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  • Sad Tidings, Glad Tidings
    Tidings of Comfort and Joy – Gill's Blog

    This morning I received the news that my Godfather, Roger, had died. He wasn’t the best of Godfathers but when I was young he was always good for a tube of smarties – and he was a good bloke to boot. We exchanged letters just a couple of weeks ago and I was able to share a little of what it means to know and be known by Jesus – something of the glad tidings of comfort and joy that we focus on especially at this time of year. What he did with that I do not know.

    I’ve not blogged for a while, and today I was going to do a post focussing on how unusual this Christmas will be and how difficult it will be especially for those who are forced to be on their own at Christmas. Roger’s death has thrown that into clearer focus being just a few days from Christmas Day. He and his wife, Rose, are in Kent and therefore in Tier 4 just like us, and so she will be truly alone this Christmas, along with so many others who have lost loved ones to Covid 19 this year.
    What do you say to someone who has just received such sad tidings? To someone who suddenly finds themselves alone on Christmas Day knowing that they will never see their loved one again? I come back to three key verses of scripture: first of all, Matthew 1v23 – The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God with us’). Second, John 1v5, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” And third, from John 1 again but in the Message version, and my favourite rendering of the verse, “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood.” (v14)

    Without wanting to sound glib, because of Christmas we can know glad tidings even when faced with sad tidings. Without the Incarnation we would truly be lost in our grief, our sin and our despair, but with the Incarnation there is always hope, there is always light in the darkness, there is always a way forward. How we express that and share it with others depends upon the circumstances, but that is what we are called to do. We are called to be Incarnational and demonstrate the truth of Immanuel in our lives and to others.

    Two ways to do that this Christmas spring to mind. First, if you find yourself on your own, use the time positively to connect with God yourself – thank God for the space to stop and hear His voice. And second, coming out of that, let God speak to you about people who are often alone on Christmas Day, and maybe pick up the phone and give them a call, or even a doorstep visit. It’s such a small thing to do but could make a world of difference for them.

    Actually there’s a third thing too – take time to pray for all those who have been bereaved this year and are facing their first Christmas without their loved ones – and being a little indulgent, please pray for Rose. I will be taking Roger’s funeral, so please pray for me too.

    God bless, stay well and have a peaceful, Christ-filled Christmas

    Martin

  • All I Want For Christmas is…?

    Depending on your age, you will have responded to this question with “me two front teeth” (first released in 1944), or simply, “You” (first released in 1994 and one of my favourites).

    This Sunday is Advent Sunday, the first day of the season where we traditionally count down to Christmas and think more about what it means, what presents we want to give and receive – and this year, for the first time, we get to keep those relatives we would rather not see, away! (If any of my family is reading this I don’t mean any of you, naturally). But as if Christmas wasn’t already recognised as a highly stressful time for families, this year looks like being the most complicated of the lot.

    It certainly won’t look like the Christmas we have seen previously in our lives, with the big gatherings, office parties and the like. It will be harder to get presents because the shops won’t all be open and everyone will be trying to get stuff online (note to self: order presents this week). When we stop to think for a moment though, maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Christmas has become so muddled, and so full of “extra bits”, that the actual reason for it has slowly been pushed to one side, hidden behind the tree, or trodden on by the reindeer. Could it be that this year many people, including Christian believers, will have the chance to discover once again what it’s really all about? To have a simpler, stripped back celebration that focusses more on Jesus, without Whom there would not be a Christmas at all? To rediscover the glory of God invading earth in a tiny, helpless Baby so that we can know God is with us, and for us? To rediscover the greatest Christmas Gift of all, the One that inspires all the others, God’s great gift of forgiveness and salvation? As the Angel said to Joseph, “do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1v20/21).

    All I want for Christmas this year is for people to know how much they are loved by the God Who made them, and Who sent His Son to show them that love – first in a manger in a stable, later on a Cross, and finally by rising from the dead. “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3v16/17).

    At the start of this Advent, in this most unusual of years, may we strip back the distractions and discover once again the true meaning of Christmas; and may that discovery change our lives, and the lives of those around us, for the good, and for good.

    God bless, stay well

    Martin

  • Have you got the Lockdown Blues?

    A guest blog today from Bill Swale. Thanks Bill!

    At the start of November I guess most of us said, “No not again, how long are we going to be in isolation and lockdown?” It is demoralising and restrictive but consider some of our Bible Patriarchs and Apostles who spent years in lockdown but never gave up hope, knew the Lord’s presence and used the time to advance the Gospel and save a nation and the surrounding district. I am referring to Paul and Joseph.

    Recently, in my bible notes I have been reading about the life of Joseph and his family (Genesis ch 37 to ch 47). He was picked on by his brothers out of jealousy, sold into slavery, bought by Potiphar and because of his dedication to God became the head of Potiphar’s household. But that reprieve was cut short, again, through deception and lies he was back in prison lockdown. Still he did not despair but through his belief in God was able to interpret dreams. He interpreted a fellow prisoners dream who promised to tell folks who had done that for him but the prisoner neglected to tell, so in prison Joseph stayed.  Eventually, because of Pharaoh’s troubled dream, word got out that Joseph could interpret and is called to interpret the dream of the Pharaoh and by saying it was not him who interprets the dreams but God, he is successful in interpreting the dream and his lockdown ceased. Not only that he is given the responsibility and authority to set out plans to store up the produce of the land over a seven year period. Through this authority he was enabled to meet with his brothers, be reconciled and see his father again and save a nation.

    What about Paul? After spending time hunting down the Christian believers, in an attempt to lockdown the spreading of the Gospel, he is struck down, blinded and helpless until Ananias  visits him. From then on he is a man dedicated to the spreading of the Gospel. You might say he was free, but not totally. He was persecuted by his fellow Jews, arrested, transported to Rome and spent many years under house arrest, basically lockdown. Did he relent and give up? No, he wrote many letters of encouragement and counsel and used his lockdown to advance the Kingdom.

    We can do the same and praise God that as a church we are, through the dedication of our gifted IT team, service leaders, Martin  and team BBchurch, reaching folks in lots of new areas. Not just that though, each of us individually can use this lockdown time effectively by acts of kindness and when prompted witness to the good news of the Gospel.

    So don’t despair, trust in the Lord and be a Joseph or a Paul and make a difference.

    By writing this I challenge myself as I am not good at saying the right thing at the right time but as Martin has said it is not us that does the converting, it is Jesus through the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Praise God.

    Blessings.  Bill Swale

  • The Case for the Prosecution?

    It’s been quite a weekend in the News, hasn’t it? From America, threats of prosecution for voter fraud and illegal ballots from the loser of the election, even though no evidence has been found to substantiate these claims; in the UK, warnings of Police prosecution for those who break the latest Coronavirus lockdown rules – and not so long ago in Wales Police closed down a church service for doing just that – with fines issued to organisers of events that break those rules. Add to that the fact that we have a growing litigious culture where everyone is open to prosecution for something or other, and it doesn’t make for very cheerful reading.

    Also over the weekend, and continuing into this week, we have commemorated the prosecution of wars and the sacrifice of many (204) from Biggleswade in the cause and pursuit of freedom from tyranny and evil. But generally the word “prosecution” has quite a negative feel to it, suggesting wrong-doing, condemnation, guilt and a requirement for punishment – something, of course, that the Bible has plenty to say about.

    In Isaiah 53 we read that, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way” – and Romans 3 tells us that, “There is no-one righteous, not even one; there is no-one who understands; there is no-one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no-one who does good, not even one…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Each and every one of us is guilty, as charged, and under sentence of God’s wrath. But if we continue in Isaiah 53 we see a glimmer of hope – “and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” And in Romans 3, this too is developed further – “all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” If we have faith in Christ Jesus, Who lived, died for our sins and rose again to show they have been paid for, we are declared not guilty, and no prosecution can stand against us… “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life has set me free from the law of sin and death…if God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?” (Romans 8, selected verses).

    Of course there is always someone who will throw accusations at us, and the Bible warns us of “the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night” (Revelation 12v10); but his accusations are baseless; they cannot harm us, because Jesus has already answered them for us – as John says, “We have an advocate with the Father – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1 John 2v1). He is our defence attorney, and He intercedes on our behalf before the Father. In His grace, and in His strength, we are forgiven and free, declared innocent and righteous. For the Believer, there is simply no case for the prosecution. For which we daily give thanks to the Lord.

    May we, in turn, show grace and compassion to those who cause us hurt or let us down.

    God bless, stay well

    Martin

  • Cross Purposes?

    The picture above is the Victoria Cross, the highest military ward, given for outstanding acts of bravery in the field, and often awarded posthumously. 1,357 have been awarded since the first in 1856, and only three men have received it twice – Lt. Col. Arthur Martin-Leake (Boer War and WW1), Capt. Noel Chavasse (both in WW1) and Capt. Charles Upham (both in WW2). Upham, who was from New Zealand, was a relative of Chavasse – quite a family!

    Something struck me many years ago now that I would like to share today, as we approach Remembrance Sunday – and that is simply how many military medals, given for bravery and sacrifice, come in the shape of a Cross. Something in our national psyche recognises that the Cross is the ultimate symbol of these things. Surely there was, and is, nothing braver than the sinless Son of God taking on all the powers of sin, death and hell on our behalf as He was nailed to the Cross, putting Himself in our place so that we might live? As the song says, “He who had done no wrong was crucified for me.”

    In John 15, verse 13 and 14, Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command” And in spite of all the patriotic rhetoric and “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” (it is sweet and right to die for your country), most medal recipients will say that their only thought at the time of their act of bravery was for those around them – their friends; and those whose lives have been saved by a sacrificial act of bravery will often point to friendship above and beyond the “glory” of dying for your country.

    Jesus, the Son of God, went to the Cross for us. And Jesus, the Son of God, says that we are His friends. And Jesus, the Son of God, shows us the greatest love of all – the love that lead Him to die for us, in our place, so that we might be spared. It’s out of that act of love and courage that all others come – and from that Cross, that “Old Rugged Cross”, comes, I believe, the inspiration for medals honouring sacrifice to this day.

    So this Remembrance Day look to the Cross and see your value and worth as a friend of Jesus, who gave His life for you. Celebrate the forgiveness and freedom that makes possible. And don’t forget (!) – He rose from the grave winning the greatest battle of all so that we could know His victory in our lives.

    God bless, stay well

    Martin

  • Food, Glorious Food!

    Wow, what a week it’s been! Last Friday’s blog was all about how could we respond to the Government’s disgraceful decision to not allow the Free School Meals Scheme to stretch through half term – and at the same time a couple of people in our church were having conversations about what to do, which resulted in the “Big Hearts in Biggleswade” food drop off and collection on Wednesday, Thursday and today.

    We decided to open the church as a connection point for people who had been moved to give food, and naturally for those who needed to collect some for themselves and their families. A willing team of volunteers was assembled, whose ages ranged from 7 to 70; tables were set up, and the food came in. Loads of food. The people of Biggleswade have been so generous and shown themselves to be truly “Big-Hearted”, thank you SO much. 

    At time of writing we have been able to feed just over 100 people over the three days. That’s 100 people who would have otherwise gone hungry this half term. It’s been pretty emotional – for those receiving the food, but also for those donating, and for our team as they have heard the stories behind the need – stories of love, and of sacrifice in the midst of difficulties caused by Covid 19. Single parents, divorced parents, even an elderly grandparent looking after four grandchildren. Some folk were happy to leave details and be referred to Jo for further support, and most received an invitation to King’s Corner.

    An added bonus was for those of us “on team” – we got to be back in the building with other people from church! Also the look on people’s faces as they came through the doors and saw the food was a joy to behold.

    Please do pray for all who have donated and received food this week – that they might find their deeper needs met in the embrace of God’s love. It may be that we will need to do this again in the Christmas holidays so if you missed out this time and would like to be involved, let me or Jo know. Any other ideas are also gratefully received!

    And rejoice with me that we have such a caring church family here at BBC – to be part of this family is a joy and a blessing in itself. As Paul says in Philippians 1v3-6, “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

    God bless, stay well

    Martin

  • What can I do?

    The image above is based on one of my favourite stories, one that I have used in Church, in School Assemblies, and in one-to-one chats. I make no apology for telling it again as I have a strong feeling that it might just speak to someone’s life today.

    After a storm, thousands of Starfish were left stranded on a beach – so many of them you could hardly see the sand. A small boy was crouching down amongst them, picking them up and throwing them into the sea, one by one. An adult saw what the boy was doing, sneered and mocked him, saying, “Why are you bothering? There’s so many here, you can’t possibly make a difference, you foolish child.” The boy looked up at the adult, then down at another Starfish. Very deliberately he picked it up, and threw it back into the sea before turning to the adult and saying, “I made a difference to that one” before carrying on down the beach.

    There is so much trouble in our world at the moment – politically, economically, health-wise to name just three big things – that it seems overwhelming, and that there really is nothing we can do to make a difference. Or maybe in your life right now the challenges and difficulties you face just seem too big. You can’t deal with them all and you’re struggling to see how you can make a difference.

    Don’t try to do it all at once. Take one piece, one situation, one problem, one day, at a time. Make a difference where you can. Remember God has placed you where you are for a reason, and for something that He believes you can do. You probably won’t change the world, but you can and will change the world where you are. It’s where God wants you to be, and it’s where He wants you to shine for Him by working with Him. What you are doing does make a difference, so be encouraged and don’t give up.

    Two Scriptures come to mind – 1 Thessalonians 5v24, “he who calls you is faithful, and he will do it,” and Philippians 4 verse 13, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

    Bring your situation to Him. Start to see it from His perspective. Remember that with Him we can all make the world of difference when we flourish where we are planted.

    God bless, stay well

    Martin

  • Food for thought…
    Those who know me well will know how much bigging up anyone who plays for Manchester United distresses me – but I have to take my proverbial hat off to the young man pictured, Marcus Rashford, not for his footballing prowess but for his courage and determination to stand up for those who have little or no voice to speak for themselves. As you probably know Rashford suffered from what we might call childhood poverty and understands how it feels to not know if you are going to get a proper meal during the day. Because of his position in the public eye he has been able to speak out on the issue and make a difference. He certainly is not the stereotypical footballer who is only concerned about money, fast cars and looking good.
    I don’t know if Rashford has any faith, but what he has been doing is exactly what Jesus would want those who follow Him to do – stand up for the forgotten, the oppressed, those on the margins of our society, even if that means challenging those in positions of power in the nation. And with the advent of further lockdowns due to the second wave of Covid-19, and the loss of income many will suffer as a result, more people will find themselves in a position of needing help to feed their families.
    Someone once said that the measure of a nation is found in how it treats the least in its society – and of course as Christians we know children, widows, orphans and the poor hold a special place in God’s heart. So what happened on Wednesday in Parliament would seem to say that we are not a very “Great” country any more. 
    Christians Against Poverty have launched a petition to get Wednesday’s decision reversed, and I would urge anyone who reads this to sign it – you can find it at:  https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/554276/ or by going to CAP’s website.
    But what else could we as Christians be doing? How can we speak up for those in our area and nationally who cannot speak up for themselves? Write to our MP expressing disappointment and concern – his address is: richard.fuller.mp@parliament.uk
    And of course we can follow the words and teachings of Jesus and get involved locally too, through the Foodbank, or the Veg scheme set up by Sharon and Ashley, and by giving practical support in other ways where appropriate. Let me leave you with some words of Jesus: “let the little children come  to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19v14) and perhaps more pertinently today, ” I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was ill and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when…’ The King will reply, ‘ Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it for me.” (Matthew 25v34-40).
    How can we do it for Him today?
    God bless, stay well
    Martin
  • “To be, or not to be” – that really is the question!
    Delight in God's Presence in the New Year - Psalm

    It’s a question asked many times since Mr Shakespeare wrote it; and a question we often ignore, or pretend isn’t even there, until life pulls us up short and demands we think about it. The question today is about being in God’s Presence – or not. “To be in God’s presence, or not to be in God’s presence, that is the question.”

    It’s actually the ultimate question of human existence, both temporally and eternally. Designed in His image and created to enjoy spending time with Him – “The LORD God…was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called out to the man, ‘Where are you?’ (Genesis 3v8&9); when sin entered the world it’s result was to remove us from God’s presence – “The LORD God banished him (Adam) from the Garden of Eden…after he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.” (Genesis 3 v23&24). Ever since then, in one way or another, we have tried to find our way back into God’s presence. Each and every one of us has that “God-shaped hole in our heart.”

    The only way that hole can be filled is with God’s own help – in the Person of Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God, Who took our sin and our guilt and allowed it to nail Him to the Cross and send Him to the grave. His resurrection from the dead opens up the way for us to once again enjoy the Presence of God here and now, and for eternity. Let’s think about the here and now bit – if you have put your faith in Jesus you are declared forgiven, free and adopted as a son or daughter of God, with unlimited access to His Loving Presence – how aware are you of that Presence, and how often do you make a conscious effort to recognise it? Can I gently suggest that it’s all too easy for us to get so busy doing things for God that we often neglect time with God? And may I also suggest that at such a time as we are now living in it’s more important than ever that we do take time to simply be in His presence? Find a place, and a time and simply come into God’s presence and recognise that He is there – no agenda, no prayer list, just a “Here I am Lord, I want to be with You” kind of moment. Time to, “Be still, and know that I am God,” to know that, “The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” (Psalm 46v10&11). In a time when there is so much about self care and looking after ourselves through this pandemic, this is actually the very best way we could possibly go about it.

    So – to be in God’s presence, or not to be? I hope and pray that we can all find time to stop, and rest in His Presence, be reminded that we are loved with an everlasting love, and to rest secure knowing that whatever happens, He’s got us. And He will never let go.

    God bless, stay well

    Martin

  • Covid, Charismata, Coffee and…Croissants
    Coffee and Croissant with Colleagues North Tickets | Eventbrite

    Bet you never thought you’d see those four things together anywhere, never mind in the title of a blog! Yet here we are – and actually we could add another “C,” as I am enjoying some Cadbury’s Bournville Chocolate Buttons as I write.

    I thought it might be of interest for you to get a glimpse into my morning, which has involved all the above things, mainly over a conversation with my most esteemed of colleagues, Mr Rob Jones (he told me to write that last bit). Every month I try to get together with staff members for a one-to-one, to see how they are getting on, and to chat over any issues that may be of concern to them. This will normally take place away from the office, in one of Biggleswade’s many fine coffee establishments. Today we were chatting about all things connected with Rob’s role as Youth Worker and how it has been affected, as we all have, by Covid – like many other things the Youth work has had to go online, but they have recently been meeting in person again, and one of the things they have been discussing is how charismatic we are at BBC. Some think we are not very charismatic, others think we are – so that probably means we have the balance about right; but the discussion does beg the question, “What makes a church a charismatic church?” The Greek word “Charismata” refers to the gifts of the Holy Spirit and their use in church – normally meaning freedom in worship, waving hands, speaking or singing in tongues, prophecy and the like. These happen a lot in very charismatic churches, often accompanied by people falling down in the power of the Holy Spirit. But if we simply focus on the outward, spectacular gifts, we miss out on the richer, deeper meaning of charismatic – it’s a bit like slurping the froth on a fizzy drink but leaving the drink itself. Charismata also include, knowledge, discernment, understanding, helping, serving others…even administration (for a fuller list, check out Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, 1 Peter 4). Ultimately a charismatic church will include all of these things at one time or another, and the more we are open to the Holy Spirit the more we will see them, and the more the church will grow in the likeness of Christ.

    In this “Covid time,” we need these gifts of the Spirit to be seen and evident as we serve one another and reach out to our community in love – and that, of course, is the numero uno, the kingpin, the top dog of spiritual gifts – just check out 1 Corinthians 13. All the other things are nothing without love. We cannot evangelise effectively (something else the Youth have been looking at as well as the adult congregation) without love. At the risk of sounding like that chap – Chico? – from the “talent show”, I feel a lot of love in our church family at BBC. 

    A Charismatic Church is first and foremost a Church that loves. And has good coffee. And shares Crosisants and Chocolate. And is willing to share all that it has with others. What does that look like today? That’s for us to work out in a safe, socially distanced kind of way as a group, and as individuals… oh, and don’t forget the Chocolate!

    God bless, stay well

    Martin