Truth and Reconciliation

 

As I write this the EU Referendum is just a week or so away so I don’t yet know the outcome.  Due to publishing deadlines the result will have been published by the time you get to read this article, so you do! Although in one respect I am writing in the dark, the opinion polls and pundits are all predicting a close run thing so it is fair to say that a large proportion of the electorate will be disappointed by the outcome.

Despite the early commitment by the politicians to keep the Referendum conversation from becoming personal, it seems that people on both sides resorted to attacking the integrity and wisdom of the other protagonists. As a result there are deep divisions between members in each of the main political parties.

In time no doubt the dust will settle and government will have to get back to the task of doing business with other European leaders regardless of the outcome. In order to do this people who have expended a great deal of emotion against each other will need to work together again as colleagues, and even as friends. This will require reconciliation and forgiveness.

The title of this article is borrowed from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that was set up to try and heal the deep divisions in South Africa after the collapse of the apartheid regime. It operates on the philosophy that reconciliation depends on the truth of past hurts being brought out into the open and amnesty being granted to offenders who are willing to be honest about their role in harming others.

Thankfully the divisions, and even hatred, expressed in our society do not run as deep as those in post-apartheid South Africa. So there is hope for the future of the UK. Nevertheless unless these divisions are healed there is potential for them to deepen over time.

On many occasions Jesus spoke about the vital importance of reconciliation in all human relationships. He gave us a number of priorities:

  1. The need to seek reconciliation is urgent. The bible tells us not to let the sun go down on our anger. We are to seek reconciliation as soon as we are hurt, or realise that we have hurt someone.
  2. Each of us is responsible for taking the first step towards reconciliation. If we wait for the other person to come to us reconciliation will be delayed, possibly forever.
  3. The goal is reconciliation rather than vindication. Whether we are right or whether we are wrong it is more important to be reconciled than to apportion blame.
  4. Reconciliation can only occur once forgiveness has been offered and received. Forgiveness does not ignore the pain but chooses to accept it and to forego any desire for revenge or retribution.

In the prayer Jesus taught we say ‘forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us’. Those who wish to be forgiven must be those who forgive others. My prayer is that whatever our future role in Europe we will become a nation of people who will not let any issue divide us but will live in truth and reconciliation with each other.

 

This blog post featured in the July/August 2016 edition of Hook Focus

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20:20 Vision

What does it mean to be a Commission Church?

Commission is an international family of churches working together to make disciples, reach the nations and transform communities. Led by Guy Miller and his team, Commission has churches in the UK, India, Spain, Portugal and other nations.

Our churches actively work together and support each other in seeing the Kingdom advance through:

  • Going to the nations and reaching the unreached
  • Starting new churches and caring for existing churches
  • Raising and training leaders
  • Social action and community development

At the recent Commission Prayer gathering in Bournemouth, Guy shared with us his 20:20 vision for our family of churches. This vision is expressed by the following statement:

To see thousands of lives transformed, through hundreds of churches, in tens of nations.

Many people find it helpful to understand what this means by setting targets. The overall target for Commission is to double by the year 2020. To double 50 UK churches to 100, to double 50 Indian churches to 100, to double the number of countries that Commission is working into. To see 1,000 people baptised across the UK churches.

What does this mean for us?

  • It means prayerfully being ambitious to play our part.
  • It means connecting with other Commission churches and partnering with them in reaching these goals. One current example is the way the ylife team have connected with Harvest Church Alton to go to Newday together. Of course Westpoint is the flagship event for Commission churches to gather together. It is not simply about getting away for a long weekend of fun, worship and teaching, but it is a tangible way of expressing our connectedness to the bigger picture. It is not too late for you to book in and attend this event – all the details are on our church website.
  • It means praying for and expecting growth in our own church. What would it take for us to double in size over the next four and a half years? Do you dare dream that this will happen? Perhaps you find that hard to imagine but remember our God is the one ‘who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us’.

This blog post featured in the July/August 2016 edition of Lifelines

Happy Birthday Your Majesty

HRH Queen Elizabeth

More than 500 people have booked tickets to attend the Hook Royal Party on Sunday June 12th to celebrate the 90th Birthday of Queen Elizabeth II. It is a great joy and privilege for Life Church to be part of the organising committee for this event along with other organisations and churches in Hook. The unity that has been demonstrated by the various parties involved is in itself a testament to the affection which so many people in our community have for Her Majesty. In a country that is increasingly diverse the Queen is highly respected as a figure of stability and consistency throughout her long life and reign.

On 12th June guests at the Garden Party will be offered a souvenir copy of ‘The Servant Queen’, a tribute which examines her life and significantly her faith. By any measure Queen Elizabeth’s life is remarkable. The young princess was born into the Royal Family but as the daughter of the second in line to the throne there was no expectation in her early years that she would ever become Queen. That all changed when her father was crowned King George VI. Soon after that Britain faced the challenge of World War II and the threat this presented to our nation.

In her forward to the book she reminds us of the words quoted by King George in his 1939 Christmas Day speech. ‘I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.” And he replied, “Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”’ Although the Queen never mentions it herself it was she, as a 13 year old girl, who drew the King’s attention to these inspiring words that sustained a nation in its hour of greatest peril.

The Queen’s own testimony is that throughout her life she has consistently placed her hand into the hand of God and found in him a source of strength and courage. Time and again in her Christmas Message she refers to her faith in Jesus Christ and the way that this has informed her life of service to our nation. As British Monarch she deserves the highest respect of her people yet she considers herself first and foremost the servant of another King. That king is Jesus – King of kings and Lord of lords.

So at this time of celebration and rejoicing we wish Her Majesty a very Happy Birthday and encourage everyone who reads this to join her in placing your hand into the hand of God.

 

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

In, Out, In, Out … Shake it all about

europe-flag-1332945

The referendum debate reminds me of the Hokey Cokey. Overwhelmingly people I speak to are undecided whether we should be in or out of the EU. The overall attitude to the subject seems to either be one of confusion or of boredom.

As we approach Thursday 23rd June one thing is certain and that is that everyone will be glad when it is over, for now at least. If the opinion polls are right it will be a close run decision which means that a sizeable minority of voters will be disappointed with the outcome. Regardless of the outcome there will be yet further analysis of the implications of the decision and how it will be worked out over the coming months and years.

The public debate seems to have revolved about matters such as immigration and also about how much better off we will be financially. Each side it seems tries to outdo the other in instilling fear over the consequences of making the wrong decision. The difficulty it seems is knowing who to believe.

What if there could be another way to approach the issue? One that did not place self-interest at the heart of the debate? One that instead put the priorities of preaching the Good News about Jesus at the centre?

I understand that this approach may not get an airing on TV’s Question Time, but it seems to me that it is the approach that fits best with a biblical understanding of how we as Christians should approach any manifestation of human government. In 1 Timothy 2 Paul urged ‘that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people-for kings and all those in authority’. What Paul is inviting us to is concerted and effortful praying.

He is also specific in what we should request. The biblical agenda in verse two is radically different from the matters of financial stability or national sovereignty that have driven the campaign. He says we should pray ‘that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.’ He then goes on to say that ‘this is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.’

This insight may not change the way that you vote on 23rd June but hopefully it will inspire you to pray that the outcome will be good for the preaching of the gospel across the whole of Europe. It is always good to pray in this way for our political leaders, but especially at a time of referendum which is expected to set the course for our nation for the next 40 years.

 

This blog post featured in the June 2016 edition of Lifelines

The Secret of Happiness

Are you happy? Not necessarily at this precise moment in time, but would you describe your life in general as happy? I have met many miserable people, but have yet to meet anyone who genuinely wants to be unhappy. Every day we make decisions, big and small, in the hope that the result will make us happy, whether we are conscious of this or not.

Given the significance of happiness in our lives you may be interested to learn that researchers from Harvard University have conducted a 75 year, longitudinal study into happiness. The research, known as the Grant and Glueck Studies, began in the late 1930’s with 268 Harvard students. A few years later 456 disadvantaged youths from inner city Boston were added to the study. These people have been interviewed at regular intervals throughout their lives to measure the happiness as their lives have unfolded.

The headline discovery has been that happiness does not depend upon wealth, social position, career progression or lack of it. Rather ‘happiness comes from choosing to be happy with whatever you do, strengthening your closest relationships and taking care of yourself physically, financially and emotionally.’ I am not sure where I read it first but the statement ‘happiness comes from wanting what you have rather than having what you want’ seems to sum up the first part of the study’s findings.

These findings are not as new and as ground breaking as they might seem at first.  Around AD 46 the Apostle Paul wrote ‘I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.’ He had found that true happiness and contentment was not based upon his physical circumstances or health. If you read the rest of his writings you will discover that the ultimate source of Paul’s contentment was the security of knowing that his life was in Christ.

I wish that I could say that every follower of Christ was as happy and content as Paul was. Sadly many Christians are as miserable as anyone else. However I find that when people learn to fully put their trust in Jesus Christ they become happier than they would be without him.

If you would like to find out more then why not check it out for yourself and come and join us.

 

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

More Than Conquerors

When I was a boy I sang in a church choir. One of the perks of the job was to sing at weddings on a Saturday afternoon, for which we would get paid. If you were lucky there would be 2 or even 3 weddings in the afternoon. Even luckier if a full choir couldn’t be raised as we would then share the wages of those who were missing. It was sat in the choir stalls that I learned Romans 8:28 (And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose) as this was one of the vicar’s favourite texts for the wedding sermon.

Indeed this is a favourite verse for many Christians, bringing comfort through all kinds of trials in life. Some people seem to think that it means that things will get better in this life. However if you read the passage around it (v18-39) it is clear that Paul never envisaged that following Christ would result in an easy life. The good that he speaks about in verse 28 is only fully realised in our eternal destiny.

Paul’s own experience was hardship. He was beaten, whipped and stoned for following Christ. He was shipwrecked and adrift in the open sea. He was in danger from his fellow Jews, and from Gentiles, in the city, in the country, at sea and from false believers. He knew hunger and thirst, went without food and been cold and naked. Yet despite all these hardships he could say “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us”

Paul’s confidence was based in the promise that nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. I don’t know all the challenges that you are facing at the moment. I don’t know whether your circumstances will get better or whether they will get worse. I do know however that your circumstances are covered by Romans 8:38-39 where Paul says: ‘For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’

We too can be more than conquerors if we learn to take our eyes off our circumstances and place our confidence in the love of God knowing that nothing, not even death, can separate us from Him.

 

This blog post featured in the May 2016 edition of Lifelines

Christ will come again!

This article will be published a day or two after Easter Sunday so for followers of Jesus the events of the first Easter will still be fresh in our minds. Many churches on Easter Sunday will proclaim the festal shout:

“Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again!”

The connection between the first two statements and Easter should be obvious. But what about the last one: Christ will come again!

For a period of 40 days after Christ’s Resurrection on the first Easter morning, he appeared to his disciples many times, giving them convincing proofs that he was alive. At the end of that period Jesus went to a mountain with his disciples. While they were there a cloud came and took Jesus out of their sight and he ascended into heaven.

Understandably his disciples were dumbfounded and stood gazing into the sky watching as their Lord and Master disappeared before their eyes. Immediately two angels appeared and said: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

Traditionally the church celebrates this event on Ascension Day, 40 days after Easter. Nevertheless the Easter Festal shout anticipates Christ’s return because that is the climactic day that followers of Christ look forward to. That is the day when all our hopes and expectations in Christ will be fully realised. That is the day when all injustices will be righted, all pains will be healed, all sorrow will finally cease.

It is also the day when all mankind will stand before Christ to give an account for their deeds. His followers need have no fear of this judgement because Christ’s death has made a way for our wrongdoings to be forgiven. Not so for those who have not put their trust in him.

The joyful, festal shout on Easter morning is entirely appropriate because we look back with gratitude to Christ’s death and resurrection and look forward to the hope that this offers us. If you don’t yet have this hope then ask God to give it to you.

 

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

King of kings

I have recently obtained copies of a book entitled ‘The Servant Queen and the King she serves’ which recounts the journey of faith that our Queen has taken over the 90 years of her life. It is an interesting read and vividly describes how she has looked to Christ as a source of comfort and strength throughout her long life. It reminded me of a story that is told about Queen Victoria who also was a woman of faith.

It is recorded that in the year of Victoria’s coronation she attended a public performance of Handel’s oratorio ‘The Messiah’. Traditionally during the famous ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ the audience rise to their feet as a mark of respect and honour for Christ. Queen Victoria however was advised by her courtiers that it was her royal prerogative to remain seated. As the chorus began and the audience rose, a struggle took place in the Queen’s mind. Should she observe court etiquette or should she honour the Lord she loved. As the choir sang the inspiring words: ‘King of kings, and Lord of lords’, she rose and stood on the royal Box bearing witness to Christ the Lord. On another occasion she uttered the words ‘Oh, I wish He would come today, so that I could lay my crowns at His feet!’

Both these queens enjoyed the longest reigns of any English monarch. Queen Victoria ruled over the British Empire in its heyday, and Queen Elizabeth II has presided over the British Commonwealth. Yet despite the pomp and pageantry associated with their positions both women have publicly stated that there is a far greater King, a king that they love to honour and serve. That king is Jesus Christ.

In Philippians we read these words: Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:9-11

One day every knee will bow and acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord. Everyone from the greatest to the least will declare that He is King of kings and Lord of lords. It is wonderful to know that England’s longest reigning monarchs were pleased to set aside their earthly majesty to honour Christ.

What about you? Are you pleased to own Him as King of kings and Lord of lords?

 

This blog post featured in the April 2016 edition of Lifelines

 

 

New Life

I wonder what comes to mind when you think of Easter? Every year it seems that no sooner has the Christmas merchandise been cleared from the shop shelves that they are immediately restocked with chocolate Easter Eggs and Bunnies. For most, Easter is a welcome break from school or work at the beginning of spring. Days are becoming noticeably longer, there is new growth in the fields and gardens, flowers are coming into bloom and buds are appearing on trees and shrubs.

The origins of the Easter festival are complex. The English word Easter has its origins in pagan festivals celebrating an Anglo Saxon goddess called Ēostre (or Ostara in the Germanic form). Customs relating to eggs and bunnies can be traced to these pagan roots. In many other languages the name for the Easter weekend derives from the Hebrew word Pesah which referred to the Jewish Passover festival. This was the season when Jews remembered God rescuing them from Egypt after 400 years of captivity and slavery. The final sign that changed Pharaoh’s heart was the sign of the death of the firstborn son in every household. Only God’s people who had roasted a lamb and painted blood on the doorposts and lintels were ‘passed over’ and saved from this final plague. Pharaoh relented and released the Israelites on their 40 year journey to the Promised Land.

It was the Passover season when Jesus was crucified and rose again. The parallel between the Passover lamb and Jesus was striking and the early church celebrated Christ’s death and resurrection. As the church spread, announcing the good news of new life that Jesus offers, pagan festivals were often Christianised in order to encourage converts to focus their attention on the risen Christ.

The apostle Paul teaches that Christ’s resurrection gives us hope of our own resurrected new life. As you enjoy the new life in nature this spring, and perhaps indulge in chocolate eggs and bunnies, reflect on Christ’s death and resurrection. There is a welcome for you at any of the local churches this Easter, where we would love to help you experience the new life that Christ offers us.

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

The Cross Stands Above It All

I love Easter! It is the festival in the church calendar that for me towers above all the others. It is fun to celebrate Christmas. I love the power of Pentecost. Yet without Easter these other highpoints of the church year would cease to exist. Easter is the kingpin that holds the Christian faith together.

The Easter season covers between 7 to 10 days of Jesus’ 33 year long life yet the gospel accounts devote a disproportionately large amount of space to it, because of its fundamental significance. Easter morning is fantastic as we celebrate Christ’s resurrection from the dead!

When I was younger I used to want to rush through to Easter morning. Partly for the chocolate! But mainly because I find the Good Friday account of Christ’s death made me sad. Sad because the hero of the gospels, the saviour who I love, dies. Sad because of the injustice of the illegal, kangaroo court, that convicted Jesus on trumped up charges from false witnesses. Sad because of the gruesome brutality of the floggings that Jesus endured from the soldiers. Floggings that left a man’s back raw with flesh and were capable of ripping his internal organs out. Sad because of the suffering on the cross as Jesus hung naked and ashamed, surrounded by mocking onlookers as flies buzzed around his open wounds, and the heat of the sun bore down on his exposed body.

Despite the undoubted sadness of the crucifixion I have come to realise that it is the centre point of the gospel. When doubts enter my mind, it is the historical evidence for Christ’s resurrection that stabilises my faith and reassures me of the truth of the gospel. Of course without the crucifixion there could be no resurrection, but Christ’s crucifixion is not merely a precursor to the resurrection. If it were I am sure God could have found a less blood chilling manner for Jesus’ death.

Throughout the New Testament writings we see that Christ’s death provides the transaction that means that we can be forgiven for our sins. As we have seen in our study in 1 Corinthians, the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing (the society around us) but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. Time and again, in Paul’s writings especially, we see that Christ’s death is the very means by which we are saved. On the cross Jesus took the punishment we deserve, he died the death that we should die in order that God’s justice could be complete. The cross stands above it all!

As we approach Good Friday and Easter Sunday I encourage you to take time to linger at the cross and reflect on its power and significance. Rejoice that Christ has paid your debt and allow this truth to stir and strengthen you. As you do I am sure that this will only heighten the sense of joy as we celebrate his resurrection on Easter Day.

 

This blog post featured in the March 2016 edition of Lifelines