Friday, 5 October 2018

Thirty-Eight Plus Two

Ethiopia is directly mentioned thirty-eight times in the Bible. Probably the most famous reference is that of the Ethiopian eunuch who is baptised by Philip (Acts 8:27). In addition, there’s plenty of references to the Queen of Sheba (1 Kings 10) with many scholars believing that Sheba is also Ethiopia.

I’ve recently returned from Ethiopia and the annual Leprosy Mission conference, held in Addis Ababa for the first time. When I think of Africa I think of heat. But most of Ethiopia is on a high plain – Addis Ababa is 7,200 feet above sea level. No wonder I was feeling it walking up the stairs at the hotel!

As part of the Leprosy Mission conference, we celebrated the Wellesley Bailey Awards. These are annual awards given to celebrate the life and work of Wellesley Bailey, the founder of The Leprosy Mission. The Awards honour those who have made extraordinary contributions to society through overcoming the social stigma and physical challenges of leprosy. 

This year the two winners were Birke Nigatu Teka from Ethiopia and Kofi Nyarko from Ghana.

Birke overcame the stigma of the disease and the belief system of her people that considered it untreatable. She saved her own money, secretly went to the hospital and underwent two and a half years of treatment. She faced many other problems, including attempted rape, but refused to give up, acting as an ambassador for others with leprosy. She has established a leprosy women’s association and has developed working groups, producing local handicrafts. She serves on a number of national associations and boards and in her own words, is ‘proud of my up and down life’. Those ups and downs have changed many other lives.

Kofi was abused as a child, and neglected by his family. It was a stranger who recognised he had leprosy and helped him escape to a leprosy hospital. Today Kofi is a spokesperson for those with leprosy and is a member of a number of national and international agencies. He says that it is because of his leprosy that he has become so popular!

There are thirty-eight mentions of Ethiopia in the Bible and it’s not possible to add to scripture. But there are two more stories worthy of inclusion.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Philosophical Walking

Did you know there is such a thing as ‘philosophical walking’? You do now.

There’s even a group in Yorkshire who arrange such walks, complete with a friendly walking philosopher.

But if we think for a moment, all walks can be philosophical – especially those away from our daily routines. We see new things, we plan to get somewhere, we consider routes, we observe the new things around us. All that adds to a philosophical walk.

I’m just back from one of my favourite places – Dolgellau, just south of Snowdonia. Walking in the foothills there is invigorating, uplifting, challenging, tiring…. all these things and more.

One day I went out on my own on what is called the ‘bird sanctuary walk’- basically climbing half way up a hill and walking through a nature reserve. The only bird I saw was a crow! But there was plenty to enjoy, consider – even meditate on.

Those that know me will know that for me there is a ‘God connection’ too. To appreciate the creation made by God is special. There’s a favourite song of mine at the moment that says ‘Every painted sky, a canvas of Your grace. If creation still obeys You so will I.’

For me, that’s what walking does. I see the sky, the plants, the birds. And I worship.

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Faith and Politics

I read a comment on Facebook the other day that annoyed me.  (I know - Facebook is not the place for reasoned comment in the first place!)

The writer was lamenting that there should ever be a link between faith and politics and believed that where there was, disaster followed.

I believe the opposite is true. Especially as regards the UK.
Take a look at our last four Prime Ministers. Three have a faith. One does not. Three managed our nation with reference to our past, our heritage and our beliefs. One did not. Three tried to hold us together as a nation. One destroyed our nation.

Two of the four Prime Ministers are children of the manse. One is the son of a Presbyterian Minister. One is the daughter of an Anglican Vicar. The third has a clear Christian belief which includes reading the Bible every night.

The other has no such belief system. In two short terms of office, he destroyed our concept of Christian marriage and sent the nation into an isolationist and economic spiral that will take decades to recover from.

In attempting to deal with an unruly right wing in his party, he played politics with our future. He took an inappropriate referendum to an ill-informed people and with little fact and considerable rhetoric, the vote was for isolationism. More seriously, it opened us up to extreme right wing views and made them appear acceptable - something we are seeing in a number of nations.

The Prime Minsters that had a Christian faith kept us within the bounds of decency and applied their faith (knowingly or not) to the decisions they took. The Prime Minster without a faith played politics with the nation.  And we all lost.

Saturday, 28 July 2018

Ready to Climb?

I don't often post my own preaches, but this one is to do with mountains. Preached in Cape Town in July 2018. Enjoy the climb.

ACCESS FROM SITE (Click back to 22/7/18 or type my name next to 'search'):

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Looking for my Telescope

I live in a beautiful place. On the edge of a village, our house looks over open fields with an ever changing landscape of sun, sky and clouds. The photo’s illustrate – but don’t do justice – to God’s creative grandeur.

For me, such beauty always points me to the Creator behind it. I find it incredulous that someone can say for a moment that all we see, from the snowflake to Everest, from the flower to the flowering of the Grand Nebula are simply the chance encounters of atoms. No. There is a Creator. And He is to be worshiped.

We only worship Him in an incomplete way. As C S Lewis put it:

‘We are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.’

So, we don’t fully understand or see. But what we do see is sufficient to worship. Enough is on show to thank Jesus Christ for His life that points to the next. We can look to the skies and say ‘hallelujah!’

Sam Stones says:

‘Each of us is under a divine mandate to become an amateur astronomer, to peer into the incalculable depths of sky and space and behold the handiwork of our omnipotent Creator.’

I’m looking for my telescope.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

The Unforced Rhythm of His Grace

I’ve been pondering God’s grace a lot lately, and came across this passage in my daily Bible reading today:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11: 28-30, The Message Version)

If our faith is in religion, we will get burned. If our faith is in meetings, we will tire. If our faith is in leaders, no matter how good, we will wear ourselves out.

But faith in God is something else entirely. As we keep company with the one who made the stars. As we speak with the one who spoke first. As we walk hand in hand with the Son Who Came, we are refreshed.

The Hebrew word for grace in the Old Testament is ‘Chesed’. It has the feel of being delivered from our enemies, of being protected, and guided; being free and forgiven.

In the Greek of the New Testament, the word for grace is ‘Charis’. Such a beautiful word. It speaks of salvation; of God doing for us what we could not do on our own.

Who persuaded us that this changes and we can ‘do things’ when we get ‘saved’? Who suggested it was to do with work, with hours spent, with money given or with services provided? It’s not. It’s grace. It’s pure grace.

Pure grace.

I don’t deserve my relationship with God, but he reached out to me in grace. He protects; He guides. He sees what we can’t see down the road and he delivers us from our enemies.

And if I understand this, I can indeed work, give, serve… but from a walk that is in the ‘unforced rhythm' of His grace. And that’s just beautiful.

Friday, 4 May 2018

Friends in Strange Places

I was driving through Ashby de la Zouch yesterday when I saw her. It looked exactly like Suzy. I almost shouted out a greeting- until I realised how silly that would have been. Suzy lives in Nova Scotia,  Canada and is very unlikely to be walking through an East Midlands town in the UK.

But it did get me thinking. How I have found the most wonderful friends in the strangest of places.

I belong to the biggest family in the world. 2.3 billion and counting. It means I am never alone. I can be anywhere in the world and find a friend that shares my Christian faith.

The taxi driver in Auckland. The Pensions Manager at Cleanaway. The hiker in Snowdonia. The barista in Leicester.

I was caught in a snowstorm in the United States once and our plane ended up being diverted to Minneapolis St Paul’s airport. I had been sharing my Christian faith with the guy next to me on the flight- but seemingly with no interest from him. So as we arrived at an airport I didn’t want to be at in the middle of nowhere (Sorry Minneapolis St Paul’s, I’m sure it’s a great place!), I was feeling a bit low. I cried out to God, complaining. I was on my own, miles from home, in a place I didn’t want to be and in the middle of a snowstorm.  

It was then that the guy in the seat behind me leaned over and whispered in my ear. It seems he had been listening to my conversation.

‘I know Him too.’

It’s all he said. But it was enough.

I wasn’t on my own of course. God was with me. And in the loneliest of moments, there was someone there. One of my family.

My message is simple. You need never be alone. You can know God with you through Christ. Have a read of St Mark’s gospel and find Him. And you’ll find others on the same journey in the strangest of places. They know Him too.

And Suzy. If it was you, sorry I didn’t wave.