New Leaf or New Life

As a schoolboy I did not have the neatest of handwriting and my exercise books quickly became messy and dog eared. Despite this, or perhaps because of this, I enjoyed getting a new exercise book at the beginning of term, or when an old one was full. Full of good intentions I would take great care to write slowly and neatly in the first few pages, but invariably would lapse back into bad habits long before I got to half way through, as I would start to rush my work.

Many people think that being a Christian is a case of turning over a new leaf, rather like getting a brand new exercise book and working hard to write neatly. They understand that God is loving and merciful and so come to him seeking forgiveness but promising to do better next time. The underlying thought process is that if they can somehow live a good enough life going forward, that will in some way make amends for all that has gone before. There are two flaws with this kind of thinking. Firstly at its root is the idea that we can earn God’s favour. However, the bible is clear that none of us can ever be good enough to earn God’s favour. The second flaw is that before too long, just like my wayward handwriting, we revert to old patterns of behaviour and can get trapped in cycles of guilt.

The true message of the bible is that we are powerless to change but God is powerful. PJ Smyth, a preacher in South Africa, expresses it like this: “Nothing I can do can make God love me more, and nothing I can do can make God love me less.” This is the ultimate in equality! No matter how good we might be we can never be good enough, but God offers us forgiveness through Christ anyway. No matter how bad we might be we can never be so bad that God will refuse to forgive us if we come to him through Jesus Christ. The bible calls the process of forgiveness in Christ being born again because, rather than turning over a new leaf, we embark on a new life. The remarkable thing about this transformation is that when we truly grasp that God loves us like that, and forgiveness is due to God’s mercy alone, then we can be set free from guilt. The motivation for living therefore becomes gratitude to God rather than seeking to win his favour.

This New Year, rather than making resolutions to turn over a new leaf, come instead and receive a new life in Christ – it’s freely available to everyone who will respond!

This blog post featured in the January 2015 edition of Hook Focus

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Thank You

I am writing this article after leading the first of our church’s Christmas Celebrations. A great time was had by all, singing carols and thinking about the biblical narrative of Jesus’ birth, followed by good food shared together. By the time you read this, Christmas presents will be unwrapped, rich Christmas food eaten, every turkey recipe imaginable will have been consumed and thoughts will be turning to New Year’s resolutions. For the majority of people living in Hook, we will have enjoyed comfortable Christmases in warm homes with people we love. No doubt too we will have written letters, e-mails and text messages thanking people for their generosity towards us.

In my first message of 2013 I want to say thank you, to you, the residents of Hook on behalf of all the people who have benefitted from the food that you have donated to the Hart Foodbank (www.hart.foodbank.org.uk), especially through the collection at Tesco at the beginning of December. On those two days an astonishing 1835 kg of food valued by Tesco at £3212 was donated. Even better, Tesco have given Hart Foodbank 30% cash back – £963 on a store card. Since 1st April 2012 Hart Foodbank has fed 288 people (171 adults and 117 children). The evening before I wrote this article, I was able to supply food to three families feeding 9 more people.

Christmas is a tough season for those who are financially challenged. Pressure to get presents and seasonal food, along with higher fuel costs due to cold weather conspire to leave people in debt and struggling to feed their families. Life Church operates a service called Junction 5 Money Advice (www.junction5.org), which provides confidential advice to help resolve debt crisis. However the chances are that the people most needing help from Junction 5 or the Hart Foodbank don’t read Hook Focus. If you as a reader are aware of a situation that would benefit from this kind of support, please tell them about these services and help us ensure that they get the help they need. In the meantime I wish you a very Happy New Year 2013.

This blog post featured in the January 2013 edition of Hook Focus

Welcome to 2012!

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