En-courage

It’s easy to sit on the side-lines and criticise, but it takes courage to get in the ring, risk a few knocks, and have a go.

I love this quote from Theodore Roosevelt’s famous speech “Citizenship in a Republic”. Delivered in Paris, on April 23, 1910 he said:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again….”

Life is full of uncertainty and risk. If we spend our days waiting until we are perfect or until we are bulletproof before stepping up and having a go, then life will quickly pass us by. Relationships and opportunities for life will be missed while we wait for the perfect, non-existent, risk-free moment.

Ever tried something and had it fail? Of course, we all have – that’s how we grow. Yet it takes courage to get up off the ground and try again, and again, and again.

As a Church Leader I find myself back there time and time again, each time having to summon the courage (or find the faith) to risk getting it wrong (hard for a perfectionist!) or risk criticism for the sake of what I believe is right.

While I was reflecting on this I noticed that the word ‘encourage’ contains the word ‘courage’. Obvious, I know, but I’ve never spotted it before!

In fact, to ‘encourage’ someone is to give them courage. Likewise, to ‘discourage’ someone is to take their courage away. Simple; perhaps self-evident to you, but a revelation to me, and in my experience, so true!

With this in mind, and knowing how difficult life can be, let’s strive to be positive encouragers. People who encourage one another in the full sense of that word. And as we encourage each other, we will give one another the courage to move on, to grow, to thrive.

Whether that means giving a friend caught in the depths of depression the courage to get out of bed and face another day. Or whether it is encouraging those among us who have responsibility to lead our schools, our communities or our churches. Let’s be people who en-courage life, not dis-courage it.

Paul writing to the church in Thessalonica some 2000 years ago said “therefore encourage one another and build each other up… encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.”

Remember, everyone is struggling with something. What a difference it makes if we choose to live by this mandate, as encouragers? Who do you know who needs more courage at the moment? Who can you encourage today? Call them, write to them, email them, bless them, en-courage them.

Grace and peace,

Charlie Ingram

(Photo Credit: S. Kahn, Flickr)

Christian Mindfulness

The present moment is all we have.

The past is gone, and unless someone invents a time machine, it is gone forever.

The future is yet to be.

So this present moment is really all we have.

Practising the presence of God is all about this. It is about finding God in the present, in the eternal now: Trying to find that still point where you can experience the presence of God – something that is only possible in this present moment.

I’m sure we’re all aware of the gift of someone’s presence. There is nothing so frustrating as having a conversation with someone who is visibly distracted. Yet the gift of full presence, the gift of someone’s full attention, is just that – a gift and a precious one. We all know what it feels like to have received someone’s full attention, what it feels like to be really listened to and it is a blessing.

God is present, and we can learn to be still and present to the presence of God.

Meditation, and in particular the benefits of mindfulness meditation have been in the news a lot lately.

Mindfulness can reportedly cure anxiety, lower blood pressure and promote better sleep. And, according to Lizzie Widdicombe, who experimented with mindfulness meditation when writing for the The New Yorker, “Like travel, the chief boon of meditation might be the way that it throws the place you came from into relief. I’d never noticed what an incredible racket was going on in my mind: to-do lists, scraps of conversations, ancient memories…As calm set in, I’d occasionally achieve a few seconds of relaxed concentration, the meditative grail, which felt as if I were walking on a balance beam.”

Stripped down to its essence, mindfulness meditation “is being aware of what is inside and around us in the present moment,” says Elli Weisbaum, a mindfulness teacher and a co-founder of Partners in Mindfulness. “Our mind can time travel into the future or the past—and we are doing that constantly. A goal of meditation is having our mind completely resting in the here and now.”

The thing that I’ve found is that our mind conspires against us, forever pulling us back into the past with regrets or into the future with worry. I wonder if this was what Jesus was talking about when he said:

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”

Matthew 6:26-27

So live in the present.

Although ‘mindfulness’ is usually associated with more eastern religions, and Buddhism in particular, I am keen that this should not deter Christians from finding the immense value it brings. Monastic Christianity has long had a tradition of meditation or ‘centring prayer’ as it is sometimes known.

When I consider your heavens,

the work of your fingers,

the moon and the stars,

which you have set in place,

what is mankind that you are mindful of them,

human beings that you care for them?

Psalm 8:3-4

God it seems is ‘mindful’ of us.

Centring Prayer or Christian Meditation, like mindfulness, often begins with calling your attention to your breathing.

By focusing solely on your breathing for small chunks of time—things like the sound and feeling of air filling your lungs and flowing out of your nostrils—you are drawing your attention back into the present moment – back to God’s presence.

When thoughts arise during this practice of focusing on breathing, you are not ignoring them. Instead, you are acknowledging those thoughts and releasing from them by returning to your breathing.

I don’t believe that it is a coincidence that the Hebrew word for Spirit is the same word as for breath – Ruach.

From a Christian perspective we are calling our attention back on the Spirit of God who is the very breath that sustains us moment by moment.

And interestingly this isn’t a practice that can only be done sitting cross legged on the floor, with a lighted scented candle.

I’m a keen endurance athlete. Endurance sports involve a lot of time spent focussing on breathing. Some of my most profound experiences of the presence of God have been while swimming, cycling or running. Calling my attention back to my breath, back to the Spirit of God, lifting my head up and observing the beauty of my surroundings, becoming aware of God’s presence with me, step after step, pedal stroke after pedal stroke.

If hours of running aren’t for you, you can practice this on a crowded commuter train early in the morning or in a few minutes through the day while you take a break from the day’s chores.

 

Pause.

Draw your attention to your breath.

Breathe in God’s Spirit, breathe deeply.

Breathe out the stress and worry of the day.

Repeat.

 

Feel the cool air in your nostrils.

 

As your mind wanders back to the day’s tasks or yesterday’s mistakes (which it will), acknowledge the thought, then park it and return to the present moment.

 

In truth this present moment is all we have, and it is where we find God.

As always, I’m very happy to chat about this or any other Spiritual disciplines you may find helpful – please get in touch and we can find a time to chat and pray together.

Every blessing,

Charlie

Photo: Paul Sanders (thanks Paul)


 

‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

‘And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?”  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:25-34

 

A Good Story

‘I’m not crying, I’ve just got something in my eye’ I say as we sit in the Stag, glued to our seats, watching the end credits roll. Or coming to the end of a good book, laying it down with a contented sigh – we all recognise these moments, moments when are lives are touched by a compelling narrative.

Some stories are factual, some are fictional, and some are a creative mix of both. But stories have power. Stories shape us, they move us. The stories we tell win elections, they take countries to war. They move us to give money to charity or to check on a neighbour who may be lonely.

We all love a good story. They are how we make meaning in the world; they motivate us to act – but some stories are better than others.

As a Christian minister I have told and retold the story of Jesus more times that I can remember. His birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension. At times the story has moved me, inspired faith and action, and other times it has left me questioning and full of doubt. But every year as I retell this ancient story, I invite this story to shape, mould, challenge and change me.

It’s a story of God, found not in power and wealth, but in frailty and poverty, in self-giving love and humility, in flesh and blood humanity. It’s the story of God born among us, showing us how to live and love well. Of lives healed and restored, wrongs forgiven and the excluded welcomed in. As we approach Easter, we remember particularly the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection; his once for all sacrifice for you and for me, so we can have a relationship with God.

And yes, sometimes I find elements of the story difficult to believe, but I trust that this is the story God wants told and I invite it to change my perspectives and to mould me as I hear it.

This year I find the Christian story speaking to our current climate of division and prejudice. In contrast it is radical and inclusive. It invites us to live with hope and joy, with peace and goodwill, open to the stranger and alive to the mysterious.

In our increasingly secular age, we right off such religious stories to our detriment. This New Year why not give church another try? Check out our website, bgbc.co.uk, for times of our services. Then come, hear this ancient story again and let it shape and challenge you. I guarantee you’ll be the better for it.

Remember: Church is for life, not just for Christmas.

Grace and peace,
Charlie Ingram
Bessels Green Baptist Church

Earthrise at Christmas

This year saw the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo moon landing by NASA.

On July 16 1969, astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida on a journey to the Moon and into history. Four days later, while Collins orbited the Moon in the command module, Armstrong and Aldrin landed Apollo 11’s lunar module, Eagle, on the Moon’s Sea of Tranquillity, becoming the first humans to set foot on the lunar surface.

Armstrong’s words as he stepped down on to the lunar surface are now some of the most famous in history: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

But it’s another quote that grabbed my attention this year. William Anders was on board Apollo 8 when, on Christmas Eve 1968, it orbited the moon. Its mission was political and scientific: collect photos of the moon’s surface to enable a future landing. Apollo 8 orbited the moon three times before the earth came into view out of one of its windows. At first no one noticed it. It wasn’t part of their mission. But when Anders caught sight of the lush blue orb, the mission took a momentary back seat.

Scrambling for a roll of colour film, Anders loaded it into his camera and snapped his impromptu photo of the earth rising out of the stark blackness above the barren surface of the moon. The picture, known as Earthrise, has become one of the most iconic of the 20th century.

In 1968 the world was bitterly divided. The Cold War and the Vietnam War raged; Wilson and Heath were slugging it out in the British parliament; the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King shocked the world and Enoch Powell made his now infamous ‘rivers of blood’ speech on immigration before being forced to resign.

Against this backdrop of division and animosity, Anders was given a gift. He was given a new perspective on humanity.

Earthrise, taken on December 24, 1968, by William Anders

This fragile blue dot hanging in the blackness reminds us that our divisions are merely a matter of perspective. We are all linked together on this planet we all must share; we are all stewards of this fragile earth. Everyone who has ever lived, ever loved, did so on this rock we call home. Looking after it is more important than our individual differences – now more than ever.

At Bessels Green Baptist Church over Christmas and into 2020, we are going to be thinking about this beautiful gift God has given us; planet Earth, our home.

Christmas is an announcement that this world matters, that you and I matter; that the God who created all and loves all is for us not against us. Celebrating the birth of Jesus is a reminder that God is always with us, in all places and through all things. What is so often missing is the right perspective. In a world that feels as divided as at any time in history, we need a ‘higher’ perspective. We can get so busy with life, and even with ‘Christmas’, that we seldom take the time to pause and reflect on the gift of Jesus born among us.

Reflecting on his photo ‘Earthrise’ from the higher perspective of space Anders said, “We set out to explore the moon and instead discovered the Earth”.

We need a change in perspective, now more than ever; and Christmas is an opportunity to do just that. To see with new eyes, to discover a new truth, or maybe re-discover an old perspective. That God, Immanuel, is with us and we must care for this planet we call home, as it’s the only one we’ve got.

Grace and peace,

Rev Charlie Ingram

Charlie is the senior minister at Bessels Green Baptist Church, services are at 10am and 4.30pm on Sundays at BGBC and 10am at the Pavilion in Dunton Green. For more information about Bessels Green Baptist Church and the various activities you could be involved in during the week please visit bgbc.co.uk or email info@bgbc.co.uk.

You are warmly invited to join us for one of our Christmas services.

Sunday 15th December 10am
Scratch Nativity

Sunday 22nd December 6.30pm
Carols by Candlelight
followed by refreshments

Tuesday 24th December 4pm
Children’s Carol Service
followed by refreshments

Wednesday 25th December 10am – 11am
Christmas Day Celebration
Children are invited to bring a Christmas present

Sunday 29th December 10am
All Age Worship

Please note, our last 4.30pm afternoon service will be a Christmas party on the 15th of December.
Afternoon Services will resume on the 5th of January.

250th Celebration Weekend

What a fantastic weekend! On Saturday 14th September, Bessels Green Baptist Church held our 250th anniversary Fun Day! 250 years to the day from the church’s first meeting. The Fun Day was held on Bessels Green and around 500 guests and 70 volunteers enjoyed the sunshine at what was a quintessentially English village affair!

A vast array of different stalls and games were positioned around the green. Inflatables, a smoothie bike, pony rides and face painting were amongst the activities on offer. It was so good to see the village green alive with community activity.

The smallest guests appreciated the kids’ activity tent; hook a duck, parachute games and biscuit decorating. For those with lots of energy and bounce, a challenging inflatable obstacle course was available, alongside a kids’ disco and the grand finale, a fiercely competitive tug-o-war!

For those wanting a more sedate afternoon, the Victorian café and cake stall held in the church itself were most inviting. Visitors to the church could enjoy a display of the church’s history, together with a glimpse of all that goes on at BGBC today. 

For many the highlights were the art competition and the dog show. 30 plus dogs and their owners competed to win, amongst others, waggiest tail, scruffiest dog and best trick. The afternoon ended with a prize giving. 

Apart from ice creams or drinks from the King’s Head Pub all the activities were 100% free, our gift to the community to celebrate 250 years of God’s goodness to us.

Here’s some of the feedback we have received since.

One couple who had got lost on their way to Hever Castle and stopped by when they saw our bouncy castles. “It is fantastic” they said. “It’s all free and to make it even better when we went in for a tea, we found there were gluten free options for our kids – completely unexpected. Thank you so much!”

“Thank you to you and the whole church community for such a lovely fun day and 250th celebration of the church. It is really such a welcoming church. Truly many, many thanks.”

“Just a brief thank you for staging the most enjoyable fun day last Saturday. Myself and my family felt truly welcome and appreciated all the hard work of your congregation. May your good works continue for another 250 years.”

So, a big thank you to everyone who helped or came along. We’re already being asked when we are holding the next one!

Then, the following day, on Sunday the 15th we held a service of celebration and thanksgiving. The church was full to bursting with friends and family, old and new, joining together as we gave thanks to God. 

We welcomed writer, speaker and unlicensed historian Nick Page to speak. Nick personalised his sermon by drawing on the history of Bessels Green Baptist Church and challenged us to be a community that continues to invite all to experience the abundant life found in relationship with God. 

It was a particular delight to welcome back Normal Tharby, Stuart Woodward and Neil Durling, who along with Charlie and Andy have led the church from 1982 to the present day.

Our celebrations concluded with lunch together and an opportunity for folk to catch up with old friends.

All in all, a fitting celebration. 250 years ago, there was no internet, no television or telephone. The car and even the steam engine had yet to be invented. Who knows what our world will look like in 250 years’ time! 

For now, we return to the faithful work of serving God week in week out; as we worship together on Sundays, gather community together around the arts and sport and as we seek to serve the community through the seniors’ lunch club, baby plus and our youthwork. 

But in the midst of all the activity we seek to be a place where we can celebrate and laugh, grieve and struggle together. To be a place where people can explore the big questions about life and where we are met by the God who holds us and all things together in love.

Grace and peace,

Rev Charlie Ingram

Charlie is the senior minister at Bessels Green Baptist Church, services are at 10am and 4.30pm on Sundays at BGBC and 10am at the Pavilion in Dunton Green. For more information about Bessels Green Baptist Church and the various activities you could be involved in during the week please visit bgbc.co.uk or contact us here.

Thanks to the editorial committee of Chevening News and the King’s Head Pub, both of whom helped by sponsoring the day in different ways.

Photo credits: Paul Sanders and Rick Woodward

The Kingdom is like a party

On the 14thof September 2019, Bessels Green Baptist Church will be 250 years old and we’d like to use this edition of Chevening News to invite you to our birthday party!

We’re celebrating on Saturday the 14thof September at 2pm with a free Anniversary Fun Day on Bessels Green(the green across the road from the church). There will be food, ice creams, bouncy castles, donkey rides, music, stalls, a display of our 250-year history and much more.

We hope the day will be a real community celebration and a taste of the generosity and love of God. 

Jesus told a parable, a story, about a party – a wedding feast. In the story the well to do, the pious, the religious and successful were all invited to the party but none of them could or would come. They each made their excuses; they were too busy, too preoccupied.   

So, in the story Jesus has the host of the party, who represents God, send his servants out to invite everyone else; the ordinary, the poor, all of those overlooked by the religious leaders of his day.

Jesus’ story is a picture of the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’. Those who think they deserve it, who spend their lives looking down on others less religious than themselves end up missing out. It is the ordinary people, both the good and the bad, who end up enjoying the feast, simply because they accepted the invitation.

Attendance at the party is not based on the status of the guests but based entirely on the generosity of God, the host. I think it’s my favourite of Jesus’ parables. God is throwing a party, and everyone’s invited!

Church should never be a private members’ club for the religious or pious amongst us. Rather, we should be a place where all are welcome, regardless of age, race, gender, or sexual orientation. The faithful or seeking, believing or doubting, celebrating or hurting, all are welcome. 

The best birthdays are the ones we share with other people, so we really hope you’ll put the date in your diary and join us to celebrate our birthday. The sun is going to shine, Edenbridge Town band will be providing some music, there will be hook a duck, guess the number of sweets in the jar, a visit from a fire engine, a tug-o-war, and much more.

In addition to the fun day we’re holding a Service of celebration and thanksgiving on the Sunday at 10am, followed by a meal together; you are equally invited to join us for that.

I do hope we’ll see you there,

Grace and peace

Rev Charlie Ingram

Charlie is the senior minister at Bessels Green Baptist Church, services are at 10am and 4.30pm on Sundays at BGBC and 10am at the Pavilion in Dunton Green. Please check out bgbc.co.uk for more information about the church and all that goes on during the week. Get in touch via email, info@bgbc.co.uk

Photo: Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

BGBC celebrates 250 years

On the evening of Thursday 14th September 1769, 15 men and 19 women gathered together to form a new Baptist fellowship in Bessels Green. On that day, 250 years ago, Bessels Green Baptist Church was born. 

From those 34 original members we have grown into a community with a membership of just under 200 and a monthly attendance of around 300, across 3 services of worship, and with 3 distinct congregations here and in Dunton Green. BGBC is reaching out to many others across Sevenoaks and the surrounding villages through sport, art, children’s work and our seniors lunch club. 

That first meeting in 1769 was chaired by Mr Thomas Deane, a local gentleman whose grave can still be seen to the left of the pathway as you approach the church. It was he who issued ‘the call’ to our first pastor the Rev John Stanger. It is an honour, a privilege and quite a responsibility for me to serve God and this church community as the church’s 29th minister. 

Alongside Rev John Stanger, the newly formed church appointed 2 deacons. We now have a large and supportive leadership team of deacons, elders and trustees who work with the staff team to keep us on track and faithfully moving forwards. 

After the founding of the fellowship the next task was to build of a place to worship. Mr Charles Polhill, of Cheapstead (now Chipstead) Place, gave a portion of his land from the ‘Great Barn Field’ and the plans were drawn up for the erection of a meeting house and a residence for the minister. The new meeting house opened on Sunday 23rd of December 1770. Over the next couple of years, we are embarking on significant, and somewhat overdue, building programme which will regenerate our premises. Our aim is to make the building fit for the 21stCentury and a hub for the local community.

In the 250 years Bessels Green Baptist Church has been meeting for worship the world has changed beyond recognition. I wonder what those first members would make of the fast paced, fast changing world we find ourselves living in today? BGBC has had to change and adapt many times during that time. The industrial revolution, two world wars, the motor car, space travel and now the internet will all have brought their challenges and accompanying changes! 

It has been said that change is the only constant. A church that doesn’t change with the times, a church that stands still, is simply drifting backwards. We cannot be too comfortable or complacent. Instead, we are committed to doing our best to be a church for the 21stCentury and our interconnected, internet enabled world; whilst always remaining true to our core beliefs and values.

We have much to be thankful to God for and to celebrate in this our 250thyear! So, over the weekend of the 14th and 15th of September we are holding a couple of events and you are warmly invited to celebrate with us:

Saturday 14th of September, 2-4.30pm – we are hosting a free fun day on Bessels Green. Face painting, bouncy castles, strawberries and cream, games and much more.

Sunday 15th of September 10am – we are holding a special celebration service of thanksgiving followed by lunch together.

We really hope you’ll be able to join us at one or both events. We’d love to see you!

Grace and peace,

Rev Charlie Ingram

Charlie is the senior minister at Bessels Green Baptist Church, services are at 10am and 4.30pm on Sundays at BGBC and 10am at the Pavilion in Dunton Green. Please check out bgbc.co.uk for more information about the church and all that goes on during the week. Get in touch via email, info@bgbc.co.uk

Larger Tables not Bigger Walls

I am writing this on the Sunday after the attacks at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, that left 50 worshippers dead. In many ways it feels very removed from my everyday experience living in Sevenoaks; different culture, different place, different religion.

However, this morning as we gathered at Bessels Green Baptist Church for worship, I was reminded that the propensity to tribalism and intolerance is within me as well, and needs to be challenged. The capacity for evil lurks beneath the surface in all of us.

As Solzhenitsyn observed in the Gulag Archipelago:

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” 

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918–1956 

If we want to see change in the world, we must first strive to tackle the darkness within our own hearts.  We need to recognise the prejudices we all have – to address the ways in which we reject, judge and diminish those who are different to us.  We need to learn to welcome ‘the other,’ rather than allowing suspicion and fear to determine our response.

At the same time, we need also to address the underlying attitudes and forces in our culture that seek to foster division and to scapegoat particular groups, thereby sowing the seeds from which such attacks emerge.

Security may track threats and police may arrest perpetrators, but there is no quick fix, no short cut. It remains the responsibility of each one of us to go out of our way to build bridges and create friendships; to celebrate and acknowledge the image of God in all of his people, especially those who at first glance seem different to us.

If we want to create a culture in our country that resists the current trend towards division, we need to encourage everybody we know to develop their emotional capacity for empathy towards others.

The solution to such violence is a bigger table, not bigger walls. Whatever our faith, be it Jewish, Christian, Muslim or Atheist and however we name the God we worship, be it Yahweh, Jesus, Allah, or Science, we have to look for and cultivate points of human connection. We have to look for places to celebrate our shared humanity and delight in the gifts others bring.

O God of many names,
lover of all peoples,
we pray for peace.
Peace in our hearts and homes,
peace in our nations and our world,
the peace of your will,
the peace of our need.
Through Christ, the prince of peace. Amen.

Collect from A New Zealand Prayer Book – He Karakia Mihinare O Aotearoa

Bessels Green Baptist Church is committed to building larger tables not bigger walls. Please check out bgbc.co.uk for details of our activities or get in touch via email, info@bgbc.co.uk

Grace and peace,

Rev Charlie Ingram

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

God ahead of us

Happy New Year.

New Year’s Day, the most generous day of the year. You get a brand-new year with no marks, no scratches; that fresh new year smell. No miles on it and no mistakes, not yet anyway.

Yes of course It’s abstract that we choose to call this a ‘new year’, but why not embrace the idea? This is a chance for a fresh start. What do you need to change? What good habits should you keep, even reinforce?  And what belongs in 2018 and should be left there.

What does God have for us this new year?

Some people like to look for God in the past, as if he’s always behind us. As if there was some rarefied time in history when everything was ‘as it should be’ and ‘if only’ we could get back there everything would be ok. Sadly, we see far too much of this in religions around the world.

Institutions like the church often have a centre of gravity in the past. We have to be dragged kicking and screaming forwards. Be it slavery, or the inclusion of women, or more recently attitudes to the LGBTQ+ community. We have been slow and reluctant to embrace new thinking.

But what if God is ahead of, us pulling us forwards? What is God is behind these developments and not against them?

I guess part of the challenge is the way we read the Bible, our core text, or ‘God’s Word’, as Christians often call it. The Bible is a book that was written two to five thousand years ago in a culture so very different to ours.  Rightly, we read this book for inspired guidance about how to live well in the world, it is full of great wisdom, but that does not mean trying to turn the clock back 2000 plus years and live in the culture of the past.

Read properly the Bible is the story of the development of God’s people, their journey, their mistakes, their successes, their joys and their failures as they try to understand and apply their understanding of God to their lives.

It is the story of Jesus, the very image of God, but also a man in a time and place, a man born into a certain culture. Yet his ideas and teachings; the way he treated, included and welcomed people, were so far ahead of his culture at the time.

It is also the story of the first Christians, the impact Jesus’ life, death and resurrection had on them and how they are now going to try to live. Changed forever, how are they going to live faithfully in the light of all they have seen and heard?

All the time God is found in the pages of the Bible, teaching them, pulling them forwards, revealing more and more of how to live and love well (Read Acts 10 for a great example).

Christians read and study this book. In its pages we discover the big ideas, amongst them love, grace and forgiveness. Our task is to work out how to live them in our time, in our context. How to pick up the trajectories of love, peace, grace, and inclusion and continue moving them forwards, onwards, upwards.

What if God is not behind us in the past, but also ahead of us, willing us onward, forwards?

As we turn to 2019, this is an idea that compels me, fills me with hope and courage. As we turn the page from 2018 to 2019 we are presented with a blank page. The pen is in our hand. What story will we choose to write?

Bessels Green Baptist Church is committed to helping you explore and experience the forgiveness, grace and love of God, please check out bgbc.co.uk for details of our activities or get in touch via email, info@bgbc.co.uk

Grace and peace,
Rev Charlie Ingram

Who are you?

Who are we? Well, for starters, we are not our jobs.

Go to any party or get into any conversation with a stranger, and it is not long before someone will ask you, ‘What do you do?’

Now, the correct answer to this question is another question: ‘What do I do, when?’ I mean, I do many things. Sometimes I sleep, sometimes I eat. I drink coffee, lie on the sofa watching the football, ride my bike, drink more coffee…

But we don’t mean that. We mean, ‘What do you do for a living?’ To which you reply, ‘I am a doctor’, ‘I am a software engineer’, ‘I am a teacher.’

You see what happened? When asked what we do, we reply with what our job is. We have to let go of the idea that we are what we do. It skews so many facets of our lives. For many, the ‘What do you do?’ question is often an attempt to place a new acquaintance on the organisation chart of life, to work out their standing in the herd. Is this someone I should be anxious about? Is this someone who could help me? Is this someone I should pay attention to?

The ‘What do you do?’ question has some of its roots in our need for status, but we are not our jobs. Nor are we our activities. Rather, we fill our lives with busyness: meetings, appointments, conferences, business trips. Such is the importance of our work lives and our sense of who we are, that it can completely define us. But I am not my job. That is something that I do to earn money. It’s a very important something, it matters a lot to me and I really enjoy it, but it could go away, and I would still be here.

We are not what we own.

We’ve been sold this idea of ‘lifestyle’, as if our possessions can shape our entire existence. We buy into this – in all senses of that phrase. Adverts sell us products by manipulating our emotions and feelings, but in some sense that also sell us identity. I am an Apple user, which for years enabled me to look with withering scorn on all those poor PC users. They didn’t ‘think different’, as Apple ads so ungrammatically put it. Our purchases might make us feel temporarily better about ourselves. But Jesus himself warned against identifying what we own with who we are: ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions’ (Luke 12:15). You are not what you own.
Also, we are not what we look like. One of George Orwell’s last notes in his notebook was, ‘At 50, everyone has the face he deserves’. Orwell’s face certainly bore the impression of a hard life. But increasingly, we all want to cheat. We are not the hours in the gym, or the Greacian 2000 in our hair, or the six-pack. Nor, indeed, are we the baldness, the beer gut or the much loves shabby shapeless cardigan.

Finally, and most importantly we are not our failures.

Why is it we find it so hard to remember the good times, and so east to remember the bad one? It’s amazing how much my past failings clutter my memory. The good things – the acts of kindness, the fun, the moments I’m actually quite nice – all those are fleeting. Instead, what clings to my memory are the times when I did or said something wrong, or those moments of acute shame and embarrassment. I am covered with the scar tissue of my failings. I carry them around with me, ‘The Worst Hits of ______’ in 3D and full surround sound, and in the dark night it is those which replay in my head: the words I can never unsay, the deeds I can never undo.

But the Bible says that our failure is not permanent. It does not have to define us. Christianity agrees that we are all failures, but then tells us that those failures do not have to stay around forever. No one is free from sin, but no one is beyond forgiveness or the grace and love of God either. This is the radical message at the heart of Christianity: on one is denied a new start. No one.

ou are not your job, your possessions, your appearance or your failures. You are a beloved child of God. As the darkness of winter has given way to the warmth of Spring and Summer, today is an opportunity for a fresh start. Each day is a gift, take it, embrace it, breathe deeply, and know that you are loved, know that this is your true identity, this is who you are and once experienced and understood it makes all the difference.

Bessels Green Baptist Church is committed to helping you explore and experience the forgiveness, grace and love of God, please check out bgbc.co.uk for details of our activities or get in touch via email, info@bgbc.co.uk

Grace and peace,

Rev Charlie Ingram
Senior Minister
Bessels Green Baptist Church
(adapted from ‘The Dark Night of the Shed’ by Nick Page, Hodder 2016)

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