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Father forgive April 13, 2011

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While preparing a sermon on Christ’s words ‘Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing’ I found a most moving report from an American called David Douglas. It’s over a decade old but it powerfully describes his experience of visiting Coventry Cathedral and the implications it has for forgiveness. Report here: Coventry Cathedral’s Message of Forgiveness.

Continuing the theme, there was a good discussion on a radio programme I caught today about forgiveness. Someone quoted Archbishop Tutu who is credited with saying that forgiving someone a wrong they have committed against you ‘draws out the sting in your memory that threatens to poison your existence’. I shall have to quote him in my sermon; a helpful reminder that forgiving someone is also for your own sake as well as the perpetrator’s.


2011 God space has begun January 7, 2011

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Something about Mary December 20, 2010

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My turn to post on the Hopeful Imagination Advent blog today. Here’s the link:


Promises, promises November 15, 2010

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An edited version of my next church magazine article:

Promise:   “when you say that you will certainly do or not do something”

The side of the Business Express lorry I recently noticed along the Hagley Road was decorated with the words ‘A promise means nothing until it’s delivered’. The Business Express website claims that its drivers deliver 65 million parcels a year to homes throughout the U.K, always in perfect condition. It set my mind thinking about promises.

From a young age we make promises. A child promises to finish their dinner or tidy up toys. A parent promises more time to play with their kids. Bride and Groom make wedding vows for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health. Businesses become more environmentally friendly and promise to reduce their carbon footprint. Politicians say they will certainly deliver on their election manifestos. Royal Mail offer ways of guaranteeing next day delivery of your urgent or valuable item. Baptismal candidates promise to turn away from sin and follow Christ. Life is punctuated with all sorts of promises. Some are kept faithfully, others are broken and quickly forgotten. Sooner or later in life we learn that the breaking of some promises has greater consequences than others.

From start to finish the Bible tells the story of God’s promise of love. His promise progressively unfolds from Old to New Testament. Often the language used to describe his promise of love is expressed in words like seed, covenant, pledge, dynasty, inheritance and heir. 

The Christmas hymn Christians, awake! Salute the happy morn includes the lines ‘this day has God fulfilled his promised word, this day is born a Saviour, Christ the Lord’. Christmas reminds us that God has kept his promise of love to the world especially by sending Jesus, a flesh and blood incarnation, to die for our sins, be raised to new life and restore us to God . The apostle Paul once said “We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus” (Acts 13:32).  

The sceptic may respond by saying that events in Bethlehem two thousand or so years ago have little bearing on our world today and that today’s evils such as racism and terrorism indicate that God has lost the plot or forgotten his promises of old. But the New Testament clearly says that a battle ensues (e.g. Ephesians 6:10-18) and that creation still awaits its liberation from all that frustrates God’s purposes (e.g. Romans 8:18-27). Therefore we can still confidently trust that by sending Jesus God has come close to us, pointed us towards a new day when there will be no more pain, suffering or death, and certainly acted on his promise of love.

Perhaps the best word to sum up God’s promise of love is the word covenant. God’s covenant to us is his loving relationship graciously personified by Christ. Some churches hold a Covenant Service each January as a promise of allegiance to God’s covenant and to renew their commitment to Christ and to their church family. Covenant Services also provide a very good opportunity to encourage people to seriously consider baptism and membership. A promise means nothing until it’s delivered.

Keeping hope alive December 22, 2009

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My turn tomorrow (23/12) to post on the Advent Hopeful Imagination blog…

It’s that time of the year when Advent begins to merge into Christmas. The anticipation and expectation of the last month now blends into the joy of announcing that a Saviour has been born. And we are being held in that hope.

At the Tate Modern in London there is a new exhibition, 30 metres in length, 10 metres in width, creating the impression of entering into a vast black hole. The Polish artist, Miroslaw Balka, said he is trying to remind visitors of recent Polish history – the ramp into the black hole chamber is like the entrance to the Ghetto in Warsaw, or the trucks which took Jews away to the camps of Treblinka or Auschwitz. Says Balka, “You’ll start to touch darkness. I’m touching the subject of disappearing”.

For many during the joy of Christmas, darkness still lurks. The threat of redundancy, a friendship turned sour, a broken marriage, a tarnished reputation, an empty space at the dinner table… Black holes come in various forms.
But we are called to hope, and Isaiah the prophet historically and poetically described how the people of Israel were to go into a black hole… and then come out of it again. The southern kingdom of Judah lies in wait, its days are numbered. Babylon was to mercilessly trample all over the nation. Dark times, indeed.
But we are called to hope, and spurred on by the interesting reflection given on the Hopeful Imagination blog on 8th December by my father-in-law (thanks Alan!), I decided to use Isaiah’s image of a tree stump (chapter 11) as the dominant theme at our Carol Service last Sunday evening. A shoot will come up, a Branch will bear fruit. New growth will occur, and peace will mark the new Messianic age through the coming of the Anointed One of God. A message brimming with the hope that still remains so applicable to our world today.
In 1945 some graffiti was found on the wall of a basement in Koln, Germany – where a Jew is thought to have been hiding from the Gestapo:

“I believe in the sun even when it isn’t shining, I believe in love even when I am alone, I believe in God even when He is silent”.

Thank God that in Christ the silence has been shattered, the black holes of life are shot through with brilliant light, and we can go on our way rejoicing again.
A year after the black hole of 9/11 the theologian Walter Brueggemann wrote a reflection in which the theme of hope-ful-ness was all-pervasive. He included the words:

“We turn to you in that heaviness, for we do afresh ponder our mortality, think about our naked exposure, fully cognizant of the fragility that is the truth of our lives. And so we turn to you seeking assurance, consolation, embrace. And you receive us, faithful mother who holds, sure father who welcomes and embraces, and we settle in peaceableness even midst the chaos, we do… and we give you thanks…. You are risen in power and wonder; you are risen out of the shambles of death and terror and doubt and fear; You are risen to turn the world to peace and justice and freedom and well-being; You are risen with healing wings to cure our diseased hurts and our public pathologies… Let us, good Lord of the dying and the living, hide ourselves in Thee. And then let us follow your Easter way, that the world shriveled in deathliness may turn to joy and to newness”.

(Inscribing the Text: Sermons & Prayers of Walter Brueggemann, 2004, Augsberg Fortress, p1175-177)

The people walking in darkness have now seen a great light, so may God keep hope alive in us.

Right riveting reads November 13, 2009

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Thought I’d list all the theological books I’ve read over the last two years. A useful exercise, particularly to discern where some ‘gaps’ may be.

Belief in God in an Age of Science (John Polkinghorne)
God, the Big Bang & Bunsen Burning Issues (Nigel Bovey)
Rescuing Darwin (Nick Spencer/Denis Alexander)
Promise and Presence (John Colwell)
Surprised by Hope (N.T.Wright)
Under the Rule of Christ (various Baptist college principals)
Understanding Four Views on Baptism (various contributors)
Evil and the Justice of God (N.T.Wright)

From Eden to New Jerusalem (Desmond Alexander)
Proclaiming the Scandal of the Cross (ed. Mark Baker)
The Wondrous Cross (Stephen Holmes)
Aspects of the Atonement (Howard Marshall)
Welcoming but not Affirming (Stanley Grenz)

Restoring the Woven Cord (Michael Mitton)

God on Mute (Pete Greig)
Learning how to handle conflict (Colin Patterson)

Velvet Elvis (Rob Bell)
The Shape of Things to Come (Alan Hirsch/Michael Frost)

Wild Goose Chase (Mark Batterson)
Seeds of Hope (Henri Nouwen)

Vicar of Baghdad (Canon Andrew White)

The way I see it August 4, 2009

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starbucks_quotesWhilst listening to some audio internet lectures on eschatology and resurrection, I heard about a project that Starbucks in the US ran a few years ago (and possibly still continuing?) called ‘The way I see it’.

The campaign sought to provoke conversations in their coffee houses based on provocative and inspiring quotes. This one, from a Los Angeles Times columnist, Joel Stein, is particularly challenging to much of our inadequate eschatology that sees heaven as just a vague, lifeless place of future disembodied souls:

Heaven is totally overrated. It seems boring, clouds, listening to people play the harp. It should be somewhere you can’t wait to go, like a luxury hotel. Maybe blue skies and soft music were enough to keep people in line in the 17ht century, but Heaven has to step it up a bit. They’re basically getting by because they only have to be better than Hell.

Run with the Horses March 19, 2009

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It’s been my turn to contribute to the Hopeful Imagination Lent project. I decided to write about a book called Run with the Horses by Eugene Peterson. It focuses on the prophet Jeremiah and I picked out some passages on the themes of exile, hope and imagination.

Christianity: A History January 29, 2009

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LindisfarneThe current Channel Four series on Sunday evenings called Christianity: A History has included some interesting episodes so far. The latest was an overview of the expansion of Christianity in Britain over 1,500 years ago. The Roman Empire was crumbling. Ireland had never been part of the Roman Empire but under the leadership of St Patrick the Christian faith took on a different form. The programme detailed various aspects of the growth of celtic Christianity, its monasteries, its expansive missionary endeavours from places like Lindisfarne under the leadership of St Cuthbert, the conversion of King Oswald of Northumberland, and its conflict with the paganism of mainland Britain.

Firstborn of a new generation January 21, 2009

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martinlutherking  barackobama                                            whalerider




Last night I led a session at church for our Tuesday Fellowship group and I showed excerpts from the Whale Rider film. It’s a heart warming story set in a New Zealand Maori village. Koro, the tribal chief, is desperately seeking a male heir to succeed him. The film starts with his twin grandchildren being born. His grandson dies at birth. He immediately rejects his granddaughter, Paikea, who he will continually vehemently oppose as a potential heir throughout the narrative. This would be breaking with considerable historic tradition. However, as the film progress, Koro fails to find a suitable male heir (despite his strict training regimen) and Paikea succeeds where the boys failed by managing to retrieve the reipeta (whale’s tooth) from the ocean. Koro comes to his senses and realises that his granddaughter deserves his forgiveness. The film ends with Paikea resurrecting not only the dying whale but also the community’s hopes for a new leader. She is ‘not scared to die’ and although she risks all by riding the whale she manages to regain her conciousness and lead the community into the future. She has shown them a new way to be human and become their representative.

I didn’t think of it at the time, but as I watched the US Presidential inauguration yesterday and also in the light of Monday being Martin Luther King Day, the Whale Rider film was a very aposite film to reflect on yesterday. The desire to go against all odds, the steady nerve to break with tradition and custom, the bold conviction to inaugurate fresh hope and vision. All of which resonates clearly with Christ’s ministry as he heralded the coming of God’s kingdom.