Playing catch up part 2- You’re off to see the Wizard, the wonderful wizard of Rome…

Ahem, apologies for that awful link there, but my mind has been filled these past few weeks with songs and script from the Wizard of Oz which has been our kids’ end of year school production.

We’re nearly at the end of the book of Acts (this week we were on chapter 25), both in our daily readings and our weekly preaching, and Paul is about to set off on his journey to Rome, as you’ll see…

You have appealed to Caesar, to Caesar you will go! With those words the next chapter in Paul’s journey commences- Last week we heard how Paul, at the end of his missionary journeys, had returned to Jerusalem and was seized by the crowd whilst praying at the Temple. He was rescued by the Roman guard, and gave his final public speech as a free man- proclaiming once again his faith in Jesus as the way to salvation, and proclaiming that God had called him to go and share this message of hope with any and all- regardless of whether they were Jew or Gentile. It was one thing to claim that Jesus was the messiah- this had been said before, and as had already been said, if it was not true things would die down of their own accord, but quite another to suggest that God’s love was not limited to the Jews. We’ve all heard of, or experienced first hand, situations where love can turn into jealousy and anger- I won’t share! And this is what happened here. Paul’s opponents began to plot and plan for his murder. Eventually Paul is moved to Caesarea- away from the Jewish centre of power to a Roman city, where he is imprisoned for 2yrs because no one will make the decision to free him- he’s not worth a ransom, won’t offer a bribe and its not politically advantageous to let him go.

And so, to our reading today- Governor Festus is replaced by Goveror Felix, and we go round again- the plotters attempt once again to get Paul transferred to their power, then when that fails they make accusations in the court, and Paul makes his defence. If you’ve read the account of Paul’s previous trial, you’ll notice there are some differences here, however.

Paul, on this occasion, doesn’t preach to the court- he doesn’t mention Jesus, or his vision, or the resurrection. He simply says that he’s done nothing wrong. Maybe he’s learnt that preaching to the last governor didn’t do him any good, maybe he remembers that talking about the resurrection caused a riot when he was on trial in Jerusalem… whatever the cause, he speaks to the legal situation- If I’m on trial, I’m on trial, find me guilty or innocent, but don’t hand me over to these folks who’ll just kill me. And then his appeal to the higher court of Caesar- if you can’t make that decision, send me to your boss.

Is Paul scared here? I don’t think so. It feels to me, reading this passage and those that go before it, that Paul has already decided his intention. He knew before ever arriving in Jerusalem that he’d face problems there- prophets had spoken to him, he felt it himself, and it was fairly obvious; and then after his arrest God spoke to him in a vision- you’ll testify in Rome in the same way… how would this happen? Paul knew that as a Roman citizen he could appeal to the courts of Caesar in Rome, which was the best option for him. Having been led by God’s Spirit, and through his ministry been supported by other believers, Paul also uses his common sense.

The story goes of a man out swimming at sea who encounters difficulties, and realises he’s too far from shore… so he prays ‘Lord, save me!’ Within a few minutes a rescue helicopter buzzes over- he’s been seen by someone from shore and they phoned it in… over the roar of the engines he calls out ‘thank you, but the Lord will save me!’ And so they go… but as time passes he feels his arms weakening again ‘Lord save me!’ and skimming over the waves comes a kayaker who happens to be passing this way… ‘climb aboard and I’ll take you ashore’… despite his fatigue his voice is strong ‘no, the Lord will save me!’ the kayaker shakes his head and paddles off… as the man continues, getting weaker and weaker, he calls out a final time ‘Lord save me…’ and as he sinks under the waves a dolphin swims past, pushing him back to the surface and supporting him on its back. As he recovers his breath, he starts to speak, but suddenly the dolphin looks over its shoulder at him, and says ‘Look, do you want saving or not, because frankly I’ve had just about enough of this!’

God gives us common sense and intelligence as well as spiritual insight and discernment. We, like Paul, should respond wisely to the situations we find ourselves in- while still trusting that God is with us in all things. We take responsibility for the things around us, for our own lives and actions, for the resources we have to hand and our relationships with people we know, whilst allowing God to be at work in those things too- we are not anxious, but we are not naïve. As our gospel passage puts it, we do not allow ourselves to be burdened by things- yes, there is much that faces us; some of it in our own lives, some much wider and seemingly bigger, but our response to these is the same- today, I choose to live, so far as I can, in a way which demonstrates the love of God which I have known, the forgiveness I have received, and the hope which I have, and where I cannot, I will pray that tomorrow will grant me opportunities which today did not.

Paul- imprisoned for two years, has a moment to speak, and he chooses to continue along the path that God has set him on- I will go to Rome… So may we not be afraid, may we not stumble, may we not feel burdened by what is ahead or weighed down by what has gone before, but may we live our lives this week in joyfilled response to God.



You, in the tree…

Greetings- its been a while… since I last posted some awful things have happened in the world and some great things have happened- the attacks of late July in France and Germany, the celebrations of the human spirit of the Olympics… Also for us there’s been a lot going on- mostly really good with some holiday time as a family and a week at the New Wine conference in SW England (which needs a series of posts on its own…), and then back to ‘normal’ with all sorts of things going on alongside the occasional sunny day and even one sneaky surf at the weekend.

What’s been bugging my head and my heart, however, is something to do with the depth of our response to the Gospel of Jesus- whether it penetrates deep into us and shapes our thinking and our behaviour from within or whether we’re ‘Gospel-proof’… like a brand new coat where the rain beads and runs off… The big problem with a waterproof coat is how do you wash it clean, when it doesn’t let water penetrate? How do we allow the Gospel of peace to penetrate into us, when we spend so much effort toughening and protecting ourselves?

This week’s passage, from Luke chapter 19, gets right to the heart that question… as with the last month its using some ideas from Karl Martin’s book ‘Stand’… highly recommended reading.

Jesus comes to Jericho, on his way to Jerusalem for the last time- he has predicted his own death, he’s shown his power to heal… the passage we heard comes just before his triumphal entry into the city just 5 days before his crucifixion. This is Jesus the superstar- surrounded by crowds who’ve come to see what he’ll do next and at least to be witness to it. And even the sinners are interested- Zacchaeus, not just a tax collector but a chief tax collector… He would have had guards, men who could have ‘found’ him a space at the front of the crowd… but for some reason he doesn’t take that option… instead he goes incognito, hiding in a tree (though possibly not alone) to see for himself what this Jesus is all about- whether it’s the stories of the healings, the way that Jesus has spoken against the scribes, the pharisees and the teachers of the law (the ones who would have most loudly accused Zacchaeus of being a sinner), or if he’s heard about how other tax collectors have met with Jesus and been forgiven for their sins… (what’s the deal with tax collectors anyway? They get lumped together with ‘sinners’ throughout the Gospels because in taking on that job they had to work as collaborators with the Roman authorities, imposing their law onto their countrymen, and also the expectation was that they would profit by making money- either bribes or extortion… so no one likes them, no one trusts them, but no one can get rid of them…) Whatever it is, something has intrigued him enough to find out more.

But he’s not quite sure, so he hides… maybe he, like us sometimes, knows the theory- Jesus can forgive sins, and believes it in practice- Jesus forgave their sins, but struggles to believe if for himself- Jesus can forgive my sins, and he has… so he hangs back, hiding in the tree.

But Jesus spots him, and knows him, and calls him by name. Now, although there are the great long lists of names at points in the Bible, considering how many people Jesus meets, and how many people God speaks to, there are a lot who’s names we don’t know- the leper, the centurion, the other disciple on the road to Emmaus, the woman at the well, the man freed from demons etc… and there are even fewer called by name- In the Old Testament the story of Samuel who is called by God stands out, and here in this passage- ‘Zacchaeus, come down’. Zacchaeus, who maybe wasn’t sure that God could love him, finds out that in Jesus God sees him, God knows him, and God loves him.

At this point he’s still a sinner- he’s not asked for forgiveness, hes not made amendments for how he has mistreated those around him, but Jesus has invited himself to dinner- just as with Matthew and Levi sometime earlier. Here though, things play out differently- even before Jesus gets to Zacchaeus’ house the muttering starts in the crowd- All Zacchaeus’ doubts come back… its now or never time for him. Ok- I give away half of everything I have and repay anyone I’ve cheated 4 times over… Now I’ll leave the sums to you but that sounds like he’s emptying his pockets AND making reparation to those he’s hurt…

When Jesus encounters people he gets to the cause of their problems- if someone is unclean he makes them clean, if someone is on the edge he welcomes them, if someone is sinning he warns them not to sin… There were various reasons why someone might be called a ‘sinner’ but for Zacchaeus it was all to do with money- you wouldn’t take on the job as a tax collector unless money was more important than people or God. Zacchaeus knows it, he may have known it for years, but that doesn’t make it easier to change.

And then in a second, because of Jesus, his life is changed. However much he loves money and the things it can buy, he knows that he needs forgiveness, he needs God more.  The best of intentions without the power of God may lead to nothing, but with God even our little efforts can transform lives.

Today salvation has come to this house… When Jesus heals the paralytic he not only heals him, but also forgives him. And it’s the same here- Zacchaeus receives healing that is beyond the physical- thank you, sorry, I forgive you… really important words that can bring healing to hearts if they are meant- Z trusted that Jesus meant what he said, J trusted that Z meant what he said… And he is healed in his heart, he is saved, he is given life.

Jesus came to seek and to save what was lost. We as a church exist to help those around us find Jesus- we do that through our worship- saying and singing the greatness of God. We do that in our encouragement of one another- not to give up, to press on towards the goal. We do that in our outreach to friends and neighbours in our community- whether its in the building of friendships with people at the Fun Day, the chat on the corner, the discussions at work or with those who come to Pints of View or other events we plan.

But that has to start with ourselves and our church-  and I mean two things by that- I was challenged by someone in the last week about how welcoming a church genuinely is, and being as honest as possible I said ‘when we get it right, we’re more welcoming than we are exclusive, we don’t always get it right but we try to’…  we, asking God to help us, try to be a place and a people where anyone and everyone are welcome… and when we fail or give up, we try again…

And secondly, we each need to know the truth of what happened to Zacchaeus. That God’s promises are true for us. That the crazy logic of the kingdom- I have sinned, Jesus paid on the cross, I am forgiven, is true today for each of us. And as it is true we each need to respond to it- in our prayers and our worship we don’t only proclaim how great God is, but also thank him for his love and mercy shown to us- each of us. And we might also need to do some stuff- we might have to make reparations- there may be people we need to forgive in our heart, that we need to speak to or write to… there may be people we need to thank, or need to ask for forgiveness… because we have all been lost, and the Son of Man came to seek and to save each one of us, that we might follow him, and as part of his people be witnesses of him in all the earth.

If you don’t like what you see in the fields, don’t blame the weather, change the seed

For the second week in a row our weekly Bible readings have not only been really challenging in terms of teaching, but also incredibly timely in terms of what we need to hear now… and I’ve tried really hard not to simply read into the passages things that are coming from my own mood and thinking, but to let their content and the themes speak to me… You may wonder what I’m talking about, but if you look at Galatians chapter 6 verses 7-16 you can draw your own conclusions.

Below is what I shared in 2 of our services yesterday, while you can here Dave’s talk on doubt and taking chances here

do not be overcome

If you’ve not come across the safety pin campaign to show solidarity with and support for non-British nationals, then please look it out and join in- just a safety pin. If you feel that the whole thing of racial abuse in the UK is being blown out of proportion have a look at various online media- Independent, BBC or in the international press- a 500% increase in reported racial hate crimes in a week… even if its just a crazy week and people are calming down, we should not tolerate this behaviour- the question is how best to respond…

Anyway, here’s the text of what I said:

This passage comes at the end of Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches, and it forms a conclusion of sorts- Paul does this in a number of other letters, and we see the same pattern in old and new Testament writing. Unusually, because this letter is written to a group of churches across the region of Galatia rather than to a church, there are no personal greetings- or personal warnings, and so Paul keeps teaching and refining his thoughts right to the end of the letter. If you remember the original problem that Paul was confronted by was that a group of Jewish Christians had come to the fledgling churches of the gentiles in Galatia and were giving them instructions in addition to those that Paul had left them- that they must follow the law of Moses including circumcision. If you’ve been reading the passages in between you’ll have seen just how ballistic Paul went, but at the conclusion of the letter his frustration and passion have been spent, and he comes to the conclusion of the matter.

The outward things are not the most important things- so do not become like those who give their all to follow the law, because they forget what is most important. BUT- do not be deceived, God cannot be mocked… if your heart is given to God, then your life will show this, but if not, then your life will reveal what is within you- you will reap what you sow.

There are some really obvious truths that we can draw out of that simple statement- That a seed falls and appears to die, before growing into something far greater than itself, which will in turn produce more seeds… that many seeds look similar, but grow into vastly different plants- some of which we value, while others are weeds, toxic or pests… that its important to recognise where there is something growing that is not healthy and remove it (though bearing in mind Jesus’ teaching about the weeds and the crop growing together- do not pull up the one if it will damage the other)…

But the point is simple, and it refers back to things we’ve been considering throughout- what direction are we going in? what fruit are we seeing? What seeds are we sowing? In our own lives and the life of our community.


The sinful nature- with its acts, its insistence on self will reap destruction

The Spirit’s nature- with its fruit, its humility will reap eternal life

Neither one of these is human nature- human nature is to have the choice between them.


If we wish to live by the Spirit of God, as new creations, recognising God as Father and knowing ourselves as Sons, living by grace instead of law… then we need to sow to please the Spirit of God, and we will see the fruits of God’s Spirit growing in us. Those fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control… those are the things we want to see growing-  these things take time- it is one of the unfortunate truths of life that worthwhile things (be they skills, food, artistic expressions etc) usually take longer- we need to recognise that, and to pace ourselves, to encourage those around us, to grow in endurance and perseverance… this is one of the things that church community does- we invite one another into worship, we support one another in difficulty, and we encourage one another in perseverance. So do not grow weary of doing good…


In our current situation here in North Devon we want to show that. In our own lives we want to show that. And more and more at this moment in the life of our nation we need to show that. The maelstrom of our politics where close allies become opponents, the campaign promises that are proving to be untrue, the deep-seated racism that has been revealed in our country and seemingly legitimised… all those things were there before the referendum, but seem to be writ large at this time… they have all grown out of seeds…

A switching of loyalties out of necessity becomes a changing of views out of expedience becomes a lack of integrity all too easily…

A manifesto pledge that you can’t keep one year becomes a pledge you don’t intend to keep becomes a pledge you know is impossible to keep…

A silly joke to a friend becomes a habitual way of thinking becomes racist behaviour…


If we look at the behaviour of Herod in our Gospel passage- he began with selfishness and greed- lusting after and taking the wife of his brother, he becomes unable to do what is right, and for fear of being embarrassed in front of his guests has John executed…


But we can all become a new creation through the cross of Christ, whatever we have been…


Taking small steps towards that- if all Christians are a new creation in Christ, and anyone who lives by that faith- who accepts Christ can also become one with them. And all Christians are Sons of God… and there is neither Jew, nor Greek, slave no free, male nor female- we are all one in Christ… all people are equal in God’s eyes… so there is no place for racism within the heart of a Christian… but equally there is no place for hatred of racists… we are called to love our enemies, to overcome evil with good, to bind up the broken hearted- whether their hearts are broken by fear of the unknown or by acts of oppression…


Safety pins- a small thing… a necessary thing even here…



A high performance team or a loving family- which one is the church?

I’ve been looking at a few posts on various blogs about leadership and performance, and watching a bit of the Tour de France when I’ve had the chance. Alongside that I’ve been burying people, sitting with people who’re going through the mill, trying to be a dad myself and all the other stuff that goes with life and working as a minister in a church. This week I’ve chaired several meetings and been at others, and right now I’m drawing up a shift roster for a team of 20 people from 11 different churches for the Somersault Festival next week- see this post from last year if you’re not sure what thats about.

But right now I’m thinking about which of those two models mentioned in the title best describes or helps our leadership team at church, the leaders of the churches in our town, the gathered group of reps from local churches (called a deanery synod if you want to know) and our team for Somersault, and actually the congregations of both the churches I lead.  None of them are high performance, but then none are perfectly loving… but which do we want to head towards? In meetings there is a real temptation towards efficiency and performance, but are we getting things back to front? I guess I know what the answer is. I know that the exciting times in the meetings I’ve had this week have come from when we’ve gone slightly off-script and people’s hearts have shone through the agenda or the item we’re discussing. I know that. I know that in the church I’m part of we can organise things, but its when people help each other to overcome the unexpected problem that we’re really buzzing. And its when we don’t do that- when we find ourselves justifying being unhelpful with ‘its not my turn on the rota’ or similar comments, thats when we’re failing at being the church. The blip in performance may be minor, but its a major problem of the heart.

When a team works well, its slick and fast moving, but mostly because there is a clearly defined goal- win the game, sell the product etc. But when a family works well, often the goal is invisible or indefinable- we’re about being us…  The best of teams work really well because they are like a family. The best families eat teamwork for breakfast.

I don’t want to be part of a team. I want to be in a family.

But I want that family to be filled with love. I guess the onus is then on me to model that, to act out of love for those around me so that they’ll join in, and we’ll encourage one another, support one another, stand in the gap for one another.

I could go on to reflect on what Jesus did and what the Bible shows us… but I figure by now you may have got the drift- there’s no job spec for CEO in the Bible, or a flow chart of how the church leadership structure works as a hierarchy…but there is lots of stuff about being part of each other, and loads about love… go find it.

choices choices… to love or not to love…

11yrs ago I chose to love… what I mean by that is that I chose to acknowledge that the feelings in my heart were consistent with what I understood love to be, and then I chose to externalise those feelings- I told someone that I loved them, and that I would like them to consider spending the rest of their life in close enough proximity to me, and in a formalised relationship that we might live together and be married to each other.

Fortunately for me I didn’t use any of those exact words, and my girlfriend at the time (who was a modern languages teacher) understood what I was trying to express. And we married each other. And we chose to love each other every day, and we still do. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Almost 8yrs ago I found myself loving again… this time with no conscious decision. Its possible that the sleep deprivation had something to do with it, or hormones or whatever. But when my daughter popped into the world she also popped into my heart, and she has stayed there forever. I didn’t make a choice, and I never felt like that was an option. Interestingly, her appearance in my heart didn’t exclude my wife- somehow my heart had room for them both. And for our second and third children as they’ve appeared over the years… but I never chose to love them. I just did, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus tells his followers to love their neighbours, and in this passage in Matthew 5, to love their enemies… one is easy, the other much harder. It’s really easy to go out of your way and do things to help people you like, people you have stuff in common with, people who’ve been there for you and you know will be in the future. It’s not so easy to do the same for those who you disagree with, who have put you down or make you feel weak, who know the buttons to push and do so… But that is the measure of great love- Love the ones you find it hard to. Put yourselves out for the idiot or the pain in the neck. Keep on opening the door… one day they may walk through it without laughing at you… And in the meantime, you are showing them unconditional love- you’re showing that they don’t have to earn your regard, in fact that they can’t. You’re showing the kind of love that God has shown…

For God so loved the world (that he had brought into being)

that has sent his one and only Son (who was willing to go)

so that anyone who believed in him (not just his existence but his life)

would not die (not in the final ending of all life way that we fear and shy away from)

but have eternal life (I don’t quite know what that means, but I like the sound of it).

So today I choose love. I choose to love those around me, whatever may come.

An exercise in imagination… let yourself go with the story

Today’s blog post comes from a favourite blog, and a favourite author. Thank you Morning Dilbert for finding this Max Lucado quote:

He placed one scoop of clay upon another until a form lay lifeless on the ground.

All of the Garden’s inhabitants paused to witness the event. Hawks hovered. Giraffes stretched. Trees bowed. Butterflies paused on petals and watched.

“You will love me, nature,” God said. “I made you that way. You will obey me, universe. For you were designed to do so. You will reflect my glory, skies, for that is how you were created. But this one will be like me. This one will be able to choose.”

All were silent as the Creator reached into himself and removed something yet unseen. A seed. “it’s called ‘choice.’ The seed of choice.”

Creation stood in silence and gazed upon the lifeless form.

An angel spoke, “But what if he …”

“What if he chooses not to love?” the Creator finished. “Come, I will show you.”

Unbound by today, God and the angel walked into the realm of tomorrow.

“There, see the fruit of the seed of choice, both the sweet and the bitter.”

The angel gasped at what he saw. Spontaneous love. Voluntary devotion. Chosen tenderness. Never had he seen anything like these. He felt the love of the Adams. He heard the joy of Eve and her daughters. He saw the food and the burdens shared. He absorbed the kindness and marveled at the warmth.

“Heaven has never seen such beauty, my Lord. Truly, this is your greatest creation.”

“Ah, but you’ve only seen the sweet. Now witness the bitter.”

A stench enveloped the pair. The angel turned in horror and proclaimed, “What is it?”

The Creator spoke only one word: “Selfishness.”

The angel stood speechless as they passed through centuries of repugnance. Never had he seen such filth. Rotten hearts. Ruptured promises. Forgotten loyalties. Children of the creation wandering blindly in lonely labyrinths.

“This is the result of choice? the angel asked.


“They will forget you?”


“They will reject you?”


They will never come back?

“Some will. Most won’t.”

“What will it take to make them listen?”

The Creator walked on in time, further and further into the future, until he stood by a tree. A tree that would be fashioned into a cradle. Even then he could smell the hay that would surround him.

With another step into the future, he paused before another tree. It stood alone, a stubborn ruler on a bald hill. The trunk was thick, and the wood was strong. Soon it would be cut. Soon it would be trimmed. Soon it would be mounted on the stony brow of another hill. And soon he would be hung on it.

He felt the wood rub against a back he did not yet wear.

“Will you go down there?” the angel asked.

“I will.”

“Is there no other way?”

“There is not.”

“Wouldn’t it be easier to not plant the seed? Wouldn’t it be easier to not give the choice?”

“It would,” the Creator spoke slowly. “But to remove the choice is to remove the love.”

He look around the hill and foresaw a scene. Three figures hung on three crosses. Arms spread. Heads fallen forward. They moaned with the wind.

Men clad in soldier’s garb sat on the ground near the trio. They played games in the dirt and laughed.

Men clad in religion stood off to one side. They smiled. Arrogant, cocky. They had protected God, they thought by killing this false one.

Women clad in sorrow huddled at the foot of the hill. Speechless. Faces tear streaked. Eyes downward. One put her arm around another and tried to lead her away. She wouldn’t leave. “I will stay,” she said softly, “I will stay.”

All heaven stood to fight. All nature rose to rescue. All eternity poised to protect. But the Creator gave no command.

“It must be done…,” he said, and withdrew.

But as he stepped in time, he heard the cry that he would someday scream: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He wrenched at tomorrow’s agony.

The angel spoke again. “I would be less painful…”

The Creator interrupted softly. “But it wouldn’t be love.”

They stepped into the Garden again. The Maker looked earnestly at the clay creation. A monsoon of love swelled up within him. He had died for the creation before he had made him. God’s form bent over the sculptured face and breathed. Dust stirred on the lips of the new one. The chest rose, cracking the red mud. The cheeks fleshened. A finger moved. And an eye opened.

But more incredible than the moving of the flesh was the stirring of the spirit. Those who could see the unseen gasped.

Perhaps it was the wind who said it first. Perhaps what the star saw that moment is what has made it blink ever since. Maybe it was left to an angel to whisper it:

“It looks like … it appears to so much like … it is him!”

The angel wasn’t speaking of the face, the features, or the body. He was looking inside – at the soul.

“It’s eternal!” gasped another.

Within the man, God has placed a divine seed. A seed of his self. The God of might had created earth’s mightiest. The Creator had created, not a creature, but another creator. And the One who had chosen to love had created one who could love in return.

Now it’s our choice.

by Max Lucado – from In the Eye of the Storm

#nwunited14 -thank you to the agents of grace!

So got back from New Wine last weekend- we left on the Saturday evening for several reasons… partly the threatened bad weather, partly my health (more below) and then the deal was closed by our youngest deciding the be sick for the 3rd time…

The journey home was interesting, as one of our other children had caught the same bug and we needed to stop 4 times in a 2 hour journey… lets just say we won’t be forgetting the experience!

This is now the 6th time we’ve been to New Wine, and each year has been great, for various reasons. This time around, with 3 children and going with a large group of friends from our old church, was different once again. Seeing all 3 children loving their groups was a real joy for us- with both of our older daughters talking about prayer and worship and receiving God’s love in a really natural way, but the thing that i was most struck by during the week was the giving heart of the volunteers in different teams.

Don’t get me wrong- I drank in the worship times both in the Arena and Hungry, really enjoyed listening to Robby Dawkins, Rich Johnson and Sean Doherty and loved meeting up with old friends, but- the volunteers in Stepping Stones and the Medical team just blew me away.

Stepping Stones was a new venue, open during the main talks for parents and pre-school children, with refreshments, changing areas and lots of toys. Great, and an obvious development of what has been there for a few years. However, it was also open from 5.30am for any parents who needed to bring wide awake babies down from the camping area, and on 2 mornings during the week I joined the group of half-awake adults and their too-awake children. The team were welcoming, friendly and understanding, and the place was a real haven.

The medical team, at the far side of the site from anything exciting, were a team of first aiders, nurses and doctors who worked long shifts through the whole week helping folks out- I saw them caring for people through the night, and I ended up visiting them 4 times myself as my back steadfastly refused to behave and heal of its own accord (I’d had a minor op the previous week and the stitches hadn’t held).  The team were professional, helpful, and also able to offer prayer at the end of each visit- something they aren’t able to do in their normal professional capacity.

Both these teams, and many others, demonstrated to me walking examples of grace and love to the stranger. They encouraged and challenged me to do the same, and so for that, as well as the help they provided during the week, I want to put out a big thank you to them all.

Of course, I’m not thinking of running an open house from 5.30am each morning for my neighbours, and my first aid skills aren’t good enough to start an alternative to the NHS, so the question that I’m pondering, and I hope will be there for each of you, is this ‘what would it look like for me to do that? In my own life as it stands, or with some minor changes, how could I be an agent of grace?’

When love came to the mountain- Exodus 19

Preach from Sunday 13th July… well, at least the bare bones of what I said…

Those of us who’ve been working through the daily Bible readings from the E100 series have now reached Exodus… and although we’re only 2 books into the Old Testament we’ve taken nearly 5 weeks to get here, because this stuff is the foundation of our faith. If you look at Exodus 19, you won’t see any hidden mention of Jesus, but repeated again, there is this thread of a promise growing- first made to Abram, then to his son Isaac and to Jacob… and now repeated here to the people of Israel. The promise that the people of Israel would be treasured by God, would be a kingdom of priests has a follow on… if they’re priests, who’re the congregation? Once again, the idea that God’s love flows through them to others… just as the promise of forgiveness flowed through Jesus to all who believe, and so as the seeds on rich soil multiplied 30, 60 or 100 times, so the blessing, the forgiveness, the love of God flowed out and continues to flow out.


But within the passage from Exodus 19 there’re also a couple of challenging ideas we need to engage with. There is this idea of a chosen people- God clearly chose the people of Israel… does that mean God didn’t love anyone else? The more recent questions around this are to do with election and predestination- can anyone chose to follow God, or only the ones that God has already chosen- or in other words, do we really have a choice about this at all? The way that I have always understood this idea is that God calls to us all- through the beauty of His creation, through his presence in people around us, through the message of the Gospel that we might hear, through the depth of prayers and hymns that we sing or say together as we worship… God calls and has always called to everyone. It is up to us whether we respond. The part that the people of Israel played, and that Christians now play is to stand in the gap between God and the world, and to point out, to highlight, the work and activity, the presence and word of God, for others to be blessed by coming into relationship with God. So its not a case of ‘some are called/chosen by God’ and neither is there a valid case that Christians can simply leave it up to God to call others to faith… God calls, we help people to hear and to respond. One very poignant way that I see this happening is when people look to me as a minister to help them understand their own spiritual experiences- often ones that have happened outside of our gathered worship… and that’s what it means when here it speaks of a holy people, a nation of priests- people who can help others to understand.


Often we can get caught up with thinking about the Old Testament in terms of either the Law- starting with the 10 commandents that come in the chapter following our reading, or in terms of the Land- the promised Land, the kingdom etc… but its important to notice here that God’s love for the people of Israel comes before the Law or the Land… their relationship to God is the most important of the 3. Its only after God has declared his love, and that the people have responded, that God then says ‘if you want to honour me, to follow me, this is how others will notice- this is what will make it obvious’… the Law is to help other people see the difference. And the Land comes last of all- material things are less important than relationships or values. We know that to be true in our own lives- who you go on holiday with and how you feel about things is more important than where you go… and its not something limited to the Old Testament and the people of Israel- its true in our faith.  The challenge is to ensure that our relationship with God is right- that our values and actions are based on a true understanding of our relationship with God- that’s why we’ve started quite so slowly with our progress through the Bible this last month- because we need to get these basic things in place-

God’s love, God’s promise, God’s activity, God’s grace, God’s forgiveness. Our acceptance, our response, our relationship with God- creator, saviour, Father, Spirit.

Actions that are in line with stated beliefs, that are based on strongly held values… integrity.

And when we build on that, putting our own discipleship as the first building block… our own relationship with God- basing our prayer and personal devotions around that relationship rather than anything else, then other questions become, if not easier to answer, at least easier to look at, because our values become clearer and in line with God’s. And then our actions and our stuff (the equivalent of the Law and the Land) become more in keeping with God… and people will start to notice. As I heard someone say recently- ‘when people around the world see Christians starting to behave how they think Christians should behave, that changes the conversation’.


For us this week, as we seek to live our lives as followers of Jesus, lets make sure that we get these simple things in the right order… so that we can build on firm foundations as we draw others into the blessing that is a relationship with God.

Mandela- a human saint or a rebel with a cause? Either way, my hero.

Last night i heard the news that Nelson Mandela, one of my lifelong heroes, had died. I just want to write some of my own thoughts and responses.

He’d been ill for some time, his health hasn’t been good for a number of years, and he was 95- he’d lived twice the life expectancy of the rural poor in South Africa… so it came as no surprise, really, to hear the news of his death.

But how do we remember him? How do we remember a man who steered a country through one of the greatest challenges any nation can face? How do we remember a man who was sentenced to life imprisonment for what, in any nation, would be described as acts of terrorism?

Fergal Keane, in this report gives a good, balanced account of some part of Mandela’s legacy- he made promises that he could not keep, but he brought the country away from apartheid without civil war, he failed to recognise the threat of HIV/AIDS for a long time, but he established democratic freedom for people of all racial backgrounds…

When i used to sing ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ as a schoolboy in middle England, i knew little of what or who i was singing about- just that we couldn’t eat South African oranges and there weren’t South African sports teams.  Around the same time I loved the anarchic rebellion of the Blues Brothers, and wanted to live my life like James Dean in ‘Rebel without a cause’… in my teenage middle class way there was some kind of rebellion going on, but against who or what, I couldn’t say.

English: The prison cell where Nelson Mandela ...
English: The prison cell where Nelson Mandela was once imprisoned. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Years later i stood in the doorway of his cell on Robben Island, and i still knew little of the reality of the man, or of his country.  I travelled a bit, and saw things, and knew how the country had begun to change, and heard about the hopes and fears of my (white) family in the new reality.

The thing is, what i do know is that he wasn’t perfect. That he made mistakes, and errors of judgement. But his successes outweighed his failures and his persistence was rewarded.  He found a cause worth everything, and he put everything into it.

None of that makes him a saint, and i’m not putting him up for beatification, but in some ways it makes Nelson Mandela an even greater human being- with warts and all.

It would be easy to make comparisons between Nelson Mandela’s love of his country, his acknowledgement of the importance and power of grace, and the necessity for healing of community and individual relationships, and the narrative of Christianity that we see played out in the Bible. But i don’t think Nelson Mandela attempted to live his life so that I could have a cheap sermon illustration, so i’ll simply say that all the things we admire in Nelson Mandela, we see writ large in the life of Jesus.

If we admire and respect the one, what does that have to say about our attitude to the other?

Stuff i said last night…

Yesterday, after attending a funeral in the morning and spending the afternoon with 60 12yrs olds who wanted to know ‘what is worship anyway?’, I managed to make it to one of our Alpha Course sessions. I’ve missed the last few due to the birth of our son, Samuel (did I mention him yet?), but was back and giving the after dinner talk last night. Its largely based on the Alpha talks written by Nicky Gumbel of Holy Trinity Brompton church in London, with tweaks, omissions and personal bits added in.  As always, my script and what I actually said don’t completely match up, but here it is for your perusal, edification etc…

Before I was a Christian I used to be rather confused by Christians – I didn’t really see the point of faith. And they might try to tell me about it, kind of convert me. And I felt — you know, I thought God and church and Christianity were irrelevant, but I didn’t go to church trying to persuade other people not to go. I couldn’t see why they did it.

Sometimes people say, ‘Surely the best kind of Christian is the kind of person who is a Christian but doesn’t talk about their faith. Surely it’s a kind of private matter?’ And sometimes they refer to some relation of theirs, sort of ‘Uncle Norman’, who is this wonderful Christian but never talks about his faith. And the question I always want to ask is: Well, how did Uncle Norman hear about it? Someone must have told him. And if the early Christians had not told people about their faith, none of us would know.

So why should we tell people? First of all, because Jesus told us to. Jesus died for us, he rose again from the dead, and then he said, ‘Now go and tell people about this amazing news that you can be forgiven, you can be set free. You can have eternal life.’ And really he had no other plans except to use us to tell other people.

The word ‘Go’ appears 1,514 times in the Bible — I didn’t count that, but somebody did! In the New Testament it’s 233 times, in Matthew’s Gospel 54 times. Jesus says, `Go and tell … Go and invite … Go and make disciples.’

The second reason is because of our love for others. As we look around, we see people who are struggling to find meaning, purpose in their lives, struggling with guilt, struggling with fear of death, and so on. It’s rather like, I guess, if you’re in a desert and you came across water, it would be selfish to say, ‘Oh, it’s wonderful to find water!’ but not want to tell other people about it.

And I think a recognition of the fact that there’s a kind of spiritual hunger out there sometimes comes from surprising sources.

Sinéad O’Connor (irish singer, no hair) said this: ‘As a race we feel empty because our spirituality has been wiped out and we don’t know how to express ourselves. And as a result we’re encouraged to fill that gap with alcohol, drugs, sex or money. People out there,’ she adds, ‘are screaming for the truth.’

Third reason to tell people is because good news travels fast. We can’t keep it to ourselves; we don’t want to. And the word `gospel’ actually means good news.

You may or may not be aware that 3wks ago my wife Carolyn gave birth to our son Samuel. He’s our 3rd child and we’ve just about got it sorted when it comes to telling folks about it: phone calls to parents with strict instructions about who they can’t tell, followed by email and facebook announcements. But the thing is, you just can’t stop people sharing good news- when we were still in the hospital we had a visitor who worked in the labour unit, as soon as my mum got the news she started phoning her friends and put together a birth announcement card to send to relatives that don’t do the email thing…we didn’t have to ask her to do that, in fact it would have been near impossible to stop her. And it didn’t stop there- you get people who live down your street, or who’s kids are at school with yours, and they’re all asking how things are and congratulating you… and sometimes you don’t even know their name…

People want to share good news.

So how do we go about it? In my experience, certainly in my own life, there’ve been two sort of equal and opposite dangers. I think I’ve swung in my life between insensitivity and fear. When I first became a Christian, it was definitely insensitivity that predominated — I just wanted to tell everybody!

When I was at uni I had a few friends who were Christians, but a lot who weren’t, and I wanted them to come along to church, to understand the Christian faith- to become Christians. And at various times I invited them, I tried to explain, I shared my faith… one of the worst was probably when I and a friend had sat up most of the night playing backgammon (as you do when you’re a student… it seemed the right thing to do), and it was near the end of the academic year… and for some reason I felt a real urgency: I’ve got to tell them, and not mess around, pull no punches… and the whole problem was that I think I felt it was a fight that I had to win, and so my whole attitude was combative… I don’t think I listened an awful lot.

On the flip side, I would be so worried about being laughed at, or not having the right answer to someone’s questions, that I wouldn’t even be willing to have the conversation in case I… lost the argument?

And this swinging from insensitivity to fear can leave us in a place where we are paralysed- doomed if we do and doomed if we don’t.

The thing is, Jesus didn’t tell his followers to share the Gospel only when it would be well received. Or to avoid difficult conversations. He didn’t guarantee the kind of reception that the good news would receive. When we’ve something exciting to share, we don’t worry about those things. We are sensitive to the people and timing, but the importance of the news is paramount.

And much of my life it’s been like that. You know, I’ve swung from insensitivity to fear. And then I’ve heard a talk: `Go and make disciples!’ and I’ve gone back to insensitivity. And then I get hurt and I go back to fear. And all the way along I’ve been thinking: `What’s the right way to do this?’

And I think in essence it boils down to one word, and that is love. That’s why we tell people, and that’s how we tell people.


I find it helpful to think of this subject under really five headings, all beginning with the letter ‘P’, to make it slightly easier to remember. And the first one is Presence. Look at this verse: Matthew, chapter 5, verses 13–16?

Jesus said this (verse 13):

‘You are the salt of the earth.’

Verse 14:

‘You are the light of the world.’

Verse 16: ‘… let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.’

Jesus says to this group of people, he says, `Look,’ — just as he would say to us tonight — he says, ‘Look, you can make a difference to the whole world.’ ‘You are the salt of the earth’; `you’re the light of the whole world.’ What he’s saying is we can have a wide-ranging influence.

And we do that not by withdrawal. He says it’s no good if you cover a light. We do it by involvement. You have to be out there. You have to be out there in your jobs. You’re on the front line. Those of us involved in kind of full-time Christian work are, hopefully, supporting you. But you’re the ministers! You’re the people who are bringing the light of Jesus Christ to the world around, to your families, to your neighbourhood.

So we need to be in the world, but we need to be different. Jesus says, ‘You’re salt.’ Now, salt in the ancient world was used instead of refrigeration to stop things going bad. And he says, `You’re the people who need to stop the society around you going bad. And you’re light — you’re the ones who allow the light of Christ to shine through you.’ We do it’, he says, ‘by your good deeds’ — everything that we do and say as Christians. And it’s summarised in, I suppose, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ It’s living out the Christian life, particularly with those in close proximity to us — our family, our work colleagues, people maybe we share a flat with. It’s really enough that they know that we’re Christians. We can’t constantly be sort of forcing it down their throats. But if they know that we are Christians, they watch our lives. And we’re called to be different — and to show it through our love — our love for our enemies, little acts of kindness, honesty, integrity.

This is hard. You know, it’s really hard to live the kind of life that Jesus calls us to live. But this is what we’re called to: we’re called to a different love. That’s what we’re striving for.

With our family. When I first became a Christian, I thought I need to convert my parents. And I realised that was so counterproductive. Because you know, if you say to your parents, as I’d said, `I’ve become a Christian,’ what that is, is an implied criticism of their upbringing, the way that they brought you up. And I wish somebody had told me earlier that it would have been better to say something along the lines of: `You know, I’m beginning to find there’s a bit more to the Christian faith than I first thought,’ and then to live it out.

The same with a husband and wife relationship. In fact, St Peter gives very clear guidance — don’t look it up, but in 1 Peter 3, verse 1 he says:

‘If any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behaviour of their wives when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.’

And so often I’ve noticed on Alpha people say, when we say, ‘How do you come to be here?’ they say, ‘Well, I noticed a change in my wife … I noticed a change in my husband … I noticed a change in my son … in my daughter … in my parent … in my friend … at work.’ They see the difference.

It involves, of course, more than just our family and our immediate friends; it involves the needs of the people around us. Relieving human need — hunger, homelessness, poverty. I’m just so impressed by, well, many of you and all the young people in our church when I see the kind of things that they get involved in.

And then social justice — the removal of injustice, inhumanity, gross inequality in our society.

William Wilberforce. He was aged 27, which is actually the median age, it’s kind of the average age of people who come on Alpha here at this church:

He was aged 27 when he sensed God’s call to fight against the inhuman, degrading slave trade. Ten million slaves left Africa for the plantations in the year 1787, and in that year he put down a motion in the House of Commons about the slave trade. It was not a popular cause, but he said this:

‘So enormous, so dreadful did its wickedness appear that my own mind was completely made up for abolition. Let the consequences be what they would; I from that time determined I would never rest until I had effected its abolition.’

Bills were debated in 1789, 1791, 1792, 1794, 1796, 1798, 1799 — they all failed. In 1831 he sent a message to the Anti-Slavery Society in which he said: ‘Our motto must be perseverance, and ultimately I trust the Almighty will crown our efforts with success.’

He did. In July 1833 the Abolition of Slavery Bill was passed in both Houses of Parliament. Three days later Wilberforce died. He was buried in Westminster Abbey in national recognition of his 45 years of persevering struggle on behalf of African slaves.

But what about today? There are massive needs, injustices, out there. What about the fact that 800 million people live on less than a dollar a day and go to bed hungry every night — if we were to fast on bread and water for the rest of our lives, we would still be vastly better off than them. Every three seconds poverty takes a child’s life. Today and every day until we act, 30,000 children die because of avoidable diseases, ie because they live in poverty. 8,000 die of AIDS every day in developing countries. There will be 15 million preventable deaths this year.

And that’s what I love about what Bono is doing, inspired by his Christian faith. And he was invited to speak at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton, He said this.

He said, ‘My name is Bono. I’m a rock-star — Brighton rock star. Excuse me if I appear a little nervous — I’m not used to appearing before crowds of less than 80,000 people. I heard the word “party” — obviously got the wrong idea!’ And he went on to speak of his time working in an Ethiopian orphanage. He said: `We lived for a month working at the orphanage. The locals knew me as “Dr Good Morning”. The children called me “The girl with a beard”. Don’t ask!

‘It just blew my mind; it opened my mind. On our last day at the orphanage a man handed me his baby and said, “Take him with you.” He knew in Ireland his son would live; in Ethiopia his son would die. I turned him down. In that moment I started this journey. In that moment I became the worst thing of all: a rock-star with a cause. Except this isn’t a cause — 6,500 Africans dying a day of treatable, preventable disease, dying for want of medicines you and I can get at our local chemist: that’s not a cause; that’s an emergency.’

And I think it’s easy to be overwhelmed, really, by the scale of the problems and to think, you know, ‘Can we really make a difference?’

There’s the story of a man walking along a beach… And he saw that what had happened is the tide had gone out and there were tens of thousands of starfish left stranded on the beach, dying for lack of oxygen, in the heat of the sun. And there was a young boy who was picking up the starfish one at a time, going down to the sea and just throwing them in, and going back to get another one, pick it up and going back and throwing it into the sea.

And this man went up to him and he said, ‘Look, can’t you see — there are tens of thousands of starfish out here! I don’t really think that what you’re doing is going to make any difference.’ And the young boy picked up another one, and he went down to the water’s edge and he threw it in the sea, and he said, ‘I bet it made a difference for that one!’

That’s what we can do. Nelson Mandela said this: `It’s not the kings and generals who make history, but the masses of the people.’

That’s the first ‘P’ — Presence.

Secondly, Persuasion. Would you like to turn to Acts, chapter 17, verses 2–4?

‘As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ,” he said.’

‘Some of the Jews were persuaded …’

There’s a big difference, I think, between pressure and persuasion. Pressure is not a good idea. I don’t know how you respond to pressure, but most of us run a mile if anyone tries to pressurise us to do anything. And the effect of pressure is the opposite effect of persuasion: pressure is very unpersuasive. But Paul says he tries to persuade people. And he does it by reasoning, by explaining.

Because the Christian faith is not a blind leap of faith; it’s a reasonable step of faith. There are good reasons to believe. And that’s why I would encourage you to look into those reasons quite carefully, so that if somebody says to you, ‘Well, what is the evidence for the resurrection?’ you’re able to say, `Well, actually there’s quite a lot,’ and that you’ve thought about it. If somebody says to you, `Well, how can you believe when there’s so much suffering in the world?’ — of course we don’t have neat answers to these, but there’s something that we can say.

Again, don’t bother to turn to it because we haven’t got time, but in 1 Peter 3:15 Peter writes this:

‘Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have, but do this with gentleness and respect.’

Those are two key things. I have never met anybody who became a Christian as a result of an argument. I’ve never met anybody who said, ‘I met this Christian and we had this violent disagreement, and at the end of it I said, “Oh, I see! I’m so sorry, I was completely wrong and you’re completely right! I’d better become like you!”’ It doesn’t work like that. He says, don’t do it like that; do it with gentleness and respect.

And I think respect means we listen to people. We say, ‘Well, you know, what do you think? What do you believe?’ That’s why we try to do that — I know sometimes people find it a bit frustrating in the early weeks of Alpha that the leaders and helpers don’t say more. But we’re trying to respect the fact that the guests who come on Alpha, those of you who are guests here, we want to hear what you say. We are genuinely interested. It’s so fascinating to hear it. And we want to respect what people believe, and listen to it.

And I think respect also means being honest. That’s why it’s okay to say, `I don’t know. I’m sorry, I don’t know the answer to that question. But I’ll go away and find out.’

I think we need a little bit of a multi-layered approach, because certainly in my case I had intellectual objections and I believed they were genuine intellectual objections, to the Christian faith. But at the same time, I think, there were other things going on at the same time.

I think, for example, I was beginning to realise the implications that becoming a Christian might have for my lifestyle. And possibly, although the reasons that I was giving to people were the intellectual reasons, deep down for me it was a moral question as well. How will this affect the whole of my life? Am I ready for that?

When they first realised that the Titanic was sinking, they rushed around trying to persuade people to get into the lifeboats, but a lot of people didn’t believe them and wouldn’t get in. Some of those early lifeboats went away half-empty. But they were trying to persuade them out of love.

And I think that trying to persuade people, again, is an act of love.

The third P is Proclamation. It’s communicating the message — at the heart of Christianity it’s all about Jesus. And I suppose that’s what we’re trying to do on Alpha, is to focus on the person of Jesus and try to communicate that message. And there are many ways that we can do this, but one of the simplest ways is simply to say to people, ‘Come and see!’ Would you like to turn to John, chapter 1, verse 35?

‘The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”’

‘When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning round, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”’

‘They said, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?”’

‘“Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. It was about the tenth hour.’

‘Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who’d followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We’ve found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You’re Simon son of John. You’ll be called Cephas”’ (which is translated Peter).

‘The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We’ve found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote — Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see.”’

It’s so natural, isn’t it, to say, `Come and see!’ That’s what Celebrations, guest services, Christmas services etc are an opportunity to do: to say to friends who’ve maybe been interested in what you’ve been doing, `Come and see!’

There’s no greater privilege than bringing a friend or a member of the family to know Christ.

The great Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, who wrote a commentary on John’s Gospel, he wrote that the words ‘he brought Simon to Jesus’ were ‘the greatest service that one person can render another.’

And it’s something that we can all do. Andrew — we don’t really read very much about Andrew except that all the time he was bringing people to Jesus.

Peter became one of the greatest influences in human history. Countless millions of people — lives have been affected by the apostle Peter.

And we can’t all do what Peter did, but we can all do what Andrew did — he brought his brother to Jesus.

I heard about a man called Albert McMakin. He was 24 years of age, he was a farmer, he’d just become a Christian and he was really excited. So he heard that there was this event going on where someone was speaking about Jesus, and he decided he would invite all his friends.

And he’d got this old van, and there was one guy he really wanted to come. He was a farmer’s son, and he really wasn’t interested. This guy had lots of girlfriends, he was a very good-looking guy. And he thought, ‘How am I going to get him?’ So eventually he said to him, ‘Look, would you drive the van?’ And the guy said, `Okay, well, I’ll drive the van. I’m not particularly keen to come in, but I’ll drive the van.’

And he came along and drove the van, and just was interested in what was going on, so he popped in at the back, and he was spellbound. And he went back night after night after night. And on the last night the speaker said, ‘Look, if you want to give your life to Jesus, come to the front.’ And this farmer’s son got up and went to the front.

Since that day, that person has spoken to 210 million people in person about the Christian faith. He’s been the friend and confidant of nine American Presidents. And he’s spoken — not live, but through television and so on — to half the world’s population. His name, of course, is Billy Graham. We can’t all be Billy Grahams, but we can all be Albert McMakins! We can all be the one who says, `Come and see’ and brings our friends to Christ.

The second thing that we can do is tell our own story. That’s what Paul — if you read the book of Acts, Paul’s constantly telling people his own story. He’d say, ‘Look, this is what I was like. I was persecuting the church. This is what happened, and this is the difference Jesus has made.’ And when friends ask, you can tell your story. And really there’s no answer to your story. They can argue about the evidence for the resurrection or the contradictions in the Bible or suffering or etc etc, but they can’t argue with your story.

When Jesus healed the blind man, there were a lot of people who came and questioned him. The Pharisees came and questioned him about it, and they were cross-examining him and trying to trap him, and he said, `Look, I don’t know the answers to all your questions. But I’ll tell you this: once I was blind and now I can see.’ There’s no answer to that.

And then we may have an opportunity to actually explain, ourselves, and to bring someone ourselves to Christ. Its something that never fails to excite me and fill me with utter joy. Just sitting, talking with someone, and hearing them say that they’d like to become a Christian. Praying a simple prayer- of repentance, thanking Jesus for dying for us, and asking Jesus to come into their life through the Spirit.  I love sharing things with people- teaching folk to climb, or surf, or read… but none of them come even close to the joy and the privilege that it is to see the difference that Jesus makes in the life of those we know.

The fourth P is Power. In 1 Thessalonians, chapter 1, verse 5 St Paul writes this:

‘ … our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.’

This is not just an intellectual exercise — you don’t sort of persuade people just intellectually. Of course, there are reasons and it’s important to give reasons; but what Paul is saying here is not just about words — it’s about the activity of the Holy Spirit.

For me, I look back to certainly particularly the first experience of the Holy Spirit.

That the love of God — that’s what Paul says in Romans 5, verse 5 — ‘the love of God is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.’ Again, love is at the heart of it. But when we experience God’s love deep down, that’s what the Holy Spirit comes to do.

And the Holy Spirit also comes with activity: with conviction of sin, with deep conviction, but also with activity — with healing, for example. That’s what we’re going to look at next week.

The fifth P is Prayer. Prayer for others. Paul loved people, and out of that love came a desire to pray for them. In Romans 10, verse 1 he says: ‘My heart’s desire and prayer to God is that they may be saved.’ And so often when someone comes to faith, their faith comes alive, we find that somebody’s been praying.

A good friend of mine, Steve, used to go along to church with his parents as a child, but as he grew older he found that attending church clashed with football training and matches. And Steve was a good footballer.  When he was a teenager he decided to commit to football and stopped going to church. One Sunday when he was playing in a match, a fair while after he’d stopped coming to church, he blacked out when heading the ball, crumpled to the floor and was in a coma for several days. When he recovered, he discovered that his parents church, the one he’d walked away from, had been praying for him throughout his coma. The people he’d rejected had been praying for him- not just that he’d recover, but that he’d also come to know God’s love… and he became a Christian soon after that.

I don’t know how it works, but there seems to be something that prayer is very effective.

And maybe that’s one of the things that in the small groups you could begin, maybe even tonight, to start to pray together. It’s so powerful.

We pray for others, but we also pray for ourselves. Because when you start this, some people, hopefully, will be interested and when you say, ‘Come and see!’ they say, ‘Oh, I’d love to.’ But not everybody responds positively. Sometimes — and you may already have experienced this — you’ve told a friend what you’re doing, and they make some … Maybe they mock it a bit or ridicule it or they’re not quite as enthusiastic as you hoped they would be. But this is quite normal.

Would you like to turn Acts, chapter 4, verses 29–31?

This was an occasion where the apostles had been involved in healing somebody and it had provoked a very negative reaction! They’d been threatened, and — verse 29 — this is their response:

‘Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’

‘After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.’

My encouragement to you would be: if you get a negative reaction from time to time, which will probably take place, don’t give up. Don’t stop. Keep going. Because it will have such an impact if you do.

I heard about a man, it was during the war: he was dying in the trenches. And his friend, who was by him in the trenches, turned to him and he said, ‘Is there anything I can do for you?’ And this guy said, ‘No, I’m dying. There’s nothing you can do.’ ‘Well,’ he said, `is there anything I could do when I get home, any message I could take?’ And this man said, `Yes. I’d like you to take a message to this man at this address and tell him that what he taught me as a child is helping me to die now.’

So this man went back and he went round to this man at that address, and he told him the story. And the guy said, `God forgive me.’ He said, `I taught that man in Sunday school, children’s church, but I gave up teaching there years ago because I thought that what I was doing was having no effect.’

But Paul says the gospel, the good news about Jesus, is the power of God, is the power of God to change lives.

‘If bringing a friend to meet Jesus, maybe bringing them along to Alpha or church is the only thing I ever did in my life, my life would have been worthwhile.’