2020 Bible Reflections

April 11th 2020: Psalm 142

Psalm 142

A maskilof David. When he was in the cave. A prayer.

I cry aloud to the Lord;
    I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy.
I pour out before him my complaint;
    before him I tell my trouble.

When my spirit grows faint within me,
    it is you who watch over my way.
In the path where I walk
    people have hidden a snare for me.
Look and see, there is no one at my right hand;
    no one is concerned for me.
I have no refuge;
    no one cares for my life.

I cry to you, Lord;
    I say, “You are my refuge,
    my portion in the land of the living.”

Listen to my cry,
    for I am in desperate need;
rescue me from those who pursue me,
    for they are too strong for me.
Set me free from my prison,
    that I may praise your name.
Then the righteous will gather about me
    because of your goodness to me.

You can listen to today’s Psalm here: Psalm 142 audio

David speaks this psalm from within a cave. It’s an important detail, particularly resonant today on Holy Saturday, when we remember the body of Jesus, in Joseph’s tomb, on the day of lost hope and quiet turmoil that his friends and disciples were going through. Yes, he had promised that if he, was destroyed he would rise within 3 days. Yes, those who had been paying attention might have been hopeful of something miraculous taking place, but Jesus’s family friends and followers had just watched the flame of hope and the light of love die, apparently, with the death of Jesus as they awoke on this Saturday. And they were frightened. Life was locked in a cave.

And so we return to David, another who spent time hiding in a cave, pursued by his enemies and, it often seems to me, by his own fears, doubts and questions, both about himself and his life and about whether the God he had put his hope in was really going to come through for him and save him. It’s a fair enough question and just as David asked it, the followers of Jesus asked it whilst he was in a cave, so it seems understandable to me that many of us might be in a place of doubt and questions and crying out to God for deliverance. Only a few days before this in his own story, Jesus had asked God if there was any possibility of the cup of suffering being taken from him. When the answer came back a resounding no, he once again set his face to what was needed and required of him and gave his life, his all, on the cross, scorning its shame, so that the possibility of resurrection might exist not just for him but for all.

David hiding in his cave cried out to God but still wanted to make it clear that he trusted God. Jesus trusted God and his plan all the way to the cross, the cave and the depths of death. Will we trust God through our own doubts and suffering in the hope that Sunday is coming?

Something To Do

Commit to contentment. What gifts have you been given that you can enjoy and use for the benefit of other people?

Something To Pray

Lord, you invite us to enter into the fellowship of Jesus’s sufferings. Help us to wait in this place of pain and watch with you for the dawn of tomorrow’s brand new day and brand new hope.


Things You Learn Lying On the Bathroom Floor

This blog is also forming the basis of a piece I’ve been asked to write for this weekend’s event at the Vatican, Living Fully 2016. This looks like being a fantastic event. I’m sad not to be attending, but very happy to be able to offer this contribution to the discussion and debate. 

Things You Learn Lying On the Bathroom Floor

Recently, I was enormously privileged to be asked to both preach and act as a co-best man for two dear friends of mine, Matt and Ruth. This happy event took place towards the end of a period of seemingly frenzied activity in the life of the Churches in which I am Assistant Curate, The Emmanuel Group in Northampton. I was nervous before I spoke. There’s so much that one wants to say in a wedding address, particularly for close friends. Fortunately, I managed to strike the balance between providing a warm up for the best man’s speech later that evening and speaking words of love, truth and blessing to Matt and Ruth from God as they began their married life together.

Prior to that day, the week had contained several other events which had been noteworthy. A couple of apparently serious incidents involving people in the life of our Church community provided both opportunities for exercising ministry and opportunities to take on more worry and tension than I perhaps should have done. In the same week, I found myself praying for the new Mayor of Northampton, Cllr Christopher Malpas, as he began his term of office by inviting me to be his chaplain. I can tell you that these events are not normal in the course of my life and work. What is normal? And why might I begin a piece about disability, fear and leadership by talking about things which to other ministers might seem fairly normal, even mundane?

Let’s return to Saturday night. It’s around 10pm, the wedding is starting to wind down and I’m laughing at another joke from a friend I see far from often enough. And then it happens. I feel a tightness around my core, the muscle group that stretches around the middle of my body. I know what’s coming. Fortunately,  I manage to attract my wife’s attention before I am unable to speak, and she propels me along to the bathroom, which is mercifully vacant. As the door closes, wave upon wave of spasm hits me and I am doubled over in agony. I can’t breathe. I can’t speak, except in groans and to say the most important word I can think of at that moment: ‘sorry’. I’m sorry to my wife that she has to see this, to deal with it. I’m sorry that I nearly had an ‘episode’ in a very public place. I’m sorry that my body is out of control. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

In short order, I’m lying flat on the bathroom floor and, in the cold light of day a few days later, I’m not ashamed to say that I am whimpering. I am scared. What if it doesn’t stop? It did last time, a year and a half ago, when an over-busy Christmas period ended with me on my parent’s lounge floor putting a dampener on the beginning of our Christmas celebrations. It did immediately after I arrived home from playing a show with my band (in a former life!) in Trafalgar Square to (I’m told) 10,000 people, but what if it doesn’t this time?

Fortunately, it did pass. I was able to re-enter the fray of the wedding before too long and have spent most of this last week recovering my equilibrium. But there were a few moments lying there on that bathroom floor, and I say this advisedly and without seeking to overly dramatise the event, where my life, and my immediate future, flashed before my eyes.

During those moments, convinced that my body was letting me down, I decided that there was no way I would be able to undertake in future the functions of the priestly role. What use would I be to people if, when under a modicum of stress, my body decides to stop allowing me to work?  From there I find myself in a cycle of reflection. What is the priesthood about? Does it require bodies and minds to be of a suitable consistent standard to be acceptable to God and deemed as priestly? Leviticus 21, particularly vv16-c20 has the potential in thought processes such as these to be a source of terror and a weapon of tyranny.

The Lord said to Moses, “Say to Aaron: ‘For the generations to come none of your descendants who has a defect may come near to offer the food of his God. No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed; no man with a crippled foot or hand, or who is a hunchback or a dwarf, or who has any eye defect, or who has festering or running sores or damaged testicles.

This passage, taken in context, is about ritual purity or impurity. However, for me, at times when my sense of worth has been challenged, it has the power to rear its head as a judge and jury: I am not enough. I couldn’t be. My body does not measure up and because my body doesn’t, neither does the rest of me. You might read this and feel like my exegesis is off (it probably is) and that I’m being overly-dramatic (I very well may be) but feelings and deeply-internalised thoughts can be heavily consequential and hard to shift or shake off.

A combination of the glorious fulfilment of the law by Jesus and the belated flourishing of institutional common sense has made it possible for a slightly more representative selection of the Body of Christ to be considered suitable for ordination and leadership in his Church. I found it instructive, however, that it was in the moment and aftermath of reduced functionality that my sense of priestly identity, something which I think I know can only be imbued by God, was challenged, by me, in my own head. Have I, have we, in rightly emphasising the importance of honouring God in calling, training, equipping and sending leaders, misplaced our sense of balance? I would argue I certainly have, perhaps you have too.

We all know that the weaker (in whichever sense we are denoting weakness, certainly impairment does not equate to weakness in all cases) parts of the body are to be given the greatest honour. We know, too, that the greatest, and arguably most powerful acts of Jesus came in his weakest moments. In submitting to suffering, in emptying himself of all but instead of imposing his will and his way on all people, so that those very same people could have eternal life, life to the full, access to the grace and peace of God. Our God was not in human terms physically, mentally or emotionally, at his strongest when he was at his most efficacious.

And yet, as I writhed on the floor in agony, it was my ability to prove myself effective in the future, immediate and long term, as a minister that I most worried about. To put it bluntly, if this situation didn’t improve, or change, I wouldn’t be able to do my job. Rightly or wrongly, probably wrongly, this was my instinctive reaction, one that I had to fight against in the moments of uncertainty that followed for me in the proceeding days. I don’t believe that anything or anyone but God can give a person what is necessary for them to be a priest. Neither could anyone but God truly revoke that calling and identifying. 

The diocese in which I live and minister, Peterborough Diocese in the Church of England, has been fantastic for me as I explored a calling to ministry, had that calling affirmed, trained and now am completing the second year of my curacy. At most stages along the way, my impairment has been a ‘live’ issue. Both the diocese and I have had to work together on finding approaches to life and ministry that are appropriate and effective for me. I want to say here that I greatly appreciate the care, support and incisive challenges that have been given to me by my Bishops, my Archdeacon and other senior staff in the Diocese and wish to honour that. I had, and have, at least as much to learn about the ways in which I can live as a priest as ‘the Diocese’ in this regard. Similarly, my Training Incumbent, Margaret Johnson, truly has enabled me to flourish during the two years I have worked with her. I am incredibly grateful for that. These might seem like unnecessary things to say in a piece like this, but I think they’re important. Many people and institutions have collaborated to ensure that I have become able to live and work out the calling that God gave me. I know other people with impairments and disabilities have had good experiences in this regard, whilst for others similar processes have been hugely painful. There is, though, hope.

Our Churches benefit hugely from being ministered to by people who run the full gamut of the wondrous glory of God’s creation. Some of these ministers will be all-action, placed in physically and emotionally demanding situations and circumstances. Some will be able to offer less physically. Still others will offer a level of academic rigour in their dealings with Scripture and theology that will be far and above that offered by other ministers. There is not a minister of the gospel who does not, in offering to serve God and his people, find themselves in the position of needing to sacrifice, to suffer for the outworking of their calling, whichever element of themselves, their lives, or the lives of those they love might be squeezed for the sake of the Church. Ministry, like the Christian life, looks subtly different each time it is gifted by God to a person. Therefore, there is not one ‘successful’ approach to Christian ministry, there are, in effect, as many as there are ministers. Some need to be catalysts, some pragmatists, some spend more time listening, some tearing down the walls of unjust structures, physically. What do all have in common? They shine the light of Christ into the world, as sacramental presences, drawing communities of worship and praise around the divine, communities that are then sent out to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God. An effective ministry is not a busy ministry per se. As Eugene Peterson (who always says things that I wish I’d thought of first) says, the busy pastor is the lazy pastor. A good point for reflection, that.

An effective ministry is one that points people to Jesus and his glory. People with impairments and disabilities, temporary and permanent, have at least as much to offer in this as those unfortunate enough to think that they are in no way impaired. Indeed, I, as an impaired person, have a crucial role to play in this. Without us, the ministry of the Church is limited, deficient. With us it is more fully equipped to minister to the world in all its breadth. Those of us involved in this event know this. Pointing out to the Christian world and the world at large that fullness of life, abundance, grace and mercy, as well as brokenness and blessing can come in many shapes and forms is an urgent prophetic mandate in our day. If that means that the functional demands made of priests and ministers have to change or be more readily flexible in some instances, as time goes on, a wider and wider spectrum of the Church is, happily, coming to this realisation too. then so be it.

God identifies us as his children, reconciled to himself in and through Jesus. that word will not be unspoken. I wonder how many people God calls to ordination for whom his word of affirmation and invitation is never heard because our expectations and requirements do not permit it. For the Church holy, catholic and apostolic truly to be living fully, we have to continually be open to expecting the unexpected from God, for him to breathe life where there were only dry bones, for the wind of the Spirit to blow in unforeseen, unlikely places. On that bathroom floor, it felt once more, and all the more, unlikely that I had what it takes to be a leader in Christ’s Church. Yet here I am, when I am in pain and when I am not; when everything is working and when it is not, privileged and blessed to be such a leader, learning and growing all the time. I pray that we would be open across the breadth of the Church, to affirming the calling to Church leadership of more people who may look at first glance like unlikely ministers, but on whom the Spirit rests. Then we may, writhing on the bathroom floor in weakness, or rejoicing in the strength that only the joy of the Lord can bring (or whatever the opposite of writhing on a bathroom floor is), truly be living fully.



March 2016

March 22nd 2016: Luke 22: 39-53

You can follow today’s reading by clicking on this sentence.

Have you ever prayed so earnestly that it was as if you were sweating blood? In our comfortable Western context, prayer can easily lack intensity. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a place where someone sweated like great drops of blood blood in anguished prayer. If they did, we’d probably try and calm them down, make them sit down so as not to distress other people. Jesus, as he does this, is entering the most intense moment, not just of his life, but arguably of all of human history. Still, it’s a detail that can sometimes get brushed over in our cultural of appropriateness.

Jesus finds his disciples sleeping ‘because of grief’ and demands that they pray ‘earnestly that you might not come into the time of trial’. If we do pray like this, it’s easy for us to slip into feeling selfish or to descend into self-absorption. Recently, the concept of the enemy ‘prowling like a lion that he might devour some’ has been much on my mind. As I write this in front of the backdrop of the unfolding event of the terror attacks in Brussels this morning, I find myself thinking again of how accepting I have become of ‘times of trial’, moments when evil rears its head and wreaks as much havoc as it possibly can, seeking not just to devour individuals, but whole communities, cultures and ideologies. Evil is part of our world, our lives, but it is never acceptable. We should do all we can to stand against it, recognising, especially this week of all weeks, that we have one who is for us and who went to the Cross to defeat evil. In our own lives, in our thoughts and actions, in our words, in our politics, in the choices we make with money, let us not be people who repay evil for evil. Let’s instead be people who pray earnestly for those who find themselves in a time of trial, that the merciful love of God would enfold them. Let’s be people who, when faced with evil, repay it with good. Where there is hatred, let’s bring love. Easy in theory, but all so very hard in practice.

Let’s be people who hold true to the one we believe in and love, the Prince of Peace.


March 2016

March 9th 2016: Hebrews 10:1-18

You can follow today’s reading by clicking on this sentence.

‘I will remember their sins and lawless deeds no more’

Today’s is one of the most amazing passages in the whole of Scripture (in my opinion). Jesus gave a single offering for all sin, which was sufficient to satisfy the demands of justice. The law of love wins! All the offering and sacrificing we can do will not ever lead us to freedom, Jesus’s gift to us is the only thing that can do that.

And not only that, as the quote at the top of this post says, God promises that he will put sins and lawless deeds out of his mind. He will not remember them. This seems entirely contrary. I keep a record of my own wrongs, even though I shouldn’t. More than this, I am bad at keeping a record of the wrongs of others. Am I loving them? When we find ourselves living in times when injustice is meted out to the poor on an institutional scale and every reading of a news article’s ‘under the line’ comments section indicates a national hardening of heart towards those who are in need, there is a rising within me of a desire for justice (which I think is good) as well as a desire for the restoration for balance (still good, I think) and finally a desire for some kind of redress (this is where it gets bad, I think). We are to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God. If, at any point I find myself claiming that I am less in need of the grace and mercy of God than those who vote for or implement unjust laws, those whose opinions I disagree with, however strongly, claiming that those things are more sinful and in need of mercy than I am, then I deceive myself.

We live in times when it is all too easy to be fearful. Just look at the political leadership situations in most of the most powerful nations of the world. But God is my light and my salvation, whom then shall I fear? We have a God who could remember our sins and lawless deeds, who could count them against us, who could do anything he likes at any moment. He chooses grace and mercy. Let’s do the same today.

March 2016

March 2nd 2016: Hebrews 6:13-20

You can follow today’s reading by clicking on this sentence.

‘…a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul’.

Time and time again with these pieces, I find myself drawn to the unchangeable truths of the promises of God found in scripture as opposed to the entirely changeable nature of my feelings and emotional responses to them. Again we find ourselves here today. The truth of the good news of Jesus Christ is that his victory enables him to be ‘a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul’. If I am find in and with him, I am surely and steadfastly in the place I need to be, and I can live from there. If I do not accept that Jesus is a sure and steadfast anchor, because of things that happen, how I feel about them, mistakes I make, thoughts I have which are more refined and evolved than those expressed in scripture, then I am not stepping beyond God. Instead, I am making my life, and the life of faith, more complicated than it actually is, was meant to be, or ever should be. We all need something, or someone to hold on to. Jesus is that something and that someone. It is simple. It is not complicated. He is sure and steadfast. I have never found anything else that is. And I’ve looked. Hard.

My anchor will hold in the storms of life, because my anchor is not me, it is Jesus. He can be yours too. Just ask him. Do it. Today

2014 Lectionary Ramblings Lectionary Ramblings

August 30th 2014: Acts 5:27-42

Read Acts 5:27-42 here

Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.

The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.”

“If it is of God, you will not be able to stop these men”. This is quite some wisdom from Gamiliel. Even in the midst of what amounted to blasphemy, he was able to keep his head and sense that there may have been something of God in what the apostles were doing and teaching. It is also, perhaps likely that he thought that their “revolt” would fade away just as the others he recounted had done. Whether or not he was speaking out of reverence for what God might do, or ridiculing the apostles, I do not know, but still, he hit upon something important. God cannot be thwarted. His purposes cannot be denied. We might think we’re in charge, or that we are defeating those who act in the name of God, but if people are actually working in the name of God (and who are we to tell whether they are or not?) nothing we can do will stop them from succeeding. Sometimes it is best for us to stand back and watch for signs of the action of God, particularly when God might act in a way which is beyond our usual understanding of His function. Shockingly God can act however He wants to. We would do well to remember that.

Later in the reading this morning, we see the apostles rejoicing because they were counted worthy to “suffer disgrace for the Name”. There are places all over the world where people heed this call today. Much of our teaching at the present time does not lead us to rejoice over being considered worthy to suffer because of Jesus. I wonder if our soft teaching will be challenged in the coming months and years.

2014 Lectionary Ramblings Lectionary Ramblings

August 15th 2014: Luke 11: 27-28

Read Luke 11:27-28 here

He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

Will we hear the word of God today? What will we think it is? Will we take it as our moral compass, our way of regulating the life of those around us and “calling to account” those with whom we disagree? Certain parts of scripture make a case for this cantankerous, and frankly entirely unappealing type of “faithfulness”. It’s as if we’re scared to be creative, to think for ourselves, to take responsibility, to live in a state of grace, and so instead we bind ourselves up in labyrinthine, contradictory rules and edicts, so that we can feel ever more guilty, ever more unworthy, and yet at the same time ever more morally superior.

What would it be like if the word of God we sought to obey was “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength, and love your neighbour as yourself”? Would we want to be the world’s moral police then? Would the height of our ambition be to prove which version of the Genesis creation stories were “true”? Would we justify our communities, our nations, blowing people to smithereens because they have “a divine right” to do so to get to a patch of land? I really don’t think we would. I think we would realise that to love is to sacrifice, to be humble and to put others first.

Jesus changed the world like that. We are following after Him. We can follow in His way.

2014 Lectionary Ramblings Lectionary Ramblings

August 2nd 2014: Luke 22:14-23

Read Luke 22:14-23 here

As the story of Jesus’ betrayal and suffering draws on inexorably. we are faced with the odd scene of the Passover meal among friends, after which Jesus knows He will be handed over to His death, and the mysteriously, powerfully symbolic with hindsight utterances commanding the disciples, and us, to eat and drink in remembrance of Him. As seems to have been the case with Jesus more often than we like to admit, what He says during this meal, and how He says it must have been quite perverse to those who heard/ Why didn’t Jesus just say “it’s Judas, he’s going to betray me”? Why didn’t He say “When I say it’s my body and blood, I mean that it actually is/spiritually is/is meant to signify the sacrifice I’m about to make and all that it means”? It would certainly have been a lot easier for us who followed after Him. I wonder though if that isn’t something of the point. Here, in the midst of the fear of oncoming death, in the middle of the most realcrucial event and undertaking in the whole of human history, Jesus doesn’t lay it all out in easy, bitesize chunks. Rather, He does what needs to be done, and doesn’t feel the need to elaborate or explain further.

So often, we want to break faith down in to easy, approachable elements. We want to make it seem attractive. We want to minimise the sacrifice we feel called to undertake in order to be faithful. We want to understand everything, to live it all day by day, and still to enjoy our comfortable, “successful” lives. I’m sure Jesus, in a sense, wouldn’t have minded doing that either. You only have to watch The Last Temptation of Christ to be able to see what a strong drive their might have been to follow that path rather than the crushing one set before Him.

The thing is, He took it anyway. I wonder sometimes if He truly knew what He was getting in to, the gravity and severity of the pain, the separation, and how it would feel to die an undeserved death on behalf of others who would reject Him continually. I have very little doubt that He knew it was needed and that the benefits to Him and to all would ultimately be enormous, but still, I wonder, how in control of things was Jesus at that point? And yet, He did it anyway.

Often, for me at least, unless the risks are minimised, the way is clear, the steps are logical and sensible, I’m not willing to move on in my faith and life. My trust in God only extends to the limits of my intellect. In which case it is no trust at all. I’m trusting myself and calling it trusting God instead. How can we live in such a way that we might be so obedient that, whatever the consequences to us, we follow God, His ways, and live, love and hope for the coming of the kingdom, today?

2014 Lectionary Ramblings Lectionary Ramblings

July 29th 2014 Luke 21:5-19

Read Luke 21:5-19 here

“By your endurance you will gain your souls”

At any given time, if we were to study the world news carefully, we would find Christians being persecuted. As things are at this particular moment, this reading feels especially apposite. I’ve already written this week about standing with those who are suffering for the Gospel – it is one of the primary tasks of faith I think, something which we in the UK are largely blind to. Often we are told that this is merciful, or a blessing and, certainly, I’d rather have the life I have, for myself or my family, than those experienced by those who are displaced, injured or even killed for their belief in the person of Jesus and His good news. However, Jesus is unequivocal here, we gain our souls through our endurance for the gospel. I wonder if this means that, if we are not sacrificing or suffering in some way as a result of our faith, we’re somehow not doing it right. I’m not saying that this is a positive, or perhaps even helpful message, and I could well be way off, but if my faith doesn’t challenge my life, if it doesn’t cause me any kind of difficulty at all, is it real faith?

Don’t go out and seek to be a martyr for the sake of it today, but seek ways to endure, to be refined, to be challenged. Ask questions, rail against injustice, think of others before myself. These are my challenges to myself today. Join with me?