Tuesday, 24 March 2020

A healthy prompt

April 2020

Having become used to all the wonderful benefits of today’s medical skill it has come as an unpleasant surprise to find that a tiny virus can bring such chaos, fear, financial ruin, suffering and death.  We can’t blame the virus: this little string of RNA is just doing what it knows best, reproducing itself as fast as it can, and doing it rather successfully.  And if there is nothing beyond the material world, as some assert, then there’s no-one to blame, except the politicians who always get the blame.

But if like me you believe that this world is created and ruled by a loving God then you may be perplexed or angry.  Why would God allow a virus to do this to us?

Actually, the same Bible that shows us God’s love says so much more about him, and gives us many reasons why his world is full of suffering and futility.  Here’s just one of them: Since we must all one day give an account of ourselves to God our impartial judge, everything in our lives that reminds us of our frailty and mortality brings, along with the pain and the tears, a healthy prompt to stop thinking that this life is all that matters.  Everything that vexes us is also a kind reminder from our Creator to be ready to meet him.  Even as we look at the stern face of sickness we need to see the warm heart of a rescuing Lord who longs for our hard heart to soften towards him.

And we certainly can’t accuse God of keeping his distance and avoiding all our trouble.  In his Son, God came to us, became one of us, suffered with us and then ended Death’s proud boast once for all.  However strange Easter will be this year I trust that we will once again be reminded that everyone whose confidence is in Jesus Christ will share fully in Christ’s resurrection victory.  “The punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)

Jesus laid down his life for his friends, rescuing those who put their trust in him and giving us the best ever example of the kind of selflessness that is going to be needed as we try to help each other through this severe trial.

May God bless you this Easter

Graham Burrows

Saturday, 7 March 2020

Amazing Grace

March 2020

Like Jonah before him, John Newton “had previously run away from the Lord and it had taken a tremendous storm at sea in 1748 to humble him, convict him of his defiance and stir him to cry out to God for mercy.”

From a young age Newton’s life had been marked by tragedy and a self-centred rebelliousness.  His mother died when he was six, he went to sea at a young age, was press-ganged into the navy, transferred to a slave ship and was himself enslaved in Africa.  Freed again, he became an officer and eventually a captain on slave ships and was known for his drinking, gambling and swearing.

But after that storm the message of God’s amazing grace, his undeserved kindness in Christ, slowly took root in Newton’s heart and mind.  His life became characterised by a deep gratitude to God:  “What am I – that thou hast brought me hitherto?  Brought me from Africa, from the house of bondage, saved me from sinking in the ocean and from a thousand deaths – raised me from a state of contempt and misery beyond the common lot of mortals – to admit me among thy children, thy servants, to know and to preach thy gospel … I am surrounded with mercies and comforts.” (Written in his diary on 1st January 1780)

Retiring from his seafaring days, Newton became Surveyor of Tides in Liverpool Docks before eventually being accepted as a Church of England minister with a simple desire to “honestly and plainly declare the truths of the gospel … undoubtedly the most pleasant set of topics”.  With his friend, William Wilberforce, Newton became committed to the abolition of slavery; the ‘Act for the Abolition of Slavery’ was passed in Parliament in 1807, the year of Newton’s death.

Today John Newton is best known as the author of the hymn that was first sung by his congregation in the little village of Olney in Bucks on New Year’s Day 1773:

Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

(All quotes are found in the excellent book ‘365 Days with John Newton’ from DayOne Publications.)


Graham Burrows

Saturday, 1 February 2020

Living water

February 2020

The sandcastles have been precisely placed with a flag carefully inserted in each, the city walls have been built up and the streets decorated with shells and seaweed.  Now it’s time for the moat to be filled with seawater – but now it’s also that sad time when children discover that sand doesn’t hold water and the moat will never be full.

Navvies knew that they often needed to line a newly-dug canal with clay if it were to hold water.  Farmers knew that if there were no natural ponds on their land they could dig one as long as they could make it water-tight.  But you wouldn’t expect them to go to all that trouble if there was already a reliable bubbling stream within a stone’s throw.  Why put all that effort into building something that’s unnecessary and inferior?

Jeremiah expresses the Lord’s surprise and sadness at the wasted and foolish effort of Old Testament Israel in rejecting the God who was everything to them:   "My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”  (Jeremiah 2:13)

When your life feels like the dried and cracked bed of a pond that never holds any refreshing water it’s long past time to ask yourself whether you have been ignoring a bubbling stream that flows nearby.  Here is Jesus’ answer to a woman who he met by a well and whose whole life seemed to be a series of painful relationships that had turned sour: “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”  (John 4:10)

Later this month we are teaming up with local churches and students and staff from Capernwray Hall to offer a week of events that may help you to discover, or rediscover, the life-giving water that Jesus Christ offers to all.  I do hope that you will join us.  Further details are at www.burtonandholmechurches.org


Graham Burrows

Sunday, 1 December 2019

Left out in the cold

December 2019

Why was there “no room in the inn”* for heavily pregnant Mary?  Was Bethlehem so crowded with people returning to their family town to register for the Roman census that even a king would have found it difficult to find a room with a bed?  Or had people been gossiping about Mary, the young woman who had been pregnant longer than she had been married?  And tattling about Joseph her husband who had claimed that he was not the father of Mary’s baby?  Every society has its ‘untouchables’.  Who would risk the criticism that would be dumped on them for associating with such immoral parents and their illegitimate child? 

We can’t be sure why there was no room but it was a pattern of things to come for Jesus.  “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.”*  From the moment (about 30 years later) when he began to reveal who he really was, Jesus was not welcome.  Yes, he had a small group of loyal followers and many were intrigued by him, but in the end most left him out in the cold.
“From his first breath – with only an animal’s feeding trough for a bed – to his last breath – naked and disgraced, in agony on a Roman cross – the Son of God knew what it was to become very, very poor.”

Paul the apostle says, “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.”*  Has Jesus Christ (by his loving self-sacrifice) made you rich?  Rich by freely forgiving all that is wrong in your life?  Rich by inviting you to belong to his family?  Rich by giving you a solid hope for the future?  Rich in the comfort of your home and the abundance of your food?

Paul reminds the Corinthian Christians why they are being made rich in Christ: “You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion.”*

Wishing you a happy and generous Christmas

Graham Burrows

* Bible verses from Luke 2:7, John 1:11, 1 Corinthians 8:9 9:11
from a new book for Advent by Christopher Ash ‘Repeat the Sounding Joy’, p91

Friday, 1 November 2019

Do you remember?

November 2019

Why do we gather at the war memorial and in the village church on Remembrance Sunday?  Here are three good reasons:

To thank people.  Our armed forces (and many other people too) have been willing to put the safety and freedom of others above their own safety and freedom.  They laid down their lives for us and we ought to remember to be thankful.  Previous generations committed us to this when they promised, ‘We will remember them’.

To thank God.  The Lord has shown great kindness to us as a nation.  We are far from guiltless and yet God has given to us peace and prosperity beyond all we deserve.  Defence is something we must work hard at, but it is also true that the rise and fall of nations is the Lord’s work.  Moses told the people of his day not to “forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” (Deuteronomy 4:9)

Because we’re in danger.  Just as we struggle to live peacefully with those in our families or in our village so, as a nation, we find it hard to live peacefully with ourselves and with other nations.  Dispute and conflict is never far away; so we ask God for the gift of peace and prosperity. 

And that is not an impossible dream.  The Son of God was born as a human being on our planet and not some other.  He was born as one of us to be King of us.  Since laying down his life for his friends the risen Lord Jesus has been sending the life-changing announcement of his advancing kingdom to the ends of the earth. 

“All kings will bow down to him and all nations will serve him.  For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no-one to help.  He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death.  He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight.”  (Psalm 72:11-14)

King Jesus is just the man to turn to when we need help as a nation, or as individuals.  That’s what we’ll be doing on Sunday 10th November and you are warmly welcome too.


Graham Burrows

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Where's the church?

October 2019

“Here’s the church and here’s the steeple, open the doors and here’s all the people”

I imagine that you know this children’s rhyme with its hand actions (tricky for little ones!)  It’s not perfect - most churches around here have towers, not steeples - but it does at least make clear that the church is the building with its people and not just the empty building.  We have a beautiful church building here in our village but if you really want to see the church then you need to come when the church is in the church.  And you would be very welcome too!   In the same way it can be interesting to visit an empty football stadium or theatre but to really see what the building is for you need to be at the big match or enjoying the play.

The word ‘church’ in our Bibles translates a word (Ekklesia in Greek) that means ‘assembly’ or ‘congregation’.  Buildings often get named after the people who meet there: ‘synagogue’ means ‘assembly’ and ‘parliament’ means the people who talk together to make our laws but we think of these as places too.  ‘Church’ properly means those who discover that they are called by God to belong to him, to serve and love him and to gather together week by week in his name.  The place where we do that also gets called ‘the church’.

That said, we are pleased that our church building is valued and appreciated by so many in our village, not just by those who gather each Sunday and if we are to be able to maintain it for the future we are going to need the help of a good number of you.  So if you might be willing to tackle some DIY tasks, wield a paint brush or even to organise contractors to get on with some of the more serious repair projects then do please get in touch with me, a Warden or anyone from the congregation.  Thank you.  We also have Boon Days when we encourage as many as possible to join in the fun of maintaining the grounds and deep cleaning the building – all in return for a cup of coffee!  Burton’s is on 12th Oct; we’ve just had one in Holme but there will be another in the spring.


Graham Burrows

Monday, 2 September 2019

Jungle Danger

September 2019

If you have young children then probably you will have spent the summer holidays encouraging them to have a great time – but wanting them to stay safe.  What do you make, then, of a mother who deliberately took her 3-year-old daughter into the Amazon rainforest to live among a fierce tribal people who had already killed her husband and four others?

This summer I had the privilege of meeting that daughter, Val Shephard.  She is now in her 60s and we had invited her to be a speaker at the families’ camp that Julie and I organise each year.  Her father, Jim Elliot, had been attempting to bring the good news about Jesus Christ to the Waorani tribe in Ecuador when, in January 1956, he and his four friends were brutally speared to death.  Val has spoken about her father’s death in a four minute BBC programme which you can find here: www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04tl78m

Two years after her father’s death two women from the Waorani came and asked Val’s mother, Elisabeth Elliot, to come to the tribe and tell them about God.  And so 3-year-old Val found herself riding in a back-pack chair as her mother and a sister of another of the murdered men trekked into the rainforest to meet with and to live among the Waorani tribe.  Val still vividly remembers those years in the jungle as she saw her mother sharing the love of Christ with these isolated people.  She would have liked to have known her father but she is so grateful for her parents’ example of loving self-sacrifice and costly devotion to Jesus Christ.

Her father kept a diary and is known around the world as the author of these words:  “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.”  Jim Elliot was re-phrasing what Jesus himself had said, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it” (Luke 9:24).  If we make safety our number one priority we will never be truly safe, but if we are willing to live wholeheartedly for Jesus Christ and give our lives to his service then we receive as a gift from him life in all its fulness, a gift that is eternally secure.


Graham Burrows