May 2017

TRUE FAITH. What do you believe in? Keeping healthy? Your wife or husband, or old friends? Good food? A good brisk walk every day with the dog? Two holidays a year? Touching wood for good luck? BREXIT? Burnley FC?

Believing in something, or someone, means a lot more than just “I think they exist”.  And, actually, proving something exists can be fiendishly difficult. If, like me, you are not young you might remember arm-chair philosophers arguing about whether we can be sure that anything really exists: “How can you be sure that what you are seeing or hearing is really there – you might be imagining the whole thing”!? Does anything really exist – how can you be sure?”

It’s actually easier to believe in someone or something than to prove objectively that they exist!  For example, if your spouse or friend keeps turning up at home every day, behaves in loving and caring ways, and acts as if they trust you, you know that you can believe in them. But you might still have difficulty proving to the arm-chair philosopher that they really exist!

And it’s the same with the existence of God. We can argue forever about Jesus’ body disappearing, despite an armed guard on the tomb. And about the religious and civil authorities inability to find the body (which would have stopped Christianity ever getting started). But the best evidence is that that people who say they saw Jesus alive again believed in Him – and trusted Him with their lives.  Those people made personal sacrifices, choosing to live differently because they wanted to be His followers. Many of them were prepared to leave home and travel round the world telling people about Jesus. Some were even persecuted and chose to die rather than give up.

And it’s the same for us, today, 2000 years later. There is plenty of evidence to support believing that Jesus existed but, in the end, we believe in Him because we have found that He still exists.. We have met Him spiritually: in answered prayer, or in worship, or through the ways He has helped us in life. That’s how we know we can believe in Him. He is with us, as we follow His Ways through the ups and downs of life.

So the way to come to believe in Jesus isn’t to forever go through the facts and arguments (though the facts are important!). The way to come to believe in Him is to find out what He was like, what He did, and what He taught… and to respond.  Why not re-read the Gospels in the Bible? They were written “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name”. Then ask Him to come into your life more and more… and ask for His help to live life His way – the way of love, peace and joy.

April 2017

FAKE LOVE: When Revd Mrs NCP and I were first living in Brussels we used to often eat out at lovely Brasserie called “Le Jardin de Nicolas”.   It’s still there, near Place Montgomery (named after Field Marshall Montgomery) on the Avenue de Tervueren – the route into Brussels that the Anglo-Belgian Forces took to liberate the city on 4th September 1944.

One day we found ourselves sitting on an outside table in the summer warmth. On the next table were two obviously wealthy, well-dressed, young men who, it seems, were studying in Brussels.  They were talking rather loudly and excitedly about some of the female students they had recently met in Brussels.  One said he found one of them really, really attractive.  Theother agreed she was a real looker, but he knew her and knew that “she is looking for commitment” not just sex. “Oh” said the first, “I can given her commitment… for about a week… that should be enough…”

“Love” is a much abused word in English.  It’s been hijacked to cover a multitude of sins.  Not least to justify emotionally manipulating other people for one’s own gratification!  The trouble is, of course, that English has only one word, “love”, for a whole range of emotions and actions.  And that makes it too easy to justify, in our minds, misusing other people.

But what is True Love?   If it isn’t the emotional high we find in romantic books and films, what is it?  Why does that love turn sour so often?  And sometimes turn out to have just been “fake love”?  It’s quite a surprise, I think, to many people nowadays when they finally discover that True Love is a commitment toaction, not just an emotion. That sort of love is of a very different kind to romantic feelings.  But it is the sort of love that is absolutely necessary to make our relationships work, and to protect them in this less than ideal world.

So St Paul famously describes True Love like this: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.” (1 Cor 13:4-8a)*  That is the True Love that God has for us.  As we will remember on Good Friday, it drove Jesus to die on the Cross to redeem us for Himself: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:3)  And it is that True Love that we need for our spouse, our family, our friends and neighbours, and for ourselves, if we want to make this world a little bit more like heaven… and a lot less like hell!

* Both Bible quotations are from the New International Version, UK Edition.

March 2017

THE REVEREND MRS NCP AND I have lived in cities and towns in various parts of the UK and abroad, and we always tried to get to know the people living around us.  But that is increasingly hard in the modern world!  What if they always use the car and drive in and out of their driveway?  What if everyone living on the street already has friends elsewhere in the city?  What if crime is high so everyone goes straight home and locks the door?

What’s more, many people are wealthy enough to be able to live independently. We don’t need to ask each other for help and favours anymore.  So you might be excused for wondering whether Jesus’s teaching – to love your neighbour as you love yourself is as relevant today as it was when people were mostly poor and needed each other much more?

But, surprisingly perhaps, our situation is not so different to the situation when Jesus gave that command.  There were different people groups living in the same country, there were rich and poor, there was crime and violence, and people living near you might speak Aramaic, or Greek, or Latin! So even back then, people asked Jesus Who is my Neighbour?  And His reply then applies today too: Everyone we come across is our Neighbour – people like us, and people who are not like us: right or wrong, good or bad!

In fact, Jesus’ challenge was never to work out who our neighbour is.  His challenge was and is to love Everyone we come across!  Not the feeling of love, but the attitude: being patient, kind and caring.  Respecting people – even when they are wrong.  Wanting the best for them, whether or not they deserve it!  Never giving up on people.  And caring about their successes, and tragedies.

Committing to loving all our “neighbours” as we love ourselves, at an appropriate level of intimacy, is our contribution to making everyone’s lives and relationships work better in 21st century Britain.

“Lord Jesus, help me, help us all, to love and care more – like we see You did here on earth!”

February 2017

THE STORY GOES that a preacher was on a car ferry. As it set off he was changing channels on the car radio so he didn’t feel or notice the ferry leaving port. When he did look outside the waves made him feel queasy and he couldn’t see the shore so he couldn’t tell where they were or which way they were going. Looking at the boat didn’t tell him anything and the waves and swirling of the sea gave him no fixed point of reference. He would only know if they were moving, and which way, if he could see the land. He needed a fixed point. Something beyond him, his feelings and his circumstances.

But what if he couldn’t be sure he was seeing land? Then he would be lost; knowing only his circumstances, and how they made him feel, but with no idea where he really was or where he was going!

Unfortunately that is the position that many people find themselves in nowadays. Seeing what is going on around them, and knowing how they feel about it, but not being certain of any fixed points beyond that. In fact our culture positively encourages us to not trust fixed points. It’s almost seen as bad to search for absolute truth. We are told we can only know how we perceive things and that it is arrogant, maybe even harmful, to say that anything is true – it is just true for you.

This has left us like that ferry passenger floating in a “post-truth” sea. Post-truth is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “… circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Our perceptions are paramount. Facts can be discounted if they get in the way of a what we want to be true; truth that offends our personal preferences is wrong; we protect ourselves and each other from the truth; anything against our self-perceptions is unloving.
It sounds so appealing. But it is a trap. If we were perfect people in a perfect world it might work. Bu,t as less-than-perfect people we perceive things wrongly, we self-justify, and we blame-shift. And, in this less-than-perfect world, things that make us feel good can actually be harming us.

But how are we to know, until it’s too late, if we won’t look for truth beyond ourselves?

We need to know the truth about ourselves, and we need to know the truth about our world, if we are to have a chance to live good lives. Even if the truth makes us feel bad! So Jesus himself told his first followers that “… you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

We cannot be truly free until we know the Truth.  The truth about ourselves and about our world. The Truth about real people who aren’t angels, in a real world that isn’t heaven. Real people who sometimes want, say, or do bad things – in a real world where we can’t always have, do or be whatever we want. Real people that Jesus loves and had to die for, in a real world that rejects the Truth and killed Him.

The Truth is not always nice. But we are always loved. Loved by a Love stronger than that ultimate Truth that none of us can escape. His Love that is waiting set us Truly free.

January 2017

CHRISTMAS IS OVER FOR ANOTHER YEAR, but God hasn’t finished with us!

Each year we remember the Son of God – born in a stable, to a poor family, in a country occupied by an oppressive Empire. And we wonder at the circumstances that God chose to come in to this world, and the miraculous things that happened: wise men following a star; shepherds seeing angels; and a virgin giving birth to a son who is God in human form. But do we remember what John the Baptist says about what Jesus came to do: “I baptise you with water for repentance. But … He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

I know a bit about fire.  I used to work in the process industries. If you’ve ever seen a blast furnace making steel, you’ll know just how incredibly hot it is, over 2000*C. At that temperature impurities can’t survive – those that can gasify burst out of the molten iron as superheated gas, those that are solid float (at slower rates) to the surface to be skimmed off as slag, and those undesirable elements that are dissolved in the iron are removed by processes that make them separate out.  And so the steel is purified and additives mixed into the steel to make it useful for different purposes.

“He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” In the Bible fire often stand for God’s Holy presence that judges sin and evil.  So when Jesus baptises people with the Holy Spirit, there is fire – the presence of God drives impurities out from our hearts.  And, like purified steel, He also adds “additives”: He gives us gifts and callings to make us a blessing to each other and to this world.

So, at the start of the New Year, having just celebrated Jesus coming to earth at Christmas, we now need Jesus to send the Holy Spirit and fire.  We need Him to cleanse and transform us; and we need the gifts and callings He gives each one of us.  Then we will be “built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”  And we will be an even greater blessing to each other and to everyone in our villages.

December 2016

CHRISTMAS HERE IS A LOT BUSIER THAN IN TOWNS AND CITIES. That might seem an odd thing to say. What about the mêlée of shopping and partying that city centres and out-of-town venues endure each December?! But in towns and cities it’s very busy, but it isn’t really Christmas. It’s just a month of doing a lot more of what you do all the year round anyway – shopping, enjoying yourself, overdoing it a bit… and too many people getting left out.

But here we have lots of real Christmas celebrations: starting on the first day of the official Christmas season (Advent Sunday) at the Summerseat, 4.15pm on Sunday 27th November, with switching on the village lights and carol singing… followed of course by the first mulled wine and mince pies of the season in the church. And finishing with the Christingle and ‘Midnight Mass’ on Christmas Eve, and Christmas Communion and a meal on Christmas day.

On Advent Sunday, the village “Posada” will begin too. Posada is a tour of the village by the Holy Family in search of a place for Jesus to be born, finishing in St Andrew’s at the Christingle Service at 4pm on Christmas Eve. A lovely nativity set will tour the village, spending a day in different homes – where friends and neighbours will be invited to come, celebrate, and think a bit about the true meaning of Christmas.

Then, in December, Christmas events include:

  • Lights of Love – 7pm on Wednesday 7th in St Andrew’s. Lights of love is a lovely way to gently remember loved ones who are no longer with us at Christmas, run by the Sue Ryder hospice.
  • The Village Nativity Service – 4pm on Sunday 11th – performed and sung by people from across the village every Christmas since the 1950s.
  • The Polytunnel Carol Service with the Embsay village band – 7.45pm on Sunday 11th.
  • The School Christmas Service – in church at 10am on Friday 16th(last day of term)
  • A Kings College style “Service of Lessons and Carols” at St Andrew’s -10.45, Sunday 18th.
  • St Peter’s Christmas Carol Service with the Giggleswick Brass Band, at St Peter’s – 7pm, Sunday 18th
  • Carol singing round the village – starting 1.30pm Tuesday 20th near Neville House.
  • The Christingle Service, at 4pm on Christmas Eve – Saturday 24th at St Andrew’s.
  • Christmas bells and “Midnight Mass” at 11.30pm – Saturday 24th at St Andrew’s.
  • Christmas Communion – 10am at St Peter’s and 11am at St Andrew’s, on Christmas Day.
  • Christmas Dinner together in St Andrew’s at 1.30pm (places limited).

Christmas is a time for us to reconnect with God, family and community; lets all join together to make Christmas 2016 really meaningful, and special for everyone in our villages.

October 2016

 

ABOUT 400 VICARS from the Diocese got together in early September for the HOPE 16 conference – to think, pray and worship God together.

One of the main events was a debate between Professor Brian Cox (of TV Fame), who is a Fellow of the Royal Society and has a doctorate in High Energy Particle Physics, and Professor David Wilkinson, who is a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and has two doctorates – one of which is in the study of star formation, the chemical evolution of galaxies and terrestrial mass extinctions like the one the wiped out the dinosaurs.

The main difference between them was that Brian Cox is not a believer and David Wilkinson is.  In fact David’s second PhD is in Systematic Theology and Christian Eschatology.. and he is now Professor and Principal of St. John’s College, University of Durham – where he oversees the training of vicars.

They both gave talks about the formation and development of the universe, and both were in many ways very similar. People often argue that science and religion are in conflict, but not these two top scientists.  They were both happy to admit that, as we discover more about this universe, we are discovering how much more there still is to discover!

However, Brian tried to interpret what we know about the formation of the universe in a way that avoids the need for there to be a God. This involved multiple universes created by some mega-energy source. (Where the mega-energy source came from was the next obvious question!)  David, on the other hand, was interested in the amazing improbability that life could exist at all – given we now know that the conditions have to be exactly right for life to exist.

What both did agree on was that life of any sort is a very rare thing in this universe. Human beings could well be the only sentient life in the whole universe – despite there being something like ten thousand million million stars in it. [So, not only are there no little green men on Mars but if any do exist they are “in a galaxy VERY far far away”].

Why we are here at all is much more like a miracle than we are sometimes led to believe.

Brian Cox reflects on the experience here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-eG-xDPXS8