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Signed By God

21st September 2017

Dear Friends

Some years ago I was browsing through the bookshelf in a charity shop through the very thin sports section. Sometimes I would do this just in case a book or two I wanted was there. Well, on this day I was shocked to find a fairly rare golf book on the shelf and so happily bought it although I assumed it was probably the wrong book since I had not seen another copy of the book before. Getting it home I discovered this was not just the genuine article but in almost mint condition; so now it sits on my own bookshelf.

Thinking of this took me back to a story from a few years ago. It was a heartwarming story of Banksy in New York. Buying a painting for a handful of dollars he added a figure, 'vandalising' the work, before gifting it back to the shop. The picture went up for auction with the charity, who help homeless living with aids/HIV, raising over $600,000 for this scenic picture that now has two signatures on it. That is some addition to a previously lowly valued piece of art and a nice touch from a celebrity artist to help others. 

Consider how much more remarkable that God who created us, fashioned us in his own image, having designed us uniquely should want to add himself to us. Many of us are all too aware of our fragile nature, of our weaknesses in spite of our strengths and abilities. Yet it is us that God has chosen to invest himself in. It is in the lives of ordinary people that God 'puts his signature'. 

"For God, who said, "Let there be light in the darkness," has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves." (2 Corinthians 4:6-7). God chooses to add his life to us. I don't know who the original painter of the picture was but doubt he/she would have ever expected it to be a highly valued piece of work. 

Paul writes in Corinthians that the message he brings, that the power to deliver this message comes not from his self. It does not come from his education, background, innate strength of character or special ability. It comes from the power of Christ within. Within an imperfect person who suffers difficulties of all types including rejection he is yet impelled to go forward by the life of God which is a part of him as a follower of Jesus Christ. That is what God does for each of us as we give our lives over to God. His life 'this treasure' is in us to drive us forward. It changes us forever and in the BIble forever is forever. 

Earlier in the week I was discussing a proposed art exhibition at NHCC around next Easter. I doubt that Banksy will drop in but I know God is always around when people are there, adding his touches to as yet unfinished works.

God's Justice

15th September 2017

Dear Friends

Yesterday marked three months exactly since the tragic fire hit Grenfell Tower here in North Kensington. This anniversary was chosen to launch the public enquiry looking into the causes of the conflagration and the subsequent actions from that fateful hour.

I have been asked how people in the area are feeling. People are suspicious, anxious, nervous, angry, frustrated and grieving. Many have to live with loss; and how hard is that to come to terms with in the middle of so much public noise. The chance to get away, think and engage with the future is not possible as many families face day to day life in temporary surroundings; others view the chilling scene every day. For some the future is on hold as the past still haunts them. So making any decision about their future seems too soon. As to the question of what people want from the enquiry the answers vary so much yet have an underlying theme of 'justice' even if that has a variety of definitions attached to it. 

The Bible has a lot to say about living rightly, making just decisions, treating people equitably and fairly. The wise author of Ecclesiastes wrote (3:17),  

" I said to myself,

'God will bring into judgment 

both the righteous and the wicked,

for there will be a time for every activity,

a time to judge every deed.'"

Some of us see a lot of division in the community right now as different groups speak out, various agendas are being brought into play. Even the process of housing people is pitting one against another. Who is more deserving? Who has suffered the most? My prayer is that people will be dealt with fairly, that the enquiry will be well ordered bringing truth to light. I say this because my trust is in God rather then the processes themselves. The Bible encourages us to know, through none other than Abraham, that God can be trusted; "Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25) So whatever people plan, say or do there is certainty that all accounts will be reconciled at the right time. 

Meanwhile we are called to life right lives before God. "The Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God." Micah 6:8 

Growing With God

8th September 2017

Dear Friends

So when you were growing up what did you want to be?

One recent survey amongst 1000 children found that over half the children, from 6-17, wanted a career in online videos, with many other wanting to be film makers. A little further behind were being a musician/singer, actor or TV presenter. Traditional jobs such as medicine, teaching and law held far less interest than before. The attractions seem to be for creativity, fame and the opportunity for self-expression. 

God wants us all to grow up. Now we may have dreamt of being Formula One racing drivers, actors, dancers or footballers or astronauts but God has bigger plans. "God wants us to grow up ... like Christ in everything." Ephesians 4:15a (Msg) Your heavenly Father's goal is for you is to mature and develop the characteristics of Jesus Christ.  

When the first disciples chose to follow Jesus, they didn't understand all the implications of their decision. They simply responded to Jesus' invitation. That's all you need to get started: decide to become a disciple. Christ-likeness is the result of making Christ-like choices and depending on his Spirit to help you fulfil those choices. Once you decide to get serious about becoming like Christ, you must begin to act in new ways. You will need to let go of some old routines, develop some new habits, and intentionally change the way you think. You can be certain that the Holy Spirit will help you with these changes. 

  The Bible says, "Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose." Philippians 2:12-13 (NIV) The Christian life is far more than creeds and convictions; it includes conduct and character. Our deeds must be consistent with our creeds, and our beliefs must be backed up with Christ like behaviour. These are marks on the road to maturity, to fulfilling God's ambitions for us.

Dealing With Death

1st September 2017

Dear Friends

It was twenty years ago that we came down from Scotland to Kensington. It's impossible to forget the events of that time as it was September 6th when I travelled around the area with Tony the pastor who was leaving. We went to visit some of the congregation to help me get a feel for the area. That Saturday morning we drove around deserted streets as we discovered that the vast majority of people were at home watching the funeral of Princess Diana.

Much has been written about the national collective sense of grief across the nation which seems to have been without precedent. What struck me was the sense of time being suspended, people not able to get on with their lives which we may all have personally experienced with the loss of someone close to us. Just this summer North Kensington suffered community wide grief with the tragic loss of life in Grenfell Tower. Also we have been shocked by terrorist incidents this year. 

Normally death is a subject we try to avoid at all costs. We use words to soften the impact of the thought, passed away, moved on, gone to a better place etc. Yet it is the thing we will all face and understanding it will help us live life to the full. The Bible speaks of death as an enemy, maybe the ultimate enemy and consequence of sin not the desire of God. Yet is also speaks of the defeat of death which has been accomplished in Christ. It is the last enemy that will be ultimately vanquished, "For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death." (1 Corinthians 15:25-6). For the believer death is not the end, it is not the pre-curser to judgement because Jesus has taken the sting of death and the promise of resurrection is a result of his sacrifice. "Jesus told her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying." John 11:25 

We don't know the hour of our death; what we do know is that we can be prepared for it. People plan their funerals with insurance policies; they detail the music, videos, flowers etc., but all too few make the arrangements that really matter.

Peacemakers

24h August 2017

Dear Friends

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" starts probably the most counter-culture passage in the New Testament. Here in Matthew 5 we see the essence of what Jesus passes onto his church as a way of living. In verse nine he goes on to say, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God."

In a world that appears to be careering down a path of greater conflict this is not a message that seems likeable. Indeed within the politics of many countries there appears great internal hostility (as examples think of Brexit, think of the USA) with anger and conflict being the order of the day. Globally too we see countries dangerously posturing. Yet take it down to a more local level and we see breakdowns in relationships within families, friendships and communities as people push for wha they want ... often under the guise of 'rights'. 

Jesus came, "... to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross." (Colossians 1:20) The peace he calls us to live out is seen in a life devoted, like his, to reconciliation. This is not shallow exercise, not just a patching up of quarrels, or a peace treaty though it may involve such things. No, he spoke of christians living lives that aim to reconcile men to God through a life devoted to him and by association his cause. 

It seems to me the world needs a lot of peacemakers; people who will stand with Jesus and say yes to him. People who will take his side, live his way, serve his purposes. True peace can only be found in a restored relationship with God, everything else is just a temporary lull in hostilities. "All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation." 2 Corinthians 5:18-19

Encouragement

10th August 2017

Dear Friends

A little hint of the exciting days of the London Olympics of 2012 has lit up the city this week with the World Athletics Championship. Perhaps the greatest headlines have been made by Isaac Makwala rather than as expected Usain Bolt or Mo Farah. This relatively unknown elite runner was prohibited from competing in unusual circumstances. In his own words "... I felt heartbroken yesterday. I was ready for this, I worked hard for this". Like many athletes he had spent many years working towards his event. Years of training, planning, careful diet, hard work and determination looked to be coming to nothing.

The Apostle Paul wrote many years ago to a young man named Titus to encourage him to continue his journey. Not to a running track with a podium and a gold medal but to something far greater. "For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, will be revealed." Titus 2-11-13  

Titus is encouraged to turn his back on the indulgences of life, from the hedonistic lifestyles of many contemporaries. To eschew the easy friendships, casual acquaintances and fleeting pleasures of life in order to attain his goal. This young man had chosen to serve God through a relationship that would last for eternity, which meant daily sacrifices to achieve what he set out to do. 

Now it can be difficult to understand how people do so much just to win a few medals, yet they do. They have an attitude that the end is worth the journey they have to make. Just as I guess the pain of climbing to the top of Everest or making your way to the Antarctic pole appears to be worth it for those who commit their lives that way. It is though, for me, far easier to understand that in order to gain Christ we need to live a life of focus, discipline, intent and sacrifice; because the end truly justifies all. As Paul writes, "let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us" Hebrews 12:1

Fear Of Failure

3rd August 2017

Dear Friends

On three separate occasions I remember as a teenager, at school, trying out on the athletics field the art of javelin throwing. This always looked to me like a fun thing to do as well as being an ancient athletic challenge dating back to games (even earlier it was used as a weapon) in Greece before Christ. So as I made my attempts to hurl the several feet of grey metal through the air I was recreating history. The only problem was that each time I tried to propel the missile all I managed to hit was the back of my head. Three painful failures were enough for me to go back onto the track and try my luck elsewhere.

 Failure is something every human being knows about, sooner or later and The Bible is full of examples of even the greatest of it's heroes succumbing to the challenges of life. No doubt in my mind the greatest of these is the failure of Peter to acknowledge that he even knew Jesus. In John 18 we read of how, as Jesus had predicted, Peter three times denied his friend and Lord. So why did he do this?

 There are a few reasons that could be suggested for the denials by Peter yet I believe the main one is that he feared people more than God. Kahneman has said that people fear loss twice as much as they prefer gains. Peter seems to fear the loss of face, the fear of being outcast from mainstream society. With Jesus about to depart this life his confidence was no longer in the one he had called Lord. We often fail to overcome temptation because we fear people with the loss of face as we go against the flow seeming too much of a loss.

 Perhaps we can explain Peter's actions as this sense of fear. The promise of eternal life; the everlasting relationship with God seemed at that moment not worth losing the things he had grown up with all his, short, life to date. Moreover it is this fear that I see as the number one reason why people don't follow Jesus in the first place! It is true that people look at what Jesus did, said, promised etc., and are more afraid to lose what they know, however bad, than to reach out for the promise of eternal life.

 Last week we marvelled at the supreme aquatic efforts of Adam Peaty as he broke world records on his way to winning gold medals. When asked about the sacrifices he has had to make to overcome his fear of water and become a champion he said this; "It's not a sacrifice. It's a choice. You make two choices in life, one that makes you faster, one that makes you slower. I choose faster."

 Peter we see takes the wrong path choosing to cling to this world in fear of what even strangers think. Yet in chapter twenty-one of John we see the risen Christ restoring Peter. The Apostle then realises that he really does want to follow Jesus (see John 21:9 as Jesus repeats his original call to 'follow me') and takes up that call once again on his life but now he knows that this is the right way to go. Many people have stopped following Christ, wavered, felt a failure but Jesus calls all to commit their lives to him in spite of what they might think it will cost. "If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness." 1 John 1:8-9

 Jesus does not waver in his love and neither does his call of 'follow me' fade down the annals of time. Are you prepared to leave failure behind and trust Jesus to carry you through, despite the consequences?

Sharing The Excitement

28th July 2017

Dear Friends

On three separate occasions I remember as a teenager, at school, trying out on the athletics field the art of javelin throwing. This always looked to me like a fun thing to do as well as being an ancient athletic challenge dating back to games (even earlier it was used as a weapon) in Greece before Christ. So as I made my attempts to hurl the several feet of grey metal through the air I was recreating history. The only problem was that each time I tried to propel the missile all I managed to hit was the back of my head. Three painful failures were enough for me to go back onto the track and try my luck elsewhere.

 Failure is something every human being knows about, sooner or later and The Bible is full of examples of even the greatest of it's heroes succumbing to the challenges of life. No doubt in my mind the greatest of these is the failure of Peter to acknowledge that he even knew Jesus. In John 18 we read of how, as Jesus had predicted, Peter three times denied his friend and Lord. So why did he do this?

 There are a few reasons that could be suggested for the denials by Peter yet I believe the main one is that he feared people more than God. Kahneman has said that people fear loss twice as much as they prefer gains. Peter seems to fear the loss of face, the fear of being outcast from mainstream society. With Jesus about to depart this life his confidence was no longer in the one he had called Lord. We often fail to overcome temptation because we fear people with the loss of face as we go against the flow seeming too much of a loss.

 Perhaps we can explain Peter's actions as this sense of fear. The promise of eternal life; the everlasting relationship with God seemed at that moment not worth losing the things he had grown up with all his, short, life to date. Moreover it is this fear that I see as the number one reason why people don't follow Jesus in the first place! It is true that people look at what Jesus did, said, promised etc., and are more afraid to lose what they know, however bad, than to reach out for the promise of eternal life.

 Last week we marvelled at the supreme aquatic efforts of Adam Peaty as he broke world records on his way to winning gold medals. When asked about the sacrifices he has had to make to overcome his fear of water and become a champion he said this; "It's not a sacrifice. It's a choice. You make two choices in life, one that makes you faster, one that makes you slower. I choose faster."

 Peter we see takes the wrong path choosing to cling to this world in fear of what even strangers think. Yet in chapter twenty-one of John we see the risen Christ restoring Peter. The Apostle then realises that he really does want to follow Jesus (see John 21:9 as Jesus repeats his original call to 'follow me') and takes up that call once again on his life but now he knows that this is the right way to go. Many people have stopped following Christ, wavered, felt a failure but Jesus calls all to commit their lives to him in spite of what they might think it will cost. "If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness." 1 John 1:8-9

 Jesus does not waver in his love and neither does his call of 'follow me' fade down the annals of time. Are you prepared to leave failure behind and trust Jesus to carry you through, despite the consequences?

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

8th July 2017

Dear Friends

Decisions, decisions, decisions. Life is full of them. Recently we were out for a family lunch and there was a menu to choose from. No one had a starter; easy choice then, neither would I. Main course time, what to choose. I had no experience of the restaurant so unlike most places I visit regularly there was no 'usual' to make choosing easy. Daily deciding what clothes to wear is tough but some people have that sorted – they have a number of shirts all the same, suits all the same, socks all the same! Making decisions is draining so choosing the same thing makes life much easier.  

Some people have been surprised that churches, Christians responded so instantly to the recent tragic events in North Kensington. Yet they shouldn't. Early Church history shows how in Roman times it was the church who fed the poor, cared for the vulnerable and stood against state excesses and control, as typified by Emperor worship. In Britain science, education, healthcare and more owe their development to Christians taking seriously the decision to follow the example of Jesus.  

John wrote his Gospel so that people might believe; "But these are written so that you may continue to believethat Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name." (John 20:31) John has been very helpful. He has done the research, gathered the evidence into one place, made clear his view of who Jesus is and lays it before us in a structured way. All we have to do is respond ... decisions, decisions, decisions.  

If any passage sums up the fact that Jesus, fully God and fully man, was faced with hard choices it is this. "Now my soul is deeply troubled. Should I pray, 'Father, save me from this hour'? But this is the very reason I came! Father, bring glory to your name." (John 12:27-28)  

Jesus thinks about praying for God to take him away from all this but is swayed not by the thought of the real anguish, suffering, rejection he faced but by the chosen path; by his decision to do the will of the Father. This is the choice before him ... his will or the Fathers' will! Jesus dies to self before he dies on the cross. This is the way ("I am the way, the truth and the life") for all his followers to go.  

Faced with the evidence of the life and accomplishments of Jesus. Faced with the evidence of the enduring nature and influence of the church for good in society perhaps the decision as to whether to follow Jesus or not is not really a hard one to make.

Jesus Feeds The Hungry

28th June 2017

Dear Friends

In the Gospel of John, chapter 6 (v1-15), we read of a remarkable occasion in the life of Jesus. A miracle takes place which all four evangelists record. Jesus faced with a hungry crowd of around 20,000 wants to feed them there and then. His followers were perplexed because there was nowhere to buy food and anyway they had no money to even begin to feed the crowds.

One boy offered Jesus his lunch of barley cakes and fish. Barley was the food of the masses, the poor. Bread made from wheat and flour was beyond the means of most people. Wheat needed rich, fertile soil to thrive in but barley was common. Amazingly Jesus took this one picnic and fed the masses! 

On June 14 when fire broke out in North Kensington tower block, God took the little in terms of people and resources of the churches; Latymer, the Methodist church, St Clements, Tabernacle, NHCC etc., to meet the needs of the crowds. 

In one of the richest, if not the richest, most resourced parts of one of the wealthiest cities on the planet the authorities were nowhere to be seen. National leaders were not able to do anything. But these churches with their small congregations and one or two staff members opened their doors, their hearts, showed their compassion and gave of themselves as they stood with the victims. People flooded in for help and to help others. Like so many places across the world in times of crisis it was the Church that were on the scene to help.

The Church remains God's plan to touch the world, to spread the Gospel. Whatever happens the church can never outsource its mission to reach the lost. To be salt in the community, to be the light of Jesus's witness in the world. The church is not a megaphone, nor a media outlet, still less a TV station. It is not even an advertising campaign to promote Jesus. No, it is the hands, feet and heart of the man from Galilee. Jesus was incarnate, God in human form interacting with the world. The Church must always interact with ordinary people wherever it is found. Anything less is unauthentic.

God Is Prime

1st June 2017

Dear Friends

How to vote? That is the number one question as we face our third big vote in three years. To vote or not to vote? Whoever wins will they make a positive difference to the country?

The truth is, sorry to (mis)use the word in the context of politics, there is probably not a person alive who knows what type of actual government we will end up with. I suspect many of us have looked at the policies in the light of the last few elections and how in order to get into government parties, and individuals, appeared willing to ditch anything to get a taste of power.

So my thoughts switch off this subject easily as I consider the words of The Apostle Paul in Philippians 2:3-8;

Don't be selfish; don't try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.

Don't look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.

Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.

When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal's death on a cross.

It still staggers me when I try to contemplate this passage of Scripture. I don't have any real frame of reference to understand it. Sure I have visited some troubled places, walked the garbage filled pathways of the slums in the heat of a city, spent time with people on the streets and in prisons yet none of this even begins to compare with the incredible gulf bridged by the humility of the God of the universe. My prayer is that we could all know him better, be more like him.

What a contrast, as I have commented on before, with the party calls to vote primarily according to our own interests, aspirations, fears and prejudices.

Not wanting to be too prejudiced myself I will, as I usually do, set about the task of finding out who my local candidates are, what their backgrounds are, what have they done and what their views are. It can be a revealing, sometimes, but hard task. Are they the sort of people who in the melting pot of deals done in the corridors of power will ditch everything to grasp the slippery pole of position? Can I realistically expect to discover the answer to this question?

Well I am unclear still but I have ruled some candidates out so now it's a case of asking God for wisdom which seems sensible since he knows ... unlike any person ... the future. "If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking." (James 1:5 - one of my favourite Bible verses, as it seems the older I get the less I know)

So happy voting but rest easy in the assurance that God is Prime.

Views From A Different Plane

13th May 2017

Dear Friends

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" is the statement that opens the Bible. Whatever the later discussions as how he did this the declaration is unequivocal. 

In writing the Gospel of John the author starts off in just the same way; "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made." He, speaking of Jesus, declares who this mystery man is as he writes to make this very fact known to the world.

I love the clarity of this Gospel. Here there are no political fudges, no hiding intentions. No doubt you have had those cold calls over the phone where the caller speak to you like a long lost friend trying to win your attention well before ever getting around to the reason for the call. I love the directness of John as he gives his message without any spin. Jesus is God! Jesus is the Saviour of all people! Jesus is eternal! Jesus loves and cares for all people everywhere! You and I need to believe in him! And so we could go on.

It is this different way of approach, this higher perspective that for me we need to grasp as we look at the question of belief. We are too used to examining things for a view from below but John shows us that Jesus let's us in on the view from above. The perspective of seeing central London from the Eye or the expansive and often dramatic views from the height of an aeroplane bring a new understanding of your surroundings. Seeing life from God's view changes everything!

We have started a series on Sunday in the Fourth Gospel so let me encourage you to read it thoroughly and prayerfully and gain new insight.

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