Christian. Methodist Minister (Presbyter) serving in the Bognor Regis area, South East, UK.
Husband, Father of 2. Book hoarder. Wanna-be chef.
Heart for living in community and for seeing the presence and activity of God in day to day life.
I took a tumble this week. Walking home from school with my daughters I caught my foot in a ditch in the grass and twisted my ankle – resulting a sprain and chipped shard of bone.
Given so much of ministry is based at home at the moment it’s perhaps not been such a major issue, I can continue to work from office with my foot elevated, ice pack and painkillers. 12 months ago I’d have had a whole host of diary engagements to have to rearrange.
Things in life don’t always go to plan. Things are not always perfect or ideal. Life isn’t always without its pain and suffering and struggle.
As we’ve journeyed through the book of Colossians and dipped our toes into some of its riches, we’ve seen these last few weeks the fullness and joy and abundance that a life in Christ offers now, today, in the present.
Jesus, the gift we receive without catch or terms and conditions. Jesus is hope for today.
But yet, the letter recognises that even while Jesus is with us, giving joy and fulness and abundance in our lives today, life is still life, and things don’t always go to plan.
As we receive the gift of Jesus today, we not only have fullness and hope for today, there is a greater hope, a greater inheritance to come.
Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters,since you know that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you serve the Lord Christ.
On receiving Jesus, not only are we offered fullness and hope and abundance of love and grace for today, there is an inheritance, a hope to come, where things do go to plan, where the abundance of God’s love and grace is made more fully known.
A transformation to come that we cannot fully comprehend, that will be even better, brighter, lighter. Receive Jesus today, hope for today, and a hope to come.
Before going to theological college, I spent 6 years managing a Christian bookshop. It had been something of a dream of mine for all my teenage life. I had a passion for business, for resourcing God’s people in mission and ministry, and reaching out beyond the margins of church.
The place often felt like a signpost, as well as selling goods we saw a growing ministry of pastoral care – welcoming all sorts of people from many different backgrounds with many different stories to tell. We would point people to support, spiritual, physical, economic, we would offer conversation about life and faith, sometimes we would pray with people, and one of the joys of this ministry was that through it God was at work and we saw a number people begin following Jesus.
It was through this pastoral ministry that God began to reveal to me a calling to a vocation as a Methodist minister. But one of the things that surprised me most when running the bookshop was not these opportunities for mission, ministry and pastoral care with those on the margins, but the conversations I had with ‘already Christians’.
Running the bookshop meant I was serving a wide and diverse range of Christian people, fellowships and churches. And I saw that as a great thing, an opportunity to learn from others, discover more about God’s church and celebrate our common faith.
What surprised me, as just how un-loving God’s church can be from within. I was amazed the first time I was criticised for stocking anything but the King James Bible – on one occasion I was told I was the antichrist for stocking a particular book (I can’t remember what the book was now! – just the accusation!).
I don’t think it’s wrong to have conviction in faith, but I do think we need to as God’s Spirit to watch over us that we don’t get to a point where we are so convicted of our faith that we show no openness to the diversity of faith present in God’s people.
In Colossians 3 we read the following verses, which come from a larger section where Paul is seeking to enable understanding of what living together as Christian community looks like.
8 But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices 10 and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. 11 In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!
As the letter to the Colossians unfolds, the message of the gospel – the Good News -Jesus Christ – is being unpacked and given clarity. Christ is all and in all. Human labels that divide are superfluous to the power and grace of God.
One of the things that often saddens me is that Church, and society, spend so much time and energy highlighting our differences, and allowing that to lead to division and jealousy.
If we are kingdom people, worshipping Christ who’s kingdom we are welcomed into through God’s love and grace – surely it is our common faith in Christ who is all and in all that we should hold our main focus on.
John Wesley, who’s ministry contributed to the birthing of Methodism, was himself well aware of the way opinions led to division, and in one of his sermons argued that differing opinions need to be held in perspective with common faith, and that differing opinions should not lead to the cessation of fellowship.[i]
Friends there is much that has potential to divides us. Views on political and public health measures during the pandemic; contradictory convictions around communion, sexuality, gender & marriage; Brexit; immigration. The list could be endless, and these things are not things we should entirely ignore. But I think should be approached with the a recognition from all that by the love and grace of God human made division is wiped away – Christ is all and in all.
For me, these verses challenge me to hold our common faith in the un-boundaried love and grace of God at the centre of my relationships. Not focused on difference and division, but on the kingdom of God where Christ is all and in all.
[i] Sermon 19: Salt and Light, John Wesley’s 44 Sermons. Epworth Press, 1944
“I need a hero! I’m holding out for a hero to the end of the night!”[i]
Are you looking for a hero?
Yes? No? Not sure? I think, truthfully a lot of us are, though we may not always realise it, or coin it in that way.
Society loves a hero. Someone who will save us, a figurehead to give hope. Film and TV is full of hero’s we love – from Marvel to Harry Potter to Poldark to Doctor Who, We love a hero, and especially love a hero that appears an underdog, that rises up to save the day against the odds.
Even in the real world, away from sci-fi and fiction, we like to look for a hero. We’ve spent a significant part of 2020 putting a ‘protective shield around the NHS’, trying to maximise it’s potential to save life. But of course we have to also cope with the painful reality that life one earth cannot always be saved.
I wonder if sometimes we expect our politicians to be hero’s too. Decisions have to be made, based on the best knowledge they have to had, but there will always be alternative choices that could have been – and hindsight is a wonderful thing, but it can also be a curse.
I’m not wanting to defend all political choices here, but to remind us that we need be aware of our human propensity to create hero’s. Aware of who and where we place our hope. Remembering that we live in this world – not the world of sci-fi and fiction.
The letter to the Colossians is written to a group of Christians who are facing pressure. Pressure to put their trust, hope and faith in new ideas, alternative hero’s and unrealistic portrayals of salvation.
But here in Colossians we are reminded that there is someone who really did come to this world to save.
And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ. For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body.
Colossians 2:6-9, New Living Translation
If you know you’re looking for a hero – enjoy your sci-fi and fiction – I do – but look to Jesus. If you’re not sure if you’re looking for a hero – still look to Jesus. If you said you weren’t – still look to Jesus.
Jesus Christ was an underdog, and hung out with human beings like you and me. People with doubts and questions and uncertainties. People who were anxious and broken and unsure. People living with guilt and shame. People looking for truth, and disillusioned by the way of the world.
Jesus comes not to irradicate that. But to live in it. To experience it. To live with us. Jesus came to earth, living and walking in our shoes. Jesus understands what it is to be human.
These words from Colossians tell us Jesus wasn’t simply human, Jesus was the fullness of God in human form. Jesus is human, and Jesus is God.
I believe Jesus is our Saviour – who came to save the world, you and me, because of God’s love for the world, for you and me. And to point us to a way of living that is filled with hope and truth.
But – Jesus isn’t a hero who comes to save us because we’re helpless. He’s not that sort of hero. He’s the hero who knows who we are, knows our potential, and so wants us to grow and be built up. Need a hero? Let your roots grow in Jesus.
This month the Methodist communities I serve in Bognor Regis, Felpham and Westergate are going to be studying the letter to the Colossians, and my Sunday reflection videos are going to take a sneaky peak too.
This week we’re looking at Colossians 1:1-23, which forms something of the trailer for what’s to come in the rest of the letter. It sets the scene for us.
The Colossian Christian community have been coming under pressure. Colossae had been a busy riverside city, a centre of trade – but other cities had overtaken them and Colossae had become a bit of a has been place.
As a result, there was a lack of hope, there was uncertainty in the community. And pressure was building from many corners of their society. All vying for attention, cults presenting themselves as truth and hope and salvation.
Paul, who writes this letter from prison, and has never met the Colossian Christians face to face. He’s heard of their faith, and he writes to them. Much like me speaking to a camera right now, hoping that you who are watching will be encouraged in your faith, Paul wanted to encourage them.
And so he writes:
In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.
Paul writes to encourage and affirm the Colossian Christians in the faith they have…
‘you’re doing good’
Keep at it…
Despite the pressures around you, keep at it.
Keep focused on Jesus.
There’s much more Paul wants to say about Jesus – and why keeping focused on Jesus gives hope – and we’ll come back to that more next week.
But this week – I want to encourage you.
Life is full of pressure and uncertainty right now.
And here in the UK we’re in a patchwork of restrictions across the country, there’s very live debate about whether the restrictions are going to far, or not far enough, what the scientific evidence is…
There’s so much vying for out attention.
Some much competition for truth.
Just as Paul encourages the Colossian Christian community to keep on keeping on, despite the pressure around them, my encouragement to you is to keep on keeping on.
If you a Christian – keep at your relationship with Jesus.
Paul goes on to celebrate the truth that the Colossian community’s faith is bearing fruit and growing among them (1:6).
Church – keep growing, keep praising, keep praying, keep encouraging one another in faith.
Keep asking questions and looking to God for answers.
If you’re not a Christian, then I want say to you – that despite all the noise around us, and around you, presenting itself as truth and hope – there is one true source of hope that will be faithful to you, and never leave you – Jesus.
Jesus is hope, and truth, and light.
Jesus has, and continues to make such a difference to my life.
Jesus is the one certainty, the one truth, we can hold onto.
We’ll look at more on how Paul presents the hope Jesus gives next week.
Use of this service is subject to the terms and conditions printed in size 3 font on the back left wall of the store – next to the white display unit.
Alternatively you can access our Terms and Conditions through our website by finding the link somewhere on our homepage – usually in pretty small grey font, but it depends if you’re viewing our website on computer, tablet of mobile device.
Ok, so it’s not always that hard to find them, but they’re not always easy to make sense of are them. Terms and Conditions are often long, full of legal jargon, and it’s not unusual that I’m still not sure what they really mean after I’ve read them. In fact, I confess I sometimes just tick the box to say I’ve read them and move on.
Terms and Conditions are part of 21st Century life, every social media account, every purchase we make, every contract we sign comes with some sort of conditions. Rules, guidelines, commitments, legal requirements – from the provider, but also from me the receiver.
I’ve heard lots of times people saying things like ‘God doesn’t love me, I’m not good enough’. Every time it fills me with sadness because somehow the world thinks God has a long list of complicated, undecipherable terms and conditions that mean no one can ever live up to them.
But it’s just not true, this misconception.
In the Bible there’s a letter that Paul writes where he talks about this sense of being cut off from God. I’m putting into my own words here – you can look it up for yourself if you want, it’s Colossians 1:21-22.
once you were cut off from God because of your evil deeds, but now you are reconciled because of Jesus, made holy and blameless and no longer cut off.
In the gospel of John we read Jesus saying:
“anyone who comes to me I will never drive away”
A relationship with God doesn’t need to start with terms and conditions of us being perfect or thinking we’re good enough. There are no legal requirements.
Relationship with God starts with accepting the wonderful, amazing fact that God loves us for who we are and will drive no one away.
If you haven’t already, start a relationship with God today – he’s ready and waiting to hear from you, and accept you with open, loving arms.
A few years ago we were on a motorway journey and pulled in at a service station. We’d been driving for some time so I was sure in need of a coffee – so got into the Starbucks queue.
I placed my order and, as they often do in coffee shops, the guy behind the counter asked my name and proceeded to scribe it onto the cup in bold black sharpie. I got my coffee and went to sit with the family.
About half an hour or so later, Louise wanted a hot chocolate so off I went back to the Starbucks queue. I placed my order, but this time he didn’t ask my name, he said – ‘it’s Dan isn’t it?’
I was amazing, in a busy service station coffee shop, amongst the busyness of his day, I wasn’t just another customer to process through the coffee conveyor – he’d remembered my name – I felt valued for who I was.
When I began leading services, about 14 years ago now! – there was one verse from the Bible that played a massive part in my accepting that this was what God was calling me to.
It comes from Isaiah 43…
“Do not fear for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”
When I began to feel God was asking me to serve him by preaching, I didn’t think I was good enough. I thought I was too young, naive, full of faults and would just fail God.
But God’s words to me were that I was redeemed – that despite my own fears and feelings I wasn’t good enough, God would compensate for them & overcome them.
That those things about me that I thought meant I wouldn’t be good enough, were not a problem at all because God had called me by name. My name, no one else’s, I was the one God was calling.
I believe God is calling you too.
God created you with a unique set of skills, personality and passions – and that unique combination is what makes you you.
God is calling by name, because God wants you to know him, to hear him, to be the person you are and God made you to be.
This hi-viz belongs to one of my daughters – a bit small for me! They often wear them when they ride along the pavement on their bikes.
They don’t call it a hi-viz though They know it helps keep them safe and so they have always called it a life jacket.
What do you have that keeps you safe?
Of course we’re familiar with face coverings, keeping distance from one another, we have speed limits and breaks on bikes and cars. We are surrounded by things that are there to keep us safe.
As Christians, sometimes we talk about Jesus saving us. We call Jesus the Saviour of the World. Saviour – literally means someone who saves someone else from danger. Jesus is, in many ways, a life jacket for us, for me, for you, for all the world.
In John 12:46-47 we read Jesus say:
‘I have come as light to the world, so that everyone who believes in me will not be in darkness, I came, not to judge the world, but to save the world’
I have come as light to the world: A bit like a fluorescent jacket, Jesus offers light. Jesus light is not for a limited group people Jesus has written down on a list – Jesus says this light is for all the world – whoever believes will not be in darkness There’s no limit to who can be saved by Jesus’ light – simply believe Jesus is who he says he is – the light of the world, the son of God.
Know the Jesus is not here to judge – but save I would look prettyridiculousif I went out trying to wear this wouldn’t I – I may get a few judgmental looks!
Well we’re reminded here that Jesus doesn’t judge us, and Jesus doesn’t judge you – Jesus doesn’t look at us and criticise us – Jesus came because of God’s love for the world, tosave the world.
And if you’re watching this from the world – then my friend that includes you!
If you want to know more about Jesus do get in touch via social media, email, old fashioned telephone – we would love to talk with you.
Do you have a place in your home where you collect odd socks?
We’ve a spot upstairs where they collect, some have been there for quite a few months, but we keep them, just in case we find the other one.
If we got rid of these then found the other ones, there would be no hope for them would there… unless you’re one of those people who are quite happy wearing odd socks of course!
In a posture of hope odd socks find themselves belonging with other socks that didn’t belong.
God’s Church can be a bit like a bunch of odd socks. People who unexpectedly find they belong.
Churches are not meant to be places where you find matching pairs of Christians. Churches are diverse spaces filled with people that represent ever corner of human diversity – who find belonging because they find Jesus.
In John 10:9 we read Jesus say:
‘I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.’
Come and find Jesus, enter through his gate – and you will be saved.
You can come in and go out – Jesus gate is not an entrance to a prison, but entering a space and life of freedom.
In that freedom find pasture – be nourished and fed, strengthened and encouraged.
Jesus’ Church is an open field and Jesus is the open gate.
There’s always space to welcome you.
Church looks a bit unusual to everyone right now – social distancing, face coverings, no singing, meeting in 2’s and 3’s in gardens and parks. We all feel a bit like odd socks – not sure quite what the future holds.
So even if you feel a bit like an odd sock, don’t let that put you off. You too can enter through Jesus’ open gate and discover the freedom Jesus has for you.
There’s always space to welcome you.
If you want to know what’s happening among your local church – do get in touch.
Throughout August I will be encouraging us to reflect on things we have learn and are learning through lockdown about self, God and being Christian community.
I enjoy games, I love Lego – I enjoy building. Here’s a car I made last week – even has a boot and opening doors.
If you’ve seen any of the previous learning from lockdown episodes over the last few weeks you may have noticed a bit a thread that kind of runs through, circling around people, relationships and our sense of togetherness as a community that belong to God.
I’ve been recognising that by God at work among us, our relationships, connectedness and love and care for one another have been a key source of strength that have carried us through lockdown and the pandemic so far as individuals, Christians and church community.
“church is not the building it’s the people” is an age-old cliché – but it’s been true for us in new ways as we have laid our buildings to rest for a while through lockdown.
What we’ve been doing through lockdown is body building – living as the body of Christ, caring for one another, nurturing relationships, leaning on one another.
And it’s been beautiful! Wonderful! Magnificent! As I’ve sought to minister and serve congregations and communities at a distance, my heart has been warmed and my spirit refreshed each time I hear more of the ways congregations have heeded God’s call and supported one other, cared for one another and show love to their streets and neighbours. The church has truly been a community for the community.
In the Bible, in the letter to the Ephesians we are reminded that through the love of God for us all, the church, God’s people, are one. One body, one community, one church who worship the one God who is above all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:2-6)
The letter goes on:
But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
The way I’ve witness God’s people supporting one another throughout this pandemic so far has shown just how important living as God’s community is – living in and building one another up on love.
Our love and care for one another has been a channel for the Holy Spirit to strengthen us with peace and love and endurance.
And it’s also proven just how resilient God has made us – all humanity to be – and how resilient the body of Christ is. Christ who suffered at the hands of humanity, beaten, humiliated and murdered on a cross, knows what it is to suffer.
And so as Christ knits the body of Christ together, Christ works within us to build us, challenge us and strengthen us for our living in the world.
Through the strength of Christ we have been able to bear so much these last months. Every corner of life as individuals, neighbourhoods and Christians community has been shaken. Yet worship has never ended, love has never ceased, hope has never disappeared from the horizon.
We may not have been able to use church buildings as we were used to, but we most certainly have had opportunity to keep the body building.
This experience challenges me for the future months and years of my ministry, but I think it challenges the whole body of Christ to reflect on how we emerge from lockdown and keep our focus on building God’s kingdom, Christ’s body, the church that is the community of Christ on earth, in love.
May our loving never cease, our hoping never wane, and our living as a community focused on God’s kingdom, never end.
How will you help to keep the church focused on body building, building up in love, God’s kingdom community on earth?
Throughout August I will be encouraging us to reflect on things we have learn and are learning through lockdown about self, God and being Christian community.
On the 1st September 2016 we moved to Queens Foundation, Birmingham where I was to begin my training. As we’d only got a small, 2nd floor flat for the 4 of us, college had offered us a garage, and, at first, we parked the car in it.
On the 2nd September 2016 we took a trip to the supermarket. We got back, unloaded and I shut the garage door – it was quite stiff to shut, but I kept pushing, thinking, I must get some WD40 for that… until I realised I never locked the car…or shut the boot. I went to re-open the garage door to discover that the boot and garage door were now hitting each other – I couldn’t open the garage door beyond a few inches.
I spent about an hour trying to work out how to solve the puzzle. In that time, I met various other students and members of college staff, their first introduction to me was seeing a stranger trying to break into a garage…thinking back I’m not surprised those conversations started with some suspicious looks.
Eventually, I managed to reach through the top gap of the garage door get some rope tied to the car boot, then reach through the bottom gap and pull it down to get the garage door open. The car boot had a few scratches, but at least I’d got access.
Before lockdown, my experience of church communities is that our default way of people accessing ‘church’ was by attending a church building. Within these buildings we hold services of worship, community drop-in’s and coffee mornings, prayer groups and bible studies, toddler groups and quiz nights.
As lockdown came in access to all these things was stopped. Our buildings we’re locked as part of the nationwide effort to reduce physical gathering and push down the spread of COVID-19.
So during lockdown, our default way of accessing ‘church’ – by gathering in a church building – was suddenly blocked from us – just like my car was when I foolishly shut the garage door.
This led to two things – firstly – creativity. Utilising post, email, phone, blog posts, YouTube, video and telephone conferencing and more. Creatively developing lots of different ways for people to engage with church without the building. – to be a scattered church
Secondly – it led to greater self-responsibility. What do I mean?
Well I mean that because accessing ‘church’ has not been about gathering in a building, individuals have had much more responsibility themselves as scattered church for nurturing their faith and relationship with God. The format moved from what could perhaps slightly crassly be described a passive attendance to active engagement. People had their own space and freedom to choose how to engage, how to be church.
Not only that, but people who for one reason or other were much more cut off from the worshiping community, for example living in care homes, working on Sundays or caring for relatives, feel they are included and connected to the worshiping and spiritual life of the church community in ways they never did before.
In the gospels we read the familiar story of people bringing children to Jesus for him to bless them. The disciples try to stop it – children, it seemed didn’t matter. But Jesus rebukes them and says let them come to me – the kingdom of God belongs to them too.
It is a passage that’s often used within infant baptism, that vulnerable, innocent children are welcomed by Jesus.
But I wonder, if we take a step back from the story itself, and see it in light of Jesus wider ministry, healing the blind and crippled, spending time with tax collectors and zealots, the excluded and the vulnerable, this passage may take on even more meaning for us.
I wonder if this passage might challenge us as worshipping communities to reflect ourselves on where we might, intentionally, or un-intentionally, be excluding people from being a greater part of the community.
Developing an attitude of access
Lockdown has forced me to look differently at our church communities and makes me wonder if we may have fallen into the trap of letting buildings become too central to our common life together. It makes me wonder how passive we’ve allowed that life to become – and how it unhelpfully and unfairly excludes those who for one reason or other, cannot access it.
But it’s also show me that there are simple ways to begin to redress that balance and build a more accessible and inclusive community. That there are ways access can be achieved for those who are excluded – in part by having a little less focus on buildings, and a little more on discerning how best to connect with people where they are, not where they are not, with our focus on the kingdom of God.
And it’s also shown me the fruit that is borne when individuals have more active self-responsibility for their worshiping and spiritual life.
What may all this mean for the future?
I sense a strong challenge from God – challenging us to not build up ours walls in a way that they keep people out, but to build up one another in a way that allows us to bring people in.
What walls may we need to allow God to break down so that we can grow into a more inclusive and active community that keeps the kingdom of God at the centre?