Wednesday, 30 November 2016


December 2016

Some people are missing.  The shepherds are all in place with their tea-towel head-dresses and their soft-toy sheep, three kings with gold card crowns are waiting off-stage for their cue, the innkeepers are ready with their unwelcoming replies, and Joseph and Mary and the pantomime donkey are approaching.  But shouldn’t Herod’s soldiers be here somewhere, brandishing swords with which to carry out the terrible massacre of the young boys in Bethlehem? 

We understand why they are usually left out of the story in children’s nativity plays.  (Perhaps we need some adult versions too!)  But there are good reasons not to forget that the soldiers are very definitely part of the story in Matthew’s Gospel.

Firstly, they reconnect the sugary child’s version with the world that we really live in and that Jesus was really born into.  Tragically, children are all too often the victims of the self-centred actions of adults – whether caught in the crossfire of warring militias, caught in the crossfire of warring parents, or discarded before they are even born.

Secondly, the soldiers remind us that the violence of our world was directed against Jesus Christ himself.  From Herod’s attempt to kill him at birth, to the Jewish leaders’ later death plots and the Roman authorities’ collusion with their wishes, Jesus Christ was in the firing line.

In fact, Jesus came into our world knowing full well that this would happen, that the whole world would oppose him and crush him and that he would absorb in his own body all the guilt and the horrifying  consequences of our hostility towards him and his Father .

Amazingly, Jesus, knowing how we would treat him, still came. 

Wonderfully, the Father did not consult us (there was no referendum or presidential election) when he decided that Jesus should then prevail over his opponents and be installed as the permanent ruler of the whole world:

“Unto us a boy is born!
King of all creation,
came he to a world forlorn,
the Lord of every nation,
the Lord of every nation.”

You will be warmly welcome at any of our services, at Christmas or at any other time.

Happy Christmas!

Graham Burrows

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Who is serving who?

November 2016

‘Our customers always come first’, ‘Serving you 24 hours a day’, ‘Our mission is to serve’.  Businesses like to tell us that they exist to serve our needs and not theirs, although we suspect that’s not the whole story.  And sadly it can be the customers who do all the giving and serving but have very little to show for it.

Churches also have ‘Services’ – but who, exactly, is being served?  Perhaps a ‘Sunday Service’ serves God?  The congregation gives to God praise, or time, or money.  We do our bit to boost the singing or to make the coffee afterwards.  Or perhaps it is the vicar who is being served – poor guy, he needs some people to make his work seem worthwhile!

But actually it is the other way round; the main player is not us, but God.  ‘Divine Service’ (as a church service is sometimes called) is not ‘service rendered to God’ but ‘God’s service to people’. Whatever small part our serving plays, it is dwarfed by the giving and serving of the great giver, whose Son told people that he had “come not to be served but to serve.”

In a Church Service, the Lord God invites us to meet with him and to reconnect with him.  He bandages our wounds, forgives our rebellion, puts us back on our feet, tells us the (painful) truth plainly, renews our hope, gives us a song to sing, builds us up, restores us to our right mind and sends us out at the end knowing what our lives are for. 

But what if you say, “I don’t need God to serve me!”?  Peter felt the same when he saw that Jesus had wrapped a towel round himself and was about to get down on the floor and wash Peter’s smelly, dusty feet.  "No," said Peter, "you shall never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me."


Graham Burrows

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Going round in circles?

October 2016

Because most of us have cupboards full of food and easy all-year-round access to shops, we don’t have the same sense of relief and gratitude to God that our forefathers felt when the harvest was safely gathered in with enough to last until next year.  

Our annual harvest thanksgiving services teach us not to take daily bread for granted; we are to keep thanking God for all that he generously gives us.  Produce is brought to decorate the church (as a visual reminder of God’s good provision) and to be given away afterwards so that we can share with others from the abundance that God has given us.

But as well as reminding us to be thankful, harvest also asks ‘what’s the point of it all?’  

One ancient book traditionally read by the Jews at harvest time raises this question:

“What does man gain from all his labour at which he toils under the sun?  Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains for ever.  The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises.  The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course.  All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again.”*

After a year’s hard labour the barns are once more full; and now it’s time to start all over again for next year.  But why are we working so hard just to stand still?  Are we going round in circles?  The writer wants to burst our bubble and prick our pride.  In a thousand years from now why will it matter how you have lived or what work you did?  You instinctively feel it must matter but how do you explain that?

You assume your life has meaning and that your work is important.  But when you look at cupboards full of food, savings accounts full of money, the mown lawn and the clean car, the children growing up to step into your shoes, what is it all for?

Could you explain what it all means?  Really?


Graham Burrows

* Ecclesiastes chapter 1 

Monday, 5 September 2016

Groaning in tents

September 2016

I love camping (as you read this we should be on our way home from Cornwall) but I always say that the best bit of camping is the first night back in your own bed.  I love living outdoors, cooking and eating in a field, lying at night in the tent as the wind rustles the trees – as long as it is all temporary and I can come home again.
Perhaps that is why ‘normal’ life can be so stressful and disappointing – it has too much of a temporary feel about it.  Our bodies wear out and break like a flimsy tent.  We have no more protection from felled dreams or relationship crises than a tent gives from the sun’s heat or the night-time cold.  And the sheer hard work of trying to keep up with everything on our ‘to do’ list can seem as difficult as endlessly trudging up the field just to wash up or use the shower.  When will life stop feeling like an eternal camping trip with no way home?! 

One New Testament writer (Paul) made tents for a living – but he had no desire to live in one forever:  “Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.  Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling.”

If you have no such certainty about life beyond your current tent then please don’t rest until you have settled the matter.  Paul knew that the prospect of living in such a house was not to be assumed; some years earlier he had reached a decisive turning point when he stopped pouring all his energy into this-world camping and began to live wholeheartedly with a longer-term purpose.  “I consider everything a loss”, he wrote, “compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord … I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him”  

Camping without the prospect of a solid home at the end is not good.  Far better to be “looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”


Graham Burrows 

Bible verses (NIV): 2 Corinthians 5:1-2   Philippians 3:8-9   Hebrews 11:10

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Trust me!

July 2016

“We know that you have been badly served by those who came before us.  They made promises that they didn’t keep, but my party will be radically different.  Trust me.  You’ve had enough of dishonest, self-serving and weak leaders – wait until you see what I will do for you!” (Hopeful politician)

“All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers … The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (Jesus of Nazareth, John 10:8-10)

Experience tells us to beware big claims.  Yet paradoxically many people do trust that the parcel will arrive on time, do believe that the holiday destination will be as pictured, do even think that the government has the power to make our country great again, whilst finding Jesus’ claims about giving full life unbelievable.

Why is this?  Why would we be willing to entrust ourselves to the promises of fallible human beings but assume that Jesus’ words are a fiction and not worth a second glance?

Did Jesus tell lies?  His friend Peter reported that “no deceit was found in his mouth” and close friends usually know the worst.

Did he have a hidden self-centred agenda?  If he’d wanted to serve himself he would not have walked into Jerusalem to deliberately give up his life as the ransom price that would secure for us the abundant life he had promised.

Did Jesus mean well but lack the power to really change anything?  But that was what amazed people wherever he went; the crowds were terrified when they saw his power and asked each other, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!"

So, when Jesus said that he was not like the false liberators that had gone before him, maybe, just maybe he was speaking the truth.  Do you know anyone who would be a better candidate for your trust?


Graham Burrows

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

The Orb and the Cross

June 2016

During the Coronation on 2nd June 1953, and before Her Majesty was presented with anything else, she was given a Bible with these words, “We present you with this Book, the most valuable thing that this world affords.”  Knowing that the other items that were then presented form part of the Crown Jewels and are kept behind two-inch-thick bullet-proof glass, that was quite a statement.

For the Sunday before the Coronation, churches throughout England had been issued, at the Queen’s command, with prayers to use including this: “O God, who hast set forth in thy Holy Scriptures the only Rule by which Christians may live and Princes reign: Grant that our Queen Elizabeth, being devoutly mindful of thy Law and Gospel, may ever find therein revealed true wisdom, the royal Law, and the lively Oracles of God.”

Later this month we will vote to either remain in the EU or to leave but whether you look to Brussels or Westminster you won’t find many political leaders today who believe that true wisdom for ruling is found in the Bible.  Our rulers have cut themselves loose from that historical mooring and are adrift on the sea of secular humanism.  If you are concerned about that then remember that the Bible does not encourage cynicism but tells us instead to pray “for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” (1 Timothy 2:2)   Alternatively, if you are expecting that this country will be saved by our politicians, either by the guardians of a European state or by the pioneers of a newly-independent Britain, then I believe you are going to be disappointed.  Neither set of leaders wants to recognise where true power lies, nor do they know where to look for deliverance.

Our Queen knows, for in Westminster Abbey in 1953 she was handed a beautiful gold sphere six inches in diameter with a jewelled cross mounted on the top.   The Archbishop presented it with these words, “Receive this Orb set under the Cross, and remember that the whole world is subject to the Power and Empire of Christ our Redeemer.”

The Queen does remember; her words and actions make that clear.  Will you pray with me that our political leaders, wherever they are based, will remember too?


Graham Burrows

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Plot Twist

May 2016

Do you enjoy a story with a plot twist, a tale where the solidly reliable character suddenly (and shockingly) turns out to be working for the enemy, or so it seems, until eventually you discover that they've been set up by the other solid reliable character?  It can be deeply unsettling to enter into a world like this where nothing is certain and no-one can be trusted but such a story will probably keep our interest right to the last chapter or scene.

Jesus also tells stories with plot twists.  There is a man who knows how to run a profitable business and who has future-proofed his enterprise by covering every angle, or has he?  In another of his stories there is the young waster who is on his way to well-deserved ruin while his diligent brother is on course for taking over the family farm.  What could possibly go wrong? 

But Jesus does not tell this kind of story just to give the thrill of riding a scary roller-coaster through a contorted plot.  He wants people to be shocked now by the way his stories end so that they won’t end up being shocked later by the way that their own life-story ends.  And for those who are full of despair as they look at the trajectory of their own life-story Jesus wants them to see that they are not beyond the reach of the most surprising ending ever.

I’d like to invite you to come and join with a few others for an informal any-question-goes look at some of Jesus’ plot twisters.  ‘Tales of the Unexpected’ will meet on four Wednesday evenings (4th and 18th May, 1st and 15th June) at the Vicarage in Burton.  There is no charge.  You don’t need to bring anything.  I will not make any assumptions about what you know or believe.  There will be time to ask questions if you want to.  And if you've already missed the first evening you can join us for the second.

You may think you’re an unlikely candidate for such a group but why not introduce into your life a plot twist of your own?  If you’re interested please get in touch with me.


Graham Burrows

Friday, 1 April 2016

The Servant Queen

April 2016

How many people do you know who are 89 years old, work 40 hours a week, and have been doing the same job for 62 years?  My guess is you only know of one – Her Majesty the Queen.

Some rulers are cruel, self-serving and wicked – we have had some like that in our own country’s history and there are plenty around the world today – but our queen has been steadfastly hard-working, humble, self-controlled and good.  Why is she like this?

Six months before her Coronation she made this request of her people: “Pray that God may give me wisdom and strength to carry out the solemn promises I shall be making and that I may faithfully serve Him and you, all the days of my life.”  She knows that she herself serves a greater King, Jesus Christ.

The Queen serves us because Jesus served her, as every Easter reminds us, by laying down His life as a sacrifice for sin.  The royal crown is topped by a cross for good reason.  In her 2011 Christmas Day broadcast the Queen said, “Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves – from our recklessness and greed.  God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general (important though they are) – but a Saviour, with the power to forgive.”

Mark Greene and Catherine Butler have written a superb illustrated book to mark the Queen’s 90th birthday.  It is titled ‘The Servant Queen and the King she serves’ and demonstrates, often in her own words, who has been at the heart of the Queen’s selfless reign.  Her Majesty’s own foreword to the book includes this, “In 1952 I asked the people … to pray for me as I prepared to dedicate myself to their service at my Coronation.   I have been – and remain – very grateful to you for your prayers and to God for His steadfast love.  I have indeed seen His faithfulness.” 

We plan to obtain some copies of the book to give to those who would like them.  If you would be interested please speak to a member of the congregation.

Happy Easter!

Graham Burrows

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Broccoli and fine wine

March 2016

It’s well known that Jesus welcomed children and was angry with his disciples for trying to keep them away: “Allow them (‘Suffer them’) to come to me!”  Jesus strongly warned us not to lead any child away from trust in him (Mark 9:42).

And so every church of Jesus Christ must welcome children too.  At half-term we ran a Holiday Club so that children could know Jesus better.  Kidz Club, Boys Brigade and Quest Club exist for the same reason and if we’re not providing enough groups we’ll do our best to start others.

But although we can help, the responsibility is yours as parents to bring your children to Jesus, teaching them about him and showing them how to trust him.  I hope we will soon be offering some family activities that will give ideas for building this into every-day family life.

Last month I wrote about a typical Sunday morning service in our church but maybe you wondered how children could take part in such a gathering?  The simple answer is that generations of children have done this for millennia!  It’s only in the last 50 years that we’ve lost our confidence in their capacity for this.  But I’m convinced that, from a very young age, children can ‘get’ prayer, can enjoy listening to someone reading the Bible out loud, can sit still enough in sermons to pick up a surprising amount of what is said, can become familiar with the rhythms (and, in time, meaning) of words that Christians have used for centuries, and can stand up on a pew and begin to sing the praises of the Lord Jesus with his people.

It won’t be easy: children are often not used to sitting and listening, and you may feel like an isolated pioneer, but we’ll do our best to welcome you and, when it’s not going well, to support you and not criticize you.  We don’t mind noise and wriggling around and, if you need a break, we do provide a room with activity materials where parents can take children (and still hear the service). 

How do children learn the value of the dentist, reading good books, family meals, climbing mountains, broccoli or fine wine?  It’s a slow process and there’s often much parental training, encouraging, insisting and leading by example.  A love for Jesus and his church usually develops the same way.

Happy Easter

Graham Burrows

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

A window into church

February 2016

What happens in the church here in the village?  Can I somehow give you a window into our Sunday gathering?

Church ministers are not asked to re-invent the wheel.  Over the centuries and across the world there has been a remarkable agreement about what needs to happen when Christians gather each Sunday.  If you've been used to going to church in the past then you will find our services familiar.  But if church is a new idea for you I don't think you would find it difficult to come along and see for yourself without feeling that you have to say or do things that you are not sure about.  Push through the slightly unfriendly old wooden doors and you will find someone ready to warmly welcome you, to offer you a service sheet and a hymnbook, and to answer any questions you may have.

During the next 65-75 minutes, those assembled will come clean with God, confessing what we're really like and hearing again God's offer of forgiveness, there will be readings from the Bible, a sermon will bring the meaning of the Bible passage to the surface and make clear the implications for our lives, we will pray for ourselves, for the village and for people elsewhere in the world, and often the service ends with the sharing of a symbolic meal – bread and wine – to take us back to the last meal that Jesus had  before he laid down his life for us.  And, of course, we sing.  We sing hymns that have stood the test of time and when we choose newly-written hymns we look for the same well-crafted Bible-soaked words and tunes that all ages can sing with gusto.  We try to avoid music that would be better suited to an experienced rock singer.  A variety of instruments is used to accompany our singing but we particularly like to use our wonderful old pipe organ; still one of the best instruments for helping a congregation to sing out.

And when the service is over some people leave but most stay for a while and enjoy a cup of tea or coffee and the chance to talk with old friends and new faces.

You will be very welcome.


Graham Burrows