Click on this!

January 20, 2018

If you are reading this, the chances you are already browsing through the Internet or flicking through Facebook looking for stories. I have less than 20 seconds to grab your attention, so here’s a cute picture of my cat, taken a few years ago:DSCF9076

But seriously, how we engage with social media is not something we tend to think about that much. Yet the more I work and live online, the more I see that actually we all need to stop and think about how this brave new world of communication impacts upon the way we practise our faith. So take a few minutes to scroll down this article, and let me know if you agree with what I’m saying.

‘Cos it seems to me there are three important issues we all need to think and pray about:

Mastery Psychological studies have shown that social media can be as addictive as gambling or alcohol. We have to keep checking on Facebook to see if anyone has liked our post. We want to see if our friends have responded to our latest Tweet. We find ourselves compelled to click onto the latest cute cat or dog video.

All this seem very harmless, but actually it can become a habit that we find harder and harder to break. Yes, we need our down time, but our compulsion to be online can so easy interfere with our working lives, or our time with our family, or indeed resting properly. And anything that becomes a strong habit will inevitably interfere with our devotion to the Lord.

Now I’m not saying that social media is necessarily evil. At the best it is a great communication tool to share prayer requests, to learn what the Lord is doing around the world, to support friends in need. But we need to have the spirit of self-discipline so that social media is our servant not our master. What we find online is virtual reality, not the ultimate reality who is God Himself. It is in our relationship with God that we find our meaning and our fulfilment, and we must not let anything get in the way of that, not even the apparently harmless habit of spending hours, say, on Facebook or Snapchat.

Manipulation More and more we are learning that what we read online is not neutral or unbiased. We talk about the great “information revolution” that happened at the end of the 20th century but now in 2018 we are more aware than ever that not all news is real news. We can be tricked and deceived in all kinds of ways, and we need Spirit-filled wisdom to discern what is good and right and true.

As we are bombarded with more and more news, we also need to be aware of the overwhelming pressure that is put upon us as believers to conform to the world’s point of view. If you’re not clear what I am saying, try posting on a public platform that you believe in the traditional, Biblical understanding of marriage. The downside of such free flow of “information” is that anyone can comment in an instant, and if you are out of step with the times, you can expect all kinds of abuse and vitriol to rain down on you. Paul says in Romans 12:2: Do not conform to the pattern of this world but it is hard when your views put you at odds with what the majority believe. Just look at the example of Tim Farron and how his view on marriage caused his downfall as Liberal Democrat leader.

This is yet one more reason why we need as Christians to support and encourage one another to stand firm on the gospel of Jesus Christ, not just by meeting on Sundays but also by supporting and encouraging each other online. Yet sad to say I find many church members are reluctant to engage with this vitally important area of online ministry. I get far more response to these kinds of articles from those who are not part of St Barnacles. Yet if our voice is to be heard and sustained, and if we are to help our young people avoid being manipulated by the world of social media, this online ministry is not an optional extra, but a vital part of our discipleship.

Meditation To me the biggest challenge of social media to the Christian faith is that it crowds out our space to reflect, to think, to meditate. The church has always grown and flourished when men and women, young and old, have created space and time to pray, to be with the Lord, and to listen to what He is saying. Paul urged the church in Colosse: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly and I believe that is an urgent command also for our day.

Yet social media is causing our attention span to shorten. Once we have read something, we might pause for a moment to share it. But then we go onto another story. We search for the next thing that grabs our attention. If what we find doesn’t grab our attention within about 20 seconds, we discard it, and move on. And I am concerned, really concerned, that we are not creating the space to allow the word of the Lord to get into our lives, indeed that we are losing the discipline entirely of simply reading our Bibles, being still and allowing the Holy Spirit to minister to us.

So here’s a challenge. Before you click off this post, take time to read Psalm 119:97-104 

If you no longer possess an actual Bible, click on the link and ask yourself:

What does it mean in today’s digital age to meditate on God’s law all day long? How far is Scripture my source of wisdom when I browse the net?
Do I let social media or the word of God be the ultimate authority over my life?

For the sake of the gospel, let’s get this conversation going.




Happy New Year!

January 1, 2018

Happy New Year to all those who read this blog!

But what is it that will make 2018 a New Year? (Other than, of course, the change of date.) After all, soon we will be returning to our ordinary business lives. We may have resolved to do a few things differently, but in most cases we will be quickly back in the old familiar routine. We may well be bringing into the New Year the same worries, cares and regrets that we had at the end of the previous year. There may well be the same difficulties and challenges before us that we faced in 2017.

So how can we make the New Year “New”? Yesterday in our morning service I invited anyone who wanted to leave something behind in 2017 to write it on a piece of red paper and lay it at the foot the cross. I have now taken these pieces of paper home and destroyed them. Because the very simple point I wanted to make is that in Jesus, a fresh start really is possible.

You see, that sweet child born in a manger came to lay down His life for you and for me, by bearing on His shoulders all our sin and sorrow and shame. This means that when we come to Him, humbly and in faith, He will deal with whatever is weighing us down once and for all. As the Son of God who died for us, He has the power to set us free and to restore us to that life with God the Father we were always meant to enjoy. All we need to do is turn to Him.

But how do we know Jesus is able to deal with my sin, my sorrow, my shame? One of the names given to the devil in the Bible is Satan, which means accuser. We all know that little voice which whispers to us that whatever we have done can never forgiven, that whatever sorrow we experience is too great to be comforted. Yet the proof of Jesus’ victory is that He gives to all who call on His name the gift of the Holy Spirit. As it says in the Bible,  if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Cor 5:17)

This doesn’t mean that our lives instantly become easier when we turn to Christ. But it means that at the very deepest level we have the Holy Spirit living within us, confirming our identity as a child of God, able to make God’s forgiveness real when, inevitably, we make a mess of things, guaranteeing that one day we will be able to stand before Jesus when He comes again.

So if today you want to make 2018 a New Year, then make it your resolution to  turn to Jesus. Ask Him to give you the fresh start you need. And come and join us at St Barnacles as we try to work out what it means to follow Jesus through the coming twelve months. Let’s make 2018 a year where together we help one another live and grow in the power of the Holy Spirit so that many others too discovering the renewing power of Jesus’ name.

Our journey with Jesus this year starts on Sunday 7th January at 10.30am. If you aren’t already part of St Barnacles, or haven’t been for a while, let me invite you to be part of our story in 2018. And let’s look together forward with anticipation to all the Lord is going to do! It’s going to be an exciting year…


A Christmas Day sermon

December 31, 2017

The set readings are Isaiah 52:7-10 and John 1:1-14

The end of December is always a dreary time in the gardening year. The fruits of Autumn have long since gone, and now the trees stand bare against the winter sky. Though through the wet and muddy soil a few bulbs may be pushing through, on the whole there aren’t many signs of life. Piles of rotting leaves and fallen branches are waiting to be cleared and the overall scene seems one of peaceful desolation.

Yet if you look closely there are signs of life. Blackbirds and thrushes rootle through the rotting apples. On the birdfeeders coal tits and sparrows swoop down for food. A robin hops along the back wall, while in the front, if you are really fortunate, you may just catch a goldcrest flitting amongst the photinia.

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A Christmas Eve Sermon

December 30, 2017

The set readings are Isaiah 9:2-7; Luke 2:1-14

Around the end of each year the providers of English language dictionaries sit down and decide what is the word or phrase that has made the most impact over the past 12 months. It might be a new word; it might be a word that has suddenly come back into fashion; it might be a word that has recently hit the headlines. So, for example, Oxford Dictionaries decided their word of the year 2017 was “youthquake” which has got most people puzzled as it’s something they’ve never heard of before. Websters Dictionaries chose the word “feminism” on the basis it has apparently had a huge upsurge in popularity. But it was the choice of Collins Dictionaries that attracted the most attention, and rightly so. Their word of the year 2017 was – well, it might seem like two words to us, but let’s not get technical – their word of the year was, and I’ve researched this very carefully, “fake news.”

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Living as Advent people

December 17, 2017


It’s that time of year again. No, I’m not talking about Christmas. I am, as every year, trying to make the point that as a church we are still in the season of Advent. The only trouble is, by this stage of the season, we are already singing Christmas carols and watching nativity plays and I can understand why. We are looking forward with eager anticipation to the day when we celebrate our Saviour’s birth and we want to rehearse the story through song and word and worship.

But it is also really important we still remember the significance of Advent. To the wider world, Advent has simply become the yearly countdown, an excuse (depending on your age) to eat chocolate and/or drink gin each day, as you tear open the flap of a calendar. And as a church, we can all too easily follow the world’s lead. Advent and its themes of waiting and preparation sit uneasily with the festivities all around us, and it is tempting sometimes to ditch Advent altogether.

Yet we need to bear in mind that throughout the year we are called to live as Advent people. What do I mean by this? Well, the carol is surely right to declare that “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in Him tonight.” Through the first coming of Jesus we are born into a living hope. We find relief for our fears through a new relationship with God our Heavenly Father. And through the work of the Holy Spirit we are adopted as His children into the body of Christ, the church.

However even as we tell this Christmas story, we have to remind ourselves that the birth of Jesus Christ is not the end of the story. We can’t simply walk away from the nativity scene as if the visit of the wise men somehow finishes off the tale. Rather the birth of Jesus Christ should point us forward to the time when Jesus will come again, not as a weak and tiny baby, but as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, when every eye will see Him and every tongue confess.

And our role as believers is to watch and wait for that time. Time after time Jesus warns His followers to be ready. He tells parables about kings returning to servants unprepared, about virgins running out of oil, about banquets and those excluded about the feast. These aren’t seasonal stories. They are descriptions of how we are meant to live at any time of the year, always being ready to give an account to the one who is judge of the living and the dead.

How we actually live is a different matter, unfortunately. We can so easily get distracted by the things of this world, or become tired of waiting for the Lord. The Israelites of old who received the promises about the first coming of Christ all too often turned away to other gods, instead of persevering in faithful expectation. Their example is surely a warning and a lesson to us, not to get diverted, but to anchor our daily lives in a routine of prayer, of Bible reading and daily worship.

So even as we sing along to the old familiar carols and watch all those lovely nativity plays, let’s not get seduced into thinking Christmas is the end of the story. Rather, in the words of the apostle Peter, let’s live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed His coming. (2 Pet 3:11-12). Let’s remain Advent people throughout the year, and let’s keep watch and pray, no matter what the season.

A time to tithe

November 25, 2017


Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.
(Mark 12:17)

In October the PCC passed a very significant resolution. We agreed to tithe the income of the church from 1 January 2018 and donate that tithe to mission.

In some ways this is quite a risky decision. We have major financial obligations as a church. We need to find nearly £20000 a year as our share of ministry costs payable to the diocese. We need to invest more in our children and young people’s work. We need sooner or later to redecorate the building. Paying a tithe will be quite a challenge.

So why make the decision? Let me give you three reasons:

First of all, our tithe is a response to the grace of God. In 2 Corinthians 8:9 we read: For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. As a church we owe everything to Jesus Christ. He is the one who called us into existence, to be His living presence here on earth. Our giving is first and foremost an expression of thanksgiving and praise to the one who gave up everything so that through Him we might receive our identity as children of the living God.

Secondly, when we tithe we are recognising who really controls the finances of the church. When gifts were brought for laying the foundation of the temple back in the Old Testament, David used some words which we use even now most Sundays, in 1 Chronicles 29:11: Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendour, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Tithing acknowledges the reality of these words. The name on the bank account may be St Michael’s and St Barnabas, but actually the funds are the Lord’s, to be used in His service.

And thirdly, our tithe is an expression of our faith. Again, in ancient Israel the people were commanded in Exodus 23:19 to Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the Lord your God. In a farming society, giving your firstfruits to the Lord involved a risk. You didn’t at that point know if you would have any more crops to feed yourself and your family. But you gave the best of your firstfruits in the expectation that the Lord would provide and would bless your sacrifice.

In 2018 we are celebrating our 175th anniversary. There seems to me no better way of celebrating our faith, than putting into practice all the Lord commands. Of course paying our tithe as a church will be a challenge. But then the PCC decision asks all of us to consider just what our faith in Jesus Christ means, whether He is in fact as much Lord of our money as of any other part of our life. Surely our anniversary has to be a year of Jubilee, marked by genuine Spirit-filled generosity and a new commitment to His mission in the world.


A year of celebration

November 19, 2017


2018 marks a very special year in the life of St Michael’s. On 29th September 2018 it will be exactly 175 years since the foundation stone of St Michael’s was laid. (In case you are wondering why the plaque says St Michael’s chapel, St Michael’s didn’t become an independent parish church until 1873 – see the history of St Michael’s here)

That St Michael’s has made it to 175 years is in itself remarkable. Destroyed in the war, badly rebuilt afterwards, demolished and rebuilt a few years ago, St Michael’s is remarkable testimony to the persistence of the Christian faith, and even today it still bears witness to the vision of the original founders that it should be a “poor man’s church” for Stoke and Devonport.

So we want to let folk know we are still in business. For a start, we want to connect with the many people who grew up at St Michael’s, were baptised or married here, or sang in the church choir or went to Sunday School. For various reasons most people who used to live in St Michael’s have moved to other parts of Plymouth and beyond, and we would love to invite them back.

Secondly, we want to let folk know that St Michael’s is more just an interesting piece of living history. We want them to know that here is a community of believers in Jesus Christ and invite them to discover the riches of the faith delivered once for all to the saints.

And thirdly, we want to look ahead. Where will the Lord be leading us for the next 175 years? How can we involve children and young people in our anniversary celebrations?

For all these reasons and more, we will be putting on a series of events at St Michael’s during the coming year. We will be publishing a full timetable soon. But in the meanwhile, please pray that 2018 will be an effective year of outreach. Please pray how you might get involved. Please consider who you will invite, if you are regular at St Michael’s and St Barnabas.

And together may we keep alive the original vision of St Michael’s and lay foundations for many years ahead.