Posted on: 9th December 2019
“When Herod realised that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious.”
In 2009, a new tradition began in our household around Christmas. The day we put the tree up (there is still a lengthy and annual discussion around the right time to do this!), we watch ‘The Nativity.’ Partly because my wife was brought up in Coventry and has happy memories of the Cathedral. Partly because the true meaning of Christmas is summed up so beautifully. But mostly because Mr Poppy is hilarious. But it is the character of Gordon Shakespeare that I want to reflect on today.
Each year, the local newspaper prints a review of the nativity productions that take place. Every year, Mr Shakespeare looks for a new angle on the traditional story, a perspective that no one has before considered. In Nativity 1, he looks at Herod. This week our verse to consider is Matthew 2:16. If you were to read the full verse, the response to Herod’s fury was a tragedy to any family that had bore a child during that period. Traditions suggests this number could have been as many as 64,000 but the lower estimate would be between 8 to 20 innocent children murdered.
Herod was the King of the Jews, a title given by the Romans who gave him his power and authority. His desire to remain king led him to this act of brutality. Compare this to the words he spoke to the magi when they first arrived, in verse 8. “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” Herod was given the gift of welcoming the Son of God into the world, but he did not receive this gift well.
My challenge for you this year is to ask how you will respond to the coming of Jesus into the world. For some, Jesus is an unnecessary addition to a time for family, friends and celebration. For others, the message of Jesus challenges our way of living and leads to negative responses. And for others, Christmas is a time to celebrate the saviour of the world. Take time this year to consider your response of Jesus.
Posted on: 2nd December 2019
“She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
What do you look forward to the most at Christmas? I love talking to people about their traditions and habits. For some, they begin the season on November the 1st, the day after Halloween. The end of the celebration brings a 54-day anticipation of celebrating the ‘Light of the World’. For others, 25th November marks a month to go and is a legitimate mark for beginning to prepare. But the 1st December and the opening of the first advent calendar surely is the latest someone would choose to begin the anticipation.
In the gospel of Matthew, the writer begins by giving the build up to Jesus. He marks the significance of his birth to Mary, recording the genealogy from Abraham and from King David. This was a significant marker for those who were expecting the Messiah, because it fulfilled many of the prophecies that in the books of the prophets.
Three characters drew my attention this week as I read the ancestral list. Please take time this week to read Matthew 1, and let me know who stands out for you. For me, it was the mention of the female characters, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Uriah’s wife. I encourage you to have a look at the stories of these characters. For me, their stories speak of good coming from bad and God’s redemption of taking something broken and turning it in to something beautiful.
Whatever your tradition in the build up to Christmas, can I encourage you to consider the message of salvation and forgiveness that comes because Jesus came. He is the reason for the season.
Posted on: 18th November 2019
“We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.”
“Those who read, succeed!” I would like to suggest that: “Those who listen to someone else read on audiobook can succeed too.” But I would go one step further and suggest that unless you do something with what you have read, you are reducing the amount of success you achieve.
In Matthew 7:24, Jesus said, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who builds his house on the rock.” What you hear and what you read has the ability to shape and act as a foundation to build a successful life on.
In a book by the British Table Tennis Champion Matthew Syed, he tells the story of his rise to success in the sport. His PE teacher saw him play at the age of eight, and told him he was talented. This leads to a discussion about talent, gifts and training. Matthew was an exceptional player for his age, but he also had an older brother who had played against him in his garage, every night for a few years. Matthew had a desire to play Table Tennis, but he also had practiced more than anyone his own age had. His older brother and a table in the garage were the gifts he had to get ahead, but he had to put in the effort. The book is called ‘Bounce’.
St Paul, writing to the believers in Rome, reminded them of the responsibilities of their faith. He told them that the spiritual gifts they had been given are different, and also he reminded them that it is the grace of God that brings them their gifts. Spiritual gifts are given for a reason, for the good of others. Paul lets them know that they were all part of a body and they had a responsibility to build others up. The challenge for the early believers is the same for us now.
Take time this week to consider the abilities you have developed, that you may have not used for a long time. Is it time for you to go back to these and use them again? The Holy Spirit gives gifts too, for us to use for the good of others. My prayer is that you will take time this week to connect with God and ask him to help you use your gifts to help others.
Posted on: 14th October 2019
“The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
What would you do if you had enough time? I recently listened to a podcast by Craig Groeschel, entitles ‘Cut the Slack, Part 2’. He defines slack as, ‘Sluggishness or lack of energy, characterised by slowness, not tight or taught, but blowing or flowing at slow speed’. Another way of looking at it is, ‘Any activity that absorbs resources but creates little or no value’.
The great thing about slack is that it is easy to recognise it… in others!
Craig suggests these four steps to reducing slack in your life. 1) Start with your not-to-do list, 2) Get your to-do list out of your head, 3) Break your to-do list into actionable steps, 4) Prioritise what’s most important, 5) Take the next step. For more information on these steps, check out the podcast!
Out of 400 top business people who were surveyed, they identified that, on average, the following activities stole precious time: 6.8 hours on activities that could be delegated, 3.9 hours on escapist, mental breaks, 3.4 hours on non-essential email, 3.6 hours on low-value, non-essential requests. The average leader wasted 21.8 hours per week.
In John 10:10, Jesus says there is a thief who wants the worst for you. I would like to think I would notice something as dangerous as that in my life, and put safeguards in place to protect myself. But this week I challenge us all to consider the small things we do that are preventing us living life to the full. If you feel like you have a strong enough relationship with someone and you notice areas that they could improve on, pray about whether or not it would be right to have that conversation.
Posted on: 7th October 2019
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.”
Whenever I watch a programme that I have recorded on a Sunday evening, my first few minutes of watching is the tail end of a previous show. I see a person with a family heirloom, listening to a professional describing the period of history their item is from. I can see past their fake interest. Just like me, all they want to know is, “What’s it worth?”
During this week we are considering the value we place on others. In 1 John 3:1, we read that God has called us his children. Children and heirs. That is valuable. This implies that we are richly blessed. In Ephesians 1, Paul writes to the church, telling them that they have already received, “Every spiritual blessing through Christ Jesus.” We too are heirs of those spiritual blessings as God’s children.
Jesus tells a story in Matthew 13:44. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”
My challenge for us all this week is to consider that there is treasure in everyone we meet. When we spend time talking to others we realise this treasure and are able to help others find their worth. But this process takes time and may cost us. Are you prepared to pay the price to help someone else know what they are worth?
Posted on: 30th September 2019
“Jesus increased in wisdom and stature and in favour with God and man.”
The theme tune for an old film went like this, “If there’s something strange in your neighbourhood, who you gonna call?”
This week we are considering inspiring to the full. An inspiring person has the ability to draw people to themselves. People are drawn to inspiring people. Being around someone who is inspiring changes you. As we navigate our way through this life we will meet people who have a passion and enthusiasm for their field of expertise. The challenge for all of us is, what is our field?
In the Old Testament, we read of many inspirational characters. One of these is Belteshazzar. He was a young man, taken from his home land because he was smart and strong. He was given the opportunity to become a great leader in his own ability, but at every moment he did something inspiring, he always gave the glory to God. His inspirational ability was to interpret dreams; a skill that helped save both his life and others on a number of occasions.
In Matthew 4, we read about how Jesus inspired those around him. If you were to ask, “What was Jesus’ message?”, you would find it in Matthew 4:23. Everywhere he went from that point on, crowds followed him. He was able to do great signs and inspire many to change their lives.
But there was somewhere where Jesus was not inspiring. A place where he was not recognised for who he was, but who he used to be. That place was his home town, Nazareth. How sad is it that we read in Matthew 13:58, “Jesus did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.” The people that had seen Jesus while he was developing as a man could not recognise him as who he had become.
This week, I challenge you to find those people in your life who have inspired you, or who continue to inspire you, and tell them. If there are people you know who inspire others, but you just think of them as how they used to be, ask for forgiveness and see the best in them today.
Posted on: 23rd September 2019
“Jesus increased in wisdom and stature and in favour with God and man.”
Where do you go to find wisdom? We have been considering the vision statement for St Wilfrid’s and we will continue to do this in our assemblies and devotionals this half term. We started with considering that acknowledging God and accepting he has a direction for our lives is a great starting place. How can we be sure the direction we follow is from God? There seem to be so many voices out there pulling us in so many different directions.
Luke chapter 2 is a fascinating, brief insight, into the development of Jesus. Very little is recorded of his life from the age of twelve to thirty. But we do read that Jesus’ parents followed the customs and went to Jerusalem every year. I wonder what the response would be now to his parents supervision of him. We read that, “After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it.” It goes on to say that, three days later (!!!) they found him sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.
Jesus knew that if he got around the right people, he listened and asked questions, he would grow in wisdom. The same applies to us. The challenge this week is to consider, who are you spending your time with? Are you listening to the right voices? Are you asking questions to deepen your understanding?
Posted on: 24th June 2019
“There was a man sent from God whose name was John.”
What makes a great leader, great? We are shown so many examples of leadership in different areas of our lives. There are influencers in the social media world, there are winning managers and players in sport and there are political leaders responsible for making difficult decisions in difficult times.
All these leaders require others to empower their leadership. Influencers require followers, managers require team-work, captains require the support of their players, politicians are elected. Leadership requires followers. But what is it about the influencer, manager, captain or politician that elicits the support of others?
God set John apart. In Luke chapter 1:41, we read that, when the virgin Mary approached the home of Elizabeth, “The baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” John was the fulfilment of a prophecy in Isaiah. He preached something completely different to the other religious leaders of the day and had many followers. Many of them though he was the Messiah because he had such authority. So what made John such a great leader? Maybe it was that he knew what his mission was and was content with that. John’s mission was to prepare the way for someone greater than he. He prepared the way for Jesus.
In John 1:8 we read our memory verse for this week – “He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.” I love this about John. He knew that someone greater was coming and he did what he needed to do to make the way straight.
The challenge this week is for us all to consider our calling, our mission, and our area of leadership. Spend some time this week to consider how your leadership role can support and prepare the way for others. My prayer is that you will find contentment in what you have been given to do and a joy in serving and supporting others.
Posted on: 29th April 2019
“I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit.”
What would you do if praying made a difference?
Every Tuesday we have been meeting weekly in the Chapel to pray. During this time we have prayed for the school, for events, for those connected to the school, that there would be a sense of the presence of God in everything we do. Some of our prayers have been for loved ones who are sick. Many of these prayers have been answered. We continue to pray for people and situations that bring discomfort and pain and you are always welcome to come along.
Paul prayed. You can read the letters he wrote to the churches that were growing after the death and resurrection of Jesus. In Ephesians 3, Paul is writing to the group of believers in Ephesus. Paul had visited this city on his travels and lots of people had believed in Jesus and were choosing to live differently. The difference made by the message of Jesus had caused some to riot and oppose Paul and his companions. The message of Jesus had been accepted by some but was opposite to the way of life of others.
Jesus prayed. Throughout the gospels, Jesus went to be alone with God to pray. He taught his disciples how to pray. In Matthew 18, Jesus promises that when we gather in his name, he will be with us. He also promised that whatever we agree on in his name, will be given. What an amazing promise.
What would you do if praying made a difference? Prayer and meditation is a strong part of all major faiths. It is an opportunity to deepen our beliefs and faith. It can strengthen our inner beings and can make a difference in our lives. During the exam season we will be joining together to pray. We will be praying before exams. We will be praying during exams. We will be asking for prayer requests. We will be sharing praise reports. I invite you to begin a habit and a pattern in your life of inviting God into your world, through prayer.
Posted on: 8th April 2019
““I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.””
What is in your attic? The daytime television programme encourages people to see if there is ‘cash’ in it. My attic is full of boxes. Each year we fill a memory box of all the amazing art work, projects, school books and cards from that year. In there go medals, certificates, achievements, clearing the way for the next season of success. These mementos of life will, I am led to believe, will fill our years of retirement with joy as we recall our early family experiences; looking back on the life we lived.
As we approach Holy Week, we are considering the words of Jesus, “I am the life”. Consider these words and the experiences that followed. Jesus is life, yet he died on the cross. I love how the New Testament writers record the real life examples of the responses to Jesus’ death.
John records of himself that he comforted Mary as they watched him on the cross (John 19:25). In John 18, we read of Judas who betrayed Jesus and Peter denied knowing him, three times. In Acts we read of Peter leading the early church, after he was restored by the resurrected Jesus and filled with the Holy Spirit. We read in Acts 1 of the pain and hurt that Judas felt, unable to continue with life and the decision he made.
Judas reminds me of a story from a Welsh, farming village. Two young men left their farm one day, climbed to a neighbouring village, stole some sheep and returned home. This practice continued until they were caught. The punishment was that they were branded on their foreheads, S.T. (Sheep Thief), and expelled from their community. One left and got a ship, for a distant land where no one knew what he had done. Whenever he met someone new, they asked him about the mark on his head. He never found any peace or acceptance and his wrong choices followed him for the rest of his short life.
The second young man turned to the local priest, who found him a place to stay and gave him the job of maintaining the church and the grounds. Over time, the young man was able to help members of the community, the elderly and the youth. He became a support and help to others. One day, he overheard some children talking. “Who’s that man over there? Why does it say ST on his head?” said one child. “That’s easy,” said the other. “He’s the Saint. He helps everyone!”
We know the end of the Easter story. Jesus’ death and resurrection became the only way to a relationship with God. My prayer for you this week is that you consider your choice and response to this message, as we reflect on the responses of John, Peter, Judas and the two young men.