Have you counted the cost?

Dear reader,

I’ve been reflecting recently on a parable Jesus told.  It goes like this:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”
Matthew 13:45-46

My thoughts were based on an extended version of this that I’d like to share with you.

“I want this pearl.  How much is it?”
“Well,” the seller says, “It’s very expensive.”
“But how much?” we ask.
“Well, a very large amount.”
“Do you think I could buy it?”
Oh, of course.  Everyone can buy it.”
“But didn’t you say it was very expensive?”
“Yes.”
“Well, how much is it?”
“Everything you have,” the seller replies.
We pause and think.  But the pearl is of great quality.  We make up our mind.
“All right, I’ll buy it.” we say.
“Well, what do you have?” the seller wants to know. “Let’s write it down.”
“Well, I have ten thousand pounds in the bank.”
“Good – ten thousand pounds.  What else?”
“That’s all.  That’s all I have.”
“Nothing more?”
“Well, I have a few pounds – some loose change – here in my pockets.”
“How much?”
We start digging.  “Well, let’s see – five, ten, twenty, twenty-two, twenty-five pounds.”
“That’s good.  What else do you have?”
“Nothing.  Nothing at all.  That’s it.”
“Where do you live?”  He’s still probing.
“In a house on the other side of town.”
“The house, too, then.”  He writes that down.
“You mean I have to live in my caravan?”
“You have a caravan?  Good.  That too.  What else?”
“But … but that means I’ll have to sleep in my car!”
“You have a car as well?”
“Well, two actually.”
“Both become mine, both cars.  Anything else?”
“Well, you already have my money, my house, my caravan, my cars.  What more do you want?  I have absolutely nothing left!  I am totally alone now.”
Suddenly the seller exclaims, “Oh, I almost forgot!  You yourself, too!  Everything becomes mine.  House, money, cars – and you too.”

From the very beginning the Christian call has always been to discipleship.  We’ve often changed this, made it easier and less demanding.  We’ve done this in different ways, but they all fall short.

Some churches call for conversion.  I’m all for conversion.  If you’re going to live a life of total commitment, then you’re not going to manage it without making a decision to do so.  But Jesus’ instruction was not to make converts, but disciples (Matt 28:19).  Followers.  Servants.  People who take up their cross and follow him (Matt 16:24).

Some churches simply ask you to perform certain duties.  Attend church.  Have the Eucharist.  Sing the hymns.  Read your Bible.  Say your prayers.  I’m all for these things too.  They’re vital.  But there the food that sustains you on the journey of following Jesus – they’re not the journey itself.

The call of Christianity is nothing short of a call to give everything you have to Jesus, to surrender all.  As he repeatedly puts it

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”
Matthew 16:24-25

Or to quote the theologian who lost his life standing up to the Nazi regime:

“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

My friends, Christianity can never be a hobby, or just one thing that you do, it demands everything, just as Jesus himself gave everything for you.

I know I will stumble, I know I have always stumbled.  I know I will, and have, fallen short.  But today, just like every day for the last 20 years, I will again make the choice to do my best to take up my cross and follow my master.

Will you join me?

God bless you all,
Reverend David

 

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Lent Questions

During Lent at St. Anne’s Church we’ve had the opportunity to ask questions (Please note that the questions have been quoted – and are not my words).  We then met together and discussed how we might go about answering these questions.  Below you can find recordings of our meetings, the slides that were shown and the videos that were shown.

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Night 1

 

 

 

 

 

Night 2

 

 

 

 

 

Night 3

 

 

 

 

 

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2 Samuel in 5 minutes (ish!)

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The Bible Uncensored (If you’re easily Offended, please don’t watch!)


Just a few of the facts the translators skirt around in the Bible.

Oh, and just so you know, I take the Bible very seriously – and the Bible is a lot less worried about this stuff than most Christians – I’m only reporting what’s there!

Check out the blog at www.followergerrard.com

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1 Samuel in 5 minutes (ish!)

The next instalment in my Bible series – I will get there in the end!

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Dead or alive?

Dear reader,

How would you describe St. Anne’s Church?  Maybe you’re a regular member of the congregation, and maybe you’re not, but what word would you choose to convey your main impression of St. Anne’s Church?  I have no doubt that if I asked each of you individually I would get different answers.

I got one answer the other day – as one person described St. Anne’s as a “dead church”.  A dead church?  What do you make of that assessment?  Do you agree?  Because, let me tell you something … I most certainly do not!  I asked them one simple question – “Where are you looking?”

I believe (I have believed since before I even came to this parish) that God has plans for St. Anne’s Church.  I believe that God is at work.  Not only do I believe that St. Anne’s church can, and will, grow … but I believe it is growing already.  God is at work.

When I arrived in this parish it was a rarity to find children (apart from those attending a baptism) attending a Sunday service, now we regularly have a handful of families join us for JAM and Tiddlywinks.  God is at work.

Since I have been here we have started “Open the Book” a way of sharing the Bible with children.  Thanks to good relationships that were built up before my time, we now regularly take this into schools to share the good news with children – quite literally reaching 100’s of children every month.  God is at work.

Only a few years ago St. Anne’s Church had limited contact with teenagers in our parish, now approximately a dozen teenagers join us every week and engage with discussion about the Christian faith.  God is at work.

I was told before I arrived that the most heartfelt prayer of St. Anne’s Church was to reach out with the Good News of Jesus to young families in our parish.  Now we have a monthly Church service, called “Messy Church”, which has, in only one year, been attended by nearly 60 families, and approximately 112 individual children – many of which now regularly attend every month.  God is at work.

I could go on.  God was at work here long before I arrived.  He has faithfully been at work while I am here, and I have no doubt whatsoever that he will continue to work once I’ve left.  To quote the prophet Jeremiah’s words (from a different context, but I’m sure God would declare it to us too)

“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 a hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

That isn’t to say there isn’t more work to do.  It doesn’t deny that this church, just like ever other church within our changing culture, will look very different in 20-30 years time.  There are bits of St. Anne’s church that may have to adapt in order to make the relevance of the Gospel clear and accessible to our parish – but make no mistake, this church is very much alive!

GOD IS AT WORK!

If you’re part of our congregation, make sure you look and see what God is up to.  Make sure you pray and see what role God is calling you to take in his plans.

And if you don’t regularly join us, I call you to come and look what God is up to as well.  He calls you too.

God bless you all,

Reverend David

 

(This was my article for the November magazine – God bless)

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God uses the weak

Dear reader,

I continue to believe that the hardest bits of the Bible are not the bits we don’t understand but the bits we do!

Don’t get me wrong, there are, I’ll be honest, bits of the Bible I find very hard to understand (How could my loving Father God order, what can only be called, genocide? (e.g. 1 Sam 15:3) being the hardest!).  But there are answers to questions like that, and you can go and look them up and learn them.

No, the hardest parts of the Bible are the bits I do understand.  Take this passage:

“But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”  Matt 6:3-4

I’m sorry, but giving (money, time or anything else) in secret is not easy for mere mortals like myself.  I always like someone to know, don’t you?

If I do something good for someone, I may not tell anyone, but I do, secretly, hope I get found out!  How about you?  If I find out that someone is struggling financially and I give them money – my mouth would be firmly closed – but I kind of wish someone else could see how generous I’ve been.  Or how hard I’ve worked – or whatever.  But Jesus says we should be content to keep it secret.

The truth is this verse forces us to ask a very simple question.  A question that we all must face if we are to claim any reality in our faith.  Is my belief in God real enough to motive me to giving or prayer or kindness without the need to receive ‘applause’ from someone else?

It’s actually a question about how real and deep our relationship with God is.  If I’m away and send some flowers to my wife, do I need to tell anyone?  No, because I can picture her reaction and pleasure, even while I’m not there.  And I can anticipate her reaction when I return.  That is my reward, and it is more than enough without telling anyone else (At this point, if my wife is reading this, she will probably be wondering why I don’t do it a bit more often then!  Sorry!  Love you!!).

If I give flowers to my wife to impress other people, well then they aren’t really a gift for her at all, are they?  In the same way, whatever I do to attract the applause and approval of the world isn’t really done for God at all, and, as Jesus makes clear, has no validity in our Father’s eyes.  Instead, it is those things I do that are genuinely motivated by my desire to please God that will truly delight Him – and that is my reward.

But please don’t worry if your answer to that question left you feeling a bit depressed – I’m not sure I came out of it too well either.  Let’s talk to God about it – he’s very nice you know!

God bless you all,

Reverend David

 

(This was my article in the October magazine which I neglected to put on the blog!  Sorry it’s late!)

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It won’t make me popular, but here it is!

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It’s already hard to believe this, but just back in July IS (Islamic State) was not big news.  Gaza was … IS wasn’t.  I posted various articles, etc, onto Facebook calling for action as Christians, and other religious minorities, were forced to flee their homes, abused and killed.  (Not that I believe that me calling for anything will change anything, but because I believe we all have a duty to stand up for what is right, even if it makes no difference!)

Now, however, IS dominates the news.  This morning’s headline news tells us that David Cameron promises that the UK will ‘play its part’ in the fight against IS, and that the cabinet will discuss plans for ‘air strikes against IS in Iraq’.  (see here)

With my own little voice I spoke about IS before most other people were aware of it and called for action – so I should be pleased, right?  Well no, I’m not.

Let’s be clear, this is a war.  The, so-called civilised, West talks about “operations”, “campaigns” and when desperate, “military action”, but the truth is we’re at war – a war that truly is turning global (in an age before the word ‘war’ became taboo, we’d call it a world war!)

This morning’s news came after I wrote a sermon, yesterday, in which I quote from a book by Shane Claiborne called “Jesus for President” (I know it’s a terrible title, and very American – but trust me, it’s a fantastic book and he is a wonderful, Godly, radical for Jesus – go and read the book!  And his book “The Irresistible Revolution”).  I’d like to quote it here:

“Do you remember how the Amish responded to the act of terror in their school, when a gunman killed five Amish children in 2006? Our friend Diana Butler Bass wrote an article pontificating what the world would look like if the Amish had led us after September 11. Consider their response to the murders, a response that fascinated the world. Within the first week after the shootings, the Amish families who had suffered such terror responded in four ways that captured the world’s attention. First, some elders visited Marie Roberts, the wife of the murderer, to offer forgiveness. Then, the families of the slain girls invited the widow to their own children’s funerals. Next, they requested that all relief money intended for the Amish families be shared with Ms. Roberts and her children. And finally, in an astonishing act of reconciliation, dozens of Amish families attended the funeral of the killer.

Diana goes on to share that she talked with her husband about the spiritual power of these actions, commenting, “It is an amazing witness to the peace tradition.” And her husband looked at her and said passionately, “Witness? I don’t think so. This went well past witnessing. They weren’t witnessing to anything. They were actively making peace.” Her article ends with these words, as she reflected on that truth:

“Their actions not only witness that the Christian God is a God of forgiveness, but they actively created the conditions in which forgiveness could happen. In the most straightforward way, they embarked on imitating Christ: “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.” In acting as Christ, they did not speculate on forgiveness. They forgave. And forgiveness is, as Christianity teaches, the prerequisite to peace. We forgive because God forgave us; in forgiving, we participate in God’s dream of reconciliation and shalom.

Then an odd thought occurred to me: What if the Amish were in charge of the war on terror? What if, on the evening of September 12, 2001, we had gone to Osama bin Laden’s house (metaphorically, of course, since we didn’t know where he lived!) and offered him forgiveness? What if we had invited the families of the hijackers to the funerals of the victims of 9/11? What if a portion of the September 11th Fund had been dedicated to relieving poverty in a Muslim country? What if we dignified the burial of their dead by our respectful grief? What if, instead of seeking vengeance, we had stood together in human pain, looking honestly at the shared sin and sadness we suffered? What if we had tried to make peace? So, here’s my modest proposal. We’re five years too late for an Amish response to 9/11. But maybe we should ask them to take over the Department of Homeland Security. After all, actively practicing forgiveness and making peace are the only real alternatives to perpetual fear and a multi-generational global religious war. I can’t imagine any other path to true security. And nobody else can figure out what to do to end this insane war. Why not try the Christian practice of forgiveness? If it worked in Lancaster, maybe it will work in Baghdad, too.””

 

Many will read that and think it fanciful – like a fairy tale.  But stop and consider it, what would have happened if America, and indeed the UK after 7/7, had acted in this way.  Would IS even exist?  Why do these Muslims turn radical?  What part have we played?  It’s too late to turn back the clock, but IS is happening now, and the response I call for is not war – let’s learn from the Amish.

I still believe and trust in the one who told me “All who live by the sword will die by the sword” (Matt 26:52), “Turn the other cheek” (Matt 5:39) and “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matt 5:9).  The one who told me to “love my enemies” (Matt 5:43) – I’m not always sure what that entails, but I’m pretty certain it doesn’t mean kill your enemies!  I still follow the one who defeated evil, not with force but through the cross (Col 2:15), and who calls me to take up my cross too (Matt 16:24).  The Christian faith tells us that “love drives out fear” (1 Jn 4:18)

Some church leaders have already called for this way forward and I (with my own little voice) support them and their calls for a different way – a harder and braver way – the way of peace.  (see here for their full letter).

They suggest 8 alternative approaches:

• “Stop U.S. bombing in Iraq to prevent bloodshed, instability and the accumulation of grievances that contribute to the global justification for the Islamic State’s existence among its supporters.”
• “Provide robust humanitarian assistance to those who are fleeing the violence.”
• “Engage with the UN, all Iraqi political and religious leaders, and others in the international community on diplomatic efforts for a lasting political solution for Iraq,” and “work for a political settlement to the crisis in Syria.”
• “Support community-based nonviolent resistance strategies to transform the conflict and meet the deeper need and grievances of all parties.”
• “Strengthen financial sanctions against armed actors in the region by working through the UN Security Council.”
• “Bring in and significantly invest in professionally trained unarmed civilian protection organizations to assist and offer some buffer for displaced persons and refugees, both for this conflict in collaboration with Iraqi’s and for future conflicts.”
• “Call for and uphold an arms embargo on all parties to the conflict.”
• “Support Iraqi civil society efforts to build peace, reconciliation, and accountability at the community level.”

As they put it:

“We understand and deeply share the desire to protect people, especially civilians … However, even when tactics of violent force yield a short term displacement of the adversary’s violence, such violence toward armed actors is often self-perpetuating, as the retributive violence that flares up in response will only propitiate more armed intervention in a tit-for-tat escalation without addressing the root causes of the conflict. We see this over and over again. It is not “necessary” to continue down this road of self-destruction, as Pope Francis called the hostilities of war the “suicide of humanity.”

I still call for action in Iraq, but, despite the fact many will not like me for it, I refuse to call for war.  Despite everything I will continue to trust my King and walk the way of the cross. I ask you all to consider doing the same.  Many small voices may just become a shout that can change the world!

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Ruth in 5 minutes (ish!)


Shortest Bible commentary in the world: http://www.faith-theology.com/2014/01/canonfodder-shortest-ever-commentary-on.html

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Judges in 5 minutes


Sorry it’s taken so long to do the next one of these – I still intend to get through the Bible!  But here it is, the Book of Judges in 5 minutes (ish!).

Shortest Commentary in the world: http://www.faith-theology.com/2014/01/canonfodder-shortest-ever-commentary-on.html

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