Friday, 1 December 2017

Yule Reimagined

December 2017

It is said that Christians took over the old Yuletide festival and made it into Christmas.  Very likely they did, but can we agree that Christmas is better?

When you got to the shortest day of the year then it was worth celebrating that the days would now get longer and the warm summer sun would begin to return.  But when the one who created the sun and light itself - when The Light of the World comes into the world then it is really time to light candles and to string sparkling lights around our houses and streets.

When the stores of winter food began to shrink then it was worth having one good feast to mark the passing of mid-winter and the hope that planting and harvesting would not be too far away.  But when the one who can give the food that sustains people not just through one year but for eternity – when the Bread of Life comes into the world then it is really time to open a bottle or two, to spread a table with the best food that we can afford and to eat with joy.

When the dark days of winter were at their most oppressive then it seemed worthwhile to sacrifice animals as gifts to the gods who might control the seasons and the fertility of the earth.  But when the one who does not demand sacrifice but instead freely offers himself as a sacrifice to buy for us freedom from guilt – when the Gift of God comes into the world then it is really time to fill our houses with the sound of ripping wrapping paper and the cries of thanks for gifts given in love.

Do we think that it was wrong to take a winter festival and fill it with Christ?  Jesus Christ glorifies and transforms everything he touches; the world in the depths of its barren winter death sparkles with light and life as His birth is celebrated.

Happy Christ-mas!

Graham Burrows

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Facing Reality

November 2017
“There is … a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build …”
So begins the well-known poem of ‘The Teacher’ in the Bible book of Ecclesiastes.  His words echo our experience of life – it’s certainly not all good but it’s not all bad either and if there were good times in the past then maybe there will be good times again in the future.  It’s all part of the rhythm of life and that’s OK.

But when you read the rest of his book you realise that that cannot be what 'The Teacher' meant.  He was deeply puzzled by the apparent pointlessness of life – it’s all a vapour, a fleeting mist, an enigma.  The ‘rhythm of life’ is not a comfort but something disturbing.  For each good thing that is done there is also an undoing, peace is replaced by war, beautiful buildings are torn down, strong relationships fall apart and life is overtaken by death.  ‘The Teacher’ longed for a better world where good things don’t come to an end.

And so he taught his hearers to hope for a day when the world would be different.  He prepared them to hear about a man whose life was not a fleeting mist because death would be unable to crush him; a man whose words would never be forgotten, whose accomplishments would never dim, whose just and righteous government cannot fail. 

Ecclesiastes is a book for our day.  We hope that all our busyness and fretting is accomplishing something important and yet we are troubled by reality.  What is the point of spending your life working hard if everything you achieve is temporary?  Exactly, says Jesus, “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.  What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?”  (Luke 9:24-25)


Graham Burrows

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Forever Love

October 2017

“We don’t have to live very long in this world before it becomes painfully clear that nothing lasts forever. The car we were so proud of when we bought it is spending too much time in the garage getting fixed. Those clothes we picked up on sale are now in the hand-me-down box. At home, the roof eventually leaks, the appliances break down, the carpet needs to be replaced. And relationships that we think will endure often fall apart.

Nothing lasts forever – nothing but God’s love, that is. Twenty-six times we are reminded of this inspiring truth in Psalm 136. Twenty-six times the writer gives us something for which to praise the Lord, and then he reminds us, “his love endures for ever”.

Think of what this means. When we sin and need forgiveness, His love endures forever. When our lives seem a jumbled mess that we can’t control, His love endures forever. When we can’t find anyone to turn to for help, God’s love endures forever. When each day is a struggle because of illness, despair or conflict, His love endures forever. Whenever life seems overwhelming, we can still praise the Lord, as the psalmist did – for God’s love is always new and fresh.

No problem can outlast God’s forever love!”

The above is one page from a helpful booklet called Our Daily Bread which is posted out quarterly across the UK (and beyond) from an office in Sandside.   The generosity of donors and local volunteers means that no payment is required – you simply need to tell them that you’d like to receive the booklets.  Contact Our Daily Bread by phone, letter or on-line (015395 64149  Our Daily Bread Ministries, PO Box 1, Carnforth, LA5 9ES  If you prefer you can receive Our Daily Bread pages by e-mail or to your phone.

And if you are longing for hope and strength in times of trouble and you would like a visit from someone on behalf of the local church then we have small teams in the villages who can be contacted - the details are in the village newsletters.


Graham Burrows

Saturday, 2 September 2017

The human animal?

September 2017

Has a cat ever wondered what life must be like for Smudge who lives next door?

Do blackbirds decide that next year they will build an improved kind of nest, better than any built before?

Do dogs leave old Rover’s food in his bowl for when he wakes up because it would be wrong for them to eat it?

Has a nightingale ever decided it would like to have a go at writing some new songs?

Does a fox feel that there must surely be some reason why he is alive?

Would goats be upset if they heard that drought in Africa is killing their cousins?

Did Mr and Mrs Beaver have a desire to gather their relations as witnesses while they promised undying love to each other?

When sharks kill half of the shoal, do the remaining herring think, “It should have been me”?

Can a penguin be cross with herself?

Does a cow wonder what her children will remember about her when she is gone?

Do monkeys spend much time on food presentation and beautiful table decorations?

Do owls look up at the stars and think about how big the universe is and how small owls are?

Has a dolphin ever wondered, “what if I’d lived my life differently?”

When did a rabbit last catch himself thinking about who made him, and why?

So why do we do these things?


Graham Burrows

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

The Lion King

August 2017

A few days ago I was sitting in the hall at Burton Morewood School watching the school’s superb performance of The Lion King Junior.  Well done and thank you!

I don’t know how long people have been thinking of lions as kings but it was already a familiar idea a few thousand years ago when Jacob and his twelve sons were around.  Before he died he spoke to his son Judah telling him that he was like a fierce lion and prophesying about a future great king from his tribe: “the sceptre will not depart from Judah … until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his”.  The rest of the Old Testament is a long wait for this Lion King to arrive.

Finally there comes a day when dazzling messengers announce, “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”  ‘Christ’ means ‘King’; Jesus is a royal descendant from the tribe of Judah (like his ancestor King David), he is the "Lion of the tribe of Judah", he is the true Lion King, the top of the food chain, the king of the jungle.

As a travelling preacher and condemned ‘criminal’ Jesus didn’t look like a king and yet within 400 years of his death Christianity was the official religion of the Roman Empire.  The Barbarians conquered Rome but Christ conquered the Barbarians.  And throughout history every attempt to wipe out faith in Christ has, in the end, only increased his rule.  Hymns and Carols proclaim that the ‘obedience of the nations’ will be his.

The true Lion King will judge all people but he came first in peace to offer reconciliation.  This Lion King is powerful and terrifying but he is also good and compassionate.  He is humble and self-sacrificial, wanting your love and devotion even more than your fear.  “Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”


Graham Burrows

Quotes from   Genesis 49:9-10   Luke 2:11   Revelation 5:5   Luke 2:10

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Question Time

July 2017

Imagine being a politician and trying to hold in your head all the figures and arguments so that you are ready to answer any question that might be thrown at you.  Not many of us could do that well.

But there is one question that Christians are told they must always be ready to answer.  Peter tells us to get ready for this one: “Why do you have hope?”  (1 Peter 3:15-16) 

In English ‘hope’ often means a vague longing that things will work out OK in the end.  But Peter’s word ‘hope’ in the original Greek is more focussed.  It means something that is absolutely certain but just hasn’t happened yet, like the ‘sure and certain hope’ that is spoken about in a Christian funeral service.

Peter knew that when life in the 1st Century hit hard, people would be puzzled to see that the Christians still had hope.  Struck down by serious illness, crushed by the cruelty of someone they trusted, hounded out of the synagogues by Jewish leaders or hounded to death by Roman rulers, Peter wanted them to be ready to explain why they still had a sure and certain hope.

And Christians ought to expect that people will ask the same question today.  The more we are struck down by serious illness, crushed by the cruelty of someone we had trusted, grieved by violence and suffering in every corner of our world, saddened by chaotic politics, or hounded to abandon our Christian beliefs, the more we should expect people to wonder why we still have hope and to ask us why. 

Peter tells us his answer: In this world we can never put the people and things that we love beyond the reach of death or decay but God has trounced death in Jesus who now holds all the levers of power in earth and heaven.  Nothing can stop Jesus bringing in a new order where his triumph is shared with all those whose only hope is in him.  We have “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade”.  (1 Peter 1:3-4)

Perhaps you’ve been puzzled by an apparently indestructible hope in someone you know – go ahead and ask them, “Why?”  See if they’re ready with their answer!


Graham Burrows

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Chicks under her wings

June 2017

Walking through a field of sheep with our dog at this time of year sets off a racket of baa-ing.  Very quickly lambs are re-called from their wandering to the safety of their mother’s side.  This desire to protect offspring is seen across the animal world and we feel it too.

When some terrible disaster strikes, parents instinctively search for their children.  Families nearby will draw together, parents with arms around their little ones.  When children go missing, or when they begin to treat their parents as ‘the enemy’, the natural deeply-felt longing is to be able to hug them once again.

God thinks like that too.  He speaks of ‘finding’ his child Israel in the desert: “He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions.”1

And Jesus was just like that too.  When he thought about how the people of Jerusalem had distanced themselves from his Father he wept for them.2   "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!”3

When we start putting distance between ourselves and our Creator, then the most helpful thing we can do is to remember our heavenly Father’s grief over his missing children and his longing to gather us up into his arms again.

And if you’ve never felt that God was a Father to you then take a look at the astonishing Bible account of Ruth.  She was from the people of Moab who were no friends of God’s people.  Tragically widowed as a young woman she decides to count the people of her Israelite mother-in-law as her own.  Boaz, who eventually marries her, declares: “May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge." 4

It was a homecoming to a home and a Father that she never knew she had!


Graham Burrows

1 Deuteronomy 32:10-11  2 Luke 19:41  3 Luke 13:34  4 Ruth 2:12

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Turning the world upside down

May 2017

How dead was Jesus on Good Friday?

Dead enough that the watching crowd (who had seen the mysterious darkness, heard Jesus cry ‘It is finished’ and felt the earth quake) beat their breasts and walked away.

Dead enough that the soldier who pierced Jesus’ side with a spear decided that there was no need to break his legs to hasten his death.

Dead enough that the centurion on duty (no doubt an expert in killing people) assured Pilate that Jesus had indeed died.

Dead enough that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus would take Jesus’ body down from the cross wrap the body in linen, lay it in a rock tomb and roll a very large stone across the door.

Dead enough that Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses (who both watched the burial) would return on Sunday with spices and perfumes expecting to anoint Jesus’ dead body.

Dead enough that Jesus’ disciples retreated behind locked doors for fear that they too would be killed.

How alive was Jesus on Easter Sunday?

Alive enough that he could speak to his followers, walk with them, eat food with them and show them the wounds left by the nails and the spear.

Alive enough to appear to hundreds of people over a forty day period and leave them convinced that they were not seeing a ghost.

Alive enough to transform the disciples from scared and defeated people hiding behind locked doors into bold witnesses publicly declaring the resurrection of Jesus in the very city where he was arrested and killed.

Alive enough that, later on, many witnesses were themselves put to death rather than deny that they had seen the risen Jesus.

Alive enough to account for the explosive growth of the church that broke out of Israel, came to dominate the Roman Empire and continues (in obedience to Jesus’ command) to ‘make disciples of all nations’.

Did people in those days not know that truly dead men don’t rise?  Of course they did.  That’s why their whole world was turned upside down; that’s why Peter says that those who believe in Jesus “are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8).  What has happened is almost too good to be true.


Graham Burrows

Saturday, 1 April 2017

The dragon-slayer

April 2017

The George Cross, the second highest award in the British honours system, is presented for "acts of the greatest heroism and bravery in circumstances of extreme danger".  It is named after its creator, King George VI but another George, St George, is pictured on the solid silver medal.  He is riding a horse and, with his lance, attacking the dragon that, according to legend, was about to feast itself on a local princess.  We might ask why the princess had been abandoned to such a beast but the willingness of the warrior George to risk his life to save her is celebrated around the world.

The George Cross is cast in a shape known everywhere as the symbol of another act of self-sacrificial bravery – a cross.  St George rides a horse and carries a spear.  Jesus’ biographers say that he entered Jerusalem riding a donkey and knowing that he himself would be pierced and speared, not in defeat but to win a far greater victory, not the rescue of a princess and her village, but the rescue of many princesses, villagers and countless others around the world who learn to trust him.  On the cross Jesus crushed a fiery dragon far more terrible than any in the storybooks (see Revelation 12:9).

In 1929 WW1 hero Brigadier William Dobbie was stationed in Palestine and given an office overlooking the hill where Jesus was said to have been crucified.  When copies of the New Testament were delivered for distribution to his troops he had this note inserted into each book: “You are stationed at the place where the central event in human history occurred – namely the crucifixion of the Son of God. You may see the place where this happened and you may read the details in this book. As you do this, you cannot help being interested, but your interest will change into something far deeper when you realise the events concern you personally. It was for your sake the Son of God died on the cross here. The realisation of this fact cannot but produce a radical change in one's life – and the study of this book will, under God's guidance, help you to such a realisation.”

Happy Easter, and Happy St George’s Day too,

Graham Burrows

Saturday, 4 March 2017

The wrong side of history

March 2017

On 15th February the General Synod of the Church of England voted not to ‘take note’ of the Bishop’s report on ‘Marriage and Same-Sex Relationships’.   Some opposed it because the report re-affirmed that marriage can only be between a man and a woman, others wanted it thrown out because it gave room for ministers to flout the church’s teaching.

And some people, I am sure, on hearing the news, shook their heads and wondered why the church was even discussing this.  In 2017, who still cares if a man wants to act like a woman or a woman like a man?  Can’t they be what they want to be?  As David Cameron once said (on another issue) the church should “get with the programme”.

Here are three reasons why Christians cannot fall into line with the direction our so-called liberal culture is travelling:

1.  The commonly-accepted wisdom is that the Bible must be measured against today’s standards.  Christians cannot agree with this; the Bible had human authors but by God’s design they wrote living words from God himself for all people in all ages.  The Bible is not out of date; rather it is human ideas that come and go like driftwood while God’s Word remains as unmoveable rock.

2.  ‘The programme’ (as David Cameron put it) is by no means certain to continue.  The political upsets in Britain and America in 2016, which may be repeated in other western countries, remind us that what seems orthodoxy one day can be overturned the next.  It is not ‘the wrong side of history’ to resist today’s fleeting obsessions.  Take the long view.

3.  God speaks not to destroy our freedom but to keep us from miserable slavery to confusion.  When we reject his words we suffer.  Even worse, our children suffer.  Jesus had stern words for those who cause ‘little ones’ to stumble.  To take away from our children their certainty about being created by God as male or female is cruel mistreatment.

Jesus called a spade a spade, but those whose lives were in sexual turmoil sought him out for help and were warmly received.  If that describes your life too, then I would be very willing to talk to you.


Graham Burrows

Monday, 30 January 2017

The god in the healthcare temple

February 2017

 “Major alerts at hospitals”

“A & E corridor bed chaos”

 “General Practice close to the precipice”

We can only admire those who work in the health service under such pressures.

In past centuries the responsibility for caring for people was shouldered by the individual, by their family and by the church.  But at some point we collectively entrusted ourselves to the state which promised that it would, with tax money taken from us, provide all the healthcare we needed whenever we needed it and without further charge.  Political parties of all kinds have repeated that promise down the years and have come under severe criticism for not meeting our expectations.

In Bible terms this is the equivalent of worshipping an idol – you believe that something will satisfy your needs, you allow it to make increasingly costly demands on you and you go on doing this even when it is clear that the idol cannot deliver what it promised.  We have our mini-idols of homes, or jobs, or relationships.  But one of the biggest idols of our day is the state - the god that we enthrone in the temple of ‘healthcare’ and which we have also installed in many of our other temples. 

For now most will, I think, keep looking to the government to keep them healthy; politicians of all shades have found that questioning the wisdom of the state’s healthcare promise makes them unelectable.   But perhaps you agree that a day will come when we have to accept a more modest healthcare commitment from our government?

In the meantime let’s be thankful for those who do their best to serve us well within a stretched system.  We ought to be very grateful every time we have a good experience of our national health service, and when we don’t we need to be patient patients.

And let’s recommit what is left of our church congregations, our families, and our sense of personal responsibility to the task of caring for the well-being and health of one another.  The state has not yet made us redundant; actually it never will.


Graham Burrows