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)

How to be happy

Happiness, we are told, is the goal of life.

A million self-help books promise us different paths to happiness.
Movies and songs show us what happiness looks like.

Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth… [i]

Advertisers sell us products, that, if only we possessed them, promise us happiness and satisfaction…

If only I had, that thing…

If only I had …

a certain amount of money,
the perfect body,
that car,
that relationship,
the right clothes,

if only (fill in the blank) – then I will be happy.

“Things” that we believe will make us satisfied if we obtained them.



we don’t get that object/job/relationship and we feel that life is lacking.


we do get that object/goal/job and we realise that, it might be good, but it doesn’t fulfil us in the way we believed it would. [ii]

So, we set our intention on the next object/goal/project. The ‘thing’ that, this time, must surely be the one that will deliver its promise of lasting happiness.

Christianity has a word for these objects/objects/schemes – it calls them idols. We make them our idols and we look to them to deliver us happiness and satisfaction.

What good is it if a man gains the whole world, but forfeits his soul? [iii]

Some Christians are even guilty of packaging the Christian message up in this way; another self-help programme, another scheme that promises us happiness if we only do x, y or z.

But the Christian Gospel, the Christian ‘Good News’, is not another scheme; it is not another programme to follow, it is freedom from such schemes and programmes.

In the Bible, Jesus tells a story that we know as ‘The Prodigal Son’. In that story the Father is representative of God. At the end of the story, when the prodigal son has been welcomed home, the elder brother is beside himself with rage. He has been striving to please the Father, he’s been endlessly obedient, he’s been the good son. Is that not worth a reward, he wonders? At which point Jesus has the Father (or God) say to him:

You are always with me and everything I have is yours. [iv]

The heart of the Christian message is a radical idea called Grace.

The profound announcement that you already have everything you need. You are a child of God, loved before the dawn of time.  Free from the endless pursuit of the next path to happiness, free from devoting yourself to these ‘idols’ with their false offer of peace and salvation.

Seek first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you as well’ [v]

Jesus spoke of this life as ‘life in all its fullness’, true human flourishing, a life of depth, of vitality, and the knowledge that you are deeply and fundamentally loved. It’s not found in chasing the next gust of wind, but instead turning back to God and realising what you really needed was there all the time.

Bessels Green Baptist Church is committed to helping you explore what this life looks like, 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

[i] Pharrell Williams ‘Happy’
[ii] Often the pleasure is in the hunt, the desire, the initial rush of the purchase, but how soon that fades.
[iii] Matthew 16:26
[iv] Luke 15:31
[v] Luke 6:33

Treasure the Questions

Do you remember ‘magic eye’ pictures (stereograms)?  If not, google them, and you’ll see apparently random, confusing, fractured patterns, which at first look incomprehensible. But take the time to sit with one, relax your gaze, look through the image and after a few minutes a picture will emerge. A shark or a boat are famous subjects; and not only will the shark emerge from the chaos, but the image will have a strange 3D quality.

For many people reading the bible can be like trying to ‘read’ a ‘magic eye’ picture. We often come to the text with questions, uncertainties or even doubts, and that’s ok! These are old, old stories. In the light of all we now know from science, are you really asking me to leave my brain at the door? No, I’m not. Do I have to swallow a seven-day creation story or a man being eaten by a fish to have faith and take this book seriously? No, you don’t.

For the record, I believe the bible is inspired by God, but even as early as the middle ages the church learned to read levels of meaning into the biblical text. On the surface is the literal, historical reading. That is followed by an allegorical or spiritual reading, ‘what does this story tell us about God?’. Thirdly, a moral reading, or ‘how then shall we live?’ and finally an eternal (or eschatological) reading, ‘what might this tell us about where this is all heading?’ For the early church fathers, as far back as the third and fourth centuries, the literal reading was the least interesting. Sometimes we need to sit with these stories, relax our ‘gaze’, let them move us, shape us, do their work and connect us to God.

It is one thing to read a manuscript of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, it is quite another to sit before the orchestra and let the music surround you. Some experiences have to be lived, or experienced, before they reveal their meaning.

As Rainer Maria Rilke put it:

“Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart,
and try to love the questions themselves
as if they were locked rooms
or books written in a very foreign language.

Do not search for the answers,
which could not be given to you now,
because you would not be able to live them.
And the point is to live everything.
Live the questions now.
Perhaps then, someday far in the future,
you will gradually,
without even noticing it,
live your way into the answer.”

Or, as the orthodox priest Kallistos Ware says,

“It is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progressively aware of a mystery. God is not so much the object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder.”

So come, bring your questions, even your doubts. A church should be a place of radical honesty, discovery, wonder and transformation. A place where we encounter the mystery of God and ask the question ‘how then shall we live?’

Grace and peace,
Charlie Ingram

Charlie is the Senior Minister at Bessels Green Baptist Church.
Services are at 10am and 4.30pm on Sundays.

Please go to bgbc.co.uk for more information about the church and all that goes on during the week.

Image credit: Aaron Burden on Unsplash




A Hospital For Sinners

What is a social club? Wikipedia defines it as “a group of people or the place where they meet, generally formed around a common interest, occupation or activity.”

There are many different kinds of social clubs, some centred around golf, or art, or sailing, etc… In order to become a member of that club you must first prove that you are worthy to be part of the club. In one club, you can only become a member if one current member sponsors you and another is willing to second that application, only then you can be considered. For others lineage or money are the keys to getting in. All clubs have some standards or expectations you must meet in order to join.’ At some, dress codes are enforced, exclusive and particular language is used, and certain lifestyles are expected. In the most exclusive of clubs ‘if you need to ask what they are, don’t bother…’

To what extent have we let the local church come to resemble a local social club?

How did Jesus treat those who came to him? Did Jesus ever turn certain types of people away?

Certainly, if there is some sort of destructive behaviour going on (Christian theology calls this sin), it may need challenging, but when? Before or after the individual are welcomed? When others are at a different place of the road of life to us, are we willing to let God work at His own pace? Or do we insist that all should be in the same place as us?

When we try to keep out those who are not of ‘like-mind’ the church has become a club, and this makes me so sad. If we really believe Christ died for all, then all are welcome.

It’s hard inviting someone to a church that will require and entire cultural change in order to be accepted. Churches have so many unspoken rules (and written ones) that often visitors feel discouraged and give up.  It seems to me that Jesus had very little time for the religious rulers of his day (The Pharisees) and their obsession with keeping their faith (Judaism) pure. Jesus’ radically inclusive nature led to him eating with prostitutes, tax collectors and others the bible simply labels ‘sinners’. In fact, he seems to do it so often that he developed quite a reputation, being labelled ‘a friend of sinners, a glutton and a drunkard’. Matthew 11:19

‘God forbid’ people should speak of us in those terms!

We are not a social club for saints, we are a hospital for sinners. We are a church striving to live like Jesus and follow him, and in that light, all are welcome.

Grace and peace
Charlie Ingram

We make the road by walking

“Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on . . . this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on . . .”

Philippians 3:12–14

You are not finished yet.

You are still ‘in the making’.

You are not the finished article.

You have the capacity to continue to learn, mature, think, change and grow, but you also have the freedom to stagnate, regress, and lose your way. You have a choice – which road will you take?

What’s true of you, is also true for Bessels Green Baptist Church.

Like individuals this church is also unfinished, constantly ‘in the making’. We have the capacity to move forward, if we choose . . . or we have the freedom to stagnate and regress.

We live in a fast-changing world that is pulsing with both danger and promise. Every organisation is now having to deal with constant change. How is the church to respond? Some churches will respond negatively and reactively, tightening like angry fists, hunkering down against the evil lurking outside. While others may respond positively and constructively, opening their arms, eager to see what God is doing in this changed and challenging world.

I for one want Bessels Green Baptist Church to participate in a way that is positive, constructive and open. We have the chance to explore new possibilities, to develop unfulfilled potential, to discover new ways to bless, inspire and enliven; that is, if we don’t shrink back from this moment. I believe God is calling us to walk into this opportunity with faith, hope and love.

Over the next fifty-two weeks we are going to open the Bible together and look at this question. How do we respond to such a changed and constantly changing world? We are going to journey through the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, looking at God’s story, the story of this radical faith movement; the way that God has lead his people through times of change and challenge.

So, if you’re a seeker exploring Christian faith, or if you’re new to faith and seeking a good orientation, over this year you’ll find the introduction I wish I had been given.

If you’re a long-term Christian whose current form of Christianity has stopped working and may even be causing you and others harm, I hope and pray you’ll find a reorientation from a fresh and healthy perspective.

If your faith seems to be a lot of talk without much practice, I hope this journey will help you translate your faith to action.

And if you’re a parent trying to figure out what you should teach your children and grandchildren – knowing you want to introduce them to a Christian faith, but not exactly the version you were given – I hope the next twelve months will meet that need.

You are invited to join us on Sundays at 10am or 4.30pm as we set out on a yearlong quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation and Activation.

The road of faith is not finished. There is beautiful land ahead.

I hope you’ll join us and be part of the adventure.

Grace and peace,


Charlie Ingram

Charlie is the Senior Minister at Bessels Green Baptist Church.
Services are at 10am and 4.30pm on Sundays.
Please go to bgbc.co.uk for more information about the church and all that goes on during the week.

Sunday Sport

Froome won his fourth Tour de France; the British Lions have tied the series against the All Blacks; Murray and Konta out in the quarter finals; Vettel is fourteen points clear of Hamilton; and so I could go on.

Sport grabs our attention, inflames our passions, demands our loyalty and gives us plenty of drama to talk about down the pub.

But sport also appears on smaller fields and venues all over the world, often witnessed by parents and grandparents, in rain coats and folding chairs.

The drama of the unknown; the sense of community; the chance to compete safely against others, and often against ourselves. As a keen long-distance triathlete, you’ll often see me running the streets of Chipstead, swimming in the lake or cycling the local hills in search of a new ‘personal best’.

Sport is a wonderful way of exploring the fullness of life, whether participating or as a fan. We love to ‘play’ and sport is a great way to continue ‘playing’ long into adulthood.

I am also completely committed to living an integrated, holistic life. Body, Mind and Spirit are inseparable. Physical fitness has a direct impact on mental health as well as spiritual well-being. Perhaps it’s the hours spent out enjoying the beauty of creation or the rhythmic meditation of a long run, but sport helps me connect with God.

I don’t believe we should have to choose between Sport or Spirituality, my experience is that they can be brought together and can inform and nurture each other.

Yet numerous local sports clubs meet on a Sunday morning, forcing many of us into an uncomfortable dilemma – one made even harder as a parent: sport or worship on a Sunday morning? I’ve heard and understand all the arguments for and against, yet none of them make the decision any easier.

It was with this dilemma in mind that we decided to start its 4.30pm Afternoon Sports Service. Our afternoon service is a place for those who choose to participate in sport on a Sunday morning to come and meet, learn and worship God together. Designed for families, we aim to keep the service to one hour and the content accessible to all. Every week is followed by a ‘bring and share’ meal.

So, if you’re passionate about striving for your ‘personal best’ in all areas of life – physical, mental and spiritual – why not join us? You’d be made to feel very welcome. Services resume with the start of the rugby and football seasons on the 3rd of September, 4.30pm, Bessels Green Baptist Church. We’d love to see you there!

Grace and peace,
Charlie Ingram

Charlie is the minister at Bessels Green Baptist Church, services are at 10am and 4.30pm on Sundays. Please go to bgbc.co.uk for more information about the church and all that goes on during the week.

Hospices of Hope

Mehai (not his real name) is fifteen, although he doesn’t look like it. His body is twisted by what I imagine must be cerebral palsy. He lives in a small, two-room house in rural Romania with his mum and dad, four brothers and two sisters on the outskirts of Brasov. No running water, toilet or gas supply. A bare bulb for light and a wood stove for heating and cooking. The three beds, two sofas, a fridge, a cupboard, sideboard full of ornate glass, wardrobe and a TV are the only furnishings.

Yesterday I had the privilege of visiting him with Antonia, one of the social workers from Hospices of Hope, an organisation Bessels Green Baptist Church supports. I had taken my camera, but to ask the family for a photograph seemed wholly inappropriate. Besides, the image of his smile, as I held and stoked his hand, will remain in my memory for years to come.

Antonia’s English is limited, but it’s better than my Romanian, which is only three words. In the car driving on to the next visit we talked; from what I can understand she has been helping the family obtain the correct certification to access what little state support there is available. We make another five such visits before returning to the hospice for a late lunch.

Today, on the drive from Brasov to Bucharest, we stopped at King Carol I’s summer residence. It’s staggeringly ostentatious and full of gold, marble and carved wood. The king had imported the finest materials from all around the world. Apparently, he was permanently concerned with his prestige and that of the dynasty he had founded. His wife, Elizabeth, claimed he even ‘wore the crown in his sleep’.

Throughout the tour of the castle I couldn’t get over the stark contrast between this and the poverty I had witnessed the day before.

It reminded me of a parable Jesus told.

“The farm of a certain rich man produced a terrific crop. He talked to himself: ‘What can I do? My barn isn’t big enough for this harvest.’ Then he said, ‘Here’s what I’ll do: I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll gather in all my grain and goods, and I’ll say to myself, Self, you’ve done well! You’ve got it made and can now retire. Take it easy and have the time of your life!’

“Just then God showed up and said, ‘Fool! Tonight you die. And your barnful of goods—who gets it?’

“That’s what happens when you fill your barn with Self and not with God.”

Speaking to the people, he went on, “Take care! Protect yourself against the least bit of greed. Life is not defined by what you have, even when you have a lot.”

Luke 12:16-19, 15, The Message

Christian Aid have a fantastic motto, or mission statement: We believe in ‘life before death’. It’s an idea that seems equally applicable to Antonia, a Hospice worker, providing end of life care, working with a family to help them make the most of life – no matter how limited the options may seem from the outside.

I found myself pausing and reflecting on the question, ‘where is real life found?’ In the gypsy home or the king’s castle? In opulence and splendour, or a gentle touch and a smile?

You can find out more about the work of Hospice of Hope via their website. http://www.hospicesofhope.co.uk/ or by visiting the tea shop in Otford.

Grace and peace,

Charlie Ingram

(image: Hospices of Hope)


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)

The Book of Joy

To celebrate the Dalai Lama’s 80th Birthday, he and Archbishop Desmond Tutu met in Dharamsala in India where they spent five days “in deep dialogue and playful laughter as they shared their experience of how to find joy in the face of life’s challenges.” ‘The book of Joy’ published by ‘Penguin/Random House’ was the result.

These two Nobel peace laureates have been tested by great personal adversity.
The Dalai Lama has lived as a refugee in India since 1959, and, fearing for his life, is unable to return home to Tibet. A year after the attainment of majority rule, signalling the end of the apartheid era, Archbishop Tutu was appointed chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; he has heard accounts of the very worst human atrocities. Yet despite these experiences both men, now in their eighties, have found a way to live with an enduring joy and zest for life. So much so, that they are known for being among the most infectiously happy people on the planet.

How? How can two men, who have witnessed so much evil, remain so joyful?

Christmas is coming. For Christians it is a season of joy and hope when we remember the birth of Jesus, Emanuel, which means, ‘God with us’. We sing “Joy to the world, the Lord is come”, but how do we remain joyful and live with an enduring sense of hope when, each evening, our television screens bring us stories of war, refugees, famine and disaster?

Joy can be easy to find when we live in naivety; but how can we fully inhabit the joy and hope of Christmas when it looks as though our world is heading in the opposite direction?

The answer is a spiritual one – there is something that these two, great spiritual and moral leaders have found which enables them to rise above the daily challenges and reveal joy and hope on the other side of adversity. For Tutu, his answer is in Jesus, who, through his life, death and resurrection ushered in a new way of being, a new hope! Because of Jesus the world is different – God is with us, and we just need to be awakened to that reality.

How we live in the joy and hope of Christmas will be the topic of our Carols by Candlelight at Bessels Green Baptist Church this year. As well as a chance to sing some of your favourite carols, we will be exploring in more detail what it means to live with hope and joy in the world. Do join us at 6.30pm on the 18th of December for a good sing-song, followed by mulled wine and a delicious mince pie or two!

Merry Christmas,

Charlie Ingram
Minister and Team Leader
Bessels Green Baptist Church


This Autumn at BGBC we’re thinking about life; this precious gift of God, breath by breath, moment by moment, and how we can make the most of it.

If your life were a bucket, what fills it up? What brings you life? What gives you energy, be it physical, emotional or spiritual energy (they’re all connected, after all)?

What does it feel like to live with a full bucket, living from a place of energy and contentment, well rested and filled with the love of God and family? When I’m living from a place of rest, doing the right things and energized by life, I’m happier and generally nicer to live with.

Conversely, what is it like to live with an empty bucket? To live distant from God, depleted in a whole number of different ways? I know that when I’m depleted I’m easily irritated, I withdraw, I over-work and so the list goes on?

So the question becomes, whose responsibility is it to maintain a full bucket?

The more I explore the spiritual life, the more convinced I am that the solution does not lie in new ideas or possessions or programmes, but rather in stripping away the excess, simplifying life and learning to live in contentment, grateful for each and every breath.

Up until Christmas at BGBC we’re going to be thinking about this. How we can simplify various areas of our lives. How might our lives look if we follow the Maker’s instructions in relation to managing our time, finances and work. Thinking about forgiveness, friendship and fear. Plugging the holes that drain us and seeking ways to live a full and fulfilling life – the life in all its fullness Jesus spoke of.

Whose responsibility is it? Yours and mine – so why not join us as we explore together?

Sunday Mornings 10am, Bessels Green Baptist Church – bgbc.co.uk

Grace and peace,



If you missed the first sermon in the series “Exhausted to Energised” you can listen again here.
You can also download the reflection here.

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