Book of Job

Whilst at college 27 years ago I came under some excellent teaching in the Old and New Testaments, in Systematic theology, ethics, pastoral care etc. but one of the things it most instilled in me was a love of the book of Job, from the Old Testament.

A book often misunderstood, and believed to be all doom and gloom with no redeeming features to it. We often remember how he lost all his family, his possessions and was shunned by others. Throughout it all he never lost faith in God, but simply desired answers. We don’t always grasp that it is one of the most exciting, profound and hopeful books of the Old Testament.

Tomorrow I’ve got the privilege of sharing my thoughts on the book as part of the Circuit 2018 focus on “Intentional Faith Development” and I’m finding myself really excited about the prospect. I’m not saying I’m anything special or more knowledgeable about the subject but I do find myself with a passion for the themes of the book, such as the environment, humankind, suffering and even the comparison with Jesus Christ.

I find it a book which speaks of a God who is in charge, a God who doesn’t have to interact with his creation but a God who chooses to do so.

As a Circuit we will cover a variety of books within the Bible (next month is Luke) throughout the year, as various members of staff lead us in their thoughts and teach us about their particular book. In this way we’ll learn more about 12 books of the Bible and if it is well received we may well do another 12 in 2019

Why are we doing this ?        Simply because we all need to grow in our faith and Scripture studied prayerfully, contextually and with a desire to know more of Gods mind shows us how to grow.

In Scripture we meet God in all his fullness; it helps us reflect on the world around us, our place within it and how we can be Gods people in this day and age.

If you’re in the area why not come and join us, and if you’re away from the area why not join us in reading whichever book is chosen each month.






Singing the Lords song in a strange land

Singing the Lords song in a strange land is the title of a book by Revd Tom Stuckey that I’ve just started reading. One of the difficulties of Ministry is that its very easy to get caught up in the busyness of sorting, organising, preaching, visiting etc that the studying by which our thinking is informed can be easily lost. I try (rarely succeed) to keep abreast of the latest studies, books etc that will stretch my thinking.

Notice the sub-title of the book is “The future of the Church in Britain. A Methodist perspective”

Reflecting Psalm 137 its a book that addresses many of the fears surrounding Methodism at the moment, decline, anxiety, lack of direction and much more. Like those exiled in Babylon the dilemma is how to be Christian in an increasingly secular world, where it feels that we too have been exiled in a foreign land where our language, culture, standards etc are very different from those around.

I wonder where your church stands within the current atmosphere of doom and gloom that pervades so many places of worship ? Is your Church facing up to the reality of a changing world or is it burying its head in the sand hoping that when it emerges everything will be back to ‘normal’ ?

I’ve only just started the book but already I find myself intrigued by its honesty and clarity. Starting with the observation that many of us find ourselves making sadly; that the world has changed but the Church refuses to do so in many places leaving us further and further behind. The political and economic scene is very different from the world in which many of our church folk grew, music has changed, the increase of reality television and certainly the growth of the internet and social media has impacted upon our world. Its no use ignoring these things (especially the last one) as they shape our thinking and acting. And yet the church retreats into its own little ghetto where nothing changes.

Stuckey addresses the issue of ‘Babylon ‘ with its individualistic culture, the effect of our life styles on the environment, and the importance of materialism for many folk.

Thats where Ive got up to so far and he speaks of that which many of us can recognise but as yet don’t have any answers. What I find is that many recognise that we are as Scripture says ‘living in a strange world” to that which many of us grew up in but few ask the questions of how “to sing the Lords song” or even “what is the Lords song!” and I’m hoping that he will lead us in the book towards a more hopeful conclusion.

Whatever, I commend each of us to the following in Lent…………..

  1.     Read something that will stretch thinking in a spiritual way
  2.     In my circuit we are having a “year of Intentional Faith Development” and so I suggest we read more of Scripture
  3.    Consider the future of the Church, our part in it and our part in its development
  4.    Reflect on how we, ourselves, might sing the Lords song in a strange land.

Have a blessed Lent but also an honest and challenging one

5 a day nourishment, final post

My apologies for not posting yesterday, as I had intended to, but I’ve been away in London for a visit to Methodist Church House and then some R&R with Alison.

 So where do we go from here ?

As I journeyed home on the train, I reflected on several things……… 

Firstly, at Euston station the number of people standing waiting for the train, seemingly without purpose in contrast to those who had been waiting suddenly dashing off for their train as it arrived. I’ve observed this many times during my journeys from Euston and it never fails to amaze me, for I’m one of them !

Secondly, the number of folk on electronic devices, texting or listening to music and definitely NOT engaging with the person sitting next or near to them. It’s become the world of personal space, not to be invaded.

Thirdly, the moments I’ve seen homelessness on the streets of London and knowing that it is reflected up and down the land, where people (often through no fault of their own) have found themselves in situations that they feel powerless to get out of.

Fourthly, the lack of manners shown in the likes of the man who easily pushed Alison out of the way in order to get on the tube first, and left his wife/partner three or four people behind ! Sadly, I don’t think he even realised what he had done, for such is the “me first’ mentality of the world. My Father, who has always been a gentleman, would have been horrified.

This is why I think there is the need for the 5 spiritual exercises I’ve looked at this week; because our spiritual health ultimately is the only thing that will heal this world. In Genesis God created the world “and saw that it was good” and the whole Bible story is about God, in Jesus, restoring that creation to what he first intended. Don’t just read Genesis without reading other books in the Bible.

We are encouraged to look after our physical health these days to ensure we don’t end up, as I did, in the back of an ambulance (several years ago). 5 a day has become the mantra for good physical health, but what about our spiritual health; it too shouldn’t be neglected and that’s why I feel indebted to the Vice-President (Jill Baker) and Loraine Mellor (President) for challenging the Methodist people to engage in this exercise of giving thanks, keeping silent, reading and reflecting, praying and acting each and every day. But it’s not just an exercise for Methodists as I believe from their initial reading of Acts 2:46-47 it’s a good discipline for ALL people of faith and for those of no faith. Lets aim to get our spiritual lives in order this year.

In closing this series on my blog I print the words of the Methodist Covenant which is said annually in every Methodist Church (and in other denominations as well). It puts God at the very centre of our lives. May we achieve this in 2018

5 a day nourishment day 5

And so we come to the last of the 5 spiritual exercises for a healthy spiritual

life. PRAY !

It’s probably the hardest of all the exercises and yet its the one Jesus told us to engage in. What is prayer ? Too often its deemed to be that which the preacher or the Minister does from the front of Church on a Sunday. I’m always amazed by the number of Methodists who will refuse to pray out loud citing reasons such as “I don’t know how” or “It’s not my job”. On one occasion I even had someone tell me that God doesn’t listen unless it’s a Minister or a Priest !!

The disciples asked Jesus how they should pray and in Matthew 6:9 onwards he gives them the Lords Prayer. Now I don’t think for one minute it was intended as a formulaic procedure to be intoned in the way we usually do; nor do I think that Jesus ever intended it to be repeated parrot fashion in every act of worship.

No I think that Jesus was offering us pointers we should pray for and about.

Firstly (v 9) our prayers should glorify God and acknowledge that we want to see his will carried out in our lives and in our world. It’s an opening of commitment to God

Secondly (v 11) it’s about asking for what we need from our loving Father in Heaven.

Thirdly (v12) the prayer reminds us that we are not perfect and particularly in the face of a perfect God. We need his forgiveness but we also need to follow his example and be prepared to forgive others.

Fourthly (v 13) we need Gods protection from those things that would divert us away from God, and there is much in this world that would distract us.

It’s also particularly interesting that in Matthews Gospel he follows the Lords prayer with teaching about fasting. Again I don’t think that it’s about food per se but about focussing on God, His will and his desire to enrich our lives.

So, why do we find this so difficult ? I think because we live in a world which declares that it’s not normal to talk to someone you can’t see and less normal to expect an answer !! and yet if we believe in a God who cares for us then we need to hold onto a God who wants to be in a relationship with us. And I think that’s the clue, relationship. Its not about having a set time of day, nor a set liturgy but it’s about an ongoing conversation throughout the day. If I want to tell Alison something I don’t keep quiet until 10.30 on a Sunday morning; no I share it there and then, AND, I listen for her response. It’s the same with God for we should be chatting to him all the time and listening for his response which may or may not be audible, may or may not be visible, and which may not come immediately. However, as people of faith we believe he will answer somehow and in some way, bringing to us what we need when we need it (need isn’t always the same as want).

So what do we say ? Well our two year old granddaughter is starting to expand her vocabulary at a phenomenal rate and starting to put together very simple sentences. I don’t expect to be discussing with her the nature of quantum physics just yet (if ever !), nor do I think she can cope with the veritable minefield of an in-depth discussion of the differences between Newcastle United and Sunderland ! However I still remember the moment when I arrived at her house, and as she saw me, she shouted “Grandad”. That is all she said for a while but my heart danced with delight. I don’t think God necessarily wants long and fancy words, nor does he want a deep theological treatise but he simply takes delight in our simple baby talk to him for that’s the nature of relationship. Joy by one half of the relationship in the sharing of love from the other half. A simple, sometimes no words, sharing of our heart with his.

5 a day nourishment day 4

I used to run the Chapel drama group in the ’70s and we had great fun performing with a 60 strong cast in “Jesus Christ Superstar” to “Oliver” as well as one-act plays and pantomimes. At the same time I belonged to two other amateur dramatic groups, in my home town. Since then I’ve been a part of Chapel pantomimes in Ripley, theatre productions in Langley Mill & Swanwick (when I was told I was worryingly authentic as the devil !), front of house manager for Rob Frost (on 3 tours) and a brief appearance as a daffodil in Wimbledon theatre !!

Theatre has been a part of my life ever since the Consett Chapel anniversary at the age of three. I love the theatre, the action, the buzz and the smell of it. On Thursday of this week Alison and I are going to see Mamma Mia at the Novello theatre, London and although I’ve seen it before I’m really looking forward to going again. My sadness is that the nature of Ministry means there is very little time to attend a theatre and no opportunity for acting or producing any more.

Hamlet in the 1970`s

So to me it’s particularly interesting that todays spiritual refreshment is ACT. I remember one production when the girl who I’d cast in the lead role became nervous and very conscious of her height. She looked the part, she sang beautifully but she was very tall and as I discovered this caused her nerves. In rehearsals she knew her lines but as the time for the production drew closer she got more and more nervous to the point when she declared one evening “I can’t do this, I quit !” and this was only about two weeks before we went ahead. As it happens we persuaded her to continue, but only on the promise that I spent every night hiding behind the piano so she could see me when the audience couldn’t. My role in that performance was to smile and keep her calm and focussed. She was a tremendous hit, but would have been a disaster if she’d got too nervous or had pulled out as she wanted.

It is no good an actor knowing his or her lines, cues, entrances if they don’t actually act on our knowledge; in the same way, as Christians it is no good having the knowledge and doing nothing about it. So far this week our spiritual exercise have included reading and reflecting, keeping silence and giving thanks. All three are worthy of mention but of no use if we don’t aim to discipline ourselves into acting upon them. 1 Corinthians 13 is a wonderful, memorable passage often used at weddings to speak of the necessity of love, but it contains a wonderful build-up towards it as it says “if I have no love it’s not worth having spiritual gifts such as prophecy or speaking in tongues. Without love it’s no use giving to the poor or having faith.”

In other words we must act on what we believe and as God is a God of love then our actions need to be that of love also, even towards those that hurt us or damage us (hard though it is).  If we believe that God is in charge of our lives then we should act as though he is, and its no good trying to be in control all the time; If we believe in the power of prayer, then we should engage in pray. So the list goes on for it’s a relatively simple message to do something about it.

I’ve always liked the story of the congregation who turned up at Church one Sunday morning to find that the Minister had pinned a note to the door which read “You’ve all been coming here for at least 25 years: now do something about it !”

Don’t let us leave our Christian lives at the end of the hymn singing, or when we leave our particular places of worship; let’s go into the world and ACT upon what we believe.


5 a day nourishment day 3

Day 3

Who or what do you give thanks for ? Are your thanks received with graciousness ?

The first part of this question probably sounds easy to answer; quite obviously I can only answer for myself, but I give thanks for family and friends. At the moment I’m going through a stressful time but I feel so uplifted by the love and prayers of my Churches. I give thanks for every one of my Church members and the wider Church family. Especially for those friends who know my current situation and have simply gathered around me, friends from Romania, Oldham, previous Circuits, my Rotary club: you all know who you are.

I give thanks for the blessing of a home in which to live, for food, for heating, for security not afforded to everyone in our own country or abroad.

I give thanks for the simple things in life such as a lovely garden to walk in (even at this time of year), for health, for life itself !

Often all those things we take for granted are the very things we need to say thank you for but we don’t always do it. We forget to say thank you and when we do we can so often be disappointed in the response of the person receiving our gratitude. They shrug their shoulders and say “it was nothing” when to us it may have been everything; they say “don’t mention it” and deprive us of the opportunity to show appreciation. This is where graciousness comes in.

Alison and I know a lady who if she gives a gift expects a thank you by return; If a letter hasn’t arrived in the next post she’s on the phone to us complaining. If we say thank you over the phone she fails to accept it implying that the only thanks that counts is a written one (not email or verbal). Her lack of graciousness takes the edge off the gift she’s given, for we find ourselves thanking her and then having to justify why we spoke it out aloud rather than sent a letter. Still we’re all different.

However, there is one who rejoices in our thankfulness whether it is written, repeated or simply spoken and that someone is God. Look at how any times in the Scriptures thanks and praise are given to God. Jeremiah 33:11 “give thanks to the Lord Almighty, for the Lord is good; his love endures forever” Matthew 15:36 “then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people.” Psalm 136 mentions giving thanks over and over again in its 26 verses. So many other references and the wonderful things is that when we say thank you to God he simply receives it without any further expectation; in short his graciousness is such that to receive thanks is all he requires.

We should be thankful to him for our health, food, homes, family, friends etc.

Now I know that this raises a great deal of theological questioning for those who haven’t received such blessings, but that is for another blog another time. Today I just want us to get into the rhythm of saying thank you.

Go on, try it 

Perhaps begin by reading Psalm 136 out aloud and let yourself get into the rhythm of it, especially the constant repetition of the line “his love endures for ever”. get excited at saying it aloud.

Perhaps after you’ve done this over a few days,  devise your own litany of thanks, with that same repetition in it and learn to say your own thanks aloud.

Its a good habit to get into.