Welcome to Alnwick Baptist Church and the blog page for Chris and Caroline Friend.

These periodic musings are designed to give an insight into our perspective on life as Co-Ministers of the church either written individually or from both of us. Hopefully they will challenge and encourage in equal measure. During the COVID-19 crisis, we did weekly Wednesday Reflections  until  March 2021.

Last Friday night Mrs F and I went ‘out out’ and ended up at our favourite Indian Restaurant. Caroline always makes an effort and I commented on the top she’d chosen as looking great. Unusually for me, I too had made an effort (!) inasmuch as my sense of fashion and coordination have never been that good but, you know, I’d tried.
In fact, I was so pleased with my shirt that I asked Mrs F if she was impressed with my choice. She said: ‘Chris, I love you and I love the shirt though it looks a little “stressed”’. I checked that I’d heard her right: ‘did you say “stretched”?’ I asked (because let’s face it, I’d have felt a whole lot better if she had used the word “stretched” to describe my attire instead !!). She wriggled a little uncomfortably in her seat but confirmed that she had indeed used the word “stressed”. I mulled on this and considered a) I have put a little weight on recently b) my shirt may well have shrunk in the wash - unlikely but I was grasping at straws - and c) regardless of either (a) or (b) my appearance to my wife of nearly twenty years meant that my shirt had gone beyond “stretched” to the extent that it was in so much ‘pain’ that it was crying out “stressed”. There are many ways in which I have used the word ‘stressed’ but to apply it to the stage beyond a shirt being too tight was a new one.
I looked at Mrs F who by now had moved on and was happily munching on a poppadum and said: ‘is it because we’ve been married for nearly twenty years that you feel able to be so honest?’. She looked me in the eye and said: ‘Chris, as I’ve just said, I love you’ there was a pause before she concluded ‘and your shirt still looks a little stressed’.
I realised two things in this moment; the first was that I was loved and the second was that honesty is a hugely important aspect of that love, even when honesty can be uncomfortable to hear.
I had no doubt whatsoever that I was loved and this was not in any way diluted because of the uncomfortable realisation that I either need to buy a new shirt or lose weight; rather that the depth of love was also being evidenced in her honesty.
There’s a passage in John’s gospel where Jesus talks honestly about what it means to follow Him. Some said ‘this is way too hard to understand. Who can accept it?’. And yet the twelve disciples, those closest to Jesus, even if they were struggling to get their heads around His teaching knew, they just knew, that He was worth sticking with. Jesus eventually asks them “Are you also going to leave?” Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God’.
Following Jesus does not mean that we get to hear the answers to our questions that suits us. Instead, we get the answers to the questions that will give us life and help us to follow Jesus closer.  At different times this could look like: Encouragement. Affirmation and/or Challenge. It may mean that sometimes we may need to hear God’s word to us through others in a way that makes us examine our appearance and see signs in our lives that are ‘ill-fitting’ or stressed and need to be addressed so that we can better line up with the character of Jesus.
Over-arching all of this though, there needs to be a recognition that we are unequivocally loved by our Father God who starts all His sentences with us with ‘Chris, I love you’ Every.Single.Time. This affirmation will always be front and centre with God no matter where we find ourselves. That's a stress-free truth if ever there was.

So, apparently towel folding is an actual skill. Who knew?! I only discovered this last week through my own erroneous method. Having seen them hanging on the line and realised that they were dry, I brought the assorted hand drying fabric into the kitchen and set about neatly folding them - I don't iron - and placed them on the table. Satisfied that I had helped with this domestic chore, I moved onto prep for preaching and settled myself in the adjacent office. Half an hour later Mrs F returned in chirpy fashion only to hesitate in mid flow as she walked into the kitchen. After a few moments (and aware that she'd stopped talking) I turned to see all the neatly folded towels being unfolded before being neatly folded again. 'What are you doing?' I asked. 'I'm folding the towels' she said. 'But I already did that' I said. 'Sort of' she said. All of a sudden I felt like the Towel Patrol had just walked into the house and given me a ticket for bad folding! The fine: 100 hours community service at the local Finishing School. The look on my face spoke to confusion and a small amount of feeling insulted at my good work being undone only to be done again in exactly the same way...or so I thought. An explanation was coming. 'Do you remember the video I showed you the other week about the wife who mowed the lawn?' she said. It started coming back to me and I did not like where this was headed. Seeing in my body language that I was not happy with where this was headed, she boldly reminded me that the husband in the video had in all good faith folded the towels but that because he had not followed the line pattern (!!) in folding, it was patently wrong'.
The memory of what happened next suddenly became crystal clear and I realised like a king on a chessboard who's army of knights, bishops, rooks and pawns have all been obliterated in one foul swoop, that I was boxed in and it would just be a matter of time before the queen dealt the final blow. The queen continued... 'So, the wife went into the garden shed, got out the lawnmower and then proceeded to haphazardly mow the lawn until all the grass was cut. The husband, seeing that the lawn had not been cut in straight lines, was furious at the free abandon with which the grass cutting had occurred, almost feeling the pain of the green carpet that had been so insensitively and manically mowed rather than magnificently manicured.' The Queen stopped awaiting a reaction with a look on her face that read Smugness. I glanced outside relieved to see that I had at least mowed the lawn the day before - with beautiful lines I might add - so at least I wasn't going to be on the end of this self fulfilling prophecy. I then looked at the queen for a long time before venturing without any real conviction 'that's simply not the same comparison.' She gave a withering look and said 'how is it not the same?!' It was a statement as much as a question. I opened my mouth but nothing came out. She smiled and wandered off. Check mate.
Perspectives eh. What mattered to Mrs F really didn't matter to me one iota and she would argue the same for my horticultural obsession with cutting grass like it's Wimbledon. Truth be told, neither are important.
There's someone in church who I meet with regularly and speaks a lot of wisdom. One of their phrases when it comes to perspective is to 'keep the main thing, the main thing'.
As I look at the world around us on a local, national and international level, the sadness and weariness that seems to permeate society should at least help us to concentrate on what is really important right now. Yet, I'm not sure we do. I think we still get hung up on incidental, irrelevant and frankly first world stuff. I remember David's last preach before he retired that he brought us back to the main thing by referring to Jesus' own words in John 13; So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
I remember it for being a clarion call to be followers of Jesus as Jesus wanted his followers to be. Now, at the end of two years of weekly reflections, I think it's only right that I conclude by pleading with us to look again at that passage and realise that it's the main thing because Jesus said so. May we remember that His banner over us is Love. May we remember what it is that unites us. And may we seek to be authentic in our love for others. God commands it.

'I’m delighted to let you know that my dream job as chaplain to Ipswich Town FC is to become a reality. It’s a new venture that I’m incredibly looking forward to though obviously it will be a wrench to leave Alnwick after so many years'. 
That's what I wrote on social media on the morning of Friday 1st April. Many people realised straightaway that the post was untrue but some didn't and took a while to work it out and - if I'm honest - some still think I'm leaving for Suffolk imminently with comments such as 'what a shame, you've only just sorted your house out' and 'what a miss you'll be'. Which is all very kind so perhaps I'll get round to telling them soon. Mrs F just incidentally simply had a waving emoji with the one word response 'Bye'. Just my dream then! But one reaction was from one of the coaching team for junior harriers who was initially taken in by it and exclaimed 'this cannot be happening. Please don't go'.
Two weeks ago, I was sat on our front patio drinking my essential flat white, reading CDP whilst watching the sun - the warm sun - rise in the sky. 'Spring has sprung' I said to myself. A week later, I was not sat on my patio but rather parked on the sofa with a hot water bottle for company as I looked out on the titian one wrapped up in winter coat (recovered from the loft) with hood up trying not to slip in the midst of a snowstorm. I shook my head and said 'this cannot be happening. When will winter pass?'.
Last night I sat watching the news and the horrific events in Ukraine that continue to dominate the headlines. The unbelievable and tragic loss of civilian as well as military casualties from the very young to the very old. Five weeks ago, a democratic, peace keeping country in central Europe was invaded and the horror of war is there to see. 'This is April 2022 I thought, 'this cannot be happening. When will good triumph over evil'.
As we approach Easter week, with the benefit of hindsight we know what happens next but those present at the time didn't. When Jesus declared to his disciples that he needed to die, they in effect said 'please don't leave us, who shall we go to?'. 
On Palm Sunday, the sun was surely warm in the sky that greeted the day their master was welcomed with triumphant voices to Jerusalem where palm branches waved and hallelujahs sung in His way. Only days later the sun was banished in an instant as darkness played out over Calvary and this time the terrible sound of harmful lashes flayed and 'hail king of the jews' spat in his face. Huddled as the disciples were for fear of the authorities, their silence spoke to 'but we thought the darkness of winter was past, what happened to the hope of spring?'. 
With the news of Easter Day still to reach them, the two on the road to Emmaus would dejectedly question their new companion: 'Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” “What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place'. Good should have triumphed over evil.
I suspect you, like me, have spoken the words 'this cannot be happening' in recent days and weeks. It may be a personal pressure perhaps family or work related or something in community that breaks your heart as well as global events. Nevertheless, we are left shaking our heads in sadness, disbelief and righteous indignation.
In the midst of this heaviness and confusion and desperation we find Easter. A week like no other which plays out like a roller coaster of emotions, from mountain top euphoria to slough of despond dysphoria before the victory snatched from the jaws of death that is just stunningly miraculous and hope filling and life giving and awe inspiring.
When the two on the road to Emmaus were reeling from the events of the crucifixion, they were perplexed, saddened and dismayed that the good they saw in Jesus had not overcome the evil regime in charge. And yet in the words of Samual Lockeridge... it's Friday but Sunday's coming.
And it is because the Ultimate Good in Jesus has overcome the tyranny of evil that we can and indeed must believe that love and peace must find a way to be established once again in the 'now' of God's kingdom on earth. 
As much as I wish we could go from Palm Sunday to Easter Day without any of the pain, the reality of Easter is that Jesus must die for the victory over the grave to happen. We cannot have one without the other.
As you move through Easter week, I encourage you to take time to be present in each day. Don't rush through Maundy Thursday and Good Friday to get to the 'good bit'. Sit with the suffering, the pain, the isolation, the emptiness for in so doing, the glory and hope of the resurrection will be all the more meaningful.

Getting up around 7am I'll generally make myself a coffee and ease into the day. Today though I found myself irritated that I'd forgotten to wash up the milk jug and my favourite coffee mug from the night before and the dishwasher that I thought had been on was full of dirty dishes. All this delayed my caffeine intake at the desired time. Then I discovered that the Wi-Fi was down and the inconvenience of that. At that point I decided to sit down and pop the TV on. What I saw pulled me up short. Miles and miles of cars stretching as far back as the eye could see in gridlock. The reason? The people of the Kyiv, the capital city of Ukraine leaving en masse as the rhetoric of invasion that had been brewing for months finally materialised in the early hours with a unequivocal directive from Moscow to enter Ukraine by force. 

I wondered what it was that stopped me in my tracks on this occasion? Only 9/11 and The Falklands conflict had the same effect. There is ongoing war and tragedy of huge proportions in Syria not to mention Afghanistan and atrocities elsewhere. It's not that I feel anaesthetised to these situations, though in an age of rolling news on a multi platform, it's too easy to scroll on through to find something lighter by way of escapism.
Not today. Is it the close proximity of Ukraine? After all this is Europe and a whole lot closer to home. Is it the visceral rhetoric from the aggressor that is deeply concerning? What about the other countries that border Russia and previously were part of the bloc. Where does NATO play a part in this? And selfishly, how does this affect me? 
I say selfishly but actually that question can be viewed in two ways. The first which says: How am I impacted in a way that is detrimental to me, my family, my community etc in both direct and indirect ways? In other words, will war spread and involve the UK? is a direct response. Will cost of living and fuel prices increase? is perhaps an indirect consequence of the escalation. But the bottom line is that the viewing of that question is seen through the lens of 'me, myself and I' and therefore it brings my concerns into play. 
How about though if I ask the same question but viewed through a telescope and not a mirror. How does this affect me? In other words, what is my response to this crisis that switches the focus away from me to those who are - quite literally - in the line of fire. How am I affected by what I see and hear playing out in Ukraine that spurs me into action? In the first instance, I become acutely aware that those irritations that I woke up to this morning are very much 'first world problems'. There's nobody in that line of traffic worrying about their morning routine being disrupted by not getting their regular flat white fix. They are fleeing for their lives. I need to hold lightly those things that are inconsequential and give thanks for the macro picture of freedom that I enjoy here in the UK.
Secondly, having factored that my irritations are ridiculous in the light of what is happening, what can I now do? Is there anything that can be done? As I wrestled with this, my phone started to ping. Various posts on WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter all with the same title #PrayForUkraine. An eclectic mix of young and old, people with deep rooted faith and none all unified in concern and sadness. I can't play a political part on the world stage in resolving this crisis but I can cry out to God. 
So that's what I did. Not in a way that was a 'tick list' approach to prayer but rather a heart cry to Almighty God to intervene. I took the unusual step of writing it down in a way that made me think hard about what I was praying and why. I offer it to you now: Heavenly Father, Eternal Refuge, Helper in time of need, We lift up the country of Ukraine and its people to you at this time of crisis. Dark forces are at work driven by irrational greed and power that would seek to decimate and destroy innocent lives by the brutal means of artillery and warfare. We pray in the mighty and victorious name of Jesus for a changing of the narrative. We pray for a turning back from the anger, rhetoric and tragedy of war. Where humankind will fall short, by your holy spirit You, Almighty God can make a way where there is seemingly no way. May there be a divine intervention that sees invasion replaced by withdrawal. We cry out for mercy, for justice and for peace. In an age of mis-information, may there be a clarion call to truth and may truth speak to power in a way that is sanctified in wisdom and full of the heart cry of compassion that emanates from your heart of love for all creation. We pray for more of the not yet of your kingdom now Lord. We ask in weakness but with a whole hearted mustard seed belief that You who can move mountains will prevail.

We ask this, joining with millions if not billions of others petitioning before your throne of grace, and do so in the risen name of Jesus Christ, conqueror of death and bringer of life.

I simply ask you in the coming days to add your own prayer(s) bringing Ukraine and it's people before God. It may be an intangible offering to you but it matters to the people of Ukraine right now. Let's do so in faith.
 
 

The Greatest Of All Time (GOAT) is a very subjective tag and people's views on who should fill this category in certain fields - usually sporting - is often dependent on age. Growing up, I heard 'older' people talking of the Brazilian footballer Pele as the GOAT but I wasn't old enough to remember him so therefore I look at Lionel Messi as surely vying for the title. I happen to think that Bobby Robson is the GOAT when it comes to football managers that this country has produced but I'm blinkered by my allegiance to Ipswich; there's plenty of Man United fans who would tell me to give my head a wobble and trump me with Sir Alex Ferguson. See, it's very subjective.
This week however the tag has come up not once but twice. Rafa Nadal aged 35 and on crutches a few months ago came from two sets down to win his second Australian Open but more importantly his 21st grand slam title nudging him ahead of great rivals, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. Is he now the GOAT? Well the debate has raged on this week with some saying that it will only be when these three have put their racquets down that the answer will be clear. Maybe though for my money, Rafa has it by a nose.
Elsewhere though, a sporting icon has hung up his boots and his gridiron as well. Legendary American footballer Tom Brady, quarterback for twenty years with the New England Patriots and latterly Tampa Bay Buccaneers has retired at the age of 44 (!!) winning no less than seven superbowl titles in an illustrious career. He has won more titles than any other team never mind player. To ask what his greatest achievement is, is like being presented with a tray of the world's most valuable diamonds and being told to rate them from worst to best. But to understand the greatness of Tom Brady, you have to go back to his very early days playing the game. Brady was not that good, in fact he was decidedly average. In the 2000 draft where the best players are numbered 1-20, Tom Brady was eventually acquired by the Patriots as something of an afterthought to be their reserve quarterback.... at pick number 199.
Yet it was this adversity that formed Brady into the player he would become. The expectation in general was that this average sized, average speed guy would have well, an average career, a journeyman at best. Brady changed the narrative. He knew that he was average build and average speed so he honed in on accuracy and efficiency and with almost monotonous perfection (ala Glen McGrath targeting an English batsman's off stump) Brady first rose up the ranks before towering as a colossus as the undisputed GOAT of American Football. To say that he was perfect however would be to view the man through rose tinted specs. He was tarnished by his part in what became known as Deflategate, whereby he and others were cited for taking air pressure out of the ball in matches where it was wet in order to get a better grip and therefore an advantage. Not in the spirit of the game and very much against the rules. Brady was banned for a period but came back stronger.
There's a man in the bible called David, the shepherd boy who became king. I'm not going down the route of GOAT as far as he's concerned but there are parallels. From the prophet Samuel's perspective, his 'number 1 draft' to be God's appointed king was Eliab and when God said 'no' then his number 2 pick was Abinadab. Again God said 'no' and the cycle repeated until there was only one pick left. That pick was David. 'Really?' thought Samuel. 'Definitively yes' said God. But even with God's seal of approval, the average views remained. His brothers told him to push off when he visited them near the frontline as they faced off against the Philistines. But David's confidence in God and in his unerring accuracy honed in the sheep fields meant that he was steadfast in his belief that God had plans which David was part of. Stood before a quizzical King Saul with armour three sizes too big for him, David tossed the metal to one side and with sling and stones undertook to take on the giant of Goliath. It only took one shot to hit the target. Efficiency and Accuracy. From that point, David's star was on the rise. His life was full of many good things and the psalms are perhaps his greatest legacy but David, like Tom Brady, like all of us, got it wrong, in one instance badly wrong and it was a while before recovery came. In Psalm 51, David calls out to God to 'restore the joy of his salvation' and in God's grace that's what happened.
There is a small verse in Acts 13 which is often skimmed over but I feel is significant. It reads: 'Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep'. For me this verse is a huge encouragement. 99.99% of us will never be Brady's or David's but God has a call on our lives and, the story for each of us will be that mixture of success and failure but we can all serve God's purpose - whether that be big or small in our eyes - in our generation. In 1 Peter1 we read: you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.
The debate about the Greatest Of All Time in whatever sphere of life is interesting but when we lift our eyes to see the Greatest of Eternity, the One who loves us, then perspective says there's a part that we can play for the kingdom of God that transcends the kingdom of this world's values. This week, may you know that you are drafted by God to serve His purposes in your generation and be empowered by the Holy Spirit to fulfil that calling.