They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
These lines were composed by Robert Laurence Binyon and published in The Times newspaper on 21st September 1914. They comprise the middle verse of a seven verse poem. Binyon said that this stanza came to him first while sat on a Cornish clifftop looking out to sea a few weeks after the outbreak of the First World War. The fame of those four lines have eclipsed that of the rest of the poem having been adopted by the Royal British Legion as an exhortation for ceremonies of Remembrance to commemorate fallen service men and women.
In recent years we have seen a resurgence of interest in these acts of remembrance, in part because a new generation of servicemen have lost their lives in the conflict in Afghanistan. I wonder what thoughts go through your mind during the traditional two minutes of silence. Sympathy and sadness for the families of the deceased and wounded? Disappointment that the lessons of history haven’t resulted in armed conflict being eradicated from the earth? Gratitude for the freedoms we enjoy on these islands? Certainly those ideas shape my own prayers around Remembrance each year. I am convinced that these acts of national remembrance are a vital component of preserving freedom for future generations.
The call to remember however is not unique to our country, or even modern history. Each year Jews celebrate the feast of Passover and recall how God used Moses to lead them out of slavery in Egypt into freedom in the Promised Land. An event that took place 3,300 years ago! Christians too have an act of Remembrance that was instituted by Christ himself just a few hours before he went to the cross. He gathered with his disciples to eat the Passover meal, just as they had done every year of their lives previously. Imagine their amazement when Jesus took the timeless symbols of their heritage and endowed them with new meaning and significance in what we call Communion. The bread was now to symbolise Christ’s own body, about to be crucified. The wine was now to symbolise Christ’s own blood, about to be spilt on the ground. Only later did the disciples truly understand that the sacrifice of Christ on the cross was necessary to win new freedom. Not freedom from the shackles of slavery or political domination. Rather to win freedom from bondage to sin and the coming day of judgement. In most Christian traditions this act of remembrance is carried out many times a year reflecting the centrality of the cross to our faith.
At Life Church the monthly cycle of our meetings means that Remembrance Sunday always coincides with the Sunday when we celebrate communion. Both acts of remembrance deserve reverence and solemnity. However when we celebrate communion we do so in the full and certain knowledge that Christ has risen and will come again. So as we think of Christ and say we will remember we can do so with confidence and look joyfully towards the day when we will see him face to face.
This blog post featured in the November 2016 edition of Hook Focus
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
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
Do you ever find yourself questioning whether your faith is true? And if so where do you turn to strengthen your faith?
I am most prone to doubt when I am tired or feeling under the weather. At times like that the number one thing that renews my faith is Christ’s resurrection. Taking that away is like removing a key block from a Tower of Jenga, everything else collapses around it. Paul writes: ‘And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.’ 1 Corinthians 15:14 (NIV 2011) As if that wasn’t strong enough Paul continues in the same chapter to say that if Christ has not been raised: 1) our message is a lie, 2) there is no resurrection for anyone else, 3) our faith is futile, 4) we are still in our sins, and 5) we of all people are the most to be pitied! Of course Paul is being rhetorical here, inviting us to have confidence in Christ’s resurrection, because he then goes in to state: ‘But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.’ 1 Corinthians 15:20 (NIV 2011)
Why was Paul so certain that Christ had been raised? Because he had evidence; evidence that we too can rely on to confirm that our faith is based upon facts. Just a few verses earlier Paul cites the eyewitness testimonies of Peter and the 12 apostles, most of whom were still alive when Paul wrote and could have been questioned. He also cites a resurrection appearance to 500 others at the same time, again most of whom were still alive and could have been questioned.
Of course we could also look at the evidence of the empty tomb and the folded grave clothes; the response of the authorities who had every incentive to prove that Jesus had not risen; the eyewitness testimony of the women who arrived first at the tomb; the scepticism of Thomas; the willingness of the disciples to die for the truth of Christ’s resurrection.
A careful investigation of such details leads to the conclusion that the best explanation for that first Easter morning is that Christ is indeed risen! And if Christ is risen then we know that the message of the scriptures is true, that we too will be resurrected, that our faith is not futile, that we have been set free from our sins, and that we are the envy of the world.
This Easter, allow yourself to be captivated by the facts. Christ has died! Christ is risen! Christ will come again! Alleluia, Amen!
This blog post featured in the April 2015 edition of Lifelines
The run up to Easter is one of my favourite times of the year. Each new day, as we see the weather improving, draws us closer to the time when we celebrate Christ’s death and Resurrection. Normally in the run up to Easter I would encourage you to focus on Christ’s death as it is through His death that we are able to receive mercy and forgiveness for our sin. But what would the Easter story have been like had Jesus not risen? After all the animals sacrificed under the Old Covenant stayed dead! The resurrection though gives us confidence that the power of death is beaten, and that we like Christ will be raised to life on the last day.
Have you ever wondered what it must have been like for the disciples to encounter the risen Lord Jesus after the tomb was found empty? During a period of 40 days Jesus appeared to over 500 followers on at least 11 occasions as recorded in the gospels and Acts. What would it have been like to be part of that? How would your faith have been strengthened to see Christ standing in front of you with nail scarred hands and a pierced side?
Starting on Easter Sunday will be a 6 week series called ’40 Days with Jesus’. Each week a different preacher will help us join the disciples and retrace their steps in an encounter with the risen Lord Jesus. The series is supported by a devotional book by Dave Smith called (you’ve guessed it!) ’40 days with Jesus’. There are also small group questions and video clips that some Connect groups may choose to use during these 40 days in order to help us draw closer to our Risen Saviour.
Dave Smith is the leader of Kingsgate Church which was planted as a small group meeting in a home in 1988 and now consists of a congregation of around 1,500 people in a massive warehouse conversion in Peterborough. Dave Smith is joining us at Westpoint in August so this will also be an opportunity to get to know him before the summer.
If you would like to join us on the 40 day adventure you can purchase a copy from Amazon
Paperback edition 40 Days with Jesus from Amazon UK
Kindle edition 40 Days with Jesus from Amazon UK
This blog post featured in the March 2015 edition of Lifelines
A few years ago when we were on a family holiday in France we visited an amusement park. One of the more challenging rides was a 500m aerial runway across a lake and onto an island. After watching several people take the ride before me I became convinced the ride was safe, plucked up courage, climbed on to the seat and sped down to the landing area. My initial nervous trepidation change to exhilaration as the warm air rushed past my face.
Many people think that becoming a Christ follower is an act of blind faith, a leap into the dark without any rational basis. Nothing could be further from the truth! At the point of decision there may be many unanswered questions but, like my decision to ride the aerial runway, genuine faith in Christ is based upon a body of evidence. Of all the things recorded about Jesus, the one outstanding claim that needs to be scrutinised is His resurrection. If that can be shown to be false then everything else falls away like a stack of cards. Even St Paul recognised this when he wrote these words: And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.
No serious historian would question that a man called Jesus lived and taught in the region of Galilee and Judea. Over the years a number of people have written books that set out to impartially investigate the evidence surrounding Christ’s resurrection, the most famous being ‘Who moved the stone?’ written by the lawyer Frank Morison who intended to prove the resurrection didn’t happen. Trawling through the New Testament accounts, and other contemporary evidence, Morison concluded that the most rational explanation for the events surrounding the first Easter, 2000 years ago, was that: Jesus actually died on the cross, he really was buried in the tomb, he was definitely raised back to life and appeared to over 500 of his disciples. In short, the essential elements of the Easter accounts are true.
You may consider that you know the details well, but have you truly examined the evidence? In between the chocolate eggs and fluffy bunnies why not conduct your own investigation into the resurrection this Easter? Begin by reading Matthew 21- 28; Mark 11-16; Luke 18-24; John 11-21. Then get hold of one of the books listed below and see how all the arguments against the resurrection can systematically be shown to fail. Then you will have evidence that demands a verdict; you will have a rational basis for a decision upon which to base faith in Christ.
This blog post featured in the April 2014 edition of Hook Focus
 1 Corinthians 15:14 (NIV2011).
Antonio Stradivari who died in December 1737 is widely regarded as the greatest ever builder of string instruments such as violins. During his life he built around 1,100 instruments of which 650 are believed to survive to this day, including an estimated 500 or so violins. In December 2013 a Stradivarius violin, which was made in 1696, was sold at auction for £1.38 million. It seems incredible; firstly that this instrument should have survived for over 325 years; and secondly that someone was prepared to pay such a vast sum for it. Of course, Stradivarius violins are renowned for their musical qualities making them highly prized possessions; the record amount paid for one is a staggering £10 million.
I wonder what legacy your life will leave. How much of what you have invested your time and energy in will survive and be remembered in 10 or 50 years time, let alone 300 years like Stradivari? Paul saw his life’s work as being like constructing a building, working like a master craftsman on the foundation of Jesus Christ. He encouraged the Corinthians to build upon the same foundation and to consider the longevity of what they built. He illustrated the durability of their work by comparing it to building with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay and straw, which he warned would be tested with fire on the Day of Christ’s return. Paul tells us the outcome of this testing: If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 1 Corinthians 3:14 (ESV).
Few of us will achieve the long lasting reputation of Stradivari, and even if we did it is of no use to us once, like him, we have died. Yet these verses in Corinthians indicate that there are eternal rewards to be had for those who build wisely. How can we earn these rewards? The key seems to be the foundation we choose to build on. Civil engineers take great care to ensure that the foundation is right for the building that is to be erected upon it. Likewise the wise spiritual builder builds everything on the foundation of Christ. Paul wrote: For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 3:11 (ESV). Only those who build on the foundation of Christ will receive a reward. And only what is built on the foundation of Christ will be rewarded. At the start of the New Year why not take time to evaluate every area of your life – work, family, leisure, church – and ask yourself: ‘To what extent is Christ the foundation of this in my life at the moment?’ There is a line in a song that we used to sing that said: ‘I want to give my life, for something that will last forever.’ Why choose to build with wood, hay and straw when you can build for eternity?
This blog post featured in the January 2014 edition of Lifelines
Have you noticed that when people greet each other saying ‘How are you?’ a frequent response is ‘I’m busy!’ In this book Tim Chester addresses the busyness that afflicts 21st century Christians, particularly those who live in the post industrialised world. In the opening chapter he identifies the symptoms of the disease, demonstrating with alarming accuracy the many attitudes and behaviours that are associated with being over-busy. I was particularly challenged by the thought that intentional or not stating ‘I am busy’ pushes people away, the decoded message being that ‘I am too important to spend time with you’. Ouch!
He goes on to show how the disease of busyness its roots in the systemic changes in the patterns of work and rest that have evolved from the pre industrial era, through the industrial age into the present post-industrialised world that exists in countries like the UK.
No book on busyness would quite be complete without some practical hints on time management, and this is no exception. Indeed many readers will recognise the tips given from other specialist guides on the subject. Where Tim Chester’s book differs, and in my view wins, is that he regards these tools as addressing the symptoms rather than treating the disease.
The second half of the book comprises 6 chapters, each addressing the attitudes of our hearts that incline us to embrace the tyranny of busyness. The crux of the argument is that busyness is not something imposed upon us by forces outside our control. Rather we are driven by desires within our own spirit that we subconsciously believe are satisfied by busyness. As a result we have a love hate relationship with being busy. We loath the stress and burn out that it causes yet crave the significance that it seductively seems to offer. The solution is to accept the rest that Jesus offers those who are weary and burdened. To allow him to satisfy those desires and cravings in our hearts in a way that busyness never will. The antidote to busyness is not doing less, or being more efficient, it is to place our trust completely in Christ.
This is one of those books that the people who most need to read it will claim that they can’t afford the time!
Buy The Busy Christian’s Guide to Busyness from Amazon UK
Buy The Busy Christian’s Guide to Busyness from Amazon US
During World War II a group of Scottish soldiers were captured and forced to build the Burma Railway. Conditions were harsh, the guards’ treatment of the POWs was brutal and the death rate was high. Ernest Gordon, in his book ‘Miracle on the River Kwai’, recounts the true story of how at the end of a particular work party the guards counted the shovels back in as they did each evening; only on this occasion the count was short, a shovel was missing!
The officer in charge was furious and began ranting at the prisoners demanding that the person responsible for stealing or hiding the shovel should step forward. They stood silently in line; no one moved. Incensed, the guard shrieked “All die! All die!” and began to aim his gun at the defenceless men. At that moment one man stepped forward and the officer beat him to death right before the eyes of his colleagues.
The survivors were permitted to pick up his bloody corpse and carry him, along with the shovels, back to the camp. Here the guards carried out a second tool check and found that all the shovels were accounted for, there had never been a missing shovel! The first check point had simply been a miscount. News of the incident spread quickly through the entire prison camp. The realisation that an innocent man had been willing to die to save others had a profound effect, binding the prisoners together in deep loyalty.
Before his death Jesus told his disciples: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” [ John 15:13 (ESV)] He knew that he would shortly be betrayed by a friend, arrested in the middle of the night, stood before a kangaroo court and condemned to death on a cross. He also knew that he could turn and walk away from his destiny but he chose to embrace death. Jesus’ death is far greater than a good man dying for the benefit of others. At Easter, Christians across the world celebrate Christ’s death and resurrection; confident that in his death Jesus received the punishment that we deserve and so we can receive forgiveness, assured that through his resurrection the power of sin and death is broken and we can look forward to eternal life with him. Why not join with us during this Easter season and experience for yourself the liberation that Jesus offers you.
This blog post featured in the March 2013 edition of Hook Focus
I am sure that you are familiar with the proverb “Home is where the heart is”. We use it to convey the idea that a home is more than simply a place where we live; it is a place we share with people we love, a place that is filled with the memories that shape and define us as people, a place where we feel safe and secure. One of the large DIY furnishing chains tap into this desire with their catchphrase “make a house a home”. Sadly however, simply filling our houses with nice furnishings can never really make a home if it is not a place that accommodates our heart and so many people live with the ache for home that exists in their past, or even only in their imagination.
Jesus encouraged us not to become too attached to our present homes when he said “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21 ESV). Despite the similarity between the two heart expressions, Jesus’ statement is radically different. Jesus’ treasure principle is rooted in the fact that our homes and possessions are vulnerable to deterioration and depreciation, they are at risk of theft or damage and, in the final analysis, cannot be taken with us when we die. The treasure principle is that we take an eternal perspective and store up treasure in heaven. Jesus presents us with a choice to serve God or to serve possessions! You can live this life seeking to provide as much comfort and security as you can for yourself and your family in this life, or you can devote your energies to preparing for an eternity with him.
There is an old Negro spiritual that has the lines “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through; my treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue” that expresses the attitude of someone who is living by Jesus’ treasure principle, someone who is holding loosely to the things of this life. People who have learned to live by Jesus’ treasure principle will find that they have real peace and true joy despite the ups and downs of this life because they are looking forward to a destiny that is eternally secure. Are you?
This blog post featured in the February 2013 edition of Hook Focus