A word from the vicar

Picture of the solar systemOur God reigns

(June 2019)

Our God reigns” goes the familiar chorus. When we sing this or indeed any of the many hundreds of hymns proclaiming God’s sovereignty, we acknowledge that God is ultimately in control and absolutely in charge. He has all authority, and all power. He is repeatedly described in the Bible as seated on His throne in heaven. His very Word brought creation into existence.

But I wonder, do we live as though this is true? Do we live with the confidence that the promises He’s made to us will not and can not fail because our God reigns? Promises like the one given to Jeremiah, and us: For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jer. 29.11)

It is tough, I know.  We all face situations in which it is difficult to see any sign of God’s involvement. Situations when it almost feels like a kick in the teeth to hear someone remind us that God is in control. If our God reigns why is my dad suffering so much? If our God reigns why are Christians in Iraq facing extinction according to a BBC report this week?  Job, more than most people, had cause to ask questions of this type. And ask them he did, and there’s nothing wrong in that. But at the same time he also conceded “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42.2).

This is the tension we live with as Christians in this “present-time” before Jesus returns. Suffering and evil remain but we know that their days are numbered and that God’s reign of peace and justice, already a heavenly reality, will be an earthly one too. The challenge for us is to

 bear the troubles that continue to come our way, whilst all the time holding on to God’s promises; promises that we can trust completely because He is Sovereign.

            As I read back on this piece, I’m struck by how much it reflects the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray:

“Our Father in heaven,
 hallowed be your name,
 your kingdom come,
 your will be done,
     on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.”
(Matt. 6.9-13)

For His is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Our God reigns. Amen. Ian


A picture of a deflated Tommy Smith

Bring on the Sub!

(April 2019)

Supporting Huddersfield Town has not been easy this year - and that’s an understatement! At the time of writing the Terriers have won just three league games all season and scored only eighteen times – that’s an average of 0.58 goals per match! The supporters around me have spent most of the season calling for the manager to change things around and bring on a substitute. But in truth, none of our players have been able to make a significant difference to our plight.
 
But at Easter our thoughts should turn to the one substitute who made all the difference in the world. On the first Good Friday Jesus suffered and died in our place, for our sins. He may not have worn blue and white but Isaiah tells us that “by his stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53.5, King James Version). Those stripes, we discover around 700 years after Isaiah, were the wounds of Christ’s passion, his suffering and death.
This so-named “servant-song” in Isaiah 52 and 53 is a remarkable prophecy about how God’s servant would become our perfect substitute. It tells of how Jesus “took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows… he was pierced for our transgressions, and crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him.” (Isa. 53.4-5 NIV). 
 
From right at the beginning of the Bible we discover that our sin separates us from God. St Paul tells us in Romans that the price of our sin is death and that this price has to be paid because God’s perfect justice demands it. But our God is not only perfectly just he is also perfectly merciful and loving; so he paid the price himself: “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3.16).
 
Not all Christians are comfortable with the language of substitution when it comes to the cross. Some would rather explain it as a display of God’s love for us, or as His ultimate moral example for us to learn from, or as the moment of Christ’s victory over sin, death, and the devil.  It is all those things too, but it’s difficult to ignore what the Bible tells us about Jesus as our substitute (see also Mark 10.45, 2 Corinthians 5.21 and 1 Peter 2.14 for a few more examples).
 
Why do some Christians shy away from talking of the cross in substitutionary terms? One of the main reason is their uneasiness with the idea that God punished Jesus – it’s why the line from the hymn ‘In Christ Alone’ that begins “And on that cross where Jesus died…” is sometimes changed from “…the wrath of God was satisfied” to “…the arms of love were opened wide.” But to be offended by the idea of substitution is to mistakenly assume that God and Jesus are separate entities. It’s the same mistake the atheist Richard Dawkins makes when he describes God as “a cosmic child-abuser.”  In fact, the Bible makes it clear that the Father and the Son are one, we believe that it was God himself who paid the price for our sin. He didn’t pass it on to someone else. “Amazing Love, how can it be, that Thou, my God, hast died for me” (Charles Wesley, And Can it Be).
 
There’s something amazing about a substitute coming off the bench to score the winning goal. How much more amazing is the truth that all our mistakes and wrongdoings can be forgiven and paid for by our very own super sub, Jesus, if we repent of our sins and trust in Him?   Ian 
      

The Church Father, MarcionOut with the Old?

(March 2019)

A couple of times in the last month the issue of how Christians should respond to Old Testament has cropped up in conversations I’ve had. I think many Christians find it difficult to reconcile the “God of love” we see revealed through Jesus in the New Testament with the God who appears to them to be less loving in the Old. This is not a new phenomenon. Within a hundred years of Christ’s death, a man called Marcion (pictured above) was calling on Christians to reject the Old Testament (and the many parts of the New Testament that quoted it). He was quickly denounced as a heretic by the Church Fathers but his ideas still live on.

There’s not space here to explain why I think Marcion and those who follow him are wrong. But it’s worth pointing out one or two things to get you thinking.  Firstly, Jesus quotes the Old Testament 78 times, on many occasions actually affirming its authority (e.g. Matthew 5.17-18, Luke 10.25-28, John 5.39-47). Would Jesus really quote the Old Testament so often if he believed we should reject it in favour of the New?

Secondly, we need to see the stark continuity between the God of the Old and New Testaments: a God who is loving from the very first chapter of the Bible when he devotedly creates a paradise for us to enjoy. And, even after the Fall, we see God’s grace in the stories of Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses and David to name just a few. Yes, of course, we also read about God sending a flood on the earth, handing His people over to the Egyptians, killing 3000 Israelites after they cast and worshipped a golden calf, and an instruction to kill every Canaanite when His people reach the Promised Land. But is this any different to the God of the New Testament who kills Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) for cheating and lying to Him?

In all of these terrifying examples of God’s wrath (and I’m not saying they’re easy to accept) we need to remember two things. Firstly, there was mercy in every case; an opportunity to confess, repent, or turn to the one true God. Secondly, we must hold on to the truth that all of us deserve death (Romans 6.23) and the fact there’s another option is an incredible endorsement of God’s love, mercy, and grace. God is, has always been, and always will be, like the father of the Prodigal Son: permissive of us going our own way, however foolish and sinful that is, but always welcoming us back without prejudice, if we humbly and contritely return to Him. Ian        

Epiphany: a time to pray for Christ to be known

The Magi

Epiphany can be defined as a moment of sudden revelation or realisation. The Church season of Epiphany (which begins on 6th January) celebrates the appearance of Jesus to the Gentiles or non-Jewish world, who are represented in the nativity stories by the Magi, or wise men, who follow a star to discover a child born to be King.    

Epiphany can feel a bit like something that happens “after the Lord Mayor’s show” following, as it does, the glitzy celebration of Christmas. But Epiphany is a feast day and the entire three week long season is also one of celebration. I love the variety of stories that we get during Epiphany; not only the visit of the Magi but also the infant Jesus meeting Anna and Simeon in the Temple, the baptism of Christ, the first miracle at the Wedding of Cana, and Jesus’ sermon in Nazareth when he declared that Isaiah’s word about the Messiah was, through Him, fulfilled in their presence.

What all of these accounts have in common is that they reveal who Jesus is: a light to the gentiles (in the account of the Magi and in the Temple), a long-awaited Messiah (in the Temple and in Nazareth), a miracle worker (at Cana), and the Son of God (at His baptism). Of course the rest of the gospel accounts continue to reveal more about Jesus to us, but these early parts of his life are the bomb-shell moment, or at least they should be.

And who is Jesus revealed to? I would say a cross section of just about everyone; from the very rich (the Magi) to those in slavery (the servants at the wedding); from devout Jews (at the Synagogue and Temple) to people of a different faith (the Magi), from the eagerly expectant (Simeon, Anna, John the Baptist) to the outright sceptical (the people of Nazareth), and to every person past, present, and future, who reads or hears these ancient texts.

Epiphany is a great season to pray fervently for those who have yet to discover Jesus. For family, friends, neighbours and work colleagues whom we long to share the hope and joy of knowing Christ, for our politicians and for all in authority around the world, for those of other faiths and of no faith at all, for those in prison, in hospital, or nearing the end of their lives; for children and young people from every nation and race; in fact for all people. We can pray for this at any time in the year of course; but Epiphany is the time for Christ’s revelation. The monthly prayer leaflet very much reflects this theme.          Ian  (January 2019)


A picture of a seed sprouting into new life“See I am doing a new thing!”

As a former teacher, I always think about new beginnings in September rather than in January or when the Church year begins at Advent. And this September especially feels like the start of a new season for our Churches. In the parish of St Francis and St Hilda we are beginning Christianity Explored on Tuesday mornings. In the parish of St Thomas we are beginning both Discipleship Explored and a “next steps” small group on Thursday evenings, and also launching a weekly toddler group on Tuesdays and a weekly café on a Monday. Many of you will know of children and young people who are starting at a new school, college, or university. Perhaps some of you are beginning new jobs or a new phase of your life.

God famously spoke these words to the prophet Isaiah: “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland” (Is. 43.9). Now whilst I recognise He wasn’t particularly referring to Huddersfield in 2018, I do think we can hold on to God’s Word from this verse in our parishes and in our time.  God is forever doing new things. His Word is forever reaching new ears and His Holy Spirit is forever breaking through in new - and often unexpected – places. We live in a spiritual wilderness and our nation is a spiritual wasteland, just as Israel was in Isaiah’s day. But God’s promise is that it won’t always be that way; and he has called us, His Church, to point the way to the Living Water that Jesus promised in John chapter 4 (10-14).

We can only do this by joining in with the new things that God is doing. He wants to do new things in each of our lives. Perhaps he will do this through courses like Christianity and Discipleship Explored. And He also wants to do new things in our communities, perhaps through new ministries like Little Toms and the Grace Café as well as through our more well-established ministries in both parishes.

Churches should be like oases in a spiritual wilderness, sourced by the Living Water and offering this same Living Water to those who are thirsty. But we need to remember that oases can also dry up if they are cut off from the Source; let’s remain close to Christ so that we can lead others to Him too. And can I urge you to pray that God blesses all those new things beginning, or resuming this September? 

Ian (Sept 2018)


Discipleship pictureSummer Sermon Series

You may recall back in January’s together that I mentioned we’d be thinking about discipleship in 2018. Beginning on 29th July and through to 2nd September we’ll be hearing sermons addressing just this theme.  For the most part we’ll be looking at Mark chapter 10 and Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, chapters 4-6.  Then on Thursday evenings at St Thomas’ Bradley, beginning on 13th September, we’ll be running an 8 week course called “Discipleship Explored” during which we’ll be looking at what the book of Philippians has to teach us about following Jesus.

Being a disciple of Jesus is a whole life commitment. It’s not just what we do on a Sunday or when we’re intentionally “being Christian”. It affects the way we live, how we relate to others, how we use our abilities and possessions, and even our attitudes to other people and to the world around us. It’s about placing Jesus and the life he calls us to lead above everything else.

Our summer sermon series begins with an exploration about discipleship and marriage which should be of interest to all Christians at a time when marriage is being redefined in our society. This is followed by a sermon on discipleship and children. The Bible contains much wisdom on these opening two topics and this wisdom is important not only for those who are married, for those who have children and for those who are a child. As we’ll discover, being married and having children is not the only (and perhaps not even the best) way of being a disciple of Jesus.

On 12th August we’ll be looking at discipleship and possessions which gets to the heart of how counter-cultural being a disciple really is. This is followed by two sermons entitled “how to be a disciple” and “how not to be a disciple” which will provide practical teaching on following Jesus. Finally, there’ll be a sermon on counting the cost of discipleship. Jesus never said that following him would be easy and this sermon will pick up on this theme.

I know that holidays will get in the way of most people being at all six of these services but remember that each theme will be preached on at 9am, 10.45am, and 5pm, at St Francis’, St Thomas’, and St. Hilda’s respectively, and we also hope that the talks at Bradley will be accessible through the webpage, www.bradfixcow.org.uk.

I hope that God will speak to you through these talks but don’t expect them to be easy to listen to! Being a disciple of Jesus demands much of us but the rewards are infinitely greater than the illusory ones offered by the world. If you are going away at all this summer, do have a lovely time and return home safely. Ian (August 2018)


...And rest 

Winnie the Pooh and Piglet having a rest

As we enter the holiday season I think it’s a good time to reflect on what the Bible tells us about finding time to rest and looking after ourselves. Busyness has become a modern virtue but even if we’re busy for God we’ll soon burn out unless we honour Him by obeying His command to rest.

Right at the beginning of the Bible God sets us an example doesn’t he? I think the creation of night and day provides a natural daily pattern of sleeping and waking which almost all animals and plants observe – and so should we by not burning the candle at both ends. And, of course, after six “days” of creation were’re told that God Himself rested and blessed that seventh day and made it holy.

Then, when Moses receives the Ten Commandments we are given the instruction to keep the Sabbath day holy. Not only does this instruction stand side by side with what we might consider more important ‘rules’ such as ‘do not commit murder’ but actually the commandment about the Sabbath is the longest and most detailed of the Ten! We’re told to do no work, but importantly we’re also told that we shouldn’t require others to work for us on that day either. God’s plan is that all creation should collectively rest on the Sabbath.

By Jesus’ day the Pharisees were insisting that the Jews observed this law

If this sounds like a contradiction, it might be explained like this: of course we’re not all able to rest on a Sunday. We need nurses, carers, and others every day of the week. At times we might need to work on a Sunday ourselves. That’s fine, but we mustn’t forget to find a different Sabbath that week. God gave us the Sabbath because he knows we need that rest, just as he gave us the nighttime to sleep. slavishly and were outraged when they saw the hungry disciples picking corn on the Sabbath and when they heard that Jesus had healed on it. Jesus told them that “the Sabbath was made for humans, not humans for the Sabbath.” We shouldn’t be slaves to the Sabbath, being afraid do anything that might be ‘work’, but at the same time we must honour the fact God has commanded us to rest.

And observing the Sabbath doesn’t have to mean we sit quietly with a book wondering whether turning the page is an act of labour! We can find rest by doing something different than we do the rest of the week; gardening, baking, cycling, building a barbeque – these might be hard work – but they’re still a rest from our usual routine.

But remember that the Fourth Commandment also requires us to ensure that others don’t work on the Sabbath on our behalf. This doesn’t include those who might care for us, or indeed our vicar, but it’s worth reflecting upon whether we are breaking the spirit of this command by shopping or eating out on a Sunday. I know I don’t always get this right. I think it’s one of those issue that we each need to search our own consciences about. Anyway, have a lovely summer and get some rest!  Ian (July 2018)


Jesse from the Fast Show


Let’s make ‘Ordinary Time’ an extraordinary time…

Do you remember the Fast Show? For those that don’t, it was a comedy sketch show on the BBC in the 1990s. One of my favourite characters was a scruffily dressed man called Jesse who emerged from a farm shed to announce something like “this season I will be mostly wearing Dolce and Gabbana!” or “today I have been mostly eating taramasalata!”  Well it was funny at the time – or at least I thought so!

At this time of year I always feel like announcing that “this season I will be mostly wearing a green stole!” The way the Church year is laid out we have Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, and Trinity Sunday all following hot on each others’ heels, and then we get months and months of what the Church imaginatively entitles “Ordinary Time”. After half a year of varying between stoles of purple, white, gold, and red, I will now have to wear only green (more or less) until Advent returns. What a bore!

I dislike the title “Ordinary Time”. It’s as if we’re being told that it’s time stop celebrating Easter, or as if we’re being advised that nothing amazing is going to happen from now until at least next Advent: “Folks, prepare for the ordinary! Clergy, get out the green stoles!”

But our own Church calendar’s say something different. A Christianity Explored Course begins this month. An inaugral lay conference in Harrogate takes place on 9th. Our ordinand Carol Hawkins is ordained on 30th. Garden parties, harvest festivals, and patronal festivals are planned or in planning. PCC away-days to seek God’s vision for our Churches are also in the pipeline. And that’s just a sample of the thing’s that we’ve planned – what about the things that God has planned? I’m sure he doesn’t think in terms of “Ordinary Time”!

Maybe it’s significant that “Ordinary Time” follows Pentecost when we remember how the early Church was empowered with the Holy Spirit. Now is the time for us to join in with whatever God’s doing, empowered by that same Holy Spirit. Let’s go out and make disciples. Let’s share what God has done in our lives. Let’s love one another as Christ first loved us so that the world will know that we are His disciples. Let’s worship the Lord like it’s still Easter! Let’s pray and study God’s Word like we’ve never done before. With God’s help, Let’s make “Ordinary Time” an extraordinary time both in our parishes’ lives, and in our own. Ian (June 2018)


Unity

The power of Christian Unity

This month marks the first anniversary of my licencing as priest in charge of our two parishes and three churches. My family and I would like to th

ank you all for helping us settle in so quickly and for the love and care and prayer we’ve been afforded. It’s been a positive first twelve months, capped by what many people have said was a wonderful Holy Week and Easter. As I mentioned at our rece

The reading at my licensing last year was from Ephesians 4 which, in my Bible, is entitled ‘Unity in the body of Christ’. In it Paul urges the church to “lead a life worthy of the calling you have received” (v1), “bear with one another in love” (v2), and “make every effort to maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace” (v3). When we do this amazing stuff happens as Easter proved.power of Christian unity.nt annual parish meetings, I put the “success” of our Easter programme down to two things; firstly  and most importantly, the Holy Spirit showed up big time; and secondly, many of the services and events were supported by people from each of our Churches. It was a visual reminder of the 

But these three instructions need to be revisited by all of of us again and again. We need to regularly ask ourselves “Is my life worthy of being a disciple of Christ?”, “I am always patient and loving?”, “Am I doing everything I can to promote unity and peace?” If your answer is “yes, yes, and yes” I hope you don’t mind me saying “you little fibber!”

Our lives fall short of the calling we have received on a daily basis. But if we recognise this, repent, and pray for God’s help to do better in the future; we can be certain both of God’s forgiveness and his help in our discipleship.     

We often lose patience with others and fail to love them as we should. Recognise that this is true, repent, and pray for God’s help to be more patient and loving.

As for unity: it’s so easy to stay in our comfort zones, to feel that we are better off alone, or even that we’re simply better. Recognise that we do this, repent, and pray for God’s help to be more humble and more open to the power of his unifying Spirit.

As Paul writes in Ephesians 4.4: “There is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God who is the Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in all.” Ian (May 2018)