“It’s a treasure map, Granddad” Aedan unfurled the piece of paper brought from his nursery. It was covered in mostly green lines with one blue. “Oh,” I said, “Where does the map cover?” “Your house!” As I quizzed him, he encouraged me to put the details into his map. The blue became the pond, and then we had to draw the house and Grandma’s & Granddad’s cars, Sweep (the cat) and of course, the treasure. As we folded the map up, I promised him that when he came for dinner on Sunday, in the afternoon, we would hunt the treasure to see if it was there. His eyes lit up, and so did Maayana’s, with an explosive “Me too!” Six o’clock Sunday morning saw me in the garden with a spade and half a plastic milk bottle, together with a couple of embellishments to the map.
Aedan could barely wait – the moment we had finished dinner, we were out in the garden, Aedan and Maayana carrying small trowels. We started in the back garden. Aedan looked at the map, and (with a little guided thinking) identified the two symbols as a pair of trees. Next to the treasure was a crab – oh, it could be it’s a tree stump, yes, a tree stump. So we set off. We were near two trees that bent out correctly, but could there be others? We walked round – ah, four trees… two trees, Granddad, two trees… and here’s a stump! Ah, but do the two trees look like your drawing? No, it splits into two, and the trees on the map are definitely two single trunks.
So we arrived back at the original apple trees. Aedan grew very excited – they bend like the map trees… and here’s a stump! ‘Is it the only stump?’ ‘No, there’s one over there, but this is the right one.’ Out came the trowels and enthusiastic digging. Nothing!! After about five minutes, Granddad asked Aedan, “If you stand here and look at your two trees, does the map suggest the stump is this way (left) or this way (right)?” “It’s there! It’s that stump! We’ve been digging at the wrong stump.” Furious digging commenced, with most of the spoil landing on each other. Suddenly, Aedan gave a triumphant shout. “I’ve found something!” Slowly the object appeared with combined help and rising excitement. “Oh, it’s a milk bottle.” Disappointment registered. “No, wait, there’s something in it… it’s… I think…it’s …” Fingers working furiously, the cut and folded bottle yielded its contents, “It’s treasure!!” declared triumphantly with faces aglow. Inside the bottle were giant chocolate buttons and a note (‘He who dares to take this loot, unless he shares gets the boot’). A period of inclusive chocolate button feasting followed, and some were left to go home. Treasure hunting is fun! Two days later Aedan sent me a new map; no treasure has yet been revealed!
As I sat there enjoying watching Aedan and Maayana, I reflected on our journey through life. Aedan had made his plans, and followed them in hope and expectation. In reality, there was no treasure buried where his map dictated, but he was willing to discuss his map with Granddad, and to accept some changes to the map, including the signs which appeared spontaneously. I’m not sure how far he anticipated that I had buried treasure for him, but he set off with a large degree of trust. I altered my plans to embrace his otherwise empty plan, and ensured that along his path, he would find treasure, my treasure. I walked with him and guided him. Oh, and I enjoyed every minute of his exploration and his company, and I only put the treasure there because I love him.
There is an old saying, “Man proposes, God disposes.” The final outcome is always in the hands of God, the future is His. We make our plans – if we’re wise, we try to make our decisions prayerfully, asking for His guidance. Quite often, our decisions are bound by our limited options and horizons. Sometimes, the guidance appears spontaneously, sometime leading us in directions we had not fully anticipated. We walk in hope and expectation with a large measure of trust. God fills our plan with hidden treasure, and leads us, walking with us. He loves us and enjoys our company. He will guide us to His final destination, but along the way, He ‘bends’ His plan to embrace us and to plant treasures.
God is variously pictured in the Bible as bounding ahead of His people, tenderly nurturing them and even carrying them. He promises “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper and not to harm, plans to give you hope and a future.” (The Bible, Jeremiah 29.11) How can we know the way? Jesus even gives us the treasure map: “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14.6)
Praying that in you may find in your daily walk treasures hidden by your loving Father along the path, that you may have confidence in His Son Christ Jesus to lead you home.
Your servant in the Lord Jesus Christ,
“Don’t you think for one moment that that’s far enough!” Aedan and Maayana were playing up. When we have small guests, we have a rule that unless they are sleeping over, they don’t go upstairs. It means we know where they are and what they’re doing, especially when that strange quietness descends that portends concentration on something they know they shouldn’t be doing. Part way up the stairs, there is a gate, but it’s largely symbolic as most can now open it. I think Aedan & Maayana were about to go, so Aedan charged up the stairs and Maayana scampered after him. Mum called them down, to no avail, so she started counting… “1…. 2… I’m nearly at 3…” The threat of the ‘naughty mat’ loomed, and both came down – Aedan one visible step, Maayana two. There they rested, smirking, and testing their mother’s resolve. Natalie didn’t want the confrontation (who does?) and was trying not to put them on the ‘naughty mat’ (now a virtual reality, more a sort of ‘time out’ space), so she challenged them, “Don’t you think for one moment that that’s far enough!”
Aedan and Maayana hesitated, and then both slid down one step, but one step only. They were testing “How far can we go? How far do we have to comply to satisfy your demands? How little can we yield without bringing down the wrath of the ‘naughty mat’? Will one step be enough?” You could see the thoughts going round in their heads. “Have we done the bare minimum to comply with the letter of the law?” On this occasion, Natalie persuaded them down without having to resort to discipline, but the attitude should be very familiar.
Governments pass laws to achieve certain desired outcomes. It’s quite possible we all share that desired outcome, but the law itself impinges on us, constrains us, and so we adopt an attitude like Maayana & Aedan’s and pare away at what the law actually means. “Have we done the bare minimum to comply with the letter of the law?” We employ lawyers who try to get us spared the penalties of breaking the law. The lawyer attempts to pare down the law. “How far do we have to comply to satisfy your demands?” ‘Mitigating Circumstances’, ‘loopholes’ ‘negotiated settlements’, ‘plea bargaining’ and others are a regular part of the lawyer’s tool box to pare down the impact of the law. It is in the same category as the question “Will one step be enough?” There’s a reason why we can speed, drink and drive, drop litter, let our dog foul the pavement, remove portable items from hotels and other institutions, a reason why the law doesn’t really apply to us, why we’re an exception… until we’re caught!
We try the same with God. He tells us what to do to live before Him in peace and plenty, but we always respond with the equivalent of “Will one step be enough?” We try the minimalistic approach; with how little can we get away? The sadness is that God no more wants that legalistic relationship with us than does Natalie with Aedan & Maayana. Natalie gives Aedan & Maayana the rules to thrive and grow, to be able to live constructively with others, to be a net asset to their community and to live in peace and safety. God is looking for a similar outcome for us all. Aedan and Maayana bring about a legalistic relationship by their attitude to parental discipline, and every time they enter a legalistic relationship, they lose – as do we if we press God into a purely legalistic relationship.
There is a legal or forensic aspect to Jesus’ death on the cross, where the wrath of God against our sin is satisfied, but this is in the context of the love of the Father demonstrated in the sacrifice of the Son. One of the most famous verses in the Bible begins “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son…” (John 3.16) and Jesus declares that his self-sacrifice is purely in the context of love: “Greater love has no-one but this that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends…” (John 15.13-14) having previously declared that his primary purpose was to give us fullness of life, a fully restored life as God had meant it to be before we started the sorry process of asking “Will one step be enough?” In contrast, Jesus declares “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10.10), a wild abundance and exuberance that characterises all that God truly wants for us, as previously declared throughout the Old Testament.
Praying then that you may live with an openness to God, ready to receive all that He wants to pour out upon you in blessing, obedient to His will and way, rather than calculating whether you have done the bare minimum to assuage His wrath and rejoicing to freely receive life in all its fullness in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Your servant in the Lord Jesus Christ,
“Let’s do it again, Granddad!” Zach was enthusiastic, Granddad rather less so, his only response to be “I think you’d better go down with Mummy or Daddy.” It was followed by a quiet “Ow! Ow! Ow!” as Granddad shuffled back to the rest of the family group, who stood looking concerned and open mouthed. We were at Super-Besse in France, and I bought tickets for “Luge d’Ete”. This was a toboggan run which had little wheeled trolleys on which you sat, were towed up to the top and released to come down the winding route, reaching 20+ mph (around 30kmph). Tom and Jen had each come down a couple of times with Euan or Zach, and I was persuaded to have a go. Zach wanted to come down with me, and so we set off, me wrapped around Zach, and the brake between our legs. The first time down, everything went smoothly.
The second time, as we approached the lower stretch and were travelling at maximum speed, disaster! Why, I’m not sure – perhaps Zach lent the wrong way, perhaps we were travelling too fast, but for whatever reason, the wheels of our trolley left the track and I could see we could be flung clear of the track altogether. I instinctively wrapped myself tightly around Zach to protect him, and using my bare arm and leg, forced us back onto the track. We arrived safely, and Zach didn’t even notice there was a problem (nor did the operators!) and as we left the trolley said “Let’s do it again, Granddad!” You’ll not be surprised that I was less than enthusiastic – I had gained two large and 3 small friction burns, the large ones being about 4 inches long and 2 inches wide (10x5cm). Tom, Diane & Jen had seen that there was something wrong, and were looking at me horrified. We managed to buy something suitable for friction burns, and I received some sympathy – they were very sore and took over four weeks to fully heal. Zach, meanwhile, cheerfully and successfully went down with Mummy.
Although the experience was painful, I was quite pleased that my instinctive reaction was to save Zach, and that he didn’t even know that something was wrong. It demonstrated to me that my parental love extended to my grandchildren. I have spent many years explaining to the parents in the Baptismal Preparation Class that they have a unique insight into the nature and love of God; if danger threatens, parents naturally seek to protect their children, absorbing the hurt and cost to the best of their ability. This kind of love is little to do with feelings, but a lot to do with giving – and giving in a self-sacrificial way. Ultimately, it is the kind of love that is prepared to lay down your life for the sake of those you love, an action love, a costly love, a love which is the echo of the heart of God, a love which gives without necessarily expecting any return.
This is the love of God in Christ shown towards us. St Paul writes “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (The Bible, Romans 5.6-8) This is precisely God absorbing the cost and hurt to protect his children, a love which gives without receiving. It is while we are the formal enemies of God in our sin that Christ demonstrates this awesome love, wrapping himself around us to protect us, giving us hope and a future; how then can we not love him in response?
Praying that you may feel the enfolding arms of protective love around you and respond with trust and joy to the one who holds you safely, even Jesus Christ our Lord.
Your servant in the Lord Jesus Christ,
“There’s a rainbow and a sun and a cloud…” Aedan continued excitedly “… and it’s good to be in the sun but you don’t want to be in the cloud – being in the cloud is bad.” Aedan has started school, and has encountered classroom discipline. His reception teacher has (I gather) a fairly conventional rainbow on the wall with a sun at one end, a cloud at the other end, and the children’s names placed on the display. Behaviour moves the names nearer one end or the other, and obviously being in the sun is better than being in the cloud. It’s clear Aedan takes it seriously and wants to please his teacher – unfortunately, it dwells a little heavily on his mind. He’s slightly obsessed by the cloud – if you believed his story, he’s in the cloud at least weekly, but Natalie recounts he has only once been in the cloud, and his teacher describes him as well behaved and responsive.
That doesn’t stop his over active imagination: he described vividly how his name was ‘put in the bin’ and how he was then given a new name, and how the head teacher ‘has a cage in his room for naughty children’. I’m reminded of my sister at around six and her teacher, who called my Mum in – “Mrs Cox, I’d like to make a bargain with you – I’ll not believe anything your daughter says about you if you agree not to believe anything she says about me.” Funnily enough, my mother readily agreed! My sister had an active imagination which generated tall tales, but Aedan has a vividly active conscience. His teacher’s approval matters greatly to him, perhaps like many small children, even more than his parents’ approval.
Popular conceptions of God and his justice seem to share a lot with Aedan and the rainbow of behaviour; you do something right, and God moves your name towards the sun, you do something wrong, and you move towards the cloud. Maybe if you head fully into the cloud, there is a cage in the head teacher’s room! It’s a model which says try a little harder and you will receive approval, so we live our lives hoping, perhaps even assuming, that all our ‘sunward’ movements will balance out any ‘cloudward’ movements. Overall, we are good, and God must love us for that; we may not have reached the sun, but we most certainly don’t belong to the cloud. In an older form, we are weighed in the balance, with our good deeds weighed against our bad deeds, and the hope that our net good outweighs our net bad.
Unfortunately, it’s not the model God uses! God looks for perfect compliance with His will. It is a model without degrees, a bit more like a stress test for a bridge with a pass or fail criteria. The first piece of bad news is that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (The Bible, Romans 3.23). The second piece of bad news is that “the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6.23). The third piece of bad news is that “you were dead in your sins…” (Colossians 2.13a), so the life you thought you could live and give to counter your sins is dead before God. The fourth piece of bad news is that even your good deeds are polluted, like picking up a perfectly good unwrapped sweet in a hand that’s just been down the toilet, or as Isaiah says “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64.6)
And the good news? “Christ died for the ungodly…while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5.8), or to finish the Colossians verse, “…God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins…” (Colossians 2.13b-14). What Jesus did on the cross was to pass the stress test and to form the bridge by which we may all cross, our sins wiped out by his perfect sacrifice. We can live our lives in freedom, now truly alive in Christ, our hands and hearts washed clean so that God may receive in purity the ‘sweets’ of righteous acts offered in response to His saving love in Christ.
Praying that you may know the fullness of Christ’s life, and therefore so live that your righteous acts become a grateful response to your loving and self-sacrificing Lord, rather than a vain attempt to appease the wrath of God, and may you ever move from the clouds to the Son.
Your servant in the Lord Jesus Christ,
“Me, too!” It wasn’t the words Diane expected from Ben – his communication skills are increasing exponentially. He recently realised that ‘s’ pluralises objects, so cat and cats, but beautifully applied it to sheep – ‘sheeps’ Even as I was recounting this, he had adjusted to the exception, and reclassified a flock as ‘sheep’. It was almost sad that he was making such progress.
Helping in the garden, he needed to stop for chocolate covered raisins. Woe betide you if you try to liberate one – but he will eventually offer one if you are in favour. After steadily munching and even sharing, Ben looked in dismay at the empty pot. “Do you want some more?” Grandma asked. “Yes, me want more.” (Actually ‘me’ is more like ‘mea’) “That’s ‘I want more’, Ben” corrected Diane. “Me, too!” responded Ben as he followed her to the kitchen. A little later, Ben was helping to empty Granddad’s trugs filled with the grass clippings from mowing the lawn. Confident of his own strength and ability, he seized a full trug, and Grandma rushed in to help, realising it was much too heavy for him. Diane reassured him, “You take the heavy side and Grandma will help with the lighter side.” Her plan was obviously to take the bulk of the weight so he could think he was in charge and doing most. Ben responded, swopping sides and taking Grandma’s handle, “No, you take the heavy side – me only little!”
We laughed at his grasp of language but in a sense, his lack of communication. It is a great joy to see the grandchildren growing in their language and communication skills, but even when you have the language, the concepts can prove tricky: we had been back and forth to the Isle of Man regularly, and the language was ‘we’re going back to England’. We moved from Cheadle Hulme to Disley and then one day about a year later we drove through Cheadle Hulme. Tom, aged about 6, looked out the window, recognised the area, and said ‘Oh look! We’re going through England!’ His older brothers roared with laughter, but you can see how ‘back to England’ led him to think the area he had lived was ‘England’.
Abstract concepts are even harder to handle. It’s reckoned that children can only really handle abstract concepts once they’ve reached double figures – and there are some adults for whom the concrete is always their preferred medium of thought. How hard, then, to conceive the nature of God, his glory, his pure righteousness yet displayed with his boundless love, his immanence coupled with his omnipresence, his impassability expressed through a yearning for his people with a grieving heart over their sin. How does our God communicate without us misunderstanding and coming up with the kind of howlers that make us smile at our children or grandchildren?
God communicates in his Son. This is the Christmas message of great joy and good news – we celebrate a living God who came to visit us so that we might truly understand. The message to Mary told her that the child would have the characteristics of God himself: “…the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (The Bible Luke 1.35), while Joseph was reminded of the prophecy in Isaiah where the child to come would be called “…‘Immanuel’ which means ‘God with us’.” (Matthew 1.23). John took the creative side of God, his self-fulfilling Word, and summarised the momentous occasion as “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1.14), and later recorded Jesus’ self-declaration, effectively ‘if you want to know what the Father’s like, look at me!’ in the words: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14.9b), which St Paul restated in the words: “He is the (visible) image of the invisible God.” (Colossians 1.16). This is the heart of the Christmas message – God makes the hard abstract ideas about his nature solid and easy to comprehend by coming to us in His Son. The manger will point onto the cross, where his perfect love and perfect righteousness meet in the definitive judgement that opens the door to heaven we had barred through our sinful ways. God in Christ speaks a simple language that we may comprehend, believe, and be saved. What a gift! No wonder we have something to celebrate.
Praying that in Christ Jesus, his birth, his life, his teaching, his suffering, his death and his resurrection, ascension and exaltation you may hear God speak with clarity and order your life with the certain hope of eternal joy God in Christ came to bring.
Your servant in the Lord Jesus Christ,
“Look, Granddad! I’ve got pull-ups!” And so saying Ben dropped his trousers and twanged the elastic of his ‘pull-ups’ to demonstrate this new phenomenon, gave a cheeky grin, pulled up his trousers and charged off to join the other grandchildren. When you’re two and being three is on the radar, the world is full of new experiences and new horizons. For boys especially, the body’s functions provide endless interest, discovery and experimentation. So Ben needed to tell me what was new. No longer did he have nappies but ‘pull-ups’ – a kind of cross between pants and nappies, allowing him to be in pants but with scope for accidents. By contrast, Maayana, four months his senior, is so quietly efficient that we came back from the evening service to find a full potty. She regularly takes herself off to the toilet so quietly and without fuss that no one knows she’s gone. She prefers the potty for liquid only toileting, and apparently there’s often no evidence that she’s been as she even empties her own potty and washes it. On this occasion, she must have been distracted and so we came back to find a little memento of her visit. Her new horizons are well beyond ‘pull-ups’!
The world they inhabit is rapidly changing, and who can know what the world will be like as they reach adulthood. Advances in technology and science means things we learnt as cutting edge as young adults are now obsolete. I was trying to explain to Euan and Zach about the changes in computing and they really looked as though I was describing exiting from the Ark. When I was a young adult, basic computing was a graduate activity, it was assumed that we all needed to be able to write machine programmes, and the computer occupied the entire third floor of the large computing faculty building – with a total computing power less than the children’s tablets that they use for entertainment on long journeys – oh, and programming a computer is now a routine part of primary education. No wonder they stood there shaking their heads in disbelief.
The “All Hallows’ Herald” has changed over time as well; once a bound, folded and stapled parish magazine, by 1994 it was being printed in a triple fold single sheet of an odd size as it was being printed on offcuts. It was re-vamped, given the title “All Hallows’ Herald” and was briefly printed in a similar format by the Gazette, until it moved to the current A4 folded style. Modern ‘desktop’ publishing and a generous offer made by D Hollowells and Sons, Funeral Directors, means we can return to the bound, folded and stapled format but now printed in colour. Damian Platt has spent a lot of his (talented) time redesigning the format and we hope you like the re-design. So as we begin the New Year, we have a new ‘Herald’, but of course, the same timeless message.
When I was in training in Cambridge, there was a church which painted a message on one of it’s walls. As we moved from 1979 to 1980, the message was “New Year, New Decade: Same God!” Someone added “Oh No!” underneath, much to the amusement of passers-by – and the wrath of the vicar. Ironically, the timeless message of salvation points to the ever-self-renewing God and away from the slowly decaying universe. Every year onwards is a year of decay (it’s called entropy) and an even more visible aging. I am reminded of my own mortality and finite existence every time I look into the mirror. What the timeless message tells us is that God will arrest the laws of entropy and decay, will decisively deal with the moral turpitude and restore both righteousness and fellowship. At the very end of the bible, all the threads of 4,000 years of revelation are pulled together in the book called “Revelation”: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (The Bible, Revelation 21.1-5)
Praying that in Christ Jesus you may be re-newed daily in this present life and so know the certainty of the ultimate renewal in him as he makes all things new for all eternity.
Your servant in the Lord Jesus Christ,
“Hmm, Granddad, so you walk back and forth…” Tarn Hows is a beautiful walk between Coniston Waters and Windermere around a man-made lake. We drove up with Aedan and met up with his cousins Euan and Zach with their parents. After a walk round the lake, with an iconic ‘three boys with their sticks’ in front of us, we returned to the carpark. Euan and Zach returned from the toilets, and announced that Aedan was using the toilet, so Granddad was dispatched. It was already dusk and the darkness was deepening, so I was surprised to find the toilets in darkness. A little voice called out from the cubicle and a face peered around the door from the still sitting boy, “Who turned off the light, Granddad?” “No-one, Aedan; there’s a motion sensor, so you have to keep moving to keep the light on.” (You can see the problem, apparently unforeseen by the designer!) “Hmm, Granddad, so you walk back and forth to keep the light on.” So that’s how I spent the next 5 minutes! On finishing, we discovered the hand washing facilities were just alcoholic gel. Aedan was sure there were washbasins in the Ladies’ toilets, so we went to investigate.
“It’s okay, Aedan – there’s no one in.” “How do you know?” “There’s no light on.” So I opened the door – face to face with a lady, who asked, “How do you get the light on?” “You walk back and forth – Granddad will do it for you.” Aedan volunteered. Fortunately she saw the funny side and released me from Aedan’s generous offer.
On Christmas Day, Damian (our curate) was trying to get an answer to a question: “When’s your birthday?” he asked. To roars of laughter, he was upstaged by Aedan who, with the other children at the front, was concentrating on the present he’d brought to church, and answered in an offhand way, “It’s the day I was born.” Later that day, with 17 sitting around the Christmas table, we asked which grace we were going to say before eating. The children made various suggestions, but a small voice spoke up strongly and firmly. “We are going to sing ‘Happy Birthday’!” Ben was adamant; it was Jesus’ birthday so we should sing ‘Happy Birthday’ – so 12 adults and 5 children sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to Jesus.
There is a connecting thread. Children reach for the obvious, not the devious. From the solution to motion sensors, even freely offered to strangers, to the curate-felling answer for his question, to the singing of Happy Birthday on Christmas Day, they reach for the simple and obvious answer. Some letters in ‘The Times’ examined how the church should articulate the core teachings of the faith. One letter in response from a ‘Rev’d Dr’ argued we should abandon old orthodoxies as untenable. He dispensed with the plenary inspiration of the bible, the virgin birth, Christ’s sin-beating death on the cross and, it seemed, mostly everything that makes Christian revelation distinctive. He began with a pre-supposition that “God can’t” – God can’t do anything outside the laws of science, and people can’t have seen what God cannot do outside the laws of science. Not surprisingly, his pre-suppositions meant that he ended with a small vague God, a sort of ‘God-lite’.
The children, on the other hand, have no such problems. Their pre-supposition is that “God can”. God can do anything. They can’t frame it philosophically, they can’t defend it scientifically, but they just know it intrinsically and with certainty – “God can!” The ‘Rev’d Dr’ doesn’t actually need faith, and doesn’t seem to have much. The children have faith, and their world may not have the ‘intellectual freedom’ craved by our ‘Rev’d Dr’, but their world has a deal more assurance and meaning than his.
Dr Luke, the gospel writer records “Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (The Bible, Luke 18.16-17). It’s not that difficult to defend the bible and Christian revelation (trust me – I too am a ‘Rev’d Dr’!) but you do need to start with faith and trust; you do need to start with ‘God can!’, even if it is beyond the laws of science – which are His laws anyway. Jesus came to reveal a God who can and does, a God who holds the whole universe in his (metaphorical) hand, and yet is intimately connected with every part with an empathetic and powerful love. I guess it’s up to you: do you want a ‘God-lite’ trimmed down so your intellect can dwarf him, or do you want the awesome God who dwarfs your every thought, but loves you beyond measure? Jesus makes the starting point abundantly clear.
Praying that in Christ Jesus you may find the awesome “God can” whose love is a great as his Being.
Your servant in the Lord Jesus Christ,
“You’re welcome!” And so saying, Jesus smiled a broad grin, his arms stretched out in an open welcome. I looked up from my knees, slightly nonplussed; it wasn’t what Jesus was meant to say, but it seemed right in the context. Damian and I were taking assembly at a local school and were telling the story of the “10 lepers” (Luke 17.11-19). The skin disease from which they suffered made them untouchable outsiders, cut off from contact with their communities. Near the border with Samaria, one of the ‘lepers’ was a Samaritan, normally despised by the Galileans, but driven together by adversity. Jesus responded to their appeal by sending them to be checked by the priest and as they went, they were cleansed. 10 children were playing the parts of the ‘lepers’ and Jesus, leaving me to be chosen by Damian(!) to play the Samaritan, who on discovering that he is cleansed, returns to thank Jesus.
Jesus, voiced over by Damian, is supposed to say “Were not all 10 cleansed? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” after which he gives the Samaritan a further blessing. It repeats a common theme about taking Jesus/God for granted and others less tutored giving God the right response. On our way to the priest, I duly turned back and fell at the knees of the boy playing Jesus. Damian realised he’d forgotten to stress that one was a Samaritan and what that meant, so while I was on my knees before the boy, we had an extended explanation from Damian. Damian cued my line, so I said, “Thank you, Jesus!” As Damian was about to voice over, the boy spontaneously responded, opening his arms, smiling and saying, “You’re welcome!”
It was a wonderful moment – it seemed so natural and right, and threw Damian, who was still trying to get to the ‘official’ voice over, and responded to the lad with “I’m sure Jesus must have said something like that – and he continued…” The moment was not lost on the assembled school, with a small chuckle from the pupils. The new response from Jesus is very colloquial, more familiar from the likes of MacDonalds, and looking at the formal language of the Bible, might seem to be out of place. Yet the boy was right. Jesus was a real person interacting with real people on a day to day basis. Language was a bit more formal in those days, even in informal contexts, rather like our Victorian forebears, but written down, it loses the twinkle in the eye, the smile, the intonation. In fact, the New Testament is written in a very special Greek. The Greek is so different from the classical Greek, which was being used at that time, a very formal, stilted language well suited to rhetoric, that New Testament Greek was thought to be a special holy language. This meant the revelation of the New Testament was set apart from ordinary life, given a more formal context, distant from everyday life.
Then documents from the time of Jesus began to be unearthed, documents in Greek, documents in New Testament Greek. The scholars were excited. What new revelations were being given in the sacred language? How would this change the way we viewed the New Testament? – Not in the way they first thought! As they translated these scraps of papyrus, they found – shopping lists! Notes from a client to the carpenter working on a small job, notes from a family member to another, effectively saying things like ‘dinner’s in the oven’. In other words, the everyday notes that you scribble, the things that were important at the time but of no great note in the long run, the things that are the common woof and warp of life. This is the language that God chose to record His wonderful revelation of Jesus. Not the language of rhetoric, not the stilted distant formal language but the everyday language, the language of, “You’re welcome!”
In turn, it shows that although the incarnation of Jesus may be described in soaring theological, philosophical and rhetorical language, it is lived and experienced in everyday language and life. When Jesus tells us, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (The Bible John 14.9b), he makes the Father truly accessible to us as ordinary everyday humans. When he says, “Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends; you are my friends…” (John 15.13-14), you know he’s speaking to you and it’s as if he adds “You’re welcome!” Jesus is for today, in the day to day. He became one of us as a servant, not as a distant Lord, he gave himself for us and says, “You’re welcome!”
Praying that in Christ Jesus you may find his daily love and accessibility, see all that he has done for you as he opens his arms, smiles and says “You’re welcome!” and so kneel before him in grateful thanks.
Your servant in the Lord Jesus Christ,
“… and you’ll be wrong, Granddad!” Aedan concluded a complicated response to me triumphantly. It was, of course, my fault. I had collected Aedan from school, and we had already discussed whether I was taking the right route (very different to his normal route), and his conclusion that perhaps I had moved house. We were waiting for Grandma to ring back to tell us if she was coming shopping with us. “On which phone will Grandma ring? I think it will be the kitchen phone.” “No,” Aedan responded, “Grandma will ring on the study phone.” “What if I take the study phone into the kitchen? I would be right whichever phone she rang!” “No, Granddad; if she rings on the kitchen phone which was the kitchen phone, then you will be right and I will be wrong, but if Grandma rings on the kitchen phone which was in the study, then I will be right, and you’ll be wrong, Granddad!” So we waited. Grandma rang on the mobile phone we’d left in the car! Then she rang on the study phone and Aedan claimed victory.
As we set off for the shops, we turned out of our clear garden into dense fog near the Gala Field. It was so sudden and so dense, I wondered if there was a fire. “It’s fog, Granddad.” “It might be smoke.” I protested. “It’s fog, Granddad.” “I’ll wind the window down to check.” “It’s fog, Granddad.” “Okay, you’re right.” “And you are wrong again, Granddad.” adding with a chuckle, “I think you won’t get any tea.”
Have you noticed how easily children grasp the empirical nature of right and wrong – there are absolutes, a right and a wrong answer. How easily and seamlessly they move from empirical answers to moral consequences – I’m not sure why I deserved no tea for being wrong, but it was clear that even jokingly Aedan connected moral consequences to false answers. We are familiar with these connections. Wrong answers in engineering – a bridge, a car, an aeroplane, an arterial stent – have moral consequences. False answers about the nature and value of human life have devastating moral consequences across the spectrum, from medical to sociological, from education to business models. Wrong answers to the fundamental question ‘Who are we?’ leads to unregulated abortion, euthanasia and restricted access to medical intervention on the ‘quality of life’ argument, but how do we decide the quality of life if we don’t know who we are.
Equally, wrong answers to the nature and value of human beings lead to a purely functional approach to education – trained for a purpose – and a dehumanising approach to work where workers are valued only for cheapness and output. A newspaper columnist recently argued for the removal of the faith element from faith schools. Their success he opined was essentially due to a form of selection, and the faith element made no contribution to the academic success of the pupils. Apart from the fact he quoted data selectively, as a self-confessed atheist, he was blind to a wider picture. Education is much greater than academic success. The children were being offered a moral framework, a paradigm by which to interpret the world and to make value judgements about themselves and their interaction with their world. The columnist assumes there is a neutral place from which such judgements can be made and misses his own assumptions, assessing the world with an assumed interpretive framework, a framework without a foundation.
Having a working answer to ‘Who are we?’ gives the children a better sense of well-being, and may lead to academic success; they have a moral framework that guides their decision making and the consequences of those decisions. Values have to come from somewhere: if not from God, then where? Current collective opinion, changeable as the wind? Elitist self-appointed Mandarins, drawing their imposed values from where? At least a person of faith identifies the source of their values.
Jesus told a parable (probably his best known) about a man who helps his needy ‘neighbour’ even though they were formal enemies. “The Good Samaritan” (The Bible, Luke 10.25-37) about unqualified love follows his value summary: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart…soul…strength and…mind’, and ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’” (Luke 10.27). It provides an origin (God), a purpose (Praise) and a focus (Neighbour), and sets it within the context of a Creator who made you in love. It is because He loves us that our wrong – false – answers have moral consequences, failing both tests of Jesus’ values.
Praying that in Christ Jesus, you may find your values, meaning, purposes and answers and so find peace. Your servant in the Lord Jesus Christ, Simon Cox.
“Oh yes I do…!” and so saying, Maayana picked the tomato slices off Ben’s crumpets and enthusiastically ate them. The girls had all left for their weekend at Capernwray Bible School, leaving the boys with the children, so naturally they gravitated to the Rectory and we had a fun weekend. Communication proved to be a small problem. Ben still refers to himself as ‘Mea’ which sounds rather like the contraction used for Maayana – Maya. So Granddad offered the children cheesy crumpets with or without tomato slices. All three said ‘yes’ to tomato, and duly sat down with their Dads. I served Maayana and Aedan, and then Ben with their crumpets. Aedan made sounds of appreciation, copied by Maya and interrupted by a three time repeated loud statement from Ben, “Mea doesn’t like tomato!” as he picked at it with disgust. Suddenly Maya realised what Ben was saying about the tomato, which she was already eating preferentially off her own crumpets, and responded with “Oh yes I do!” and ate the tomato off Ben’s crumpets – to his obvious approval.
Quite often, small children translate each other’s quirky word pronunciation – I remember my pre-nursery sister holding an animated conversation with the boy next door about flowers, which he called ‘loafers’ and she called ‘fowlers’, but both seemed to understand each other, nodding energetically in agreement. But not so in this case – Maya heard her name and rushed to correct an erroneous claim about her and tomatoes.
We had another incident that weekend which again spoke of communication: upstairs is usually out of bounds unless you are staying at the Rectory. The small Lego is kept upstairs out of little children’s reach. The last couple of times, Aedan and Ben have been allowed upstairs to play with Euan & Zach with the small Lego (Maya wasn’t interested and played or read downstairs with available adults). They are, of course, all getting older and more capable, and the small Lego no longer poses the threat it did, while their tidying ability is definitely improving. We noticed Ben was missing from downstairs, and I found him cheerfully playing quietly and constructively upstairs alone with the small Lego; he grinned as I approached and announced ‘I’m upstairs playing with the Lego.’
There is a stair gate halfway up the stairs and it didn’t look as though it had been opened. “How did you get upstairs, Ben?” we asked. He came to the gate, and it was clear he couldn’t get through. “Show us, Ben” we urged, and Tim lifted him over and encouraged him to demonstrate how he got upstairs. With a cheerful – cheeky? – smile, Ben deftly placed one foot on the step through the stair gate, and levered himself into a vault over the stair gate, and grinned from the other side. “Not much point in that stair gate!” I observed. “It could have a symbolic function.” suggested Nathanael, “warning them not to cross.” “Clearly not.” I responded, looking at the very cheerful Ben. The stair gates have gone – until numbers 6 & 7 on the way grow into scramblers.
The stair gates were always there to stop the little children from hurting themselves or getting into trouble. An American poet, Frost, is credited with saying, “Don’t take a fence down until you know why it was put up.” although I thought it was a quote from Chesterton. Either way, it is good sense. The fence itself is a form of communication, a kind of a physical manifestation of a rule. Like fences, rules are usually there for a good reason, and like fences, only taken down when we understand the reason they were there in the first place. The children are getting old enough to understand that there are rules and old enough to be (mostly) trusted. Some rules are arbitrary and dictatorial – like the North Korean requirement for the men to have the same haircut as their leader Kim Jong Un, but most are there for good reason.
God’s rules are there for good reason, and a large part of that reason is simply love, a desire to protect ourselves from ourselves. As a society, we have a strange idea that we should be able to break the rules without consequence. In the name of liberty, we have bulldozed our way through a ream of His rules, connected to every part of life, from birth to death, in marriage and family life, in financial and ethical standards. “Don’t take a fence down until you know why it was put up.” As we see the disintegration of our society, the sullen cynicism, the prevalent rights over responsibilities attitudes, we should note the consequences of taking down His rules without understanding His way and His love.
Jesus said “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (The Bible John 10.10b). Praying that in Christ Jesus, you may find life in all its fullness, even with the rules of life and love. Your servant in the Lord Jesus Christ, Simon Cox.
“I know God’s name!” Nathanael was a bright four year old, and had rushed to me at the end of church. What manner of revelation was this, I wondered? God had communicated with this child – I was mindful of Samuel the prophet, to whom God spoke with a devastating message for old Eli the priest. What special message could it be? Then I realised – it had to be “Jesus”, obviously. “Okay,” I responded, “What is God’s name?” The answer came back emphatically, without hesitation – this child really knew God’s name. “Peter!” I couldn’t hide my surprise: “Peter?” I queried. “Yes, Daddy” and added helpfully to my further confusion “– all the people know it.” “How do you know His name is Peter? How do the congregation know it?” I queried. “They say it to you.” Puzzled, I asked “When do they say it to me?” “When you read the bible, you say ‘This is the Word of the Lord’ and all the people answer and say to you, ‘Thanks, Peter God.’” The little earnest face really thought he had found God’s name, and trying not to laugh, I had to share, “No, Nathanael, they are saying ‘Thanks be to God.’” Nathanael looked crestfallen – but not for long!
A couple of years earlier, Tim would sing loudly and confidently “J-O-Y, J-O-Y, surely Christmas means, Jesus first, yourself last and others in between”, and it took considerable work to persuade him in the middle of July that he had misheard ‘this must’ for Christmas. In the same way, every couple of years, we challenge the parish’s key stage 2 children to learn the Lord’s Prayer by heart. A substantial number of the younger children think God is called Harold – ‘Harold be Thy name’ and will go on to declare ‘My will be done’ instead of ‘Thy will be done’.
The Lord’s Prayer is a masterpiece, a prayer of simplicity and easily remembered and recalled in times of need, yet deep in its profundity, and challenging in its execution. It is a complete prayer in itself and yet also a framework for prayer. When I was gripped in my heart attack, the Lord’s Prayer was the only prayer I could manage yet it also embraces an expansive horizon. That’s why we think it is worth learning, a prayer instantly available in times of need, a prayer which unites all shapes and size of Christian, a prayer that tops out intercession and simultaneously acts as a foundation to prayer. We teach a traditional form so that the children can unite in the majority use, giving a sense of solidarity and fellowship with other believers:
“Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven: Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.”
The prayer Jesus gave us locates God’s compassion and love in the audacious claim on the fatherhood of God, while setting Him apart (in heaven and hallowed = holy) as utterly different. It yearns for His just rule and comprehensive sovereignty (kingdom come), locating the opposition firmly in our hearts (thy will be done – a recognition that we all fail to do His will). It recognises our utter dependence on him for all things (daily bread is all that sustains us), seeks His forgiveness (trespasses is translated as sin or debts in other versions) while making that forgiveness clearly dependent on our willingness to demonstrate we are His children by emulating his mercy. It asks for us to be rescued from all that seeks to ensnare us, within (our inner temptations) and without (evil is actually ‘the evil one’, that malevolence that opposes God’s will). The appropriate ending was added later, soaring and summarising the first lines and the purpose of all creation.
Challenge: Junior children (born before 1st September 2006) are challenged to learn the Lord’s Prayer by heart. Some local schools will be joining the challenge. If you are content that your child (grandchild, neighbour’s child with their consent, etc.) knows the Lord’s Prayer fluently and accurately, drop us a note including their full name, address and school, and we will award them ‘The Rector’s Certificate’, via their school if possible. We’ll stop running the challenge at next half term, so get the note to us before 25th October
Jesus said “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” (The Bible, Luke 18.16) – there’s no better way than to open to them the powerful resource of prayer, and no easier way than the Master’s model prayer.
Praying that you and your children may in prayer find the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ
Your servant in the Lord Jesus Christ, Simon Cox.
“I am a pirate and I’m taking over this ship!” Ben knew he was a pirate, because he had the T-shirt – and was wearing it. He put his hands on his hips, puffed out his chest and commanded Nigel, the tiller man, to yield the ship. The ship in question was the Kingfisher, a narrow boat on the Leeds-Lancaster Canal. For Diane’s special birthday, we had packed the boat with a selection of her family and friends and set off from Barton Grange to ‘Th Owd Tithe Barn’ for lunch. All Diane’s grandchildren were on board, including the latest, Callum, although he was focused as usual on food and sleep. Ben had spent some time in the bow being a pirate; I confess a Granddad may have suggested the stern was where the command of the boat was held. So we worked our way down to the stern, Ben rose to his full height (!) and issued the command. The result was hilarious. Nigel stepped forward and said ‘Of course – here’s the tiller.’, and invited Ben to take it. Ben was instantly transformed from the swashbuckling and assertive pirate to a confused and worried small boy. Backing away, he stammered ‘No!’ Nigel stepped forward a little and repeated ‘Come on – you can steer the boat – you can stand on the box here.’ (The box was precisely for small people to stand on to take the tiller.) ‘I need my Daddy’, blurted out the pirate and fled to his uncle Carl.
Subsequently, all four of the older grandchildren had a go steering the boat. Euan and Zach took it in their stride, but rapidly returned to a Lego movie in the bow, Aedan and Maayana took multiple turns, mostly politely. Maayana had a tendency to snatch the tiller and turn into the bank, so Nigel would have to keep a firm hold on the tiller; Aedan grasped immediately the ‘turn to the left to go right’ principle and blossomed under Nigel’s tutelage: ‘He’s a natural.’ But the pirate never took command of the ship.
We’ve been covering the Lord’s Prayer in a couple of local schools and got to the phrase ‘Thy will be done’. Using the parable of the two sons in the vineyard, dressed up a little, (one says he will help in the vineyard, but doesn’t, the other says he won’t, but does – we make it a story about helping Dad or Mum in the garden) we looked at doing God’s will, rather than just saying you’ll do it. It is easy to puff ourselves up, rise to our full height and to say we’re a Christian – so much harder to do it, especially when it’s frightening, costly or embarrassing.
It’s not a new problem. St James once wrote to his congregation “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (The Bible, James 1.22) I remember being challenged by a preacher with “If the police arrested you tonight for being a Christian, would they find enough evidence to convict you?” Being a Christian is about following Christ as our Lord and Saviour in every part of our life, not just Sundays. They are called Sunday Services because as an act of worship, they are meant to help us, to service us, as followers of Jesus. The fellowship, the prayers, the teaching all help to remind us how to live Monday to Saturday. We live out our Christian witness in the way we won’t take short cuts or descend to common industry practice just because ‘everyone else does’, in the way we give our time freely even when we’d rather not, when we go the extra mile (a phrase from Jesus) in serving those around us. Sometimes there are the ‘grand’, the ‘big’ moments for standing up and being counted as His followers; most of the time, it is the way we tackle the mundane, the everyday, the way we are there for our children, our spouse, our community, our employer. We need to be reminded how and why we serve as the people of God: we attend Services to be serviced that we may be a service to others.
Jesus demonstrated this in every part of his life – and death – but poignantly when he washed the feet of the disciples. Foot washing was the lowest task anyone could undertake. It’s hard to understand how demeaning it was, how you declared yourself to be the lowest in the pecking order because feet were associated with dominion. But despite the connotations, with no disciple willing to wash even the feet of Jesus, it was Jesus who rose, unrobed, knelt and washed the feet of his errant disciples, one of whom would shortly betray him, one, the leader, would formally deny him, and none would stand by him to end as he died, leaving that task to women and second order disciples.
Before followers of Jesus were called ‘Christians’, they were called ‘Followers of the Way’, a way of service, a way of doing as well as hearing and saying. We need to step up – and we need to do what we say, or we’ll be like a small pirate, never taking control of the ship.
Praying that you and your children may in prayer find the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ
Your servant in the Lord Jesus Christ, Simon Cox.
“I don’t want to sleep there – they have no beds!” Maayana and her family are planning a move to Preston. Maayana confided in Grandma that she was worried about her new nursery, and Grandma warned Natalie, so Mum & daughter went to visit the nursery, as it was unlike her to be worried. Natalie reported that the visit went well – aside from the toilet incident: “She asked where the toilets were… so the nursery assistant showed her… we both stood there expecting her to use the toilet and when she didn’t I asked, ‘Do you not need the toilet, Poppet?’… her response was, ‘No, I just wanted to check that they were clean!’” However, all the way through the tour, she kept asking where her bedroom was, and stating that she wanted to see her bed.
Natalie stopped at a café on the way home for a milkshake, a cup of tea and a chat. Maayana announced she liked her new nursery, but she didn’t want to sleep there because there were no beds. From what Natalie extracted from the babble that followed, Maayana had the impression she was being left at the nursery, a sort of ‘boarding nursery!’ Natalie explained she was going each day to the Nursery just like Aedan goes to School each day and suddenly a small girl looked very relieved. Natalie had thought she was just confused between new home and new nursery – they had been round a few after all, but Maayana had seen a future, and it worried her until she realised that it just wasn’t her future at all.
My wife tells me she ‘enjoys a good worry’, although it never seems like it at the time. When something has happened and been resolved so quickly she only finds out about it post solution, she observes, “And I never even got to worry!” Jesus had words about how we worry: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” concluding after a couple of illustrations with “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (The Bible, Matthew 6.25, 34). I remember we illustrated this in a family talk where we had a child who struggled with two enormous suitcases and a rucksack. One suitcase was all the worries of the past; we can’t change the past, so the child was encouraged to give the suitcase to Jesus – he deals with our past and can make good things even out of the bad things we do. The other suitcase was all the worries of what might be; but it might not be – we can never be sure of the future, but we can be sure of our living God who goes before us and walks with us, so the child was encouraged to give away to Jesus the second suitcase. Now all that was left was the rucksack of today’s troubles and worries, and that was much more manageable; our child fair skipped off.
Life is full of difficult journeys and some worry is necessary – it’s another term for ‘risk assessment’ although we all know how unhinged and unrestricted risk assessments can lead to severe restrictions in the necessary adventure of life, even to goggles to play conkers and children receiving only virtual life experiences instead of the real thing, kept “safe” in their rooms with only a computer interface. Too much worry can paralyse and destroy, and it’s pointless to boot: we can only travel to the future, we can’t rest where we are nor travel backwards to the past. Better then to travel light, dealing with the present moment, handing our intractable past to Jesus, walking into our future with Him who declared “I am the way…” (John 14.6), and reminding ourselves that there are more important targets which are within our grasp, targets set by Jesus as he takes our troublesome past and worrying future: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6.33)
Some of us are worrying about the beds that aren’t there, a necessary part of a worrying future that isn’t ours; Jesus calls us more simply to slip our hand into his and to walk closer to him, to step into the future that is ours, and to know that even when that future is as bad as it could be, he is still with us, and that the ultimate future with him and in him is as bright as it can be. Praying that in Jesus, you may know that peace and freedom from worry.
Your servant in the Lord Jesus Christ
Grandma quietly rose and hovered outside the door. Jake Simon Christian Haagensen, born to Emma and Carl on 29th July after a labour of just 3 hours 17 minutes (beating Grandma’s time for Tim of 4 hours) came home on the 30th. We were on holiday, joining Emma and Carl in Dundee on Sunday 27th – Grandma was determined to be there from the beginning this time – our seventh grandchild, sixth grandson and first non-Cox, and first born in the holidays. After waiting much of the day for Jake to come home, we went out to a local attraction. When we arrived back at the house, Jake had been home about 40 minutes and the new parents were taking in the awesome responsibility that had just entered their lives. Jake’s arrival and needs had been as carefully planned as possible, but any parent will remember that first moment when it really dawns on you that you have a total responsibility for a vulnerable and fragile little life.
Jake woke twice during his first night at home. Each time, Grandma quietly rose and hovered outside the bedroom door, wanting to be of help, wanting simultaneously to rush in and ‘do it’ and to not interfere unless really needed and asked. It was important that Emma and Carl had the opportunity to work it out with Jake themselves – and equally important that they didn’t feel abandoned in their need.
In the morning, Carl announced that Jake had woken twice during the night. “We know” I responded. “The second time, we nearly came for Grandma’s help.” “You wouldn’t have needed to go far for it.” “We guessed she would be hovering just outside the door.” “She was – ready to help, willing to help, even wanting to help, but not wanting to interfere. It had to be your decision that you wanted help, not hers.” “We know!” The following night Grandma was needed and cheerfully went to lend a hand and some experience. During the next few days, Grandma was involved in Jake’s first bath and a whole host of other activities. (By his second bath, he managed to remove the plug… Carl wondered why his feet were getting wet). I had to return home for a week’s work, and then returned to Dundee, to find two confident parents, a largely settled Jake – and a slightly spaced out Grandma!
Diane hovering at the door reminded me of a wonderful passage about Jesus standing at the door in the book of Revelation: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (The Bible, Revelation 3.20). It was a verse that inspired Holman Hunt to paint ‘The Light of the World’, a well-known allegorical painting hanging at St Paul’s Cathedral, London, the original smaller version at Keble College, Oxford. The picture is a conflation of this verse and another: Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8.12), and shows Christ carrying a lantern and knocking at a door which is overgrown and obviously has not been opened for a long time. There is no door handle on Christ’s side, so entrance can only be granted by the person within.
In the passage from the book of Revelation, the church at Laodicea has been rebuked to the point that you can’t believe there is a way back. It’s not that they may need help; they do. It’s whether they will ask for the help – and the offer to enter and help transform them is then powerfully addressed to any individual who will respond. In Carl & Emma’s case, there was a good reason why the hovering Grandma didn’t knock and why not admitting her may have had potential benefits; in our case, like the Laodiceans, the only consequence of not admitting Christ and letting him transform us is disaster. The invitation works at every level – our nation, our church, our personal life. The question is whether we will respond. Like Carl, we know he’s there, waiting, and unlike Grandma, knocking, knocking, knocking.
October is the month we celebrate Harvest. Harvest has always had twin themes – the first is thankfulness for God’s good provision coupled with good stewardship, the second to do with the harvest at the end of time. Where will you and your family spend eternity? Will God find you good harvest to be garnered forevermore, or chaff, to be blown away? Jesus declares that he is the only answer to the question, the only means by which we may be fit for eternity with God, and calls to us: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Will we reach out and seize the handle to let him?
Praying that you will find in Christ Jesus a ready helper and a transforming Lord who will render you fit for ‘Harvest Home’ with Him
Your servant in the Lord Jesus Christ, Simon Cox.
“Sssh Zach! I’m listening to this guy on telly!” Zach looked up “Why?” “He’s got our name – he may be related to us in the distance.” “Why, how old is he?” “I don’t know but much younger than Granddad!” I wouldn’t have minded if the Brian Cox to whom he was listening was the Astrophysicist but it was Brian Cox the actor, aged 68; a chat had to follow about their spritely granddad, who was as young as our new Jake when Brian was Euan’s age. We found ourselves looking back and remembering and looking forward and reflecting.
“Surprise!” Around 40 people stepped out from behind the station office. Paul looked visibly stunned. We were on the Isle of Man to celebrate his 60th birthday with a special meal that evening, but Mark, his son, had excelled himself by booking a special event at Groudle Glen Railway. The railway doesn’t normally open on a Saturday, but Mark had secretly booked a special opening, and invited Paul’s family and friends, Paul was encouraged to walk through the Glen, until “Surprise!” – Paul even got to drive the engine up and down the line, his face beaming. We found ourselves looking back and remembering and looking forward and reflecting.
“Where are the Raspberries, Granddad?” Aedan was searching for the fruit he and Maayana had learnt to enjoy over Summer. When they ‘helped’ to gather the raspberries, consumption was close on the heels of their productivity. But now, there were none to be seen. “I’m afraid they’re finished. They have a season and it’s ended; we have to go through Winter before we can have more raspberries.” “Winter?!” a short pause, “Winter! That means it will soon be Christmas!” and he beamed. I was looking backwards, but he was looking forward.
November has been a season of Remembrance for nearly 100 years; this year we mark the centenary of the start of the 1914-18 war. As we look back in the knowledge that many millions of men would perish in this history changing conflict, they are still looking forward in the expectation that it will all be over by Christmas. The future is always hidden to us, and the men of 1914 would have quailed if they could see the four years ahead. They entered the war years with a misplaced confidence. The troops who boldly marched to war with patriotic songs on their lips were very different from the dazed and shocked young men who trickled back. We rightly remember the incredible sacrifice of those many young men, and as the war years progressed, their sacrifice frequently became a conscious sacrifice and a lived courage, but at the moment, as they looked forward, the future seemed falsely bright. One local family captured the sense and senselessness of the war years dramatically: as the Barnes family entered the war, they could not know that their only sons would be lost near the start and at the very end of the war on the 7th October 1915 and the 2nd November 1918. We are planning to mark these significant deaths as part of our Remembrance, and if you know anything about the family, we would be grateful to hear from you.
In the light of such loss and mayhem, it would be difficult to look to the future in any positive manner, unless we had a more certain hope that could carry us through such a potentially bleak prospect. Many of the young men carried into battle a New Testament given to them as issue – and for many, it was one of the few comforts they had, one that made the sacrifice they were called to make more intelligible, one that gave them a real and substantial hope as they faced an increasingly dark tomorrow. It gave them the hope of the good news of Jesus, a triumph of life over death and light over darkness. It told them of a future beyond, of a resurrection and of a heavenly city, and gave a fixed point in a shifting and confusing landscape, where the familiar became alien territory.
That hope is summarised by St Paul as he recounts the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (The Bible, 1 Corinthians 11.26). St Paul explains the Lord’s Supper given by Jesus on the night he was betrayed as an encapsulation of the Gospel, calling us to look back, look forward and to live in the light of those vantage points. We are to look back to Christ’s death on the cross and see both an example of self-sacrifice and a gift of sin paid in that death so that we can look forward to his return with confidence. The return of Jesus is bound up with his total and irresistible victory and his banishment of all that sought to withstand his will, including especially all sin. Forgiven sinners in Christ will have no fear of that judgement. In an often dark and changeable world, where the future is hidden from us, we, like those soldiers of World War 1, are called to live with confidence in the finished work of Christ on the cross and the certainty of his return.
Praying that in Christ Jesus you will find a firm foundation and a future hope to guide your daily life
Your servant in the Lord Jesus Christ, Simon Cox.
“But I’m not a good hunter!” Ben hung plaintively between the back of two chairs between Daddy and Grandma. “Can you hunt for me, Daddy?” he continued. Granddad rose and went to Ben’s rescue, “I’ll help you hunt.” So we scrabbled through the Lego box looking for any small bricks that were ‘jewels’ or coins. Soon we had found enough to satisfy Ben, and they were placed in the treasure chest at the heart of his boat, which then happily sailed around the room.
Ben had popped round with his Dad when Mum needed a break, and had set to with the Lego. Before long, he proudly drew our attention to his creation. “It’s a pirate ship with a very tall mast and a canon and some pirates and it goes. It has a treasure chest…” his face fell “…but it hasn’t got any treasure.” Nathanael responded “Well, you can’t be a pirate ship without treasure – it’s got no point. You need to hunt for some treasure in the Lego box.” Hence Ben’s plaintive cry, leading to the filling of the chest with ‘treasure’. As Ben proudly played with his pirate ship, he paused periodically to check the treasure at the heart of his ship – it gave the ship purpose and meaning, it defined the ship.
Many years ago as a young father and new curate, I was terrified that I would confuse the children with the story of Santa Claus and the truth of the Nativity of Jesus, but I didn’t want to spoil their Christmas fun. I helped Tim aged 3½ to understand that St Nicolaus or Santa Claus was a bishop who celebrated the gift of Christ’s birth with gifts for poor children. Tim emerged Christmas morning looking very pleased, “Look what Father Christmas has brought me.” Theological kneejerk from father, “And who is Father Christmas?” “He’s a bishop – I think he came down from heaven to give me presents and then went back.” It was then I realised that small children have their own logical world which only touches an adult one at a few points! Still, at the heart of our Christmas was the Nativity. It is easy for the central point of Christmas to get lost in all the celebrations. We can’t prove Jesus was born on the 25th December; he may well have been born in a completely different month, but it is his birth that we celebrate on the 25th.
In the frenetic round of parties and dinners, the hunting down of presents, the mountain of food fit to feed a small army, the stockpile of alcohol, the decorations, wrappings and carolling, the gathering of the clans, we lose sight of the point and purpose of the celebration. As someone said to me, “I try to teach my children that Christmas is not just about Santa Claus.” or as the jingle has it, ‘Jesus is the reason for the season’. Like Ben’s boat, sailing sadly around, splendid in every detail, but with an empty treasure chest at its heart, an empty show without point, so is a Christmas with all the splendid trimmings and no treasure at its heart, a Christmas where the treasure chest – or crib – is empty. Without Jesus, the Christmas experience is void and meaningless; like Ben, we need to be ‘a hunter’ – and we don’t even need to hunt too hard.
St Luke recounts the Nativity from Mary’s perspective with the iconic encounter of the shepherds and the angels, St Matthew takes Joseph’s viewpoint and goes on to describe the Epiphany a year or so later, often confused with Christmas itself. St John takes us back to the beginning of all things, with Christ’s pre-existence and the soaring declaration about his divinity and incarnation, that the light of the world was come. Over the years, we have embellished the Nativity truths with donkeys and oxen, stables and the innkeeper’s wife. We have added all manner of wildlife (satirised as ‘third lobster’ in ‘Love Actually’) and we have added a myriad of characters including shepherd boys and their lambs, and not forgetting requisitioning the ‘Three Kings’ from Epiphany. It is like Ben dressing up his ship with every possible addition, but missing the treasure. Nothing can replace the treasure; nothing should obscure the treasure. St John opens his gospel with a profound discussion which draws our eyes to the nature of the Incarnation, but in the third chapter, he provides the purpose of Christmas and the treasure-laden crib: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (The Bible, John 3.16). Here is both the whole of Christmas and the whole of the gospel (good news): God loves, God gives, Jesus comes, Jesus saves, we believe, we live forever. Here is treasure and gift beyond imagination. Here is Jesus, in the crib, on the cross. Here is a truly Happy Christmas. Come and celebrate with us over Christmas.
Praying that this Christmas, you may find the true treasure of lasting value, even Christ Jesus our Saviour.
Your servant in the Lord Jesus Christ,