A word from the vicar

The Greatest Invitation   (December 2023)

At this time of year, many of us with be extending or receiving invitations to parties, dinners, and get-togethers. For those of us who will, I’m sure these meetings of friends and family are a highlight of the Christmas season.

But I’d guess – and this is true for me too – that most of these soirees would fail Christ’s instruction from Luke 14 (vv.12-14):

When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbours; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid.  But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Now please understand, I’m not trying to make us feel guilty. Christmas might be the only occasion that we get to meet up with those loved ones who live further away. But I do think these words of Jesus should be kept close to mind. I’d guess that we all know people who won’t have full diaries over Christmas; might we find time to invite them for a minced pie and a glass of mulled wine?

Such invitations are excellent ways to pass on the love of Jesus. But there’s an even better invitation that we’re called to extend; the invitation that Philip offered Nathaniel after he’d me the Lord: “Come and see!” (John 1.46). Any time is a good time to invite someone to Church, but Christmas is a special opportunity as it may seem less threatening to those who are suspicious or nervous. And this Christmas we’ve got some amazing events that we should definitely invite people to.

We begin next week with our inter-generational Christmas crafts and do-it-yourself Christingle event. I always find it so powerful when we stand in a circle and light all our candles. I’ve yet to meet someone who doesn’t.

The Christian Actor Matt BrittonAnd then there’s our Carol Service on the Wednesday evening before Christmas. Now this is always a good service to invite people to, but this year we’ve invite the Christian actor, Matt Britton (pictured), to dramatically enact some of our favourite Christmas lessons. From what I know about Matt’s ministry, I doubt that anyone – regular churchgoer or not – could fail to be deeply moved by this service. Let’s make sure that our Church is full.

And then of course there is the ever popular scratch nativity and our midnight Communion service which are always well received by both regulars and visitors to our Church.

Last month Simon challenged us to think of and then pray for five people we know who do not yet know the Lord. If you’ve not yet taken up that challenge, do it now, and then – if they’re local - invite each of them to join us at Christmas. It’s the greatest invitation they will ever receive. And although it might take some courage on each of our part, Philip’s shown us the way:

Come and see the Church lit up at Christingle!”                “Come and see the Christmas story told afresh by an actor!”
“Come and see our nativity and dress up and join in!”     “Come and welcome our saviour at Midnight Communion!”   Ian

Pass It On   (November 2023)

I have spent the month of October looking at the topic of evangelism, and how I can improve my own personal sharing of Jesus with those around me; as one author I read wrote “As followers of Jesus it is not just our job to get to know Jesus well, but also to make Jesus well known”.

Probably the most helpful and most obvious thing that struck me over my time looking at this was the importance of not waiting until you feel “ready” to share the gospel. Instead, we should just get out and start doing it, and continually learn from doing it. It seems that Christians in the West lack confidence, both in themselves and also in the Gospel.

But to know that Christ has sent the Spirit of God to dwell within us, and that it is ultimately Him that draws people into relationship with Christ not us can be a very comforting thing to know. It is not us or our own intelligence or skill that draws people to Christ.

The late David Watson identifies another primary reason why Christians struggle with witnessing: motive. He argues that Christians in the West have often forgotten the urgency with which we are called to proclaim the gospel. As Paul writes in Ephesians 5:15-16 “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”

We currently live “between the times”, often called “the last days”. We are in between the two greatest moments in history: the resurrection of Christ, and the return of Christ. We do not know when this will be and so we are called to urgency in drawing people to Christ.

The third thing I was reminded of in this month was the importance of continually praying for those that we love and care for, and have been placed in our path, for an opportunity to share the love of Jesus with them. To Start each day with this request to God, but also to pray this as we talk and engage with people. As we draw towards Christmas, we are reminded that this is a very real touchpoint between people and the Church. Many people who never normally attend Church will often come to a carol service, nativity service, or midnight communion.

So, it is important that we start praying into these events now, and asking who it is that we can invite to these events to encounter the love of Jesus. Write down the names of five people you know and can invite to a Christmas service. Begin to pray for them daily, and pray for an opportunity to invite them to one of our services. Simon

Picture of red and blue carsAmazing grace   (October 2023)
(and a not so amazing vicar)!

This week I found myself sat in my car on the church drive facing another car coming in the opposite direction. I’m sure we’ve all been there. One of us had to reverse to let the other past and I’m afraid to have to tell you that I was determined that it wouldn’t be me! Sadly, the other driver was of the same mind.

To make matters worse a lady then walked past who asked me – though I suspect she already knew the answer – “aren’t you the vicar?” My honest response to her question was met with an accusatory retort: “well, you’re not acting like one!”  How very right she was!

Now if all that wasn’t bad enough, I compounded the situation by trying to explain calmly to the lady that I’d waited at the top of the drive for a previous car and then started to make own my way along well before the driver who now blocked my path. I also reasoned that it was easier for him to reverse a few yards than it would be for me up the slope and around a bend. All this may have been true, but every word was making the situation worse.

Eventually we sorted things out; but I was left with a deep sense of regret and shame. ‘What sort of an ambassador was I for Jesus? Where was the grace in my actions? How quickly had I forgotten that in the upside-kingdom of God the first are last and the last are first? It was an epic failure on my behalf.

Why am I telling you this story? Well firstly, because it might be reassuring for you to know that even we vicars very frequently fall short of the glory of God (though I can’t for a minute imagine Terry or Simon in the same predicament!) 
But secondly, I tell this story because it might well be a cautionary tale for you, as it was for me. You may just suffer from a similar ailment: that is, of assuming that justice and truth trumps everything else. You see, I am a champion for truth and justice. When even little things are unfair, I’m quick to point them out; and when I hear an untruth, I’m desperate to expose it.

Now this may seem quite virtuous. Didn’t Jesus describe himself as “the Truth” and isn’t his kingdom one of justice and righteousness? Well, yes, but it’s also saturated with an amazing little thing called ‘grace.’  It wasn’t because of ‘justice’ that the younger brother in Jesus’ parable was welcomed home, it was because of grace.  It wasn’t ‘fair’ that all the labourers in the vineyard were paid equally, they were so because of grace.

And most importantly, had Jesus himself favoured truth and justice above grace, he would never have gone to the cross on our behalf.  The things he was accused of weren’t true; his sentence wasn’t just; and yet he obediently suffered and died so that your indiscretions, and mine (including this weeks’ stand-off on the drive), may be forgiven.

I’ve re-learnt a valuable lesson this week. It was a painful one to go through and I’m still agonising over the damage I may have done by ‘standing up for my rights’ when I should have radiated Christ’s love and been his gracious ambassador.  I do hope I get the opportunity to apologise to that driver and that lady I met on the drive this week.  But for now, at least, let me apologise to you, the Church, who I also let down. I do try to model what it is to be a disciple of Jesus, but I don’t always get it right. Thank God for his grace!        Ian

paper dove made from Bible pages

Who is the forgotten God? (September 2023)

The Forgotten God is the title of a book, set of videos, and a study guide created by the American pastor Francis Chan. Our Life Groups will be following the course “Remembering the Forgotten God” this autumn. Let’s allow the author himself to set the scene for us:

To a frightening extent, the Church has forgotten about the Holy Spirit. We talk about Him from time to time, and we believe that He is actually living inside us, but what difference do you see between a typical Christian, who has the Holy Spirit, and a typical non-Christian, who doesn’t?

Due in a large part to our Western mind-set, we tend to assume that God won’t work supernaturally in our lives. Sure, the Spirit did some crazy things in the book of Acts, but He doesn’t work that way anymore. Or does He? One thing is certain: We will never know the Power of the Spirit until we open our lives to follow his leading.

Without the supernatural power of God in our lives, we remain incredibly ordinary. Our churches remain ordinary. At times we will attempt big things for God, but we don’t really expect anything supernatural. Our natural tendency is to work in our strength rather than relying on the Holy Spirit, and the results are not surprising.

How do we explain the absence of the Spirit’s power in the church today? Is the Holy Spirit weaker now than He was in the New Testament? Or have we simply restructured our lives to be safer, more comfortable, and more self-dependent?

This [course] is about exploring the person of the Holy Spirit and reflecting on His power to work in and through you. It’s not enough to believe in the Spirit’s power generally or His plan for the Church as a whole. It’s time for each of us to develop a relationship with the Spirit of the living God and begin to follow His leading in our daily lives.

As you work through these seven sessions, you will study the person and work of the Holy Spirit. But rather than focussing on doctrine in an abstract sense, you’ll be asked to consider the implications for your life, question your motive, challenge your assumptions, and ultimately learn to love, follow, and rely on the Spirit of God.

Before you start, ask yourself if you really want to be changed. Studying the most powerful being imaginable is bound to make you uneasy about certain aspects of your life. Do you really want to meet Him in the days and weeks ahead? It is impossible to encounter the Holy Spirit of God and not be changed.

Francis Chan, Remembering the Forgotten God, p.11-12.

What a question: “Ask yourself if you really want to be changed?” You may not want to be; I admit that although my answer is a heartfelt “yes” I’m a bit nervous about what this might mean.  But when the Holy Spirit transforms us, God’s Kingdom will surely grow and flourish.

Our Life Groups meet at various times of the week. Why not join a group if you’re not in one already? – speak to Simon or I, Terry, Jo S., Margaret, Dot, Helen B., Ruth, Irene, Christine P., Jean W., or Carole - we’ll even start up new groups if the demand is there. I’d love for the whole Church to say “yes” to being changed by the Holy Spirit.     Ian

You shouldn't gossip about others

Let’s be kind and be careful (July 2023)

This May, I celebrated six years as incumbent at St Thomas’ Bradley. In all that time I could probably count the number of unkind comments that I’ve heard on the fingers of one hand. By this, I mean, the number of occasions that I’ve heard one member of our Church community speak ungraciously to, or about, another. Now, of course, I am not party to every conversation that is shared; but if asked, I would claim that gossip is not common in our Church and that unlike many other similar communities, cliques are not really a thing here.

But in the past couple of months, I’ve had a number of conversations that have caused me to question my rosy view of our Church. I’ve spoken to people who feel as though others have spoken about them unkindly and that gossip and cliques are not quite as unheard of as I had thought they were. I still think that we’re a generally loving, welcoming, and inclusive community; but I also feel that it’s worth reminding ourselves of how followers of Jesus should behave when it comes to our chatting.

Gossip is such an easy sin to fall into; I’m aware that in my previous career as a teacher, I had to check myself regularly during staffroom conversations. I was also part of a staffroom group that if I’m honest I’d now probably describe as rather cliquey. Sometimes gossip can be the passing on of news that is completely true; and as such we can kid ourselves that we’re not lying or saying anything out of turn. But even passing on truths can be unkind, unnecessary and - worst of all - unchristian.

The Bible is filled with warnings about gossiping.  James reminds us that all humans must strive to tame our tongues, which he describes as “a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (Jas. 3.8). Paul, writing to the Ephesians adds “Let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up.” (Eph. 4.29). And, most sobering of all, Jesus says that what comes out of our mouths reflects the state of our hearts and that, on the day of judgement we will each have to give account of “every empty word that we have spoken” (Matt. 12.34, 36).

Before we speak, especially about other people, it’s worth asking ourselves four very important questions about what we are going to say: ‘Is it true?’ ‘Is it necessary?’ ‘Is it kind?’ and ‘Is it helpful?’

First of all, is it true? It should go without saying that we Christians should avoid bearing false witness; after all it is one of the Ten Commandments. It’s not good enough that we may think something is true, or even that we think something is likely; if we are not speaking what we know to be true, we should stop right there. And remember, things told to us as “truths” may not be true at all; so, let’s also avoiding passing on things that we’ve heard from others; they might not be right!

And as I’ve already suggested, just because something is undeniably true, it may still be inappropriate to pass that word onto others. Before we do this, we must consider the second, third, and fourth questions to ask of ourselves.

So, secondly, is what we’re about to say necessary? Now imagine you’ve seen the vicar walking out of the hair loss clinic on Keldregate - what a story! But  consider: do you need to report this to others? Do they need to know? When we pass on ‘true’ information of this kind, it is never more than idle gossip.

Then, thirdly, we need to consider whether the things we say are kind. To say that you think the vicar has put a little weight on this year may well be a valid observation (it is!) but is it kind to talk about others in this way?

And finally, is what you are planning to say helpful? Remember Paul’s words to the Ephesians that I quoted above? Speak only words that are “helpful for building others up.” There are countless wonderful things that we might say about one another at Bradley, so why are we drawn to pass on the things that may present other people in a dubious light?

We know well that juicy gossip sells newspapers and gets people clicking on internet links; but shouldn’t the Church be different? Shouldn’t it be a place where we celebrate the good and refuse to pass on titbits of gossip? If we all resolve to do this, not only will our Church be a nicer place for all, but we will be building one another up and in doing so building up God’s Kingdom.       Ian

Has the words Be Content

Be Content (June 2023)

Everywhere we look there are adverts telling us about things we don’t yet have but we really need. In addition to TV ads and billboards, most of us are now also bombarded by internet pop-ups which specifically target us with products that complicated algorithms have computed will appeal to us.

And most of us, to some extent or other, fall right into the trap. We feel we need to update our mobile phone; we need an expensive overseas holiday; we need a new cosmetic product or treatment; we need this season’s fashions.

But do we? Perhaps a mobile phone is now essential – but does it have to be the best and latest model? Perhaps you do need a break – but does it have to be in a five-star hotel six thousand miles away? I think you get my point. Well, it’s not actually my point, at all. It’s what the Bible says; again, and again. Here are a few examples:

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Heb. 13.5

But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content. Psalm 131.2

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 1 Tim. 6.6-8
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Phil. 4.12-13

Then [Jesus] said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions. Lk. 12.15

The fear of the Lord leads to life; then one rests content, untouched by trouble. Prov. 19.23

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  … But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matt. 6.31, 33

Then some soldiers asked [John the Baptist], “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.” Lk. 3.14

 It’s quite a list, isn’t it? And, like most things in God’s Word, it’s so countercultural. Can you imagine telling those who are currently striking over wage demands to be content with their pay?  (Just to be clear; paying workers a fair wage is also a Biblical principle.)

Why should we Christians be content with our lot? Well, those passages above offer us a number of powerful answers to that question:

  1.      True contentment can only be found in relationship with Christ and nothing else that we desire will leave us satisfied.
  2.      The desire for more than we need is spiritually unhealthy because it replaces our desire for God.
  3.      When Christ returns, we will be short of nothing; why jeopardise this future for short-term contentment? 
  4.      Contentment brings peace. Discontentment, unhappiness.
  5.      It’s only by being content that we will be grateful To God.
  6.      Taking more of something will often means others will get less.

So, let’s live lives of contentment and gratitude for what we have now; and be excited for the day Christ returns when all his people will want for nothing. Ian


Logo for the Marriage Course

Singleness, Marriage and God (May 2023)

In a few weeks’ time, Simon and Jo will be leading a course that originates from the same place as Alpha. It’s called “The Marriage Course” and it’s designed to help couples who are married, or not-yet-married, strengthen their relationships, and understand how God can safeguard and deepen their love for one other, as their love for Him grows too.

Now I need to stop here and admit that at times the Church has hurt many people by giving the impression that being married is an essential part of the Christian life. This has often left believers who are single, divorced, unmarried, or even widowed to feel like second-class citizens of God’s kingdom. I know this course could be seen as another example of the Church favouring those who are married; that is certainly not our intention.

In fact, the Bible is very clear that there is a calling at least the equal of marriage and arguably superior to it; that of chaste singleness. Sometimes Christians choose to live this way; often circumstances beyond their control mean that they live this way for part or all of their lives. I’ve just finished reading a book by a celibate gay Christian named David Bennett who moved from being an athiest LGBTQI activist to committing himself to this way of life having encountered God and engaged with his Word. He admits that his calling is a constant struggle but testifies that it allows him an intimacy with Jesus that those in romantic relationships or marriages are often unable to reach.

Paul says much the same thing in 1 Corinthians 7 where he writes: “An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord.  But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided.” (1 Cor. 7.32-34)

In that same passage Paul also says: “I wish that all of you were as I am” (that is single and celibate) and he later adds “those who marry will face many troubles in this life.” That last statement is one of the reasons why we’re running the marriage course. Romantic relationships are tough!

But before I put people off matrimony entirely, it’s also worth remembering that Jesus affirmed marriage (in Matt. 19.5) and that Paul (in Ephesians 5) compares marriage with Christ’s love for the Church. This “bride and bridegroom” motif appears also the book of Revelation and in many of Jesus’ own parables. The Bible also teaches that marriage is also the only rightful place for children to be born and raised.

Because Christian marriage points towards this beautiful union of Christ and his Church, the devil is utterly determined to tear them apart.  So, if you are married, you’ve almost certainly got the odd relationship-related issue or two to work through. And that’s why we’re running this course; to safeguard Christian marriages, relationships, and families.  
For a summary of the truth about marriage and singleness in the Bible we return to Paul in 1 Corinthians 7,
“each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.” 

As I write this today, I’m conscious that we should certainly think about running a course that addresses the particular blessings and challenges of singleness. Do let me know if you think this would be useful to you.     Ian

Rowena Cross

A Beggar's Banquet (April 2023)

The Sri Lankan pastor N.T. Niles once famously described Christianity as "one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread." I really like this quote as it powerfully demonstrates three important truths about our faith; it reveals (1) the desperation of our state as sinners, (2) our salvation through the discovery of Jesus (the Bread of Life), and (3) the import and urgency of telling others just where this salvation may be found.

For me, Lent, Passiontide and Easter reinforce this message. At Lent we reflect on our humanity and mortality, our plight summed up in Paul's statement that "the wages of sin is death..." (Romans 6.23a). Like a beggar without aid, our future is bleak and inevitable. But then through the events of Holy Week and Easter we learn about Christ's redeeming work and discover the truth of what Paul goes on to say in that same verse: "...but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Romans 6.23b).

If you're reading this, the likelihood is that you're a beggar who has found the source of this bread. But what about the final part of Niles' quote? Are you going to keep the whereabouts of that bread to yourself, or are you going to seek out other beggars and show them where it is found?

I'm sure that if we were talking literally, you'd do everything you could to prevent others from starving when you knew the location of a limitless supply of bread. And yet, the chances are you're not quite so ready to lead people to something far more important - the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ. Most of us just find this far more difficult to do.

On Thursday 25 May, we've invited the writer, evangelist and speaker, Rowena Cross, to our Church of St Thomas' Bradley. She wasn't born or raised as a Christian and came to faith dramatically in her mid-thirties. Her testimony is incredible but you'll have to come to Church on that Thursday evening to hear all about it. The one thing I will share with you, though, is the anger (yes, anger) she now feels about the fact that nobody told her about Jesus before they did. She remembers as a child being greatly moved by the musical, Joseph, but reflects that nobody bothered mentioning to her that it came from the Bible. Rowena would probably describe the first thirty-some years of her life as being like a beggar for whom nobody had cared enough to show them the source of free and unlimited bread.

This frustration at the western Church's nervousness about evangelism is perhaps a reason why her 2022 book is entitled "Be bold, stop faffing around, and crack on for Jesus." Rowena is passionate about the Church becoming empowered and 'set on fire' by the Holy Spirit in order to bring the Good News of Jesus to the lost and the broken; those people who are still beggars searching for bread.

I am so excited about Rowena's visit. Please do invite your Christian friends to come and hear her speak; but I have to warn you, her message won't be for the faint-hearted!

As we mark Holy week and celebrate Easter this year; let's remember how blessed we are to know what this story is all about. Let's reflect on how, without the cross and the empty grave, we would all still be beggars searching vainly for bread and waiting for the finality of death. Let's give thanks for those in our lives who lead us to the source of this bread; and above all, let's ensure that we're not failing to lead other beggars to it. In short, be bold, stop faffing around, and crack on for Jesus!          lan 

Michaelangelos picture of God

Our Father? who art in heaven (March 2023)

You may have seen some sensational newspaper headlines last month suggesting that the Church of England is considering using gender-neutral terms for God; no longer employing the male pronouns, “he”, “him” and “his” and removing the word “Father” from our prayers.

The first thing to say about this is: don’t believe everything you read! These headlines sprang from a single question at the recent General Synod and there are no changes of this kind in the offing. The Church has created a five-year plan to explore the topic of gender neutrality, but this is not with the intention of ending the three and a half thousand year-old Judeo-Christian practise of referring to the Almighty as “Father”.

But I think this latest piece of media misinformation is worth causing us to pause and reflect upon why it is we call God, our “Father”. As somebody from the Christianity Explored course rightly pointed out, our God exhibits many more motherly qualities and perhaps that’s especially true in our society today in which many mothers have added ‘provider’ and ‘protector’ to their list of parental qualities, and in which it is not uncommon for fathers to be absent from their children’s lives.

In fact, referring to God as “Father” has always created problems for those whose own dads fell hopelessly short of their God-given responsibilities, and especially for those whose fathers were neglectful or abusive to them, their siblings, or their mothers. So, with these things in mind, why do we still call God “our Father”?
Well before I try to answer that question, let’s get one or two things straight. The Bible tells us that “God is spirit” (John 4.24) which means that he does not have a human body (other than in the person of Jesus) and can therefore not be gendered or sexed as we humans are. In this sense God is neither male or female. And he’s certainly nothing like Michaelangelo’s God pictured above!

I find it really interesting that in Genesis 1.27, when God created humans, we read that “in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.”   This suggests that although God is spirit, he has both masculine and feminine qualities and that both men and women are modelled upon Him. This is very much reinforced in the rest of the Bible where God is described as as husband, king and provider; but also as a mother (Isaiah 66.13).

Jesus, who is the “exact representation of [God’s] being” (Hebrews 1.3) and the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1.15) was, of course, a man (he was circumcised!). But even he exhibited very feminine characteristics, most notably as he wept over Jerusalem “How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” (Matt. 23.27).

So God is Spirit, neither male nor female, yet being the perfection of both. So, then, we return then to the question I posed earlier. Why do we call him “Father”?

To me the answer is simple (but I know that it won’t satisfy everyone). We call God Father because that’s how he is known to Himself, and to His Son Jesus Christ, and to His Holy Spirit. God first identifies as the Father of his people in Exodus 4.22, he is also called Father in Psalms 2 and 89 and in Isaiah 63 and 64. He refers to himself as Father in Jeremiah 3.19. And it is through the being filled with the Holy Spirit, writes Paul in Romans 8.15, that we can cry out to God: “Abba, Father.”

But it is really the example of Jesus that cements the Christian use of Father to describe God. As a twelve year old boy Jesus described the Temple as “his Father’s house” (Luke 2.49) and he was still addressing God as his Father whilst dying on the cross (Luke 23.34). Supremely, he taught us how to pray, beginning with the words “Our Father in heaven…” not just His father but ours too. Why on earth would the Church want to change how we refer to Him? I really don’t think many people do.     Ian

Picture of a party baloon

Late to the party? (January 2023)

Usually, I like to get ”This Month” out on the last Sunday of the previous month. In my defence, the last Sunday of December was Christmas Day and I had one or two other engagements that week! But so late am I in publishing this first instalment of 2023 that I’ve decided to combine it with the one for February, and write some thoughts about punctuality!!

Being punctual is usually regarded as a virtue in our society. it’s something many of us might have claimed about ourselves when trying to impress on a job application or at an interview. Being late is not usually good. When we’re late for something we’re often making someone else wait, or letting someone else down. What’s more, making late payments or being late for work might cost us in our pocket or purse!

But turning to Jesus a little later in our lives than we might have done is not a catastrophe. The criminal on the cross next to Jesus repented and turned to Christ in the very last hours of his life and Jesus told him that on that very day he’d be in paradise. And there’s a wonderful parable in Matthew’s gospel that makes the point that latecomers are very welcome in God’s Kingdom; it’s the one about the labourers in the vineyard in Matthew 20 : 1-16.

In this parable, a vineyard owner goes into town and recruits some labourers who agree to do a days work in his vineyard for a generous wage of one denarius. At various points of the day the owner returns to town to recruit others to assist with the work. Then, at dusk, he gives to each worker the denarius wage he had promised to those hired in the early morning.

Of course these men - although they’d received exactly what they’d agreed with their employer - were incensed that the workers employed later on were given the very same wage.

Many people read this parable and sympathise with the labourers who had worked all day. And this might be especially true at the moment, when there is much agitation about people being paid fairly for their labour. But this parable is not about the pay of workers - it’s about God’s grace.

When the early morning workers complain about their wage, the owner makes the point that they’ve been paid what they were promised and that he has the right to be generous with his own money.

So it is with the kingdom. Some people may have been faithful Christians for their whole lives, whilst others may have turned to Jesus much later on. Like the labourers in the parable, we’ll all receive the very same reward; not because we’ve earned it, but because God is generous.

The only thing we miss out on in being late in turning to Christ is the peace and joy we might have experienced had we done so earlier. I suppose that’s also true in the parable. Whilst those hired early knew they’d be paid, the ‘later’ labourers had to anxiously wait, not knowing whether their families would eat that night.

So being late to the ‘Jesus’ party is not a catastrophe, unless of course we’re too late! In one episode of the Simpsons, Bart decides that he’ll live life his own way and then make a ”deathbed repentance." This is not only risky because none of us know for sure when we’ll breathe our last, or when Christ will return; it’s also perilous because whilst we live our own way our hearts may become so hardened to God that we’ll be unable to genuinely return to Him.

So don’t worry if you’re a latecomer to God’s family, just make sure you don’t leave it too late. Either way, our upcoming Christianity Explored course might be good for you. Ian