New Year Update 2016

Dear friends  

Happy New Year! I want to update you with a few things as we begin 2016.

 

“Generosity – A response to God’s love”

Today we launch a new theme, ‘Generosity – a response to God’s love’. This January and February we will explore how our resources support God’s work and we begin this week with a new four-part sermon series on Jesus’ teaching about generosity.

At the same time our home groups will explore God’s generosity to the people of Israel as they left Egypt through studies that invite us to reflect on generosity in our world, our church and in our giving.

In addition, I warmly invite all church members to an important presentation and discussion on this theme on Monday 18th January in the Church Hall at 7.30pm for one hour. Here we will discuss our church priorities and the resources we have available to achieve them.

Following these times of teaching, discussion and reflection we’ll encourage you to respond generously to a Gift Day on Sunday 28th February so that our church will continue to be a vital expression of God’s love and purpose.

 

Prioritising Prayer

Inspired by the words on our foundation stone, “This will be a house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56:7). I’d like to make prayer a priority for myself and for the church, especially as this is a vital part of stepping closer to fulfilling part of our vision, which is “Growing in God”.

To help us in this we are holding church-wide evening prayer gatherings in 2016 on Wednesdays 3rd February, 4th May, 6th July, 7th September, 5th October, 2nd November and 7th December.  Each gathering will begin at 7:30pm for refreshments.  Please put these events in your diaries and make them a priority.  We’re also planning monthly daytime prayer meetings, which we will inform you about as soon as we can.

Additionally, everyone’s welcome to join us for weekly prayer meetings on Tuesdays at 9:30am, and the fortnightly meetings on Thursdays at 7am.

 

Ash Wednesday and Lent Course

We may have only just put our Christmas decorations away, but Lent’s only a month away.  We begin with our Ash Wednesday Holy Communion with the Imposition of Ashes on 10th February at 7:30pm, and then John will lead us through a midweek Lent course – “The Eucharist Pilgrim Course will take us all on a journey of discovery which will enable us to celebrate the hospitality of God; praise God for all that He has done for us in Christ; commune with our risen Lord; deepen our devotion to Jesus Himself; and renew our service for others.”  It should be fantastic, so don’t miss out! More information will follow soon.

 

Queen’s 90th Birthday Celebration weekend – 10-12 June

There are plans across the Church of England to mark Her Majesty’s 90th birthday.  Every parish church is encouraged to organise a festival on this weekend, to host some celebrations and to organise an exhibition of the life of its parish over the past 90 years.  This will give us a fantastic opportunity to be a blessing to our community.  Please let me know if you’d like to be involved in planning how we lead the community in its celebrations.

 

Sabbatical

I will be on sabbatical from 1st July until mid-October.  It is hoped that clergy are able to have the opportunity for sabbaticals every 7 to 10 years.  The aim of this time is principally rest and refreshment.  I’m planning to focus on the theme of reconciliation, particularly in relation to Coventry and Dresden, and to reconnect with my family story, following my visit to Dresden last year.  Pam and John will share pastoral responsibilities between them, and I will make sure that all services are covered while I’m away.

 

Finally, don’t forget that Alpha begins this month.  Please pray about who you could invite along, or whether you’d find it helpful to attend yourself.

 

If you have any questions or concerns with any of these things, then grab me for a chat either after a service or give me a call – 7667 2879.

 

Yours in Christ

Andy

Immeasurably More

This is the sermon I preached today, based on Ephesians 3:14-21 It’s holiday season and some of us will be heading to the coast. Nearly all of us have. When we stand on the shore, there’s so much more out there. And sometimes you can stand on the shore, and if you look left, all you can see is the sea, and if you look right, all you can see is the sea, There is nothing else on the horizon – you’re struck by the boundless depths of the ocean. But you don’t really experience the sea unless you get your feet wet, actually you need to get out of your depths. Even then, you don’t experience the depths of the sea – you need to go diving or to a sea life centre to experience the breadth of life there. Then you become aware of the boundless depths of the ocean. Wouldn’t it be a shame if all you experienced of the sea was the view you got from the shore, gazing at the pretty blue thing out there. And yet, for many of us when it comes to our faith, if we’re honest, we’re standing on the shore. Some of us might have dared to step beyond the shore, but we’re still only up to our ankles and we don’t believe we can go much further. God’s saying, “I’ve got more for you than that – I don’t want you just to be paddling. I want you to be immersed in the full depths of all I have for you.” This morning I want us to widen our horizons, our expectations of what God can do in us and through us, so we might begin to grasp the immeasurably more that God has for us. Because God is a God of immeasurably more – he is able to do “immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine.” God says, “I want you to imagine more with me, and together we can do some fantastic things.”

We’re going to be looking together at this passage from Ephesians 3:14-21, which is one of the great prayers of Scripture. In fact, if you’re wondering what prayers to pray for others, or indeed yourself, this is a great prayer!

Lord, we pray that “You would strengthen us with power through his Spirit in our inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith. And I pray that we, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that we may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

Wow, that’s mindblowing!

It’s great that we’re looking forward to some wonderful celebrations of love, and there’s no doubt about the depth of love there is between Kerri and Ray who are being married next weekend, but God’s love that he wants us to experience is even bigger than that! God’s sating I have so much more than you can possibly imagine.

But what stops us from experiencing that “more” from God?

This morning I want to explore two barriers that stop us experiencing all that God has for us.

 

1) We fail to grasp how much God loves us

2) We make God to small

 

1) We fail to grasp how much God loves us

 

I think some of us are afraid of God. I think my nan was a God-fearer. This fear can impact everything we do, when it comes to faith. We come to church out of some sort of fear that when we meet with God face to face, we’ll be rejected because we haven’t met the standards and he’ll judge us if we’ve not gone to church or said our prayers often enough. And then, when we come to pray, we pray as though God doesn’t really want to hear from us. We fumble over our words and think of ourselves as not being important enough to be worth God’s time and certainly not good enough for God.

God doesn’t want us to come to him like this. He wants us to come to him like children come to their parents – with confidence. He wants us to know that his love for all of us is “wide and long and high and deep” and that his love for us “surpasses knowledge” (vv.17-19) – he wants it to be in our head and our hearts, to the depths of our being. He wants us to be filled with this love – not just to paddle in it, but to be completely immersed.

God loves you. Oh, how he loves you. If you’re here this morning, doubting the depths of God’s love for you, hear the voice of the Holy Spirit saying over and over again, oh, how he loves you. Grasp that. He has adopted you into his family, and made you his child. He delights in you. He wants you to know that to the very core of your being. You don’t have to strive to be in his favour. You already are. People in this world are desperate for love and approval. It’s there for them, and they don’t need to do anything to earn this love.

“The Law commands that we love perfectly. The Gospel announces that we are perfectly loved.” – William McDavid.

I think if we really grasped God’s love for us, it would change the way we prayed, it would change the way we hoped. I think it would also change some of the relationships we have with each other, because if we’re anchored by the knowledge of God’s love for us, we no longer depend on our family and friends to sustain us. This means that when we let each other down or hurt each other it’s not a disaster, because our self-worth is derived from God’s unchangeable, perfect love for us, rather than what others think of us and how they treat us. I think it would bring freedom to those who are imprisoned by fear. Why? Because, as it says in the Scriptures, “there is no fear in love, because perfect love drives out fear.”

God wants you to experience his love, to be immersed, as we are in the ocean, in his love for you. Knowing this and experiencing this love knocks down one major barrier to experiencing God’s boundless grace – we fail to grasp God’s love for us.

I pray that you would grasp that just a little bit more today, that you are infinitely precious, and infinitely loved, and nothing can take that away from you.

The second barrier that prevents us from living fully in God’s boundless grace is that

2) We make God too small. We put limits on what God can do.

St Paul ends his prayer with the words,

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (vv.20-21).

Do we believe in the God who can do immeasurably more? Do we know that God has so much more for us?

Christian author and speaker, Louie Giglio in the early days of his career in teaching at youth conferences and lock-ins, would preach and stay in the homes of host families. In fact, he had never stayed in a real hotel in his life – until one day, the hosts of this youth conference wanted to bless him so they gave him the nicest hotel room in the city. When he was with them all everyone talked about was the room, and how wonderful it was. When we saw it, he was impressed, but not that impressed – it was just an ordinary hotel room. What he didn’t realise was that he’d actually been given the hotel suite, with a living room, a dining room and even a second bedroom on the other end of the suite. Sitting on the dining room table was a massive gift basket with snacks and a t-shirt for the youth conference where he was speaking and a wonderful note welcoming him. He only discovered this later, by chance – he’d been given the key to the bedroom section at check in and not been told about the main suite that he had access to as well. He nearly missed out altogether on the best room in the city.

What if we lived our whole lives in the adjoining bedroom and thought our Christian journey is this, and God’s saying, I have so much more for you. More than you can ask or imagine. We don‘t have to be confined to the room. We can step out to experience all that God has for us –as individuals and as a church.

I don’t want us to merely exist as a church. I want us to really live. Jesus came so that we could have life to the full, to live life in colour, not just in black and white. I want us to grab the life God has for us with both hands.

Last Sunday – fantastic to celebrate our children’s and youth work. But, got to be honest. I’m not satisfied with current situation. Rich history of children’s and families’ work in the church. Why then are do we only have five teenagers who come regularly to church? What about the ones who are around their age who don’t come to church any more? I think there are about 30 children between the age of 14 and 18 who used to come to church but do so no longer. Of 9 young people who were confirmed only two years ago, only 3 still come to church. This is heartbreaking. I know this is a common experience with churches across the country – that young people drop off after the age of 11 and we don’t see them again until they come back when they themselves have had children. I don’t want to be satisfied with that. I believe God has more for us than that. We need to raise our expectations. We need to have a bigger view of what’s possible. What if we have 50 children as regular part of the church community? It’s not impossible – not in Allesley Park, which is a family area with four primary schools. But these things don’t happen by chance – we need take some steps of faith.

This is why I – and the PCC – believe the appointment of a children’s worker is vital – so vital that we’re willing to invest £17,000 of money that could otherwise be spent on the development of the building. I’m fully expecting that we’ll be able to obtain grants to help towards the costs of this role. But if we don’t, we risk running out of reserves completely. One temptation would be to hold onto our money and think that the children’s work would work itself out. We’d risk less that way, wouldn’t we? Actually, it depends on our perspective. I did some number crunching recently. In the past year, our average attendance of children has dropped by 8 in the past couple of years. If this continues at the same rate, we’d have no children left in the next 6 years. To not do something at this stage, to not act now, when we have great kids work and potential to grow in this area. To not act now could be far more risky than to act and to use the resources that are available.

We don’t have to be satisfied with the status quo. I don’t want to be satisfied with the idea that decline is inevitable, becayse church competes with so much these days, so we may as well get used to it. I don’t want that. I believe the narrative can change, and God calls us to dream bigger dreams for us as a church community. I want to dream that we can have 50 children as regular worshippers and that they don’t drop out at the age of 14. We need to dream bigger dreams and step out. The thing about swimming in the depths is it’s risky. When you’re out of your depths, anything can happen. But, we have a God of grace, of boundless possibility –a God who loves us he will not let us drown. I want to encourage you to dream bigger dreams. I want to encourage you to be people of faith who believe that God has immeasurably more for us. Be full of faith, because God is the Lord of the church – and he will build his church and his kingdom. He says, “I will buiold my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”

So, we’re on the shore. I don’t know where you are in your life. Have you limited what God can do for you? Are you praying small prayers? We put fetters on God, and God wants us to break out of those fetters and pray bigger prayers. To think bigger thoughts, to imagine bigger ways that God might work. We need the work of the Holy Spirit to stir us up, that we might dream God’s dreams for us. There is more for us. Not just in the area of children’s work. It’s been wonderful to have 5 adult baptisms in the past year. I want this to be the start. Why not pray for 10 – or more next year – more salvation, more of God at work, more lives changed. There is more for us.

Our duty is to allow God to work in our lives so that our imaginations can be released to dream the dreams God has for us. And then, to get to the edge of the shore. There’ll be areas of our lives where we’re challenged, where we find it difficult to imagine God working, where he’s saying to you, if you want to get the more I have for you, you need to step into the water. Get ankle deep, knee deep, and then immerse yourself fully, and we need to take a risk. . Some of us have got situations where we’re struggling, where we feel imprisoned and we can’t imagine a different future, and God is saying, come on – come out into the deep, like when Jesus walked on the water, he called Peter to walk on the water towards him. While Peter had his eyes fixed on Jesus, he did it, he walked on the water.   And Jesus is saying to us, looking at us, saying come on, walk on the water. Imagine what I can do in you and through you. Imagine my love for you – a love that will never die. Because God can do so much more than we can ask or imagine.

My prayer today is that this morning you grasp his love for you in a deeper way, that you swim in the ocean of God’s love for you. And also, as a church and as individuals, we’re able to swim in the ocean of God’s possibilities for us. We need to take risks, to take steps of faith so that we might see God’s kingdom come in ever greater ways in our church, in our lives, in this community.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

 

His ability, my availabilty

Just listening to the audio Bible, and got as far as Exodus 3.  I have a soft spot for Moses.  The story of the way God led him, spoke to him and worked through him has been so helpful to me already, and God has used that story to encourage me in the past.  This morning, I got to the bit where Moses meets God through the burning bush.  God calls him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and Moses comes up with many excuses and reasons why God should call someone else and not him.    I think his story will prove to be fruitful and helpful for me all through my ministry.

Leadership is hard.  It will always be difficult, no matter in which context I believe God is calling me to lead.  There will be plenty of times when I feel overwhelmed and won't know what I'm doing.  I will often feel completely inadequate - and actually, I think that's the best place to be.  I need to be constantly reminded that I must rely on God and not myself.  This is where the story of Moses, and the interactions between him and God - is so helpful.
The LORD said, "So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.’"

But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’

And God said, "I will be with you." (Exodus 3:10-12)
 
Moses' first objection is that he is a nobody, and God suggests that this is irrelevant, because what matters is God's presence.  This doesn't satisfy a still sceptical Moses, who continues to object ...
 

Moses said to the Lord, ‘Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.’

The Lord said to him, ‘Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the LordNow go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.’ (Ex. 4:10-12)

The lesson is clear.  God doesn't choose people with super ability.  He chooses those who are willing to join in with his plans.  He is the one who gives us the ability to speak.  He is the one who equips us to do the work to which he's calling us.  It all depends on his ability, not ours.  We need to be available.  God does the rest.

So, feel inadequate today to the calling God's put on your heart?  I suggest that's the best way to be - because then God can really do his work in and through you. Step out in faith, trust in God, and you may well be pleasantly surprised!

 
 
 
 
 

A personal story of reconciliation

Tomorrow I travel to Dresden, Germany as part of a party from Coventry to join in with the commemorations marking 70 years since that city was bombed.  The two cities were both (along with many others) devastated by bombing in the course of World War II.  After Coventry was bombed in 1940, leaving the cathedral completely destroyed, the people of the cathedral community made a decision to seek peace and reconciliation, and to build bridges between warring peoples.  This vital work still continues today.   A symbol of this reconciliation is the friendship that exists between Dresden and Coventry, the two stricken cities.  Our visit tomorrow will be a statement of solidarity as we stand side by side with our brothers and sisters to declare that love must overcome hate.  It will be a privilege to represent the church and city of Coventry over the weekend, but there is a deeply personal reason why the brief visit will be particularly poignant for me, and it's all to do with my grandparents ... this is a snapshot of their story ... The Buettner Wobst children in happier days in 1930s. Rike is 2nd from right.

Friedericke Luise Büttner-Wöbst (Rike) was born in 1926 as the youngest of 5 children in the village of Langebruck, on the outskirts of Dresden. Her father was the village doctor and they owned one of the only cars in the village. In the thirties they met and befriended Fred Clayton, a young Englishman from Liverpool - a Classics scholar from King's College, Cambridge where he had become good friends with Alan Turing amongst others. Fred was in Dresden tutoring in English, and it was through this tutoring that he met the Büttner-Wobst family. Fred left Germany when it became clear that Germany was becoming more of a hostile place under the rule of Adolf Hitler. A novel, ‘The Cloven Pine’ was published under the pseudonym of Frank Clare and served as a warning about the growing danger of Nazism.

The Büttner-Wobst family were happy and stable. Rike was confirmed in Dresden's Kreuzkirche. Then war broke out and everything changed. Tragedy struck the family when the eldest son, Götz, was shot and killed by a sniper in the invasion of Poland in September 1939. He was only 17, and his parents in particular were broken-hearted. They died within a year of their son's death. Rike and her siblings were orphaned, and life was far from secure.

Then in February 1945 the city of Dresden was destroyed. Thankfully, Rike was working on a farm outside the city when the bombs struck, but she knew people who had been killed by the bombing. Then the Russians arrived, anxious for vengeance. They gravitated towards the Büttner-Wobst house and their car. Rike was held at gunpoint and managed to talk herself out of being raped.

Meanwhile, Fred had begun the war at Bletchley Park. His skills as a linguist and love for the way that language worked made him the perfect code breaker. Although his fluency in German meant he was well-suited to the work at Bletchley, his superior officers were suspicious of his potential German sympathies, and he himself felt he'd had a too 'easy' war, so volunteered to go out to India to break Japanese codes.

Fred had not forgotten his German friends. After the war finished, he wrote to find out how they'd got on. Rike replied that the future looked grim as the likelihood was of Russia being in control of East Germany. However, during this time, something unexpected happened - as they exchanged correspondence, Rike and Fred fell in love. He sorted out the paperwork and enabled Friedericke to flee Dresden. They married in Liverpool in 1948 and soon moved to Exeter, where Fred began work as a Professor of Classics. Rike (Anglicised to "Rikki") began life in a foreign land - the land which had only recently been at war with her homeland.

Rike outside the doorway of her childhood home on a visit in 2000.  Above the doorway is the inscription, "Do right and fear no-one".

Rike and Fred were my grandparents. I had the privilege of visiting Dresden in 2000 with her and seeing my family's old home. Until I came to Coventry as a Vicar, I had no idea about the connections between this city and the one of my grandmother's birth, and particularly between Coventry Cathedral and the Kreuzkirche, where my grandmother was confirmed.

I find it incredibly significant to be visiting this city at the time of the 70th anniversary commemorations of the Dresden bombing, because, through my grandparents, reconciliation is in my blood. By being part of the commemorations and bringing their story back to life, hopefully it'll make a statement that love wins over hate - it's a message our world so desperately needs to hear.

New beginnings - This week's update

Next Sunday will be a day of new beginnings. It’s a privilege to host a confirmation service, and I look forward to celebrating this momentous occasion with those who will be making public declarations that they are Christ’s disciples. I’m also excited about being able to celebrate the beginning of Pam’s ministry among us. She has been a great support to me in the past few months, and I know that this will continue. I look forward to the whole church family coming together to celebrate.

The Magi - A journey of worship (Sermon - 11 January)

We’re at the beginning of a new year. No doubt the dawn of this new year has come full of expectations and hopes and fears, and perhaps resolutions? How many of you have made new years resolutions? How many of you have broken them? As we’re at the start of the new year, it seems a good time to renew our focus and remind ourselves of our priorities as a church and as individuals. Over the next three weeks, we’ll be looking at worshipping God, making new disciples, and transforming communities, using familiar figures from the Christmas story to bring these themes to life. So first we begin with worship, and who better to journey with than the magi? The Adoration of the Magi

They set out with one purpose – to worship the new-born king. Though we don’t know detailsl, it’s likely their journey was around 1,000 miles through inhospitable and uninhabitable landscapes. On foot. There would have been no hotels or creature comforts. The return journey would have taken months – and if you take into consideration the time they would have needed to prepare, you’re looking at six months away from home. Why? The answer is simple,

“Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

These mysterious magi from the east, possible ancient Persia – modern day Iran, came simply to worship the king. They didn’t just fancy a nice journey. They came to worship.

11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

You have to admire their tenacity. I wonder how much time they actually spent at their destination before making their long journey home? Not long, I imagine. But their journey no doubt must have been worth it, because they came face to face with the child Jesus. They came to worship him. They gave him their valuable treasures, but you know what, I don’t think their treasures were the most precious gifts they gave him. The most precious gift they gave Jesus was their devotion and their worship. They put everything else aside that they might bow down at his feet.

These magi give us a picture of worship. Worship is the devotion that we bring to Jesus. Often when we think of worship, we think of the type of worship that we like, and we can be critical, saying things like, well, I didn’t get much out of that today – whether that’s because we’ve not liked the hymn choices, or the style of the service. We stay away from church on those weeks when we don’t think we’re going to like the way the worship is going to be done. There has been lots of wrangling over the worship here in this church, which hopefully is something we’re over now. The problem with all this is that, although it’s appropriate that we are free and able to worship in a way that best enables us to meet with God, it all misses the point rather.

Worship is for God and not for us

We see worship as something we consume, something that is done for us. Worship isn’t about that at all. We’ve got it the wrong way round. Worship is something that we do. It’s something we offer to God. These mysterious magi, though they probably weren’t steeped in theology, they understood this – worship is something we give.

A man once heard a couple of people complaining about the service they’d been part of at church. One said to the other, I didn’t get much out of the worship today. Walking past, the man remarked, “I’m sorry, I didn’t realise we were worshipping you.”

And that’s exactly the point. Too often we make worship all about us, when it’s all about Jesus. When it comes down to it, worship isn’t for me or for you. It’s for God. It’s what we offer to him in response to all he is.

“Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him. Worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness.” – 1 Chronicles 16:29

You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you. – Nehemiah 9:6

When we worship, we join with all of heaven to give God praise. Worship is, as it says in one of my favourite phrases in the Anglican liturgy, “our duty and our joy.”

We give thanks and praise to God for who he is, and all the incredible things he has done for us and given to us. We worship God, above all, to give thanks for the wonderful gift of Jesus – and it was wonderful to be reminded of this wonderful gift of Jesus’ coming into the world as we celebrated Christmas together just a few weeks ago. We gather weekly throughout the year, because Jesus is for life, not just for Christmas – he deserves our regular devotion – it’s the least we can do to express our thanks and praise for the fact he came to save us, to bring us new hope and new life.

Worship is about encounter

The magi met with Jesus face to face. Isaiah, when he had his vision in the temple, he met face to face with God. This is why he was so terrified.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

In the Old Testament it was well-known that no one could meet with God face to face and live. However, thanks to Jesus, who has taken away our guilt and sin, and made us pure. This means we can meet with him face to face. We gather on Sundays in order to meet with God together, and to be changed to be more like him.

Worship is a lifestyle

Worshipping God isn’t something that only happens when we go to church on a Sunday, or Wednesday, or whenever. Worship is a lifestyle. In Romans 12, St Paul writes, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”

In the Message version of this verse, we read …

"So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life-your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life-and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him."

Darlene Zschech, the worship leader and writer says, "My heart is not for sale. God has claimed all of it to be his own. My life purpose is to revere and worship the Lord, as is the purpose of every person on earth. Our hearts have been bought with a great price and they are not up for grabs. No deals, no financial contracts, no momentary pleasure, no earthly offer can compare to the fellowship that is given to those who love God with their whole heart."

Worship is something that we’re called to do 24/7. Everything we do should be an act of worship. Give glory to God in all that we do and all that we are. The key aspect of our gathering together on Sundays is that we should be able to meet with God together, to learn more and grow deeper in our faith together, and that we might be equipped to live out our life of worship all through the week. We need each other to help us live our lives for Jesus. This is why it matters when you come on Sundays. If we all gathered together we could be such an encouragement to each other. It’s impossible to live out the Christian faith to the full on our own. This is why church matters.

In the Westminster Shorter Catechism, a statement of faith written in 1646 and 1647, it declares, “Humanity’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.”

Jesus is our goal

Jesus is the goal of our lives. We’ve been made to live and love for God, to worship him with our whole lives. Of course, it’s easy to find meaning in other things, to make them our idols. In the past week, I’ve been personally struggling, because I’ve been looking through the numbers of those attending on Sundays and the reality is that we’re not growing numerically as a church. I have pictures in my mind of the people who no longer come to church, and I feel responsible. I feel like a failure. But, the truth is, I’ve made numerical growth an idol. I’ve made the desire to be a successful vicar – and to be seen to be a successful vicar – my goal.

A platoon of soldiers was marching through the blistering heat of the Egyptian desert during the Second World War in desperate pursuit of water. The guide was confident of where to find it, but suddenly one of the troops spotted a beautiful desert lake several miles away. It was undeniable. So despite the guide's pleading, they hurried off course towards the beautiful water. Sadly as they approached, the Lake grew smaller and smaller until it disappeared in the sand. It had been appearance without reality. They had chased a mirage, and we only know about this because one of the soldiers recorded in his journal in his dying hours.

For me, church growth, or the lack of it, is the mirage in my life. You may have other mirages – other things that, though good in themselves, should never become objects of worship. Actually, our goal should simply be Jesus.

Phil Vischer was an animator who became a millionaire when his production Veggietales became a worldwide hit. It then all went wrong, and he became bankrupt and the dream died. He later reflected -

"if God gives a person a dream, breathes life into it and then it dies, then God might want to know what is more important to the person – the dream or God? The impact God has planned for us doesn't occur when we are pursuing impact. At long last, after a lifetime of striving, God was enough. Not God and impact or God and ministry. Just God."

This year, I’m going to seek to make Jesus my goal, to live my life to his glory. My prayer is that we would all live this out as a church community. The rest is in God’s hands.

Let’s seek to surrender our lives to Jesus.

A global family - this week's update

I, like many, was horrified by the terrorist attacks in Paris. Such senseless slaughter has rightly been condemned, and the blanket media coverage these events attracted is no surprise. But it occurs to me that we are very biased in the West. In Nigeria Islamic extremists reportedly massacred over 2,000 people, and Christian militias have been killing Muslims in the Central African Republic, and yet this gets little attention. These people are no less precious to God than those who died in Paris. Let’s remember we’re part of a global family, and we’re called to stand with all those who suffer. Lord, open our eyes.

This week's update

As you may know, I've been writing a mini-blog each week for our church news sheet.  Beginning this week, the aim is to publish these online too.  This is the latest edition, hot off the press! Happy new year! Have you made any new year’s resolutions? Are any still intact? If not, don’t worry, there’s always next year!!! Seriously though, I’d like to suggest a resolution that we might all make this year – to know Jesus better and to become more like him. This is God’s purpose for each of us; as preacher and pastor John Stott reflected, “God wants His people to become like Christ. Christlikeness is the will of God for the people of God. … In our own strength it is clearly not attainable but God has given us his Holy Spirit to dwell within us, to change us from within.” Come, Holy Spirit!

People of Truth and Grace

This is the text of the sermon I preached this morning, reflecting on Paul's courage to speak the truth in Acts 13:1-12.

 

Life was good for Jonathan Aitken. He was a high-profile, successful politician, destined for greater glory as a future leader of the Conservatives and therefore possible Prime Minister. Then, in 1995 Jonathan Aitken found himself the subject of front-page headlines that alleged he was involved in dodgy dealings with Saudis. He responded with the following speech …

 

If it falls to me to start a fight to cut out the cancer of bent and twisted journalism in our country with the simple sword of truth and the trusty shield of British fair play, so be it. I am ready for the fight. The fight against falsehood and those who peddle it. My fight begins today. Thank you and good afternoon.

 

When Jonathan Aitken made that speech, claiming to fight for truth I'm sure many applauded. How brave he was to stand up against the tyranny of the press that so often can be full of lies.

 

He was right - the truth matters. There is, I feel, something hard wired in us that demands to know the truth and we feel so angry when we are lied to or about.

 

In the last ten years, we have had big inquiries over the Iraq war – were we led astray, were there really WMD? there is an ongoing investigation into police conduct at Hillsborough where police witness statements were doctored and false accusations were made about Liverpool fans. There is still so much anger about the way the truth has been obscured time and time again. Even now, there are accusations and counteraccusations flying around. What about the recent downing of the Malaysian Airlines plane? Who was responsible? Who supplied the weapons? Have the rebels in Ukraine doctored evidence at the scene of the crash? We all demand to know the truth.

 

We want to get to the truth – about historic child abuse. The truth must come out.

 

Jonathan Aitken was right about the importance of fighting for truth. Falsehood needs to be confronted.

 

But it’s not just in the big institutions, or in government or high-profile cases where truth matters. Truth matters in this church community, in my life.

 

But, some might argue, how do we know what truth is – isn’t it subjective? A matter of opinion?

 

Actually no. Truth is objective. Truth is a person.

 

Jesus said, I am the way, the truth and the life.”

 

He also said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’ (John 8:31-32).

 

Jesus is the source of all truth. We also read, “For the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does.”

 

The truth isn’t out there, it’s here [pick up Bible]. And the thing about the Bible, is that we need to allow to challenge and correct us. We can’t just pick the bits of the bible that we like. There are, of course, parts that we need to wrestle over, and discuss together, which is why we need to read the Bible in community, not just on our own. Most importantly, we need to allow the Bible to read us, as well as read the bible.

 

I remember being at university. I was well aware of God’s calling on my life as a vicar. I then read the parts of the bible that outline the qualities that someone should have who aspires to that sort of role …

 

above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect.

 

Elsewhere it says an elder must be blameless, not overbearing, not quick-tempered … He must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. 9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

 

I read those words and I looked at myself and realised how far short of those standards I fell. I knew myself. I knew I was a sinner. I struggled particularly with self-control and quick-temper. I certainly wasn’t holy or disciplined.

 

And yet, I still felt the overwhelming sense of God’s call on my life for this vocation in life. I knew that I needed to change, to be different, and I knew that I needed help to do so.

 

Of course, this is where the Holy Spirit comes in – with our co-operation he works in our lives, shaping us and making us more like Jesus. We need to be open to the work of God in our lives. But we also need each other’s help too. We can’t do this Christian life on our own.   It’s just too hard. So I did something that would be alien to many of us. I found a more mature Christian and met with him regularly, and gave him permission to ask some brutally honest and deep questions of me. No holds barred. It was sometimes painful, but it really helped me.

 

Home truths were brought to me. A mirror was held up that showed who I was –

 

I was told I was arrogant, that I often devalued people by being distracted when I was talking to them. I was also told that certain habits that some may argue were harmless enough could, if they took root, destroy me. It could be a flaw in my character that would trip me up and undermine the work I do for God and the work God does in me.

 

These revelations hurt, my pride was dented. But what matters more? That my ego is respected, or that the sin that is in my life is dealt with? If you need an operation, what would you rather have, a good surgeon or a mate who will be nice to you?

 

I know of a young woman who is in an accountability group where in their first meeting they confessed persistent and habitual sin in their lives.

 

Wow. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it, but it demonstrates how much holiness matters.

 

We are called as Christians to love each other. We think that being nice automatically means being loving. So, we opt to be nice to each other. Don't tell the truth, because we think it'll hurt. Not telling the truth will hurt more long term.  Too often we don't want to say anything that might hurt the feelings of people around us. We want to let sleeping dogs lie, we don't want to upset the apple cart. We mistake niceness for love. They are not the same thing. Sometimes sleeping dogs need to be opened. Apple carts sometimes need to be upset, turned over, even destroyed.  if they aren't they could destroy us. 

 

The recent tragic case of Peaches Geldof tells us the dangers of addiction. But it’s not just drugs that destroy us. We can be addicted to other things … lust, porn, anger, bitterness, gossip, jealousy, being judgmental, idolatry, ambition … lots of different things that can hold us captive and destroy God’s work in us. And often, we can’t see it ourselves. That’s why we have the term blindspots. We’re blind to the damage we’re doing to ourselves or to others. This is why we need each other, to confront the truth. Telling the truth, however hard, is love. Ignoring the truth because we’re being too nice is not love.

 

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.(1 Cor 13:6).

 

I don’t want to be known as a nice vicar. I’d much rather be known as someone who had courage to tell the truth. Why? Because my calling here is to do what I can to build up and encourage the body of Christ here so that together we become mature in the faith. The key passage for me here is in Ephesians 4:11-16.

 

Ephesians 4:11-16

11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

 

We need to be people who are anchored to the truth, to not be people who only listen to the parts of the Bible that we like, or to listen to teaching that makes us comfortable. This means we need, each of us, to know our Bibles, so we know what it says about the way we should live our lives, we should also do our utmost to grow in our relationship with Christ, to stay close to the one who is the way, the truth, and the life. We also need to be filled and refilled with the Holy Spirit, who Jesus describes as the “Spirit of truth … [who] will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13).

 

Does this mean that we have permission to go around and say exactly what we like to each other? No, of course not. In our passage from John this morning, we heard that Jesus was full of grace and truth. Paul writes of speaking the truth in love. In that most famous passage about love, we’re reminded that our words and deeds are worth nothing without love. We need to be loving in the way we speak to each other – to think before we speak, to think about how we phrase any criticisms, if we should speak them at all.

 

In our survey our weakest area came out as loving relationships. This might have surprised many of you, because this is a tight-knit community. I wasn’t very surprised, because we don’t think about how we speak to each other. We can be careless with our words. And we also speak about each other rather than to each other. I have heard complaints about various things mainly through someone approaching me and saying, so-and-so says this. We need to speak the truth, but do so in love – and we must remember we’re doing God’s work …

 

James 5:19 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

 

All of this takes courage, and it could be costly, because we may need to confront some difficult, deep-rooted habits. However, the cost of not speaking out the truth could be much, much worse. After his famous speech, Jonathan Aitken took the Guardian newspaper and Granada TV court for libel, but the case collapsed in June 1997 when evidence was shown that backed up their version of events and not his. He had lied in court, and was later convicted on charges of perjury and perverting the course of justice. His fall from grace was complete and he spent 7 months in prison.

 

Then, everything changed. Through his fall from grace, he met with God, having an encounter with Jesus, who came to bring truth in this world, the one who is the way, the truth and the life. Aitken writes,

 

I had been travelling on a spiritual journey. It was largely the pressures of adversity that had set me on this voyage of exploration. Those pressures had included defeat, disgrace, divorce, bankruptcy and now jail - a royal flush of crises by anyone's standards. Yet pressure can be a making as well as a breaking experience. For after several false starts, stumbles, doubts and backslidings, my voyage of exploration evolved into a committed quest for a right relationship with God.

 

A quest for truth may be costly, but the consequences of not speaking the truth, of not confronting sin or injustice are much, much worse.

Joy in heaven

 

I love the verses in the Bible that talk about God’s delight in us, about partying and rejoicing in heaven when people come to him.  Jesus said, “Count on it—there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner’s rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue.” And, in my favourite verse in the Bible, we’re told … 

“The Lord your God is with you,
 he is mighty to save. 
He will take great delight in you; he will quiet you with his love,
 he will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).

 

Most of the time it seems incredible to think of God rejoicing and delighting in us, but last Sunday I think all of us who gathered for worship at St Christopher’s got a taste of what that’s all about.

 

Sunday was a day to remember for us as we welcomed Rob and Tony to "the best family in the world - God's". Rob was baptised and Tony reaffirmed his baptism vows. When most people think of baptism, certainly within the Anglican Church, they think of a baby being baptised with a sprinkle of water, but Sunday's baptism was very different. For a start, it took place in the vicarage garden. Secondly, there was no font in sight, but rather a baptistry that looked more like a hot tub. Thirdly, Rob and Tony are adults, and there would be no sprinkling - they would both be fully immersed in the water.  This would be no ordinary baptism, and it was wonderful to hear them share their stories of why they were making this declaration of faith.

 

Both of them did the Alpha course earlier in the year, which proved very significant for them in their journey of faith. 

 

Rob had been brought up as a Christian, but he didn't fully embrace the Christian faith - it wasn't fully real to him. He was waiting for a "Damascus Road" experience. Something changed last year when he wanted to find out more about God, so he signed up for Alpha. He found it incredibly helpful, and he realised he didn't need a dramatic experience of God; he simply needed to accept Jesus into his life.  Since he made that decision, Rob has experienced real peace in his life - he has come to realise that the words from Isaiah that he has in his room, "do not be afraid, for I am with you" (53:4) are true for him; that God will never leave him.

 

Tony had been baptised as a baby, but never believed. He read many books desperately searching for answers to questions he had about life, but his search seemed fruitless. The one belief he had always had was that there is a creator.  Tony also did Alpha, and he found it life-changing. Over the course of those months, he found faith, and it has made a huge difference to him. Suddenly everything seems in technicolour.  As he testified on Sunday, "I was blind, but now I can see." Tony wanted to mark this new beginning, the new life he's found in Jesus by reaffirming his baptism vows by full immersion. 

 P1020391 P1020397 P1020405 P1020419 P1020424

It was an incredible experience for Tony and Rob, and all those who were present to celebrate with them, and it is a huge privilege to be involved in their journey of faith.  

 

So, Sunday was the beginning of new life, a lifelong journey of faith for Rob and Tony. It was wonderful to celebrate with them, to welcome them into our family of faith, to witness to the difference that Jesus makes to people's lives today. It was a joyous morning, one that I for one will never forget. I'm so grateful to God for his amazing grace, and for the new life and transformation he brings.

#christmasmeans my wonder and worship ...

I wrote this poem a couple of years ago.  I tried to convey my continuing wonder at this most familiar of stories. I don't want to ever "get over" Christmas and what it means.  I hope this will inspire you and make you wonder just a little too. ... Perhaps you might be stirred to worship the baby King. Feel free to share ...

 

Was it badly planned? (A Christmas Poem)

 

Dear God and Lord almighty, creator of it all,

I have a few questions about the Christmas festival.

Each year we remember these events so long ago -

We sing and tell the story - but there's lots I still don't know.

You see, the problem is, I don't quite understand

Why it happened the way it did - was it badly planned?

 

Your mother was a peasant girl, so fragile and so young,

Her fiance was a hero, reluctant and unsung.

How did you know they could bear the load, that they wouldn't crack?

Why take such a massive risk - there would be no way back.

Why involve us humans - we could have made a mess

Of this great salvation plan - it could have cost you less.

 

You could have come in splendour more fitting for a king

- anything would have been better for the Lord of everything -

So, why choose rejection? why choose the manger?

Why those first visitors - it couldn't get much stranger

than these smelly shepherds. Could you really trust them?

They were outcasts, after all, not creme-de la creme.

 

Surely such a baby deserves a V.I.P.

Not riff-raff or outsiders, not people just like me.

Or was that just the point? Do we need to know

We're infinitely precious - is that what Christmas shows?

Was the Christ-child born for all? Is it really true

that Immanuel - God-with-us - is the perfect gift from you?

 

And can I really come to you in all my sin and shame?

Do you take me as I am, give me a brand new name?

"Beloved" now, and "chosen", "forgiven" and set free -

Accepted by the Saviour, who lived and died for me. 

I simply cannot take it in, not even a tiny part

But I thank you, God, for Christmas, from the bottom of my heart.

 

Andy March (c) 2011

Martin Luther-King and the Power of Hope

50 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr gave one of the grestest speeches in modern-day history. On 28 August a crowd of up to 250,000 marched on Washington as a mass demonstration for freedom. He was introduced as “the moral leader of our nation,” and the next 15 minutes were political dynamite, a clarion call for complete racial equality. “Now is the time”, he said, “to make justice a reality for all of God’s children … We will not be satisfied until justice rolls like rivers … and righteousness like a never failing stream.” And then he uttered those famous words … I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal. … I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by their character. 

 I have a dream today. 
… I have a dream that one day right down in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. 

I have a dream today.

 I have a dream that one day every valley shall be engulfed, every hill shall be exalted and every mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plains and the crooked places will be made straight and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. … With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.

 With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.

 With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to climb up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day. … So let freedom ring … from every hill and molehill … and every mountainside.

 When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every tenement and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old spiritual, "Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last."

What makes this speech so compelling? Why are we remembering this speech, above all others made during the long civil rights campaign for racial equality? I believe it’s because of that elusive and powerful sentiment – hope.

Hope is so powerful - as Andy Dufresne expresses so eloquently in one of my favourite films, the Shawshank Redemption, "Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies." Without hope, life loses all its colour, and even its purpose. Hope compels us. Itdrives us and motivates us - we long that things will be better. We all need hope, especially in a world where so much seems to go wrong, where there’s poverty, war, famine, and corruption everywhere you look. We need hope. We've been made to hope.

I believe that hope is so compelling, because we've been made for more. We've been made for day. We've been made for a world where everything will be just and fair and where everyone will be "free at last". That longing hardwired inside each of us, because we all have heaven in our hearts. As the writer of Ecclesiastes puts it, God has set eternity in our hearts (3:11)., or, as Augustine puts it, "You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you." We've been made for more, so much more, and so much better than the world around us. We've been made for this ...

“God has moved into the neighbourhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good – tears gone, crying gone, pain gone – all the first order of things gone.” (Revelation 21, MSG).

The world will be given an amazing upgrade. It will be an awesome place to live. I know some of you are thinking this is all pie in the sky when you die, but it’s not – this is a hope based on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, who brought hope to so many through his words and works of power - and then destroyed the power of death by rising from the grave. The tomb is empty.

Even today, Jesus is bringing hope to people. People are finding healing and wholeness through his power. All over the world, Spirit-filled people are carrying on his work. Great acts of selfless love and mercy are being carried out on an hourly basis – the sick and dying are cared for, the poor are given food, clothing and medicine without which they would die, orphans are given families, lives are being transformed – often by people who do so in the name and power of Jesus. They do it because that’s what Jesus would do, because that’s what being his follower is all about. Jesus brought hope to so many people when he walked this earth and he still does today. He can bring hope to you.

We are made to hope, because God has given us cause for hope. Our hope is sure and certain. Martin Luther King's dream may never be fulfilled in my lifetime, but there will indeed come a day when freedom will ring out from every hill and mountain top, and thank God, we will be free at last.

Be strong and courageous

Just over 32 years ago, I was given the name Andrew. It means "strong, courageous, manly." I remember being in secondary school assembly one day when the local Christian worker was talking about the meaning of names, and he mentioned the meaning of my name. There was a titter that went around those sitting near me, and I was embarrassed, because I felt that there was no way I could live up to that name. I felt far from manly as a teenager, and I don't think that ever really changed. I was never a "blokey" bloke, I felt I related to women better than men, so I felt that I wasn't really doing much to live up to my name. On my ordination retreat in June 2009, i felt so excited, and yet hugely daunted by the prospect of serving God in this new way. I was very clear that I was completely inadequate - there was no way I could do any of it on my own. There is a theological argument in some quarters that people change upon ordination to priesthood. I don't really believe in that, because I believe I'm no more different from any other followers of Christ - we are all part of the "royal priesthood" (1 Peter 2:9) - and yet, I believe there was a change in me upon my ordination - a moment of anointing and equipping for the ministry to which God called me. I also believe I was given the courage and boldness that had previously seemed to evade me. Suddenly I wasn't so afraid any more. Sure enough, when I went up for prayer at New Wine a couple of months later, the words from Joshua 1:9 were spoken over me, "be strong and courageous." I found myself standing up for things and people I would never have previously. A year or so later, out of the blue, a member of the church community where I served as curate (assistant pastor, for those unfamiliar with the lingo), said to me, "keep being bold." He'd seen and wanted to affirm that boldness in me. I believe I was bold, and that I saw the fruit of that boldness in people's lives.

On the morning of the service to mark the beginning of my life as vicar of St Christopher's Church in September last year, I was in Coventry cathedral. The reading from the day was from 1 Chronicles 28, in which the following words appeared: “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for ... the Lord is finished." I believe God was giving me an incredibly timely reminder of his command to me, to be bold and courageous. I would need to make difficult decisions, some of which might be unpopular. In the face of this, God was calling me to be courageous.

Just last week, at New Wine, as I was being prayed for, someone spoke over me, "mighty man of God." I don't know if he knew the meaning of "Andrew" (most people know me as Andy, anyway), but in that moment God through him was bringing me back full circle, to the identity bestowed on me at birth. I am called to be strong and courageous.

One of the themes that leapt out at me from the talks at New Wine, was the command to be courageous, that the church needed to stop being so afraid of losing face, or being unpopular. In short, we needed to get over ourselves! Robby Dawkins, a pastor in Chicago, through whom God has worked amazingly, said, "all of us have more power and authority than we use. ... It's about Christ in me. Christ the resurrector lives in us. We need to step into our true identity as God's children. ... Jesus came to show us what WE can do, not what HE can do." Robby's lived that out in his ministry and seen God do some extraordinary things - not because he's particularly special, but because he's grasped what it means to be people in whom God's Spirit lives and works.

The reason why we can be strong and courageous, living out that command God gave to Joshua, the reason why I believe I have been able to be bold, is because of the promise that's attached to that command ... "be strong and courageous," God says, ... "For The Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." Step out, God says, be bold. You will face opposition and hardship. You will face the regular temptation to fall into discouragement or disappointment, you will have every reason to be afraid, you will face what will seem like insurmountable odds. There will be times you want to throw in the towel and give up. But don't forget something vital, something that changes everything - I will be with you every step of the way. I'll catch you as you step into the unknown. I will never leave you. I will give you the strength you need. I will do all this for the sake of my glory, for the extension of my kingdom." We actually have an advantage over Joshua and Solomon, and the others in the Old Testament to whom that command was addressed - because Christ lives in us through his Holy Spirit. We have all we need to see Jesus work in mighty ways through us in our churches and communities. I believe if we really began to grasp this, we would see change in our nation.

Christ lives in me. His power and authority lives in me. I'm actually beginning to believe this. And so, since returning from New Wine, I have an extra spring in my step. I have prayed for people to be healed with that little bit more faith. I am feeling just a little bit bolder. I am taking courage, because I know that God is with me, that he has called me to love and serve this community that he loves so much that he sent his only Son to live and die for every one of the people who live here. I can be bold, because God goes with me. I can be bold because God's kingdom and the commission he's given us to make disciples matters more than my own reputation. I can do nothing without him, but "I can do all things through him who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:13). It's about time I lived up to my name, and became strong, courageous, enduring, a mighty man for Jesus.

Shift

I've been listening to Louie Giglio's teaching podasts, from Passion City Church. Of all the preachers I've heard, he above all has inspired, challenged and encouraged me. The latest series I'm listening to is one on the Lord's Prayer - called "Shift", inviting us to have a shift of perspective in our lives from our own limited and sinful perspective, to God's perspective. Once again it's incredibly inspiring stuff. I recommend you check it out on itunes!

The first talk, based on "our Father in heaven" was a challenging reminder that prayer shouldn't be us simply offloading onto God, telling him our problems and what he should do about them (as Louie says, we'd only be telling God what he already knows), but rather seeking to have a divine perspective on these things, to remember that above all, in our prayer and worship we should seek to glorify God, to listen to him, and everything else flows from there. It made me realise that too easily the sum total of my prayer-life is all too often made up of the shopping list, when I should begin with praise. Intercession of course plays a part, but it is only part of prayer, not all of it. We should seek to glorify God through our prayers as well as our thoughts and actions, intentionally praising him simply for who he is, resting in his presence, and thanking him for what he's done in sending Jesus to live and die to save us, and for sending his Spirit to live in us, comfort us and make us more like Jesus.

Lord, would you change my heart even more, so that my prayers might reflect your will. Change my perspective, so that I see things more the way you see them, and seek to glorify you through my thoughts, deeds, words and prayers. Amen.

The 2nd talk was based on "your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven." He related to the "occupy Wall Street" movement. He suggested that Christians should begin an "occupy all streets" movement, where we intentionally seek to declare the coming of God's kingdom where we are, that through our words and actions, God's will might be better represented wherever we are; that through our praying presence, the presence of Jesus might be known. He called for a shift - that rather than seeing our lives as going to work and going to church, or being at home, we should seek to bring God's presence wherever we are. This is incredibly challenging, because it calls us to be full-time Christians - Ambassadors for God at home, at work or school, and church. Imagine what our communities looked like if we intentionally lived like that, praying for our communities and workplaces, and asking God how we can be a blessing to our home, workplace or neighbourhood; seeking to be Jesus' hand, feet and mouth and heart wherever we go. If we all did that, we'd see radical transformation, because Jesus lives in the hearts of each one of us, and he empowers us to e his missionaries, if only we ask him to. Let's no longer be passenger, but let's seek to be agents of change so that God's kingdom comes in greater power wherever we are.

Lord, give us courage to live for you. Help us to share your love in the way we think, speak, live and love. May your kingdom come wherever we are through us and in us. Amen.

Vicar's Report - APCM - 22 April 2013

May I begin by saying what a privilege it is to be the vicar of this church community.  Liz, Alicia, Isabelle and I are so grateful to you all for the welcome you’ve given us.  We feel so much at home here, like we’ve been around for so much longer than nearly 8 months. 

 

When I first saw the parish profile of the parish back in January 2012, I was tremendously excited both by the work that had been done here, and also the huge potential for furthering Christ’s kingdom in Allesley Park and Whoberley.  It was clear that the new person coming in would be able to build on some very solid foundations, and I want to pay tribute to the ministry of Graeme during his twelve years here, and also Lynnette who did a brilliant job of leading the church through the vacancy.  She was ably helped I know by Pauline and Mike as churchwardens, the PCC and others, during this time.

 

The collation service at the beginning of September was one I will always remember.  It was wonderful to be welcomed in such a special way.  I knew then that, as one of the congregation affirmed just a week into my time here, that I was the right man, in the right place at the right time.  Having the parish weekend away very early on in my time here was fantastic, because it enabled me to begin to get to know you all, and the subject of spiritual gifts was so appropriate – we’re still looking to build on the work that was begun at that weekend.

 

Although I’ve only been vicar here for such a short time, much has been achieved.  We have taken the bold but necessary step of moving to a weekly pattern of worship of two morning services, which enables traditional worship and contemporary worship to take place each Sunday.  It also allows more room for growth in our worship space.  Thank you to all those who have worked to make this transition possible – all of you who have compiled and filled various rotas – our musicians, who have responded excellently to the extra demand, and our children’s workers, who have enabled us to have children’s work at both morning services, which is tremendously exciting.  I believe that this decision to make this change will bear great fruit, although it may take time and patience, although early signs seem to be encouraging.  It’s important to honour our relationship with the uniformed groups, and so Parade services have continued to be an important part of the worshipping life of our community. These services also allow the whole church community to worship together once a month.

 

Of course, life hasn’t always been easy since September – it’s been full of challenges as well as joys.  It’s at times like these that we need encouragement from the Scriptures.  One of my favourite Bible passages states, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland” (Isaiah 43:18-19).  These verses have always been important to me.  They tell of a God whose creative ability to bring new life to barren places and new hope to desperate situations, light out of darkness and life out of death, will never cease.  For our God is the God of the resurrection, the God of new beginnings.  We need to cling to this hope when times are hard and when death is a very present reality.  John played a massive role in the life of our church community and we will miss him in many different ways – for the person he was as well as the work he did.  Others among us are experiencing the pain of grief.  It’s at these times that we need each other.  I think this church family has shown itself to be very close.  We’re here for each other and we’re the principle means by which God will bring restoration and renewal.

 

God is the God of new life, but the thing about new life is that it never takes the same shape as it used to.  There’s no going back to the good old days.  We need to move on.  God wants to do a new thing among us.  He calls us away from the past into his new future.  I discovered a wonderful illustration of this while I was away on an Arrow residential. During a walk I came across the wreck of an farm building.  This building is no longer fit for purpose.  The walls have fallen down, and it looks dead.  But look at the life that’s springing from it – Nature has taken over. In many ways it’s more alive than ever.  I believed then when I saw it and I believe now that this is an illustration of what can happen when we let go of our own pre-conceived ideas of how things ought to be and let God envision us and begin a new work among us. 

 

I felt then that it was of particular relevance to Whoberley Community Church.  While there was much to celebrate about the life of that family over the years of its existence, it got to a point where a weekly meeting was no longer sustainable.  While I don’t believe it’s right to say here and now that there won’t again be a church plant in Whoberley, to make such a venture work, there needs to be a clear vision for the work of the church there, but most of all, a heart of mission for the people who live in Whoberley. 

 

William Temple, Archbishop of York, then Canterbury, once said, “Church is the only society on earth that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.” This the case for all churches, but particularly for church plants.  Church plants need to listen so carefully to the community around them, and be willing to be shaped in response to them.  It’s not for us to dictate what sort of church community might spring up, if and when we believe it’s right to make such a leap of faith – and everything we do needs to be led out of a clear sense that this is the way God is leading.

 

But, although one form of life has come to an end, at least for the time being, new life has sprung up in Whoberley.  Messy Church is wonderful.  It’s fantastic to see families coming together, a good proportion of whom aren’t part of our, or indeed any, church community.  More Messy Church events are planned for May, June and July, and we will hopefully continue on a monthly basis.  We do so in faith that new life might spring up.  So, watch this space!  Thanks to the team who have made this happen – your hard work is greatly appreciated, and I’m so excited to see where this ministry will lead.

 

Going forward, what are my priorities?  In some ways it’s incredibly simple, but not at all easy! We had a very helpful presentation by Morris Rodham (Archdeacon Missioner), on the 8 Essential Qualities of Healthy Growing Churches.  He explained each quality in turn then at the end asked us to assess the areas of greatest strength and then greatest weakness.  Those present believed that our strengths lie in the qualities of “Loving Relationships” and “Holistic Small Groups” – clearly good relationships are at the centre of our church community, and I believe that’s true.  As for our weakest area, those present identified, “Needs-oriented outreach” as the area we need to grow most in.  Again, I think that’s right.  While I believe that the Hub, which is a wonderful, exciting ministry, is making a really positive impact in the community, we need to step out of our comfort zones, into the community.  We need to spend time listening to God and the community in order to discern where God might be leading us, and then step out and reach out with God’s love to those who need it.  My role in all this can be summarised by verses I believe are key for me, particularly here –

 

Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-13).

 

My principle role is not to do all the ministry, which is why day to day pastoral visiting is not a personal priority – although I am incredibly grateful to Ann and the team for the ministry they do.  But rather, my principle role is to equip and empower all of us to reach our God-given potential, that we may all be able reach out with God’s love to those who need it.  Preaching is an important part of this role, and we’re going to be spending a significant time from September until Easter next year focusing on Mark’s Gospel seeking to reconnect with Jesus and why he is such good news for everyone. 

 

In summary then, my priority is mission: Jesus came to seek and save those who are lost, and he calls us to do likewise.  How we do that is something we need to discern together, which is why we need to make prayer a priority corporately and individually as we seek to discern God’s will for us here.  Each of us has an equally important role to play in working for the growth of God’s kingdom here in Allesley Park and Whoberley.  Together, in God’s strength, anything is possible!

All Your Children

I am made in your image –
Like all your children. I am fearfully and wonderfully made – But so are all your children.
A product of the master craftsman -
Along with all your children.
Of infinite worth -
Like all your children.
Unique - a once-off -
Like all your children.

There were no mistakes in your handiwork
You didn't need to go back to the drawing board
There is breathtaking beauty
- In all your children.

Help me to see your hand on me
Help me to be free to be the way you've made me
Help me to respect and cherish diversity -
No room for jealousy or superiority.
You've painted rainbow people,
Help me to bring out all the colours
Help me to love indiscriminately
Help me to bridge the gap
Help me to help them fly
Help me to honour you, to bring glory to you
in the way I love, in the way I serve
All your children.

7 March 2013

One Saturday

A headline in the paper read“Religious nut and freak is dead.”
The spokesman for the Pharisees
Explained (while looking very pleased),
“This man had caused us lots of trouble,
We had to get him on the double.

He claimed he was the Chosen One,
Almighty God, His only Son.
We Pharisees weren’t having that! – 
Even worse, he claimed he’d sat
At God’s right hand in heaven above
And will again. You know, I’d love
To see that day, but won’t of course –
For that man’s words are just a source
Of claptrap and of blasphemy,
That’s why we killed him, can’t you see?
He drew the crowds with clever tricks –
They even claimed he’d healed the sick.
The blind can see (or so they claim)
And crippled people walk again!
But that’s not all – you’ll laugh at this –
A dead man (said with emphasis)
Was brought back to life at his word –
This claim’s preposterous, quite absurd.
We all know that dead men don’t walk
About, or eat and drink and talk.
It’s clear to me they’ve all been had.
Poor, simple people fooled – how sad!
At first we’d tried to humour him
Until he got beneath our skin.
He insulted us, called us snakes,
Told us that we were on the make.
We couldn’t take it any more,
That really was the final straw.
We had him silenced, put to death,
This carpenter from Nazareth.
Let’s see him speak against us now –
As he’s dead, I can’t see how!
He could rise again and death defy.”
The spokesman spat, “And pigs might fly!”

The Passion Ballad

All eyes on a garden - a kneeling manCries out to his father, “Take this cup if you can.”
A gasp heard in heaven - angels can’t bear
Watch the scene of a broken man crying down there.

The fate of the world is now left unsure,
The plan for salvation could stutter and fall.
It hangs on a man who feels so much pain;
His burden is great, his sweat falls like rain.

Urgent discussion - is there a way out?
No sign of the Father, beginnings of doubt.
Fervently pray that the man will find strength,
Agonised moment, unspeakable length.

Until . . .

A look of decision.  All heaven awaits.
Resolution is formed, no time for debate.
“Not my will but yours,” he’ll follow the way
Ordained by the Father.  He’ll face the next day.

All happens so quickly - soldiers arrive.
Fulfil their destiny, keep our hope alive.
Man stands on trial; he’s committed no wrong.
Agony in heaven as the Father looks on.

A sprinkle of water - case is dismissed
In the hands of the Jews who betrayed with a kiss.
The sentence is passed: a criminal’s death.
Hang on a cross, no dignity left.

Each blow of nails through hands and through feet
Echoes through heaven - a desperate beat.
The Father winces as his son hangs down there
In desolate loneliness, there’s no one to care.

Dignitaries mock as the sinless one dies.
“Father, forgive,” is all he replies.
His life ebbs away, the darkness descends.
“It is finished!” he shouts.  The struggle just ends.

Leaderless people - the light has gone out.
Fail to see what the anguish was about.
They don’t understand that he had to die;
They secretly mourn, and simply ask why.

The third day dawns and it all becomes clear:
The tomb is empty, there’s nobody here.
"The Lord is alive,” the angels rejoice.
Relief in heaven, for he made the right choice.

The great gamble worked - he carried our sin,
Died on the cross so we could go in.
United to the Father through the Son.
Mission accomplished and the victory won.