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:

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

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Will they deliver what they promise?

August 2019

Many people would say that they don’t pray.  But you do!  You might not pray to God but ‘pray’ doesn’t necessarily mean asking God for something.  It sounds archaic now, but “I pray thee” was once a common way of saying ‘I beg you’ or ‘please’.  To pray was to make an earnest request of someone. 

You and I have things that we long for – health, contentment, success in life, the appreciation of other people, certainty about the future, and to be loved by someone who matters to us. 

And, unless we are giving up in the depths of despair, we all think that we know who or what is likely to give us these things – wife, husband, parent, child, the government, a house improvement, an exam pass or a new club joined.  These are some of the people or things we ‘pray’ to.  We might not speak any word of prayer to them but we have an expectation that they will provide, we pin our hopes on them, we devote ourselves to them and we will be disappointed if they let us down.  Or, if we think we are self-made, we will be angry at ourselves when we can’t answer our own prayers.

Who you pray to, or look to, reveals what you believe about ultimate reality.

When someone prays to God in the name of Jesus, they are denying that any of the things they long for come ultimately from the government or another person.  They are acknowledging that nothing in this world will be the answer they seek.  They are also denying that they can provide for themselves what they most long for.

To pray like this is to reveal your conviction that the Father of our Lord Jesus is the creator and source of every good thing and ultimately the only one who can answer the prayer, and provide what you long for at the deepest level.

The question to ask is not ‘Do you pray?’ but ‘Who or what are you praying to, and can they deliver what you are hoping for?’ 


Graham Burrows

Monday, 1 July 2019

All welcome?

July 2019

‘You are Welcome’ proclaims our church website. And indeed you are, but that won’t necessarily convince you. It’s easy to imagine that the church is some kind of club and that anyone who doesn’t know the lingo or have the right background or credentials is going to feel out of place.

First let me assure you. If you came to any service in the village church someone would greet you, make sure that you had somewhere to sit and answer any questions you had. Our services are straightforward and we expect that there will always be some present who are ‘just looking’. If you brought children with you they would be very welcome too: one of our Family Support Team is always available to help and to offer an activity for children during part of the service, and there is always a room available for parents with restless children to escape to if they wish. The church has even moved with the times sufficiently to have a toilet and soft paper!

“But,” some may ask, “would I really be welcome? I don’t believe the things you all believe. My marriage was a disaster. I’ve not bothered with church for years. I don’t like singing. I’m not very religious.”

How would Jesus have received you? He was well known as a friend to all kinds of people. Jesus associated freely with those who were shunned by others, but he also had meals with the rich and powerful. He was ready to welcome anyone, but he never left people in any doubt that they had to come on his terms. The well-off were told to stop depending on their wealth. Swindlers realised they had to pay back what they had taken. Adulterers had to change. Strong men stopped sounding off and began to listen to him. 

And Jesus still welcomes people into His church in exactly the same way. His welcome is genuinely and freely extended to all. You are not disqualified by anything you have thought or done because he can deal with all that, and with kindness. But Jesus still insists you must come on his terms. He demands the right to decide what you will or won’t do; he insists on interfering with your beliefs and opinions.


Graham Burrows

Saturday, 1 June 2019

Hospital Foundations

June 2019

Thank you very much to all those who sent me good wishes after my injury; I am pleased to be able to say that the pain has gone, my ribs have healed up and I am back to full strength.

Some have asked about the final thought of my March letter when I said that I thanked Jesus for hospitals.  “Trace the lines back from today’s desire and ability to heal people; so many of them go to the one who went around ‘healing every kind of disease and sickness’”.  I wrote ‘so many’ and not ‘all’ because of course there are other people and movements that have led to our healthcare system.  But think about these four foundations:

1.     Compassion.  Ask the historians and sociologists whether compassion is a universal human response to suffering and sickness or not.  The worldwide symbol of Christian faith does not commemorate Jesus’ teaching but rather his execution, as he willingly sacrificed his life to save the lives of others.  “By his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).  Is there a more powerful motivation for compassion?

2.     Science.  A scientific understanding of the world, combined with skill in changing it, flourished in those countries that accepted what the Bible teaches – that God is predictable, not capricious.  The workings of the world are therefore understandable, experiments are repeatable, and medicine is worthwhile because our lives are not ruled by chance or fate.

3.     A high view of human life.  Jesus affirmed the Old Testament that teaches that every human being, from those who are just conceived to those who are close to death, is a person made in God’s image and therefore precious to him.  No one is ‘too much trouble’.

4.     Good staff relationships.  In any organisation finding a way for people to get on with each other and work well together is nearly always the biggest challenge.  Who else can rival Jesus’ teaching and example on this?  The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors.  But you are not to be like that … I am among you as one who serves.” (Luke 22:25-27)

I wholeheartedly recommend this thought-provoking book by the Indian philosopher Vishal Mangalwadi: ‘The Book That Made Your World – How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization’.


Graham Burrows

Saturday, 11 May 2019

Rising to the top

May 2019

If you spent time with children this Easter did you discover if they know what happened on the first Good Friday and Easter Sunday?   Studies tell us that many children have no idea about this – although I know there are exceptions.  But what if you had asked them about the origins of that little-known day tucked away on a Thursday forty days after Easter – Ascension Day?

The Ascension of Christ was a popular theme in art, although paintings of Jesus floating in mid-air, or of his feet disappearing as if through a hole in the ceiling, don’t necessarily help much with the credibility of the accounts.  Luke simply says that Jesus left them and was taken up into heaven.  In his second book he says that Jesus was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

This was not levitation!  Jesus was leaving this created universe and returning to heaven.  So this is a claim about where Jesus is now – not just about what happened in the past.  And that’s why Ascension Day matters.

The Ascension is the end of the job.  Having sacrificed his own life on the cross Jesus presented his wounded body in heaven itself – as the eternal guarantee that he has already carried the can for everyone who puts their trust in him.

The Ascension is the coronation of Jesus.  “He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father” that is, in the place of true authority and power over this world.  This claim is a source of great comfort to those who have put their trust in Jesus’ rule, and a source of ridicule and discontent from those who oppose his rule.

The Ascension is the glorification of mankind.  The one at God’s right hand is a man like us, a pioneer who has overcome death and frailty and the limits of our space-time.  Jesus is no longer available only to a few people in Israel – he is forging a personal link with many.  And he promises that all who trust him will similarly cast off this mortal body and put on a new indestructible body.

Our joint Ascension Day service will be in Holy Trinity Holme on Thurs 30th May at 7.30pm.  You would of course be very welcome.


Graham Burrows

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

The Cruelest Crown

April 2019

Capernwray Hall lies a few miles to the south of us.  For most of the year, it is home to up to 180 young adults who come from many different countries of the world to study the Bible in order to better know the God who is their Creator and who, in Christ, gave his life for them.  At other times the Hall is a centre for Christian holidays.  Derek Burnside, Principal of the Bible School, has kindly allowed what follows to be taken from a recent letter of his.


Graham Burrows

In a sick, twisted way, it was a stroke of genius.  Bored troops, away from home, have the chance to have a little ‘fun’ before the prisoner in their charge is sent to his death.  And one of them has the great idea of crafting a crown of thorns, the ideal combination of pain and mockery to torture the one accused of claiming to be a king.  Some soldier's God-given creativity is twisted and abused to wound the creator himself.

It was the perfect symbol for that moment, one that that went far beyond those soldiers’ casual cruelty.  The righteous Son of God has thorns crushed onto his brow, thorns that exist only because of human rebellion (Genesis 3:18).  He wears our sin, carries our curse. But those very thorns are twisted into a crown, in anticipation of the King of kings’ coming victory over sin and death.  The problem and the solution to human sin are woven into one vicious, glorious piece of headwear just as sin shows its starkest self.

Victorious athletes and festival celebrants would have worn headgear of similar style, adding further layers to this divine imagery.  The King of grace willingly submits to his own creatures’ brutality, and then rises to reign victorious over sin and death, carrying us in his wake, rejoicing.

Behold the man upon a cross, my sin upon His shoulders;
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice call out among the scoffers.
It was my sin that held Him there until it was accomplished;
His dying breath has brought me life – I know that it is finished. 

Derek Burnside

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Coming down to earth

March 2019

A few days before writing this letter I fell off my garage roof.  I was going to put back a slipped tile but I badly misjudged things and came down to earth rather painfully.  I now have several broken ribs and some uncomfortable weeks ahead.  As you can imagine I’ve thought a lot about all that happened.  Here’s just a few of my thoughts:

I am foolish and make wrong choices.  And if that’s true for my plan to fix the tile it is true in a hundred other ways in my life.  Not all of my mistakes have such sudden painful consequences but the results may be deeper.

My foolishness hurts others.  It brings tears to my eyes now to remember how I lay on the stretcher listening to the paramedic leave a message on my wife’s voicemail, knowing how awful it would be for her to get that message.

How amazing our First Responders are.  I was on my own when I fell and could only make it as far as the phone.   It was such a relief when help arrived and if David was annoyed at me for having interrupted his decorating he certainly didn’t show it.  Thank you!

Suffering is real.  I spent 3 days in a hospital ward full of badly injured men.  The Bible tells me to expect such places in our world – our collective rebellion against our loving creator means that suffering is never far away – but to see it close up is desperately sad.  There were a few like me who were recovering well but others who will always have to live with their injuries.  For some their physical injuries were nothing compared to everything else they faced in their lives: fractured relationships or suicidal depression.

Thank Jesus for hospitals.  They are remarkable places staffed by people who are caring, competent and resilient.  Thank you!  I don’t mean that the staff would all say that they do what they do because of Jesus, but when you think about the cultures in our world’s history where compassionate medical care flourished, and think about who influenced those cultures, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion:  Trace the lines back from today’s desire and ability to heal people; so many of them go to the one who went around “healing every kind of disease and sickness”.


Graham Burrows

Saturday, 9 February 2019

The neglected room

February 2019

When did you last go exploring?  You may not spend much of your time at the South Pole but when you go on holiday I expect that, after you unpack, you feel the need to leave the campsite or the hotel and head out to explore the surroundings.  We’re also used to exploring new ideas or life-styles – that first-ever visit to a gym, or a sincere conversation with someone who votes differently from you or has a different diet.

But what about exploring Christian faith?  Surely no-one who has grown up in this country would feel the need to explore something that seems so familiar?  But is it familiar, or is Christian faith more like a neglected room in a very large house – it’s so long since the door was opened that hardly anyone can remember what’s in there.

Perhaps we have a vague idea of a few prominent features: some characters (Abraham, Moses, David and, of course, Jesus) and some half-remembered sayings, but no certainty about how it all fits together.  We know that earlier generations must have found it relevant because Christian faith became so woven into our nation’s life (it’s there in our buildings, in our books, in our festivals, our thinking and our values ) but we’re not sure why it was able to transform our nation.  We know that our politics are in chaos, our relationships and families are falling apart, and that huge numbers are struggling to find purpose and direction in their lives and yet we don’t expect that the old dusty room of Christian faith would be a likely place to discover the treasure that we seek.

So I’d like to invite you to Christianity Explored.  Seven Thursday evenings led by me here at the Vicarage in Burton plus one full day, with clear explanations of classic Christian beliefs and time to think, to ask and to question.  Interesting, surprising and perhaps life-changing.  Of course if you come I’d love to convince you that this is the best news you’ve ever heard, but there will be no arm-twisting.  There’s no charge.  We begin on 7th February and you just need to ring or text me if you are interested in joining us.


Graham Burrows