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I'm 70 years old today! The BIG 70; though not everyone looks forward to achieving that particular milestone. Not that I feel old you understand, absolutely not, seventy is the new fifty. By that reckoning ninety is the new seventy, so in theory when I'm ninety that'll be time enough to start getting worried. Three score years and ten. The span of a life. In the days that this saying was coined that span was considered to be seventy years. Threescore goes back to at least 1388, as in this phrase from John Wycliff's Bible, from Leviticus, about that date: "Thre scoor and sixe daies". I celebrated my coming of age by ordering a shiny new car - the first new one ever (apart from all those Company Cars that don't count). Maybe I'll do a road trip. Route 66 or the M25. Maybe tick a few off from my non-existant "bucket list". Moses the writer of Psalm 90 contemplates this particular milestone like this:"Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures;yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away" (90v10). I suspect he wrote it in later years when he was much older for he died when he was 120 years old (see Deut.34). But Moses leaves us with this bit of wisdom:"Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom". (Ps.90v12). Whatever that means exactly we may not know but I would suggest the received wisdom is not to leave a review of our life's achievements and failures until the end, until it is too late to put things right and get back on course whilst we are still able to finish the race (and here's the wisdom) to instead keep short accounts and our life under constant review and re-adjustment - what the Bible calls repentance. 2 September 2016 StanH
This Sunday we had several baptisms in Church. Like my 70th Birthday which was one of my rites of passage it was their rite of passage; which is a ceremony or event marking an important stage in someone's life, especially birth, the transition from childhood to adulthood, marriage, and death - baptism being such an event for christians. Family and friends joined them in church (you could say these were their witnesses), many of whom would have been familiar, if only in a limited way, with baptism or christening, but almost certainly not familiar with the deeper christian basis and pre-christian origins of it. Jesus, himself, was a jew baptised by John the Baptist in the river Jordan before Christianity began and therefore we must conclude the practice was already in general use in Jewish society. You will note that no-one questioned John about this strange practice of baptism because of course it was not strange to the jews who were familiar with it because, toward the beginning of the Christian era, the Jews had adopted the custom of baptizing proselytes seven days after their circumcision. A series of specific interrogations (the equivalent of a baptism candidate's testimony at baptism), made it possible to judge the real intentions of the candidate who wished to adopt the Jewish religion. After submitting to these interrogations, he was circumcised and later baptized before witnesses. You will be pleased to know that circumcision is no longer a condition of becoming a Christian thanks to the Apostle Peter. When John the Baptist came on the scene his teaching included the necessity of baptism but applied in a completely new way. John's baptism was not based on Jewish law and traditions. Jesus tells us that the baptism that John taught was from heaven, not from men (Matt 21:25). When John preached a baptism for the remission of sins, the people heard and obeyed. They submitted to the baptism that had been authorized by God. It was the first time in human history in which a person had the opportunity to be baptized for the remission of his sins. Following the death and resurrection of Jesus rather than submitting to the baptism of John, which was a baptism of repentance, we can now be baptized into the powerful name of the Lord Jesus in that his sacrifice at Calvery achieved the cleansing and forgiveness of our sins by the washing with His blood and so in entering into christian baptism we are publically signifying to witnesses that we are entrusting ourselves to the powerful name of Jesus in whom we now believe. It's important to enter into the rite of baptism. I love that verse in Acts 22 where Annanias tells Saul; "....what are you waiting for [Saul]? Get up, be baptised and wash your sins away, calling on his [Jesus'] name. 4 September 2016 StanH
An Iranian friend of mine, an asylum seeker, really encouraged me today. Who would have thought that someone who, not that long ago was worshipping in a mosque, can now give the Jeovahs Witnesses a run for their money. You may have discovered that it can be quite difficult to turn them away from your door when they turn up prosletysing - but he did and he did it quite politely. My friend absolutely loves being a member of St.James Church - he is so content in his faith in this church and, having absolutely no reason to move to another church, was able to politely and truthfully say something like this: "Why are you trying to teach me something new. I'm very happy at my present Church and have no reason or desire to leave so there is no point in continuing this conversation. Goodbye and have a nice day!". 6 September 2016 StanH
Jesus Christ, Christ Jesus - do you use these namings interchangeably without understanding that there is a significant difference between the two? I am told that the name Jesus Christ is used 191 times in the NT and Christ Jesus 57 times. I already knew and used to say that Jesus was 100% man and 100% God but I am now to understand that Jesus Christ is 100% man whilst Christ Jesus is 100% God - thats a big difference in understanding to what I thought I knew. The one emphasises the MAN part, the other emphasises the GOD part - Son of Man, Son of God. When the blind man in Luke 18v35 called out to Jesus as "Son of David" he was, I assume, speaking to the Son of Man because he named him Jesus not Christ. Of course the Blind Man may have known no different to many of us. So if we look at scripture again in light of this new revelation we will connect to other NT scripture and notice that we (the Church) are not the body of Jesus but the body of Christ (eg Ephesians 4v1-16); the body of GOD here on earth. Jesus is my brother but Christ is my God. 10 September 2016 StanH
'We drove north to where Alex had died. It was a picturesque spot, even though it was only a mile from the motorway, its rolling grassland punctuated by narrow roads and golden oak trees. Cary parked up and then led me away from the car, across a field sloping away from the lane we were on. Below, a sliver of police tape still fluttered in a tree nearby...'. If you were wondering which book of the Bible thats from, well its not. I love reading paper back novels and this is just a short extract from one of them. The descriptive detail has little to do with core story but it gives it a "value-added" quality; context and elements of drama, not unlike the piano player who used to accompany silent movies and could conjour up a sense of drama, tension, fear, comedy, the excitement of a car chase, melancholy, romance, etc. just by the skillful use of a major or minor key or a discordant chord. Neither Matthew, Mark, Luke nor John provide the same sort of descriptive context to their gospel stories. Take for instance the Woman at the Well in John Chapter 4 or the Blind Man in Matthew 18. Matthew tells us that Jesus approached Jericho but completely fails to describe the hills, the weather, the olive trees, the houses and the wildlife. John is no better in Chapter 4. We are told that Jesus had to go through Samaria. Surely this would have been a perfect opportunity to describe the landscape, its people, the village square surrounding the well, some of the nearby shops and bazars - but no. Maybe it is the style of modern literature to add colourful description or just maybe the gospel writers understood that the gospel record was not meant to entertain or thrill but to share soul saving news that would change lives - that would save lives that might otherwise perish, lives that otherwise would be surely lost. John saw and clearly understood the urgency of the gospel and its his words we always seem to bring to mind: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life". 11 September 2016 StanH
Have you got a nick-name? Were you given a nick-name at school? I was - not that I appreciated being called Judo Jack Hatton! It certainly wasn't in recognition of my prowess in martial arts. I was a lanky, gawky sort of kid at school who wore NHS wire-framed specs with circular lenses; at the time, apparently because I looked like the cartoon character Judo Jack, who came to the aid of Pixie and Dixie - I can see you're beginning to glaze over !!!. Simon, perhaps the best known apostle and disciple of Jesus was given the name Peter (meaning petros - the rock) by Jesus and that name stuck. Thankfully mine didn't! James and John on the other hand were nick-named the Sons Of Thunder. It's not clear why - I'd like to think that Jesus had a wry sense of humour. However, Jesus has a purpose for everything He does, so He must have had a good reason for dubbing James and John as “Sons of Thunder.” “Jesus . . . knew all men. He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man” (John 2:24-25). In other words, Jesus knew the brothers’ nature when He first met them, and He chose “Boanerges” or Sons of Thunder as a fitting nickname. What would you like to be called if you could choose ? There was a man in the Acts, Joseph from Cyprus, who was a companion of St. Paul the Apostle. We know him better as Barnabas. I have heard it said that he got this name because he was an encourager. Thats a good epitaph for any man or woman. I'll say more about this next time because the Church always needs encouragers. 13 September 2016 StanH
We are told that Barnabus was an encourager. He was many other things but he is especially remembered for this particular quality. The NT doesn't go into lots of specifics but you don't get that sort of reputation for nothing. As I said its a great epitaph for any man or woman to have. I've started noticing encouragement taking place at St.James though I'm not suggesting its a new thing. No - its something that is "hidden in plain sight" which is a phrase I like. Its going on at the microscopic level of church life but you don't see it until you get tuned in, until you get your spiritual microscope in focus. There isn't a formula, I can't give you a list or any the specifics but if you keep your eyes and ears open and take notice you will see that its there. I'm particularly blessed by whats happening in the Church on Mondays. I'm not saying its not there on Sunday but Mondays has become something quite special - if it wasn't folks would stop coming. The idea, or maybe it was only half an idea (an embryo) when it started, was that we would meet up on Monday morning - its open to everyone - and start with a time of Celtic prayer (which is said prayer) and then various folks would move off in groups or individually to clean the church, do a bit of gardening or litter picking, DIY, work with the OCC Shoebox crowd, a bit of admin, do their own ministry - whatever that happens to be. We are just starting English Classes for the asylum seekers led by a volunteer tutor so thats something else that will change and enhance the flavour of our Monday Fellowship. In between all these goings on you will see from time to time, maybe whilst drying the pots, stood at the sink, sat in the pews, twos and threes here and there in conversation. If you were to sidle up to within earshot or if you could transform yourself into a fly on the wall, you would hear someone sharing a problem or a concern and perhaps another praying with them, offering advice, sharing a blessing from the Bible, putting a arm around their shoulder. A couple of weeks back someone actually got a hug. Then someone else said, "I need one of those!" - so she got one as well. I said she because women, especially women, are very good at sharing and encouraging and mothering each other - it all comes out of the same box! Men are more reticent and proudly stoic, though in truth they also need lots of hugs! 15 September 2016 StanH
It was the Yorkshire (East) Festival of Male Voice Praise today, 17 September 2016, held in Bridlington. I took part in it as a First Bass member of the massed choir which comprised men from Banbury, Bridlington, Bolton, Castleford, Chesterfield and Purley. For me, as someone new to choirs, its was the biggest event that I have been privileged to attend. It was a great afternoon and evening. Something was said at the start of the practice session by David Linsay which came up again in the prayer session - that we were not there to merely entertain. Sharing the gospel is a very serious business not that this requires us to be either stern or gloomy. I believe the face of Jesus when he spoke to people would convey both love and compassion. Two, no three, highlights for me were: Brian Wallbank, our regular piano accompanist, who was consistent throughout and gave a brilliant solo performance at one point; the Filey Salvation Army Singers were, for me, quite amazing with pieces I had never heard before that really gave the gospel in song; but the highlight for me was the prayer session led by Richard Webb praying for the event and the folks who would attend that evening and would perhaps be saved on account of the gospel message that came through the songs and the short message by Peter Brown of Bridlington. There were so many phrases and lines in the songs that I could not possibly do justice to them all in this short blog so I'll just quote from the very first song we sung Unbounded Grace: "Unbounded grace it reached to me when hope was gone from view. In my despair Christ came to me as He alone can do....". God can reach us, God can come to us, but we cannot go to Him. And He came to us in the form of Jesus Christ sent by the Father. I am reminded of that verse in the Letter to the Hebrews..."While we were yet sinners Christ died for us...". He came down to us , where we were in this world of sin and death, and He saved us. 17 September 2016 StanH
The Emmaus Course for this week (21st) looked at Exodus 20 and The Ten Commandments. For those of us who have been Christians for many years this is a familiar portion of the Bible. So familiar in fact that it is possible to miss something quite profound. We know that chapter 20 commences with God making Himself known to the Children Of Israel who had come out of Egypt after approximately 400-430 years - "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me". After such a long period of time (time out of mind as we sometimes say) we must conclude that those living then did not know Joseph, his brothers or the Patriach, Jacob and may even have forgotten a history of them and may even have forgotten the God of their ancestors. God has many times had to make himself known to men and women and continues to do so today. He made himself known first to Adam and Eve, then to Noah, then to Abraham and eventually, to Moses. In later times he made Himself known to his people through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Again this was after a period of 400 years between the Old Testament era and the New Testament era in which Gods people had, well, not exactly forgotten God but the Law applied religiously, vigorously and over zealously had blinded them to God who had only ever wanted a personal relationship with His people - not religion. Today God making Himself known to men, women and children is what we call the Gospel - God announces Himself, His intentions, His love, His desire for reconciliation with man through the instrument of His Gospel. Will you hear what He has to say while there is yet time. Some 2000 years (five times four hundred hundred years) have elspased since Jesus walked this earth and slowly, slowly, his people have again forgotten, or largely forgotten God and hardened their hearts to the Gospel - yet the Gospel has not been removed. So, while there is yet time do what Isaiah wrote: "Seek the Lord while he may be found;call on Him while he is near...". The implication there is that it will not always be so. Remember the Bridegroom who shut the door on five of the ten virgins. 22 September 2016 StanH
Lord dismiss us with thy blessing:
Lord, dismiss us with your blessing;
fill our hearts with joy and peace.
Let us each, your love possessing,
triumph in redeeming grace.
O direct us and protect us
traveling through this wilderness.
The words of Matthew 14:22, when I read it, reminded me of that well known blessing set out above, "Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side [of the lake] while he dismissed the crowd...". It's a strange thing to do - or is it? Earlier in the day he had seen the large crowd and had had compassion on them, had ministered to their many needs and later he had fed them on a truly grand scale. We could, I suppose, come up with some allegory as to what the large crowd might have represented and all the rest, but I think it was much simpler than that - there really was a large crowd of needy people ! There is so much hidden need in our world (even in our Parish of St.James) and you cannot escape it by going out into a barren land, a wilderness or a remote area as we had here; if you really start to look and get tuned in to what is out there; the need is great - its massive! The disciples were done for the day, tired, maybe harrassed by the pressing crowd and Jesus saw that they (those workers who "are few" as Jesus had said earlier in Matt.9v37 ) needed to get away, so he sent them on across the lake. But for Jesus there was still more to do. He could not abandon them just like that as the bluntness of the word "dismiss" might suggest. The hymn writer had it right when he penned those wonderful words: "..Lord, dismiss us with your blessing; fill our hearts with joy and peace". He wanted to leave them with something more to see them on their way - a kind of spiritual "doggy bag" to take home after the day they'd had. He wanted to make sure they were OK and did not feel left and abandoned. Lamentations 3v22 is a great encouragement to us at times like this and a constant reminder of the Lords faithfulness and enduring love for his people: "The faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease". 28 September 2016 StanH
Earlier this week I heard the honking first and then saw my first flight of Canada Geese for 2016. There was another one the day after but we were still in bed and because it was just barely light we could only hear the distant honking that these noisy birds make. Canada Geese fly over Hemsworth about this time every year; we're on their flight path. It's that time of year you could say. It comes around without fail every year. But for us, human life is much more complicated than that of migrating birds. In Matt.6v26 Jesus makes it clear that though birds are a wonderful part of Gods creation and are taken care of by Him, we are more valuable to Him than even the birds. Even Canada Geese. King Solomon recognised this when he penned those thought provoking observations in Ecclesiastes Chapter 3, about life, about our life and it's times and seasons and how it begins with our birth and ends, as he saw it, in just death. Nothing to look forward to despite all the material treasures we might have laid up for ourselves. Little did he know that life goes on to another level because as Christians we have the promise first, of ressurection and beyond that of an eternal life. Sadly, Solomon had not been granted that view of the future despite all else that he had been given. If he had then perhaps he would not have been so negative and so depressive in his belief that life was meaningless. Life is far from being meaningless when we have a faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And thats just a part of it. The promised return of Jesus is yet to come and we can hardly get to grips with the mechanics of all that is described in Pauls vision of 1 Thessalonians 4v16-17 and how we might be caught up into the sky with Him in a great "migration" to heaven, just as Canada Geese rise up into the sky, and how we will then return with him as His bride. 30th September 2016 StanH