Friday, 14 December 2018

Christmas Joy

Christmas is nearly upon us and this year as we have travelled through Advent at Harlow Baptist, we have been considering the Joy that is in the accounts of that first Christmas.

For God's people, there was the looking forwards to a time, some when in the future, that the Messiah, the Saviour sent by God, would appear and free them from tyranny and subjugation to other nations.

For Mary and Joseph there were serious issues related to fidelity, trust, supernatural goings on (Angels, Virgin pregnancies ...) and life being turned upside down by God's plans. But the baby, Jesus, they were told would save people, he was the Saviour long awaited.

For Elizabeth and Zechariah, the sorrow and sadness of coming to terms with being childless suddenly changed, by God, to give them a son, John, who would be a joy and a delight to them

Two miraculous births that signalled a change for the world, nothing ever the same again, because God had come among humanity with a plan to save us from our sin / wrong doing. A cause to be thankful and joyful.

Then there were the shepherds on the hillsides, frightened out of their wits by a visitation by Angels, singing and speaking to them, bright and awesome. The core of the message to them - was joy. Joy that a saviour had been born, joy that this was for them, This would be a saviour for the poor and helpless, the outcast and the rich and famous, a saviour for all, a cause to celebrate and rejoice.

Many will be celebrating this amazing set of events that occurred over 2000 years ago. While others will find Christmas a sad time, feeling the loss of loved ones, feeling lonely with no family or friends to share time with, feeling cold and wretched on the streets or in war zones. But one thing will never change, whatever our situation, God is with us and even when handling grief, sadness, poverty or loneliness, joy can be found if we can find the courage to call on Jesus.

I hope you have a happy and joyful Christmas whatever your situation I hope you enjoy this song ...

Monday, 22 October 2018

Reasons to Choose?

Recently I watched with interest a social media thread which started off with a report from the USA about a couple who chose their church to go to based on the coffee it served.Was the article true? I don't know, Its reported here -  however it generated a discussion on what coffee was used - ethically sourced, fair trade or whatever. Was is served before the service, during, after? One (hopefully tongue in check) pointed out that they wouldn't go to a church that served instant granule coffee.

Now there is an argument that says that offering the best kind of refreshments shows a sense of care for the people who come, and there is some truth in that. But not all churches have the resources to provide such things. As a pastor how would folks feel if I complained about their coffee or tea brand when I visit to talk and pray with them? I am happy with whatever they are happy with and blessed with what they provide.

It got me reflecting a little on why I go to church and why perhaps others do. What is important to folks and what perhaps should be important.

When I first went to church over 30 years ago, I went to find out what I could about what our neighbours believed. To be fair if I was not persistent in character that would have put me off, but the people were what kept me going. the people in the home group I started going to. They had an attractiveness about them and they accepted me questions and all.

After moving we went to another church, again friendly, accepting, well mostly as our small children were not the most quiet or well behaved. But then we were not run out of the church when our 2+ year old escaped and toddled up to the priest in the middle of the sermon to offer a drink from his beaker. The priest handled it rather well.

After my wife and I became Christians (another story :-)) we felt the need to be taught and built in God and while we were really involved in church life and loved the people, we were not growing Spiritually except by going to other churches. We decided with a degree of sadness and reluctance to move churches to one where the teaching was challenging, seemed sound and where we would hopefully grow in our faith. There we stayed (well there was a 3.5 year excursion to Italy on business) until I became a full time minister.

Given all of that I wonder where coffee, social life and such have become so important in choosing a church or leaving a church. I accept that these things have a bearing, and lets face it they are things that can easily be changed with a bit of help, encouragement and dipping into our pockets.

I understand that having limited numbers of the age group we or are children are a part of can make a big difference, but in the end is it not about what we can give in worship, praise, fellowship and how we grow from being a part of that, receiving and applying good teaching in our lives and investing our time, love and gifts where-ever we are called to be?

If there were no coffee served or the coffee was not the brand that we are used to at what-ever coffee store we get our regular fill up from, would that church get crossed off of our list? I don't think it would get crossed off of Jesus' list. In some respects such a church could be considered a social outcast. Jesus associated with social outcasts and was scorned and mocked for it.

Are we becoming such slaves to the culture in which we live that we are loosing sight of what is important in church? I wonder how many of our folks would stop coming if we stopped serving refreshments other than water before, after or during the services - maybe something for next lent?

Oh by the way the church I pastor does serve good fair trade filter coffee, tea and such. But if that were the deciding factor in why folks came to the church it would need a serious think about what kind of message we are giving. All of the ones I have asked suggest its actually because of the fellowship, spiritual life, pastoral care, teaching and love.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Worship as a way of life

When you leave church after a service, what goes through your mind I wonder? Getting to or back to work on time maybe, heading to the supermarket or high street or mall to get some shopping done, sorting the next meal, where to go to eat lunch ... I am sure at some point one or all of these have been the focal point.

So let me ask a question, regardless of the type of church you go to, what do you take away from the service, from the worship of the church? What continues with you through the day, the week ahead? In our church there will have been some lively as well as more reflective songs, prayers (open and led), a sermon ... But what of that goes with us?

Talking with someone recently they were telling how they were really getting into the idea that church on Sunday should be for those who don't usually come, those who some might call the unchurched (apologies IMO a horrible tag), and that those who are followers of Jesus should get their teaching, etc from week time home groups, bible studies and such. This was based on a church which had great success doing just that I would guess, without knowing the book or the church, a sort of seeker service model.

In our church a number have families to look after, long work hours with commutes and for many attending mid-week groups just does not work. So how do we encourage a life of serving and growing in Christ in the lives of all who come through our Sunday services, if that is our situation? (and from folks I have talked to that is much more common).

Earlier in the year I was working through some material from the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity related to worship and our everyday lives. The series was called Whole Life Worship.
This had me thinking more about a whole life attitude to serving God where-ever we are, what-ever we are doing. Each aspect of life being a part of our worship of God. Nothing new there I thought, its what I have tried to do for years, not always successfully.

As I considered more what it means to worship God in everything, to revisit this, a number things were signposted, one was the offering. We don't take up a collection in our service but have collection bags at the door for folks to put into as they come in, should they wish. But we have, at least since I have been the pastor, brought the bags forward in the service to remind ourselves of the giving that provides for the church and of all of God's gifts and blessings to us. One of our offerings should be ourselves. Putting God first in everything, trying to remember him and thank God when things are good, praying and asking for his help, wisdom and strength to handle or face whatever in our day. Praising god with songs and words throughout the day.

Psa 96:8  Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering and come into his courts. 
Psa 96:9  Worship the LORD in the splendour of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth. 

At the time that this was written the temple in Jerusalem was the place to go to worship and make an offering to God. Today, through Christ, we have access to God where-ever we are. Yes it is good to worship together in church ,we should not set that aside. But we need also to remember that we can and should worship God in everything, every act, thought, word - now that is a real challenge. Maybe that is in part why Paul wrote that we need to need to make every thought obedient to Christ.

2Co 10:5  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

I think if each of us truly worked on this, making every act, thought, word a part of our worship of God, what a difference it would make. It would enrich our lives in every way, prayer, songs, the bible would all take on a more colourful and wonderful aspect and play a much more important part in our everyday. What amazing testimonies we would have to share when we gather with the church, what an incredible impact it would have on those we associate with outside of church, Maybe we then wouldn't need the discussion about whether our church services are for those who already know Jesus or those who don't. Because then all would be challenged, fed and encouraged when we come together.

Monday, 26 March 2018

An Easter Thought

How we act, think or speak in large part depend upon what we believe, hold to and accept as truth or fact. Preparing for last Sundays sermon I was looking at this in relation to Jesus' raising of Lazarus from the dead, prior to his entry into Jerusalem on what we now call Palm Sunday.

Two reactions occurred as result of this raising of the dead man - some believed and wanted to follow Jesus. Others went to the authorities as they wanted him stopped. He didn't fit their idea of what he should have been, he upset too many of their accepted ways of behaviour and challenged attitudes and perceptions.

It is not so different today, is it? Some accept Jesus and the evidence for who he is and so in faith believe. Others do all that they can to discredit and marginalise him. And of course there are many shades between the two.

Does the death of Jesus and his rising again colour every act, thought and word in my day or does it only affect me when I want it or allow it to? Does my response to what Jesus has done mean that I am prepared to give everything to him or do I hold back from that kind of total surrender?

It is, I think in that kind of surrender that we can experience the joy and peace that God offers us, and I think these are things we all need in our overly busy, frantic lives.

In their desire to kill Jesus, the religious leaders came up with a plan that sacrificed one, Jesus, for the many, the Jewish people where-ever they were. One dying for all would do very nicely.

God intended that one, Jesus, would die for all humanity, not limited but inclusive. One would die to take away the sin of the world and so make relationship with God and the offer of life eternal possible for all who could accept it.

I wondered how we would react if Jesus came today, how would we see him? Would he challenge our religious perceptions, our ways of life, our understandings? I suspect he would.

So here are a some things that you might like to reflect upon over this next week as we approach Easter.

Reflection – how have I tried to make Jesus fit my mould?

Reflection – what does Jesus death and resurrection mean to me?

Reflection – Do I hold back from total surrender to Jesus?

Reflection – Consider the peace and Joy in your life and give thanks to Jesus for it.

Happy Easter.

Saturday, 3 February 2018

For God and God alone

After a three month break from this blog, in part due to being busy and in part due to not having anything I wanted to write about, its time for another word or two.

I was quite struck recently reading some pages in a book I am using as my daily devotional, "Every Good Endeavour" by Tim Keller. It got me thinking about what is really important in my life as a Christian and what, if I am not careful takes priority. I wondered how often I moan to myself about all of the things I get to do that I often struggle with, especially when I spend a fair bit of time on them. If I list the things I get up to as a Pastor, there are plenty of things I love doing and a number that I often feel I would rather not be doing, but need doing.

Is my priority to engage with those with whom I don't agree and try to modify their theological positions? Is it to make my own views cast iron and waterproof? Is it to attend a lot of meetings to consider how things could be done better or handle lots of administrative tasks and legal requirements? Is it to be weighed down with time consuming, energy sapping arguments and attempts to change the entrenched views of others? The same could be applied to those whose difficult behaviour is entrenched and who brush aside any attempt to help them change or modify this. Or is my priority to spend time in community engagement or pastoral care or building teams or ...the list could go on but hopefully you get the picture.

Keller points out that all of our work (activity - my addition) should be carried out with an audience of one, God. If that is our focus for doing what we do, it will not matter what others think of my work, achievements or lack of them, it wont matter if I am more or less able, it wont matter if someone else has a better grasp on pastoral care or preaching or teaching or community activity or prayer or ... What does matter is that I do what I do for God.What matters is that you do what you do for God.

In an extraordinary passage related to 1st Century Roman's Paul says it doesn't matter if you are a slave or a slave owner, all Christians are called to recognise their equality before God and act from that understanding. Do what we do with God as the audience, no one else.

Jesus told us to go and make disciples ...

Part of my wrestling with scripture and of challenging my views by reading the views of others is so that I continue to know why I believe what I believe and can give a good case for that to any who want to know. It also allows me to modify my views in the light of the work and inspiration of others. It helps me make disciples, provided that I get them to wrestle with scripture as well.

Part of engaging with others with different views or difficult behavioural traits in church, is to work towards a church environment that  allows tolerance but does not mean anything goes. It hopefully makes it a better place to reach people and make disciples.

Part of the need to handle admin. and observe the law is make sure that the church is doing its best to observe the law and is run as smoothly as possible, to make sure other things can happen.Like reaching out and making disciples.

Part of trying to preach well, build pastoral teams, youth teams, children's work teams, is ... yes to pave the way for reaching folks and making disciples.

Part of community engagement or building teams and part of pastoral care is to make it possible to reach out and make disciples and develop those disciples so that they can go out and reach others and make disciples.

Am I good as all of these things? Well truthfully I can do them all but some I am better at than others.

The difficult part for any of us whatever our work or activity is not to measure ourselves against others. (We will probably be better than some and plenty will be better than us. That can drive us to overwork or a sense of not being able to achieve and so backing off). It is to simply offer to God our best endeavours. Guarding our time and energy well and using it as well as we can for God, who see's the good we do and for whom we do it.

I wonder, for those of you reading this, why do you do what you do? For whom do you really do it? Is your personal standing / recognition / value the thing that conditions what you do and how much time you give it? Or is it that whatever you do it is done for that audience of one, God?