Thy Kingdom Come

You may have read about the controversy that resulted when the UK’s three leading cinema chains refused to show a 60 second advert featuring the Lord’s Prayer which was produced by the Church of England. As so often happens when something gets banned, there was more interest in the advert than originally hoped for as people all over the world searched for it online. In case you missed it you can find it at www.justpray.uk

It is 2,000 years since Jesus taught his disciples to pray using these words:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name;
Thy kingdom come; thy will be done; on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever.
Amen.

In those 2,000 years the prayer has been translated into thousands of languages and prayed by billions of believers an incalculable number of times. The prayer has been a part of our British heritage since the first Christians landed on these shores centuries ago and has featured in the daily prayers of the House of Commons and the House of Lords since 1567.

At the recent United Service, which was attend by 150 people from the 5 churches in Hook and Odiham, David Williams, the Bishop of Basingstoke, invited us to focus on the phrase: Thy kingdom come; thy will be done; on earth as it is in heaven.

The bible gives us many glimpses into what God’s kingdom looks like, especially the vision of the wonderful new heaven and earth which will be brought into being when Christ returns; a world without sickness and suffering, a world without trouble and pain. When we pray thy kingdom come; thy will be done; on earth as it is in heaven we are asking God to give us a foretaste here and now of what the world will be like when everyone submits to his kingship.

Bishop David encouraged us all to pray the Lord’s Prayer every day at midday throughout 2016 and to believe that we will see God answer by causing his kingdom to break out here on earth as it is in heaven. I believe that this will bring about an incredible transformation of our society and would encourage you to join in this simple yet powerful act of faith.

 

This blog post featured in the February 2016 edition of Hook Focus

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A New Heaven and a New Earth

I wonder what your favourite Christmas present was? Perhaps you got some new clothes, or a new device such as a phone? Maybe some new books to read or something connected to your favourite hobby?  Most of us enjoy getting new things, but when we do we quickly lose interest in what we had before. Last year’s prized possessions get forgotten as they are superseded by new ones.

New Year too, often signals time for reflection on the year gone by and thoughts turn to hopes and aspirations for the year to come. Whatever 2015 was like for you it is natural to hope that 2016 will bring joy and happiness, and that the disappointments of the past will be left behind.

The Christian faith has much to say about newness. For example Paul wrote that ‘if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.’ (2 Cor 5:17 ESV). This amazing statement describes a present reality for all who truly believe in Christ. However the message of the Bible is not simply comfort for this present life. Rather it offers us hope for a glorious eternity.

John, the Evangelist, was privileged to be given a wonderful vision of the future of creation which he recorded in the book of Revelation. Towards the end of that revelation John sees ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ (Rev 21:1 NIV) which he then goes on to describe. We learn that this present world with all its pain and suffering, disappointment will cease to exist. In its place God will create a new, eternal order. In this new world God himself will dwell among his people. It will be a place of outstanding beauty and incredible happiness. We are told: ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev 21:4 NIV)

Wow! There can be few people who would not wish for such a world!

My desire for everyone that reads this is that 2016 is truly a Happy New Year for you. I hope that every day from 1st January – 31st December is full of joy and hope. The experience of Christians throughout the centuries is that the greatest joy and hope is found when we have assurance that our eternity with Christ in the new heaven and new earth is secure. The joy and happiness of the new heaven and new earth will surpass the greatest pleasures we could possibly know in this life. The joy and happiness of the new heaven and new earth will more than compensate for the deepest sadness of this present life.

Whatever else you do in preparation for 2016, make this the year you secure your place in the new heaven and new earth by becoming a follower of Jesus!

This blog post featured in the January 2016 edition of Hook Focus

Christmas Traditions

I wonder what comes to mind when you think of Christmas. Santa Claus? Stockings? Christmas trees? Tinsel? Cards? Presents? These are just a few of some of the traditions that typical British families enjoy at this season. Yet each family will have their own unique way of implementing these. This year our family will have a new dynamic as we fuss over our granddaughter as she experiences her first Christmas. At three months old she won’t remember a thing, but no doubt some new traditions will be established in our extended family.

One of the traditions that I hope she will grow up to love is Christmas Carols. At Life Church we try and blend together a mixture of old and new as we sing joyful songs to celebrate our Saviour’s birth. Many of the traditional carols have been sung for hundreds of years and have their origins in other countries and circumstances.

For example did you know that the Silent Night is reputed to have been written in 1818 on Christmas Eve itself? The legend around this carol says that Joseph Mohr, a Catholic Priest in the Tyrolean Village of Oberndorf near Salzburg was in despair because a mouse had chewed its way through the mechanism of the church organ rendering it useless. Desperate for something to sing at midnight mass, Mohr wrote the words to ‘Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht’ and then asked the organist, Franz Gruber, to write some gentle music for it. Gruber put together the gentle lullaby we know so well and accompanied the singers on guitar the same evening. The carol might have been lost forever had the organ repair not made a copy and passed it on to the Stasser Family – a precursor to the Von Trapps – who sang it at their concerts and published it in 1838. Now, almost 200 years later, it features in many Carol Services all around the world.

This Christmas at Life Church we are conducting a survey to find out the favourite carols for people living in Hook. We would invite you to take part online at www.lifechurchhook.org/carols. We have suggested some of the more common carols for you to choose from, though you are free to add a different one if your favourite is not on our list. The most important part of the survey is the reason why you like the carol. Perhaps you have a story to tell about why it is special to you, or maybe you particularly like the tune. When I am choosing carols to sing at various Christmas gatherings I focus on the words. It is great to sing along to a rousing tune, but far better to be sing words that express truth. The truth that Jesus is so much more that a cute baby in a manger; the truth that he is God himself come down to earth in human form; the truth that he is Christ the Saviour.

I would like to invite you to join us for Carols Round The Fire on Sunday 20th December, 5 pm at the Elizabeth Hall, followed by mulled wine and mince pies. We will be announcing the top three carols, and hopefully we will sing yours! Make sure that you let us know which is your favourite for it to be in with a chance of being in the top three by registering your vote at www.lifechurchhook.org/carols

May you know the peace and mercy of God this Christmas.

This blog post featured in the December 2015 edition of Hook Focus

Autumn

Do you enjoy autumn? I have mixed feelings about the season. I love the amazing colours of autumn leaves, the red and yellow, the orange and brown which spread across hillsides producing beautiful landscapes. I love walking in freshly fallen leaves, kicking them up with my shoes as I stroll along a woodland path. I am not so keen on sweeping and binning them back home however! I enjoy crisp cold mornings with gentle mist and even frost on the ground. I am not so keen on having to de-ice the car! As the nights draw in it is comforting to be able to snuggle up in a warm house, draw the curtains and shut the cold outside.

If spring is the season of new life, then autumn must surely be the season of life’s twilight. Plants especially are in the final throes of their annual life cycle. People and animals are preparing for the sleep of winter when they have to rely on stores of food or even in some cases going into hibernation. Technology and rapid transport mean that we are largely insulated from the hardships of winter that our grandparents knew. Unlike them we can eat ‘seasonal’ food all year round, in season and out of season.

The latter years of our human lives are sometimes compared to the season of autumn. Youthful strength declines and we may have to rely more upon reserves of wisdom built up during our lives. We may have fond memories of a life lived well, shared experiences with family and friends to relish and enjoy. Yet there is also the sadness of friends and family who have passed away. They are all too frequent reminders of our own frail humanity and the certainty of our own death. We may try and insulate ourselves from the inevitable, but ultimately the sands of time run out for each of us.

For followers of Christ this season of life is bittersweet. The aches and pains of aging are indiscriminate and tiresome for us all. However followers of Christ have the hope that there will be a new season of spring as we anticipate a resurrection life with Christ; a life that will be free from all the difficulties of the present.

The Apostle Paul faced more trials in his life than many of us ever will. He was shipwrecked, flogged, spat upon, left for dead and imprisoned. Indeed it was while he was in prison that he wrote ‘for me to live is Christ, to die is gain’. For him following Christ was a win – win option. His life was devoted to spreading the message of Jesus. Every day was a fresh opportunity for him to discover the joy that Christ would bring, irrespective of the difficulties he faced. Soon however would come the day of his death when he would go to be with Christ forever. He was eagerly looking forward to his eternal hope.

That hope is available to everyone, young and old. If you would like to know more, simply ask God to reveal it to you.

This blog post featured in the November 2015 edition of Hook Focus

 

Share and share alike

King David is regarded as the greatest king that Israel ever had. He united the 12 tribes of Israel into one nation and established security against the hostile peoples surrounding them. Before he became king however he endured several long years as a fugitive from Saul his predecessor. During these years David gained experience as a military leader, and also as a leader of people, as he conducted raids on the enemies of Israel.

On one occasion the Amalekites attacked the town where David had his headquarters while he and his men were away on military manoeuvres. David and his men returned home to find that the town of Ziklag had been burnt to the ground and their wives and children, and all their possessions had been taken away into captivity. The whole company were devastated and wept aloud until they had no strength.

David rallied his 600 men and set off in pursuit of the Amalekite raiding party. Already weary from a long march 200 soon became too exhausted to continue the chase so they stayed and looked after the supplies and equipment while the 400 continued the chase. A 24 hour long battle ensued in which David and his men were victorious and they succeeded in rescuing their wives and children and all the goods that had been plundered.

On returning to Ziklag some malcontents started stirring up resentment against the 200 who had stayed behind. They wanted to keep all the plunder they had captured for the 400 who had fought, while the others would just be reunited with their families. No doubt amongst the 200 there were plenty who had reached the point of physical exhaustion, and some may have been injured making fighting impossible for them. But there may also have been a few who had simply lost heart or been lazy. Perhaps they doubted the success of the mission and preferred to stay behind, out of danger. Those who had fought felt justified that the men who had stayed behind were weak and feeble and so did not deserve to benefit from the efforts of the others.

David quashed this idea, declaring that “the share of the man who stayed with the supplies should be the same as the one who went into battle. All shall share alike.” He later established this as a principle for the entire nation for all military operations. David was keen to ensure that all members of the community enjoyed the benefits of the victory regardless of their capacity to take part. Values like this no doubt helped to bind the nation of Israel together under David’s kingship.

The modern civilised society that is the UK generates wealth that is the envy of many nations of the world. Yet living in the UK today are many people who are weak and vulnerable, people who are unemployed, sick, elderly or disabled. There are those who would portray some in these groups as spongers. There is a danger that if we listen to such voices, many in genuine need may be deprived of the help and support they urgently need. David’s principle of the weaker members of the community benefiting from the success of the strong is one we do well to copy.

This blog post featured in the October 2015 edition of Hook Focus

 

Prayer Changes Things

In May 1940 the allied British, French and Belgian forces numbering some 350,000 troops were cut off and surrounded by the German Army. In a speech to the House of Commons, Winston Churchill described the events in France as ‘a colossal military disaster’. He advised Parliament that ‘the whole root and core and brain of the British Army’ had been stranded at Dunkirk and seemed about to perish or be captured.

The situation was desperate and, while the British High Command strategized and planned a means for rescuing these troops, King George VI called for a National Day of Prayer. He himself attended a special prayer service at Westminster Abbey on Sunday 26 May. The Archbishop of Canterbury led prayers ‘for our soldiers in dire peril in France’. Up and down the country, and across the British Commonwealth, churches, chapels and synagogues were overcrowded as people turned out in vast numbers to offer up their own prayers.

As a result of those prayers three extraordinary events took place without which the rescue would have been impossible. Firstly for some unknown reason Hitler hesitated, and ordered his advancing armoured divisions to back off. Secondly the skies darkened and a furious storm in Flanders grounded the Luftwaffe. Thirdly a great calm descended on the English Channel which became like millpond. A vast flotilla of boats of all shapes and sizes, including many never designed for crossing the Channel, made their way to France and over the next few days rescued the vast majority of the troops.

The following Sunday the churches were filled once again as the King led a National Day of Thanksgiving for the miraculous rescue that had just taken place. Prayer changes things!

We may not be in a predicament of national peril of the magnitude as was seen 75 years ago, yet many people in our land face seemingly impossible circumstances on a daily basis and don’t know who to turn to. The last weekend in September has been designated as a National Weekend of Prayer and the churches in Hook are joining with hundreds of churches across the UK to pray. We are inviting you, the people in Hook, to let us know what you would like us to pray for on your behalf. You don’t have to be religious, you don’t have to belong to a church, and you don’t even have to give us your name! Simply hand your prayer request in to one of the three churches in Hook during the month of September and over the 3 days 25-27th September we will pray for your situation, confident that Prayer Changes Things.

This blog post featured in the September 2015 edition of Hook Focus

 

To an Unknown God

The summer holiday season is on us and many Focus readers will be looking forward to time away from their day jobs. One of the things I enjoy about a holiday is the opportunity to travel and visit new places, especially when this is overseas. It is good to experience different cultures and explore historical sites.

A couple of years back I enjoyed a holiday in Cyprus. One afternoon we visited the ruins of the ‘Tombs of the Kings’ near Paphos. As we walked on ancient roadways and explored the various burial chambers it was humbling to think that the first people to visit these sites did so 2,400 years ago. As we walked around I found myself wondering whether St Paul too may have visited this site. It is recorded in Acts that Paul and his companions arrived by sea at Salamis on the eastern side of Cyprus and proceeded to Paphos where they embarked on another ship headed for Perga (near Antalya in modern day Turkey) during the first of his missionary journeys. In all Paul made 3 such trips and travelled through much of modern day Turkey and Greece before finally being taken to Rome under arrest. Some scholars believe he may also have travelled as far as Spain. These journeys were about as far removed as you can imagine from modern day holiday trips. Even with excellent Roman roads, overland travel was dangerous and arduous and it would take several days to cover distances that would take only a few hours by car. Sea travel too was hazardous and highly weather dependant. It is recorded that Paul was shipwrecked on three occasions, once spending 24 hours adrift in the open sea! Far from being a tourist, Paul was a seasoned and hardy traveller.

During one of his missionary journeys Paul found himself at a loose end in Athens where he was waiting for his travelling companions to join him. So he decided to wander round the city and do a spot of sightseeing. What he saw troubled him because he found that the city was full of idols. Never one to miss an opportunity he began to reason with Jews in the synagogue, and with those who would listen in the market place, explaining to them the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. You can read Paul’s message in Acts 17 but what strikes me as most interesting is that he praises the Athenians for their spirituality. One altar in particular had caught his attention; one with the inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Paul then went on to show them that, rather than having to continue worshipping in ignorance, through Jesus they could know God and worship him in truth.

Many people today have vague notions of spirituality; a feeling that there is some kind of spiritual force operating behind the scenes. They may not have an altar inscribed like the one in Athens, but nevertheless they consider God to be unknowable. The wonderful news that Paul gave the Athenians is just as relevant today. God is not an ethereal, unknowable spirit. On the contrary, Jesus came to make God known to us. If you are willing to put your trust in Jesus you too can get to know the eternal, living God.

This blog post featured in the July/August 2015 edition of Hook Focus

The Black Dog

Over recent months I have been encouraged to see politicians and the media raising the profile of depression. According to the Mental Health Foundation 1 in 4 British adults experience one diagnosable mental health issue in any one year. The most common disorders experienced being mixed anxiety and depression, which affect between 8-12% of the population in the same period.[1] Compare those figures with the estimated 1 in 3 people who will develop cancer at some point in their lifetime.[2] Both are tragic, debilitating conditions that massively disrupt the lives of those affected. Both can be life threatening and yet both can also be survivable.

I have called this article ‘The Black Dog’ because that is the name the great Winston Churchill gave to his own depression which affected much of his life. One time he wrote: “I don’t like standing near the edge of a platform when an express train is passing through. I like to stand right back and if possible get a pillar between me and the train. I don’t like to stand by the side of a ship and look down into the water. A second’s action would end everything. A few drops of desperation.”. It is now thought highly probable that Churchill suffered from manic depression, also known as bipolar disorder. At times this blighted his political career. Yet at the hour of Britain’s greatest need he rose to lead this nation to victory over Nazism despite, some even think because of, his condition.

We have in Churchill a powerful example of incredible success in spite of his depression, yet it is a condition that is widely misunderstood, and rarely talked about by society in general or in the church. Many people will hide their own experience from even their closest friends and family for fear of being stigmatised. It is only in recent years that I have felt able to talk about an episode in my own life almost twenty years ago where the impulse to ride my motorcycle into the path of an oncoming juggernaut seemed an attractive proposition.

This Easter some words of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane jumped out at me. As he faced the prospect of his trial, floggings and ultimately crucifixion he said: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” At that point did Jesus too face the Black Dog which made the thought of death look preferable to the suffering he was about to go through? I find hope in Isaiah’s description of Jesus: “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” Even if others may not understand the desperate, loneliness that the Black Dog brings, I believe Jesus does.

 

[1] Source: http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk

[2] Source: http://www.macmillan.org.uk

This blog post featured in the June 2015 edition of Hook Focus

Run the Race

Later this month approximately 1,000 runners will take part in the Hook Fun Run and Road Race covering distances from 2.5 miles right up to 10 miles. I am sure that the organisers have placed a request for a bright sunny day so that all the participants, marshals, supporters and spectators have a pleasant and enjoyable experience. On the day there are four races and there will be prizes for a limited number of people in various gender and age categories. For the vast majority of runners who won’t win prizes the goal for the day will be about taking part and they will be satisfied with their finisher’s medal and a well-earned rest in the afternoon.

Even fun runners will usually make some effort to prepare for the run by going on a few practice jogs to check that they have some chance of completing the distance. Clothing and shoes are selected by the competitors to ensure they are suitably equipped to run efficiently and reduce the risk of injury. On the day itself runners will have certain goals; a personal best to be achieved, a rival that they want to beat or simply to survive and get round the course. It is this preparation and goal setting that is being alluded to in the New Testament when the Christian life is said to be like running a race.

Deciding to follow Jesus is not like taking out an insurance policy where you pay the premium and then forget about it until you need to make a claim. Following Jesus involves a lifelong commitment to a self-disciplined life. It involves setting aside distractions and self interest in order to ensure that we are able to complete the course.

What is the primary goal of a follower of Jesus? It is to become like Him in character. As we focus on Him and choose to follow in his footsteps on a daily basis his Holy Spirit gradually brings about change so that we become like him. If we lose sight of the goal of becoming like Jesus then we risk falling into one of two traps. Trap one is that we become disillusioned and give up on being a follower of Jesus. Trap two is that we focus on outward religious observance.

Lots of runners find that they need the encouragement of running mates to successfully achieve their goals. The only way to successfully complete the Christian life is to do so with Jesus as your running mate. Will you choose to run the race?

This blog post featured in the May 2015 edition of Hook Focus

Election Fever

The General Election is just around the corner, and in our daily news we read and hear the latest reports of politicians posturing for our vote. For those of us who have been raised in the UK our familiarity with the UK democratic system can mean that we take it for granted, and many even become bored with the whole business. However, in case you have missed it, Polling Day is Thursday 7th May.

One of my goals as a follower of Jesus is to bring him consistently into all aspects of my life, including the way I exercise my freedom to vote. The challenge however is how to respond to political parties whose agendas are informed by world views that don’t always align with biblical values.

21st Century believers are not the first to find themselves in this predicament. The first century followers of Jesus found themselves under Roman rule which frequently persecuted them. Despite the hostility which they were receiving Paul wrote urging that the church should pray for ‘kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness’ 2 Timothy 2:2 (NIV 2011). Since Paul encouraged believers who were persecuted for their faith to pray for those who governed them, how much more ought we? A good response for believers is to pray about the outcome of this General Election; that the UK will continue to be a place where people of all faiths and none will be free to practice their beliefs in peace and quiet.

A friend of mine frequently reminds me that God invites us to be part of the answer to our prayers. One way to be part of the answer to our prayers is to engage with the political process and cast our vote in an informed and thoughtful way. Although the General Election is becoming increasingly presidential in style and the focus is often placed on who will become Prime Minister, the bedrock of our democracy is that each MP is elected to represent their local constituency. On Tuesday 28th April there will be a hustings event at 7:45pm in the refurbished Hook Community Centre, Ravenscroft. This is a public event to which all Hook residents are invited. Due to seating capacity limits admission will be by ticket which can be reserved online at http://www.bit.ly/electionhustings

I hope to see many of you at the hustings.

 

This blog post featured in the April 2015 edition of Hook Focus