Blogs for December 2016

We're seven days into December and not a pot washed! Or rather not a single blog published yet - until now. What happened? Sudden illness is what happened - one of life's unexpected obstacles caused us to veer from all your best laid plans. Last Friday, 3 December, the Doncaster Operation Christmas Child Team effectively finished checking and cartoning up all our shoeboxes from the 2016 Campaign. Everything going to plan. We were elated and some of us celebrated with a good fish & chip lunch at Whitbys Restaurant near the Racecourse. What could go wrong? It could only get better. Let's enjoy the run-up to Christmas. By evening I had come down with a particularly heavy cold that I won't forget in a hurry and I'm still coughing and spluttering this morning! What could go wrong next? Well I'm in the White Rose Male Voice Praise Choir and from the next day, Saturday 4 December, we were to embark on a very heavy and ambitious end-of-year programme of seasonal engagements - but I didn't and as every engagement day loomed up I had to cry off. What makes it worse is that it now transpires quite a few have been ill and could not attend those events either which means we've had to perform with a stripped down choir probably involving last minute changes to the programme. There is a lesson here somewhere about bowing to God's will for our lives. Some Christians always qualify their programmes, plans and arrangements with the closing phrase "DV" and if I'm honest it used to annoy me - but not any longer. Now I get it ! DV stands for Deus Volente or Deo Volente meaning God willing. So God willing next year at this time won't be a repeat of 2016. Happy Christmas!  7 December 2016 StanH

Walking and Riding in the Spirit! I don't claim to always walk in the spirit as we are exhorted to do. Yesterday morning I believe I literally walked and rode in the spirit by the prompting of the Holy Spirit. My experience was nearer to that of Philip in Acts 8v26: 

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and on his way he met........

Dragging ourselves from our sickbeds (see yesterday's blog) we had to go back to our Operation Christmas Child duties at the Doncaster Deaf School yesterday morning, where an enormous Polish lorry, bound for Belarus, was to collect our 6297 Shoeboxes before going on to Grimsby OCC to fill up the rest of this very large lorry space. We were to start at 10 am sharp but as the lorry had showed no signs of arriving by then I went to the main gates to look out for it. In due course this magnificent orange lorry came sailing straight past the gates of the Deaf School - not a care in the world. Left hand drive and obviously our man. Continuing straight down Ledger Way and probably suspecting that he had missed his turn he eventually pulled into the side of the road just before Whitby's Restaurant with emegency lights blinking. I expected him to maybe get out, maybe ask a passer by or something like that, but as I stood looking after him for ten minutes or more nothing seemed to be happening. It eventually dawned on me that I was the one who had to do something not him - that was why I was the one stood at the gate that morning. This is the spiritual lesson for us all today! Sometimes you and I, like Philip, are the one God says GO to. However, I initially reasoned that I could walk up there (which was quite a way) and just as I was about to catch up with him he would drive off and I would look a prize plum! Eventually though I started out, like Philip, and the lorry never moved. As I drew level with him the window was lowered as if I had been expected all along and with little English we had a brief conversation about going on to the next roundabout to come all the way back. So he gestured for me to climb aboard on the passenger side - which, stood in the busy oncoming traffic lane and was quite a climb as it was very high but an amazing personal honour to be so intimately involved with the arrival of the lorry - not of any old lorry you understand but the lorry that would transport our precious cargo to Belarus.              8 December 2016 StanH

Every year about this time I always like to re-visit the Nativity Story. It's become a bit of a tradition for me from when I used to share the preaching at my last church. It's going to be talked about this year yet again, its going to be preached about anyway but, having been blessed so many times in the past by the Nativity Story, I want to wander off by myself and let God illuminate it to me afresh because for me there is always something new to be discovered in what must be the best known of all bible stories. I wish I could go back again to when I was a lad at Broad Lane Primary School with Christmas coming up. The nativity story held such mystery to young receptive hearts and minds and for me it still does now. Joseph and Mary were mysterious when I was a kid. The baby Jesus was not so clearly defined then - just a soft christmas card glow emanating from a shadowy stable scene that you could never quite look fully into. At school we weren't coming at it through bible, through church or through religion or denomination nor through faith (I wasn't even a Christian then), yet I never thought of it as just a work of childrens' fiction either. Because we all lived in our own personal "age of innocence" in those days, in the 1950's, the story was still free to speak to us in Christian Britain, to do its gospel work, without being spoiled by the trappings of twenty first century modernity when Christmas is just the next retail opportunity after Hallowean. How sad. I know I'm drifting off-subject but I'm so glad and feel so priviledged (as I was priviledged to ride the lorry yesterday) that I was born in 1946 because it meant that my childhood and formative school years were not only free of war, just, but also not tarnished by the evils of our modern God-less education system. I hope that the Nativity Story will provide you with some of that childhood mystery this year thats blessed me for all these years.   9 December 2016  StanH

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. Those words form the opening sentence to Charles Dickens', A Tale of Two Cities (written in 1859). I hope you agree with me that this sentence is one of those truly great opening lines in English literature. I've looked at quite a few but I came back to this one as my second best choice. Second best you say? Well my first choice I hope is better known to us all and it goes like this: This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about. That was Matthews opening line, well just part of the first line, to his Nativity story in the Gospel of Matthew. There's a mystery bound up in that verse - do you see it? Do you really see it for yourself this Christmastime? When Matthew got to this point in the chapter he had to think long and hard about what to say next, before putting pen to paper. How do you tell, how do you begin, the greatest story ever told? Perhaps its the next half of the sentence that is harder to tell (and indeed harder to sell to the conservative Jewish mind): Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Math 1v18b. I don't think you will find a precedent for this idea anywhere else in Scripture of Gods direct, intimate, intervention into the lives of a man and woman in order to fulfill His great plan for mankind - even Abraham and Sarah. We sometimes like to say, don't we, that Jesus is 100% God and 100% Human at the same time; so thats 200% ! God had it in His divine plan to rescue men from their sins so His Son was sent, who would take the name Jesus (meaning He would save His people from their sins), would be born into the human condition and also understand it and be sympathetic to it, would be carried by a human mother who would give Him the human part of His genetic make-up, no IVF involved, and be entirely pure (a virgin), righteous and entirely legitimate because His human parents would be properly married by the time He was born (not just engaged) and His step-father ,Joseph, would adopt Him and with a good heart take Him into his house (just as all saved people are adopted into the Family of God). Did you know you were adopted? So its a big ask for Matthew to pin his Gospel on that one controversial thought - pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 11 December 2016 StanH

They say it takes two to tango. We continue our Nativity theme with some comparisons on the the approach that Matthew and Luke took to this fundamental subject of the birth of Jesus. We shall discover that this plan of God was not straightforward, not plain sailing by any means, and entirely relied upon the co-operation of an engaged Jewish couple, Joseph and Mary who, both receiving shocking life-changing news, each have private moments or honourable doubt. This could of course have caused God's plan to fall over and angels had to intervene at short notice to save the day. Matthew, very Jewish in outlook, sees these events through the eyes of Joseph who, we are told, was an upstanding man, righteous and faithful to the Law and after much inner personal turmoil was minded to quietly divorce Mary - but discretely. In a dream he was persuaded to take Mary home as fully his wife; at this point in time they were just engaged. It takes a very special man to take a woman and someone elses child as his own. We know very little about Joseph. He seems to have been a quiet, private, man and seems to play no obvious further part in the greatest story evey told and may well have died prematurely as one who has completed his great task in life . However, there can be little doubt of the importance of his contribution in bringing up Jesus to be the righteous man that He became. Then we have Mary - even by todays looser moral standards many people would be shocked and affronted that Mary may have been as young as 12-14 years old, as taught in some parts of the Church. I personally believe she may have been even younger, maybe 10-12 years old. Don't be shocked - I read somewhere that it was not until the 8th Century AD  that the Jewish Authorities placed limitatons on the minimum age for marriage - thirteen for boys and twelve for girls - and that was more than 700 years after Mary and Joseph. I read somewhere else that Alexander the Great's first wife was only ten years old when they married - not that this is any official yardstick to go by you understand but maybe just an indication that people, quite morally and legally and normally, did get married much younger in those days. However, thats an aside really although I do sense that Marys fearfulness and trepidation is consistent with that of a much younger person. Luke's version of events focusses on Mary rather than Joseph and recognises Gods careful and gentle handling of her in this very delicate situation when the news is delivered. I like to think its significant that the Angel Gabriel delivers the message and not any other angel -  you don't get more important than that! God's top soldier is on the case! Mary then is quite rightly troubled, she has those "how can it possibly be" questions and what the mechanics of God will.....well you know what I mean? How? But Gabriel sets her heart at rest, the turmoil dissipates, the promise is sure and the icing on the cake is that Elizabeth her older cousin is already pregnant (which of course is totally impossible had it not come out of the mouth of an angel). Just like Joseph in his own private drama, Mary is able to come to that place and that position where she can say: "I am the Lords servant. May your word be fulfilled." And notice that it was not until Gabriel got that committment from Mary that he was free to leave her and go on his way. Here's a verse from Mary's Song and it's for each and everyone of us this Christmastime: "My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for He is mindful of the humble state of his servant".  13 December 2016 StanH

There are many favourite and well known verses in the Bible that we could choose from. My two favourite verses (to be read at my funeral) are extremes - one noble and high, the other low, ordinary and domestically mundane; but here's the thing - it's talking about the same person, Jesus. I call them my "bookends". One is Hebrews 1v1-4. The bible translators have given this passage a sub-heading in my bible - God's Final Word: His Son. When God first started speaking He said things like: "Let there be light" and "Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness...". But the last time he spoke was through His Son, Jesus who said things like: "It is finished" and "All authority has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you . And surely I am with you always to the very end of the age. Final words indeed. This is both wonderful and fearsome for there is a finality suggested - a last chance. If someone is hanging on in the hope of a better deal in the January Sales, then they will sadly mistaken. So this Christmas we need to look again at the man Jesus who is God. Graham Kendrick calls Him the Man who is God:

Meekness and majesty manhood and deity
In perfect harmony the Man who is God
Lord of eternity dwells in humanity
Kneels in humility and washes our feet

It couldn't be clearer, this is what Hebrews says: "....but in these last days He has spoken to us by His son, whom He appoined heir of all things". This unknown writer of Hebrews tells of His greatness - that Jesus is the radience of God's glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word.  I never get tired of that wonderful phrase at the end of verse 2 which I am paraphrasing this morning: ".....oh, and by the way, before I forget, he also made the universe !" [Wow! - exclamation marks added and rightly deserved]. Whenever I read that I always have in mind that portion of the night skies behind the Belt of Orion - the Horsehead Nebula. Why did you do make that Lord? 15 December 2016 StanH

My other book-end passage is the account in Marks Gospel of the prophet who is without honour in his own town (Mark 6v1-6). It's talking about Kendrick's 'Man who is God' but in a completely different way. I never get tired of these six verses - they are crammed with information if you know what to look for or even realise the value what is there. You will be aware that Jesus was often addressed as Teacher. He may well have had Rabbi status in the Jewish Community and He was certainly qualified and learned enough to walk to the front of the Church or Synagogue and contribute to the proceedings as we can see in Luke Chapter 4 where He stood up to read and the precious scroll of the prophet Isaiah was carefully handed to a man with workman's calloused hands who mended doors and made tables! For He was a carpenter. Wow!  Children, Young People especially - all of us really, overuse superlatives. Its amazing, it's fantastic, it's gorgeous, it's to die for. We took our son, Philip, out for an early Christmas Dinner which he described to the waitress as awesome when asked if he'd enjoyed it. I even caught myself out using equisite this morning; how can anything exquisite happen on Monday morning? In Mark's Gospel the congregation who heard Jesus preach that day were however truly amazed, but in the correct sense of the word. There is no doubt about that. People did not mis-use language then in the way that we do in 2016;English must be the most abused language there is. Something amazing had actually happened. Mark doesn't tell us what it was but Luke does in Chapter 4 because there is no doubt that they're both talking about the same event. When you consult Strongs Concordance, which the fount of all knowledge concerning Bible words, the word amazing is not used that much in total throughout the whole Bible but you soon discover that Mark, who must have been a rather excitable chap, fequently used the word "amazed". That doesn't undermine the value of what he is saying though because, remember, he was close enough to the action to accurately capture the mood at the time from the Apostle Peter who was there. So this is what got the Synagogue buzzing that morning - when Jesus had finished His reading from Isaiah (which contains powerful words like 'me')  he said to the congregation: "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing". Now that's somehing to get excited about.  17 December 2016 StanH

So, there's a lot of hand-shaking, back-slapping and general partying going on in the Synagogue after the service.Cups of tea, mince pies, what have you. But suddenly someone chimes up - "Whoa! Wait a minute! Isn't this the Carpenter? Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren't his sisters (pleural) here with us? Richard Bauckman suggests that they were Mary, Salome and/or possibly Anna. Some people would have known Him, may have used His carpentry skills, may have gone to school with a sister or worked with a brother, passed the time of day with Mary His mother. But they still took offence at him. As suddenly as the partying had started the noise now dies down as the kareoke machine is turned off and the crowd turns their back on Jesus and begin to slowly walk away. So why would I be excited by this passage? These previously "Amazed People" who later turn their backs on him are indirect witnesses to a great truth - that Jesus is real! Some people these days don't even believe Jesus Christ even existed but it is clear that these people have unwittingly confirmed the existence of this "Man who is God" through His family in a very domestic way. If Jesus didn't exist then whose brothers and sisters were they? Why would some cynical member of the congregation identify Him as Jesus the Carpenter? That He, His mother and His brothers and sisters are real is not in doubt. What we are being asked to believe are His claims, such as those in the Book of Isaiah. This is faith. This is what I'm challenging you to believe this Christmastime. Set aside a bit of your Christmas Holiday this year to seriously consider the claims of Jesus Christ our Lord.  19 December 2016 StanH

On my Kindle I have one or two brilliant books which I often forget to refer to. One is a wonderful read by a man, Alexander Whyte, now long dead. The Rev Alexander Whyte DD (1836-1921) was a Scottish divine. He was born at Kirriemuir in Forfarshire and educated at the University of Aberdeen. What I remember him for is his inciteful reflections on Bible Characters, starting with Adam and going forward from there. If anything, the Bible is rich in people. We can learn a lot about God and about ourselves through these characters, because they act as mirrors. So, here I was, browsing, looking for something to read and I came across Bible Characters Volume 4 - Joseph and Mary to James by Alexander Whyte. Having written about Mary this week in the Parish Blog I thought I would just take a look and see what Alexander Whyte could possibly add the subject. Though Anglican, we come from a tradition which does not over-venerate Mary, the mother of Jesus and I sense that Whyte, a dour Scotsman, was of the same persuasion but he does say this: "For my own part, I do not know the gift or the grace or the virtue any women ever had that I could safely deny to Mary". What's he saying? Well, loosely translated into the common Doncaster dialect he is saying of Mary - credit where credit's due. He is bringing himself to concede that there was something special about Mary. I don't think he will mind a bit of plagiarism but to finish I'm going to steal a couple of paragraphs from Whyte's book which I hope will bless us all this Christmastime. It was said of Mary: "...but His mother kept all these sayings in her heart" and "...if we are to apply this sure principle to Mary's case, "according to your faith so be it unto you", then Mary must surely wear the crown as the mother of all them who believe on her Son". And just to finish this is the litmus test of our own faith: "If the converse of our Lord's words holds true, that no mighty work is done where there is unbelief; we may safely reason that where there has been a mighty work done there must have been a corresponding and co-operating faith; then [and this is Alexander Whytes great concession to Mary] I do not think we can easily overestimate the measure of Mary's faith".  I think if we were to summarise the contribution that these two simple folk from Nazareth made to the great scheme of Eternity then it has to be the "co-operating faith" of Mary and Joseph. The challenge for us in 2017 is to co-operate with God to achieve what Alexander Whyte calls "a mighty work" in Doncaster. 21 December 2016 StanH

Storm Barbara hits our western shores later today as we travel to Liverpool. We are taking one of our asylum seeker ladies to an appointment with the Home Office in Liverpool.  It seems unfair and unreasonable to inconvenience people who are already struggling, when there is a local branch of the Home Office in Leeds. But I've done my research and I think I know where I'm going, I've got my maps and I've got a car park in mind but I'm still on edge because I've got to get her there on time to the right Department in the Christmas Rush, in a potential storm and suddenly I thought of Mary and Joseph on their way to another office - in Bethlehem. Luke reminds us that in those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken across the entire Roman world.....and everyone went to their own town to register. Joseph belonged to the House of David. They had to travel about 70 miles to Bethlehem; Liverpool is 101 miles from Balby but we had a car - they had just a donkey and Joseph had to walk. It was something new. We get the sense that people had not had to do this before so why should it co-incide with the birth of Jesus? Some commentators have remarked that it was a ridiculous thing that Caesar was making people have to do as some would be involved in potentially long and hazardous journeys at great expense. But in hindsight, with our spiritual eyes we can now see that God had merely used his sevant, Caesar Augustus, to ensure that the arrival of the baby that was prophesied was born in Bethlehen, Royal David's City. Thirty years later a blind beggar, known to us as Blind Bartimaeus, was sitting by the side of the road when Jesus passed and though he could not see Him he took his one chance in a lifetime and called out to him "Son of David"; that day Bartimaeus got his sight back. I am reminded from the Bible that God has used his servants many times before to achieve His divine purposes, even the great King Nebuchadnezzar who was neither Jew nor Christian, was Gods instrument of punishment when he took the Jewish Nation into 70 years of exile.  By the way, I need not have been so stressed out - we somehow went straight to the Capital Building (the Liverpool skyline of tall buildings marked our destination which I knew was near the waterfront as the tallest building stood out like a "natal star"), the motorways were strangely empty, Barbara was no big deal and the car park in the basement of the Capital Building was virtually empty - weird. There was no queue upstairs when we got there and of course we were not late. The young Civil Servant who interviewed my friend knew her from last year (he also claimed to know me though I'd never been before) and was very pleasant and helpful. And remarkably, elsewhere, away in a manger no crib for a bed, the baby was born only after Mary and Joseph got to their destination, in a stable "all forlorn" as the carol says but it was perfect and has continued to thrill our imaginations for the last two thousand years. No-one recalls where you or I were born, nor cares I guess, but children across the world and across millennia know exactly where the Son of David was born. It was at the best-known of all addresses23 December 2016 StanH

Christmas is over again for another year! In just a few days the Christmas decorations will be packed away, the tree will be consigned to the back garden or to the attic loft. My wife loves this time - she calls it getting back to normal. It's too early of course to be looking forward to next Christmas though I guess if you're a Christmas-holic you may be getting ready for your next fix. Before we pack everything away there is one man who was part of the Christmas Story that did not get a mention in last weeks Christmas Blogs - that man is Simeon. Luke's Gospel tells us that:"there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon who was righteous and devout (and apparently very old and nearing the end of his days). He was waiting for "the consolation of Israel". Simeon was looking for the fulfilment of Gods ancient promises concerning Israel. He was not by himself. God had made promises to His people through Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, Micah and others. Every year that these promises were not fulfilled the tension, the excitement and the expectation built in the hearts of people like Simeon who were looking for the fulfilment of those promises which were focussed on one special person still to come - the Messiah. Simeon had been granted a personal revelation by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had personally seen the Lord's Messiah. Simeon had played no part in the nativity story that took place a few miles down the road in Bethlehem and news of those events may not have even come to his attention. On this one day that he was moved to go into the temple it happened to co-incide (thats assuming there were ever coincidences in the Bible) with the arrival of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus to the temple where the couple would offer a sacrifice for their firstborn son. It would seem that Simeon was the priest-on-duty that day and as soon as he took the baby in his arms he just knew by the prompting of the Holy Spirit that this was the special one who had finally come. And he praised God with these famous words: "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the sight of all nations - a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel".  26 December 2017 StanH

There is another promise concerning the Christmas Child, Jesus. That he will come again for His church. The Christian Church in varying degrees, some more than others, is waiting for the imminent promised return of the Lord Jesus Christ the King. No-one knows the precise date, except God the Father, but there are clues to suggest that the world is rapidly moving into a time when He could return. On the night of the last supper when things were looking very bad and the disciples were fearful of what was about to happen Jesus gave them what is one of the central promises in the Bible concerning His return: "Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Fathers House has many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. John 14v1-3. That is the promise. You could call it the consolation of the Church and that we who are looking for His return are it's modern-day Simeon. Unfolding world events now give us a very good insight into what it must have felt like in the days of Simeon when one day the baby Jesus was presented in the temple. Suddenly and without warning. Traditionally, the Jewish bridegroom would add an extension to his fathers house as a home for his bride. The Church is the Bride of Christ and we will soon be taken to the home He has prepared. We, like Simeon, need to look for that consolation of the Church. 28 December 2016 StanH

It's that time of year again. It's the last blog of the year. The last blog of 2016. When we started the year we didn't have a Parish Blog. We didn't have this particular website. Me and my wife were not even at St. James Doncaster then. A lot has happened this year and we have a sense that a lot more will happen in 2017. The only strategy with Parish Blog is that there is no strategy. I just ramble through the year but not in straight lines and without trying to get to a destination. We often use phrases of foreign origin don't we?  - like "a la carte" and of course "al fresco", which is posh for fish and chips in paper. We started this months blog (see 7 December Blog) quite unexpectedly with another foreign phrase Deo Volente, meaning "God Willing" and I guess that thought still undergirds today's blog and may prove to set the tone for the coming year. These days I don't take New Years Resolutions that seriously, although I suspect that if I make some sort of an attempt at it then bits of the grand plan quietly rubs off at a subliminal level - eating away at me, steering me roughly back onto a course. What are your plans for 2017? Generically, many often revolve around the usual suspects of - not smoking, not drinking, getting more exercise, improving our health, losing weight, starting a relationship (or finishing one), new job (or getting one) or just getting out more. Making changes to our lives. Making plans. Ticking off "bucket lists", that world cruise, seeing the family in Australia, finding a new house, getting a new car, building that extension, a kitchen refit, re-landscaping the garden, starting your own business, whatever. The Apostle James says this in his letter: "Now listen, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money'. Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, 'If it is the Lord's will [which is where the phrase Deo Volente comes from], we will live and do this or that'.  As it is , you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil [evil in the sense that we thoughtlessly exclude or don't include God in our plans]". Then James makes it really personal to each of us: "If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn't do it, it is sin for them". Not for everyone, but for you, because we all have to answer to God as individuals. Listen, and I don't want to pour cold water on the plans you've just made or the holiday you've just booked, but actually [and here's the thought to finish 2016 with] next year, though we will see dramatic life-changing events unfold round the world, could be really exciting if we seek to walk through it with God's guidance. Happy New Year!  31 December 2016 StanH









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