Rob's message for June

How do you deal with disappointment?

You don’t have to be a pessimist to know there are times in life when all of us feel disappointed. Some of us struggle with it a lot, but it’s familiar to everyone. There are big, maybe crushing disappointments, and there are the little frustrations which are part of everyday life.

I am currently disappointed. On Friday all was ready, and I settled down to watch the first leg of the League One playoff final between Peterborough and Sheffield Wednesday. It was going to be a great evening. Sheffield Wednesday had only missed an automatic spot by 2 points, and had scored the most points by any team ever not to go straight up. Across the season, Peterborough were 19 points worse. God’s favourite team (could the editor check this for me?) were sure to get a good result, to be followed by a thumping second leg win at Fortress Hillsborough.

And we nearly did. We nearly scored first. Except we didn’t, and then they did. They also scored second, and third. And also fourth. Only a last-minute save from our keeper prevented a splendid 5-0 thrashing.

Like last year, we seem almost certain to lose out in the playoffs, and are consigned to another 46 games next season attempting to drag ourselves out of the division. Worse still, a very insignificant rival team, Sh*ff**ld Un*t*d, have managed to get themselves back in the Premier League at only the second attempt. Sometimes comparing our disappointment with others’ success just makes it even worse.

But there is still hope. There is just the chance – the slightest chance – we might still do it. Two weeks later you are in a better position to know than I am writing now! We could get 4 goals and more to overturn the most overwhelming of deficits. It’s not quite impossible yet.

This all has the feel of Easter about it, to me. Looking back now, we can see why Good Friday was the first part of an amazing victory story, but that day, and the Saturday after, the disciples were staring into the face of a terrible defeat. Jesus was gone, and with it the last few years of their lives, and the sense of hope and purpose for the future. The disappointment was crushing. Two of the disciples meet the risen Jesus and, not realising who he is, they pour out what they are experiencing in one of the most haunting little phrases in the gospels: “We had hoped…”

Maybe for you, life at the moment, or for a long time now, feels that it could be summed up that way. Many things much worse than football might spring to mind to finish a sentence that begins “I had hoped…” We know that in this life some of those most painful disappointments might not be overturned. But the end of the story, Easter Sunday, reminds us that with Jesus, hope is not just for now: it’s forever. So I try to look at my disappointments from the perspective of eternity, and recognise that they will pass. Maybe you could deal with them that way too.


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Rob's message for May

As I write this we are in the run-up to the coronation of King Charles III on 6th May. Some of us will remember back to Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, but many of us have never seen a coronation before: some of us won’t experience one again.

Most articles I’ve read about the coronation have acknowledged some of the questions people have about it. They’ve noticed that other countries with monarchies don’t have a ceremony at all, or they’ve wondered who should be paying for it, or included statistics about how many people – and especially young people – say they won’t be watching. It might not surprise you that those aren’t arguments I’m very keen on getting into here!

Instead, following on so soon after Easter my attention was drawn to the fact that a new cross is to be carried at the head of the procession. It’s made of Welsh slate and wood, as well as silver from the Royal Mint in Llantrisant. It reminds us, of course, of Charles’s long apprenticeship as Prince of Wales.

Apparently (and again here you can make up your own mind) it also contains pieces of the True Cross, where Jesus was crucified on the first Good Friday. For me, whether or not that is where the relics come from is less significant than what the makers of this new cross are trying to represent. Having a long procession of people, some of the most powerful in our country and perhaps in the world, led by the cross of Jesus, says something important about what authority and leadership and influence look like. It says something important about what it means that Jesus goes first, and that Jesus is put first.

But what does it mean for you and me, watching (or not!) on our TV screens? Well, here we come back to the word apprenticeship, I think. Jesus’s disciples were apprentices themselves, following their master wherever he led them, and one of the things he taught them most clearly, with his words and in the end with his example, was to follow the way of the cross. It’s a way of service and sacrifice that Jesus walked in, and which led him not into palaces and parliaments and places of power, but along a dirty road to a place of execution where he gave himself up for all of us.

As an apprentice of Jesus, my experience and my expectation are that it will not be easy, and that I will often need to put service and sacrifice above my own comfort or self-interest. But I do it because I know that walking in the way of the cross is what it means to be a disciple, and it is what I am designed for, and I know that following in Jesus’s footsteps is where I want to be.


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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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