Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Before its time

December 2015

Biographies are normally written after the subject has died.  Of course, if you are confident of the significance of your life you could try writing ‘My life, Part 1’ while you are still alive.  Would it not be very strange though to find a story of someone’s life that was written before they were born?  That is what Jesus claimed had happened to him.

The people of his day diligently studied the Old Testament hoping to find the secret of life but Jesus said that the book was all about him.  His life was mapped out before his birth in the stories of kings who were shepherds of God’s people before the coming of The King, and prophets who were God’s mouthpieces before the coming of The Word.  And the priests who made sacrifices for sin on behalf of their people were foreshadowing The Priest who would give up 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 our need of Jesus or prepares us to receive Jesus.

We would find it difficult to accept that someone had drawn up a plan for our life that we must follow.  But God’s Son played it by the book, built his life according to his Father’s blueprint, accepted the plot handed to him – including even the violence against him.  And through everything he kept looking forward to the glorious ending already written - the rescue from judgment of many, many people who have distanced themselves from God, bringing them into the peace and prosperity of his eternal kingdom.

Some people live lives that result in a book.  Jesus came to fulfil the story already written for him.  “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

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Out-of-the-box thinking

November 2015

The majority are not always right.  Sometimes it needs one person with a different view, a new idea or a bold opinion to get us all to see what has been staring us in the face.

The people crowding around the grisly execution scene outside Jerusalem were all agreed; the man hanging there is a fake – no-one can now take seriously his claim to be a divine king or saviour.  So what if his name, Jesus, means ‘The Lord Saves’; he can’t even save himself!  So what if some gave him the royal title ‘Christ’; does he look like someone who is in charge?  National leaders, soldiers, another condemned man – they all speak with the same sneer: “Save yourself if you are the King!”

But another dying man sees things differently.  In great pain, his mind is still strong enough to resist the majority view; he calls out, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  One man who realises that Jesus is indeed a king with a kingdom, one man who believes that knowing Jesus (or rather being known by him) will matter forever: “Remember me!”

Time is running out for Jesus; now would be the opportunity for him to end the pretence and confess that he has been misleading people with all his talk of coming from the Father to seek and to save the lost.  Instead Jesus’ reply shows that nothing has changed, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” 

The crowd thinks that Jesus has ended up on the cross because he couldn’t save himself.  Jesus knows that he is there because that is how he will save others.  He must die in our place bearing our guilt if he is to bring us back home to God his Father from the far-off country where we have taken ourselves.  That is why he can immediately offer forgiveness to a convicted criminal (and to anyone else).  My debt is paid.

So are you stuck in the crowd or have you seen what this man saw?  While everyone else shelters behind the popular mood of the day this man alone accepts Jesus’ authority over him and receives the rescue that Jesus alone provides.


Graham Burrows

Saturday, 3 October 2015

The wrong company?

October 2015

Imagine how surprised you would be to discover that the world-renowned architect Richard Rogers was designing a very ordinary loft extension for the house next door; “Why is he interested in that?” you might wonder.  Or think how angry you would be if a local magistrate was regularly seen hanging out with people well-known for their criminal scheming; “Doesn’t she know what these people are like?”

In the same way there was deep surprise and anger over the people Jesus was interested in and the company he kept.  Why did he spend his time with those considered ‘worthless’ when his friends were claiming for him the prestigious title ‘Christ’ (ie Divine King).  Why would he have time for greedy cheats when he himself was so totally incorruptible?  And why did he welcome those whose sexual lives were in a mess when he claimed that he would one day be the final judge of everyone.

Jesus was not embarrassed by the outrage but said it was what he’d come for – he was a doctor to the sick and a rescuer to those in danger.  In one of the stories that he told to silence the grumblers a son distances himself from his father and ends up in a mess.  The surprise is that when he comes to his senses and decides to throw himself on his father’s mercy he is welcomed home with a lavish party. Jesus is like that Father.  You can be too self-righteous to come to Jesus and submit to the treatment of this loving doctor but you can’t be too lost or too guilty.  He came to find those who had distanced themselves from God and bring them back home.  And he is still doing that today.

“The Son of Man (that’s Jesus) came to seek and to save lost people” (Luke 19:10).


Graham Burrows

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Who does he think he is?

September 2015

So what does your surname mean?  Perhaps it indicates what an ancestor of yours did for a living (Smith or Farmer) or where he lived (Wood or Lancaster) or who his father was (Johnson or McDonald).  But Christ is not a surname like those; it is a royal title, like Elizabeth ‘Regina’ (or ‘Reg’ as it is inscribed on the coins in your pocket) which means, of course, ‘Queen’.

The arrival of ‘The Christ’ was eagerly anticipated, an honest and noble King sent from God who would replace the selfish, unjust and destructive rule of their average human leader.  At first it did not seem that Jesus of Galilee deserved such a title: he was born in morally suspect circumstances to an ordinary family, he had no political or military training and by the age of 30 he was still an unknown.  But Mark begins his account of Jesus boldly: “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God” and very quickly he is showing us how this ‘travelling preacher’ is behaving like a King with authority. 

Jesus commands people to down tools and join him and they obey him.  He confronts the demon-possessed and the demons obey him.  He goes to those who are sick and dying and the diseases obey him.  He proves that he has God’s authority to forgive sin and, when he and his friends are about to be drowned at sea, he commands the wind and waves and they obey him too.  And all the time people are asking “Who is this? Who is this who has such authority?”  Peter is the first to dare to speak what others have only wondered, “You are the Christ”.

When was the last time you read the early pages of one of the Gospels and asked yourself the question, “Who is this?  How do I account for this man?”  You must have a Bible on a shelf somewhere that you can dust off, or perhaps you would like to read with some others in a small group where questions can be discussed.  If that’s you, let me know and I’ll tell you about a group that you can join.


Graham Burrows


Tuesday, 30 June 2015

A book for the plough boy

July 2015

If your business is illegal and the authorities are breathing down your neck then you could move abroad, continue to produce what you produce and have it smuggled back into England.  That’s exactly what William Tyndale did in 1524 when his chosen trade was getting him into hot water; he wanted to print English Bibles.  Amazingly, apart from a few English Bibles read secretly for fear of execution, the only Bibles in England at the time were in Latin, which hardly anyone understood.  The pre-Reformation church and Henry VIII did not want people to know what this dangerous book actually said – they might realise that the church had been teaching nonsense, and that the king himself had things to answer for.

So Tyndale fled England having declared to a hostile clergyman, “If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of the Scriptures than thou dost.”  Living as a hunted exile he translated the New Testament from the original Greek texts into English, had them printed in Antwerp and smuggled back into England where they were eagerly bought and read.  Ordinary people would pay as much as a load of hay just to get a few pages, and would sit up all night hearing the Scriptures read.  The authorities did all they could to seize and burn those books.

Tyndale went on to translate part of the Old Testament too but in 1535 an Englishman secretly working for the King betrayed Tyndale, he was imprisoned near Brussels for 18 months and then convicted of heresy.  Tied to a stake, but before he was strangled and his body burnt, he called out, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.”  Two years later Henry VIII ordered that an English Bible be placed in every church in England.  These Bibles were revised versions of the texts that Tyndale had created.

500 years on, what is left of the hunger for God’s Word that was so characteristic of England in Tyndale’s day, and how many of us would risk our lives to defy Bible ‘gagging orders’ or to handle smuggled Bibles?  “Lord, open England’s eyes again!”


Graham Burrows

Friday, 29 May 2015

As long as you both shall live

June 2015

I have conducted two weddings this weekend, one in Burton and one in Holme, and have been reminded what an enjoyable part of my job that is.  It seems to me that most people still think that weddings are worth a great deal of effort – everyone dresses carefully, great care is taken over the smallest details of the day and large amounts of emotional energy are invested, especially by the bride and groom.

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 own Son Jesus, and the people called together by God to collectively form his Son’s bride.  (‘Church’ literally means ‘the called out ones’.)

Imagine the delight that a young child feels at the GP surgery when she sees that her plastic toys exist 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 those who trust in Christ it’s our big day!


Graham Burrows

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Lost and Found

May 2015

If you walked through Burton just before Easter you may have noticed sheep sheltering in various windows in the village, looking a little lost.  Fortunately some children were willing to use part of their Easter holiday to search for the sheep and to report their whereabouts to us when they arrived at our ‘Lost and Found’ Holiday Club. 

The Club was run by a team from the churches in Holme and Burton and was held in the Burton Memorial Hall.  About 30 children from both villages came for teaching, games and other activities.  Over the three days we heard three stories that Jesus told to explain his own mission.  He is like a shepherd who leaves the flock while he searches for a sheep that is lost.  He is like a woman who loses a silver coin but who turns the house upside down until the coin is found.  When a son walks out of a family and makes a mess of his life, Jesus is like the father who longs to be able to welcome his wayward son back into the heart of the family. 

With each story Jesus is explaining why he, a man whose life was beyond criticism, gained a reputation for eating and drinking with those thought to be less-than-wholesome.  Jesus says that no-one should be surprised – that is exactly what he came for, to find those who have distanced themselves from God and bring them back into his family. 

In Jesus’ story, there is also an apparently loyal older brother who ends up outside the family; he is self-righteous (unable to see that he too is lost) and angry with his father for forgiving his brother. Jesus is challenging us:  Do you think it is a good thing that I’m finding lost people or not?  Are you with me or against me?

Our ‘Lost and Found’ Holiday Club was a small part of the task that Jesus gives: to let everyone know that he is searching for lost people to bring them home to himself; he loves doing this.

“The Son of Man (that’s Jesus) came to seek and to save lost people” (Luke 19:10)


Graham Burrows

Monday, 30 March 2015

A different kind of hero

April 2015

Alexander the Great was just 20 when he became ruler of Macedonia in 336 BC.  For the next 13 years he led the Macedonian army on an incredible military campaign, capturing the whole of the Persian Empire and adopting for himself the title ‘King of Kings’.

Alexander was a Classical hero, a ruthless warrior-king with a huge ego.  Such a man would not be acceptable to us today as a leader of Britain.  We want our leaders to be strong but we expect them to serve us (the Prime Minister is the First Servant).  We want them to be on the side of oppressed people everywhere, not to go conquering and robbing other nations for us.  Our heroes are not those who selfishly dominate others but those who jump into icy water to save others or who remain at the controls to steer the plane away from houses.

So what changed our definition of true heroism, and why don’t all cultures in the world agree on this?

The Indian writer Vishal Mangalwadi* has given a simple answer which is all the more compelling because he has looked in on Western culture from the outside:  he says we have been deeply influenced by one man and by the book that tells his story.  This man’s influence has been growing for 2000 years but has been most deeply felt in those countries where the Bible has for hundreds of years been read and absorbed – in North America and Britain, and elsewhere in NW Europe.

Far from making us proud we should be grateful for this moulding of our minds, but also alarmed that the source of this influence is now largely blocked up.  How long will it be before the reservoir of habitual self-sacrificial love dries up?

Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant”.  Even he, Jesus, had “not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Good Friday has given us a very different kind of hero.

Happy Easter!

Graham Burrows

*in ’The Book That Made Your World’ (Thomas Nelson, 2011)

Friday, 27 February 2015

Better than a dusty old book

March 2015

How many Bibles do you have in your house?   Most houses have acquired some: the Bible presented at school, an old family Bible, a baptism or wedding present.  And, of course, Bibles are available free on-line.  So why aren’t more people convinced that Jesus is all-important?

Surely (some would say) if God really wants us to believe in his Son he’ll have to do better than give us a dusty old book!  Could he arrange for some writing in the sky, personally addressed to me?  Or answer my prayers in a miraculous way?  If his Son was willing to put in an appearance in the 1st Century could he perhaps show up again in the 21st Century, here in England?  Or could God send someone back from the dead to give us some clarity about the life to come?

Jesus once told a story about a man who, having failed to prepare to meet his maker, ends up in hell (Luke 16).  When he realizes there is no way out for him, he starts to worry about his five brothers who, he suspects, are going to end up in the same place.  Could someone be sent back from the dead to warn them?  When he is told that his brothers can easily read their Bibles he makes a final plea: “No!  But if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.”

How many people today feel the same?  Miracles done in front of other people or in a past age don’t count; I demand evidence individually presented to me before I will believe.

The punchline in Jesus’ story is striking: If the five brothers “do not listen to Moses and the Prophets (ie the part of the Bible that they already have) they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”  The irony is that Jesus knows that he himself will rise from the dead and be seen by hundreds of eyewitnesses, yet many will still refuse to trust in him.

Because the Bible can be a difficult book to understand we regularly offer opportunities to join a small group where its message is clearly explained and questions can be asked.  If you ring or e-mail me I will happily tell you when the next group is getting together.


Graham Burrows 

Monday, 2 February 2015

Baptism Pictured

February 2015

The candle flickered as William blew dust off the yellowed paper.  It must have lain hidden behind the rafters of their little one-room cottage for many years.

Uncurling it William saw the crest of Lord Grace who lived in the manor house at the head of the valley.  The neat writing was badly faded but it appeared to be about the entry into service of a child.  He was “from this day forward, without end, to be available as required for work in the house, on the estate and elsewhere” and, if necessary, “to defend the property and family of Lord Grace”.  He was expected to report regularly to the House for instruction.  But these were no ordinary terms of service; William, in amazement, saw that Lord Grace was promising that this child would “enjoy the rights and privileges of a son” and, in time, a full share in all his estate and wealth.

At the bottom of the paper, under the signatures, was a date – why, the paper was nearly as old as he was!  And then suddenly a terrible thought pierced William’s mind.  He held the top of the paper close to the candle flame and peered hard at the faded name.  And there it was: William Marshall.   He was the child! It was his own Father’s signature at the bottom!  Why had he never heard about this? Why had his parents not told him about his obligations while they were alive?  To think he had struggled here in poverty all these years unaware of his benefactor!

What should he do?  Put the paper back and pretend he’d never seen it?  But surely Lord Grace had not forgotten?  If he was in deep trouble now how could it help to add further years of indifference?  But how could he turn up at the manor house after all this time?  He sat for an hour or more unable to do anything.

And then William remembered the promises.  He didn’t deserve them, but he had heard that Lord Grace was both severe and generous.  Even after all this time was there a chance that he would still honour his promise and welcome William as his own son?  Might he forgive?  The thought burned within him as he rolled up the paper, tucked it into his waistcoat pocket and grasped the door latch.

Graham Burrows