Tag Archives: Jesus

From the mystery …

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The hidden depths of a chrysalis conceal what breaks out as the beauty of a butterfly.

Today, at Romsey Methodist Church, we used butterflies as an image to help us understand the resurrection of Jesus Christ. After the crucifixion and a period of death Jesus appeared alive and transformed by God into our risen Saviour.

At the end of the service we fixed our butterflies to the front railing of the church as a signal to the town that new life has emerged.

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Daily thought: smoke and mirrors

Day 3 of my week of Daily Thoughts on BBC Radio Solent, for the Julian Clegg Breakfast Show was about the arrest of Jesus.

640px-Jerusalem_Gethsemane_tango7174Gethsemane. By Tango7174 – Own work, GFDL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26323542


It seems there’s a special day for just about everything now. Apparently today is worldwide Smoke And Mirrors Day. I kid you not! Every March 29th we are meant to dedicate some time to the art of fraudulent cunning.

The phrase ‘It’s all smoke and mirrors’ refers to the way magicians use distraction to ensure the audience misses what’s really going on. The more complex things are, the more successfully the magician gets away with it.

We are in Holy Week, the decisive week for Christians as we near Good Friday when Jesus was crucified. In the Bible we see that the more Jesus revealed about himself as the Son of God the more those who opposed him accused him of trickery.

In the very last hours before he was arrested and tried, Jesus found a quiet spot to pray. In the Garden of Gethsemane he prayed for his disciples; for those who would believe in him because of his coming death and resurrection and even for what would happen down through the ages when those who followed him told their stories of faith.

Then, when soldiers came to take him away, he was waiting in the open. “Why are you coming mob-handed?” he asked. “I’m not using smoke and mirrors to hide from you. I’m here in plain sight.” And they took him off to be tried for his life.

Tomorrow is Good Friday but, for the moment, I’m going to try some trickery of my own. I’m going to see how quickly I can make a breakfast disappear!

Daily Thought: Blessed is the king …

Today’s Daily Thought on BBC Radio Solent draws a parallel between the events in Alabama 53 years ago and Jerusalem around 2,000 years past.

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Civil Rights Movement Co-Founder Dr. Ralph David Abernathy and his wife Mrs. Juanita Abernathy follow with Dr and Mrs Martin Luther King as the Abernathy children join the front line, leading the Selma to Montgomery march.

It’s exactly 53 years ago today that Dr Martin Luther King led nearly 25,000 people to the steps of the state capital of Montgomery, Alabama, to highlight black grievances. This five-day march had started in Selma and closed a month of civil rights protests.

The BBC report described troops surrounding the capital and army helicopters hovering overhead as Dr King addressed the protesters.

He described the trek as one of the greatest marches in the history of America and said the aim was not to humiliate and defeat white people, but to win friendship and understanding. Dr King tried to present a petition of black grievances, but Governor George Wallace refused to meet the delegation.

During this Holy Week, we mark a parallel event towards the end of Jesus’s ministry on earth. He didn’t march with 25,000 people but entered the capital Jerusalem to cheers and acclamation sitting on a donkey.

The crowd waved palm branches and greeted him as a king and Saviour while Jewish religious leaders watched on in horror.

The scale of Dr King’s support on the Selma march almost certainly hastened his assassination. The crowds in Jerusalem chanting “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” definitely spurred on those who were out to have Jesus arrested and tried.

And, despite all the crowds, Jesus soon finds out that the road to the cross is one he has to travel alone.

Daily Thought: lightbulb moment

This week I’m on BBC Radio Solent with the early morning Daily Thought slot at 6.50am. It’s part of the Julian Clegg Breakfast Show.

The great challenge is to say something about faith in 90 seconds – especially difficult in Holy Week. Here is today’s offering:

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It struck me this week just how easy it is to take things for granted. We simply don’t pay attention to the things around us until something happens to rob us of them.

At least a couple of times a week I drive past the Potters Heron pub in Ampfield (picture above) and I have been in for meals. But, if I’m honest, I’d never paid that much attention to its thatched roof until last week when the emergency services had to tear off the thatch to control the terrible fire that broke out.

It was a spot on the journey between where we pick up two of our grandchildren and our home – usually around where one of them utters the time-honoured phrase: “are we nearly there yet?”

Now, everyone who goes past is only too aware of what’s happened. For the owners, the staff, or those who were days away from holding their wedding reception at the Potters Heron, the fire is something to be remembered for the rest of their lives.

This week is Holy Week – the time in the Christian church when we journey towards the death of Jesus on the cross on Good Friday before celebrating his resurrection on Easter Sunday.

In his last long conversation with his friends the disciples, Jesus says he has to leave them. They protest but Jesus insists that leaving is essential if he going to be able to come back – he has to face death in order to beat it.

This is the disciples’ lightbulb moment: they realise that they have to let go of the one thing they can’t ever imagine being without and say, finally, that they are now certain he has come from God.

BBC RADIO SOLENT DAILY THOUGHT: FRIDAY

RCA Studio B sign
The signpost outside RCA Studio B

I’ve been talking this week about our sabbatical trip to Nashville, Tennessee – and one of the places we knew we had to make a pilgrimage to was the historic RCA Studio B on Music Row, just a few minutes’ walk from our hotel.

The studio was opened by RCA Records in 1957 and played a major role in establishing Nashville as a premier recording centre. The list of hit records that started out there is mind-blowing. Elvis himself recorded more than 250 hits in this one small building.

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The ‘Elvis board’ inside the studios.

As well as the King, there were Floyd Kramer, the Everly Brothers, Don Gibson, Bobby Goldsboro, Waylon Jennings, Roy Orbison, Jim Reeves … I could fill my time just listing musical stars.

Dolly Parton was so nervous on her way to record at RCA Studio B that she crashed her car but didn’t tell anyone until the recording session was over!

Everthing in the place reeks of history and musical quality. The grand piano has been there since the day the studio opened. Jerry Lee Lewis has played it. Dean Martin has leaned on it!

RCA studio B grand piano
The grand piano, played by all of the stars who recorded at RCA Studio B.

As a writer, just to stand in the same room and think of the catalogue of hits was almost enough to make me hang up my notebook and guitar, but then I remembered an encounter from the last days of Jesus.

The disciples had lived through the crucifixion and then met the risen Jesus who told them it was their job to keep telling the world of God’s love, just as he had done. It didn’t matter if they thought they weren’t up to the task – he believed in them.

“As the Father sent me, so I send you,” he told them.

If we have a God-given gift we are called to use it. Make sure not to squander your opportunities today.

BBC RADIO SOLENT DAILY THOUGHT: WEDNESDAY

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.

A Word in Time: Saturday

This is my final Bible study in the Methodist Church‘s A Word in Time series for this week. You can join in the online discussion here.

Acts 2:42-47

42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.


“They devoted themselves … praising God and having the goodwill of all the people…” (vv. 42, 47)

Background

At the end of the Day of Pentecost, Peter found himself the leader of a new community of more than 3,000 people who were learning together how to follow this risen Jesus (Acts 2:41).

Groups could decide to align themselves around a set of rules, say the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17), or find a new Covenant built on a gracious agreement to build relationships (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Here the people of Christ develop a set of ‘holy habits’* designed to strengthen the community.

So, as they meet every day, they work at:

  • biblical teaching
  • fellowship
  • breaking of bread
  • prayer
  • sharing resources
  • service
  • eating together
  • gladness and generosity
  • worship
  • making more disciples

As they devote themselves to each other and the flourishing of these habits, the community around them spots that there is something positive about this new group. They care for each other, their generosity spills out and becomes infectious.

A group that was by now numbering in the thousands was becoming more significant, but rather than cause alarm, we read that they had the “goodwill of all the people” because of their habitual practice of behaving like Jesus.

Luke tells us that “day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (v. 47). It was not just that people were keeping an eye on what the developing group was up to, but that new converts were joining in.

Faith in Christ is attractive when allied to a convincing change of life.

Holy Habits, a book by Methodist minister Andrew Roberts, is being used by churches and circuits throughout the Connexion. It explores the ten habits as a model for discipleship.

To Ponder

  • “Evangelism through being like Christ can be more effective than ‘speaking at’ people.” How far do you agree with this statement? Why?
  • How would you develop these holy habits in the life of your church? Which is the most difficult habit for you?

A Word in Time: Friday

This is my Bible Study for today in the Methodist Church‘s A Word in Time series. You can also join in the online discussion here.

Acts 2:36-41


Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.’

 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’ And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.


“So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.” (v. 41)

Background

This verse is one guaranteed to make preachers either jealous or sceptical. Wow, 3,000 converts in one sermon. That’s old-school Billy Graham territory without any of the pre-planning. Or is it Luke (the writer of Acts) getting carried away with his story?

What we do know is that this is the culmination of an extraordinary movement of God’s Spirit in Jerusalem as promised by Jesus (Acts 1). The disciples had done as they were told, and waited faithfully. Then, with the coming of the Holy Spirit, they had poured out from their meeting room and begun telling the story of God’s grace (Acts 2:1-11).

Jerusalem, packed with crowds for festival-time, was ripe for a holy experience and they got it. Peter, newly fired up, preaches what we read in Acts 2 and much more, it seems: “… he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them …”.

The question that comes at the end of Peter’s sermon already suggested the crowd had been blindsided by their experience. In verse 37 we read, “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?'”

Then comes the first altar call, a challenge to repentance and baptism, and 3,000 respond. Luke says they are added – but to what? There’s no church yet. There have been about 120 previously in the disciples’ group so where they have been meeting is clearly not big enough for this lot.

Suddenly Peter is the leader of something unexpected. And why shouldn’t it be 3,000 people? The Holy Spirit has moved in the kind of extraordinary way foretold by the prophet Joel and a whole new response is called for.

What will become the Christian Church is beginning to flower: tentatively and with many hurdles on the way, but it begins here.

To Ponder

  • How can we help people when they ask ‘what should we do?’ as a result of being impacted by the word of God?
  • How effective is public preaching today? Are people likely to respond as powerfully as the people of Jerusalem did? Why?

A Word in Time: Wednesday

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

Acts 2:1-21

2When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.7Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ 13But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
17 “In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”


“Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?’” (vv. 5-8)

Background

Here we are, on the Day of Pentecost, bystanders at the moment Jesus had promised the disciples would come (Acts 1:8). The Holy Spirit had invaded the room where they were waiting and now they had spilled out into the city among the crowds.

Jerusalem was bulging at the seams because it was festival time, and the air was filled with all the languages of the Jewish people. Suddenly the crowd realised that a bunch of uneducated Galilean fishermen were making themselves heard – everyone understood!

Luke (the writer of Acts) tells us that the onlookers were “bewildered” (v. 6), and “amazed and astonished” (v. 7) at this phenomenon. How could it be?

For those with quick enough wits, their minds would go back into the Jewish Scriptures and a story of the people trying to build the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) to reach into the heavens where God dwells.

God said: “Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech” (Genesis 11:7). By an act of God, the people were divided from each other through language. Now in Jerusalem, by an act of God, the words that Jesus’ followers were speaking made sense to all who would listen.

Luke stresses that these were the devout Jews, gathered in the city to worship. It is to them that Peter stands and declares that the day promised by the prophet Joel has dawned (verses 17-21, quoting Joel 2:28-32). The Holy Spirit is on the move, uniting young and old, female and male … “every nation under heaven” (v. 5).

To Ponder

  • What languages should you and the church use to share the Good News with your neighbours? How do we learn to communicate better with unreached people groups?
  • How can local churches improve their interaction with people who don’t speak ‘church-ese’? And what can you do to help?

A WORD IN TIME: TUESDAY

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)

Background

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?