Happy New Year

Happy New Year!  I pray that everyone reading this will have a 2017 that is indeed happy, and peaceful, and filled with the presence of God.   

I’m not sure I’ve ever known so many people expressing a hope that this year will be better than last.  For some that is a result of personal and family situations which have made 2016 a difficult year.  For others it is a result of the number of household names who seem to have died (David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Terry Wogan, the list goes on…), which perhaps reminds them of their own mortality.  For still others the various political developments in this country and around the world have made them feel unsafe and uncertain of the future. 

None of us know what 2017 will bring, whether it will be better or worse, but it is inevitable that it will hold times of sadness and distress.  So how do we motivate ourselves to carry on? 

As I reflected on the last year God gave me the chorus of a gospel song, “Because he lives I can face tomorrow, because he lives all fear is gone.”  When Jesus was on earth he experienced the joys of being human, but also the sorrows, grief, terrible suffering, torture, and death.  But he walked through this and out the other side into fullness of life.  And now he walks with us through everything we experience in life, its joy and its sorrows. 

So I hope 2017 will be a good year for you, but when the difficult times come we face them with Jesus who “endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God,” where he is still seated today (Hebrews 12:2).  His death and resurrection don’t make any promises that we won’t hit difficulties this year, but they do assure us that he is in control, and give us hope for a future that is full of joy and peace in his presence.

God is at work

God is at work among us.  I’ve lost count of the number of people who have said to me there was something special about our last two Sunday morning gatherings.  The presence of God was very real, and he spoke clearly to many.  I believe this is the latest stage in a movement of the Spirit which has been building since the summer.  Our Sunday morning series on Ephesians has been a catalyst for this: inspiring us, challenging us, and changing us. 

A month ago now we heard a rallying call from Steph preaching on the first part of Ephesians 2, reminding us of our high calling as a community who are here-and-now seated with Christ in the presence of the Father.  The next week we considered how the church is the temple of God, that he dwells among us as we meet to worship, with the challenge to consider how we prepare for Sunday mornings as a result.  And this has borne fruit as there has been a change in the atmosphere of Sunday morning in subsequent weeks. 

Then Peter reminded us from Ephesians 3:12 that we may “approach God with freedom and confidence,” and asked the question why so few felt able and willing to pray during times of open prayer in worship.  Service leaders have picked up on this, and encouraged us, and new life has been breathed into our prayer together.  Building on our successful Day of Prayer last month we are beginning to grow in this vital but struggling area of our life together.

Last week God moved many of us powerfully as we reflected on the sheer unimaginable scale of God’s love for us, and simply scratched the surface of what that means.  A very special service where God’s presence was felt in everything that was said and done.  There is always a sense of nervousness after such an occasion, as the next week can feel quite flat by comparison.  But this morning’s service too was special, and used powerfully by God in many ways, not least the challenge to humility towards one another as we make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit.

And it hasn’t just been about Sunday mornings.  One recent week seemed to be particularly hard for many in the congregation.  But it was really encouraging to see how readily people rallied round to help those in need, and the love and support of the church community – a very tangible outworking of that unity of the Sprit. The doors that seem to be opening to work more closely with the Cherry Tree Centre and through them to the community of Swinemoor are another example of God at work.  And I’ve already mentioned the Day of Prayer.

All of which leads me to say God is at work among us.  I don’t know the fullness of the plans which he has for this stage of the life of our church.  But I do know that if we continue to seek and expect his presence with us in worship, to spend time before him in prayer, and to live out our unity in loving compassion for one another and the world, there is much more that he can and will do in us and through us.

“…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 1:6

New Year Message

I’ve written a short New Year message for our church e-newsletter, and I thought it worth sharing here too.

Are you planning on making a New Year’s resolution?  Many will, and such resolutions are all about wanting to change some aspect of our life or behaviour.  And it often feels like we go round the same cycle again and again, making the same resolutions to change and then breaking them, leading us to wonder if we can ever change.

My holiday reading this Christmas is “You can change” by Tim Chester, which comes out of his own struggle to deal with certain sins in his life.  He sets out a message of hope in Jesus, for forgiveness and lasting change.  I haven’t read it all yet, but in the first chapter he focusses on 2 Corinthians 3:13-18, with its image of Moses radiating the glory of God after he met him on Mount Sinai.  We were made to reflect God’s glory, as people made in his image, but that image has been damaged by sin.  In Jesus, God revealed his glory, and the more we focus on the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus, the more we will reflect that glory as we were designed to do.

He goes on to speak of how real change only comes about as our hearts are changed by encounter with the living God.  Unless and until this happens all our resolutions, however sincerely made, are bound to fail.  God desires our transformation, until we eventually become like Jesus, and we are called daily to turn to him afresh in repentance and faith to allow him to complete his work in us.

So whatever other resolutions we make this New Year, let us each resolve to make 2016 a year where we seek to spend more time in the presence of Jesus, experiencing his glory, and so enable God to make us ever more like him and display that glory to the world.  In other words, let us know Jesus and make him known.

I hope to write more on the Tim Chester book once I’ve worked through it.

Reflections 3 years in

Yesterday was 1st September, and marked 3 years since I commenced paid Christian ministry.  I took some time to reflect on my experiences, for most of that time in St Albans, and for the past 3 months in Beverley.  There have been some real encouragements along the way, times of knowing God’s presence in a really meaningful way, the sense of having truly helped people in their Christian walk, the brothers and sisters who have encouraged, supported, and prayed for me in my ministry.

There have also been challenges.  Church people who have been challenging to work with and have, deliberately or otherwise, undermined and discouraged.  Difficult personal situations we have faced as a family, and times when we have felt under very real spiritual attack.  It has not been an easy road to walk.

But God has been faithful, through the good times and the bad.  At times it has felt like he wasn’t there, I have questioned why things have to be the way they are, and a couple of times got really close to giving up.  But looking back now I can see what he was teaching me, and how I have grown over the past 3 years.  My relationship with God is deeper and richer, my personal relationships have been enhanced, and I have a clearer sense of God’s calling and purpose than ever.

So I give thanks for all God has done in and through me so far, and trust in his continued presence and enabling in whatever the next 3 years will bring (even as I confess I still pray for it to be easier than the last 3).