Welcome …

August 16, 2009

… to the Vicar’s Blog. Why another blog, I hear you cry? Well, our main blog says what’s happening in our churches, and the ministry blog provides the sermons. But how does all this come about? What’s it like to be responsible for a church like St Michael’s and St Barnabas? Indeed, what does a vicar do?

IMG_5727I can’t say all will be revealed here, as lots of what I do is confidential. But I hope some of what I say will be useful, and maybe even encouraging! Comments and feedback, as always, more than welcome.

Every blessing,

Rev Tim

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Some important principles

February 23, 2019

Cross and BibleWe had a really good discussion at our small group on Thursday night about sexuality and marriage, and a number of key points came out, which seem relevant to a whole host of other issues as well. Here’s a summary of our conclusions:

God’s people have always been called to live differently. Genesis was written in the world where other cultures worshipped many different gods, participated in fertility rituals and treated women as goods and chattels. The account of creation in Genesis 1 and 2 promotes a radically different picture of who God is, of what it means to be made in His image, and what it means to be male and female. When we live in light of this teaching and we will find ourselves at odds with those around us. That is why, as the apostle Peter puts it in 1 Peter 1:1, we are strangers in the world, and why our experience as Christians is so often that of exile and persecution.

Our identity is not something that we choose. The essence of sin is that we choose for ourselves who we are, and that we change our identity as we see fit. This is not only true of sexual identity but in many other areas of our lives and it is a large part of our general rebellion against God. As believers, our identity comes, however, from being in Christ and accepting the identity that He gives us. This involves fundamentally changing how we view ourselves and others, and such a change can only happen when we allow the Holy Spirit to transform us at the very deepest level.

We all fall short of what God intends. So often the church only seems to focus on homosexuality but there are many and different ways in which we fail to live up to God’s teaching, and we need to address issues such as sex outside marriage, pornography etc. etc. recognising that, according to Jesus, our thoughts matter as much as our actions (see Matthew 5:27-28, Mark 7:22-23). We truly need to be a community of grace pointing one another towards to cross of Christ where alone we can find forgiveness and healing and renewal.

We need to offer a positive alternative. So often we can say that a particular behaviour or attitude is wrong, without offering the necessary help or support that someone is looking for. This is where it is so important that we create a church where everyone finds welcome and support, where there is a safe space to enable people to be real one with another, where there is genuine love and friendship and support.

We need to tell a better story. The evening ended, after the study, with folk talking about their favourite TV series. We are all influenced by the media we watch, and we need to be aware that each has their agenda, to influence how we think about issues such as sexuality and marriage, and to promote acceptance of an ever wide range of lifestyles. Our church needs to be a place where we have testimonies of God changing lives for good, where the witness to the work of the Holy Spirit is so compelling and so attractive others are drawn to our story and discover the joy of obeying and loving God.

Our ultimate fulfilment is not in this life. The agenda of the world is that this life is all that matters, and in most cases that sex is the ultimate fulfilment of our identity. As Christians we are called to have a different perspective – that all things will be made new in Christ. Even the best and most satisfying marriage will be as nothing compared to being in the presence of our Saviour, and, whether we are called to singleness or marriage, we need to always keep this ultimate reality in mind. Otherwise there really is little point in self-denial: “Eat and drink (and have sex), for tomorrow we die”. Such indeed was the view of the pagans in Corinth and such has been the attitude of the world ever since. But what was Paul’s response?  “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your body.”(1 Cor 6:19-20)

There was a lot of ground covered that evening! But even so, at the end, we still felt there was so much more much we needed to discuss and to pray over. I really want to thank the group for their openness, their honesty and their willingness to wrestle with the tough questions. Next week we are going to continue our exploration and look further at the implications of the fall. Others will be very welcome to join us, and even if you can’t make it, do leave a comment or a question on this blog. This really is a debate well worth having.


Let’s keep talking

February 11, 2019

If you missed my recent sermon on sexuality and marriage, I would very much encourage you to read it here

I am so grateful for all those who have asked me questions about this vitally important issue, and as it is a subject which continues to attract so much attention, we need to carry on discussing what the Bible teaches, if not for our own sake, then for our the sake of our children and grandchildren.

Some of the questions I have been asked include:

What about abusive marriages? Jesus clearly allowed for divorce in the event of adultery (Matt 19:9) but what about one spouse abusing another? My answer has always been such marriage is not the sort of relationship described in Genesis 2, which is a partnership of equals where each respects and cares for the other. If it is necessary to leave a marriage for reasons of personal safety, then I do not believe that the Bible forbids getting out of the situation. This is a position I have always maintained and if this is so, then it falls upon the church to be safe space where people can be open about their issues and experience the healing power of genuinely loving relationships. This leads to another important question:

What about loneliness? It is all very well for God to say, “It is not good for man to be alone” but the reality is, many people are alone, often not through choice. That is indeed true, and there is no point the church teaching Genesis 2 unless it is also serving as a community where everyone can feel they belong. So alongside our teaching we need to build genuine relationships as brothers and sisters one with another. We need to have an identity as a family in Christ, whatever earthly family we may have. We need to find ways of supporting and encouraging each other in prayer, even when we are not physically present with each other. And we need to do all this in such a way that we draw in, rather than exclude, the outsider and newcomer.

Others have also raised the issues of singleness and gender identity which I only briefly mentioned in my sermon and I recognise these are also really important topics. Too often, it seems, the church has not valued single people as those called in their own right and tried to marry them off. Single people in particular need the friendship and support the church can offer so they can devote themselves fully to their work in the Lord. As for gender identity, there is a deep confusion here which goes against the basic idea God created us male and female, and changing identity in fact does nothing to relieve that confusion.

Clearly much more could be said about these and many other related topics. We are covering the whole subject again in our small group on the evening of Thursday 21st February. You would be very welcome to join us, please contact Revd Tim to find out when and where we meet.

And finally, one resource I have found very helpful is this recently produced book by Martin Davie called Glorify God in your body. It is an exhaustive Biblical analysis on all the issues raised and at the end of each chapter there are a few summary questions which are helpful to stimulate group discussion. If you just want to read up one issue then you need read only the related chapter. It is highly recommended, and I can easily lend out my copy.

Glorify God


Three little questions

January 22, 2019

you are the light of the world

At St Barnacles we are thinking a lot at the moment about what it means to be the light of the world. It is relatively easy to shine with the light of Jesus Christ when we are gathered together in worship and fellowship, but what about when we go out into our daily lives? How can we best support and encourage one another Monday to Friday, and know that we in turn are loved and prayed for by others?

That is why you will find some slips of paper at the back of church with three little questions:

  1. Where do you usually spend your week from Monday to Friday?
  2. How does your Christian faith help you day by day?
  3. How can the church family best pray for you?

If we have enough replies, then we will publish the replies on our church website as our Lent initiative this year. So please do think and pray about your answers, and hand them to Revd Tim, with your name on! The more we can encourage one another, the more we will able  to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have  (1 Peter 3:15).

Our Mission Action Plan has as one of its three aims, “being in the wider world, as servants of the Lord, wherever we are.” My hope and prayer is the answers you give will enable us to meet that aim more and more, and make our witness for the Lord Jesus even more effective. I look forward to hearing from you!


A year of blessing

December 28, 2018

175-logoSome of you may remember an old, old chorus which goes: Count your blessings, name them one by one, count your blessings, see what God has done! I must confess this is something I don’t tend to do as much as I should at the end of each year. But thankfulness should be part of our Christian life, and it is good to be reminded as we go into the New Year of all the Lord has done over the past twelve months.

Here are just some of the highlights we have enjoyed in 2018:

Our history festival telling the amazing story of 175 years of St Michael’s – a church that has by God’s grace survived two world wars, destruction in the Blitz and so much more, and even now fulfils the founders’ vision for a poor man’s church in Stoke and Devonport.

Our anniversary service on 29th September where we welcomed back so many past members of the church and rejoiced in the faithfulness and goodness of the Lord over the years.

Our confirmation service the next day where two candidates declared their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ – a wonderful reminder that the Lord God is still at work changing lives for good and building His church in this area.

The mission trip to Thika, Kenya where four of us were privileged to meet our sister churches of St Michael’s and All Angel’s, Ruiru and Emmanuel, Karoa and experienced the life-changing, joy-filled work of our brothers and sisters in Christ that is transforming whole communities in the power of the Holy Spirit.

The amazing answers to prayer that we see regularly in our Sunday services, often in ways that have completely surprised us. I mention this, not to give credit to anything we are doing, but to give glory to the Lord who reminds us continually that He is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine.

And I am also immensely thankful for the unseen blessings. There are many who give long hours behind the scenes doing some task or other that may rarely be noticed. There are our small groups where life’s joys and sorrows have been shared, and where through the tears and laughter so many have grown in their faith. There has been the grace of giving which has enabled the church not only to meet its financial obligations but also tithe its income to other charities.

I am sure there are many other blessings I could add to the list, and any omissions are purely accidental! Just by writing this I find myself excited as to what the Lord will do in 2019, and I hope you too will be encouraged to look forward with anticipation.

Our memory verse for the last year has been Psalm 127, verse 1:
Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labour in vain.

For all the Lord has done to build His house we are indeed so grateful.

 


My Christmas message

December 21, 2018

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Each year I look for one simple thought or idea I can use for a short talk at a nursing home, school or carol service. My aim is always to help people connect the story that they know so well with the reality of their daily lives, rather than see it as something they celebrate only at Christmas. So wherever I have gone this year, I have been asking the question “Where does the Christmas story end?”

In many ways that is a trick question, and so far no-one has fallen for the wrong answer! The Christmas story doesn’t end with the newborn Jesus being placed in a manger, or the angels visiting the shepherds or the wise men bearing gifts to the house where Jesus was staying.

The baby Jesus grew up. He learnt the trade of a carpenter. About the age of thirty He began a public ministry of preaching and teaching, and demonstrating the power of God’s kingdom. He spoke of the need to repent and believe in the good news. He performed many miracles from the turning of water into wine to the feeding of the 5000. He showed God’s particular love for the outcast, the downtrodden and the vulnerable.

But not everyone welcomed the coming of Jesus. The religious leaders, the vicars of their day, were upset by His message and only saw Him as a threat to their privileged position. So they murdered Him. They arrested Jesus, subjected Him to a show trial and handed Him over to the Romans who crucified Him.

So was that the end of the story? Remarkably, no. Three days later Jesus rose again to conclusively prove He was and is indeed the Son of God. The mission He began through His birth in Bethlehem to save us from sin, death and evil was completed. He ascended to the right hand of God on High and even now sends His Holy Spirit upon all those who believe and trust in His name.

That is why the Christmas story has no end. In one sense many of us know this to be true. But on a practical level we tend to pack everything away on the 6th January, and become so immersed in the busyness of the new year that we forget the wonder and the mystery of Jesus, the Word become flesh. My simple challenge this year is to ask people to remember this same Jesus born on earth all those years ago is the one who is still with us now, who enables to be born again as children of the living God and who gives us a hope beyond even this life.

And it is because this Jesus born 2000 years ago is still alive that no matter whether this Christmas is one of great sorrow or of great joy we can pray in His name, knowing that He will hear and answer His prayers. It is because this Jesus is alive that we can give Him our regrets for the past year, knowing that He will forgive us all that is wrong and give us a fresh start. It is because this Jesus is alive we can give Him the future that may worry or confuse us, knowing that ultimately all things are in His hands.

May I take this opportunity of wishing you all a very peaceful Christmas, praying that as you go into the New Year you will continue to know the presence of the living Lord Jesus in your hearts. May the Lord bless you all.


Mark this date

December 4, 2018

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This is the time of year when I do my best to remind everyone that we are still in the season of Advent. Unfortunately as every year I seem to be losing the battle as the full tide of Christmas has already descended upon us, and the frantic preparations for the festive are in full swing.

I don’t mind Christmas really – but I think there is big danger in being swept up with the rush, that we end up so busy we actually fail to stop and reflect why we are celebrating or indeed who we are celebrating. Such spare time as we have is spent hunting for that special present or shopping for the turkey or attending yet another nativity play. It is already a time of year when naturally we get tired, and all the frenetic activity only serves to make us more exhausted, which in turn means we find it harder to pray or to read our Bibles or come to church.

Yet this year of all years I passionately believe we need to make time to gather together and pray. Whatever your view on Brexit, we are facing a crisis of government and an uncertain future. There are rising numbers of homeless on our streets and in temporary accommodation. Many, many people will be spending the season lonely and afraid, perhaps in poverty, perhaps in debt. Our nation and our community need prayer. So do our plans to reach out more into the local community as we open up the church each Tuesday from January 8 onwards and build on our links with St Aubyn’s.

So I want you to put a date and a time in your diary or on your smartphone – 13th December at 6pm. We will have a meal first and then move to a time of prayer and praise from 7pm. I want to challenge you to make this your first priority that evening, and if necessary to rearrange your plans. For amid all the rush and the tumult of the nations God’s word to us is clear: Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10).

Let’s reclaim this season as the season of Advent when we watch, wait and look to what the Lord will do. Let’s gather in His name to pray. And let’s commit ourselves, our community and our nation to Him as we ask for His kingdom and His will to be done.


Remembering

November 11, 2018

war memorial 11 Nov 18

On 5th July 1915 a young bank clerk from Hereford was enlisted as a private in the Royal Fusiliers. Within a year of active service he was transferred to the officer cadet battalion, and on 13th October 1916 he was posted to the 217th Machine Gun Company as a second lieutenant. The Machine Gun Corps as a whole was known as the suicide club because of the high casualty rates. This was because gunners stayed to the very end of an engagement to provide cover for those around them, and therefore many died at their post. 

This young bank clerk served with his company until 16th August 1917 when he was wounded in the forehead and the shoulder. He was taken to the military hospital where he recovered from his wounds. Unfortunately there he contracted mitral disease which severely weakened his heart. He was invalided out of the army and sent to a hospital in London for further treatment. On 3rd November 1917 the authorities removed his temporary commission, and he went back to working in a bank until his retirement many years later.

That young bank clerk was my grandfather, Reginald Buckley, and he never told of his wartime experiences. But then again, neither did so many people who witnessed the horrors of World War One, both on the Western Front and elsewhere. Yet even though they never spoke directly of what they saw, I believe we need to keep telling the stories of those who served. For in many ways the stories of both those who fell and those who returned are the stories which have shaped our all lives, and even if we have no direct connection with the war that was supposed to end all wars, we still owe a huge debt to the sacrifices they made. 

Of course not everyone was a hero. My other grandfather told his mother, who was living in Liskeard, he had been sailing round China for six years. In reality he was based in Devonport at HMS Vivid for all but 18 months of the war, and for the rest of the time was stationed in Hong Kong. Why he never went back to his mother during those six years is one story that perhaps has been best forgotten.

And that, I suppose, is a reminder that while we rightly remember the contribution of all our armed forces, we need to also bear in mind that today we are not celebrating some heroic ideal; we are commemorating real people. Some gave their lives willingly and courageously, some simply did what they could in the most appalling of circumstances, some sought to preserve their own lives above all else. I often wonder what I would have done if I had been enlisted. That they served out of whatever motives to gain freedom and peace for others is enough reason to thank God for what they did, and to commit ourselves to the cause of working together for that peace which He wills for all of humanity.

Because that in the truest (and Biblical) sense of the word is what remembering is all about – not simply making sure we do not forget but looking to the past to learn lessons for the present and to gain a vision for the future. It is through remembering that we receive wisdom and hope. And in today’s age of fleeting soundbites and instant communication the call to remember is one we need to heed more than ever before, for the sake of us all.