I am sure that many of you will shortly be writing Christmas cards to various friends and family members. Despite the proliferation of social media and other electronic forms of communication these are not as tangible ways of sending seasonal greetings as physical Christmas cards. The tradition in our home is to staple strings of cards together and then hang them on the walls of our lounge and dining room.
I wonder what kind of cards you like to choose: modern or traditional, comic scenes or wintry landscapes? Many cards seem to bear little real connection with Christmas at all. Politicians and celebrities send photographs of their families, others wishing to avoid causing offence choose the greeting “Happy Winter Holiday” or similar. My personal preference is to send cards that depict some aspect of the birth of Jesus Christ.
Yet even here myth and reality often collide as, in attempting to recreate the perfect Christmas scene, artists get their chronology mixed up. Perhaps worse still, the nativity is depicted in an idealised and somewhat romantic manner. The truth is that the birth of Christ was noisy and messy, the same as the birth of any other human being. The stable where he was born was a working stable, full of the sounds and smells of the farmyard, hardly a hygienic place for a baby to be born! A modern Christmas Carol more accurately captures the atmosphere with line: “From the squalor of a borrowed stable.”
Yet this realisation, far from demeaning the nativity, actually provokes even greater wonder. Paul wrote “Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant being born in the likeness of men”. The squalid circumstances of Jesus’ birth serve to highlight lengths to which he was willing to go to rescue us. Paul goes on to state “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” So we move from a squalid scene to one that to our eyes seems gruesome.
If we sanitise either of these two events then we rob them of their power. Ugly though they may be, the truth is that they are both perfect scenes because they are essential to God’s great plan for redemption. Whenever you see a depiction of the nativity scene this Christmas I would urge you to look deeper and discover the joy that comes from discovering the real Jesus that so often gets obscured by fluffy lambs and cute donkeys. You are invited to come and join us at one of the Christmas services arranged by the various churches in Hook and discover the real meaning of Jesus birth.
This blog post featured in the December 2013 edition of Hook Focus
The first things that come to my mind as we enter the month of November are bonfires and fireworks. I have vivid memories as a boy of helping my father pile wood, leaves and other garden waste up to build a bonfire at the bottom of the garden. As dusk fell various invited neighbours gathered and then the bonfire, complete with an effigy of Guy Fawkes, was lit. Sausages were sizzled on forks attached to long canes and fireworks were let off. Even in those less safety conscious day’s fireworks were an adult responsibility but there was something exciting to a small boy about being entrusted with a sparkler! You are no doubt familiar with the ritual of one sparkler being lit from another until dozens are being waved around to paint patterns in the night air. Given a sufficient supply of sparklers and willingness to share the flame this handheld display can be kept going for many minutes. One sparkler on its own however can seem quite tame and will soon burn away to nothing.
Christian faith too is best experienced in the company of others as together we share the joy, and at times heartache, of being a follower of Jesus. Whether our journey of faith is long, short, or not yet started the act of sharing it with others encourages the whole community, including ourselves, in much the same ways as happens when sparklers are ignited off each other. However, if we try and live our faith in isolation then we can quickly lose our sparkle and become dull and cold. Once a sparkler is burnt out all that is left is a useless length of wire. The good news however is that if a person’s faith seems burnt out it can be invigorated by joining with others whose flame is burning brighter.
If as these colder winter months draw in you feel that your life has lost its sparkle then perhaps it is time to immerse yourself in a church community. Whether you are an old hand or completely new to the Christian faith I am confident that you will receive a warm welcome at any of the churches in Hook. You can find out more on the adjacent pages.
This blog post featured in the November 2013 edition of Hook Focus
On Tuesday evening 5 of us from Life Church Hook headed off to Wales, to visit Victory Church, Cwmbran which has become renowned as the centre of what is being called the Welsh Outpouring. Having looked at their website and watched a few of their videos I had some idea of what to expect.
We had been warned that the venue fills up quickly once the doors open at 7:00pm and it was best to arrive early to ensure a seat in the main auditorium, a converted warehouse. The meeting began with worship which was Christ centred and God exalting. After about 20 minutes Kenny Brandie, Lead Pastor for the Cwmbran Campus, invited those who would like prayer for healing and deliverance from addiction to come to the front where the ministry team prayed for them. Over 100 people were prayed for, the vast majority ending up flat on their backs on the floor. I was impressed by the care and sensitivity being shown by the ministry team to the people they prayed for.
After a further worship time Pastor Kenny preached a message about experiencing the presence of God. And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. Exodus 33:15 English Standard Version (ESV) Kenny showed us how fire was a symbol of God’s presence: with Moses at the burning bush, in the pillar of fire that guided the Israelites through the wilderness and on the disciples at the day pf pentecost. He encouraged us to seek and expect the presence of God; not just for a moment but to take with us into our lives. This led to a further ministry time when about a dozen people became followers of Jesus and the vast majority of those present were prayed for to receive fresh impartation of the Holy Spirit.
People have asked me since if this is a genuine revival; I think I would have to say it is. I felt extremely comfortable and the whole focus of the meeting was Jesus centred and the gospel of Jesus was proclaimed. The leaders we self effacing and at pains not to draw attention to themselves. This was night 64 of these meetings and during that time they have recorded 650 new believers and thousands of people being healed and touched by the presence of God.
I went hoping, that like Jesus disciples in the gospels, I would see Jesus at work – healing the sick and declaring the kingdom. I long to see more of his happening in our ministry here in Hook so plan to visit Cwmbran again and take more of our people with us. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to come along with us.
Watch this video for an invitation Pastor Richard Taylor:
It is good to be back in the office after the summer. As I sit here reflecting it seems incredible that it is now 2 years since I left teaching to work for the church fulltime. Then I was sat in the cold, damp, wooden hut that had been home to the church for several decades. This time last year I was in the new premises but it was still a building site with all the commotion and stress that entailed. The experience today is much different as we have settled into the new building and enjoy the warm modern facilities that it offers. These last two years have probably the happiest and most fulfilling of my life so far. I am constantly overwhelmed by your seemingly endless energy and enthusiasm to support the various activities of Life Church—there are far too many things to run through here but I am sure you have your own list in mind.
Most recently many of us have shared together in the highly fruitful Newday and Westpoint events. These are always excellent times of teaching and worship and you can read more later in Lifelines. For me the highlight of the summer has been being midwife at the birth of 4 new believers! There is no greater joy than seeing someone come into the kingdom of God and becoming a ‘follower of Jesus’. Combine that privilege with some excellent teaching from PJ Smyth which I heard twice at Newday and Westpoint and it has rekindled a desire and expectation to see people becoming followers of Christ. PJ’s observation that churches have a tendency to drift from mission to maintenance is sad but true. Bottom line however is that Jesus has commissioned us to make followers of him. I am thrilled that over the summer 8 people connected to Life Church have crossed the line and made a decision for Christ. Christ is not looking for people simply make a decision and get the label ‘Christian’ but that we all genuinely become followers—a lifetime journey for each of us!
Any midwife will tell you that childbirth doesn’t run to tidy schedule and timelines, the call can come at anytime day or night. The challenge for us is not to develop new programmes so much as to ensure that everything we already do is shaped by the expectation and desire that it will result in helping people follow Jesus. Whatever your role in Life Church, whatever your daily routine, please join me in praying that we will all be called upon to be midwives and parents to birth and raise followers of Jesus.
This blog post featured in the September 2012 edition of Lifelines
If you were asked to define church, I wonder what you would come up with as an answer? For many people, a church is a building, often with stained glass windows, a steeple and bells. Of course this is true in the same sense that a building with classrooms is called a school. However just as school without children is quiet and lifeless, so a church without people is like a museum or a shrine, it may be atmospheric and spiritual in some other worldly way but it lacks life. Of course simply filling a building with people doesn’t make it a school or a church, however lively they may be. It is only when those people are united with a common purpose that they become a living community that grows and develops organically around their shared values.
Churches have many things in common with schools and other community organisations, but what sets them apart is that the people who belong to the church are united in Christ. Not merely knowing who Christ is, but having an ongoing dynamic experience of Christ in their lives. On Sunday mornings we are looking at the book of Ephesians where Paul shows us how true church consists of people who are gripped by the lavish grace and wisdom of God. We don’t deserve favour like this and are powerless without God taking the initiative on our behalf. Although this grace operates in our lives individually, the outworking of it is that we become a community knit together in love.
At the end of chapter 2 Paul writes: ‘In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.’ Ephesians 2:22 (ESV) An evidence that the Spirit is truly working in the life of a believer is that they will increasingly sense that they belong to a local church. Our commitment and loyalty to Christ is expressed by our commitment and loyalty to each other. Here at Life Church we welcome everyone to our meetings at whatever stage they have reached in their journey with Christ. Once someone has been with us for a while however it is good to demonstrate commitment by becoming a church member. If you would like to find out more about this, then have a word with either Simon or me and we would be happy to explain further.
This blog post featured in the June 2012 edition of Lifelines
I wonder what you are looking forward to during this coming year. If you are into sport perhaps you are excited by the prospect of the Olympics coming to London. Another big event will be the celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee – a remarkable achievement! There is also a sizeable cohort of us in Life Church who will be celebrating our 50th birthdays – 1962 was a great year. Congratulations to those of you transitioning with me into the Saga era (ouch!)
I also wonder what 2012 will hold in store for us as a church. At the start of this New Year rather than making resolutions that we will break before the end of January why not ask God to give you big dreams. We have been praying for many years to see growth in our membership which has hovered around 60 people since 2004. Praise God in 2011 we reached a new maximum of 73. Will you join us in praying that we will continue to grow in size during 2012 – a similar percentage growth would see us reach 85 people, it would be great to break through the 80 mark.
Another encouragement this year has been to see 10 people baptised. That means there are 10 people who have taken a visible, significant step forward in being a disciple of Jesus. Will you join us in praying that we see at least that number of people baptised in 2012? Even better if that figure was also matched by a similar number of people making a decision to follow Jesus.
You may be aware that the Welcome Team helps me to track Sunday morning attendance (numbers not names!) Our best morning attendance was 108 on Easter Day, closely followed by 100 at our Carol Service. The average main meeting attendances in 2011 were 74 which is 22% increase on the 2010 average of 58 (for the Sundays for which I have data). A similar percentage growth in 2012 would see us reach an average of 90. Will you join us in praying that we achieve this during the coming year?
Less easy to monitor quantitatively but of greater importance is our personal and corporate spiritual walk with God. My prayer for the church is to echo Paul:
My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit — not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength — that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all Christians the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:14-19 (The Message)
May 2012 be a breakthrough year when all of us experience more of God’s lavish grace and mercy in our lives.
This blog post featured in the January 2012 edition of Lifelines