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I'm too young

Jeremiah 1.4-8; 1 Corinthians 13.4-8 Have you ever been asked to do something and thought to yourself, ‘I don’t think I‘m really old enough, or clever enough, or experienced enough to do that!’
When I was seven my grandfather took me for a walk. On the way back we passed a sweet shop and he pressed some money into my hand and said, ‘Go and buy yourself something.’ I had never bought anything on my own in a shop before, but I didn’t like to tell him that - at seven - I didn’t feel old enough to buy myself some sweets. So I went in, presented the money, and asked for something off the shelf.
The shopkeeper took advantage of me. Instead of saying, ‘How many packets do you want?’ he just took my money and gave me two packets of sweets because I’d given him exactly the right money to pay for two.
Outside my grandfather said, ‘Oh! You’ve bought two packets. I thought you would just get one.’ Well, I was old enough to think on my feet. Quick as a flash I said, ‘One of the packets is for Granny,’ a…
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Locusts, drought and wildfires

Joel 1.1-20, Colossians 1.15-19 The book of Joel doesn't seem the obvious place to look for a passage positively crackling with contemporary relevance. At first sight it's a prophecy from long ago and far away, about locusts, drought and wildfires. But just a minute, drought and wildfires certainly sound relevant to modern 21st Century living, and wasn't there something on the news recently about locusts - and I don't just mean about people eating them on ‘I'm a Celebrity…’?
Well, yes and no. A few years ago a large locust swarm devastated sub-saharan Africa. It was a disaster of truly Biblical proportions. But hang on a minute. Is Joel really thinking about locusts? 
Some commentators think he is. After all, he gives a very comprehensive description of locust behaviour - or so I'm told, not having been up close and personal with very many locusts. ‘What the cutting locust left,’ says Joel, 'The swarming locust has eaten. What the swarming locust left, the hop…

A change of heart

Deuteronomy 29.1-15, Matthew 15.1-9 The Old Testament Books of the Law spend a lot of time spelling out what the people of Israel needed to do to share in God’s covenant with them. This makes the Jewish faith sound like a religion of rules and regulations rather than an offer of release and freedom.
But this is only part of the story. Deuteronomy also reminds its readers about God's loving kindness to their ancestors. The nation’s wanderings in the wilderness might have been a gruelling test, which the people had to endure for 40 years, but as well as rescuing them from slavery in the first place, God had given them clothes and shoes to wear on their travels which wouldn't wear out. So the wilderness experience had shown people God's incredible goodness as well as his stern refusal to compromise on the rules and accept second best.
The writer also recognises that challenging people to remember past kindnesses will not by itself encourage them to be obedient to God. The ceremo…

I have a dream

Matthew 2.1-12 Does anyone remember any of the dreams that they’ve had - dreams that you can share with other people, I mean? Long before I was married, before we were even going out, when I was 14 in fact, I had a very vivid dream about my wife, Helen. Usually we forget dreams, don’t we, but I remembered this one! I’m not going to tell you about it, except to say that the dream started with us sitting on the school bus together and I was very disappointed to wake up just as it was about to get interesting.
I can tell you that when I was six I had a dream about a wolf. It was chasing me across some fields near my grandparents’ farm and eventually it chased me up one of the drain pipes outside their farmhouse. I’m not usually very good at shinning up drain pipes, but I got up this one very quickly. And this time I didn’t mind waking up.
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A Ruler from Bethlehem?

Micah 5.2-6 I have an ancestor, Mark Bishop, who - at the beginning of the Nineteenth Century was making his way as a sawyer. What is sawyer? Well the clue is in the name. He or she had a saw, or a set of saws, which - in the days before the invention of the circular saw - they used to saw tree trunks into planks. It was hard, back breaking, humble work. But thirty years later he is described in a different way. Now he has gone up in the world. He’s a carpenter, presumably because he can now afford the tools of the trade. I'll come back to the significance of that later.
Elsewhere in his collection of prophecies, Micah describes how God will intervene in human history to make up for the shortcomings of Israel’s rulers by leading them himself, but here he explains how a new ideal ruler will arise from within the nation. 
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How the Daily Mail might report the Nativity

This spoof front page from The Daily Mail first appeared on the satirical website The Poke on Christmas Eve 2015, but someone sent it to me the other day because they thought it had lost none of its resonance with current events. Spun like this the Christmas story could make the front page on any slow news day.
Whether or not the Holy Family really could be said to have wrecked the barn where Jesus was laid in the manger, a lot of the other elements of the story do have an element of truth. According to Matthew’s Gospel they did become refugees and, by definition, refugees are jobless and don’t pay any taxes - at least to begin with.
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A Christmas Meditation - Three Characteristics of Mission

The story of God’s mission in Jesus straight away introduces us to three of the essential characteristics of any true missionary enterprise. If our mission doesn’t look like this then we’re deluding ourselves that we’re really engaging in Christian mission at all.
First, real mission involves a journey. At the most basic level it means travelling outside our comfort zone. More than that, it involves going out into the world rather than staying inside the stockade. More even than that, it means going to new places - not necessarily new places on the map of the world but also places where we don’t normally go in our own communities. That might be the pub, or the school gates, or the elderly people’s lunch club.
When he moved to live near us, my Dad said he was more than happy to join the local Methodist Church but he drew the line at going to the elderly persons’ lunch club, because he said he was sure that he wouldn’t have anything in common with the other people there. It was impossible…

100 Years Since The November Armistice

Isaiah 49:13-19 When I was a child the Charge of the Light Brigade was scarcely any further removed in time than the First World War is now, but when I was born the First World War was recent history. It had been over for barely 40 years. Although it seemed like a different era, it was more recent then than the moon landings or the Miners’ Strike even are now. 
My grandfather, who fought on two fronts - in France and Italy, had never talked about his experiences until I questioned him about them as a small boy. I was fascinated. Had he killed anyone? Had he been wounded? Could I see the wounds, please? What did it feel like to be shot? My grandmother listened intently as she had never dared to ask such intimate questions!
My grandfather's reticence didn't mean that he had put the War behind him. Later, when he got Alzheimer's Disease, he formed the impression that my parents were military policemen and spent ages fumbling for his leave papers in an imaginary tunic pocket whil…

Fake News

Mark 13.1-6 Until I saw this, I didn’t know who Jessica Rowe is. Apparently she’s a journalist in Australia, but I’ve seen the same advert - many many times - with a different face on it, someone I do know. For some reason I get a lot of adverts at the moment in which a man called Peter Jones, who appears on the TV programme Dragons’ Den, is pictured having a really rough day. He too has got a terrible black eye, worse than this one, and he looks really haggered, as though someone has set about him with a baseball bat. But it’s not true. It’s fake news. We might not like them, but Jessica Rowe gets particularly upset with these adverts because she’s in them. One day she was looking at the Internet with her nine year-old daughter when her daughter said, ‘Mummy, what’s that?’ And it was this fake advert. You and I are not celebrities so we will never feature in an advert like this one, but we can still be the subject of fake news. My Aunt rang me one day just to check whether I’d been mugg…