Easter – A New Day Dawning!


There is no doubt that this past year has been a very difficult time for us all, and for those who have sadly lost loved ones it will be a year which they will never forget. Although no one would pretend that the government has got everything right when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s roll out of the vaccination program with nearly 25 million people receiving their 1st dose of the vaccine as I write this letter, has been well received and applauded. This wonderful progress gives us all a sense of hope, that there is indeed ‘light at the end of tunnel’ and that hopefully one day soon our lives will be more like normal. Which is why the suspension of the AstraZeneca vaccine in at least 13 countries across Europe seems strange. Fears that the vaccine may cause blood clots has prompted the EU to follow ‘the cautious principle’ and restricts its distribution until they are confident that it is safe to do so, despite the fact that both the World Health Organisation and indeed Europe’s own European Medicines Agency has consistently said that there is no evidence that the AstraZenica vaccine is unsafe, and with only 40 suspected cases of blood clotting being reported out of a distribution pool of 17 million, the rate is less than that you might expect to find in the population generally. With many scientists feeling baffled as this development, the general conclusion is that this move is more politically motivated than data driven.

But of course, any delay in vaccine distribution has the potential to sadly cause more suffering and death.  

However, this sense of jumping to a conclusion without due consideration of the evidence is precisely how many people behave when it comes to thinking about Easter. They like the trappings of being with family and friends (in normal times) as we move into Spring and the Easter holidays, complete with chocolate treats and Easter eggs, but they don’t give any more serious thought to the significance of Easter than they do the ‘Easter bunny’!  But this is a shame, because, if they were to really consider the Easter story, and contemplate the significance of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, They would discover that not only is there a compelling case for Jesus to be the Son of God and the Saviour of the World, where the ‘facts’ speak for themselves, but the debate is much more significant, lively and robust that they would imagine. In fact, it’s life changing and life-giving! For you see, at the heart of the Christian gospel is the ‘Easter story’ which brings light into the darkness, life over death, and hope where there is despair. For many it would seem ludicrous to pass over the hope of a life-giving vaccine simply because one had been failed to give due weight to the evidence or come to it with some form of unfounded prejudice. It’s my hope that you won’t treat the Gospel story with the same distain, but allow a new day to dawn in your heart as you consider the evidence, ask all the right questions and come to it fresh and with an open mind.   

May I take this opportunity to wish you all a Happy Easter.


Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. John 20.8

Patience Is A Virtue – Even In ‘Lockdown’

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Every Thursday evening my family and I, like many others, have stood outside our house clapping our hands, applauding the sterling work of the NHS whose doctors and nurses have been battling on the ‘front line’, looking after and caring for sick coronavirus patients. But over the weeks our appreciation has grown as we have become more aware (and thoughtful) of all those who are playing such a massive part at this difficult time, not just the doctors and nurses but all employees of the NHS; alongside care workers in care homes (the new and perhaps previously forgotten front line?); ‘key workers’ in so many various and different fields (supermarkets, schools, and utilities) and not forgetting the increasingly significant part played by funeral directors, whose own personal ‘risk’ is not inconsequential.

The panic buying of the first few weeks has been largely forgotten by the many acts of kindness that we have seen by members of the public as they look after and support one another, especially the vulnerable, at this difficult time. We have seen real acts of courage, bravery and sacrifice undertaken by those whose professionalism and dedication to public duty and care has put themselves at risk in the service of others. We remember especially all those doctors, nurses and care workers who have died, largely and inexplicably from the BAME community. All this has been coupled with massive acts of generosity as people have rallied to support one another and the NHS behind such inspirational figure heads as Captain Tom Moore.

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But of all the virtues we have witnessed there is one that seems to be in increasingly short supply (particularly in the media) and that is – patience! Despite being told from the outset that this crisis would be more like a marathon than a sprint, we were barely ‘locked down’ for a fortnight before the media started to ask as to when the lockdown might be lifted. This question gained momentum from business and opposition parties as the cost to business and the economy started to bite. In one sense these are natural questions to ask and no one underestimates the very real pain and uncertainty that people are feeling and experiencing. The costs and pain to peoples’ lives and livelihoods at this time is immense, and yet I would suggest that it is nothing compared to the pain of losing a loved one. For many life will go on, even if it is different, but once you have lost someone you can never get that life back! That’s why it is crucial that we all pay attention to the rate of infection (the ‘R’ number) and follow the government guidelines. Until we have ‘flattened the curve’ and this number becomes ‘1’ or ‘less than 1’ it would be irresponsible to lift the restrictions. The cost to the economy and people’s lives would be much, much worse if we allowed this rate to increase again – which it could easily and very rapidly do. At the time of writing 26,771 people have died of the coronavirus in the UK alone, a rise of 674 from the previous day. These are unprecedented numbers which is why we must hold on to our nerve and our courage! We must bravely hold on to our resolve and our dedication. We must continue to have faith, courage and patience! As tempting as it may be to return to work, to enjoy the sunshine and pick up our normal lives once again, we can’t until it is safe to do so. Neither can we allow the sacrifice of others to be wasted, nor destroy our hope for a better future.

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The Christian will be aware that Jesus also undertook a very long, arduous and painful journey towards the cross. The shadow of his looming death must have been a constant and fearful presence, and yet he bravely continued on, knowing that it would be the only way by which others might be saved. So, at this time of national crisis, let’s continue to embrace the path which is set out before us, doing so with the same love, resolve, determination and kind generosity of spirit – and let us be patient!  


4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud…. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

            1 Corinthians 13.4,6-7


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Faith, Hope And The Flames Of Notre-Dame

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It was with a great deal of sadness that millions watched the iconic Gothic Cathedral of Notre-Dame go up in flames on Monday 15th April 2019 via their televisions, computers and smartphones. It seemed incredible to think that this wonderful cathedral that had taken over 200 years to build was essentially destroyed in a mere 30 minutes. It felt like something out of a movie or a bad dream. Many French citizens were in tears and disbelief as they witnessed this terrible event unfold but huge credit should be paid to the firefighters and others who were trying against the odds to save as many of the priceless art and religious antiquities as they could whilst others were trying to save and preserve the actual building. Yes, France may pride itself on it’s secular education but this tends to hide the fact that over 2/3rds of the population still identify themselves as Christian predominantly Roman Catholic – but equally it has to be said that to the French, the Cathedral of Notre-Dame represents so much more than being simply a place of religious devotion. It represents their nation, their heritage, their architecture, their culture and their wonderful way of life – and so it comes as no surprise that almost immediately President Macron committed himself and the whole of France to rebuilding and restoring the Cathedral.

“So I say this very solemnly to you tonight, we will rebuild this cathedral all together – and it is undoubtedly part of the French destiny …. we will rebuild Notre-Dame.”

Thankfully, in the cold light of day it appeared that despite great damage, the structure was basically sound and donations large and small were coming in from across France and indeed the world for its repair.

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But what is it that drives the human spirit to want to commit itself to such projects? For even in our own country, we have historically seen the rebuilding of Coventry and York Cathedrals damaged by fire, as well as Windsor Castle. It seems for all sorts of reasons we have an innate, inbuilt desire to rebuild, capture and preserve these majestic and ‘glorious’ buildings because they represent the triumph of victory over adversity and they speak to our heart and soul – and so we naturally wish the French every success in their efforts to overcome the disaster that has befallen them. There is of course a parallel to be found in the Christian faith, for just as President Macron said, ‘we will rebuild this cathedral all together, the Christian will be aware that this is precisely the task given to every believer – to help collectively and together to build a Kingdom, a temple, a church, not with actual bricks and stones (because these are transitory and prone to damage and decay) but with ourselves as human ‘living stones’ (1 Peter 2.5), joyfully working together in hope and celebrating the victory that Christ has won over sin by his death upon the cross. For the Christian appreciates that it is what is built in Christ’s name for the common good which is the most successful, eternally praiseworthy and enduring.


In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.
Ephesians 2.21


 

The Nations Morals Are Like Its Teeth …

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THE NATIONS MORALS ARE LIKE ITS TEETH, THE MORE DECAYED THEY ARE THE MORE IT HURTS TO TOUCH THEM” – George Bernard Shaw

At the start of the year many of us made New Year’s resolutions and will do our best to keep them as the year progresses (lose weight; give up smoking; pass a driving test or embark on a new career etc, etc). Sometimes our thoughts are more reflective as we consider our place in the world and the lives of those around us, often culminating is a silent prayer for the world to be more peaceful, kinder and charitable than it was the year before. Sadly it doesn’t seem long before the very next calamity or personal tragedy pops up on our television screens or appears in our newspapers to dampen our New Year optimism. ‘What has the world come to?’ we say; ‘Doesn’t the world have any standards?’; ‘Things weren’t like this when we were young!’

What we are doing is lamenting the passing of standards or a moral code by which people commonly live; a moral backdrop, climate or culture which protects us from the negative excesses of society. And yet to speak about morals makes us feel uneasy. We don’t like it! We don’t like people interfering with the way that we live our lives or questioning our standards, or the way we behave – we just simply don’t like being preached at!

The problem is made all the worse because we don’t know or perhaps can’t agree on what standards are acceptable. This is because we have made relativity a virtue in its own right! There is no such thing as absolute right or wrong, just what is right or wrong for me. We are all like Humpty Dumpty in Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass” who said “When I use a word …. it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less”. The problem with each person choosing their own set of values as if ‘no one else matters’ is, that ultimately they don’t – each person does their own thing and can’t be held responsible for going their ‘own way’ even if the effect is to hurt or grieve another.

You don’t have to be necessarily rigid or religious to appreciate the need for a common set of values, and yet as a Christian minister I can’t think of any better guide to live by than those found in Scripture, based upon the message of a loving creator who nurtured the understanding that each person ‘made in his image’ was therefore special. So special that through the life, death and ministry of Jesus, God demonstrated his love for the world and encouraged his followers to do the same. Perhaps the answer to the world’s moral malaise (at least in our own small corner) lies not just in what we do but in what we believe. It always, always starts with us.


“ Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’ and ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Mark 12.30-31

Are You A ‘Fully Educated, Free Thinker Who Doesn’t Believe In Fairy Stories’?

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Many of you will be aware that Twitter is a wonderful way of sharing news and views across social media, listening to and engaging with debate – but it can also be a means by which people can easily fire off salvoes designed to ridicule, shut down and squash others with whom they disagree. One such example came in a discussion about religion and atheism generated by the popular and well know atheist Richard Dawkins. As the discussion unfolded, one atheistic contributor simply tried to lambast his religious ‘opponent’ with the phrase ‘I’m highly educated thanks. Far too free thinking to believe in your fairy stories’. The problem is of course that the implications behind this statement are simply wrong on so many levels, and yet tap into so many common misconceptions about people of faith (particularly Christians) by those who aren’t remotely religious.

Firstly, it implies that religious people can’t possibly be ‘bright young things’ with an education. They must be stupid to hold a religious perspective in the light of modern day science and ethics. How can you believe in a creator God who made the word in 7 days in the light of Darwin, ‘the big bang’ and evolution? Or in a loving God in the light of so much evil and innocent suffering? At first glance these questions may appear to be problematic, but in reality, they aren’t so difficult when one appreciates the difference between science and theology. Very simply put, one tends to look at ‘how’ the world is as it is, the other looks at ‘why’. This is why the dilemma between faith and science is often a false one, as evidenced by the large number of Christians with science degrees!

Secondly, the statement suggest that religious people are often brain-washed or blinkered in their thinking because of their religious faith and perspective. Of course this can happen in some extreme circumstances, but equally Christians believe that intellect is a gift of God. God has given us freedom of thought and mind and therefore he expects us to use it. Train and ‘prepare your minds for action’ says the Apostle Peter in his first epistle (1 Peter 1.13) and there is much encouragement in the scriptures about being wise and discerning. Ironically, a lot of so called ‘free-thinkers’ – simply don’t! They merely go with the flow and follow the fads and fashions of society without ever really thinking through the implications of their non-religious world view. They simply accept it as being bright, right, sophisticated and clever – but what if it isn’t?

Finally, the statement sarcastically implies that believing in God is rather like believing in fairy stories with the assumption being that it’s all made up, ‘pie-in-the-sky’, myth and legend. Surprisingly, the vast majority of Christians don’t believe in fairy stories either, so how can they be so sure that their belief in God isn’t unreasonable? Well, that’s because Christianity invites the individual to study the evidence – once one understands that the Bible is written in a wide range of literary genres (narrative, history, poetry etc) springing from a wide range of historical contexts backed up with historical data and eye-witness testimonies, then the evidence starts to speak for itself. Famous authors such as C.S Lewis (Mere Christianity) and Frank Morrison (Who Moved the Stone?) started out as committed atheists but found that upon close inspection the evidence for Christianity was overwhelming. From a Muslim perspective Nabeel Qureshi’s Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus is another good example.

So I suppose the question is, are you as a fully educated, free thinking person willing to study the evidence?

Consider this! If someone could provide reasonable answers to your most significant questions and objections you have —reasonable to the point that Christianity seems true beyond a reasonable doubt—would you then become a Christian? If your honest answer is no, then your resistance to Christianity is emotional or volitional, not merely intellectual. No amount of evidence will convince you because evidence is not what’s in your way — you are!


The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. Psalm 111.10


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