Wednesday, 2 June 2021

Unbroken

 

June 2021

Dear Friends

“A meticulous, soaring and beautifully written account of an extraordinary life.”  That’s from the blurb on the book I’ve just been reading, ‘Unbroken’ by Laura Hillenbrand.  The book was every bit as good as the blurb suggests.  Published in 2010 (and since made into a film directed by Angelina Jolie) it tells the true story of Italian American Louie Zamperini, a runner at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, as he becomes a bombardier with the Army Air Forces during World War II.  When his plane crashes into the Pacific Ocean in 1943 he drifts on a life raft for 47 days before being captured by the Japanese.  Cruelly tortured, starved and beaten for more than 2 years until the war ends, he remains unbroken.  But when Louie finally returns home it is his constant nightmares and out-of-control anger and drinking that nearly destroys him and those he loves.

The book details the shockingly cruel treatment of Prisoners of War by many, though not all, of their Japanese captors.  By contrast the treatment of PoWs by the Americans led one Japanese veteran to refer to his experience as ‘lucky prison life’.  When this man returned home to Japan and learned what his Allied counterparts had endured in a camp in his own village, he was horrified.

What accounts for the difference in behaviour between these two peoples?  Certainly not an inherent moral distinction – what a terrible thought – but, I suggest, the fact that one culture had been deeply influenced over centuries by the account of an extraordinary man who attacked and denounced evil while longing for people to turn away from their wrong and to be made new; a man who could accept terrible suffering while praying for his tormentors, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."  (Luke 23:34)

The message of forgiveness through Christ is one that many Japanese have come to accept, not least because men like Louie Zamperini later went back to Japan to offer his own forgiveness and the forgiveness of Christ.  And, sadly, it’s a message that many Americans (and Brits) have now come to see as something alien and unnecessary.  Laura Hillenbrand has written the kind of startling book that might wake us up to what we have lost.

Sincerely

Graham Burrows

Monday, 3 May 2021

Those whom God has joined together …

 

May 2021

Dear Friends

One of the saddest consequences of the Coronavirus restrictions has been the disruption to so many  weddings.  Cancellations, postponements or agonising decisions about who to dis-invite have all marred what should be a day of serious joy.  We’re not yet back to how it was but I’m delighted that, God willing, the first weddings in a long time will soon be celebrated in our churches.

The church wedding diary has lots of space – it may even be easier than trying to book a haircut.

Although most of us have heard the same vows made many times it would be hard to deny that something very significant is happening as bride and groom face each other and speak those gripping words of commitment.  We are witnessing the beginning of true love, not the first feelings of attraction and desire but the public commitment to love, to do good to another person.  We hear them promise that they will maintain this true love not until the sparkle appears to have gone out of the relationship but all the way to their dying breath.

But the church marriage service says something about the bride and groom that may seem puzzling:  “It is God’s purpose that they shall be united in that love as Christ is united with his Church.”  What does that mean?  It means that God himself designed human marriage to be a miniature reflection of the big event that lies at the centre of our world’s story, a marriage to eclipse all marriages, the forming of a deep eternal bond between the perfect groom, God’s Royal Son Jesus, and all those called together by God to collectively form his Son’s bride.

Imagine the delight that a young child feels at the GP surgery when she sees that something like the toy medical kit that she plays with at home actually exists in the real world too – there really are stethoscopes and thermometers and syringes!  In the same way our weddings are small-scale copies – the real thing exists too, there is a dream wedding and for all who trust in Christ it’s our big day!

Sincerely

Graham Burrows

Thursday, 1 April 2021

A new beginning

 

April 2021

Dear friends

A new beginning for Britain.  We’re not there yet but there’s hope for a summer of renewing contact with people we’ve missed, enjoying normal activities away from our homes and rebuilding businesses or finding new jobs after the “worst economic slump since 1706”.  The Governor of the Bank of England said he was “positive but with large doses of cautionary realism”.  For some, the effects of the last year are not going to be easily shrugged off.  We are still going to need to offer support and help to each other.

A new beginning for Jesus.  Some say that Easter Sunday is a celebration based on a ridiculous claim – that a man who had been flogged and executed by professional soldiers and then left in a rock tomb for two nights could somehow return to life on the third day; but that’s only the half of it!  Christians also believe that Jesus received the upgrade, the renewed version of his human body that would never again be subject to suffering or exhaustion or death.  His post-Easter body was so much more solid and more real than the bodies we have that it appears Jesus could pass through the physical objects of our world, like locked doors, as if they were merely a mist.  Christians also believe that the abundant evidence for all this – in the eye-witness accounts, in the sudden extraordinary courage of Jesus’ timid followers, and in the transformation of the world over the last 2000 years – is enough to make trusting in Christ the opposite of a leap in the dark.

A new beginning for you?  This same Jesus made clear that his own upgraded human life was the prototype for many others.  In his agonizing Good Friday suffering he was paying for an Easter Sunday for all those who are joined to him by trusting completely in him.  “If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.” (Romans 6:5)

May God make this a happy Easter for you!

Sincerely

Graham Burrows

Tuesday, 2 March 2021

A megaphone to rouse a deaf world

 

March 2021

Dear Friends,

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world” (from ‘The Problem of Pain’ by C S Lewis, author of The Narnia Chronicles).

Over the past year you may feel that God has been using his megaphone more often than usual through the pain of illness, bereavement, loneliness, fear, dashed hopes, shredded plans and trashed finances.

To say that God sometimes shouts at us is likely to make us think that God loses it with us, he rants at us.  More volume equals more anger.  But that is not what Lewis means at all.  Most of us who are parents will have shouted at our children like that, with exasperation, even though we know that it was not the right thing to do – we may have got our way but it did not lead to the change of heart in our children that was really needed.

But there is another kind of parental shouting – very loud but without anger.  It is the shout when our child is close to noisy traffic, or a long way from us, or oblivious to the danger they are in, or daydreaming or when they have loud music playing in their ear-buds.  It is a shout to warn of danger, to attract their attention or to make sure they don’t miss the delicious meal on the kitchen table.  It is loud because the message is important, their deafness is great, their understanding of what is truly good is limited and we love them very much.  More volume equals more love.

C S Lewis explains that God’s love is nothing like our ‘kindness’.  “Kindness cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering”.  True love, God’s love, would rather see loved ones suffer than be content with a fragile happiness that cannot last and which masks how estranged we are from our loving Creator, who is the true source of the one and only river of deep and everlasting happiness.

If he has been using his megaphone a lot this past year then perhaps we should ask ourselves what our loving Creator and Lord might be wanting to say to us all.

Sincerely

Graham Burrows

Monday, 1 February 2021

When fear goes rogue

 

February 2021

“Once, an engine attached to a train was afraid of a few drops of rain.  
It went into a tunnel and squeaked through its funnel and wouldn't come out again!” 

You may remember that the engine was Henry and his fear was that the rain would spoil his green paint with red stripes.  The story (at least in its original version) has a sad end.  Having failed to get Henry to come out, the Fat Controller has the rails taken away and the tunnel bricked up with Henry still inside.

Healthy fear is good: those without fear should not be allowed near busy roads; fear of the sea is a qualification for being a sailor, not a handicap.  But fear can be misdirected or disproportionate.  If I am so afraid of traffic that I never leave my house then I am trapped by my fear.  If I am so afraid of flying that I choose instead to travel by motorbike then my irrational fear is putting me in even greater danger.

Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).  God (like the sea) is good, but God (like the sea) is dangerous too.  Jesus knew that he could not offer his brand-new disciples a ‘safe working environment’.  As he sent them out to be his representatives they would be like sheep among wolves, in constant danger of being hated, arrested and killed.  But the greater danger was that their fear might lead them to abandon their trust in Jesus and let go of his promise to give forgiveness and abundant life to those who keep trusting him to the end.  We understandably fear anything or anyone that has the power to end our life but Jesus wants us to be much more concerned about meeting him as our Judge.

The Fat Controller may have lacked warmth and compassion in his appeal to Henry but Jesus does not:  “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father … So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”  (Matthew 10:29,31)

Does your fear face in the right direction?

Sincerely

Graham Burrows

Tuesday, 1 December 2020

According to plan

 

December 2020

Dear Friends,

2020 has been the year when we’ve all had to tear up the script and start again, more than once.  As I write this, we’ve made plans for Christmas and New Year church events but we’ve no idea whether they will all happen as planned.  Do check the ‘Coming Up’ diary on our church website which will always have the most up-to-date information about the next few services or events.  We will also aim to provide information on notice boards and village Facebook pages.  Feel free to ring me too.  We plan to return to Sunday morning services in our church building from the beginning of December if lockdown lifts then.  In this newsletter you will find details of Sunday services, a Christmas Day family service and our family events – Christingle at Home and our Advent Trail.  Keep an eye out for information on a Carol Service just before Christmas.

For most of us, plans for 2020 went in the bin in March, but God’s plan for the birth of his Son suffered no such fate.  The Bible says that the plan was hatched even before the world was created.  And right through the time of the Old Testament, God was mapping out in history the blueprint for His Son’s life.  There were kings over God’s people before the coming of The King of Kings, and prophets who were God’s mouthpieces before the coming of The Word.  The priests who made sacrifices for sin foreshadowed The Priest who would give his own life as The Sacrifice for our sin.  Every story in the Old Testament, from beginning to end, whispers the name of Jesus.  Every word teaches us about Jesus, shows us our need of Jesus or prepares us to receive Jesus.  So, if 2020 has been for you a story of increasing worries, sadness and frustration, then I encourage you to join us as we take comfort again from the account of a daring rescue that went to plan and that continues to give joy and solid hope to so many.

 “All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ – which means, ‘God with us.’” (Matthew 1:22-23)

Happy Christmas!

Graham Burrows

Sunday, 1 November 2020

A deadly disease

 

November 2020

How is it transmitted?  How serious is it?  How can we avoid catching it?  Can you catch it, or do we all have it from birth?  I’m talking, of course, about the disease of bad behaviour, the disorder that results in the rejection of even loving authority – or what the Bible just calls ‘sin’.

The standard view in our culture is that this disease is caught.  That’s why we try to isolate children from bad influences and to shield them from unhelpful friends.  It’s why we think that a good environment should produce good people.  But the older view was that this deadly disease is in us all at birth, even from conception.  That’s what the Bible teaches: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5)

What you believe about the source of human wrongdoing will affect your response to the current deep disagreements over politics, race and Coronavirus.  If all people are born good but some get corrupted then we will be angry at those who have allowed themselves to be duped by ‘selfish politics’, ‘blind prejudice’ or ‘ridiculous responses to the virus’.  But if we are all born sinners then my criticism of others is tempered by the humbling awareness that I am made of the same fallible stuff and that I too need correcting and saving from my own in-built foolishness.

If we think that children are born good then we will be distressed when they don’t manage to ‘follow their dreams’ and ‘become whatever they want to be’.  But if we understand that all of us are born with this deadly disease then we will be strangely liberated from angst and shock when our children get things wrong.  Instead we will understand that we must make every effort to train them to do the right thing and we will long that somehow, through someone, their future will be so much better than we, or they, deserve.

Sincerely

Graham Burrows