isidore of Seville, a Bishop and scholar in the Seventh Century who wrote a book called Etymologies or The Origins, in which he tried to record everything that was known. That seems to be a good basis for sainthood, or at least for the internet.

Another candidate is Saint Eligius who lived about the same time. He is quite busy already as the patron saint of goldsmiths, metalworkers, vets, the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME), horses and those who work with them. His main qualification seems to have been his ability to make things.

Another suggestion is Zebedee. No, not the character from The Magic Roundabout but the father of James and John.  After all, consider this: “James the son of Zebedee, and his brother John…were in a boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and He called them. (Matt. 4:21)

Ok, it is not the internet, but Zebedee knew about mending a net which would have had both good and bad stuff all over it. 

Certainly, whenever one gets in an IT muddle during this lockdown, we would welcome any patron saint that was willing to help us!

Coping in the Storm

‘Jesus got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.’ (Mark 4:39).

What started out for the disciples as a routine trip across the Sea of Galilee, ended up with a storm threatening to overwhelm their boat! Jesus was asleep in the boat, so little wonder they feared for their lives: ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’ (38).

Who would have thought two months ago that the world would be overwhelmed by the Coronavirus pandemic and our lives turned upside down! Self-isolating and self-distancing are now part of our daily vocabulary, as we live in an uncertain world. What does this story say to us in our circumstances?

Firstly, we read that Jesus calmed the storm: ‘He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’’ (39). He is the Lord of the storm and holds our circumstances in His hands. We are called to trust, not fear, being assured that He is with us to protect us. ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’ (40). Nothing is outside of His control.

Secondly, despite the calm, the disciples were still terrified: ‘They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey Him!’’ (41). Like us, the disciples were asking why Jesus, who loved them, had allowed the storm to happen! Our circumstances provide us with an opportunity to understand more deeply who Jesus is. We can’t control Him and we don’t always understand His bigger plans for us and His world. We are called to overcome fear and insecurity, by living lives of peace, faith and hope. How contagious can we be for Jesus in a stormy world?

At this time of global pandemic, we live with stark reality of death and life. Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones (37:1-14) was given when God’s people were in exile in Babylon. They felt dead, being separated from home and God! The vision answers God’s question: ‘can these bones live?’ We can also feel cut off from God, facing the loss of job, business, home or health, with churches unable to meet on Sundays. This vision assures us that God has power over death and can breathe new life into what is hopeless.

When Ezekiel is told to ‘prophesy to the bones’ (4), God brings them back to life: the bones come together and are covered with muscles and skin, and then filled with God’s breath to bring new life, by the life of His Spirit. 

The Covid-19 virus robs people of their life by suffocation, so that they can’t breathe. Our hope beyond the pandemic is that the gift of God’s Spirit will bring new life to our lives, churches and world. Life will certainly look very different in the future, but we can be assured that God is with us and that we are safe in his hands.

‘I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’ (14).

All Souls Prom Praise

The above is available on line - click above.

Take exercise for even half an hour a day – and lower depression!

Here is some good news for us all: if you are feeling low, get moving. A recent study at Harvard has found that even just half an hour of exercise a day can lower the risk of depression by 17 per cent.

So – even though we are told to stay home at present, do a work-out in your living room, run around the garden a dozen times, or run up and down your staircase 20 times -anything to get your heart pounding and your body moving!

Tearfund – still working around the world

“As you would expect, Tearfund's work will continue through our amazing network of courageous Christian partners and churches around the world.”  So says Nigel Harris, CEO of Tearfund.

“We are doing all we can to follow Jesus where the need is greatest, bringing practical help and powerful hope to the most vulnerable people, just as we have been doing for over 50 years.

“We are asking for God’s protection and His wisdom to deal with this unprecedented global situation. We would greatly value your prayers in the months ahead.

“At a recent Tearfund Prayer Day, we received a prophetic word about the ship that leaves a safe harbour to go out into rough waters, with the promise that our Lord will be with us. This feels very real as I write to you today. And it is a huge encouragement to me personally to have the reassurance that Jesus is Immanuel, God with us.  We have a God who loves and cares for us. He has told us, ‘Do not fear, for I am with you’ (Isaiah 41:10). 

“I am daring to dream that this could be the opportunity in our generation for the Church to be known globally for its brave and compassionate response, putting the needs of others before our own, just as Jesus did. We know this is possible. We see acts of heroic love every day in the countries where we work.

“In the coming months, we may need to ask you again to dig deep to enable us to continue meeting the needs of the world’s poorest communities. Myself and my whole team at Tearfund will be digging deep into our own reserves of time, energy and resources to enable our vital work to continue.”

More at:
Tearfund link

Prayer

 If a prayer can move a mountain
If a prayer can stop a war,
If a prayer foster love and peace
……….Where hatred ruled before,
If a prayer can conquer hunger
If a prayer has power to heal,
If a prayer can mend division
……….Why are we so slow to kneel?
Offering prayers up to our maker,
Throughout each brand new day
To change things for the better,
……….In every kind of way.

Two books which we have not read but you may be interested in them:

Book - Hope beyond Coronovirus Hope beyond Coronovirus By Roger Carswell, 10Publishing.

This is a very helpful evangelistic tract you can bulk-order to share around, or you can download it free in an A4 pdf at:
10 0f those link

 

 

 Book - Where is God in a Coronavirus WorldWhere is God in a Coronavirus World? By John Lennox, The Good Book Company, £2.48

We are living through a unique, era-defining period. Many of our old certainties have gone, whatever our view of the world and whatever our beliefs. The coronavirus pandemic and its effects are perplexing and unsettling for all of us. How do we begin to think it through and cope with it?

In this short yet profound book, Oxford mathematics professor John Lennox examines the coronavirus in light of various belief systems and shows how the Christian worldview not only helps us to make sense of it, but also offers us a sure and certain hope to cling to.

John Lennox is an Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford and Emeritus Fellow in Mathematics and the Philosophy of Science at Green Templeton College. He is also an Associate Fellow of the Said Business School and an Adjunct Lecturer for The Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics. He has been part of numerous public debates defending the Christian faith against well-known atheists including Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Peter Singer.

ITV News journalist and presenter Julie Etchingham, a practising Christian, has defended the role played by journalists during the Coronavirus pandemic
She told the Christians in Media website, “Reporters are coming in for a lot of flack for the questions they are asking government. But what else are we for?  We all get that this is a crisis like no other; that few in government have ever had to navigate such a challenge.br>“But, if we’re still attempting to function as a democracy in the face of this, then scrutiny is clearly crucial.  Many in our frontline services and the wider public are demanding answers. We are there on their behalf. We don’t always get it right. This isn’t a moment to trip people up, but urgently to get to the truth.”
Now is the time for truth and accuracy to be at the centre of all our communications.
So, yes, we need to be praying for and supporting the front-line health service staff, the public health experts, the scientists researching vaccines to combat the virus, and the key workers keeping our societies running.
But we also need to be praying for and supporting the men and women working in and with the media to publish, upload, broadcast and distribute the most accurate information, without spin or distortion.
So here is a prayer for the media in these challenging days.
Loving God,
We pray for everyone working in and with media in these challenging times.
Encourage all who seek to explain and interpret the fast-changing world around us.
Embolden the truth-tellers, truth-seekers and fact-checkers.
Promote coverage that builds our shared humanity and where everyone has a voice.
Bring clarity where there is confusion
Bring knowledge where there is speculation
Bring wisdom and insight when the way ahead seems unclear.
And bring us all to a knowledge of truth that sets us free, and helps keep us safe.
In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Amen.

We are your people:

For the Christian community
We are not people of fear:
we are people of courage.
We are not people who protect our own safety:
we are people who protect our neighbours’ safety.
We are not people of greed:
we are people of generosity.
We are your people God,
giving and loving,
wherever we are,
whatever it costs
For as long as it takes
wherever you call us.

Loneliness

From one who is ill or isolated
O God,
help me to trust you,
help me to know that you are with me,
help me to believe that nothing can separate me 
from your love
revealed in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Caring for the sick

For hospital staff and medical researchers
all who are caring for the sick,
and your wisdom to those searching for a cure.
Strengthen them with your Spirit,
that through their work many will be restored to health;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Heal them

For those who are ill
Merciful God,
we entrust to your tender care
those who are ill or in pain,
knowing that whenever danger threatens
your everlasting arms are there to hold them safe.
Comfort and heal them,
and restore them to health and strength;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Be our hope

God of compassion,
be close to those who are ill, afraid or in isolation.
In their loneliness, be their consolation;
in their anxiety, be their hope;
in their darkness, be their light;
through Him who suffered alone on the cross,
but reigns with you in glory,
Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Give us strength

Lord Jesus Christ,
you taught us to love our neighbour,
and to care for those in need
as if we were caring for you.
In this time of anxiety, give us strength
to comfort the fearful, to tend the sick,
and to assure the isolated
of our love, and your love,
for your name’s sake.
Amen.

Time of distress:

Keep us, good Lord,
under the shadow of your mercy
in this time of uncertainty and distress.
Sustain and support the anxious and fearful,
and lift up all who are brought low;
that we may rejoice in your comfort
knowing that nothing can separate us from your love
in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Amen.

Christians coping with Coronavirus

Leave your dandelions alone

When mowing your lawn, avoid cutting your dandelions.  That is the advice of the president of the British Ecological Society, Prof Jane Memmott. It will help to save the bees.

She explains: “Dandelions are a fantastic source of pollen and nectar for the early pollinators in particular. If they were rare, people would be fighting over them, but because they’re common, people pull them out and spray them with all sorts of horrible things when they should just let them flower. If you leave the lawn to three or four inches, then dandelions, clover and daisies can flower and then you end with something like a tapestry, and it’s much nicer to sit there and watch the insects buzzing about.”

Prof Memmott encourages everyone to get a bee hotel for their garden. “There’s nothing nicer than being sat in a chair with a glass of wine and watching the bees going in and out of your own personal little beehive. Even just a potted plant on a doorstep will provide lunch for a bee or a fly or a butterfly.”

Church Mission Society launches a ‘lament space’ for those in pain

Church Mission Society has opened a space on its website for anyone to use.  It explains: “Our world, and our lives, have changed radically. Are you sad? Angry? Scared?

 “Well, then you’re not alone. Lamentspace is a place where we share our grief with God and each other. About the big things as well as those that may seem trivial.”  Go here

Psalm 34

Amid the current coronavirus pandemic, we all live with fear and uncertainty. How do we deal with fear? I sought the Lord, and He answered me; He delivered me from all my fears.’ (Ps 34:4). In this psalm, David expresses real fears. He was on the run from Saul, who was trying to murder him! Yet David points to three simple habits that help overcome fear.

Praising God always: I will extol the Lord at all times; His praise will always be on my lips. (1). It was David’s pattern of life to praise God daily, whatever his circumstances. He was acknowledging God’s lordship over his life. Praise affirms that my circumstances are in His hands and He is with me in all that I am going through.

Seeking God continually: ‘This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; He saved him out of all his troubles.’ (6). David looked to God, who released him from all his fears. It’s easy for our fears to overwhelm us and rob us of the assurance that God loves us and wants the best for us. When we seek God, He hears us and responds, as He is not powerless to act.

Finding refuge in God: Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him.’ (8). David’s personal invitation is to taste and see that God is good. Our fears often tell us that the opposite is true for us. Fear tells us that God cannot be trusted and that He will abandon us. We can make God our secure refuge and not be afraid.

This psalm helps us to see fear from a totally different perspective: ‘Fear the Lord, you His holy people, for those who fear Him lack nothing.’ (9).

Jesus’ appearances after His Resurrection

 The following list of witnesses may help you put all those references in order….

 Mary Magdalene                                Mark 16:9-11; John 20:10-18

Other women at the tomb                Matthew 28:8-10

Peter in Jerusalem                             Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5

The two travellers on the road        Mark 16:12,13

10 disciples behind closed doors    Mark 16:14; Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-25

11 disciples WITH Thomas              John 20:26-31; 1 Corinthians 15:5

7 disciples while fishing                   John 21:1-14

11 disciples on the mountain           Matthew 28:16-20

A crowd of 500                                  1 Corinthians 15:6

Jesus’ brother – James                      1 Corinthians 15:7

Those who saw the Ascension         Luke 24:44-49; Acts 1:3-8

From church notice-sheets:

This being Easter Sunday, we will ask Mrs Brown, our children’s minister, to come forward and lay an egg on the altar.

Baptisms: after Easter, the North and South ends of the church will be utilised. Children will be baptised at both ends.

Coming up: Theological Open House. We discuss thought-provoking topics. Your opinions are hardly welcome.

Next Sunday Mrs Brown will sing a solo at the morning service before the vicar preaches on the subject of ‘Terrible experiences and how to survive them’.

Players picked for St Andrew’s darts team will be pinned to the board on Thursday.

EasterEASTER Sunday: the most joyful day of the year.

 Easter is the most joyful day of the year for Christians. Christ has died for our sins. We are forgiven. Christ has risen! We are redeemed! We can look forward to an eternity in His joy! Hallelujah!

The Good News of Jesus Christ is a message so simple that you can explain it to someone in a few minutes. It is so profound that for the rest of their lives they will still be ‘growing’ in their Christian walk with God.

Why does the date move around so much? Because the date of Passover moves around, and according to the biblical account, Easter is tied to the Passover. Passover celebrates the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt and it lasts for seven days, from the middle of the Hebrew month of Nisan, which equates to late March or early April.

Sir Isaac Newton was one of the first to use the Hebrew lunar calendar to come up with firm dates for Good Friday: Friday 7 April 30 AD or Friday 3 April, 33 AD, with Easter Day falling two days later. Modern scholars continue to think these the most likely.

Most people will tell you that Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox, which is broadly true. But the precise calculations are complicated and involve something called an ‘ecclesiastical full moon’, which is not the same as the moon in the sky. The earliest possible date for Easter in the West is 22 March, which last fell in 1818. The latest is 25 April, which last happened in 1943.

Why the name, ‘Easter’? In almost every European language, the festival’s name comes from ‘Pesach’, the Hebrew word for Passover. The Germanic word ‘Easter’, however, seems to come from Eostre, a Saxon fertility goddess mentioned by the Venerable Bede. He thought that the Saxons worshipped her in ‘Eostur month’, but may have confused her with the classical dawn goddesses like Eos and Aurora, whose names mean ‘shining in the east’. So, Easter might have meant simply ‘beginning month’ – a good time for starting up again after a long winter.

Finally, why Easter eggs? On one hand, they are an ancient symbol of birth in most European cultures. On the other hand, hens start laying regularly again each Spring. Since eggs were forbidden during Lent, it’s easy to see how decorating and eating them became a practical way to celebrate Easter.

Easter Saturday, on the Christian calendar, is the Saturday following the festival of Easter, the Saturday of Easter or Bright Week. In the liturgy of Western Christianity it is the last day of Easter Week, sometimes referred to as the Saturday of Easter Week or Saturday in Easter Week. In the liturgy of Eastern Christianity it is the last day of Bright Week, and called Bright Saturday,

The Bright and Holy Septave Saturday of Easter Eve, or The Bright and Holy Septave Paschal Artos and Octoechoes Saturday of Iscariot's Byzantine Easter Eve. Easter Saturday is the day preceding the Octave Day of Easter (also known as St. Thomas Sunday or Divine Mercy Sunday).

Easter Story

The thud of nails on open palms,

‘Father forgive’ was all He said,

‘Finished’ was His final cry,

As death approached God bowed His head.

 

Born of a woman He entered our world,

Fully man yet fully divine,

Such is the mystery beyond comprehension

That One such as this should step into time.

 

He came to die and rise again

The firstfruits of the Father’s love,

That man should follow in His train

On wings of light to realms above.

How do we say goodbye to someone who we have known for many years and enjoyed their company? We arrange a farewell party!

 When Jesus prepared to leave, it was very different. He arranged His last meal and it was no party. His disciples were in for a shock. Jesus brought His friends together and then said one of them would betray Him! He then said Peter would deny Him.

Although Jesus was the host and should have been honoured, He changed His role and became a servant. He got up from the meal table, removed His outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around His waist. Jesus humbled Himself and washed the feet of His disciples, much to their dismay and Peter’s objection.  

Hot Cross BunThe hot cross bun marks the end of Lent and different parts of the bun have a certain meaning, including the cross, representing the crucifixion of Jesus, and the spices inside signifying the spices used to embalm him at his burial.

The most expensive hot cross bun was baked in 1829 in Stepney, London, UK. It was bought by Bill Foster (UK) for £155 at the Antiques for Everyone show at the NEC in Birmingham, West Midlands, UK, in April 2000.

Palm waving

It was Palm Sunday, but five-year-old Jamie stayed at home with mum because of a bad cold. When his father and sisters returned, they were carrying several palm fronds. His sister explained: “People held them over Jesus' head as He walked by.”

“That’s not fair!” Jamie protested. “The one Sunday I don't go, and He shows up!”

Visit the C of E online page:

There is now a range of digital resources for to you connect with God at this difficult time.  These include:

Time to Pray app:  Go here which is free and has an accompanying daily audio offering on SoundCloud and iTunes.

Mental health reflections: Go here

Tips to tackle isolation: Go here

Finally, there are the Church’s smart speaker apps, which provide a range of Christian resources:  GO TO  In March alone, the number of people using the Alexa app rose by more than 70 per cent.

 More details at: Go here

On the Covid Frontline

I work in Radiology in a hospital in the East of England – a region that is yet to experience the covid-19 virus with quite the same ferocity as colleagues in London and Birmingham, and certainly the situation is nowhere near as bad as that in China, Iran, Spain and, of course Italy.  But patients are coming into the hospital in increasing numbers experiencing the respiratory distress of a covid-19 infection. So, I’m finding out what it’s like to be on the front line during an epidemic.

As I write the country is in so-called ‘lockdown’, and the virus is impacting upon every aspect of all our lives. The News outlets report the best in people and the worst in people - examples of selfish behavior, especially in and around supermarkets, but also examples of people going well out of their way to help people who become very vulnerable during this period. I’m privileged to work alongside the very best.

Fear is almost the defining feature of this crisis. Of course, the patients themselves are frightened, our hearts go out to them, and though we are separated from them by our protective equipment we can still show that we care, and that we are doing our level best to help them.

The staff are frightened, too. I have heard long-serving, experienced staff tell me how very frightened they are. The conflict between their duty to our patients and their desire to protect themselves and their families is, at times, overwhelming. I'm spending a great deal of my time trying to be reassuring and trying to keep a grip on an ever-changing situation. It's the same across the hospital. Yet, every day, these wonderful people come towards the danger when their instincts tell them to run in the opposite direction.

Am I frightened? Yes, indeed I am frightened. I'm frightened that it will get as bad here as it has been in Italy. I'm frightened that some of my staff will become seriously ill, or worse, because so many healthcare staff seem to be getting sick despite all the protective equipment that we use. And, of course, I'm frightened for the people I care about. Maybe it’s OK to be frightened, because that is better than being blasé, overconfident, and foolhardy.

However, I think our faith in our God is a way to turn fear into calm. It connects us to others across the ages who have faced far, far worse situations than this. No-one is trying to drop high explosives down my chimney. There was only basic equipment and medicine during the so-called ‘Spanish Flu’ of 1918-1920. The bubonic plagues of the Middle Ages took a much higher death toll, and the medicine of the time had absolutely no answer to it.

For our generation, who by the grace of God have only known peace, and for whom life has gone on much the same for several decades, it is a terrifying experience.

So far in most of our lives, we have not had to rely on God to quite the same extent as former generations but maybe, just maybe, this crisis will bring us closer to each other and to the God who loves us so dearly.

Five Tips for Tackling Loneliness and Isolation

 The Church of England has published a leaflet giving five tips to help loneliness:Libk to dealing with loneliness and isolation

Pray. Light a candle, if safe, and pray for hope, faith and strength to keep loving and caring for each other during this time of struggle.

Talk about how you feel. This may be difficult if you are self-isolating, but do use the telephone, internet, and social media. If you need to contact a counsellor this can be arranged by your GP, or via local agencies, or privately. Samaritans are there 24 hours a day, every day, and it’s free to call them on 116 123.

Focus on the things that you can change, not on the things you can’t.

Look after yourself - physically, emotionally, spiritually. Plan in things that you enjoy at regular intervals during the day – a TV programme, a phone call, a book, a favourite dish, a game.

Look after others. Even if only in small ways, but do what you can: a smile, a kind word, writing a letter or an email.

Passion Week: The events of Easter took place over a week.

Palms artworkIt began on Palm Sunday. After all his teaching and healing, Jesus had built a following.

On the Sunday before he was to die, Jesus and his followers arrived at Jerusalem. The city was crowded. Jewish people were arriving from to celebrate Passover. This commemorates how they had escaped from slavery in Egypt nearly 1,500 year earlier.

Jesus rode into the city on a young donkey. He was greeted like a conquering hero. Cheering crowds waved palm branches in tribute. He was hailed as the Messiah who had come to re-establish a Jewish kingdom. 

The next day they returned to Jerusalem. Jesus went to the temple, the epicentre of the Jewish faith, and confronted money-changers and merchants who were ripping off the people. He overturned their tables and accused them of being thieves. The religious authorities were alarmed and feared how he was stirring up the crowds.

On the Tuesday, they challenged Jesus, questioning his authority. He answered by challenging and condemning their hypocrisy. Later that day Jesus spoke to his disciples about future times. He warned them about fake religious leaders; the coming destruction of Jerusalem; wars, earthquakes and famines; and how his followers would face persecution.

By midweek the Jewish religious leaders and elders were so angry with Jesus that they began plotting to arrest and kill him. One of Jesus’ disciples, Judas, went to the chief priests and agreed to betray him to them.

Jesus and the 12 disciples gathered on the Thursday evening to celebrate the Passover meal. This is known as the Last Supper. During the evening, Jesus initiated a ritual still marked by Christians – Holy Communion – which commemorates his death. Jesus broke bread and shared it and a cup of wine with his disciples.

Judas then left to meet the other plotters. Jesus continued to teach the others and then went outside into an olive grove to pray. He even prayed for all future believers. He agonised over what was to come but chose the way of obedience. The Bible book, Luke, records him praying, ‘Father if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done’. Minutes later Judas arrived with soldiers and the chief priests and Jesus was arrested.

Pray for your neighbours – lift them to the Lord!

Thank Him for all that they have done for you!

Claim for your friends the promise of His Word;

In intercession we find strength anew.

 

Ask of the Lord, and surely you’ll receive

Seek now His will, and surely you will find

Knock at His door, and truly we believe

In intercession we see God is kind.

 

Come to the Lord, for He is always there!

Our worries, cares, and our concerns we bring;

O waste no time, just come to Him in prayer

In intercession we find God the King!

Ever wonder where the prayer … ‘May I know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly, day by day’ comes from?  Richard of Chichester, a bishop in the 13th century, wrote it.

He began life as Richard de Wych of Droitwich, the son of a yeoman farmer.  But Richard was a studious boy, and after helping his father on the farm for several years, refused an advantageous offer of marriage, and instead made his way to Oxford, and later to Paris and Bologna to study canon law.

In 1235 he returned to Oxford, and was soon appointed Chancellor, where he supported Edmund, Archbishop of Canterbury, in his struggles against King Henry III’s misuse of Church funds.  After further study to become a priest, Richard was in due course made a bishop himself.  He was greatly loved.  He was charitable and accessible, both stern and merciful to sinners, extraordinarily generous to those stricken by famine, and a brilliant legislator of his diocese.  He decreed that the sacraments were to be administered without payment, Mass celebrated in dignified conditions, the clergy to be chaste, to practise residence, and to wear clerical dress.  The laity was obliged to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days, and to know by heart the Hail Mary as well as the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed. 

Richard was also prominent in preaching the Crusade, which he saw as a call to reopen the Holy Land to pilgrims, not as a political expedition.  He died at Dover on 3 April 1253.  In art, Richard of Chichester is represented with a chalice at his feet, in memory of his having once dropped the chalice at Mass!  One ancient English church is dedicated to him. 

And, of course, he is author of that famous prayer, now set to popular music, which runs in full:   “Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ for all the benefits thou hast given me, for all the pains and insults which thou hast borne for me. O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother, may I know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly and follow thee more nearly, day by day.”

Coping in the Storm

‘Jesus got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.’ (Mark 4:39).

What started out for the disciples as a routine trip across the Sea of Galilee, ended up with a storm threatening to overwhelm their boat! Jesus was asleep in the boat, so little wonder they feared for their lives: ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’ (38).

Who would have thought two months ago that the world would be overwhelmed by the Coronavirus pandemic and our lives turned upside down! Self-isolating and self-distancing are now part of our daily vocabulary, as we live in an uncertain world. What does this story say to us in our circumstances?

Firstly, we read that Jesus calmed the storm: ‘He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’’ (39). He is the Lord of the storm and holds our circumstances in His hands. We are called to trust, not fear, being assured that He is with us to protect us. ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’ (40). Nothing is outside of His control.

Secondly, despite the calm, the disciples were still terrified: ‘They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey Him!’’ (41). Like us, the disciples were asking why Jesus, who loved them, had allowed the storm to happen! Our circumstances provide us with an opportunity to understand more deeply who Jesus is. We can’t control Him and we don’t always understand His bigger plans for us and His world. We are called to overcome fear and insecurity, by living lives of peace, faith and hope. How contagious can we be for Jesus in a stormy world?

Paul Woolley of the Bible Society.

Coronavirus: a lesson from the past.

'So many people died that cities and villages in Italy … were abandoned and fell into ruin.'

That’s not a report about the impact of coronavirus, but an epidemic of smallpox that infected the Roman Empire in 165 AD. A second, equally devastating plague, possibly measles, swept the empire less than 100 years later.

Rodney Stark’s work The Rise of Christianity looks at the way Christianity spread in such a difficult context. The question is: How did this happen? Stark gives three reasons:

Firstly, Christianity offered a more satisfactory account of the world – and a better hope for the future – than the dominant pagan and Hellenic philosophies of the day.

Secondly, the Christian values of love and charity which characterised the early Christian community were also ‘translated’ into social service and community solidarity. In other words, those early Christians took care of the sick and vulnerable.

Stark quotes the early bishop Dionysius: “Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbours and cheerfully accepting their pains. Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead…” And the Romans marvelled at these Christians.

Thirdly, during the epidemic people lost the 'social bonds', the peer pressure, that had previously discouraged them from rebelling against prevailing ideologies and embracing the gospel.

Stark goes on to note that frequently in human history, crises produced by natural disasters have translated into crises of faith where the religion of the day is considered inadequate to the reality of people’s life-experience. In response to these failures of religion, societies often look elsewhere and adopt new faiths.

Of course, this all raises an important question: in light of coronavirus, how should Christians respond today? Inspired by those who have gone before us, perhaps I can offer three suggestions:

Firstly, we should use this period of 'social distancing' to reacquaint ourselves with the big story of the Bible. In the unfolding story of God and the world that we see in the Bible, we are presented with a robust and life-giving account of who God is, what the world is like, and what it means to be truly human.

Secondly, we need to 'translate' the Bible into our everyday lives. We need to practically live out 'love of God and neighbour'. We should support our neighbours by offering to do shopping, collect parcels, post mail, and ensure they have someone to talk to on the phone.

Thirdly, we need to be sensitive to the fact that the current situation will unsettle people and, uninhibited by their social bonds, prompt them to think about God and the purpose of life, perhaps for the very first time, and we need to be ready for conversations about this.

In the second century, the Christian community responded to the smallpox epidemic not by being anxious or fearful, but by being courageous, prayerful, and deeply, and lovingly practical. We need to do the same, secure in the fact that 'God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.' (Psalm 46.1, NIV)

This may be found on the Bible Society: website

 

 

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