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Oct 19
Benefice News - 22 October 2017
Oct 16
​ We don't do weakness

Rev Tim Hastie-Smith is national director of Scripture Union and vicar of Bibury and Winson with Barnsley.  

Well, if we’ve learnt anything in the last few days, it is that we don’t do weakness. The prime minister Theresa May loses her voice in an important speech and she’s finished – if she can’t even speak, how can she lead a country?    

As we observe the political fallout of a simple cold, let us take the opportunity to self-reflect and ask ourselves; what is it about weakness that we want to avoid? This isn’t about political point scoring, it’s about us. Do we like weakness? Are we comfortable in our own vulnerability? Do we want others to perceive our own weakness and do we welcome it in others, especially those in a position of power and authority? After all Game of Thrones tell us clearly: the weak perish, the strong win. Always.  

Counter to the wisdom of Game of Thrones, the Bible posits, “But he said to me, ’My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9). God redefines power in terms of weakness - as service and vulnerability.    

But do we as Christians really believe that God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness? If truth be told, would we rather equip ourselves with any bit of strength going rather than suffer the humiliation of looking weak? From the magnificence of our cathedrals and episcopal ceremonial to the mesmerising power of a mega church experience with a celebrity pastor we demonstrate by our actions and behaviour that we prefer good old-fashioned power. Weakness just doesn’t do it for us.  

 St Benedict observed that the Lord reveals what is best to the youngest and Leonard Cohen observed that there’s a crack in everything and that is how the light gets in. When we refuse to show our weaknesses, frailties, brokenness, the light of God has no opportunity to shine through. The young today know this. They are suspicious of power; it smacks of abuse, of hypocrisy and manipulation. Instead they are crying out for a humble, broken, weak Church - a Church not defined by its own strength and influence, but by God's power made perfect in weakness.  

 So are we willing to believe that in our own weakness God’s power is made perfect? Are we willing to be humbled so that Christ’s power will rest on us? Or will we be deceived and enticed by the stages and cathedrals of the world which call us to be bigger, stronger, and more powerful?   

 Let’s embrace our weakness in which God’s power is made perfect. It’s what the world needs the Church to be – broken, humble weak but the bride of the God of power made perfect. 

This is taken from The Evangelical Alliance recent "Friday Night Theology".

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Oct 15
A book for Advent - and any time

​This review first appeared in my personal blog Diary of a Donkeybody.

A book worth waiting for

Tanya Marlow, Those who Wait  2017

For an evangelical (i.e. Bible-believing) Christian to confess that the Bible no longer excites and delights him sounds like heresy. However, I suspect I am not alone among my generation in feeling that way. We read it (or even study it occasionally) out of duty or habit, but it doesn't feel "living and active", as we are told it is. It has become over-familiar. We know the stories and the lessons well; we have after all heard them or read them often over the years, and we or they have become jaded. It is only the exceptional teacher or preacher who revives its immediacy for us.

 

Tanya Marlow is one of those exceptional teachers. Sadly we are denied listening to her as she has suffered from myalgic encephalomyelitis for over twenty years and been largely confined to her bed for the last seven of them. (See Tanya Marlow talking about ME.) However she writes a blog called "Thorns and Gold" (Tanya's website and blog), and has written a downloadable book. Now she has written Those who Wait (Malcolm Down Publishing, £9.99), which looks at four characters in the Bible and their experience of waiting: Sarah, Isaiah, John the Baptist and Mary. What Tanya does is imagine them telling their own stories. However her retelling is always backed up with scholarship, the book ending with discussion about the theological and historical issues involved on the way. Each character's story is told in five short chapters, with pauses for reflection after each. Finally there is a section entitled, "The God who waits", reminding us that we are not alone in the experience of waiting.

 

I think this is a brilliant book. For one thing it's multi-purpose! You can use it for personal devotion; you can use it in group studies; a church fellowship could use it for Advent (you might detect the characters follow an Advent pattern, beginning with the patriarchs and prophets). Mainly it's brilliant in the way it shines light on the Bible narrative, reminding us that it's about God's interaction with people like us and their reaction to him in their own struggles with life. Tanya Marlow shows us, not only does the Bible engage with real people, but through it we can find a God who's concerned with the issues where the rubber hits the road. The section headings illustrate this: "Sarah's story – Dealing with Disappointment; Waiting for Joy", "Isaiah's story – Dealing with Delay; Waiting for Peace", "John the Baptist's story – Dealing with Doubt; Waiting for Justice", "Mary's story – Dealing with Disgrace; Waiting for Jesus". If you've never been troubled by any of those eight concerns, the book will probably be of only academic interest to you; but if you recognise them, this book will encourage you that you're not alone, and that you've not been forgotten by the Comforter who caused the stories to be written in the first place.

I've read quite few Lent and Advent books over the years. This is quite the most readable and exciting I've come across. I loved the way it reengaged me with the Bible by quite unexpected roads. I especially liked the Celtic-like blessings after each character's section, such as this:

"May you who are cloaked in and choked by cynicism

Be broken by the grace of God.

May you who are in hiding

Find God's hands held out to you

As an open invitation of love.

May you see God's face when it all feels too late,

And may you encounter the God who sees you, knows you, loves you still.


Amen."

I suspect that this vibrant book is the product of years of enforced silence and frustration, rather like a minor prophet's. It will probably have a wider audience than Tanya would ever had from one pulpit or conference platform. My hope is that it will have a huge circulation. It deserves it.

(Those who Wait is published on 16th October, and can be ordered from Cornerstone, I believe.)

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Oct 12
Benefice News - 15 October 2017
Oct 04
Benefice News - 8 October 2017
Sep 28
Benefice News - 1 October 2017
Sep 21
Benefice News - 24 September 2017
Sep 14
Benefice News - 17 September 2017
Sep 09
Hymns and things

​If you have stuck with this rather erratic blog this far, congratulations and thank you! 

I had an idea last night that it would be nice to have more people contributing to it, and one way might be to invite you to say what your favourite hymn(s) or worship song(s) were and briefly explain why. It doesn't guarantee they'll be sung! But Paul talks somewhere about speaking to each other in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs - which is what could happen on this blog.

Anyway, to kick the idea off, I'd like to tell you one of my all-time favourites: it's an oldie: There's a wideness in God's mercy. It's by Frederick Faber, and published in 1854. Usually various verses are left out - for obvious reasons! However, here's the full version with the verses I most like highlighted. I love its expression of the breadth of God's love.

There's a wideness in God's mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea;
There's a kindness in His justice,
Which is more than liberty.

There is no place where earth's sorrows
Are more felt than up in Heaven;
There is no place where earth's failings
Have such kindly judgment given.

There is welcome for the sinner,
And more graces for the good;
There is mercy with the Saviour;
There is healing in His blood.

There is grace enough for thousands
Of new worlds as great as this;
There is room for fresh creations
In that upper home of bliss.

For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of our mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.

There is plentiful redemption
In the blood that has been shed;
There is joy for all the members
In the sorrows of the Head.

'Tis not all we owe to Jesus;
It is something more than all;
Greater good because of evil,
Larger mercy through the fall.

If our love were but more simple,
We should take Him at His word;
And our lives would be all sunshine
In the sweetness of our Lord.

Souls of men! why will ye scatter
Like a crowd of frightened sheep?
Foolish hearts! why will ye wander
From a love so true and deep?

It is God: His love looks mighty,
But is mightier than it seems;
'Tis our Father: and His fondness
Goes far out beyond our dreams.

But we make His love too narrow
By false limits of our own;
And we magnify His strictness
With a zeal He will not own.

Was there ever kinder shepherd
Half so gentle, half so sweet, 
As the Saviour who would have us
Come and gather at His feet?

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Sep 07
Benefice News - 10 September 2017
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