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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What price a Bible?

I wonder how much your Bible cost you?

You can purchase a good quality English translation for less than £10.00 and if you use a smartphone you can download dozens of English translations for free (visit www.youversion.com ). In fact, there are so many English translations that people are often confused which is best to read. I recommend the most recent anglicised NIV which was published in 2011.

Given the freedom and ease with which we have access to the Bible, it is salutary to recall that this was not always the case. During the middle ages, it was illegal to translate the Bible into the language of the common people. The only copies available were written in Latin (a version known as the Vulgate) which few people could read and only the Pope was authorised to interpret and apply.

In the second half of the 14th Century, John Wycliffe, a brave Oxford professor, along with associates, translated the Vulgate Bible into Middle English. This work was completed in 1384 shortly before his death from a stroke. In 1415, the Council of Constance declared him a heretic and banned his writings. His body was exhumed and burnt to punish him for his heresy. His followers, known as Lollards, were viciously persecuted. Possession of a copy of Wycliffe’s Bible was punishable by death.

In the first half of the 16th Century, William Tyndale, another brave scholar who studied at both Oxford and Cambridge undertook the first English translation from Greek and Hebrew manuscripts. When a learned clergyman lambasted him for his efforts Tyndale responded: “I defy the Pope, and all his laws; and if God spares my life, ere many years, I will cause the boy that driveth the plow to know more of the Scriptures than thou dost!”

The work became too dangerous in England and so Tyndale fled to Europe. The printing press had been developed in the time between Wycliffe and Tyndale which enabled his Bible to be mass produced and smuggled into England.

In 1535, Tyndale was betrayed by Henry Philips and the following year he was found guilty of treason and sentenced to death. He was strangled while tied at the stake upon which his body was burned. His final words were “Lord! Open the King of England’s eyes”.

Four years later, at the instigation of Archbishop Cranmer, King Henry VIII sanctioned the publication of his Great Bible. Politically this was presented as an original translation, but in truth, it was based heavily on Tyndale’s work. Even the King James Version which was authorised in 1611 is estimated to be 80% the work of Tyndale.

During the 200 years between Wycliffe’s Bible and the KJV thousands of men, women and children were tortured and killed, many being burnt alive because they possessed and read the bible in their own language. Today Tyndale’s vision has become a reality. It is possible for ordinary people, like ‘the boy that driveth the plow’, to read and understand the scriptures for themselves. Next time you pick up your bible remember that what has cost you just a few pounds cost heroes like Tyndale their lives.

 

This blog post featured in the February 2016 edition of Lifelines

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

Fasting Prayer

Like many churches across the nation we will be marking the beginning of 2016 by holding a week of prayer. Talking and listening to God in prayer helps prepare the way for him to use us. I know of 15 people who prayed the ‘sinners’ prayer during 2015, most of these during the autumn term. This is the great mission that we are on – to see more and more people coming to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. Our desire is that in 2016 we will see even more people taking that life changing step.

We each have a part to play in talking about Jesus, however the bottom line is that it is the Holy Spirit who waters the seed and brings people to faith in Christ. The work begins with prayer. Jesus commanded us to pray for workers to go out into the harvest field.

How did Jesus prepare himself for his ministry? The answer, as many of you will know, is that he went out into the wilderness for 40 days and nights to fast[1]. It is clear from the New Testament that fasting was a part of the spiritual life of the church, especially around times of decision making and strategising[2]. Jesus himself seemed to assume that it was something that his followers would do after he ascended to heaven[3].

What then is the benefit of fasting? Many people seem to have the idea that fasting is a way to make prayer more powerful, if you like to twist God’s arm. I am not sure where this idea comes from. However it seems to me that fasting is more about us drawing closer to God in intimacy. By resisting a natural appetite for food we are declaring that we have a greater hunger, a hunger for God. The discomfort of an empty belly reminds us to choose to push deeper into Christ. It also frees up time in a busy schedule that we can use to spend in prayer.

I would encourage you to fast during our week of prayer and use this opportunity to press into God. There are many different levels of fasting, from missing one or two meals during the week through to fasting for the whole week. You could choose to miss the same meal each day for the week, you could miss all meals on one or more days.

Whatever you choose to do I pray that God will richly bless you as you join in our prayer times together during the week.

[1] Matthew 4:2

[2] Acts 13:2-3; 14:23

[3] Luke 5:33-35

 

This blog post featured in the January 2016 edition of Lifelines

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

Christmas Presence

For weeks now we have been bombarded with adverts on the TV and radio, in newspapers and on the internet, all seeking to persuade us of the must have Christmas present for our loved ones. Perhaps you have seen the one for the Mulberry handbags? A young couple are gathered round the fireside enjoying Christmas festivities. The young man hands his partner a box saying ‘I know we weren’t going to give presents’. She opens the present to find that he has bought her a beautiful red handbag. As she is cooing her thanks for such an amazing surprise there is a knock at the door. In troop shepherds and wise men. Each in turn declare their amazement at the beauty and splendor of the bag as a cameo nativity scene develops on the screen. In the final punchline the poor confused young man says “it’s only a bag!” at which point the background music stops and everyone else looks at him like he is out of his mind.

I don’t know the thought process that went into the advert, and whether it was meant to mock those of us who celebrate the birth of Christ at this season. Whatever the purpose the message is profoundly powerful because it clearly depicts how easily Christ is squeezed out of Christmas. A festival which was originally conceived to celebrate the Presence of Christ has been hijacked by Christmas presents. According to The Times in 2013 Britons received more than £2bn worth of unwanted Christmas presents!

As we sing carols, listen to readings and share Christmas Greetings let us not forget that the only Christmas Presence worth having is Christ himself. Yes he was born just over 2,000 years ago and laid in a manger, heralded by choirs of angels, and worshipped by shepherds and magi. But the true wonder of Christmas is that the baby whose birth we celebrate became a man whose death we revere. A Saviour who broke the chains of sin and death. A King who reigns in heaven and has sent us his Holy Spirit to bring His presence to us.

Those of us who are followers of Jesus have the privilege of his presence with us moment by moment of every day. My prayer is that His Christmas Presence will be with throughout the whole of the season, and unlike the unwanted Christmas presents, will remain with you forever.

This blog post featured in the December 2015 edition of Lifelines

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

 

Money Talks

I once heard about a very ordinary family who had a friend called Ralph who was a self-made millionaire. For many years he would generously take them away on his boat for holidays as they both had daughters the same age. At the end of each day they would stop at the best moorings belonging to riverside hotels for their evening meal. When the waiter came to their table Ralph would give them a tip before placing the order with the promise of more if the meal was good. He reasoned that it was better to guarantee good service by paying for it in advance than hoping it would be worth rewarding after the event when it was too late. Money talked for Ralph.

You may not have the kind of wealth that opens doors for you in the way that Ralph had, but like it or not, wealthy or poor, the way you handle money speaks volumes about you. Even people who claim that money is not important to them would be surprised how much time and energy they spent earning it, spending it, talking about it, paying bills, and planning for the future. Money does indeed talk!

Therefore it should not be a great surprise to find that the Bible actually has quite a lot to say about money. Jesus said that how you deal with money is an indication of what is in your heart. Agur, who wrote part of the book of Proverbs, penned this prayer:

Two things I ask of you, LORD; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God. Proverbs 30:7-9

Agur realised that too much wealth could lead him to rely on his own means and deny God. Equally, poverty could lead him to pursue dishonesty to provide for his family. Paul too learned through personal experience that contentment in life does not depend upon material wealth but upon our security in Christ:

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:12-13

Over the next few weeks we shall be looking at what the Bible has to say about money in a series called ‘Money Talks’. As we study this subject from a biblical perspective, invite the Holy Spirit to help you handle money in a God glorifying way.

This blog post featured in the November 2015 edition of Lifelines

 

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

 

Why go to Westpoint?

Every year thousands from churches like ours head to Exeter for a long weekend in August. For 5 days we enjoy a packed programme, with activities for all ages. Why go to Westpoint? My top 10 reasons:

  • People who attend Westpoint join with thousands of others to worship God in joyful and exuberant praise – a foretaste of heaven!
  • Children and young people attend groups tailored to their ages, experience lively worship and great bible teaching. Each year dozens of them become followers of Christ and experience the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
  • It is an opportunity to hear great teaching from excellent bible teachers who bring expertise not available in the local church. As well as the main meetings and daily bible readings, there is also a seminar programme that addresses relevant issues that impact daily living as a believer.
  • It is the best opportunity for us as a church family to connect with other churches in our movement and get caught up in the bigger, worldwide vision of Commission.
  • It provides time for us to spend a few days away together building friendship and deepening relationships.
  • The festival zone includes a bookshop, craft stalls and exhibitors from various Christian organisations.
  • Want to learn a new skill or chill out? There are workshops, cinema showings, live music, quiz and comedy nights; whichever takes your fancy.
  • The weather is always fantastic! Well that may not be strictly true, but over the years it has mostly stayed dry and gathering together in our marquee during the showers helps us bond.
  • You can choose accommodation to suit your budget and style. Camping is cheapest, which most people opt for; caravanning is another way to stay on site, whether you bring your own or hire one. There are also plenty of guest houses and B&Bs nearby.
  • As a Commission church, going to Westpoint is what we do.

I am looking forward to our largest group yet attending in 2016. Please plan your year around Westpoint 2106 and put the dates in your diary now (25th – 29th August). Book now to get the early bird prices and spread your payments out over the year if you wish.

This blog post featured in the October 2015 edition of Lifelines