Tuesday, June 04, 2024

Free of charge


Yes, I know, according to the old cliche church ministers only work one day a week. That would be nice, but no. In fact, I only tend to take one day off a week, Saturday. Apart from when there's also a Bank Holiday Monday, of course. The wife and I thought it would be a fun if we went to Bournemouth either on the first Saturday of May or the Bank Holiday Monday. The weather forecast would decide which day we headed for the seaside. Initially the outlook was good. At least according to the BBC Weather App. But as the weekend drew nearer rain was predicted both for the Saturday and Monday, and so it turned out. Oh well.    

It was glorious sunshine the following Saturday, so to Bournemouth we did go. On such days you’d think parking anywhere near the beach would be a hassle. But there’s a street we know where you can park all day for free, only 5 minutes’ walk from the seafront. We’ve never failed to find a space. As it happened, one was available immediately we turned into the road. From there you stroll to the seaside down a street with pay & display parking bays. It’ll cost you £13.50 for 6 hours and that’s before you’ve even bought an ice cream. Extortionate.     

Oddly, cars were queuing up to park on the pay & display street. Every bay was taken. Some drivers seemed to grow tired of waiting and left to find a space elsewhere. Others chanced it and parked on double yellows. It was dead quiet where we pulled up. No fiddly parking app. No fumbling for change. Free parking all day long. We didn't feel at all smug, honest. In fact, being a preacher and that, this little episode was suggestive of a modern-day parable.

People were bypassing what was available for free, while falling over themselves to park at great cost. It's a bit like that with the Christian faith. With most other outlooks on life, you 'gets what you pays for'. The religious hope that if they keep the rules demanded by their faith, they will earn an eternal reward. Those with a more secular outlook often believe that given enough hard work, they'll get what they deserve and soon they'll be 'living the dream'.       

The Christian message is different. It is based not on merit, but grace. Which means God giving us what we don't deserve, free of charge. Jesus willingly paid the price of sin by dying in our place upon the cross. God offers eternal life to everyone who puts their faith in his Son as their Saviour. What's not to like? Yet many people spurn this gracious offer, preferring to pay their own way. Eternal life, however, is a gift that can’t be bought.     

Of course, it's my bounden duty as a minister of the gospel to proclaim to anyone who will give me a hearing that salvation full and free is available for all in Jesus. The whereabouts of that road with freebie parking, a short stroll from the golden sand and shimmering sea of Bournemouth? Now, that would be telling.         

* For June edition of various local parish magazines 

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Something greater than me

Our post-Easter break was cut short. Something came up that necessitated the wife and me returning home a day early. Don’t worry, nothing bad happened. On the contrary. We had booked a week in the lovely Herefordshire village of Eardisley. The original intention had been to arrive on Easter Monday and stay until Saturday. But that’s not how it worked out. After the reservation was made it was announced that Paul Weller was due to perform at the newly refurbished Bristol Beacon on the Friday evening. Hence the change of plans.

I’ve been a fan of Weller ever since I was a teenager and he fronted The Jam, followed by The Style Council, and then as a solo artist. He has a new album out this month, called ‘66’ (his age this year, apparently). Back in April he played a series of concerts across the UK to promote his latest offering. At the Bristol gig Weller played a variety of old and new songs, including the first single to be released from his forthcoming album, ‘Soul Wandering’. It’s an intriguing track, full of spiritual yearning. Weller sings, ‘I want to believe in something greater than me’. You’ll find it on YouTube if you fancy a listen.

It seems that even being a successful rock musician has not satisfied the singer’s soul. The idea of believing in ‘something greater than me’ put me in mind of the teachings of Anselm (1033-1109 AD), the great Medieval Archbishop of Canterbury. His writings are an expression of faith seeking a deeper understanding of God and his ways. The theologian proposed that God is, "something-than-which-nothing-greater-can-be-thought". He is a perfect being, without flaw or creaturely limitations.

But how could such a God be known that we may believe in him? The Christian faith teaches that God has revealed himself to us through the universe he created by his powerful Word. The world we encounter each day speaks to us of the wisdom, power and goodness of our Creator. Further, God reveals himself by his written Word, the Bible. The pages of Scripture disclose God’s matchless being, mighty acts and righteous laws. Above all, God has revealed himself to us by the Living Word he sent into the world, Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Spirit he has poured out upon his people.

According to the Bible we are lost and wandering, far from God due to sin. Jesus came to bring us back to God by laying down his life for our sins on the cross. Are you also longing to believe in, ‘something greater than me’? Your wandering soul will find rest in returning to the one God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is none greater.

* For the May edition of various local parish magazines 

Wednesday, January 03, 2024

Time Passes


“Time passes” wrote Dylan Thomas in Under Milk Wood, “Listen. Time passes.” It certainly does. The ebbing away of an old year and the promise of a new one makes us acutely aware of the passing of time. The joys and sorrows of 2023 are gone and can never be recovered. Crane our necks as we may, we cannot peer into the future.
In his great work, The Confessions, Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD) ponders the nature of time. He can’t quite pin it down, reflecting, “What, then, is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks me, I do not know. Yet I say with confidence that I know that if nothing passed away, there would be no past time; and if nothing were still coming, there would be no future time; and if there were nothing at all, there would be no present time.
Augustine addresses the question, ‘What was God doing before the creation of the world?’ He points out that the question is based on a misunderstanding. ‘Before’ is a time-bound category. We should not think that God waited for ages and ages before creating the universe. The world originated not in time, but with time. Modern day scientists agree. The clock only started ticking at the beginning of creation.
God is infinite and eternal. He had no beginning and will have no end. His life does not depend on anything outside of himself. The Lord God  exists beyond the world of time and space that he created. The vast universe cannot contain him. His power is not diminished by the passing of time. As the Bible says, “from everlasting to everlasting, you are God.”
God created all things by his Word and through his Spirit to display his wisdom, power and goodness. What the Bible calls ‘sin’ is our rebellion against the Creator, our stubborn refusal to live for his glory. But God did not write off fallen humanity. He entered the world of time and space as one of us to rescue human beings from sin. John writes in his Gospel, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Time passes. The old year has gone and a new year has dawned. Many opportunities will no doubt present themselves in 2024. Above all, let us seek the Lord while he may be found and call upon him while he is near.