Mark Fairweather Tall


30/05/2018 10:15

There's power in love


The late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, and I quote:

“We must discover the power of love,

the redemptive power of love.

And when we discover that, we will be able to make of this old world

a new world.

Love is the only way.”

There’s power in love. Do not underestimate it. Don’t even over-sentimentalize it. There’s power in love. 


So began the sermon that would catch the attention of millions as Bishop Michael Curry delivered the address at the wedding of Prince Harry and Megan Markle on Saturday 19th May. I cannot remember a time when a sermon was so positively received and so widely discussed. True, there is often something in the news of the Christmas sermons delivered by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope, but that is not the same as what we witnessed here.


Many commented on the passionate, uninhibited delivery of the smiling, gesticulating Bishop who brought life, emotion and challenge at a point where perhaps many expected to switch off. The response of the royals was scrutinised as people were looking to see which of the royals were smiling or open mouthed. Lip readers were on hand to tell us that at the end of the sermon, Harry turned to Megan and said ‘Wow!’


Social media was soon alive with comments. Jeremey Vine wrote: “The preacher is doing 50 in a 30 zone and it’s brilliant”. David Grant tweeted: “He just took the Royal Family to CHURCH!!!!” and Ed Miliband went as far as saying: “Rev Michael Curry could almost make me a believer.”


Both at the time and as I reflect now I can’t help but say ‘Praise God’ that at a national occasion something of the power of the gospel message was communicated. The Archbishop of Canterbury said: “I think we saw that preaching is not a past art, the use of language to communicate the good news of Jesus Christ just blew the place open, it was fantastic.”


There have been criticisms of the sermon as well. One was in speaking for too long – all of about thirteen minutes! That may cause some of us who preach regularly to protest about how brief that is! Another criticism I read was that the Bishop wasn’t clear enough about the death and resurrection of Jesus, which is at the very heart of the gospel. 


Yet what I found compelling is that at a wedding, those listening were invited to explore a deeper understanding of ‘love’. On such occasions ‘love’ can be thought of simply as feelings of emotion and sentimentalising idealistic notions about what love between two people is like. Bishop Curry took us beyond this as he pointed to the power of love to change the world. He identified the source of love as God himself. He referred to the ‘old spiritual’ and the Balm of Gilead, that identifies Jesus as the one who ‘died to save us all’. He told people that love is not selfish and self-centred but can be sacrificial and it is this kind of love that can change lives. This description of love and the way it was presented got people talking, even though he didn’t go into full detail about Jesus’ death and resurrection.


And that leads me to reflect on how we share the gospel message. Do we always need to explain the gospel fully or is it sometimes OK to ‘whet people’s appetite?’


Jesus was asked by the disciples about why he spoke in parables (Matthew 13:10). They didn’t get everything he was saying and neither did other listeners - shouldn’t Jesus be speaking more clearly and explaining everything? Jesus said, “This is why I speak in parables: ‘Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing they do not hear or understand.’” (Matthew 13:13). It is beyond the scope of this article to look at this saying in depth, but it seems to indicate that some wanted to see and understand but others had closed minds to what Jesus was saying. Jesus gave them enough in what he said that they could discover more if they had the desire to see and understand. The disciples wanted to find out more and learn more – they had a hunger to see. Perhaps the way Jesus communicated should challenge us. Can there be times when we are too quick to provide people with the answer to the question they aren’t asking? Are there times when we are giving people information they are not ready to hear? If so, can that cause people to switch off to the message of the gospel? Is it better to sometimes ‘whet people’s appetite?’


Lots of questions to reflect on, and I sympathise with Bishop Curry as my six minutes of your time may be nearer thirteen minutes already! However, let me finish with a word of encouragement. We saw at the Royal Wedding the captivating nature of the gospel. The gospel message of the God of love, revealed most powerfully through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is both appealing and compelling. It causes people to sit up and take notice; It is like a breath of fresh air. It transforms the world. There is, as Bishop Curry made so clear, power in love!

The image of Bishop Michael Curry, above, is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

21/02/2018 16:42

Falling towards God

Once every four years I get captivated by the astonishing spectacle of the Winter Olympics: There is the spectacular sight of ski jumpers launching themselves off a hill where the aim is not merely to survive but travel as far as possible; then there is the breath-taking lunacy of careering down a compacted ice tunnel head-first on something resembling a tray; and (I confess) my favourite, the frenzied sweeping of ice to control the curl and distance of the stone sliding along the ice towards the button in the house. As if all this is not enough, there are the sub-plots to follow as well: Would there be super-Saturday for Great Britain? Could Lizzie Yarnold become the first skeleton athlete to win successive Winter Games gold medals? Would the first Jamaican female Bobsleigh team be able to compete after their coach resigned and was reported to be taking the sled with her? (Maybe the sequel to ‘Cool Runnings’ has just been written) And then there is Elise Christie…


Has anyone ever had such a hard and emotional experience at the Winter Olympics as Elise Christie? Christie is a short-track speed skater from Scotland, who has been remarkably successful. She is a ten-time European gold medallist. In 2017 she won world titles at 1000m and 1500m events as well as the overall gold, the first British and European, woman to do so. However, when it comes to the Olympics things have not been good. Ben Bloom writing in the Daily Telegraph said: “the two most recent Olympics reads like the old rhyme about the fate of Henry VIII’s wives, only significantly simpler: disqualified, disqualified, disqualified, fell, disqualified, disqualified”. After a horrible fall in the 1500m event, we didn’t know whether she would be able to race in the 1000m. However, she took to the ice, fell before the first corner, causing the race to be restarted; qualified for the quarter finals, but was carried off the track in pain by her coach before being disqualified by the judges for causing a collision. It is heart wrenching stuff. Six Olympic events have all ended badly for her. So, I really admire her determination as she said: “I can promise Britain I’ll fight back from this…I just see it as three races that went rubbish in the last four years. Unfortunately, all three of them were here. It’s not because it’s an Olympics, but that’s short track and that’s the way it goes sometimes. I can’t let this define me. I can’t even count on two hands how many gold medals I’ve won since Sochi and I’m the 500m world record holder. I’m going to get myself so strong that I’ll get out in front and get away from everyone and that’ll be the focus. I’ll be back in Beijing (the next Winter Olympics in 2022)”.


She has fallen, broken the rules and been disqualified from races but she is determined to get back up and running again to win the prize! And this makes me reflect: Paul tells us, “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” Romans 3:23. When it comes to living up to God’s glorious standards we fail, and we fall. Falling is as much a part of everyday life for us as it is in short track speed skating. Our falling short may come in thought, word or deed. The key is that we aren’t defined by the fall, but get up, set our eyes on God once more and get back on track.


There are things that can hinder us from getting up from a fall. Guilt may mean that we don’t feel worthy to get back up. What we have done just seems too bad and a sense of shame keeps us on the floor. Another response might be to try to justify our actions. Rudyard Kipling said, “I never made a mistake in my life; at least, never one that I couldn’t explain away afterwards.” We can justify ourselves by setting wrong standards or make excuses deep down we know aren’t true or even seek to shift the blame to others. The problem is that we are deceiving ourselves and not facing truth. We can also engage in comparison and comfort ourselves that whilst we may not be perfect others are far worse than we are. However, to do so hinders us as it doesn’t deal with the fact that we have fallen short of the glory of God.


Praise God, though, that Romans 3:23 is only half of the sentence. This is the sentence in full: “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ.” Romans 3:23-24. In Lent we begin to look towards Good Friday and Easter Sunday, preparing ourselves and reflecting on all that this season means. As we do so, perhaps we can learn a lesson from Elise Christie. We may fall short of the glory of God, but do not need to be defined by this. Through Jesus we are redeemed, we can get back up, get on track and live for God once again. As we do so perhaps we can encourage one another on the way, cheering each other on to go further than ever before. I really hope Elise Christie makes it to Beijing in 2022. I hope then her story might encourage people to think, I may have fallen, I may deserve to be disqualified, but thank God for Jesus because I can run the race once more.  


14/12/2017 09:29

Waiting for God

Imagine playing a simple word association game and saying the first thing that comes into your mind to go with the following words: bacon and ….; fish and …..; Morecombe and …; salt and …….


How many answered: bacon and eggs; fish and chips; Morecombe and Wise; salt and vinegar? Put another word in: ‘advent’. What would your first response be? Maybe it would be ‘Calendar’ or ‘candle’ or ‘wreath’? I wonder how many would say ‘preparation’ and ‘waiting’?


At the heart of advent is the idea of expectant waiting and preparation to celebrate the birth of Jesus and the Christian hope of the return of Jesus at the second coming. 


We might be comfortable with ‘preparation.’ Christmas preparations are in full swing in our household right now: present buying, card writing, tree decorating, advent calendar opening, school performances, Christmas fayres and so the list goes on! And as all this is happening, naturally the excitement is mounting, especially for the youngest members of the family. Shops help us to prepare for Christmas and encourage us to do so in plenty of time. This year Selfridges in London opened its Christmas display in early August, 137 days before Christmas Day. Whilst many were still enjoying holidays and thinking more about the beach than Christmas, the shops were happy to help us be prepared for Christmas. Yes, ‘preparation’ is something we can be comfortable with.


‘Waiting’, though, is a different matter. Most of us don’t like waiting and society works towards eliminating this as much as possible. We have fast food restaurants so that we can eat straight away; instant meals that can be put in a microwave and ready in just a few minutes; bank loans that encourage us to have what we want right now without the need to save and wait. Last Christmas Day people spent over £3 billion shopping online, rather than having to wait until Boxing Day for the sales. We are a ‘now’ people for whom waiting is an unwelcome intrusion.


And this can impact on our Christian faith. When we bring our prayers to God, we expect Him to respond ‘now’ in a tangible way; If we believe God is calling us to something, we want that to be ‘now’ and not in the future; if we don’t understand what God is doing we want it to be revealed ‘now’ rather than live with mystery. Yet as we read through Scripture, time and again we discover the reality that people have to ‘wait’: Abraham and Sarah had to wait for the birth of a child; Joseph had to wait to be rescued from unjust imprisonment; the Israelites called out to be rescued from slavery to the Egyptians and had to wait; then they wandered in the wilderness for forty years before inheriting the Promised Land; David had to wait after his anointing to be king and had to run from Saul who was trying to kill him; the Jewish people waited for hundreds of years for the Messiah to come. Yes, waiting truly is a common spiritual experience.


Waiting may not be popular and it may not be easy but it is a reality. Advent reminds us that as we wait we can have confidence that God is with us. In Matthew’s gospel we are told, The virgin will give birth to a son and they will call him Immanuel (which means God with us)” Ch1:23. And Advent reminds us that we can trust that what He promises will happen. Paul tells us: For not matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God.” 2 Corinthians 1:20.


So this Advent, perhaps we can join David, who wrote in Psalm 27:13-14, in saying: “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”

06/11/2017 13:35

10 Tips for Spiritual Discernment

“I’ll pray about it and get back to you!” Have you ever said this? I certainly have. There are times when people have asked me if I would consider a particular role, or someone has asked me to comment on a particular situation. Rather than rushing in with an answer it seems wise to take some time, pray and try to discern how God might be leading through the Holy Spirit. Of course, that is right and good. But as I do a question looms in my mind… How do I really know that I am discerning God’s will? Is there ever a danger that I am simply giving it a bit of time before I make a decision based on what I want or what I think is a good idea?


Richard Rohr said, “Most people do not see things as they are; rather they see things as they are.” And that means it is possible to think we have got things right when we haven’t really. Jeremiah warns, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). He also challenges the people of Judah, God’s chosen people, with the words: “Hear this, you foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear…” (Jeremiah 5:21). Jesus reserved many of his sharpest challenges to those who claimed to understand God when they clearly didn’t. One example of this is in the story of the healing of the man born blind in John 9. This is a chapter all about the ability to see or not see. By the end of the chapter the one who started blind can see both physically and spiritually. The religious leaders who could physically see remain spiritually blind. Some Pharisees understood that Jesus might be questioning their ability to see: “What? Are we blind too?” They asked. Jesus said, “if you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim to see, your guilt remains.” (John 9:41). Add all of this up and I wonder, how can I be better at truly discerning the will of God?


Of course, that is a big subject and well beyond the scope of an article like this, but let me give ten steps that some might find helpful in the process of spiritual discernment:


1)      Admit to God that we aren’t as good at seeing and understanding as we need to be. Discernment begins when we acknowledge that we lack the wisdom we need.


2)      Ensure we are giving proper time to God outside of seeking to understand His will on a particular issue. We need to be worshippers of God; we need to be bringing praise to Him and giving God Him proper attention. Praying and reading Scripture is vital. This helps us begin to hear the one true Voice and distinguish it from the other ‘voices’ that clamour for our attention.


3)      Examine ourselves – we need to take responsibility to honestly reflect on what is going on in our hearts. We ask ourselves questions about how our attitudes might be shaped by pride or selfishness or self-advancement? If we aren’t growing in self-awareness we are opening ourselves up to the deceitfulness of our hearts. Confession is important during this step.


4)      Recognise that spiritual discernment is more than decision making – it is a way of life. There isn’t a moment when we don’t need to be following the path of spiritual discernment. That means following steps 1-3 daily.


5)      As we come to make a particular decision we need to honestly pray before God that we will become indifferent to all ideas but His. We ask to be free of all that would hold us back from hearing from God. For example, we may naturally be risk takers or risk averse. We need to pray that whatever our natural tendency is, it won’t override the voice of God.


6)      Do as much research as possible. Seeking to discern God’s will is not an alternative to being informed from a human perspective. We simply bring what we find out before God and this helps us in our prayers.


7)      Pray for wisdom – well, that almost goes without saying, except that it is too important not to say!


8)      Listen to the feelings in our heart. Sometimes particular suggestions bring a life-giving excitement and enhance our desire to praise God. Sometimes they weigh heavily upon us and the very thought leaves us tired. If we are practicing the earlier steps regularly, we can learn to understand this as the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Ignatius described this inner dynamic of discerning the spirits as ‘consolation’ and ‘desolation’.


9)      Listen to others. We can share our decisions with others whom we respect for their faith and wisdom. We need to trust their opinions and not simply ask with the expectation that our decisions will be ‘rubber stamped’. This requires great openness and humility.


10)   Finally, having made a decision, before acting on it, bring it back to God. Tell God that you believe this is His will, but ask Him to make it very clear if you are wrong… and give Him enough time to do so!


This 10 step guide is not intended to be exhaustive. I offer them as one who genuinely wants to discern God’s will and would love to be better at it. Are these steps the only way or the best way? I don’t know for sure. Tell you what… I’ll pray about it and get back to you. 

28/02/2017 13:37

How did they mess up so badly?

How did they mess up so badly? It was supposed to be the most important moment of the night. The Academy Awards, or Oscars, that recognise excellence in cinematic achievements, turned into a bit of a fiasco at what was supposed to be the most significant moment. The flagship award for ‘Best Picture’ led to an unprecedented outbreak of confusion as Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway announced the wrong film as winner! Beatty looked confused as he opened the envelope because inside was written, “Emma Stone, La La Land”. Dunaway then announced the winner as “La La Land”. However, they had been given the envelope for a previous award. As acceptance speeches were underway, it came to light that the true winners were not ‘La La Land’ but ‘Moonlight’. How could those that were responsible for passing on the right envelope mess up so badly?


Of course, ‘messing up badly’ is nothing new. From the opening pages of the Bible at the beginning of time we see people making a mess of things. When God created the world He looked at all that he had made and saw that it was ‘very good’. As Adam is created and lives in the Garden of Eden he is given just one restriction, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Genesis 2:16-17) In the next chapter, we read how Adam and Eve messed up as they ate the forbidden fruit. Throughout the Old Testament, we read again and again of how people messed things up: Joseph’s brothers sold Joseph into slavery and pretended to their father he had been killed by wild animals; Moses led God’s chosen people out of slavery in Egypt, but they were a grumbling and rebellious people; David, a man described as being after God’s own heart, committed adultery and was guilty of arranging the death of Uriah. Peter denied knowing Christ; Saul was responsible for persecuting Christians. And so the list can go on and on.


‘Messing up’ was not confined to Biblical times either. As we look around us today, there is example upon example of people who get things very wrong. It can be easy to look at the mistakes others make and wonder how they could mess things up so badly. But actually, for most of us as we honestly reflect on our lives, we can see things that we are guilty as well. As we enter Lent, traditionally a time for Christians to repent, we anticipate the cross as Jesus obediently walks the path that will lead to his death. In his death, he takes on his shoulders the mess that we all make of living in the world that God created in perfection. He gives us the opportunity to receive forgiveness as grace and mercy is freely offered to us. During Lent, we can embark on a journey that might start with the question, “How can they, how can I, mess up so badly?” However, as we look to the cross as the destination of the journey, we can reflect in wonder on a different question “How can God make what is so messed up, so right?”



13/10/2016 20:53

It's good to talk!


It was back in the 1990s when BT launched a new advertising campaign with the slogan: “It’s good to talk”. At the time their market share was very high and they were without a significant competitor but they wanted to change attitudes. They looked at statistics that suggested a high proportion of men were responsible for paying the phone bill but that women were the heaviest users and most likely to pick up the phone for a chat. So BT employed Bob Hoskins, often associated with playing rough-edged characters with a heart of gold, to deliver the words in a gravelly cockney accent: “It’s good to talk”. The campaign was very successful in increasing revenues and presumably therefore changing attitudes (especially in men) about the value of talking to each other!


I was recently sent a link to a story where talking is being encouraged. Over recent days, badges have been handed out on the London Underground displaying the words, “Tube Chat?” They are designed to show other commuters that you are someone who is happy to start a conversation with them. Badges have been handed out with the guidance: “Have a chat with your fellow passengers. Wear this badge to let others know you are interested. You’ll benefit from a daily chat. Start using it today.”  The message is that ‘it’s good to talk’, but Jonathon Dunne, the man behind the badge, has found the reception has been far from great. In an interview with the BBC he said, “Twenty percent think it’s nice and about 80% of people think it’s terrible, the worst idea ever.” In fact, such was the reaction Jonathon wondered whether he would still have struggled to give them away if he was offering £5 with every badge!


I freely confess that I would not want to wear such a badge! When I travel I like to read or get on with some work. If I am walking on my short commute from home to church/meeting I would rather listen to something or simply be lost in my own thoughts. I have no desire to talk to others!


In many ways, I don’t think there is anything wrong with this and it is simply a sign of my natural introvert tendencies. However, there are times when I read the Scriptures and feel challenged. Again and again I see examples of people willing to be interrupted and talk before ministering to those whom they have just met: Jesus took the disciples away to a quiet place for some rest, but crowds followed and it led to the feeding of the 5000; As Jesus was passing through Jericho he saw a man who had climbed a tree. He stopped, engaged in conversation with him and it led to a life changing moment for Zacchaeus; Philip met an Ethiopian eunuch and engaged in a conversation with him that led to the request to be baptised. As Paul went on his missionary journeys he deliberately went to places where he could have a conversation with people to tell them about Jesus.

There have been times when I have felt prompted in prayer to simply walk around and seek the opportunity to share something of my faith or minister to someone as I journey. Unsurprisingly, when I do this I am often presented with that chance. I confess, though, too often my natural instinct not to talk is more prevalent. It is good to talk – I know it and I believe it. Sometimes, though, I need to remind myself to do it… perhaps I should make myself a badge! 

15/08/2016 10:22

Can we learn anything from the 'Pokémon Go' craze?

Have you “Gotta catch ‘em all”? Are you Bulbasaur, Charmeleon or Pikachu? Can you throw a PokeBall? Have you any idea what I am talking about? If you do, then maybe you are one of more than 100 million people worldwide who have downloaded the Pokémon Go app to their phone. Even if you haven’t, you may well have seen people walking around with their smart phone in front of their face. Pokémon Go is a mobile game that encourages people to find and catch pretend figures (called ) using real world locations. Different creatures hide in locations suited to their species. So, if you are looking for a water species like a ‘magicarp’ or ‘squirtle’ you are most likely to find them in locations where there is real water. You can find Pokémon in a variety of places like on grass, the pavement or in the air and when you come across a creature you throw a ‘PokeBall’ in an attempt to capture it. Users can catch over 700 different species of Pokémon as they gather at different real-life local landmarks where the Pokémon appear.


People point out both the positives and negatives in the game. On the plus side, people argue that it gets people out into the fresh air taking exercise as they walk around their locality. Against that, others have been quick to point out the dangers of people concentrating so much on their phones that they are oblivious to the environment as they cross roads without looking. One woman even had to be rescued from the sea as she got into trouble trying to find one of the creatures.


Whether for good or bad, there are people who devote hours to the game with what could even be described as a ‘religious zeal’ in order to make progress in the game. Reflecting on this makes we wonder if there is something we can learn from such enthusiasts. Let me suggest a couple of things.

1) In Isaiah 55:6 we read: “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.” The invitation earlier in the chapter is for those who have no resources of their own to come to drink and eat. This invitation is to not simply to supply physical needs but satisfy a person’s whole being. There is a choice – to seek and call on him while he is near or to keep your distance and not respond. Perhaps those of us who believe God reveals himself to us today can learn from the enthusiasm of those dedicating themselves to Pokémon Go. They are giving time, energy and passion in pursuit of their goal. They are actively seeking while Pokémon are near. What about us? Are we doing the same for the Lord? Are we actively seeking him with a great desire in our hearts to find him?

2) The slogan for the Pokémon Go game is “Gotta catch ‘em all”. It’s a great slogan and one that is far from out of place in the Christian context. The intensity of the invitation in the early verse of Isaiah 55 is complimented by the parable Jesus told of the Great Banquet. Those who were first invited to the banquet refused to come at the appropriate time. The king told his servants to go out onto the roads and the country lanes and to make them come in so that his house will be full. God has made all the preparations and he will find people to respond to his invitation. On calling the first disciples, Jesus says, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” This leads me to ask the question of myself, how passionate am I about inviting others to seek the Lord? Would I do well to have a slogan for my faith that says: “Gotta catch ‘em all”?


Of course, Pokémon Go may well be just a temporary craze. After all, Isaiah 55:2 asks the question: “Why spend money on what is not bread and your labour on what does not satisfy?” It cannot satisfy in the long term. There is only one who can do that: “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call on him while he is near.”  And that is a great invitation for us… and for others.  

28/06/2016 15:58

Living in light of the referendum.

This is a rough draft of the sermon I preached on Sunday following the result of the referendum in which the UK decided to leave the EU


On Thursday night, I went to bed about 11ish with the prediction of a close vote in the referendum but that it was expected that we would remain in the EU by about 52%-48%. Nigel Farage had made a statement that sounded like he was accepting defeat. I woke up about 4:30 on Friday morning and my phone buzzed. I get BBC breaking news to my phone which then vibrates when I receive it. I thought it might be confirmation of the referendum result so I had a quick look to see that the BBC was predicting that Britain had voted to leave the EU. I was rubbing my eyes because I was sleepy and I thought I must have misread it. I put the radio on to hear that actually it was true. I think many others were as surprised as me about the way the vote went (whichever way people voted!) 


I believe it has the potential to be a landmark moment in modern history, maybe in the same breath as the post-war years and the setting up of Europe, the break up of the Soviet Union and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. This is a moment of great change and today we are right at the beginning of this. We already know that there will be a change in Prime Minister after David Cameron’s resignation. We may have a change in the leader of the opposition as well. We don’t know what affect this will have on the make up of the United Kingdom. After voting in favour or remaining in Europe, there are calls from Scotland for a second referendum over their leaving the UK, so that they can remain a part of Europe. What will happen in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland? What will our future relationship with the rest of Europe be like? Will it be positive or not? We have seen the inevitable immediate fall of the pound and heavy stock market falls. But we don’t know how this will affect us in the medium to long term. There is much uncertainty at the moment and there is going to be a period of readjustment. Politically, economically and for society in general we are entering a new phase which is unknown. We are a divided country. Whilst there might be an outright winner in terms of the referendum first-past-the-post system, there is an almost 50-50 split in opinion and a lot of strong feelings.  Amongst those who wanted to remain I have heard plenty of expression of disappointment, sadness and concern… what does the future hold? Is everything going to be OK? How do we live in light of what has happened?


We are going to read Jeremiah 29:1-14. Before we read it let me give you a bit of context. In the year 605BC, Jerusalem was attacked by the King of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar. The King of Judah paid money and gave treasures to entice Babylon to withdraw. The payoff worked and Babylon withdrew, however, they took with them some people to live in exile. Then in 598BC, after the King of Judah stopped paying money to Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar returned, took more treasures and sent more people into exile. And the passage we are going to read is written between this time and the ultimate fall of Jerusalem twelve years later.


Let us imagine what it was like for people living in exile at this time. It was a time of adjustment. They were no longer in Jerusalem but in Babylon, with all the adjustment it requires to live in a different country and a different culture. Along with the adjustment goes the worry – what is life going to be like now. How do we live in light of all that has happened? And in his letter Jeremiah offers them advice which may be helpful for us today. For as Christians we have to think about how we will live in light of what has happened over the last few days.


Read Jeremiah 29:1-14

1) Seek to understand what God is saying

The letter opens with these words: “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.” V4 There is a fascinating background to the letter that has been written. Jeremiah received a message from the Lord that said he should make yoke bars and put them around his neck. These were the bars put around the oxen to keep them moving in a certain direction. And Jeremiah’s message from the Lord was ‘we are now serving Babylon, put your neck under his yoke and move in his way.' Think about it for a moment... this could be interpreted as a defeatist attitude; someone who is being particularly pessimistic. He certainly isn’t giving out a message of hope. As we move into Chapter 28, we read of another prophet, Hananiah, who is giving a different message from the Lord: “I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I will bring back to this place all the articles of the Lord’s house that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon removed from here and took to Babylon.” Ch28:2. And naturally enough, this is a much more popular message. Don’t listen to the gloom of Jeremiah be encouraged, everything will soon be OK. Imagine how difficult it was for the people of the day to know who to believe. 


One of the things that I found hard in the campaigning over the last month or two has been the difficulty of knowing who to believe. As so often in electioneering it seems that sometimes the thing that is said is about soundbites and interpreting the truth in a particular way to get to the soundbite that you think is popular. In some ways saying the popular thing is more important than accuracy. And giving cause for fear of a different route is equally admissible if it helps your cause. My personal opinion is that both ‘Remain’ and ‘Leave’ campaigns have been guilty of this.


I love Jeremiah’s response to the popular soundbite. He says: “Amen! May the Lord do so! May the Lord fulfil the words you have prophesied by bringing the articles of the Lord’s house and all the exiles back to this place from Babylon.” Ch28:6.

Jeremiah is saying that he hopes he is wrong but actually what the Lord actually says is more important than saying what is popular. Jeremiah opens his letter by saying: “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.” V4


Jeremiah recognises that the words of Hananiah are popular but what the Lord is saying at this time is more important. I think the church at this time needs to be urgent in seeking what the Lord is saying. We are hearing so much analysis in the media, we are hearing politicians say many things, we need to say, “Lord, what are you saying?” We need the events of the last days to renew our enthusiasm as Christians to come together, to unite and seek to try to hear what God is saying. Let us pray for the prophetic voice that will come through with what we need to hear. The words of Jeremiah were a blessing for the people. They may not have realised it at the time, but they needed to hear what God was saying to their nation. We need to hear what God is saying to our nation today.


2) Get on with life!

This is what Jeremiah says next: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” V5-7.


How do we live in the light of our exile into Babylon? The answer the Lord gives through Jeremiah is “Get on with living life!” Do the normal things of life like planting gardens and eating their produce, getting married and having families. This may not be the situation you would choose, but get on with living. We may welcome the vote that took place last week or be upset by it, either way we need to get on with living with how things are and not how we would like them to be. But we do so responsibly: seek the peace and prosperity of the city. Some of you may have read the joint statement between Justin Welby and John Sentamu. This is some of what it says:


On Thursday, millions of people from across the United Kingdom voted in the referendum, and a majority expressed a desire that Britain’s future is to be outside the European Union… As citizens of the United Kingdom, whatever our views during the referendum campaign, we must now unite in a common task to build a generous and forward looking country, contributing to human flourishing around the world. We must remain hospitable and compassionate, builders of bridges and not barriers. Many of those living among us and alongside us as neighbours, friends and work colleagues come from overseas and some will feel a deep sense of insecurity. We must respond by offering reassurance, by cherishing our wonderfully diverse society, and by affirming the unique contribution of each and every one.


Yes, we are to get on with living life but we do so with responsibility as well. As Christians we need to help shape the nation we are to become. We have a responsibility to speak up for peace, which is more than an absence of war but a peace that flows through every area of life for all people. We aren’t to simply go along with whatever is being said at the time; not to bury our heads in the sand; but rather to respond to this moment and seek to ensure that the country we evolve into is one that is generous and forward looking that leads to flourishing around the world as far as we are able to contribute to it.


We need to hear the word of Jeremiah: “Pray to the Lord for it”. Right now we need to pray for this country more than I think I would ever have said so before in my life time. This is such a significant moment of shaping and adapting to a new situation. We need to be on our knees together to pray.


3) Hope in heaven

This passage of Scripture contains one of the most popular verses that we share today: “For I know the plans I have for you”, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11


I believe this verse is too often quoted out of context. We use it at times of uncertainty or when there is a new phase of life simply to say, “Everything is going to be all right”. And we do so in saying that everything is going to be all right in the immediate period of time. You have your exam results, you have a new job, you are setting out on a new course: “For I know the plans I have for you…” Everything is going to be all right. In fact, we often use this verse in the way that Hananiah did – everything will be fine within 2 years! God has good plans for you. But when things don’t work out, what then?


Jeremiah reveals the promise of well-being and prosperity was to be after a period of seventy years: ‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfil my good promise to bring you back to this place.” Ch 29:10 In Psalm 90 we are told the length of our days is ‘three score years and ten or eighty years if we have the strength’. In effect Jeremiah is telling the people that this promise of restoration will be fulfilled once they die. It is only after they have died that they will be brought back to the Promised Land from exile. Listen to what the Lord says in v14: “I will be found by you”, declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”


This verse reminds us of the promise that we have beyond this lifetime. As we face the circumstances of this world we do so with the hope of what lies beyond death. Will death harm us? Is death the end? No, the Lord has different plans that will prosper us. As Adam and Eve were exiled from the garden and the presence of God, so the Bible tells us that God is working to draw us back to himself. This verse is not about promising that everything is going to be OK for the individual in the near future. This verse is for the community of believers whose belief is in the almighty and loving God who will make all things right in the end because he has a perfect plan for drawing us away from exile and back to him. That is a great reason for hope. We don’t know exactly what is going to happen in the coming days, weeks and months. I suspect there are times when it is going to be a bumpy ride but we know that we our future is secure.


Ultimately, we don’t find our identity in whether we are British or European. Christians find their identity in Jesus. In Philippians chapter 3 Paul speaks about those whose minds are set on earthly things (v19) and goes on to say “but our citizenship is in heaven…”  (v20). In other words if we follow Christ, then we are first citizens of the Kingdom of God, under his reign and rule, under his authority and governing power. The church is an outpost of heaven here on earth. Ultimately we don’t live for an EU ‘kingdom’ or a United Kingdom. Our priority is to Gods Kingdom and seeing that come here on earth. We do this with the hope that God has good plans for us. Sometimes we see them in this world. One day we will see them for eternity.



So, Brexit is happening. How do you feel about it? You may be happy and excited for the future, worried and upset. Whichever, though, we have a task: to try to hear what God is saying; to work to build a country that we can be proud of; to hope in a God whose Kingdom will never fall and which will outlast the years.


27/06/2016 16:39

Bible Study for small groups


I was asked a question on Sunday: “Could you write a Bible Study to help us think through the events of the last few days?” My initial thought was, “How on earth do I do that?” There is no specific Scripture that we can turn to in order to gain a Biblical perspective on what it means to leave the EU. There are Christians on the side of ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’ who are equally passionate that their views are in line with what God would want. The nation is divided, political parties are divided and the reality is Christians are too. Within the church and even within a Bible Study group, there may well be people who hold very different opinions… and hold them strongly. This makes it a very difficult subject to study in a group. However, we are at a significant time in the life of our nation, and the Church (Nationwide) needs to be handling this in a mature way that provides an example for the rest of society. That can only happen as we discuss the issue, agree to disagree on some things but unite around important principles that we share. I hope this might help in some way.







We are going to read a passage from the book of Jeremiah. This is the situation: Jerusalem was invaded in 605BC by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. The King of Judah paid money and gave treasures in order that Nebuchadnezzar might withdraw. He did so but took some from Jerusalem and relocated them to Babylon. A few years later the King of Judah stopped paying money to Babylon. In 598BC, the army of the King of Babylon returned. The result was the same and more people were exiled to Babylon. They were living in uncertain times due to the political situation they faced.


1) What do you think it felt like for the people who were exiled to Babylon? What would be the main issues they faced?

For the leader: Gain initial responses and draw if not covered, follow up with

How might they have felt about Jerusalem? (disappointed, wondering where God was, angry)

How should they live in Babylon? (should they rebel, believe everything is going to be all right soon or get on with life?)



Read Jeremiah 29:4-14


For many, one of the problems of the referendum campaign was “how do we know who to believe?” For the exiles there were two voices: Jeremiah, who was saying ‘Babylon is in charge now, submit to them’ and Hananiah who was saying, ‘everything is going to be all right within the next 2 years’.


2) Who are the main voices people have been listening to in deciding who to vote for in the referendum? Whose voices do you think we are most likely to be listening to in the coming months?


3) Read v4-6 again. Jeremiah was clear that what he was writing was from the Lord. What can we do as Christians to ensure that we aren’t shaped in what we think by politicians and the media but by what God is saying?


In v4-6, Jeremiah is basically telling the people to ‘get on with living life’. However, in doing normal, everyday things, they also have a responsibility


4) Read v7. What are the two values that are to underpin how the exiles live?


5) How important do you think the following issues were for people in voting whether to ‘Remain’ or ‘Leave’?

a) Sovereignty and ability to make our own laws; b) Immigration; c) Security and peace; d) Trade and the economy

e) The cost of EU membership; f) Travel and living abroad; g) Other (share with the group)


6) What values do you think God might want us to have as a nation going forward? What do the following Bible verses contribute (if anything!) to our understanding of this? (Invite different people in the group to look up the following verses)


Genesis 17:3-8; Deuteronomy 4:5-8; Isaiah 58:6-8; Luke 4:16-21; Romans 13:1-5; Ephesians 2:11-21


In v7 Jeremiah tells the people to see the peace of the city. There is a lot of strong feeling about the issues and result of the referendum. Read Matthew 5:9


7) We aren’t all going to agree on these matters. What does it look like to disagree well?

8) How might Christians be ‘peacemakers’ in the coming months?



The most well-known verse of this scripture is Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you”, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”. People often take this to mean everything is going to be OK in the short-term. However, Jeremiah actually says that this will occur in 70 years. He is telling them that the promise of this verse is not something they will experience in their life-time. This verse is a special verse that reminds us that our identity is not ultimately found in the nation we are born into. It isn’t found in whether we are a part of the EU or not. Our identity is found in Jesus and who we are in Him.


9) It might be straightforward to say this, but what are the challenges to living by this at this time?

10) What do you think are the main issues we should be praying about for the UK in the coming weeks?


28/05/2016 15:43

Reflecting on the 'Celebrity Death Epidemic'

Terry Wogan - just one of the celebrities to die this year


The first few months of 2016 have seen an unusual number of people die who were household names: David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Terry Wogan, Paul Daniels, Ronnie Corbett, Victoria Wood and Prince, to name but a few. Back in February, Newsweek was already calling this the year of “The Great Celebrity Death Epidemic”. As the weeks have gone on the death rate of some of our best-known and best-loved actors, comedians and musicians has been widely noted. In this social media age, there has been no shortage of those expressing sadness and grief at the passing of someone they may never have met personally, but nevertheless, feel they know. Some have started to ask the question, “Is 2016 cursed?” Others have protested against the year, writing “Enough 2016”. 


Statisticians have been asking whether the number of celebrity deaths is the ‘new normal’ or is it just a ‘statistical blip’. A number seem to be siding with the former view. They point to the pop music boom and the rise of television stars from the 1960s onwards to suggest there is an increased pool of household names. They are now reaching their 70s and 80s so we shouldn’t be surprised that there are more deaths that hit the news. With more and more people being classed as ‘celebrities’ it seems likely that there will be a continuation of the number of deaths considered significant enough to hit the headlines. And that means it is likely that we will continue to see tributes poor out within minutes of the announcement of someone’s death as we can express grief more widely and publically than ever before.


There is much that we could reflect around this. Let me suggest just three things…


1) Tributes, whether communicated by social media, or a card to the family, or through a phone call, can be a very important part of marking someone’s death. For some, the sharing is a bonding experience; for the family of the dead person, it can be a consolation to know that the person was appreciated and valued by others. The tributes say that the person’s life mattered. In one sense it is a shame that the person who has died never gets to hear the impact they made on someone’s life. In fact, there are some who have sought to remedy this. I was reading an article in ‘The Times’ about this (entitled, “Eulogies are too good to waste on the dead”) and they reported that a company called ‘Tribute’ has been set up in America to ensure that no one need miss their own eulogy: “Instead of sending cards or emails on a birthday, customers can now send friends and loved ones videos of emotional speeches that would normally be reserved for a funeral.[1] The writer goes on to reflect on some of the drawbacks of this, like, if someone says something nice about you, you may feel that you have to be equally effusive back. However, the article reaches the conclusion that it is the little things that build up over time that are most important than a grand gesture - a text, a card, a quick email, a word of appreciation – these things can make a difference. Sometimes in the busyness of life, these are the things that we don’t make time for. Tributes are right and proper when someone dies but why not communicate this to them whilst they are living?


2) Day by day we write the legacy for which we will be remembered. Alfred Nobel invented (amongst other things) dynamite. When his brother died, a newspaper wrote an obituary about Alfred, mistakenly thinking that it was he who had passed away rather than his brother. The newspaper said, “The merchant of death is dead” and portrayed him as the man who had made it possible to kill more people more quickly than anyone else ever before. Nobel was taken aback by the way in which the world was going to remember him after his death, so he took action. He used his fortune to establish the Nobel Prize and today many more are familiar with the Nobel Prize than how he made his money. Clearly the things that we do day by day effect the way we will be remembered. It is an interesting question to ask of ourselves, “How do I want to be remembered?” And such reflection may affect the way that we live.


3) As celebrities die and the news breaks, it is a sobering reminder for all of us that we are mortal beings. It can be too easy for the reality of death to be pushed to the back of our minds – it becomes something we know happens but don’t think about, especially in relation to ourselves. However, when someone dies we can use this moment to think about what happens when we die. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13, Paul writes: “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.” Paul tells us the gospel message that there is hope in death. He doesn’t play down its significance by telling us not to grieve. Death is serious; when Paul writes to the church at Corinth, he describes death as an ‘enemy’. Instead he encourages us to grieve in a different way… to grieve with hope. This is because the enemy ‘death’ has been defeated by Jesus who died and rose again. Jesus is the first fruit of this victory, a victory that one day we will share in; for now it is our steadfast and certain hope.



Death will go on being a part of life. Sometimes we will be affected by it in a minor way through the death of a celebrity; sometimes more seriously as a loved one dies; One day, it will be our turn.  As we recognise this, though, we can live differently and positively because we have hope in Jesus.

[1] ‘Eulogies are too good to waste on the dead’ by Jenni Russell, published 21/4/16




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