Salesbury - St Peter

Clergy Letters 2015


Giving & Getting

 Well that’s what it often feels like.

December can become a month above all others filled with sorting out who’s going to give what to who. Now I don’t want you to jump from that to a lament about the commercialization of Christmas – there’ll be plenty of those elsewhere and many of them thoughtfully stated. No, I want to ask about what we really want.

As a child I didn’t find it helpful when my mother said that what she really wanted for Christmas was just for me and my sister to be good. It didn’t help me get any closer to working out what to get her, and it was often said with a pointed reference to some recent incident. And yet, even then, I realized that there was something true in this request. It wasn’t just an expression of the stresses and strains of parenthood as the 25th came closer.

The answer we get back when we ask ‘what would you like for Christmas’ may well vary with the timing of the question. Choose one moment and the answer may be, ‘I’d like all of the wars to stop’ or ‘I’d really like it if we had more time to sit and talk’.

Is it possible to make time to stop and think about all these requests? Is there an alternative to treating them all as an exasperated expression, which only delays the real answer? What would it be like if we took these things seriously?

What we really want find expression in prayer. We pray about peace for war torn places, we ask for health for those who face trials, and we bring before God our need for friendship and fellowship. God keeps listening. He takes our thoughts seriously. He knows what we really deep-down want. What he wants is to hear us come to him with our needs.

All of which makes it really odd that sometimes at Christmas we find ourselves too busy to worship. Even when we have made it to a service, we can find our mind has strayed off in some other direction. Our busyness has invaded this time too and threatens to destroy the opportunity that lies before us.

What do we really want to give? Well, of course, we want to give the gifts that we’ve found and we want to have them accepted in the spirit in which they are given. In fact, knowing that the spirit in which they are given has been appreciated may matter more than anything about the gift itself. In truth, that is true about the gifts we receive as well, we want don’t want a gift that has been given grudgingly, we want one that is an expression of love.

Making sure that our giving is shaped by love, goodness and peace brings us back to worship. We need to be ready to come before the One who is the source of love, goodness and peace that in some way we might let something of him be reflected in all the rest.

Let us make sure that this Christmas all our giving and getting catches that reflection, because at the heart of our Christmas the central place has been given to the Prince of Peace, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Martin


Pray, And Keep On Praying

In the Old Testament, in the First Book of Samuel, Chapter 1, we read the story of Hannah. More than anything else in life, Hannah wanted a son. As they years passed she wrestled with disappointment and despair. ‘She (Hannah) was deeply distressed cried bitterly as she prayed to the Lord’ verse 10. However Hannah, did two things that worked, and I commend them to you:

  1. Instead of turning away from God, she turned to Him. Instead of praying less, she prayed more. She knew that God could answer her prayer. She may not have been completely happy with God’s timing, but she never doubted His goodness. Sadly often when we are going through difficult times we are often tempted to avoid God’s presence. That is a mistake, because He is the one we need the most! Yes, it is hard to pray when our hearts are breaking. But unless we’ve prayed with a broken heart and a deep sense of our need, we’ve never really poured out our hearts before God, or learned what the Bible truly means by prayer.
  2.  In her prayer Hannah didn’t just think about what she wanted, she also thought about what God wanted. ‘Almighty God, look at me your servant. See my trouble and remember me! Don’t forget me! If you give me a son, I promise that I will dedicate him to you for his whole life…’ verse 11. Shortly after that Samuel was conceived. When we are willing to make a promise to God that He can hold us to, then we are getting serious about prayer. And that is when God will get serious about our prayer as well!

So ‘pour out your heart before Him’.


Martin



During my quiet times in July & August I have been spending time reading the Book of Jonah, from the Old Testament.

Jonah was told by God to go and do something that he didn’t want to do – to go to the city of Nineveh and tell the people to turn away from their wickedness and to turn back to God – and so Jonah ran away from God. Jonah’s refusal to obey God and his attempt to run away led him into all sorts of difficulties. These culminated in a huge storm whilst he was on board ship which eventually led to Jonah being thrown overboard, ending up being swallowed by a great fish from where he prayed to God.

Interestingly as we consider Jonah’s prayer from inside the whale, it is not a prayer for deliverance, but one of thanksgiving. Jonah’s heart overflows with gratitude for the spectacular way in which he has been saved from certain drowning. Some people my criticize Jonah for crying out in prayer only when he was in trouble, but such is the mercy and goodness of God that He listens to prayers in such circumstances. Isaac Bashevis Singer, a Polish-born Jewish-American author, wrote this: ‘Whenever I am in trouble I pray. And since I’m always in trouble I pray a lot. Even when you see me eat and drink, while I do this, I pray.’ It is sad, however, if prayer is limited only to times of trouble. A little boy was asked by his vicar if he prayed every day. ‘No,’ responded the boy, ‘cos there are some days when I don’t need anything.’

Let us be clear, the main purpose of prayer in not petition (asking for things), but communion – simply talking to God and deepening our relationship with Him. Jonah had not been doing this for some time, but now things have changed. He talks with God from inside the fish and is once again on speaking terms with the Almighty. Clearly, at this moment, Jonah doesn’t have much earthly comfort but there is no comfort like the comfort of a restored relationship with God.

Over the coming months I invite you, in addition to your own personal prayer times, to join us as we come together in prayer at St. Peter’s and as part of the Diocese of Blackburn. Listed below are details of various prayer times at St. Peter’s and around the Diocese at which everyone is welcome.

Come and join us as together we deepen our relationship with our Heavenly Father.

Every blessing

Martin


Dear Friends


 Join us in the E100 BIBLE READING CHALLENGE


 What is the E100 Bible Reading Challenge?


The E100 Bible Reading Challenge is based around 100 carefully selected Bible readings (50 from the Old Testament and 50 from the New Testament) designed to give participants a good understanding of the overall Bible story from Genesis to Revelation. The ‘E’ stands for Essential and each of the Essential 100 are usually one or two chapters in length and can be easily read in 10 minutes.

How does it work?

This is a programme that is very flexible and we will be following an agreed plan, based on us achieving 5 readings per week, at home.

At the start of each week of readings the sermons, at the 8am & 10.30am Services, will provide an overview of the section that we will be covering during the week. Home Groups will be meeting during the week, see below, and will be following up on the same material.

What resources are available?

Scripture Union has published a book to go along with the programme. This includes



Dear Friends,

The Greatest Substitute

The 2014/2015 football season has finally drawn to a close! As it did my thoughts went back to the 1970s & 80s when I would visit a popular fish and chip shop not far from where I grew up. I would occasionally stand in the queue with David Fairclough, a striker for Liverpool Football Club. David Fairclough made his debut for Liverpool on 1 November 1975 in a 1–0 league win over Middlesbrough at Ayresome Park. As the season progressed, Fairclough scored seven crucial goals in just 14 appearances to land Liverpool the League championship – nine of these appearances were as substitute. His most famous Liverpool goal came at Anfield as a substitute in a crucial European Cup quarter final against the French side St Etienne. When he scored ITV commentator Gerald Sinstadt famously bellowed: "Supersub strikes again!" After that, David Fairclough became know simply as ‘Super-sub’.

Playing and wining by the rules laid down by the Football Association provides a great sense of achievement for the players and is a cause of celebration among supporters. The thought occurred to me that in the games of life, we’ve always struggled (and still do) to live by the rules of the life-giver – Almighty God. So God, after sending a numbers of representatives (prophets etc.) to try to correct our style of play, finally decided to send – a vicar! In brief, vicar means substitute, substitute for the bishop who has care of a diocese and who for practical reasons needs to delegate that care to his substitutes, his vicars!


God’s vicar was his Son – our substitute. He had been the only one who ever fully lived by the rules of the life-giver. He was the only one whose style of play pleased God.


Easter focused our minds on the wonderful truth that Jesus Christ, who has died for the wrong style of play in all of us (‘sin’ in God’s vocabulary) was given back his life by the life giver, because it was our style of play and not his that deserved death. This risen Jesus now challenges/invites us to follow a new and different style of play – HIS! At the cross, God gave Jesus the red card due to his association with you and me, but on that 1st Easter morning, God’s whistle brought him back on the pitch!


At Pentecost we, with Christians everywhere, rejoiced in the sending by God of his Spirit, whose presence in our lives enables players who once got it horribly wrong (and sometimes still do) to live with Christ alongside us, within us, all around us.


 What a goal!


Martin



Dear Friends,

During May we celebrate the birthday of the church. Pentecost Sunday is on May 24th and marks the coming into being of the church through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is as important as Christmas and Easter and yet it gets overlooked by most people.

Pentecost is a great day and one as Christians we should fully celebrate. Following the momentous appearances of the resurrected Jesus and his ascension the gift of the Holy Spirit is given to the disciples as they meet in the upper room. This moment changes their lives from within and they gain confidence to speak about Jesus in a wonderful way.

For many years the Anglican Church kept the Holy Spirit at a respectful distance. More recently it has recognized this as a gift from God for the building of His Church and has begun to embrace it once again. St. Paul talks about the gifts of the Spirit and how they are given by God to build up His Church, so we miss much if we ignore them.

For me the Fruit of the Spirit, which St. Paul speaks about in Galatians 5: 22-23, is most exciting. The characteristics of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control are wonderful. If we allow the Holy Spirit to enter our lives we are told that this is the type of character we will become. In other words we will become Christ-like. How great would that be!

I believe that a church full of people showing these fruit growing in our lives will be a wonderful place. It will be a place full of God’s loving care for the community, as we respond to peoples needs and tell them of the love of God in Christ Jesus.

For a moment think of the opposites – hate, cynicism, anger, irritation, selfishness, wickedness, dishonesty, aggression, violence. Do they sound rather familiar in the world of today? They did in St. Paul’s day as well.

I believe that many people are looking for the antidote to the ways of the world and through the power of the Holy Spirit of God the church has access to that antidote. Welcome the Holy Spirit into your life and allow the Fruit of the Spirit to germinate and grow in you. It will do a world of good to you and a load of good to the world.


Every blessing

 

Martin


Our sure & certain hope

During the season of Lent I have been spending time learning from the two letters Paul wrote to the young church in Thessalonica. One of the points that caught my attention was Paul’s teaching about life after death. In the first letter in particular Paul answered their questions about what happened to those who died before the return of the Lord.

When we explore these matters further it is the death and resurrection of Jesus that must be right at the centre of all of our thinking. As I write we are approaching Holy Week, when we take time to remember all that led up to the death of Jesus on the cross. Easter Sunday triumphantly proclaims that on the third day the Father raised Jesus from the dead. It is his risen life that is the source of our hope; it is his risen life that gives shape to our hope.

The church’s worship through Holy Week is designed to help us grow in our faith and understanding about these matters. At the celebration of Holy Communion on Maundy Thursday we mark the Last Supper and the beginning of the passion. On Good Friday, we watch at the cross, ending with the death of Jesus.

Following the week through makes Saturday stand out. Nothing happens on Saturday. Emphasising that Jesus was, in every sense, dead.

That may seem a strange way of putting it. In what possible sense might he have been still alive? Well, none at all. However, I sense at times that people have difficulty taking that fully on board. We jump so quickly to the resurrection that the phrase about ‘Christ dying for our sins’ is repeated without the astonishment that should always accompany it.

And if we haven’t given serious thought to what it meant for Jesus to die – if we’ve always thought that somehow it was different for him – then we may run the risk of missing out on the way his resurrection is the starting point for our own hope of resurrection life. He died our death that we might live his life.

Properly speaking it is only as we have been through Good Friday and Holy Saturday that we find ourselves ready for Easter Sunday. We can only celebrate the resurrection once we come to terms with Jesus’ death and burial. But having done that, the wonder and excitement of Easter grows and grows. We celebrate the defeat of death itself, we rejoice in the triumph of God’s good purposes, we look forward to a glorious future in fellowship with him. In all of this we find ourselves exploring more and more the riches of God.

Through the Easter season, as you read the scriptures, let your imagination be fed by the readings. Meditate on the resurrection appearances to the disciples and feed on this picture of resurrection life. The one who died, who was buried, who was raised on the third day, comes and walks with his disciples bodily. What does the fact of his bodily appearances promise for your future?

God bless you all this Easter


Martin



I wonder what your reaction is to change?


In reality some of us enjoy new experiences and adapting to other people’s way of doing things. While others dislike change preferring to stick to that which is familiar.

Christian customs and ways of doing things vary greatly: styles of worship, hymns, liturgy and so on. You’ve only got to look around the churches in and around Blackburn to see how true that is.

St. Paul writes in Galatians 3:28 “There is no such thing as Jew and Greek, slave and freeman, male and female, for we are all one person in Jesus Christ.” Jesus Christ has died for us all and in doing so has outlawed discrimination of every sort – racial, social, gender and so on.

Christians are one family! Jesus himself prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane that we would all be one in Him. So that the world might believe that the Father has sent Him and as a result would themselves be drawn into the Kingdom of God.

That doesn’t mean to say that all cultures should be the same. Neither does it mean that all our worship should be the same. But what it does mean is that we should accept one another and learn to worship and work with one another.

Revelation 7:9 tells us that one day we will all be part of one vast crowd worshipping together in eternity. So we might as well start getting used to it now.

Throughout human history, even before that, God’s concern has been for all people – not just for the Jews, not just for Christians, but for all people.

The clues are there in the Bible, from the beginning to the end. In n Isaiah 40:5 we read “Then will the glory of the Lord be revealed and all mankind together will see it”. The truth is that all people will see the glory of God – but sadly not all with receive him. Nevertheless God’s longing is for all people to turn to Him & be saved.

God’s grace is for all people and not just for a few. Paul writes in Colossians 1:6 “The gospel is bearing fruit and making new growth the new world over”. This is happening today, thousand upon thousands of people are being added to the church worldwide every single day. The gospel, the Good News, is spreading and being received throughout the world and therefore the prophecies of Isaiah 40 to 55 are being fulfilled – in our lifetime. I find that incredibly exciting.

This gospel, this good news of Jesus Christ is the reason for us to live holy lives, in the service of God.

Paul writes to the church in Colossae (1:9-10) “we ask God that you may receive from him full insight into His will and spiritual understanding, so that your manner of life may be worthy of the Lord and entirely pleasing to him. We pray that you may bear fruit in active goodness of every kind, and grow in knowledge of God.”

God looks on our hearts and our worship means nothing at all if its purpose is to please us, if it is about ‘what I like’. God looks on our hearts and our worship means nothing at all, unless our aim is to please Him.

Paul points us to the hope that we have as forgiven people, people who have made a new start in Christ. We look forward to the time when God’s people, from north, south, east & west, will all share together in God’s Kingdom.

But there are Christians from other traditions right here on our very doorstep. We need to learn and share with and from each other, our insights and strengths, so as to build & develop the Kingdom of God here in Salesbury.

Let’s grasp the opportunities that present themselves in the months & years that lie ahead and celebrate with joy Jesus Christ, the hope for the whole world.



Martin



We live in a world that is caught up in great change and many people say that we are living in the post-Christian era. For the first sixteen centuries after Christ the objective truths of The Bible played a major part in shaping the world. The Bible’s influence was powerful and persuasive. Then in the eighteenth century there arose a movement of intellectual thought in Europe that rejected external authority and lauded personal subjective judgement. The Enlightenment as it was called, celebrated intellectual individualism and sought to banish any idea of living by faith in God.

Recently I heard a television commentator say: ‘Jesus Christ is now a spent force in the life of humanity.’ When I heard that my mind was drawn to the events surrounding the arrest and trial of Jesus, from Matthew 26. In verse 58 we read ‘Peter…entered and sat down with the guards to see the outcome.’ Or as another version puts it: ‘Then Peter slipped in and mingled with the servants watching to see how things would turn out.’ When Peter entered the courtyard of the high priest’s house and sat down with the guards to see what would happen to Jesus, Peter thought that he was witnessing the end. It certainly was the end – the end of the beginning. Although Jesus was about to have his life ended on a cross, He would come back and stamp His personality on the centuries.

I believe that the coming years will bring in a spiritual renaissance. You and I must be part of it.

God bless you

Martin



At Christmas we celebrate the birth of the truest human being the world has ever seen. Whatever you imagine a true person to be, Jesus is it! A true human being would stand up for the poor, heal the sick, fight for justice, stand up to the bully, forgive his enemies, give people a glimpse of God. A true person would be full of peace, love and understanding. That is a picture of Jesus.

Christmas is the time to celebrate that truth came down to earth. The way Jesus lived and the things he taught are so down to earth and in touch with our world.

This Christmas will be tough for many people. Things perhaps we have taken for granted, many will not be able to afford. On the face of it some may feel that this will be a miserable Christmas. BUT the true Christmas based on the true Jesus is not in the end about all the material things. It is about opening the gifts of God that money can’t buy – love and peace. If you feel that your heart is half empty ask God to fill it with his love. If you feel your soul is restless ask God to breathe his peace into you. These are the real Christmas gifts. Money can’t buy you a Christmas full of love and peace. They are the presents that which only you can unwrap.


Well, go on! Unwrap them.


I wish you a Christmas of love, peace and understanding.


Martin