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A Place Called Forward

Two scenarios

ONE: They camped beside the sea, a migrating nation, refugees from the tyranny of dictatorship. On either side desert and mountainous terrain, in the far distance the rumble of chariots of war, throwing a cloud of dust metres into the air. Terror gripped as the cloud moved ever closer, heralding the fast-approaching elite troops of the pursuing army – forces of an ancient superpower, under whose dominion they’d suffered such cruel bondage … it’s an IMPASSE, there’s no way to go. Annihilation is their only prospect. Terror-stricken they turn on their leader, Moses – “we’re done for, finished – why on earth did we listen to you – what a fine mess you’ve got us into”… Moses calls on God – God speaks … “Tell my people to advance” – Impractical ? Yes. Absurd ? Yes. BUT, the rest is history … for God and His people there is always a place called forward…

Without doubt there are times we all feel hemmed in by circumstances, when we see no way out, when everything looks bleak and humanly impossible. The Exodus and the Red Sea crossing are divinely set in Scripture (exodus 14) as a constant reminder to God’s people of all time, that ‘with God NOTHING is impossible”.

Got any rivers you think are un-crossable
Got any mountains you can’t tunnel through
God specializes in things thought impossible
He can do just what no other can do

TWO: The small ‘band of brothers’ were utterly demoralised…Uncertainty & fear gripped their minds. Thoughts reeled, senses benumbed by the incidents of recent hours. Two of their number were dead – one by a gruesome suicide, the other a victim of cruel torture. Now, traumatised by what they’d witnessed, they met in secret – like fugitives escaping some awesome predator … What conversation there was – concerned betrayal, injustice, abuse, and was mingled with a sense of sheer disbelief and desperation. Bereft, leaderless, dreading the sound of heavy footsteps outside their locked door … they waited in hopelessness … That was Good Friday … but we know that RESURRECTION DAY was fast approaching … and with that Day a place called forward.

There is so much to be gained by reflecting on the dramatic effect of JESUS’ resurrection on that ‘band of brothers’ and their immediate friends. Within a matter of weeks, a transformation of such epic proportions occurred, finding its culmination in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost … BOTH Resurrection Day and Pentecost proclaimed THEN and NOW … that in God’s economy there is always a PLACE CALLED FORWARD

The battles, traumas, stresses of recent months may have been intense and left us drained. It is probable that we have felt like the ancient people of God confronted with the Red Sea – maybe we’ve even resorted to complaining, like they did, turning our frustrations on one another (in particular our leaders). It is quite possible that our thoughts, even our conversations, may have mirrored those of the early disciples in the Upper Room – no doubt there have been moments of anxiety and even fear …

Whatever our case we do need a fresh understanding, and with it the re-assurance, that for US there IS a place called FORWARD. Finding that Place may mean different things to different people, but let’s fix our thoughts for a moment on two unchanging realities, definitely applicable to each one of us:


The Lord reigns” is the oft-repeated refrain in many of the Psalms. Let’s never lose sight of the SOVEREIGNTY of God. Let’s not forget the crucial lesson, taught by the Apostle Paul, and learned by saints of all generations in the topsy-turviness of existence, that “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (NIV Romans 8:28) – you will have your ‘preferred’ version … which says precisely the same, albeit using other English words … The KEY is that, like Paul, who wrote those words under inspiration of the Spirit, we KNOW or are ASSURED of this … and it is through the effectual working of the Holy Spirit that this assurance is given and grows stronger within us. We are in constant need of fresh ‘impartations’ of the Spirit’s life, enabling us to travel the path that is forward


A Quote: Canon Cheslyn Jones: “God the Creator of the universe has made me in His own image by no process of mass production; I am a specially designed reproduction of His image. So there is a place in His providence that only I can fill. I have a unique responsibility before Him which cannot be delegated to any other being. Moreover, I have a capability of understanding Him and loving Him which is in principle unique.”

Let’s never allow the circumstances we face or the organisation we belong to, to rob us of this sense of our own personal uniqueness, of that which makes us individual (and so, so special)

I’m closing with a prayer inviting the Holy Spirit to touch hearts – to enter into places of hurt, of weakness, of disappointment, and of failure – into the very stuff of our lives, where there may be an impasse … you’re welcome to use this prayer personally – it could make all the difference, and take you to the place called forward- God bless you.

PRAYER:  “Transforming Spirit, come into my life, walk through the corridors and chambers of my inner being, opening my eyes, healing my heart, renewing my mind and bringing fresh purpose and direction. Take me to the place that is FORWARD, empowering me to walk in wholeness and fruitfulness, enabling me to serve Your Will and to give myself selflessly in serving those around me, as You may lead. AMEN”

Today I Mourn

Today I mourn the tragedy

of lives suddenly terminated

of families and loved ones bereft

of humans injured, blighted, traumatised

of young men wasted in fanaticism’s hateful cause

Today I mourn that God is once again besmeared

and will doubtless be blamed by some.

Yes, I mourn – and I pray:

Kyrie Eleison

Christe Eleison

Kyrie Eleison

Navigating Our Storms

You get the impression that Paul the Apostle lived life full-on, with no dull moments … the accounts in Acts are of someone constantly on the move, encountering life with all its challenges & opportunities, and experiencing God at work in them all. Acts Chapter 27 graphically describes hair-raising moments during an ocean voyage, caused by the onslaught of a violent storm. Paul was a prisoner, bound for Rome, where he was due to stand trial before the Emperor.

We take up the story, told by Dr Luke, one of Paul’s travel companions … in verses 1-20 (from the Message Paraphrase): “As soon as arrangements were complete for our sailing to Italy, Paul and a few other prisoners were placed under the supervision of a centurion named Julius, a member of an elite guard. We boarded a ship … that was bound for Ephesus and ports west. The next day we put in at Sidon. Julius treated Paul most decently – let him get off the ship and enjoy the hospitality of his friends there.

Out to sea again, we sailed north under the protection of the northeast shore of Cyprus because winds out of the west were against us, and then along the coast westward to the port of Myra. There the centurion found an Egyptian ship headed for Italy and transferred us on board. We ran into bad weather and found it impossible to stay on course. After much difficulty, we finally made it to the southern coast of the island of Crete and docked at Good Harbor (appropriate name!). By this time we had lost a lot of time. We had passed the autumn equinox, so it would be stormy weather from now on through the winter, too dangerous for sailing.

Paul warned, “I see only disaster ahead for cargo and ship – to say nothing of our lives – if we put out to sea now.” The centurion set Paul’s warning aside and let the ship captain and the shipowner talk him into trying for the next harbor. But it was not the best harbor for staying the winter. Phoenix, a few miles further on, was more suitable. When a gentle southerly breeze came up, they weighed anchor, thinking it would be smooth sailing. But they were no sooner out to sea than a gale-force wind, the infamous nor’easter, struck. They lost all control of the ship. It was a cork in the storm.

We came under the lee of the small island named Clauda, and managed to get a lifeboat ready and reef the sails. But rocky shoals prevented us from getting close. We only managed to avoid them by throwing out drift anchors. Next day, out on the high seas again and, badly damaged now by the storm we dumped the cargo overboard. The third day the sailors lightened the ship further by throwing off all the tackle and provisions. It had been many days since we had seen either sun or stars. Wind and waves were battering us unmercifully, and we lost all hope of rescue.

After 2 weeks of unimaginable danger Paul has an angelic visitation, which emboldens him to stand before the crew and fellow passengers. “Last night,” he tells them, “an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you’”. Paul continues: “So keep your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as He told me.”

We all face ill-winds and take regular batterings from life’s storms – often feeling we’re being driven along, out of control. When no light appears we may jettison our hopes and dreams in the process. Perhaps we even lose material possessions or even our very life is endangered. I’m sure we all identify.

Consider those words above, from verses 23-25. In these words of Paul are found keys to facing and navigating those rough passages on our personal journey …

1. Know WHOSE we are

Jesus, my Lord will love me forever,
From Him no power of evil can sever,
He gave His life to ransom my soul;
Now I belong to Him;

Now I belong to Jesus,
Jesus belongs to me,
Not for the years of time alone,
But for eternity.

Once I was lost in sin’s degradation,
Jesus came down to bring me salvation,
Lifted me up from sorrow and shame,
Now I belong to Him;

Joy floods my soul for Jesus has saved me,
Freed me from sin that long had enslaved me
His precious blood, He came to redeem,
Now I belong to Him

2. Know WHO we serve

Knowing he belongs is coupled with an unfinished sense of purpose – he serves the God of all creation – He still has a plan for him, which will be fulfilled, therefore all will be well.

3. Know WHO we trust

There are many beguiling ‘voices’ in our world – yet above & beyond all these voices Paul chose to believe ‘the Word of the Lord’ as being eminently worthy of trust – remember: God is not a man that He should lie, neither the son of man that He should repent (i.e. ‘change His mind’).


Robert Louis Stevenson related a similar story of a storm at sea, which caused great alarm to the passengers on board, who cowered in fear below deck. One of them, defying the Captain’s orders, went above deck seeking the ship’s pilot, who he found tied by a rope to the ship’s wheel. As he stood there watching, the pilot caught sight of this terror-stricken observer, and simply offered him a re-assuring smile. With this the passenger returned below deck to his fellow passengers and exclaimed, “I have seen the face of the pilot and he smiled. All is well”.

Julian of Norwich – an un-named lady, thought to be a Benedictine nun, who lived as an anchoress in a small ‘cell’ attached to the church of St Julian in Norwich (600 years ago) – in her early years became gravely ill, was expected to die & received the last rites. However, she received several revelations which led to her complete recovery & devoting the remainder of her life to Christ … among these ‘showings’ as she called them, was the truth that whatever God does is done in Love, and consequently “all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well

One of our well-known hymns was written after traumatic events occurred in the life of American Horatio Spafford. First, the tragic loss of a son, which was followed by the 1871 Great Chicago Fire, in which his properties in the city were extensively damaged, and which left him ruined financially. 2 years later his business interests were further hit by an economic down-turn. Around this time he planned a holiday to Europe with his wife & 4 daughters. In a late change of plan, he sent the family ahead, needing to stay on and deal with some business interests. During the crossing of the Atlantic, the ship carrying his family sank after a collision with another vessel. Spafford’s wife, Anna, survived the collision, but his four daughters were tragically lost in the accident. Shortly afterwards, as he travelled to meet his grieving wife, he was inspired to write these words, just as his ship passed close to where his daughters had died:-

When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrow like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot Thou hast taught me to know,
It is well, it is well with my soul

Here’s a modern ‘version’ of that old hymn:

It Is Well – Bethel Music

Text of ‘teaching’ on 25/10/2015 at Kings Baptist Church, Cleethorpes

Shaddai’s Shadow

Here may hearts delight

sheltered dwelling

safe abode, strong refuge

eternally secure


Divine covering

impenetrable shield

‘gainst ills innumerable

as: flying arrow

deadly pestilence

Abaddon’s snare.

Midday to midnight

thro’ darkness or light


Protective pinions

heavenly aid assure

tranquil resting place

here may hearts trust


“Shaddai” is a Hebrew word translated “Almighty” in

many English versions of Psalm 91:1

New Era

Several weeks ago we left Brigg, North Lincolnshire for pastures new, near Doncaster in South Yorkshire.

I’ve never liked saying ‘goodbyes’ – call me sentimental if you will, but I agree with our great Bard: “parting is such sweet sorrow”. But time was up for us in those quarters, after 40 years living and working in northern Lincolnshire. In that time I served two church communities as minister – in Immingham and Brigg – for a total of 36 years. Whilst in Brigg I was privileged to represent the electorate as a member of the Town Council for two terms (8 years) – taking active part in the work of several committees, and ensuring the formation of a Community-led Plan. For a couple of those years my duties as Councillor were linked with responsibilities as Chaplain to the Town Mayor.

In those four decades I met and worked with many wonderful people, (some becoming long-term friends) and experienced numberless special moments, which will be treasured in my memories for the rest of my days.

This move necessitates wholesale changes, some of which may not be easy to negotiate, being uprooted from familar ‘comfort zones’ and transplanted into an unknown environment. But negotiate it we will, with all the thrills and spills, challenges and opportunities that may be presented. In particular I’m looking forward to establishing that rhythm of life mentioned previously:


I’m constantly recognising that change is inevitable, an integral part of the human experience – from the cataclysmic event we know as birth, when we’re dramatically driven from the safety of the womb into this insecure world, and on through the various life transitions (infancy, childhood, adolescence & adulthood) and then through that turbulent passage into the after-life, known as dying.

The Christian journey, I’m frequently reminded, is one of ceaseless change – from an initial call to ‘repentance’ (the Greek word which may be translated ‘change’) through a life-long process of spiritual transformation, culminating in that moment, described in St Paul’s words, when ‘the Lord Jesus Christ will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body’ – what an amazing prospect, which proved a major motivational factor in Paul’s life. Consider, for example, words he wrote in yet another letter: “one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

As a fellow-pilgrim, until that sublime summit of aspiration, I’ll be endeavouring to keep the faith, and  continue to appreciate my good friends everywhere, but especially those in Lincolnshire.


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