On Christmas Day the Queen will broadcast her 64th Christmas Message. In doing this she upholds a tradition that began with her grandfather George V who broadcast 4 speeches, and was continued by her father George VI who broadcast 14 messages. Neither Queen Elizabeth II nor King George VI were expected to become monarch when they were born but their destinies were changed when Edward VIII abdicated. Prince Charles and Prince William on the other hand have lived with the knowledge that they have both been born to be king.
Traditionally the Queen talks about significant events that have occurred during the year and so it would be in keeping with her previous speeches to make reference to her 90th Birthday Celebrations. Often she will comment on worldwide events that affect the UK or the Commonwealth. We will have to wait and see whether she comments on Brexit or, less likely on Trump. Nevertheless this year has been one which has seen seismic changes on the political scene.
Two thousand years ago Jesus was born into a world that was equally fragile from a political perspective. Herod was King of Judea, but this was not much more than a puppet role as the territory was under the jurisdiction of the Roman Emperor. His role was tolerated by the Jewish religious leaders because the stability he gave meant that they had a degree of freedom to follow their religious traditions. But there was always an undercurrent of individuals looking for an opportunity to overthrow Roman rule and implement a Jexit. Little wonder then that Herod was troubled when the Wise Men from the East arrived at his palace wanting to know where they could find the baby born to be King of the Jews.
Herod consulted with his advisors who discovered that the prophet Micah had foretold the birth of a king some 700 years before. “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2 NIV) Herod understood this prophecy to mean that the baby the Magi sought was born to become King of the Jews and so he ordered the slaughter of every baby boy under the age of 2.
33 years later as Jesus was about to ascend to heaven following his resurrection, the disciples demonstrated a similar misunderstanding and asked Jesus when he was going to restore the kingdom of Israel. They were still looking for the overthrow of the Roman oppressors. Jesus’ kingdom however is not an earthly realm with geographical boundaries. Rather it is found everywhere that there are followers of Jesus.
This Christmas I pray that you will let the baby born to be king become King of your life.
This blog post featured in the December 2016 edition of Hook Focus
‘What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet’
This couplet was one of many that I committed to memory for my O Level English Literature exam. Juliet is pining for Romeo and lamenting that he is a Montague – her family’s bitter enemies. On one level she is right, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Yet she knew that as a Capulet she would never be permitted to marry Romeo who was a Montague, such was the animosity between their respective families. The fact is names, especially names given to people, matter.
Christmas is a season of names; names given to Jesus. That is the most common name we use for him and was the name that Joseph was instructed by the angel to give to him. The name Jesus comes through Latin and Greek transliteration from the Hebrew name Yeshua (Joshua or Jeshua) and means rescuer or deliverer, clearly indicating his mission to become the saviour of the world.
One of the classic Christmas Bible readings is Isaiah 9:6–7 which says:
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.
In this prophecy given some 700 years before Jesus’ birth we are told that he will be called:
- Wonderful Counsellor – his wisdom and guidance is beyond that of any human advisor
- Mighty God – his strength and power is unrivaled in the entire universe. In fact he is the source of all the energy throughout the cosmos.
- Everlasting Father – his love and mercy is eternally unending. His grace is matchless.
- Prince of Peace – he offers reconciliation to us even while we were his enemies.
- Eternal King – his reign is just and righteous and endures for all generations.
These are only a few of the names and titles that are attributed to Jesus throughout the bible. Each is rich with significance, directing us towards aspects of his character and nature. Each helps us to see that Jesus is so much more than a cute little baby snuggled in a manger. Each provokes us to worship our peerless saviour.
Take time this Christmas to meditate on the names of Jesus and bow your knee in worship to Him whose name is above every other name in heaven and on earth.
This blog post featured in the November 2016 edition of Lifelines
Imagine thousands of people from hundreds of churches across our region all mobilised together with the aim of sharing God’s love with hurting people in our community. That is the vision that the Who Cares? team have for Hampshire and the surrounding areas.
When I first floated the idea of bringing the Who Cares? strategy to this area I thought my role was just to be a prophetic voice. I assumed that someone else would pick up the baton and lead the team. To my surprise everyone else in the team felt that I was the person God wanted to head up this initiative for this region. A few weeks later I was at a conference when a prophetic word was spoken over me that directly confirmed this call. Right down to details such as equipping churches across a geographical region and having access to the Bishop’s office.
It has been exciting to see how a vision that originally just embraced Basingstoke and outlying areas has expanded; first to include all of North Hampshire, and more recently to include the rest of Hampshire and parts of Dorset.
The mission consists of 2 phases:
- The Listening Phase. This phase starts on Sunday June 4th which is Pentecost Sunday. We are praying for the Holy Spirit to fall upon the church as on the first Day of Pentecost 2,000 years ago when the room that the disciples were hiding in was unable to contain the mission of Christ. Over the following 8 weeks Christians from participating churches will be mobilised to ask friends and family, neighbours and workmates, along with others in the community one simple question. ‘What Hurts The Most?’ or put another way ‘What one thing in life do you find most difficult to handle?’ The answers that are received will be collated on computers and analysed centrally to help churches understand the needs of their communities.
- The Responding Phase. This phase runs from September through to December. During this season churches will tailor their programmes to address the key hurts of the people they have been listening to. They will run Alpha Courses, do Café Church, sermon series (and much more) all with the focus of addressing the hurts that people have identified. The churches in Norfolk who ran a mission like this in 2014 found that hundreds of people heard the Good News that Jesus cares for them and many became followers of Jesus after 1,200 guests attended an Alpha launch supper.
I find it interesting that among the prophecies spoken over us as a church are things like ‘you will be a David among churches’ and ‘you will punch above your weight’. It seems that this is happening as more than a hundred of leaders are looking to Life Church, Hook for vision and leadership in this initiative.
I would invite you to get behind this project and support it by joining me at the Vision Night on Saturday 8th October, 7:00pm at Aldworth School, Western Way, Basingstoke. Admission is free but you will need a ticket which you can obtain via our website.
This blog post featured in the October 2016 edition of Lifelines
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
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
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
Over recent months I have been encouraged to see politicians and the media raising the profile of depression. According to the Mental Health Foundation 1 in 4 British adults experience one diagnosable mental health issue in any one year. The most common disorders experienced being mixed anxiety and depression, which affect between 8-12% of the population in the same period. Compare those figures with the estimated 1 in 3 people who will develop cancer at some point in their lifetime. Both are tragic, debilitating conditions that massively disrupt the lives of those affected. Both can be life threatening and yet both can also be survivable.
I have called this article ‘The Black Dog’ because that is the name the great Winston Churchill gave to his own depression which affected much of his life. One time he wrote: “I don’t like standing near the edge of a platform when an express train is passing through. I like to stand right back and if possible get a pillar between me and the train. I don’t like to stand by the side of a ship and look down into the water. A second’s action would end everything. A few drops of desperation.”. It is now thought highly probable that Churchill suffered from manic depression, also known as bipolar disorder. At times this blighted his political career. Yet at the hour of Britain’s greatest need he rose to lead this nation to victory over Nazism despite, some even think because of, his condition.
We have in Churchill a powerful example of incredible success in spite of his depression, yet it is a condition that is widely misunderstood, and rarely talked about by society in general or in the church. Many people will hide their own experience from even their closest friends and family for fear of being stigmatised. It is only in recent years that I have felt able to talk about an episode in my own life almost twenty years ago where the impulse to ride my motorcycle into the path of an oncoming juggernaut seemed an attractive proposition.
This Easter some words of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane jumped out at me. As he faced the prospect of his trial, floggings and ultimately crucifixion he said: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” At that point did Jesus too face the Black Dog which made the thought of death look preferable to the suffering he was about to go through? I find hope in Isaiah’s description of Jesus: “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” Even if others may not understand the desperate, loneliness that the Black Dog brings, I believe Jesus does.
 Source: http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk
 Source: http://www.macmillan.org.uk
This blog post featured in the June 2015 edition of Hook Focus
Later this month approximately 1,000 runners will take part in the Hook Fun Run and Road Race covering distances from 2.5 miles right up to 10 miles. I am sure that the organisers have placed a request for a bright sunny day so that all the participants, marshals, supporters and spectators have a pleasant and enjoyable experience. On the day there are four races and there will be prizes for a limited number of people in various gender and age categories. For the vast majority of runners who won’t win prizes the goal for the day will be about taking part and they will be satisfied with their finisher’s medal and a well-earned rest in the afternoon.
Even fun runners will usually make some effort to prepare for the run by going on a few practice jogs to check that they have some chance of completing the distance. Clothing and shoes are selected by the competitors to ensure they are suitably equipped to run efficiently and reduce the risk of injury. On the day itself runners will have certain goals; a personal best to be achieved, a rival that they want to beat or simply to survive and get round the course. It is this preparation and goal setting that is being alluded to in the New Testament when the Christian life is said to be like running a race.
Deciding to follow Jesus is not like taking out an insurance policy where you pay the premium and then forget about it until you need to make a claim. Following Jesus involves a lifelong commitment to a self-disciplined life. It involves setting aside distractions and self interest in order to ensure that we are able to complete the course.
What is the primary goal of a follower of Jesus? It is to become like Him in character. As we focus on Him and choose to follow in his footsteps on a daily basis his Holy Spirit gradually brings about change so that we become like him. If we lose sight of the goal of becoming like Jesus then we risk falling into one of two traps. Trap one is that we become disillusioned and give up on being a follower of Jesus. Trap two is that we focus on outward religious observance.
Lots of runners find that they need the encouragement of running mates to successfully achieve their goals. The only way to successfully complete the Christian life is to do so with Jesus as your running mate. Will you choose to run the race?
This blog post featured in the May 2015 edition of Hook Focus
The General Election is just around the corner, and in our daily news we read and hear the latest reports of politicians posturing for our vote. For those of us who have been raised in the UK our familiarity with the UK democratic system can mean that we take it for granted, and many even become bored with the whole business. However, in case you have missed it, Polling Day is Thursday 7th May.
One of my goals as a follower of Jesus is to bring him consistently into all aspects of my life, including the way I exercise my freedom to vote. The challenge however is how to respond to political parties whose agendas are informed by world views that don’t always align with biblical values.
21st Century believers are not the first to find themselves in this predicament. The first century followers of Jesus found themselves under Roman rule which frequently persecuted them. Despite the hostility which they were receiving Paul wrote urging that the church should pray for ‘kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness’ 2 Timothy 2:2 (NIV 2011). Since Paul encouraged believers who were persecuted for their faith to pray for those who governed them, how much more ought we? A good response for believers is to pray about the outcome of this General Election; that the UK will continue to be a place where people of all faiths and none will be free to practice their beliefs in peace and quiet.
A friend of mine frequently reminds me that God invites us to be part of the answer to our prayers. One way to be part of the answer to our prayers is to engage with the political process and cast our vote in an informed and thoughtful way. Although the General Election is becoming increasingly presidential in style and the focus is often placed on who will become Prime Minister, the bedrock of our democracy is that each MP is elected to represent their local constituency. On Tuesday 28th April there will be a hustings event at 7:45pm in the refurbished Hook Community Centre, Ravenscroft. This is a public event to which all Hook residents are invited. Due to seating capacity limits admission will be by ticket which can be reserved online at http://www.bit.ly/electionhustings
I hope to see many of you at the hustings.
This blog post featured in the April 2015 edition of Hook Focus
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