Tag Archives: Bible


I mentioned yesterday that I had the gift of a sabbatical earlier this year. As part of it Joy, my wife, and I took a trip to Nashville, Tennessee.

One reason was to meet a man I had only ever known on social media. Dean (pictured) had for 17 years been a champion of the hymns I write. As the head of worship for the United Methodist Church in the US he had put them on their website and helped get two of them into a church hymnbook.

Version 3Three years ago, I had been due to speak at a hymnwriters’ conference in the US but was unwell and had to cancel so this trip was our first opportunity to finally meet.

He was a generous tour guide, taking us around Nashville in his car and introducing us to his city, even though he was struggling with a heavy cold. Then, on the last day he insisted on taking us to our airport hotel and inviting us to share a family meal to celebrate his father’s 98th birthday.

Although we had never met, there was something precious about being part of the worldwide family of 80 million Methodists while we were in Nashville.

In the Bible, when Jesus sent his disciples out on a mission tour, telling them that wherever they went they should learn to be good guests: to accept the hospitality people offered, eat whatever food was set before them and learn to be comfortable in unusual places.

Dean’s welcome certainly made Nashville a good place to be and made me reflect on how I could be a better host to those I encounter.


BBC Radio Solent Daily Thought: Tuesday

Earlier this year I enjoyed a three-month sabbatical: a break from the pressure of a daily diary with space to think and be a bit more creative.

For a number of years, I have been a published hymn-writer and it’s not always easy to marry writing with the usual work of being a church leader but the sabbatical was a real blessing because those creative juices began to flow again.

I have a picture that I treasure from that time. It’s of a bench in the corner of our garden where I used to sit in the sunshine with my Bible, my songwriting notebook, a commentary on the Psalms and a cup of tea – of course!


Sometimes, because I had time and space, I sat there for ages and wrote nothing. Sometimes I managed to work out a troublesome rhyme or half a verse. Sometimes I simple fell asleep!! But, because the church had given me the gift of time all of that was OK.

One of the Psalms – possibly the oldest songbook in the world – says: Truly my soul finds rest in God.

I know that not everyone has the luxury of three months’ paid leave and I don’t treat it lightly. However, finding a little soul space in your week is a really valuable discipline for all of us: a moment of rest in a frantic world where we always seem to be hurrying from one thing to the next.

Now I’m back in work I need to remind myself to do the same … now, what’s the next thing in my diary? Oh yes, must rush …


This is today’s study in the Methodist Church’s A Word in Time series.

Mark 13:5-13

5Then Jesus began to say to them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray.6Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and they will lead many astray. 7When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

9 ‘As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them. 10And the good newsmust first be proclaimed to all nations. 11When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. 12Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death;13and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

“Then Jesus began to say to them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and they will lead many astray.’” (vv. 5-6)


In the media race for our attention, the crucial thing is to build up an online profile. Using Facebook and Twitter (both probably too old school now), Instagram, Snapchat and many other platforms, anyone who aspires to be a superstar has to be followed by millions.

It’s impossible to opt out and retreat into anonymity if you want people to follow you. Of course, if you don’t keep your latest exploits where everyone can see them, you will fast become irrelevant.

Today’s conversation between Jesus and the disciples came about because his followers were being seduced by the opulence and grandeur of the temple.

“As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’ Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.'” (Mark 13:1-2)

Instead of believing the Jewish religious leaders’ publicity machine, they needed to realise what mattered: did they want to defend the symbol of faith or the one the symbol was pointing to?

“Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray” (v. 6).

Jesus knew that his preaching of the kingdom of God had angered the Jewish priests and leaders. He knew the pressure would be on his followers to recant their stories as false teachers and even family disputes threatened the in-breaking kingdom of God.

We read later in the Bible: “Whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:2-3).

It’s difficult to “consider it … joy” when you feel all the media messages are against your way of life, but while our Instagram account may not be followed by millions our Saviour’s profile is one we are urged to share.

To Ponder

  • Is it a problem or a bonus that the Church doesn’t have money for multi-million pound publicity campaigns? Why?
  • How do we help people “consider it … joy” when they face trials in their life? What pastoral gifts have you found helpful?

Developing the family likeness

All the serious photographers had a “Rollie”.

This is the latest column I’ve written for one of our local community magazines.

How many of you remember the days when photo film was very precious and you had to be really careful about the pictures you took? It was a big decision whether you could afford to buy the 36-image films before going on holiday … perhaps a couple of 12s would do instead.

Then, when taking the pictures, it was important to check before pressing the button. Had you judged the light properly, was the exposure correct, how well framed was the shot, was it in focus?

And after all that the agonising wait for the film to come back from the chemists – the chemists! Or, if you were really fortunate you had a photographic studio nearby. You opened the envelope and found that half the images had been ruined by light getting into the back off the camera or by some mysterious thumb mark on the negatives … negatives!

Then there were the real enthusiasts who had their own darkrooms and developed their own films and could tell you everything you needed to know about apertures and owned two Rolleiflex cameras at 14.

All this came back to me in the last few days when I was scrolling through hundreds of digital photos for some design work and realising how easy it is now to take more and more pictures until you have exactly what you want and discard the rest.

The internet is choc-a-bloc with sites offering copyright-free images for design. You want pictures of a church you can have 57,492! At the same time there are about 3,687,340 images of cute cats so more can’t always be better.

It seems we no longer keep images for posterity in the same way either. We have a multitude of photo albums in the house crammed with pictures that mark our childhoods, our weroll-3-1421867-639x462dding and the lives of our children. But they end more or less when digital photos became the only way to mark life’s milestones.

Now, instead of physical albums we have folders on computer hard drives so how do you know which image is the one which matters?

The Bible says there’s only one. Jesus is described as “the image of the invisible God”. In other words, if you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. If you want to understand how God deals with people, look at Jesus. If you want to get an idea of how God would react if you approached him, look at how Jesus responded when people approached him in the Bible.

Jesus was welcoming to tax cheats, partygoers, wedding guests, bereaved relatives, caring friends of people with disabilities, the blind, the theologically-confused, those who were too holy for their own good … and really good news even for people who were dead. Look it up sometime.

The picture of God that Jesus presents is of acceptance, forgiveness and a willingness to listen but not of being a soft touch.

We have no pictures of Jesus but today his work is carried on by those who have committed to follow him. Many of those are in church on Sundays. We not join us and help us develop more of the family likeness?


Death … interrupted

My Easter sermon for 2016.

Stop     … they found the stone rolled away, but they did not find the body

 Luke 24: 1-2

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb.

The women expected things to be as it always was when someone died.

It wasn’t so much that life was carrying on as normal – death was carrying on as normal.

They had seen Jesus die. They had seen the body taken down and put in the tomb. The Sabbath then intervened but on Sunday morning they came back. What else could they do but anoint it for burial?

From then everything would go on in the same, slow, cold, dead way …

Except … they have to stop because death has been interrupted.

The two men in dazzling clothes had to begin the process of helping them to rewind through all that Jesus had taught them. How important it is to go back into Jesus’ story and recount it for ourselves: not to spend time in the place of death looking for the living words of Jesus.


Stand   … he is not here, but has risen. Remember!

Luke 24: 4b-6

two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember…

Life was pretty tough in first century Palestine so to be dazzled at a tomb wasn’t your everyday experience. These two men, certainly we are meant to understand them as angels from God, had terrified the women.

Don’t forget they had come in the dark to embalm a body and now it’s missing … or as they are beginning to remember, alive.

They stand there and the story begins to percolate in their hearts and bodies. Three lovely words from Luke: “then they remembered”. Imagine how that scene unfolded as they reminded each other of their shared experiences with Jesus.

They stood there holding unwanted spices for a dead man; perfumes to anoint a corpse. What do we do with these now? Throw them away?!?

They remembered! Jesus had told them it would be like this and, despite living alongside him for three years, it had not sunk into their hearts.

How often do we need to break out of what can become a sense of functional atheism? I’m in the church, I know about Jesus but will I let his death and resurrection become part of who I am.


Step out          … he commanded us to preach and to testify

Acts 10: 39-40, 42

39 ‘We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen… 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify…

The women left the tomb told the eleven and, initially, no one believed them until Peter went to investigate. Our second reading is part of the story of Peter preaching to the Roman soldier Cornelius and his household – being a witness to the resurrection.

Peter had crossed a great gulf between the Jewish Christian church and the Gentiles. Why? Well he says he can’t do any other.

We are witnesses to all that he did…

[God] commanded us to preach to the people and to testify …

Peter is remembering his story. He stepped in to the tomb and saw that Jesus was no longer in it. Then he stepped out looking with new eyes.

Luke says he went home amazed at what had happened. We know from the Bible that very soon he met Jesus face to face.

IMG_0208.JPG Perhaps you need to meet Jesus this morning in a new way.

To stop at the tomb and know that Good Friday is not the end of the story …

… or to stand and hear the words ‘he is risen’ and know they are true for your life too …

… or to find the right way to step out and be a witness in the place where God has put you.


Heaven’s waiting room

The continuing international crisis over refugee families trying to find a place to be safe is cast into sharp relief as Christmas approaches.

It makes the Bible story of Mary and Joseph travelling the 100 miles on foot and by donkey to Bethlehem all the more a story for our time. It makes the birth of Jesus in a stable all the more potent as a symbol of one who came as an outcast.

This song speaks of the mother who hears the angel’s promise and watches some unlikely pilgrims kneel and hail her refugee baby in the filth of a Bethlehem stable.

You can sing it to the folk song Scarlet Ribbons or, if you have a long memory, to the old Seekers’ hit The Carnival is Over. The metre is


Mary in the stable waiting.

hears again the angel’s voice:

‘favoured one the Lord is with you,

all Creation sings: ‘Rejoice!’

Mary waits, and heaven wonders,

at the Prince of Glory’s birth

from her womb, inside that stable,

heaven’s waiting room on earth.


Shepherds waiting on the mountain,

Wise Men searching for a sign,

hear that outcasts can be welcomed

at the baby Jesus’ side.

So the earth’s unlikely pilgrims

find themselves upon their knees

and a teenage mother watches

as they hail a refugee.


Son of God and hope of heaven,

with the waiting ones on earth,

we expect a world of diff’rence

when your justice comes to birth.

So the world is waiting, hoping

for the promised day to dawn;

when our longings find fulfilment

through the babe in Bethlehem born.

Copyright © Gareth Hill Publishing/Song Solutions CopyCare, 14 Horsted Square, Uckfield, TN22 1QG www.songsolutions.org


John the Baptist and Dr Who

Peter-CapaldiFor the next week I am writing the Bible Study notes for the Methodist Church website, A Word in Time.

Today we begin with the set Gospel reading, John 1:6-8, 19-28, which is about John the Baptist calling on the people to get ready for Jesus.

Somehow the BBC programme Dr Who manages to get into the notes, which you can read here.

I will post a link each day until next Sunday when another writer takes over the duties.


Seeing isn’t always believing

It’s probably a good lesson in life not to believe everything people tell you – and we discovered that with a disappointing trip to Limoges.
The second stage of our round-France marathon has brought us to the Perigord region of the Dordogne, an area we love and have enjoyed holidays in before.
Because most of the country shuts down from Saturday night until 2pm on Monday we consulted our guidebook for somewhere we hadn’t seen that promised to be worthwhile.
Limoges is renowned for its porcelain and was described as a beautiful old town with many charms, so off we headed.
We arrived at lunchtime – we always do! – but the indoor market said it was open until 2pm. We walked in around 1pm and everything was shut except for one fruit stall which was in the process of closing and the stallholder looked very grumpy so we beat a hasty retreat.
There were a few examples of Limoges’ history – a half-timbered street just off the market square and an impressive mural painted on the sides of two high-rise building on the opposite side (pictured).
We kept walking and saw the magnificent Hotel de Ville (pictured top) where clearly a number of people gather for their lunch break for conversation and to sit in the sun.
Our guidebook had told us to prepare for a great day in Limoges – being amazed. Actually most of the time we were walking past shut down businesses; not just closed for the morning but places that had stopped trading; sometimes whole streets with only one or two active shops in them.
As we walked around I was reminded of a passage in Matthew’s gospel in the Bible where Jesus is ripping into the Pharisees, the Jewish religious leaders who were always giving everyone else advice on how to live.
At one point Jesus tells the Pharisees they are like “dead men’s graves” – all painted on the outside but full of dead mens’ bones inside. Limoges as a whole wasn’t that bad but some of the shops were. On the outside they still had the signs up for the business that once operated there – even some of the bargain posters stuck on the door.
But inside there was no life at all. Just an empty space.
In fact, when we got back to the camp site one of the other people here said that even the best displays of Limoge porcelain isn’t in Limoges … you have to leave the town behind to find it.
We found it hard to believe that the guidebook could have got it so wrong about Limoges – it promised such a lot and delivered a boring place that was really not worth the journey.
Jesus used to fall out with the disciples a lot because he found it hard to believe that people who had so much head knowledge of God could be so far off-track with their lives.
I wonder what happens when people encounter us?

Sandcastles on the beach

My wife and I were on the beach with our grandchildren a couple of weeks ago and five-year-old Rhys sandcastles_smallwanted me to help him make a sandcastle.

He’d filled up the bucket with wet sand so we patted it down and tipped it out for him to begin decorating with pebbles. As he pushed on into the side of the little castle it began to break down and I warned him not to be too rough with it.

Without even looking up he said: “I know. It’ll fall down because it’s built on sand. The Bible says that.”

I asked him where he’d heard that and he told me about his club at church in Plymouth. Then, within seconds he had forgotten all about his mini-sermon and he was off down the beach on another adventure: to get more sand or to try to dam up the river.

For Rhys the Bible, the sandcastle, the pebble and the conversation about God were all one big picture – they were all a part of the big excitement that was his life at that moment.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could see everything we are doing as part of one great inseparable God-inspired picture?

Those of us who are Christians try in different ways to make contact with our communities and show them the love of Jesus. The difference is that often when we’re asked why, we never quite make the leap to slip in the Jesus part of the conversation. We never quite get to tell people that we are providing them with a meeting place, giving them a meal, getting their prescription, running their children’s holiday club because we believe that God is crazy about them and sent Jesus to earth to die for them.

I now it’s easy to be over-sentimental about our children and as a grandparent I can fall into that trap all too quickly, but Jesus used the idea of childlike acceptance of God’s love for us as the measure of faith. The reason we are in communities is to be the Body of Christ, visible through loving service. As you read through the stories in this edition of TCN, just reflect on where in his great big exciting picture God has put you. And who can you tell about it?