Monday, 20 January 2014


None of us is going to live in any great way in isolation.  We are all part of all sorts of communities.  Much of what we are is defined by how we relate to each other.  Our relationships either enhance or diminish us.  One of the great principles of Christianity is that we are identified by how we relate to each other – love one another.  Friendship is a great thing.

I have been back reading Paulo Coelho’s Manuscript found in Accra (HarperCollins, 2013) and was struck by a couple of the comments on this theme.  One is a recognition of our inter-dependence and the need to take risks and accept vulnerability – “Stay close to those who are not afraid to be vulnerable, because they have confidence in themselves and know that, at some point in our lives, we all stumble; they do not interpret this as a sign of weakness, but of humanity.”  In short, we all need to be able to fail – and our friends are those who will help us cope with, and emerge from, that.

The other comment I noticed provides a reminder of how true friendship moulds itself to what is needed. “Friendship is like a river: it flows around rocks, adapts itself to valleys and mountains, occasionally turns into a pool until the hollow in the ground is full and it can continue on its way.  Just as the river never forgets that its goal is the sea, so friendship never forgets that its only reason for existing is to love other people.”  

Sunday, 19 January 2014

The Baptism of Jesus

Jesus’ baptism by John was clearly one of the key moments in his life and ministry. In many ways it was the launch-pad for what was to come as this is where he receives the endorsement that confirms the call. This is a moment when his identity is named in a very particular way – this is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased. And how interesting that God chooses this setting for this statement of Jesus’ identity. As one of the commentators[1] I read remarks: “God’s revelation of Jesus’ identity occurs not in the centre, not in the presence of the political, social, economic, and religious elite, and not with their approval or permission. God is at work on the margins with those who dare to see a different present and an alternative way of life and future.”

God is a God of surprises. We sometimes quote that wonderful verse from Hebrews 13 – verse 8: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. That verse contains a tremendous truth. There is a very real sense in which God is unchanging. But God is beyond our understanding – and there is an equally real sense in which our experience of God changes day by day. Time and time again, thankfully, God comes along and surprises us. God may be unchanging, but God is certainly not predictable.

Many times in his ministry Jesus did surprising things and got involved in surprising situations, but it was never just to score a point or be a sensation. It was always something with a profoundly significant meaning. In many ways it is surprising that Jesus got baptised by John – but he saw it as an important part of his identification with us, an important part of the incarnation

[1] Warren Carter

Monday, 6 January 2014

Don't Worry

I have just finished reading Trystan Owain Hughes' "Real God in the Real World" which has taken me through Advent and Christmas, offering a daily Bible reading and reflection.

There have been some helpful reflective challenges in there.  He ends with a reflection on our tendency to worry, reminding me that I once heard our time described as 'the age of anxiety'.  Like all feelings and emotions, worry does have its place - but it shouldn't be an overwhelming place as sometimes feels to be the case.

God doesn't offer to remove our worries - as some sometimes claim - but what God does is to offer to walk with us.  As Hughes comments: "The incarnation reassures us that God knows what it is like to have the cares of the world on our shoulders, and he truly wants us to offload those cares on to him."

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Effective Missioning

What kind of people do we need to be in order to engage in effective ministry and mission?  What are the gifts or attributes that will really contribute in a good way?  I have been reading on through Michael Moynagh’s “Church for Every Context”.

Drawing on some ideas from Martin Robinson, Moynagh suggests a list of five useful characteristics that we might look for when we are trying to discover good missioners and ministers – and remember that we are all called to mission and ministry.

It will be good to find people who are:
Faithful – people who stick to it, and who are passionate about what they are doing;
Available – it requires people who are going to find the time and space to do what’s needed;
Conscientious – it’s hard work and it is going to demand commitment;
Teachable – there is always new stuff to learn, and those who think they know it all are not going to be effective;
Servant-hearted – if we are looking to people who are not willing to serve, forget it.

With these characteristics setting us on the right road, we then need to look to the needs of the locality.  As Moynagh puts it: “A key aspect of the mission call is a willingness to put aside preconceptions and listen to God through the context.”

Thursday, 2 January 2014

A Mud Hut for Christian Aid

Doing a bit of clearing up yesterday, I found the usual bunch of reminders of times past.  It was back in 1982 that my mate Angus and I decided to build a mud hut to show our community something of the message of Christian Aid and to encourage support of its work.  I was in my early years of ministry in Beith in Ayrshire and it was an exciting project that attracted lots of attention in that small town.  Indeed, we managed to get in to the news, featuring in the Scotsman, the Glasgow Herald, the Evening Times, the Paisley Daily Express and the Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald.  Lots of people came to see and so we had lots of opportunities to share something of Christian Aid.  We had spent a number of weeks constructing our 'hut' which was then shipped in to the centre of Beith on a trailer.  We got a fire going to cook chappatis and spent the night in the hut to ensure its security.  A good reminder of the important work of Christian Aid, and indeed other like agencies.