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.


Graham Burrows

Thursday, 1 October 2020

Wastelands in Bloom

October 2020

Imagine that a well-known garden expert decides to pay a visit to Holme and Burton.  Whose garden would he want to see?  Perhaps you can think of a few gardens that would top his list – filled with carefully-chosen plants, lovingly and expertly cared for.  Perhaps you would hope that he would choose to drop in on your garden.  But we’re assuming that this expert would be coming to enjoy the very best gardens and praise their hard-working creators.  We might instead be shocked to find that he preferred to visit my garden where grass and bushes are barely under control and weeding means getting out the strimmer.  What if the expert only wanted to see gardens like mine – the least well-kept gardens with the most weeds?  Perhaps we would then have to change our mind and conclude that he had not come to praise good gardeners but to help bad gardeners and to transform our wastelands into something much better. 

Saul made a similar mistake.  It’s clear from the Bible that he assumed that the long-awaited Messiah would come to praise the efforts of Pharisees like him whose well-manicured lives displayed the fruit of living according to the best rules and traditions.  This led Saul to conclude that Jesus was definitely not the one they were waiting for – he seemed to seek out those whose lives were obviously not going well, those who were struggling to keep the weeds down and who knew that there was nothing praiseworthy about their lives.  But Jesus had not come to hand out prizes – he rolled up his sleeves and got to work rescuing wastelands.  It took the famous encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road to convince Saul that he had been so wrong about Jesus and wrong to think that he did not need Jesus’ help.  His pride was gone; in its place a deep gratitude that Jesus had shown him such kindness. 

He wrote later, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst.  But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.”  (1 Timothy 1:15-16)

What might the Gardener do with your life?


Graham Burrows




Sunday, 30 August 2020

All at sea


September 2020

A small dinghy needs a painter, not someone with a paintbrush to keep the boat looking great but a length of rope for tying it to a larger boat or to moor it.  You can’t just park your boat on the water and hope it will be there when you next come back!  Even ships need ropes to attach them to something immovable like the dockside.  But ‘dry land’ is only relatively immovable.  Mooring posts can fail, banks can give way.  Some people who experience an earthquake say how deeply unsettling it is to discover that solid ground is not as solid as they had thought – if even the ground can move what is there left to moor our lives to?!

Last month, tragically, many in Beirut discovered the fragility of their world as the terrifying explosion in their port destroyed homes and businesses and flung lethal shards of glass at them.  This year many have been shocked to see a new virus taking lives all over the world while our collective reaction has destroyed livelihoods, businesses and dreams in a moment, with the sad expectation that the peak of the wave of economic misery is yet to come.

And in smaller, but no less painful, ways many find that the rocks in our life – like relationships, health, and jobs – can be surprisingly wobbly.  That is why the Bible has always urged us to build on a more secure foundation, to tie our boat to a more solid post, to anchor our lives on the Rock that never moves. 

“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.  Trust in the Lord for ever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal.”  (Isaiah 26:3-4)  Jesus’ life was engulfed by the flood of hatred and jealousy that took him to a painful and humiliating death for us but God raised him to new life and installed him as the Commander of the Universe.  Our trust in the Lord Jesus is like an unbreakable rope anchoring us forever to the fixed centre of the universe, firm and secure through any storm that might batter us, in life or death.

What’s your painter tied to?


Graham Burrows

Thursday, 6 August 2020

Smuggled Goods

August 2020

What would you do if your business was declared illegal but you were convinced that it was good and necessary?

That was the dilemma that faced William Tyndale 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 in 1524 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 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, where is 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, 26 June 2020

Open again

July 2020

The church is a lifeboat, not a cruise ship.  It’s not a place to indulge ourselves as we float in luxury to our destination.  The church is a ship’s lifeboat – perhaps uncomfortable, but better than drowning – and those of us who have been hauled into the boat should not be idle but looking for others to pluck from the sea.  We should be working very hard to be welcoming to anyone at all who might be looking for rescue.  “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” is the description of the constant flow through the open-door of the first New Testament church (Acts 2:47).

It has therefore been frustrating that our church doors have been closed for the past few months even though individual church members have been doing all they can to look out for and to support others.  I’m pleased to say that restrictions are lifting and we are re-opening our buildings.

I wrote this on 20th June and the situation may now have changed so do please look for updates on our website www.burtonandholmechurches.org

The church building is now open for Private Prayer each Wednesday, 11am-12noon.  Anyone who would like to make use of the quiet space for thinking or prayer is more than welcome to come in, whether for the full hour or just for a few minutes.

Funerals in church are now allowed (though still with restrictions on numbers etc).  A Christian funeral service in church followed by burial in the churchyard or elsewhere can be requested for anyone with a connection to the village.  I also take Christian funeral services at Beetham Hall Crematorium, Dalton Woodland Burial Ground and other places.  Please feel free to contact me directly to talk about funerals, or you can tell a funeral director that you would like my involvement and they will check with me before dates are fixed.

Sunday Services in church may be allowed to begin again sometime in July.  If you have discovered our online services in recent weeks then you will be very welcome to come and take part in the real thing.  We will still be subject to various restrictions but over time we hope that these will diminish.

And for those who will not be ready to join us yet we also expect to continue some form of Online Sunday Service that will be open to anyone who would like to ‘tune in’ via our website.

Finally, LegoBuilders Online continues with new videos arriving every Monday on our website www.burtonandholmechurches.org under 'Children and Families'.

‘Lockdown’ has been very hard for some but what follows could be even harder as ongoing restrictions and closed businesses continue to impact many and to put some people and families under huge pressure.  If I, or someone from one of our congregations, might be able to help please do get in touch.  It would be very good to talk to you and to pray for you.


Graham Burrows

Tuesday, 2 June 2020

Jesus' other name

June 2020

I gather that some people have been using ‘Lockdown’ to research their family histories.  Do you know what your surname might 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 a figure called ‘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”.

Has it been a while since you read one of the Gospels and asked yourself, “Who is this?  How do I account for this man?”  While ‘Lockdown’ continues perhaps you still have time to engage with one of these short biographies that claim to be eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ life.  You may well have a Bible at home but I’ve also got a pile of Gospels here and you’d be welcome to have one without charge.  Just let me know your address and I’ll send one to you.


Graham Burrows 

Friday, 1 May 2020

Unfading Glory

May 2020

Right now news is going out of date more quickly than milk.  If you are looking for up-to-date information about our village church then it is best to go to our churches’ website:  www.burtonandholmechurches.org

As I write, the churchyard remains open but the church building, in accordance with Church of England instructions, is closed.  Our Sunday service has moved online and you are very welcome to join us there.  You will find the video of the service on the welcome page of our website each week and (for those who would like to be able to join in with the hymns, songs and prayers) there is a service sheet which you can download from our website and print out.

Some of our church members are vulnerable and so they are staying isolated but making great use of the phone as a tool for encouraging other people.  Others of us are able to be out and about if needed so if you think that I, or another church member, might be able to help you, in any way, please do phone or email me.

In February we held our first Lego Builders event and filled Burton Memorial Hall with lots of Lego-loving families, 1000s of Lego bricks and a great brick-building buzz.  Andy Werner from Trinity Church Lancaster brought all his Lego expertise and one of his brilliant home-made stop-motion Lego videos to introduce us to Mark’s Gospel.  We can’t hold another event while we are confined to our homes so Lego Builders has gone online.  The latest video, with some great ideas for activities at home, is on our website here: www.burtonandholmechurches.org/children-and-young

Someone said the other day that an appropriate symbol for human life would be flowers – they are springing up all around us right now with vibrant colours and amazing designs and yet they will quickly fade.  Our timescale is longer but our lives are frail too. 
“As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field;
the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.” 
Psalm 103:15-16
We try to convince ourselves that this is ‘natural’ but we can’t make our peace with it, nor should we.  Easter is an annual reminder that it doesn’t have to be this way.  There is one Man whose days are not like grass or flowers: he lived, died and lives again.  His resurrection life neither fades nor dies.  He has told us that he longs to share his new life with us as his gift to us, but that we can only take hold of the new when we are willing to let go of the old.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened,” said Jesus “and I will give you rest.”
Matthew 11:28

Graham Burrows

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

A healthy prompt

April 2020

Having become used to all the wonderful benefits of today’s medical skill it has come as an unpleasant surprise to find that a tiny virus can bring such chaos, fear, financial ruin, suffering and death.  We can’t blame the virus: this little string of RNA is just doing what it knows best, reproducing itself as fast as it can, and doing it rather successfully.  And if there is nothing beyond the material world, as some assert, then there’s no-one to blame, except the politicians who always get the blame.

But if like me you believe that this world is created and ruled by a loving God then you may be perplexed or angry.  Why would God allow a virus to do this to us?

Actually, the same Bible that shows us God’s love says so much more about him, and gives us many reasons why his world is full of suffering and futility.  Here’s just one of them: Since we must all one day give an account of ourselves to God our impartial judge, everything in our lives that reminds us of our frailty and mortality brings, along with the pain and the tears, a healthy prompt to stop thinking that this life is all that matters.  Everything that vexes us is also a kind reminder from our Creator to be ready to meet him.  Even as we look at the stern face of sickness we need to see the warm heart of a rescuing Lord who longs for our hard heart to soften towards him.

And we certainly can’t accuse God of keeping his distance and avoiding all our trouble.  In his Son, God came to us, became one of us, suffered with us and then ended Death’s proud boast once for all.  However strange Easter will be this year I trust that we will once again be reminded that everyone whose confidence is in Jesus Christ will share fully in Christ’s resurrection victory.  “The punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)

Jesus laid down his life for his friends, rescuing those who put their trust in him and giving us the best ever example of the kind of selflessness that is going to be needed as we try to help each other through this severe trial.

May God bless you this Easter

Graham Burrows

Saturday, 7 March 2020

Amazing Grace

March 2020

Like Jonah before him, John Newton “had previously run away from the Lord and it had taken a tremendous storm at sea in 1748 to humble him, convict him of his defiance and stir him to cry out to God for mercy.”

From a young age Newton’s life had been marked by tragedy and a self-centred rebelliousness.  His mother died when he was six, he went to sea at a young age, was press-ganged into the navy, transferred to a slave ship and was himself enslaved in Africa.  Freed again, he became an officer and eventually a captain on slave ships and was known for his drinking, gambling and swearing.

But after that storm the message of God’s amazing grace, his undeserved kindness in Christ, slowly took root in Newton’s heart and mind.  His life became characterised by a deep gratitude to God:  “What am I – that thou hast brought me hitherto?  Brought me from Africa, from the house of bondage, saved me from sinking in the ocean and from a thousand deaths – raised me from a state of contempt and misery beyond the common lot of mortals – to admit me among thy children, thy servants, to know and to preach thy gospel … I am surrounded with mercies and comforts.” (Written in his diary on 1st January 1780)

Retiring from his seafaring days, Newton became Surveyor of Tides in Liverpool Docks before eventually being accepted as a Church of England minister with a simple desire to “honestly and plainly declare the truths of the gospel … undoubtedly the most pleasant set of topics”.  With his friend, William Wilberforce, Newton became committed to the abolition of slavery; the ‘Act for the Abolition of Slavery’ was passed in Parliament in 1807, the year of Newton’s death.

Today John Newton is best known as the author of the hymn that was first sung by his congregation in the little village of Olney in Bucks on New Year’s Day 1773:

Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

(All quotes are found in the excellent book ‘365 Days with John Newton’ from DayOne Publications.)


Graham Burrows

Saturday, 1 February 2020

Living water

February 2020

The sandcastles have been precisely placed with a flag carefully inserted in each, the city walls have been built up and the streets decorated with shells and seaweed.  Now it’s time for the moat to be filled with seawater – but now it’s also that sad time when children discover that sand doesn’t hold water and the moat will never be full.

Navvies knew that they often needed to line a newly-dug canal with clay if it were to hold water.  Farmers knew that if there were no natural ponds on their land they could dig one as long as they could make it water-tight.  But you wouldn’t expect them to go to all that trouble if there was already a reliable bubbling stream within a stone’s throw.  Why put all that effort into building something that’s unnecessary and inferior?

Jeremiah expresses the Lord’s surprise and sadness at the wasted and foolish effort of Old Testament Israel in rejecting the God who was everything to them:   "My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”  (Jeremiah 2:13)

When your life feels like the dried and cracked bed of a pond that never holds any refreshing water it’s long past time to ask yourself whether you have been ignoring a bubbling stream that flows nearby.  Here is Jesus’ answer to a woman who he met by a well and whose whole life seemed to be a series of painful relationships that had turned sour: “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”  (John 4:10)

Later this month we are teaming up with local churches and students and staff from Capernwray Hall to offer a week of events that may help you to discover, or rediscover, the life-giving water that Jesus Christ offers to all.  I do hope that you will join us.  Further details are at www.burtonandholmechurches.org


Graham Burrows