Our Christian Heritage

One evening in 1956, Terry’s sister came home and had a chat with him. “I’ve become a Christian”, she announced.

Terry wasn’t interested. “Aren’t we all Christians?” He responded casually.

She went on to explain the Gospel to him and by the end of the evening, Terry was on his knees asking Jesus to save him.

We now live in a world where people in our nation do not think that ‘everyone is a Christian’. In fact it is pretty unusual for anyone to admit to being Christian. We have so lost awareness of our Christian roots that the average person in Britain is ignorant of how vital a part Christianity has played in shaping our culture. So it is not only fascinating to discover how that came to be but also very important in informing and perhaps changing our mindsets toward our Christian past, especially in days when there is a certain amount of tweaking going on regarding our history.

Last Tuesday we had the joy and privilege of joining a party of friends who were being taken on a tour in the City of London, led by my son Ben, when we visited a few of the many sites significant in our history. The Square Mile of the City is not a large space but it is crammed with such places, eloquent of the huge influence Christianity has in England.

We started at St Paul’s Cathedral, it’s iconic dome no longer dominant because of the many gigantic buildings now surrounding it, but nevertheless standing serene and prominent where a cathedral has stood for fifteen hundred years. The original was built in AD604, and the present one is the fifth to be built on the same site. In the churchyard is a statue of John Wesley, the famous Gospel preacher of the 17th century, who rode tirelessly up and down the nation preaching the Gospel . Thousands listened and their lives were transformed by the glorious truth. The statue is life-sized and depicts a man astonishingly small by modern standards: 5ft 3ins! Yet what he lacked in physical stature, he more than made up for in massive influence. In fact one might say he was a giant, as by his preaching, (as well as that of George Whitefield, his contemporary,) it is highly likely that Britain averted a revolution, which simultaneously was sweeping across France.

Nearby, outside what is now the Museum of London, a copper monument shaped like a flame is located upon which is inscribed Wesley’s testimony. As he listened to a reading from Luther’s commentary on Galatians, a change took place in his heart :” My heart was strangely warmed and I felt I did believe that Christ died for my sins, even mine…” One can visit the church nearby where that took place.

Also in St Paul’s churchyard is the site of Paul’s cross, which was a gathering place and news spot of its day. It was where announcement were made, gossip was exchanged, ideas discussed and proclamations declared. Sadly it was also the site of a huge bonfire of Bibles in the English language ordered by the Bishop of London under Henry VIII. William Tyndale had worked relentlessly on its translation from Latin and Greek for years. He had been hounded from England and had had to work in the Netherlands to finish it. Printing it was a laborious business, but thousands of copies were made and smuggled in to England. The came the denunciation from the King and clergy and the public burning.

Not long after, Tyndale himself was arrested on the continent and also burned to death, chained to a stake. His last words were not for himself, but a prayer that “the king of England’s eyes may be opened”. Only two years later, that prayer was answered and Bibles were to be placed in every church by royal decree!

Smithfield market is 5 mins walk away and tablets on the wall commemorate the burning to death of other courageous men of God whose only crime was to preach the Gospel of Jesus.

It is moving to visit the church of St Mary Woolnoth right by the Bank of England. A small and ancient building, it is where John Newton was vicar for twenty eight years in the 18th century. He himself had been a dissolute and depraved man, a slave trader. At one point in his life he was abandoned on an African coast and was himself enslaved until he eventually escaped and found passage on a ship back to England. A terrible storm arose which nearly took the lives of all aboard. Newton cried out to God in his terror; they all survived. Newton began to read the Bible and discovered the mercy, forgiveness and grace of God and went on to be a minister of the Gospel and wrote the famous hymn, Amazing Grace.

One day a young man came hoping to speak to the vicar. He was admitted and asked Newton for his advice. This young man was a brilliant orator and a member of Parliament, but had recently become converted to Christ. Should he go into the Church?

John Newton shook his head. “Mr Wilberforce, God has other plans for you!” And so William Wilberforce continued in Parliament for another 47 years, giving virtually his whole life to bring about the abolition of slavery. It is moving to sit in that church now and hear that story and to sing that same hymn.

As we emerged into the sunlight we were led down other streets and heard stories of Lord Shaftesbury, a man who was instrumental in getting legislation through to abolish atrocities such as sending little boys up chimneys to sweep them who often suffocated in the process; who pushed bills through Parliament to make education freely available to poor children as well as rich; who brought attention to the scandal of Bedlam where the insane and mentally ill were neglected and abused, and who was tireless in getting many other acts and bills through parliament for the benefit of poor and needy. Why? He was motivated by his love for Christ and obedience to his commands. Elizabeth Fry was another who reformed the filthy hole that was Newgate prison.

These and many others down the centuries have brought education, medicine, and respectful care to the under privileged and neglected, which have passed into our legal framework and cultural expectations, and upon which our social systems have been built. We forget at our peril the humane treatment and legislation which has underpinned our society based on Biblical principles, and has become the accepted norm. It is imperative that we remind ourselves that the motivation for these things was “the love of Christ which compels us”, and the respect and reverence for the human being made in the image of God.

When love disappears and when human beings are considered to be no more than foetal matter, or a collection of evolved cells, motivation becomes muddled; power, ambition and personal choice take over. This is where we are now and it is a dangerous place. Christian history is vital. We need to know where we have come from, who laid down their lives to bring us God’s word and how are we going to carry the torch into the future. Have we the guts and courage of our forebears?

God strengthened and sustained them ; he is still faithful.

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Bright- eyed in Brighton

Yesterday I went to Brighton. Terry had to meet up with the production team at Emmanuel church to be interviewed about his new book, God’s Treasured Possession, and I decided to wander down to Western road, the main shopping area.
Because of lockdown, I have barely entered a shop other than Tesco for months, so I was looking forward to strolling through favourite stores, looking at new dress fashions, shoes and whatnot, just to be amongst people again, shopping.

During lockdown , I have enjoyed venturing into sewing, so I went into a large fabric store and picked up a remnant of beautiful material, some buttons and needles. Pleased, I emerged on to the street, and decided to visit the mall.

It was easy to cross the road because there was not much traffic; in fact Churchill Square was strangely quiet, not many people around, although it was a sunny day.
The mall was disappointing. Many of the well-known shops that used to be staples of the high street are no longer trading. Debenhams was especially dismal: some racks of sad looking garments like islands in the midst of a vast empty sea with a few people poking at them hopefully, while acres of empty shelves were being dismantled. Depressed, I hurried out, mourning the days when it was a popular, bustling department store.

Back out on the streets I felt the whole atmosphere was depressing. Faces were masked, heads were down. Brave souls resisted the cool wind to sit outside coffee shops, scrolling through their phones. Only eyes were visible above masks and they all seemed expressionless and lacking in life.
There was no vibe, no excitement, no joy!
Deflated, I caught a bus to go back to the church centre.

Inside the building, a bunch of students had come in to prepare for an event, and were chattering happily….hands suitably sanitised at the entrance of course, but faces were smiling and their eyes were bright and alert. I went upstairs with them into the large area, now fitted up very professionally as a studio for filming and recording. Terry and Joel were just finishing their interview and a few others gathered around. Again I was struck with their bright eyes, alert expressions and lively conversation. This was the vibe I had missed on the street! This was where the life was! Here there was positive exchange of ideas, and a sense of purpose., and a general feeling of optimism and animation. The contrast with what I had seen outside was very marked. As Terry and I left I remarked on it. My spirits had lifted, encouraged by the friendly welcome, the banter and the sense of moving forward.

We need to be amongst God’s people; we are family; we were made for the community of the saints, and we have been robbed of it for most of a year. Some of us have forgotten how encouraging it is to be with fellow-believers, and need reminding . “In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.”

We are cautiously emerging from lockdown. Cinemas and restaurants can soon be visited, art galleries opened, and various sports events reinstated. Soon the applause at football matches will be the real thing, not the faked, canned shouts we have got used to. But what I most long for is to be amongst my Christian brothers and sisters, worshipping without restraint, singing and shouting to our victorious Lord Jesus! May it come soon! Meanwhile may his life be visibly expressed in our demeanour.

“They look to him and are radiant and their faces are not ashamed “ (Psalm 34 v 5).

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Bare Christmas

This morning I listened repeatedly to John Rutter’s beautiful “Candlelight carol”, and found myself moved to tears. Am I just a soppy old lady? (Don’t answer that) Am I just moved by the sweet music of choristers’ voices soaring up into the awesome void of a cathedral ceiling? I admit do love that, but it was the lyrics that blessed me, encapsulating profound truth in a few lines.

How do you capture the wind on the water,

How do you count all the stars in the sky

How can you measure the face of a mother

How can you write down a baby’s first cry?

Perhaps because we have acquired two new grandchildren this last summer, I am particularly sensitive to the beauty of babies. I broke into grateful tears when we heard that Simon and Caroline’s little Isaac was safely born; and joined in the tears of joy on Tim’s face as he cradled his new daughter in his arms .( so special after three boys!) So covid hear was not entirely without its joys!

It is trite but true: a baby’s first cry is astonishingly precious. I remember going into labour with our first-born, and as I gazed around the delivery room from the high hospital bed, with the little cot in the corner waiting to receive my baby, the oxygen tank standing by, the nurses in their starched aprons, I was grateful. It was an antiquated old hospital, long since demolished and rebuilt, but I was so glad it wasnt a stable! It was clean, warm and I had professional help. In those hours I appreciated afresh my privileges; and I identified with Mary in the pain and joy of childbirth. When my son was eventually born and I heard that first cry, I experienced the truth that the pain recedes into the background because of the joy of the new life. (Although it was a long time before I could bear to think of going through all that again!)

Really, it is not surprising that Mary is venerated, although she would not want to be worshipped because her life was to serve her son, and all worship belongs to him. But to see life coming forth from one’s own body is an awesome thing; and Mary somehow unites the human experience with divine truth: and anyone who has given birth can at least in part identify with her.

I love the juxtaposition too, in the song, of the thought that there are things that are beyond us, mysterious, huge, and impossible to put into words, such as millions of stars, and wind which is invisible but whose movement is powerful; and into this huge and varied landscape the focus zooms in on a baby crying: so small yet central to the whole massive picture.

The song continues:

Shepherds and wisemen will kneel down before him

Seraphim round him their vigil will keep

Nations proclaim him their Lord and their Saviour,

But Mary will hold him and sing him to sleep.

Again the joining of majesty and humility! The Incarnation is beyond explanation. The older I get, the more I simply bow before the truth, totally unable to express its glory, its simplicity and its profound depth.

I am immeasurably grateful that God allowed me to give birth. Each of my five children was an inexpressible gift. But birth itself is an amazing thing, and to know and experience a child growing inside your body is a great and wonderful privilege. We should not take it lightly. And then to hold, touch, feed and nurture, train and love this life is a great and huge responsibility, full of challenges as well as joy. This song celebrates motherhood and rightly so.

We have an enemy who wants to steal, kill and destroy. He hates the human race because God loves it and has sent his son to redeem it. The enemy besmirches that which is precious, makes the sacred mundane, calls that which is beautiful a nuisance.

This year, Christmas will be stripped down. Traditional events such as concerts, pantomimes and parties are mostly cancelled. Shopping is a meagre affair, or absent, not an exciting trip to Oxford Street to see the lights and join hordes of shoppers in bright shops and decorated streets. We are very limited as to whom we can invite and celebrate with. It will be much more subdued than usual. But maybe, in the absence of all the peripheral trappings, we will be able to meditate and dwell on what it is all about, which so often gets lost in all the noise and excitement: the wonder of God becoming a baby boy.

Think on it and be thankful. This bare Christmas could be the best yet.

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Consider Job

I have been thinking about Job recently. He was prosperous, successful, conscientious, a good father, a man of integrity, and one who feared God. Then suddenly, everything that made life worth living was pulled away from him and he was left naked, sick, sad and perplexed. In fact, utterly shocked and depressed to the point of almost suicidal.

The scene changes. Satan is standing before God, who asks him what the has been up to. “Oh,” says Satan, “Just roaming around the world.”

Satan: a prowling lion
Peter in the New Testament tells us that he continues to do that. He prowls about like a lion, looking for vulnerable people he can devour. If you have watched some of the superb wild life programmes on TV you will have seen lions stalking their prey, crouching in the long grass, watching, waiting, then suddenly springing out upon an unsuspecting antelope, quietly feeding. The antelope was quite innocent of any wrongdoing: it just happened to be there.

Our Enemy is lying in wait, watching for an opportunity to pounce on us. In times past, he has wreaked havoc on the church in many and various ways.

The Suffering Church
Christians have suffered terrible physical persecution. Families have been scattered, possessions plundered, homes destroyed.
Reputations have been ruined through lies and slander, people denied jobs because of their faith. The Romans threw them to the lions in their arenas; the Tudors burnt them at the stake; Huguenots in France were hounded out of their homes and massacred. More recently, Christians were treated with appalling cruelty in communist Russia, and in China. Behind all this was the marauding lion, the Devil, seeking to discredit and stamp out God’s precious people.

The Devil’s purpose, I believe, has not changed in that he is still opposing the church and trying to obliterate it. At this present time, his tactics have not been so blatant and obvious, not outright violence, at least not in the UK. Yes, our beliefs, behaviour, principles are always being pilloried and ridiculed: that is nothing new. But it is a fact that if you talk to many Christians, and especially leaders, you will find that they are finding life very tough.

Deadly and Insidious
Now, of course, this is the case with hordes of people. But I think that the Enemy has specifically pulled the rug out from under the feet of the church. He is using this situation to mount a very big onslaught. It is not outright, violent oppression, but it is a method of attempting to shut us down. He is using this covid crisis to rob us of the very things which have been basic and vital to church life. We have been robbed of being able to meet together except in limited and bizarre circumstances; we cannot sing together; we can’t touch and hug each other. All sorts of ways of blessing one another and doing the “one another” things that are impressed on us in the Bible have been seriously hit.

The instinct of pastors is to gather their flocks, feed them, tend them, nurture and care for them. It is hard to do that indefinitely on zoom! They want to envision, plan and set up programmes, but it is hard to do that when the rules keep changing. As fast as you make a plan, the goalposts are moved! So pastors are tempted to feel useless, fruitless, overwhelmed and plagued by uncertainty. Some feel like throwing in the towel altogether!

The Devil is very happy about this. Chaos is what he loves, especially amongst Christians.

Satan did it, God allowed it
Job was ruthlessly attacked. Satan did it, God allowed it. But Job could only see things from his miserable perspective. He ached with loss, his wife was bitter, he was physically sick, he was humiliated. Above all, he longed for answers from a God he had trusted and now seemed against him. He didn’t know that God was in fact so proud of him, that he wanted Satan to watch how he, Job, would handle it all.

How are we handling this season? As it becomes prolonged, the temptation is to become weary, discouraged, and cynical. “How long O Lord?” Why God?” “Where are you God?” “What’s it all about, Lord?”

How, why, where, what: Job asked all those questions. His friends, so-called, also asked, “Job, what have you done? How have you sinned? You must have sinned for all this to happen to you!” But poor Job was adamant, even in his wretchedness, that as far as he knew, he hadn’t sinned. This had crept up on him out of the blue: like covid 19!

So what else? They all examined it from different angles, but no one came up with a satisfactory reason, or answer for this shambles. Eventually, they ran out of breath, and then God spoke. What he said wasn’t anything to do with the crisis. He simply asked Job some questions. They were also of the who, where, what variety: “Who are you to question me?’ “Where were you when I created the world?” “What do you know about the sea, the clouds, light and darkness?”

God goes into a long, glorious account of the wonders of the world that he created, the details of birds, animals, trees and plants, the skies, clouds, stars. He has created everything down to tiny details. He has arranged the laws of physics, and designed the constellations and planets. His wisdom is unfathomable. The whole universe is under his orders. You are small, Job, very small!

Job never got answers to his questions; he never knew why he was put through such agony. But after this revelation of the might and glory of God, his response was, “My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen; therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” He wasn’t repenting for deliberate rebellion, but for being so shallow and unaware in his perception of God. He had been talking, asking why? Now he realises, “You said, ‘Listen and I will speak. I will question you, and you shall answer me.’” It is not for us to question God. Sometimes we hear people say, “If only I understood why, it would help!” There are things we shall never get an answer for; but we know that God is good, and we have to keep believing that.

But at least God gave us this book of Job which shows us that something bigger is going on, something beyond our normal human perspective. An enemy is prowling around in our day, and his method is scattering Christians, preventing corporate worship, limiting our contact, causing sickness and anxiety. Our instinct at such times is to rush together, hug, help, pray, sing, encourage and show love in practical ways. Now, these are very muted, if not entirely absent. So we must keep low before our Maker and Redeemer, stay close to him and not let the lies of the Devil overwhelm us.

The Gates of Hell shall not prevail!

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The Heavens Declare

I read Psalm 19 this morning: “The Heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”

Heavy cloud hangs over us today. Yesterday was beautiful, warm and sunny, the sky blue with a few fluffy clouds. The evening before, as we drove westward from Ashford to our home, the sky flamed with violet, crimson and gold. Now that’s when we say to our selves, “Ah! Glorious! God’s beautiful handiwork. Yes, the skies are declaring his majesty!”

But the Psalm goes on, “Day after day they pour forth speech.” That must indicate that every day the skies have something to say about God. What were they saying this morning when it rained? How is God speaking when the mist hangs over the meadows in early autumn; or when for days on end it is grey, grey, grey?

(My son in law wold probably interpret that as , “Move to Cape Town!”)

It is not only during daytime that the skies ‘pour forth speech’: “night after night, they display knowledge”. So a moonlit night, a starry sky, even a dark , cloud-covered night are all saying something about God. Nowhere on Earth is that voice silent, for the Psalm continues,  “There is nowhere their voice is not heard; their voice goes out into all the Earth”.

What are they saying?

First of all, “I made it.” God created the Heavens and the Earth. Rain or shine, sun, wind , stars, snow, he spoke it into being , set it up and keeps it going.

Secondly, he is a God of infinite variety.  “Listen!” Says Job.

“Listen to the roar of his voice: he unleashes lightning beneath the heavens, and after that comes the sound of his roar; he thunders with his majestic voice…..he says to the snow,”Fall on the earth” and to the rain shower, “Be a mighty downpour!” The breath of God produces ice, and the broad waters are frozen, he loads the clouds with moisture and scatters his lightning through them. At his direction they swirl around over the face of the earth…..You who swelter in your clothes when the land lies hushed under the south wind, can you join him in spreading out the skies, hard as a mirror of cast bronze?” (Job ch37)


Thirdly, he is a God of order. In Psalm 89 we read that God not only made the Heavens and Earth; he created “north and South”. In other words, he created the systems that determine the seasons, the orientation of the hemispheres, the way the planet turns, the wind currents that move the weather.


Fourthly, the skies remind us of how small we are and how great he is; how dependent we are on him for the basic elements of life. We suffered “unprecedented” (overworked word) heatwaves in Britain this year. Parts of the country also suffered massive floods. There was nothing we could do about either of these conditions! Afterwards people moan and complain that the government should have seen them coming and done something, but the truth is, no one is responsible for the weather! It is one of the few areas left where we have to admit our helplessness.  We may plan our picnics, weddings, holidays, planting seasons, harvest: we look at the sky and pray for sun or rain, but ultimately there is nothing we can do to ensure the weather we want!


Job ch38 opens with these words, “Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm.” The beauty of our God is that his creation speaks of him, his might, power, majesty, order, infinite variety; but that then he   discloses himself to us personally. He speaks in many ways.

“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” His Son. The Word, “through whom he made the universe.” (Hebrews ch1:1-2)


The heavens are the work of his hands, but “they will perish, they will wear out like a garment, you will roll them up like a robe. But you remain the same and your years will never end.”


Look at the sky today. What is it saying to you? Whatever the weather, one thing is sure: the earth and skies will pass away. We may be able to slow down global warming; we may be able to adapt to changing climates, but it will be temporary. How will it end?

I don’t know.

“But this I know: the skies will fill with rapture,

And myriad, myriad human voices sing,

And earth to Heaven, and heaven to earth will answer,

At last the Saviour, Saviour of the world is king.”




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The Disciple Jesus Loved

At the last supper, the disciples were sharing the Passover meal with Jesus. As was the custom, they reclined on couches around a central low table. One of them, “the disciple Jesus loved”, was reclining next to him. Who was this who claimed so confidently that he was the One Jesus loved?


Later, at the foot of the cross, stands a little group of devastated people witnessing the horrific spectacle of Jesus’ crucifixion, including Jesus’ mother. Standing near her is, again, “the one whom Jesus loved”. Jesus, even in his agony notices her distress, and makes provision for her future. “Look after her as your mother, “ he tells this disciple.

Then on the morning of the resurrection, Mary of Magdalene comes running to find Peter, and “the disciple Jesus loved” to say that Jesus’ body had disappeared! They rush to the tomb, but the “other disciple”, ie the one Jesus loved, gets there first.

Twice more he is referred to in this way. After the resurrection, the disciples have returned to Galilee and are back in their boats, fishing. They are out all night and catch nothing. Dispirited and cold in the early dawn , they see a man on the shore who calls to them.
“Did you catch anything?”

“No”, they groan. “Have another go, try throwing the net on the right side of the boat”, he calls. They decide they have nothing to
lose, and fling it out again, only to find it fills with a vast shoal of fish! Light dawns! One, “The disciple Jesus loved,” says, “It’s the Lord!” Peter jumps into the water, leaving the others to get the boat and its massive catch up onto the beach, and they all have a wonderful breakfast with Jesus. Afterwards, Jesus has a private conversation with Peter, at the end of which Peter sees “the disciple Jesus loved” tagging along behind.

So no less than five times, this description is used. Right at the end of the Gospel he identifies himself, “This is the disciple who testifies to these things, and we know that his testimony is true.” Aha! So, as we have suspected, it is the author, John, who calls himself “the disciple Jesus loved.”

Why? Was he saying he was someone special? Some commentators don’t like it: it looks like Jesus was guilty of favouritism. Was he saying that Jesus loved him more than the others? That he didn’t really love them like he loved him? Why didn’t they stop him? Why didn’t Jesus stop him saying it? Why didn’t John quickly and self- consciously qualify his claim, “ Yes I know he loved others too”. Or, “Of course I wasn’t the only one!”

John lived to be a very old man. He lived in Ephesus where it is thought he took Jesus’ mother, Mary, to care for her as Jesus had instructed. He wrote three epistles, and they are all over-flowing with the love of God for us. “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called the children of God! And that is what we are!” He is delighting in this amazing love, and wants the church to be a context where it is supremely manifested, where brothers and sisters lay down their lives for each other. “We love because he first loved us.”

He knows that God loves all his children, not just him. But he wants us all to know that love as if we were the only ones. He remembers those far off days when “we heard, we saw with our eyes, we looked at, that which our hands have touched”—— the very Word of Life! Now we proclaim it to you….”

John knew he was loved, and he wanted everyone to know and experience this love too. But first, he knew it as though no-one else was there, as though he were the only one. Like Paul, who wrote, “The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me”. There are times when we experience Jesus’ love as if we are the only ones, as if he singles us out of the crowd, and everything fades as he says so tenderly, “You are the One I love”.

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Dawn to Daylight

Reading through John’s Gospel, I see people coming to faith in Jesus by several stages.
Andrew, in chapter one, is curious after John the Baptist points to Jesus and declares, “Behold the Lamb of God!” So Andrew goes and seeks Jesus out. After spending a day with him, he is convinced that Jesus is the Messiah and goes and finds Peter. It takes longer for Peter but eventually he makes the declaration, “You are the Christ, the son of the Living God!” It is a process of awakening faith.

One day Jesus and his band of disciples are travelling through Samaria, and Jesus stops to rest by a well, and strikes up a conversation with a woman who is drawing water. Intrigued, she wonders who he is. At first she simply says, “You are a Jew, I am a Samaritan.” That is the extent of her knowledge.
Then Jesus reveals that he is the Giver of Living Water. This sounds promising! Further conversation demonstrates that he also knows details about her life. Hmmm. “I can see you are a prophet”, is her deduction. They continue to talk , and she says thoughtfully, “I know that the Messiah is coming, and he will explain everything to us.”
Jesus must have known that she was now ready for a big step forward in her understanding of him. He uttered the amazing words, “I who speak to you am he.”

The disciples come back and interrupt, but she has heard enough, and runs back to the village to tell everyone that a man who could be the Messiah is waiting by the well. They stream out, and after two days of teaching, the verdict is, “This man is the Saviour of the World.” She has gone in one day from simply seeing him as a “Jew”, through Giver of Living water, a prophet, Messiah and finally Saviour of the world.

Similarly, the man born blind, in chapter 9, goes through a journey of discovery. Jesus spreads some mud on the man’s eyes, and tells him to wash in the pool of Siloam. He does, and comes back seeing! When questioned, all he knows is that “the man they call Jesus” did it. Badgered by the authorities to explain, “what have you got to say about him?”, he replies, “ He must be a prophet”. They continue interrogate him, until at last he says, “One thing I know: once I was blind, but now I see!” They are infuriated, and hurl insults at him, but
he refuses to be cowed into denial. In fact the more they persist, the clearer he gets! The more they shout that “this man cannot be from God”, the more he is convinced. “Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God,
he could do nothing!”

Then he meets Jesus a second time, this time with his eyes open. Jesus reveals himself as the “Son of man”, and the once blind beggar prostrates himself in worship. “Lord, I believe.”

Many people have vaguely heard of Jesus: “a Jew”, or “a man called Jesus.” Some begin to realise he is more than that: he was a special man, “a prophet”. But then something happens, and another piece of the jigsaw falls into place. He is “a man who told me about
everything I have ever done”; or “He opened my eyes!” Something supernatural occurs which brings dawning wonder. Could it be? Is he really…? Then: he is from God! He is the Messiah! He is the Saviour of the world! “Lord, I believe!”

These people in John’s Gospel went through a process of discovery until they came to a place of faith. For 2 of them this process took place all on one day. For most people it takes a bit longer. They don’t realise that Jesus is gently drawing them. He excites their curiosity: he is more than just “a man”. Some will stop right there. Some seed was sown, but it fell into stony ground, or got choked by weeds. Others will concede, “He was a prophet”.

Are they ready for that momentous moment when the truth dawns, “He is from God! He is the Saviour of the world!” The only response after that is worship. “Lord, I believe”.

Who have you been praying for? God hears and has been patiently pursuing. We don’t know where they are on their journey, but he does. Keep praying until full light dawns.

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Caught in the Act

People who blame

It had been a demanding few days. Jesus had gone up to Jerusalem for the feast of tabernacles and had been teaching in the temple courts. His teaching had been forthright and uncompromising, exposing the hardness of the hearts of the self-righteous Jews. 

The main issue was that of Sabbath breaking. Jesus had healed a man on the Sabbath, and the Pharisees were enraged. Jesus told them, “ The One who sent me is true. You do not know Him, but I know Him because I am from him and He sent me”. This made the Pharisees so angry they tried to arrest him, but he evaded them.

Now they came, striding into the court, prayer shawls and tassels billowing around them, a bunch of men intent on catching him out. They stood in front of him and parted to reveal a figure they had dragged along. She was cowering with shame, hiding her face, looking at the ground, sobbing quietly.
Triumphantly the leader declared, “This woman has been caught in bed with someone else’s husband! According to Moses, she should be stoned! What do you say, Jesus?”

The others with him nodded sagely. Aha! Now we’ve got him! He cant get out of this one! The Law is unequivocal: he must comply with it!

There was utter silence. Jesus bent down and doodled in the dust with his finger. He wasn’t in a hurry. He wasn’t panicked or flummoxed. He wasn’t embarrassed. He just waited. 

What was he doing? What was he writing? I think he was listening, not to the confusion around him, but to the voice of his Father.  “By myself I do nothing. I judge only as I hear, and my judgement is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.” (John5v30)

That was the way Jesus lived. He and the Father were in complete agreement.

The woman had sinned. She deserved the penalty. There were no extenuating circumstances. The Law had spoken, it was an open and shut case. She must die. Moses’ finger pointed at her uncompromisingly, while Jesus’ finger wrote in the dust

The accusers began badgering him to give them an answer. Slowly he straightened up. Their belligerent voices died away and again there was silence. He looked at the woman, hunched over, abject in her shame. He looked at her agitated accusers. 

“Alright”, he said, “ If any of you is without sin, he can throw the first stone.” He crouched down again and resumed scribbling in the dust.  They all looked at each other, shocked, and then dropped their eyes, embarrassed, confused.  Who was blameless enough to be the executioner?
The oldest turned his grey head  and walked away. One by one, they all trickled out from the court. A couple of the younger more hot-headed ones, stayed longer, frowning, thinking. Then shrugging their shoulders, they too left.

Jesus stood up again and looked at the  courtyard, empty except for the woman , huddled in her veil, ashamed, scared. “Does no-one condemn you?” He asked.
“No-one Sir,” she replied in wonderment.
“Neither do I”, Jesus said. “Now go and leave your life of sin.”

Was Jesus condoning her adultery? Was he turning a blind eye? Did he consider that for some people he would make an exception?
“Its OK, I understand, your husband is old, he was away, your friend turned up, you just couldn’t help falling in love….these things happen.”

No. He called sin what it is. He didn’t dilute it. He saved her from its penalty and power. A few weeks later he himself would lay his life down to atone for her sin. The Law would be satisfied.
“For the Father did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.” (Ch3v17)

I love this story: I love the drama. I love the tension as the Pharisees set their trap. I love Jesus’ refusal to be ruffled or drawn into an argument. I love it when he gives his unanswerable reply. I love his wisdom and I love seeing those proud men walk away baffled and  frustrated.

 In these days of tension, anger, and injustice, leading to riots and violence, how much we need Jesus’ calm authority and wisdom. He didn’t respond to anger with anger; he didn’t enter into debate; he didn’t accuse  and condemn. He confronted his hearers with the truth about themselves;  and in the light of that to not be judgmental and critical about the failings of others. But at the same time, not to pretend the sin didn’t happen.
 Only Jesus can do that. But we can learn from him.

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A Highway!

They are widening the road leading into our small town from the motorway. The town is growing: new neighbourhoods are springing up out of surrounding fields like a rash. Consequently, more traffic pours through causing congestion and easier access is demanded. So, trees are uprooted, hedgerows torn out, grass verges steamrollered, bumps and hillocks smoothed and tarmac laid. And lo! A highway!

It’s an altogether different thing from a country lane. Personally, I like an obscure footpath. A signpost with a yellow arrow on it by a style woos me irresistibly, as it disappears through trees and brambles. “Where am I going?” It whispers to me. “Come and explore!” So I clamber over the style, usually into a muddy puddle, and wander happily down the winding, crooked track into the green dappled
shade. Eventually, it may emerge at the edge of a meadow, obliging one to climb another style, to swish through tall buttercups or
swaying drifts of white marguerites. On the horizon, the Downs stretch blue in the distance, shadows cast by the folds and
hollows. Yes, country rambles are to be enjoyed and savoured, but they are not really going anywhere. They definitely have their place,
but if you are intent on going from A to B, you would find a direct route.

This is what Isaiah was talking about, and John the Baptist. “Prepare the way of the Lord!” John shouted. The people were aroused out of centuries of slumber. “ We are alright! We have the Law, we are circumcised, we are the chosen!” But suddenly, John is in their face.
“Wake up! There is One coming. In fact, he stands among you, although you do not recognise him. Make way!”

After centuries of silence, a new day is dawning. It is time for the Lamb of God to be revealed. He has come to take away the sin of the
world. The Good news must be proclaimed, voices must be lifted up. Don’t get too comfortable! A Highway must be built.

What does that entail? There are mountains that must be brought low: Ideologies, injustices, godless legislation which sanctions the
slaughter of unborn children, heedless greed which countenances the traffic of little girls across the sea, and the smuggling of death by
drugs, and the brutality of sweatshops turning out cheap garments by poverty-stricken labourers, and lofty pronouncements by arrogant men uncaring of the havoc caused by their actions.

Holes must be filled in: people are dying from lack of knowledge, lack of medicine, lack of water, lack of food, lack of hope.

But actually these radical changes won’t happen until there is a realisation that hearts must be changed; and hearts won’t be
changed until they know they need a Saviour. A voice says, “Cry out!” Whose voice? Those whose job it is, like John the Baptist, to represent Jesus. The ones who have recognised that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away our sin, redeems us and puts a new heart within us. The Church.

In Paul’s day, they were known as people of The Way, a community who lived a different lifestyle. When they had been baptised, they
asked John the Baptist, “What shall we do?” He answered, “If you have two coats, give one to someone who
needs one”. To the tax collectors: “ Don’t collect more than the required amount”. To the soldiers: “Don’t extort money, or accuse people falsely, and be content with your pay”.
In other words, be willing to change your way of life! Later, as the groups of believers became established into churches, that is how
they were known: followers of the Way, who walked as Jesus walked. People who walked in darkness have seen a great light, and
become light in the Lord. Isaiah’s prophecy pointing forward to John the Baptist continued:

“All flesh is as grass”. It withers. People come and go, they are frail, mortal. But “The word of the Lord stands forever.” So the Word of
the Lord must be proclaimed, by word and deed, with clarity, direction, boldness. Get up on to a high mountain and announce,
“Here is your God!”

There is nothing wrong with footpaths and country rambles. They are good for health, for rest, for breathing! But they are not to be an end in themselves: our purpose here is to make Jesus known. Let’snot forget that. Enjoy the rambles, but at the same time, build a highway! The King is coming!

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My Pentecost

I remember Pentecost Sunday in 1953. We called it Whit Sunday in
those days, the commemoration of the Holy Spirit coming upon the
early church.
It was a hot day at the end of May, and I was taken along with my
sisters to Crusaders, a sort of Bible club for children. I remember
sitting on a bench in a small hall crammed with a bunch of kids.
Probably the leader, Mrs Tilsley-Green , a lovely Irish lady, talked
about the Day of Pentecost. I don’t remember. But I do remember
that she ended her talk by reading a poem. It was about a boy who
was confronted with a decision: to follow Jesus or not? He chose not.

A few years later, another opportunity presented itself, and again he
declined. Then as a young man, and at intervals all through his life ,
he had further opportunities to become a Christian, but kept
hardening his heart, until eventually, the last time came. Now he was
on his deathbed. Even there, he knew he had the possibility of
surrendering to Jesus. The poem finished: “Again the Spirit called:
but turning on his pillow, he died.” Having hardened his heart for the
last time.
Wow! Drama! Tragedy! A collective gasp from the listening children!
Today it might be called manipulation of tender children’s
sensitivities; or at least rather bizarre evangelistic methods. But as
Mrs Green explained that we didn’t have to wait all our lives to
become Christians, we could be saved NOW, something was
happening in my seven year old heart. It was pounding as she led us
in a simple prayer. I knew he was calling my name, and without
hesitation, I gladly responded. “Yes! I want to follow Jesus! Please
forgive my sin. Thank you for dying for me! Please come into my
He came. He stayed. He has never left. He has loved me, led me,
provided for me, forgiven me countless times, equipped me,
challenged me, always there, always faithful. I remember suddenly
being engulfed in happiness, and after the prayer running forward
and flinging my arms around Mrs Green’s waist and shouting, “Jesus
has come into my heart!”
My father came to collect us, and I told him too, and my mother
when we got home. The next day at school, I told my friends, and
insisted on singing a hymn to the class when it was time to go home!
I was probably a pain in the neck!

My walk with God fluctuated through my teens, but I never doubted
that I belonged to Jesus. I was born again: I could not be un-born
again! My joy and excitement that day was equalled some thirteen
years later when I experienced not only new birth but Pentecost. It
took that long for me to hear, understand and receive the baptism in
the Holy Spirit. This was a controversial subject in the sixties, with
rumours flying around about heresy and tongues being from the
Devil. Yet I could not get away from the feeling that my Christian
experience was lacking and there must be something else.

By now, I was at Bible College in London, and the baptism in the
Spirit was the subject of some lively discussions. A student called
Terry Virgo arrived at the start of my second year who seemed to be
happy, at rest, a fervent Bible lover and an effective Gospel preacher.
Eventually I noted that he would pray with people and they would
testify that he had laid hands on them to be filled with the Holy

That summer he led an evangelistic team to three towns on the
Sussex coast. I was on that team, and one wet Sunday, I had an
opportunity at last to clear up my questions.It was important to me
to get a coherent answer from Scripture that was satisfying
theologically, as well as leading into an experience.
Terry took me through the Acts of the Apostles, patiently showing
me how the early church received the Spirit. Then to John ch 7, and
ending with Luke ch11. “If you then, being evil know how to give
good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Heavenly
Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask?”
The penny dropped. The Father wanted me to receive the Holy Spirit,
an authentic gift from Him! “Faith comes by hearing the word of
God”.That day, I asked and received.

This brought an explosion of joy, greater intimacy with the Father,
and gifts of the Spirit. We went on to discover others who were
entering this (to us) new dynamic, and the ever-increasing
excitement of being part of a community of spirit filled believers,
who loved to worship with joyful abandon, walk in love with one
another, and reach out with loving hands to a broken world: all
triggered by being born again, and filled with the Spirit.

I am more grateful than I can say that I heard him call my name that
Whit Sunday sixty-seven years ago. “Except you become as a little
child you cannot see the kingdom of Heaven.” Salvation can be
received by little children, or at any age. So can the baptism in the
Spirit. Jesus is the doorway into a new life, eternal life, that grows
more and more until perfect day.

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