Rob's message for April

What do you most want?

It’s a dangerous question to ask. Let me be clear and say I’m not asking because I can guarantee to supply what it is you are asking for. It’s getting near to Easter as you read this, and so I can offer you a bit of cake or a chocolate egg if you come along to our family event on the field on Good Friday, but I’m not sure how much further I can stretch than that.

There’s another reason it’s a dangerous question, though. You see, it might just be that asking what we want reveals what is most important to us. We might think it is what we – well, think – or even what we believe, but I reckon if you put your mind to it, you’d quite soon realise how important the things you want are to you. And when I say ‘want’, I don’t mean the things we might feel like in the moment but not tomorrow – I mean some of our deeper longings. Often they are connected with what we really need, whether we realise it or not. It’s the place where the two meanings of want - desire and lack - overlap.

As I’ve been preparing for Easter this year, I’ve spent some time asking myself what I most want, inspired by a phrase of St Paul’s that begins “I want to know Christ.” He doesn’t just want it for himself, though: he prays for the churches he has planted that they would know Jesus better. It’s what I’ve often thought of when I’ve prayed for the churches here, or for individual people who’ve asked me to pray for them: that they would know Jesus better.

Perhaps reading this, you feel it’s not a question of knowing Jesus better, but of knowing him at all. What does it mean to know him?

Well, this is where Easter comes in. You see, that phrase of Paul’s – “I want to know Christ” – is just the start. Knowing Jesus, Paul goes on to say, is about knowing the power of the resurrection, and about sharing in his sufferings: it’s about becoming like him in his death so we can share in the resurrection. Knowing Jesus is a matter of life and death, a matter of his resurrection to eternal life on Easter Sunday following on from the death of the crucifixion just two days before. Knowing Jesus is believing that he died for us, so that in the end we might be raised with him.

So “What do you want?” really is an Easter question. And I know what I want: I want to know Christ. What about you?


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Rob's message for March

The other day one of my children said I had cooked something that looked so nice it should be on Instagram. (Please be assured that this will never happen again.) Actually I remember now, it was pancakes, so it must have been Shrove Tuesday.

I wonder when the last time was that you had some food that someone else cooked for you that was really delicious. So good that you will remember it for a long time. Maybe you have a great cook in your household, or you were visiting someone else, or out at a restaurant. I bet you can still taste it now.

Here’s a much harder question: what did you have for dinner last Wednesday? Can you remember? Just an average Wednesday. Maybe the fridge was running low, and you had to dig some leftovers out of the freezer. But it’s a tricky question, isn’t it?

Most of us don’t have the finest food every day, certainly not three meals a day, so we will have eaten thousands of things we don’t remember, at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Maybe some of them were junk food, but lots of them will just have been good solid stuff, healthy and nourishing and bit… unmemorable.

We might not expect all our food to be spectacular, but we live in a time where life, fuelled by the things people put on Instagram and everywhere else, is often made out to be that way.

When I was growing up, I remember being told quite often that the ordinary everyday food was just good for me. I think I probably say it now myself. And lately I’ve been wondering if there are things I can learn from this that can help me to follow Jesus better as well.

You see, I think the Bible invites us to expect that we will see God do amazing things if we listen to him prompting us to join in with what he is doing. That we’ll see people come to faith in Jesus, and lives and communities transformed, sometimes in a moment. That was the experience of the early disciples, both as they followed Jesus around, and when they headed out for themselves after Jesus had returned to heaven. I’ve seen enough of it to want more.

But the Bible describes real people, with real lives, and so I know there were times between miracles. Times walking with Jesus on the road; time eating not just the amazing meals which are recorded in the Bible, but the everyday ones which we have to imagine for ourselves. The moments they might have put on Instagram, and the ones they would rather forget. All of it part of a life which is glorious not because of its hashtag highpoints, but because of the constant, transforming presence of Jesus.


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Rob's message for February

Recently I found myself thinking again about the Olympics, and reflecting on what an amazing gathering it is, with people coming together from all across the world with a shared purpose, a shared spirit. Like me, you’ve probably watched the opening ceremony and seen teams large and small from countries which you know well, have visited yourself, or perhaps needed to be reminded of.

As I thought some more I remembered how many different nations and peoples are mentioned in the bible. If you ask Google a question like this, rather than spending all week trawling through 66 books full of names, you’ll find that the answers vary, but there are certainly dozens of different ones, from Spain to India, and Italy to Ethiopia. Not just mentions, either; the story of the bible takes us to lots of different places.

I’ve not travelled to many different countries, unlike some of you: I know that one thing that lots of people were itching to do as lockdowns lifted globally was to get in the car, or on a train or plane again. The bible story reminds us that people have always travelled, and until recently perhaps more than ever.

That got me wondering not so much where you might have travelled to, but where you might have travelled from. I’ve had the most fascinating conversations with people in the villages who have ended up here from all over the world, and enjoyed hearing their stories, but I reckon there are lots more. If you’ve got time to chat about the place you came from, and how you moved here, I’d love you to get in touch so I can come and say hello. Maybe we can start making our own list of the different places people have come from. It might even be as long as the bible’s.

The bible’s story of the nations ends not with where people come from, but where they are heading. The book of Revelation, right at the end of the bible, paints a picture of “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” It reminds us that the reason that all these nations are mentioned in the bible is because of God’s desire that, one day, they will be united in him. A gathering from across the world with a shared purpose, a shared spirit.

It's an amazing picture to look forward to, but in the meantime I’d love to gather some more stories of people who have come from different places to make their homes here. Please get in touch and I’ll pop by and say hello.


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Rob's message for January

I have recently spent a lot of time listening on loop to a song called Assembly Bangers, which might very well have made it to Christmas number 1 by the time you read this. It is the top-selling song on iTunes at the moment, because everyone my age remembers singing them when they were at school. You can find it on YouTube, but please buy it as well because all the proceeds are going to Foodbank charities. It has caused some controversy, if only because you can only fit a certain number of songs into 3 minutes, so lots of people’s favourites missed out.

One which I particularly remember began “When God made the garden of Creation.” You may well be humming it now. It went on to describe how God made the world, in words which are both too numerous for the tune and enormously repetitive. It’s quite something.

With the remainder of my word limit this month, hopefully I can say a little bit more about God and Creation than that particular 90s assembly classic managed.

In some ways the Bible is a book about gardens. It begins in Eden: the garden of Creation. It was here that Adam and Eve lived in God’s presence, and he saw that it was good. It was here, too, that they turned away from God, and were sent away from that place.

At Easter it was in a garden that Jesus wrestled with God, coming to understand that in order for us to come back into the relationship that we enjoyed with God in the beginning, he would have to die in our place.

Moving forward now to the last few pages of the Bible, the book of Revelation describes a vision of Eden restored, with the tree of life which Adam and Eve reached for now bearing fruit for the healing of the nations, and the curse that was on them removed.

So these three great moments in the whole story of Creation play out in a garden. And this is one of many reasons for us to stop and think about how we relate to the world that God has given us, through Adam, to steward and care for. The song reminds us (repeatedly) the God created the world out of love, and that part of our worship is to love it as he does.

This January on Sunday morning we’ll be asking some big questions about what it means to care for God’s creation, and we’d love you to join us. Flick through the magazine to find out more.


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Rob's message for December

Last week I was with some minister friends I meet up with a few times a year. We catch up and pray for each other, and end up talking about all sorts of different things. This time one of us wondered out loud whether it did anyone any good to be constantly checking the news to see what else might have gone wrong since last time we looked. As a group we’re all roughly the same age, and we remembered back to when we were children, when it was pretty tricky to find a news bulletin between breakfast and lunch, or dinner and bedtime.

There are lots of reasons why reading too much news might be a problem, but one of them is probably the news itself! It’s difficult to know which came first: did we decide we wanted to hear serious (so mostly bad) news, and so the newspapers printed that sort of thing, or did they decide the bad stuff was good for us, and so that was what they published?

The news stops being good for us when it makes us afraid. Do you look back now, like I do, and wonder how much the constant drip of statistics and reports about Covid made you even more afraid than you needed to be, horrible as the virus is and was?

Some of us in the churches have been thinking and praying about the Christmas story, and noticing the angel’s words to the shepherds “not to be afraid, because there is good news.” In an age when things have apparently got so bad that the Collins dictionary word of the year is “permacrisis”, there is good news, so you don’t have to be afraid.

The shepherds were simple people scratching out a living as best they could, but there was good news. Mary and Joseph were a young unmarried couple surrounded by rumour about her pregnancy, but there was good news. The wise men were foreigners receiving an uncertain welcome from the authorities, but there was good news. The whole nation lived under Roman occupation, which might have seemed as permanent as our crisis today, but there was good news.

I love the Emeli Sandé song Read all about it. I listen to it often, because it reminds me that as Christians we have good news to sing and to shout about, but often we are biting our tongue and the nation-changing words don’t find their way out. We should be like the angel, daring the papers to print that good news, not being afraid.

This Christmas we want to help you not to be afraid, and to believe in spite of everything that there is good news. We’re going to do that by not being afraid to sing and shout about the good news that we have. We’re going to find our voices, and give you the chance to hear again about Jesus who has come into the world to bring good news that God is with us, and he loves us. Good news, the angel said, for everyone; good news for you.


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Rob's message for November

Over the years I have written a lot about remembering in November. It seems the season for it, with All Saints’ Day on 1st November reminding us of all the followers of Jesus who have gone before us, followed by Remember remember the 5th of November, and then Remembrance Day after that. Some churches also use 2nd November to help people think of relatives who have died in recent years as well. Put together, that is a lot of remembering.

But I wanted to remember back a lot less far, to something I did last November. For the second time ever, I think, I went to a Thanksgiving dinner. You’ll know this mainly as an American celebration, and an opportunity to get the turkey in early a full month ahead of Christmas, which I suppose they might as well call “Turkey 2: The Sequel.” The one we attended last year had a whole load of the traditional accompaniments, like pumpkin pie to follow, and with the turkey the very odd side dish of sweet potato with marshmallows on top.

In our family we use food to celebrate special occasions that we are thankful for, but these tend to be the normal ones like Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries and so on. I don’t know if we are so good at being thankful more widely. The bible is different: it’s full of people bringing food offerings to God, and celebrating with food themselves, as a sign of all the things that they are grateful for.

One of the most famous feasts in the New Testament comes at the end of the story of the Prodigal Son, where his delighted father calls for the fatted calf to be brought and prepared as the centrepiece of a great banquet to celebrate his coming home.

It’s in the spirit of these great thanksgiving feasts of the bible, and especially with the Old Testament festival of Passover in mind, that Jesus’s followers began one of their own. Amongst the various words that the church has used for communion is the Greek word Eucharist, which in the end only means “thank you”. So when we gather and use bread and wine to remember Jesus, we are thanking God for what he has done for us.

But I’ve never been convinced that a communion service is the only place to do that. Every time I sit down and eat, I want to celebrate what Jesus has done for me. On Sunday afternoons at the Church Hall there hasn’t been much wine so far, but we have been eating together, partly as a reminder of what Jesus has done for us. We’re doing it remembering his encouragement that all of us can come and sit and eat with him: that we’re all invited.

So please take up God’s invitation, and come down on a Sunday afternoon and sit and eat with us, but wherever you sit, and whenever you eat, remember to find things to thank God for.


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