News from Tina, our Curate. April 2017

Have we lost hope in hope?

At our Lent Course this year we’ve been using the film ‘The King’s Speech’ as the basis of our discussions. We had an interesting time last week thinking about hope.

We hope about all sorts of things – for the sun to shine tomorrow, for our favourite sports team to win, for a healthy life for ourselves and our families.

The trouble is, hope is expected to convey a broad range of meanings, from ‘what I’d like to happen’, to ‘what might happen’ and even to what is nothing more than ‘wishful thinking’.

And none of these meanings has anything to do with the hope of eternal life through trusting in Jesus Christ. This kind of hope is described by the hymn-writer Wendy Churchill as “a hope that is steadfast and certain, gone through the curtain and touching the throne” in the hymn Jesus is King.

If all we ever understand of hope is a vague sense of ‘maybe’, then it’s really hard to see how hope can ever be steadfast or certain.

A hymn writer from an earlier era talks of Christian hope like this:

All my hope on God is founded; he doth still my trust renew.

Me through change and chance he guideth, only good and only true.

God unknown, he alone calls my heart to be his own.

(Joachim Neander)

Where does your hope lie?

Is it in a god who might love you if you’re good enough or follow the rules to the letter?

Or a God who become a man, lived a life showing us what it is to be fully human and then died on a cross because he loves us?

The hope of Holy Week

And that’s why Holy Week and Easter are so important. We take time to remember together again the grounds for the Christian hope: the death and resurrection of the man Jesus Christ who chose to die that we might live in loving relationship with God for eternity. These are a matter of both fact and faith.

The Bible tells us of the events of Holy Week

* the expectant joy of the crowd on Palm Sunday

* the strange meal together on Maundy Thursday

* despair in the garden of Gethsemane

* the agony of watching Jesus die so cruelly on Good Friday

* the anguish of the women when Jesus’ body wasn’t in the tomb on Easter Day

* the pure joy once his friends experienced Jesus among them in the days that followed

We can choose to believe that this is what happened, and down the years many have done so from a place of scepticism, convinced by the evidence of not only the stories themselves but by lives lived differently because of hope in what the Bible records.

Holy Week is intended to be emotionally draining as we travel along with Jesus and his followers into the exuberant arrival into Jerusalem; on to the depths of despair at Golgotha and the burial; on the third day we can be caught up in the pure joy of his friends in the upper room, and then on to the mountain top where Jesus ascends to heaven leaving them perplexed.

We have the opportunity to engage afresh with these events through special services – palm crosses for Palm Sunday, the celebration of Holy Communion on Maundy Thursday, the Walk of Witness and the Three Hours at the Cross, followed by the joy of celebrating our risen Lord on Easter Sunday.

Do take the time to journey with us at St. Mary’s with Holy Apostles this Holy Week and Easter. Come along to the meditative services to reflect on all Jesus has done for us, join us as we share bread and wine as he commanded us to. Spend time at the foot of the cross remembering the pain he endured for us, and rejoice on Easter Day that death could not hold him, that the victory was won.

May you and all you love have a blessed Holy Week and Easter

Tina

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News from Tina, our Curate. February 2017

Dear Friends

My piece this month is an edited extract from a sermon I preached on 8th January this year at the launch of our new motto verse from Isaiah. I do hope you’ve managed to pick a card up from church; if not there are still a few around.

We know that the prophet Isaiah lived at a key moment for the nation of Israel. God was calling his people back to their calling as bringers of justice to all the nations and Isaiah was looking forward to a time when God’s justice would be seen in all the earth.

We too live in important times: the end times, that is the time between Jesus’s first and second comings. We too await God’s justice to be seen in all the earth. And like the people of Israel, we have the Holy Spirit empowering us in our God-given vocation or calling, which is to bring God’s justice to the nations. Isaiah tells us that we are to be lights shining in this dark world. This means being, and living out, who we are: children of God with all the rights and responsibilities that status brings.

We have the right to call on God in prayer – the responsibility is to pray for our friends and families, for our nation and for the whole world. Our first prayer is that they too would recognise God for who he is and acknowledge his Kingship over their lives. We are then to pray that the worlds’ resources are used for the good of all and not just a few – that’s justice. Of course we also pray for things big and small in our lives – the need for a new job, the death of a loved one, the landlord to fix that leak in the bathroom quickly because God is interested in our whole lives.

Prayer is the foundation of all we do, but it’s not meant to be all we do unless we are called specifically by God as intercessors or contemplatives. Most of us should expect to be seen to be different by those we live and work with and amongst because we embody the values of the gospel in everything we say and do.

So we don’t gossip or bad-mouth others. We are kind and look for ways to help friends and colleagues that go beyond mere social expectations. We support with our time and our money charities and organisations that work for justice for all, like the Rainbow Centre, Citizen’s advice and many others.

We are involved in local groups like the Angels who serve the community because of their love for God. We serve as governors in our schools, bringing God’s perspective to bear on matters of education.

We are engaged in politics, praying for and seeking to influence lawmakers to uphold Christian values.

The bottom line is that if our faith is not affecting how we live our lives, then why should others be interested? We run the danger of being nothing more than a club that gathers each Sunday with a shared interest in sitting on uncomfortable pews in a cold building. But we know that’s not why we gather: we gather to build us up ready for serving God wherever we are.

As we approach the season of Lent it’s good to reflect on what God has in store for us. Lent gives us the opportunity to stand back and look prayerfully at where we are, and where God is calling us to be. A good place to start is with our daily time with God – whether you call it a Quiet Time, Bible Study or something else the key question is: are we spending quality time with our Heavenly Father every day? Then think about our involvement in serving others: are we doing too much or too little? Are we only serving in the church or do we serve the community as well? Remember too that there is no retirement in the Kingdom of God – we all can serve whatever our age or health, though perhaps in different ways than we have been able to in the past.

Do look out for the special activities and groups throughout Lent and Holy Week to help us reflect on ourselves and our church in these and other areas.

God declared through the prophet Isaiah

‘See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you.’ Isaiah 42: 9

God is speaking: the question is, are we listening?

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News from Tina, our Curate December 2016

Advent is finally upon us: happy New Year! Our church calendar begins afresh looking ahead to the birth of Jesus.

It looks to me as if the whole country has stepped up a gear and is getting ready for the Big Day. These days it seems to be all about buying the right things – cards, presents, food and decorations – for that perfect family Christmas. The adverts with their huge budgets are out – are you a fan of the M&S one, or the John Lewis one? I have to say I like the Amazon one with the Vicar and the Imam (but no, I don’t need any knee pads thank you!).

Advent is a much overlooked season of the Church year. It’s a time to reflect on Jesus’ first coming and look forward to his second. But we can be so busy buying this and making that – so much so that when the day itself arrives, we’re often exhausted from all the effort and our careful plans dissolve into chaos.

Of course we all want to be ready for Christmas Day, and even Curates have to find the time to buy that perfect present for their other half! But this Advent, I’d like to encourage us to prepare better for Christmas by focusing less on ourselves and more on other people.

There are two initiatives I’d like to share with you that can help us do this.

Firstly, the Bible Society has launched its digital #AdventChallenge campaign. They say:

“Hope, love, joy and peace are the very heart of Advent. Yet they can be overlooked and lost in the mad dash towards Christmas.

#AdventChallenge helps you and your church connect with God in fresh and exciting ways – challenging you to do an act of kindness every day of Advent. It’s a simple way to reach out to your friends and neighbours.

Just think of the impact you could have on your community if everyone in your church got involved…

Throughout Advent, we’ll set you daily challenges to bring the Bible to life and show God’s love in very practical ways. We hope it will also help you and your church rediscover Advent as a precious time to draw close to God and celebrate Jesus’ birth.”

If you do use the internet, you can find the page and sign up for daily emails by searching for ‘advent challenge’ on a search engine.

But many people don’t use the internet: so here’s how you can get involved too – the challenge is the same: undertake a small, practical act of kindness every day. This could be as simple as smiling at someone on the bus, or buying your neighbour some flowers. It doesn’t have to cost anything except your time.

The second way we can focus on others is by supporting the Rainbow Centre. As I write it’s raining, windy and very cold. The cost of simply staying warm means that perfect family Christmas with presents and a large meal is out of reach for many in our community. But we can help. The weekly donation boxes at the back of church are always brimming over with gifts of food. This Advent, let’s help other families have a Christmas to remember by donating festive food, treats and presents. There are often buy-one-get-one-free offers on at this time of year: instead of keeping the free one, why not donate it? Like the rest of us, the Centre finds it hard to get suitable gifts for teenage boys, but gifts for all ages are welcome – you needn’t wrap them.

We all have family rituals around the Christmas season. Perhaps you were gathered as a family making Christmas puddings on Stir Up Sunday, or are looking forward to dressing the tree or putting out carrots for the reindeer on Christmas Eve, or coming to church as a family on Christmas Morning.

When I was teaching Christmas didn’t properly begin for me until Christmas Eve at 3pm when I’d be in the kitchen baking and listening to Carols from King’s. These days it’s a little different and not as relaxing, though I still love it. The brightness and colours of the lights and the joy of the music are such a fitting way to welcome anew our King into the world.

And then of course there are the New Year celebrations. I’m likely to be tucked up in bed well before midnight, though I do wonder why as the fireworks will no doubt let me know when 2017 arrives. New beginnings can be really exciting, and we know that 2017 will bring with it a new Vicar for the Parish, and new opportunities to serve our King as we minister his love through our worship, welcome and acts of kindness to each other throughout the year.

However you celebrate Christmas and the New Year, I extend every blessing to you and your family for the year ahead. None of us really knows what the New Year will bring, but we know we can trust the One who walks alongside us every step of the way.

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News from Martyn, our Vicar. June 2016

It’s the only way to be!

As part of my preparation for retirement I’ve re-read ‘Mr Rush’ by Roger Hargreaves.  You might remember the story.  ‘Mr Rush was the fastest thing on two legs!’  He tried job after job but his rushing around would always get him into trouble … until he found the perfect job: delivering express-rate letters!  ‘Mr Rush was so good at it he delivered twice as many letters in half the time any postman had ever done before.  Soon he had saved enough money for a holiday.’ I feel a bit like Mr Rush just at the moment, trying to squeeze a quart of activity into a pint pot of time.  (After the rush will be retirement which, just at the moment, sounds like one long holiday!)

Our final Service is at St Mary’s, at 10.30 am. on Sunday, 17th July.  Do join us if you would like to.  The Service will be followed by a farewell bring-and-share lunch at Parish House at 12.30 pm.  Again, do come if you can.

One popular misconception is that vicars work just one day a week.  I understand that but, interestingly, our terms of service assume we will work six!  And, those six days a week can include a lot of rushing: meetings, visits, lists, orders of service, rotas, talks to prepare.

With that busyness comes a very real danger.  For, if there’s too much rush, I can easily lose sight of what I’m in business to do.  In today’s fast-paced world each of us can be taken up with the immediate and lose sight of what really counts.  Jesus was very clear about his mission and ours, his ministry and ours.  Our motto verse for 2004 reminded us that Jesus said, ‘I am the vine; you are the branches.  If a person remains in me and I in them, they will bear much fruit.  Apart from me you can do nothing.’  (John 15:4)  This is what I need to remember today and tomorrow as I rush around.  And, this is what the Church needs to remember as the vacancy beckons.  Jesus is the vine; we are the branches, grafted into him.  Spiritual life, real spiritual life, comes from him and through him.

If we abide in Jesus and if he abides in us we will bear much fruit.  That’s Jesus’ promise!  If we want to be spiritually fruitful we must abide in him.  If we want to be spiritually effective Jesus must abide in us.  For the truth of the matter is that we cannot bear spiritual fruit without him.

I’ve become very interested in spiritual impact.  Some people and some churches seem to make a spiritual impact.  Why?  What’s their secret?

I’m convinced that those who make a spiritual difference are those who keep close to the Lord, those who know his indwelling, those who are full of him.

Just before he ascended, Jesus told his disciples to wait until the Holy Spirit had come, to wait for the gift the father had promised, to wait for the gift he himself had spoken to them about.  Don’t rush ahead.  Don’t charge in.  First make sure you’re co-working with God.  Make sure you’ve received spiritual power before you attempt spiritual work.

The great preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, once famously said, ‘A sermon without Christ is like a loaf of bread without any flour.  No Christ in your sermon, sir?  Then go home, and never preach again until you have something worth preaching.’  Following Spurgeon we might say, ‘a church without Jesus is like a loaf of stale bread.  No Jesus in your church?  Then shut the doors and don’t open them until you’re sure you know that those who come in will meet with the one person who is the source of real spiritual life.’

I need to realise this just at the moment.  But this is also the key for the interregnum and the significant years ahead. Jesus meant it when he said, ‘I am the vine; you are the branches.’  He meant it when he said, ‘If a person remains in me and I in them, they will bear much fruit.’  He meant it when he said, ‘Apart from me you can do nothing.’  (John 15:4)

I know Joyce and I will look back on our time here with real affection.  We’re so grateful for your love, support and encouragement.  Time and again someone has said just the right thing at the right time.  Time and again we’ve known the Lord’s provision and witnessed his leading. So, thank you for the privilege of these almost fourteen years.  They’ve flown by!  St Mary’s with Holy Apostles has been our life – and we’re actually a bit unsure as to how things will be once the removal van has left North Cliff Gardens.

I will be working from the vicarage until about 4th August and we shall probably be moving on 15th or 16th August. One thing I’m sure of: We’ll never forget these years and we’ll never forget you.  It’s been a privilege to be here – and we believe the church’s future will be exciting.  After all, it is the Lord’s!

So, in the words of our motto verse for 2009, ‘to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than we might dare to ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in St Mary’s with Holy Apostles and in Christ Jesus!’  [Ephesians 3:20–21]
Joyce joins me in sending love,

Martyn

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News from Martyn, our Vicar. April 2016

The party has begun!

There’s always something more pressing to do: bills that need paying and meals that need preparing. There are so many jobs we never stop to ask, ‘What am I here for?’ The very busy-ness of our lives leaves no time for thinking about the meaning of life. So, we just get on with the business of living.

But, what exactly are we getting on with? If we were involved in a project it would be vital to know the project’s aim. If we don’t know that, there’s no chance of us being able to do the project well! Just for a moment, let’s think of life as a project. We’re far more likely to live it well if we know what its purpose is.

This is where some may disagree, for they think life has no purpose and no meaning. They think life is just a chance happening in a vast and meaningless universe. They tell us all we can do is make the most of it, hope for some happiness on the way – and leave the world a better place because we’ve been here. But that sounds too much like a recipe for hopelessness and despair, for there’s a hunger in our hearts for more, a yearning for the eternal.

Atheists would say this is just wishful thinking and that those with a religious belief are deluded. They’d say that those who believe in a supreme being are mistaken and that believing in an ultimate purpose in life is misguided. Atheists would say that religion is just a big comfort blanket for those who are not strong enough to face up to life’s realities. And if our faith is based on wishful thinking then we’re deluded. And, for our sake as well as everyone else’s, we should be shaken out of our stupor. Far better to face the reality that life is purposeless than cling to a lie just because it makes us feel more secure. That would be like jumping out of a plane believing the rucksack on our back is a parachute! It’s not a belief worth staking our life on. The Bible puts it differently of course, but that’s pretty much what it says!

One Corinthians fifteen is amazing. What it says in verses seventeen and eighteen is that, ‘if Christ wasn’t raised our faith is futile and we’re still dead in our sin. And those who died believing in Christ are lost. For if we hope in Christ for this life alone – and not also for the life to come – we’re to be pitied more than anyone else.’

If it’s a con Christians are in a worse state than anyone. If it’s all a big mistake our whole life-project is nothing more than a sham. Any sacrifice we make for the sake of our faith is simply a waste. It would be better for us to take on the values of the world around us, rather than trying to swim against the tide. And, as for any hope beyond death, well that’s just pie in the sky.

Paul said, “if Christ has not been raised” and “if we hope in Christ for this life alone”. Those “if’s” are important; now it’s time for the “but”! Paul continues, in verse twenty, “But Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruit of those who’ve died.” That ‘but’ makes all the difference!

Christian faith is not based on wishful thinking but on the resurrection of Jesus – and it stands or falls on this. The validity of Christian faith rests on it. The belief that Jesus rose from the dead is based on evidence. There’s the empty tomb and the eye-witness accounts. There’s the small details, such as the flow of blood and water from Jesus’ side and the empty grave clothes in the tomb.

There’s the transformation in the disciples, from timid hideaways to bold missionaries. And there’s the personal experience of Jesus’ risen presence attested to by millions of Christians the world over. It all points to the reality which is the foundation of our hope in Jesus.

If Jesus rose from the dead the implications are immense. It means that life is not hopeless or purposeless. It means that life will not end in death for those who are in Christ. It also means that our lives, here and now, today and tomorrow, are to be lived for Jesus.

His resurrection is at the very heart of it. This is why we mustn’t think that if we made Easter more congenial, and trimmed it of the awkwardness of the resurrection, it would speak with renewed power. It wouldn’t! Every part of the New Testament throbs with the conviction that Jesus was raised by God to life. That’s important.

The other two – and equally clear – New Testament convictions are that Jesus lives in those who commit themselves to him; and, that eternal life is a reality for those who put their faith in him. In verses twenty-one and twenty-two, Paul says that, ‘as by one man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead; as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.’

So, this Easter may we know, and live for Jesus, who was raised by God to life. And, may we know, and let others know, that Jesus lives in those who commit themselves to him. May we know – and then enjoy the wonderful reassurance – that eternal life is a reality for those who put their faith in Jesus.

Our conviction is that Jesus rose from the dead. This means he was who he claimed to be. His resurrection vindicated him and demonstrated that what he claimed about his death on the cross three days earlier was true. He had indeed dealt the decisive blow to the twin powers of sin and death.

Easter Day means things are now different. Easter Day means that, in Jesus, life has purpose and meaning. Easter Day means we have a hope and a future. Easter Day means that the party has begun – and that our task is to send out the invitations!

Yours ever,
Martyn

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News from Martyn, our Vicar Feb 2016

Shining examples

We’re meant to shine! Christians are meant to shine, and churches are meant to shine; and, when we do people are drawn to the light of the world.

There are many reasons for shining.  One is that we’re forgiven!  Forgiveness is a massive reality.  Forgiveness is something people need to know about, for when we come to God and say sorry the slate is wiped clean.  We’re given a fresh start.  It’s as if we never actually did what we needed God’s forgiveness for! Churches are full of forgiven people, who should shine!

In ‘Going for Growth!, our Lent course, we’ll be thinking about spiritual and numerical growth.  By way of introduction, let’s think about the Day of Pentecost.  People listened to sermons preached in the temple area of Jerusalem, a bit like Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park.  Peter is there, in the centre of Jerusalem, preaching, while thousands listen in.  His friends are supporting him, praying for him – and God is at work, speaking into people’s minds and hearts.

We think of this remarkable sermon, and the resultant conversions, as the beginning of the church, for this was when the good news started to spread like wildfire.  Pivotal to the sermon is that Jesus was raised to life.  [Acts 2:32]  Resurrection was the game-changer.  It meant that Calvary and crucifixion weren’t the end.  ‘Jesus was raised to life’, says Peter.  ‘We were there.  We’ve seen him since he died and returned to life.  We heard him teach, we’ve eaten with him.  We saw him more than once.’

Luke deliberately recorded those remarkable post-resurrection appearances in chapter twenty-four of his Gospel.  He wrote his two books, Luke and Acts, in the middle years of the first century and many of the people he mentioned, as eyewitnesses, were still around.

Like Luke, Peter knew the importance of eyewitness accounts.  Resurrection was more than unlikely.  Of course, it was!  But, says Peter, improbable as it sounds, we saw and met with – and spoke with and ate with – the risen Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus is no longer around, says Peter.  [Acts 2:33]  He’s ascended.  What you now hear – the fact that you can hear me in your own language – is the work of the Holy Spirit.  You are witnessing something very special, something of God.

Those there knew this was no ordinary sermon.  And their response wasn’t ordinary either.  [Acts 2:37]  The Holy Spirit used Peter’s words to speak into people’s lives.  They were cut to the heart.

Many in that crowd realised they were part of something very wonderful.  They asked, ‘What shall we do?’  Peter says there are three things.  [Acts 2:38]

First, repent.  What does that mean?  To repent means to stop going your own way, to turn round, to change direction.  The Greek word for repentance is metanoia.  It means to change your mind about something, to see things differently.  Give up your self-centredness, says Peter.  Change direction, start again, with Jesus as Lord.

Second, be baptised.  For, that’s the public sign of commitment to Jesus Christ.

Those being confirmed on 14th February will renew their baptismal vows.  They will take on for themselves the vows that were made on their behalf by their parents and godparents.  The candidates will publicly commit themselves to Jesus Christ.

That’s the second step, says Peter.  Don’t keep it to yourself.  Let others know, for your baptism is a witness to the reality of your new-found faith.

Then, third, said Peter, you will receive the Holy Spirit.  Open your hearts and let the Lord in.  Christian faith isn’t just intellectual assent, it’s knowing the Lord from the inside, knowing his life and power, knowing his enabling and equipping.

Don’t try to live the Christian life in your own strength; receive the Holy Spirit.  So, how much of the Lord’s power and equipping are we actually experiencing?  Should we ask to be filled again with the Holy Spirit?

First, says Peter, make a clean break with your past.  Let the old life go.  Then, second, be baptised.  That’s vital, too.  And, third, receive, the Holy Spirit.

This is for you, says Peter.  [Acts 2:39]  It’s also for your children.  It’s for Gentiles as well as Jews.  It’s for those living thousands of miles away.  It’s for those in generations to come.  In fact, says Peter, it’s for all those the Lord calls, wherever they are and whenever they come.

You’re in on this at the very beginning, says Peter, but it’s not just for you, it’s for those you’ll never know, those not yet born.  But, whatever you do, don’t miss out.  [Acts 2:40]  Peter warned the crowd of the danger of letting this opportunity go.  And three thousand came to faith.  The church was born.  There would be no stopping God’s kingdom, no stopping the spreading flame, no stopping the good news getting out.

A few years ago Archbishop Sentamu came for the Service of Confirmation.  Afterwards he wrote, saying, “the Holy Spirit is at work, and it is a joy to see the effects of that among the people.”  God is alive and active today, as he was two thousand years ago.

So, Peter didn’t just preach to that crowd; through the Holy Spirit he speaks to us today.  And the call is the same:  To repent.  To be baptised.  To receive the Holy Spirit. Pentecost was the most wonderful start to the story of renewal and new life in Jesus. This is for us.  It’s for us to receive, enjoy and live out.  It’s also for us to share.

This is for you, says Peter.  It’s for everyone the Lord calls.  And, within that vast crowd three thousand met with the living God – and began to shine!

With every good wish,

Martyn

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News from Martyn, our vicar

Living God’s way

 I wonder if you can remember your school’s rules, and whether you ever found yourself on the wrong side of them! At my school each of the houses had their own rules.  My house had only two.  The first was about common sense and the second was about courtesy.  All too soon we discovered that anything we did wrong showed either a lack of common sense or a lack of courtesy!  My housemaster was brilliant at applying one or other of the rules to every possible misdemeanour!

God’s rules, the Ten Commandments, form the foundation of our legal system and lie at the very core of our civilization – and, deep down, we know that good law can free us to live in order and harmony.  The Ten Commandments were given to the people of Israel, on their way from slavery to their new life in the Promised Land.

Commandments One to Four deal with our behaviour towards God.  Commandments Five to Nine deal with our behaviour towards other people, and the Tenth deals with our thoughts. Do you remember Jesus saying to his disciples, “If you love me you will keep my commandments”?  That was, in fact, always the way.  Religious people would have understood that.  Obeying the law was a way of expressing gratitude to God.  Doing what the scriptures taught was the badge of Hebrew identity.

The Ten Commandments are summed up in Jesus’ commandment to love God and our neighbour: “Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.  One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’  Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  [Matthew 22:34–40]

Jesus is saying that the beginning, middle and end of the business of living is love for God, love for those who need our love – and a proper love for ourselves. So, it is love that makes the world go round! Jesus is saying something specific in answer to this question from someone who reckoned he already knew the right way to live.  What this legal expert wanted to do was put Jesus on the spot.  [Matthew 22:36]  Jesus knows it’s a test but answers as if the question is genuine.  He points out that love lies at the heart of the law because love lies at the heart of God.

The love that Jesus is talking about here is first and foremost a love for God.  It had always been that way.  Jesus’ answer is from the shema’, which was the foundation principle at the heart of Jewish law.  Twice a day Jews reminded themselves of the shema’.  So, Jesus’ answer caused no surprise at all.  Many who heard him would have agreed with him. Jesus isn’t telling these Pharisees something new, he’s reminding them what they knew only too clearly, something that would have been impressed on them from their earliest days.

Obedience to God shows our love for Him.  If we love the Lord we do what he tells us, we do what pleases Him.  This is why love for God is at the heart of how we should live. It’s always been that way – and Jesus doesn’t change that.  He endorses it and reminds us that this is the only way.  Jesus’ answer was so traditional that no-one challenged Him, his answer was so deeply searching that everyone was challenged! Love for God is at the centre of everything.  It’s a whole-hearted love.  The command isn’t just to love the Lord, but to love him with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind.  [Matthew 22:37]

The first four of the Ten Commandments are summed up in the first part of Jesus’ call to love the Lord wholeheartedly.  Jesus goes on: The second commandment is like the first: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’  [Matthew 22:39]  Again, this wasn’t something new.  It’s a quotation from the Book of Leviticus: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbour as yourself.  Why?  Because I am the Lord.”  [19:18] Our love for the Lord comes first and our love for our neighbour follows directly from that.  One way we show that we love the Lord is by loving our neighbour.

 Jesus’ life and teaching show the primacy of love.  And the measure of this neighbourly love is our love for ourself; that’s the yardstick.  Jesus doesn’t ask us to love our neighbour whilst ignoring ourselves.  We’re made in God’s image and we’re precious to Him.  He loves us and we should rightly love ourselves.

This right self-love has nothing to do with self-absorption or selfishness.  But it’s not wrong to look after ourselves, not wrong to have time for rest and relaxation.  What the law said, and what Jesus endorses, is that we should love others as we love ourselves.  [Matthew 22:39]

Jesus says, “all the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments”.  [Matthew 22:40]  Everything God wants of those who follow him can be summarised by these two commandments.  Everything else – all the other laws – are merely footnotes.  Every principle behind the teaching of the prophets reflects these two commandments.  And there’s nothing God wants that’s contrary to them.

Jesus is saying what was already there in the law, what was already there in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament. The issue isn’t understanding this, but doing it: Loving God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind – and loving our neighbour as we love ourselves. It’s as simple – and demanding – as that!
Yours ever,
Martyn

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News from Martyn, our Vicar July 2015

We’re in this together

Every now and then something remarkable happens in sport, as when Jonny Wilkinson dropped a goal in the dying seconds of the 2003 World Cup final.  (We beat Australia!  That was the only time we’ve won the rugby World Cup.) A few will remember Geoff Hurst’s hat-trick goal in the 1966 World Cup final.  ‘They think it’s all over … It is now!’, shouted the ecstatic Kenneth Wolstenholme at England’s extra time victory.  (We beat West Germany!  The only time we’ve won the football World Cup.)

In One Corinthians Twelve Paul uses the human body as an analogy as he teaches about the way gifts and ministries work within the life of a church.  He could, equally, have drawn from the world of team sport.  Paul is excited about what the church should be.  But, as he thinks about the church in Corinth, he sees where they’re getting it wrong.  It’s great that they know about spiritual gifts.  It’s so important that we use the gifts God gives us.  What wasn’t so great was the way some Christians used the gifts they’d been given to display a spiritual one-upmanship.

Years ago people talked about involving everyone in the life of the church.  These days the discussion is more about churches needing ‘all the ministries and all the gifts’.  ‘All the ministries.’  There’s a very real sense in which every church member has their own particular contribution to make, their own God-given spiritual gifts and skills, used so that Jesus is glorified and his church built up.

This needs co-ordinating and integrating.  The New Testament picture isn’t one of too many knees and not enough elbows, but of a healthy and active body where each limb and organ does its’ own particular job. ‘All the ministries and all the gifts.’  Each of us needs to be as spiritually gifted as possible, as open to the Lord – as close to Jesus Christ – as possible.  Keeping in step with the Spirit is vital, for in our ministry and witness we’re co-operators with God.  We need to be empowered, equipped and gifted by Him.

Paul wants the Christians in Corinth to use their God-given gifts for the common good, so that the church is built up. In the build up to the World Cup, the manager, Alf Ramsey, tried out lots of different players.  The pundits thought Ramsey didn’t know his best team, but he was watching to see if the new players fitted in, if they responded well to his instructions and team talks.

You can tell if we’re team players by how we react when things go well and when they don’t.  Paul says here: ‘If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.’ You’re in this together, Paul reminds the Christians in Corinth, because there were different factions.  There are different ministries, says Paul but there shouldn’t be division.  Whether you are Jewish or Greek, your first allegiance is to Jesus.

Enjoy the gifts and abilities of others.  Enjoy the ministry of others.  You can’t all be strikers; you can’t all be goalkeepers. You, plural, says Paul, are the body of Christ.  And you, singular, are part of the body.  You’re an integral part, but not the whole.  There’s more to the body than the foot, more to the team than the penalty-taker. When a friend leads someone to faith, when a friend’s prayer for healing is answered thank, when someone’s word of prophecy speaks to the whole church, thank the Lord for that.

Don’t be threatened by the gifts and ministry of others, says Paul; rejoice in them.  Play your part, and play it well.  And rejoice when others play theirs.   Thank God for other members of the team.  Pray that the Lord will build and develop the team. Paul lists the various ministries: apostles; prophets; teachers; workers of miracles; those with the gift of healing; those able to help others; those with gifts of administration; those who speak in different kinds of tongues; those who interpret tongues.

In the next chapter – the famous chapter thirteen – Paul speaks about the priority of love, which is vital if there’s to be unity.  But, before Paul speaks about love, he tells everyone in Corinth to desire the greater, or higher, gifts.  Team players practise for hours to develop their skills.  They train so they can run faster, pass the ball more accurately and read the game better. People remember Geoff Hurst’s third goal, when he spectacularly hit the ball into the roof of the net.  What’s hardly remembered is that Bobby Moore brought the ball carefully out of defence and gave Hurst a perfectly weighted pass to run on to. Hurst and Moore had practised that move – Moore’s weighted pass and Hurst’s timed run – for hours and hours on the training ground so, when it counted, it worked just as they’d practised it.

Move on, says Paul.  Eagerly desire the greater gifts.  Be open to the Lord.  Desire to be more effective.  Desire the higher gifts, because that’s what the Lord wants.  Our heavenly Father knows how to give good gifts to his children.

Imagine a team where each member’s skills, each member’s fitness, and each member’s understanding of the team’s tactics are improving. Imagine our church with everyone moving forward, everyone becoming more Christlike.  Imagine our church with more spiritual gifts, more people in every area of ministry, every part of the body functioning really well, every member of the team contributing effectively.

That’s Paul’s vision!  Dear Corinthians you have so much, you’re doing so well.  Don’t be content with where you’ve got to.  Move on.   Invite the Lord to do more in your life.  Eagerly desire the greater gifts. That’s Paul’s desire for the church that meant so much to him.  And, that’s the Lord’s desire for us.  So, let’s go for it!

Have a really great summer,

Martyn

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News from Martyn, our Vicar – April 2015

‘She’s so like her mother!’ How often have you heard that? At my mother’s 80th birthday party it was my job to present an Eamonn Andrews’ style ‘This is your life’. Over the celebration a family friend came up and said, ‘You’re so like your father. You’ve just the same mannerisms.’

‘You’re just like your father!’ As Christians we should be! We’re Jesus’ brothers and sisters; we’re children of God! There’s meant to be a family likeness.

A gifted theologian of the eighteenth century expressed this family likeness in terms of light and character: ‘The soul of a saint receives light from the Sun of righteousness in such a manner that its nature is changed and it becomes a luminous thing. Not only does the sun shine in the saints but they become little suns, partaking of the nature of the fountain of the light … Christians are Christlike. None deserve the name ‘Christian’ that are not so in their prevailing character.’ [Jonathan Edwards, 1746]

There are four aspects. First, the light shines into our lives. That’s the start of the process. Jesus, who Edwards calls the Sun of righteousness, is the light of the world. When we come to faith we receive the light of Christ into our lives. We pass from darkness to light. We welcome the light into our lives and become children of the light. Jesus’ light shines into the dark corners. Light is infinitely preferable to darkness – and far more powerful. When the light shines the darkness recedes. Jesus’ light makes the world of difference as it penetrates the darkness. ‘The soul of a saint receives light from the Sun of righteousness.’ Paul talks about Jesus ‘dwelling in our hearts through faith’ [Ephesians 3:17] and about ‘Christ in us’ being ‘the hope of glory’. He also speaks about us being ‘the temple of the Holy Spirit’. So, Christians are those who ‘carry’ Christ!

Second, this light affects us. It changes us! We can’t become a Christian without it making a difference. We can’t just stay the same. ‘The soul of a saint receives light from the Sun of righteousness in such a manner that its nature is changed.’ As the light of Jesus shines into our lives – as we expose those dark areas to the light – so we’re changed. We develop new attitudes. We begin to recognise that our habits are changing. We become more loving, less critical, less self-important. We find ourselves doing different things, making time for prayer, for reading our Bible, and for church. This light is meant to change us! Paul tells us that we’re to be conformed to the likeness of the Son [Romans 8:29]; and, that ‘we’re being transformed into his image.’ [2 Corinthians 3:18] Paul also talks about putting on ‘the new self, created to be like God, in true righteousness and holiness.’ [Ephesians 4:24] If we’re not changing perhaps we should ask if we’ve opened the shutters to let the light in. Other people may notice the difference more than we do: Our spouse and children; our friends and colleagues. People can see the difference the light has made. That’s exciting! ‘The soul of a saint receives light from the Sun of righteousness in such a manner that … it becomes a luminous thing.’ It becomes shiny and visible! Moses’ face shone. We’re meant to live shiny, luminous lives!

Third, we become light(s) in the world. Not only does the sun shine in the saints but we become little suns, taking on something of the nature of the source of the light. Jesus said of himself, ‘I am the light of the world’. He said of those who follow him, ‘you are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Rather, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before everyone, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.’ Just after the last supper Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.’ [John 14:12-14] That’s quite something: Those who follow Jesus doing what he’d been doing!

Fourth, ‘Christians are Christlike’, said Jonathan Edwards. ‘None deserve the name ‘Christian’ that aren’t Christlike in their prevailing character.’ What a challenge! Is our prevailing character Christlike? Jesus is the perfect image of God. The fullness of God dwells in him. What is God like? God is like Jesus. And we’re meant to be, too! People are meant to be able to look at us – and at the church – and see something of Jesus. Our first job as Christians is to be like Jesus. ‘Not only does the sun shine in the saints but they also become little suns, partaking of the nature of the fountain of the light.’ This is key! Paul tells us to be ‘imitators of God’, to ‘live a life of love’, to behave as God’s dearly loved Son. ‘You were once darkness,’ says Paul, ‘but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) – and find out what pleases the Lord.’ [Ephesians 5:1-10]

Our calling, then, is to be like Christ. It works like this: Jesus’ light shines into our lives and illuminates them. We change. We become more like Him. Our ‘little sun’ shines more brightly. People look at us – and at our church – and see something of Jesus. They’re drawn to the light themselves. The light then shines into their lives. They change. They become more like Christ. This is what’s happened for the past two thousand years. It’s the reason Christian faith has proved so enduring and grown so much.

So, let’s be encouraged. Let’s enjoy the family-likeness. And, let’s see the light shining in more places, more homes, more streets! After all, it’s ‘like father, like sons and daughters!’

Yours ever
Martyn

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News from Martyn, our Vicar, February 2015

Break through in prayer!

The world has speeded up, so we travel further and more frequently than our grandparents.  Emails arrive within seconds; mobile phones mean we can speak to anyone, any time.  It’s easier for us to keep in touch than it was for previous generations.  We’ve become an instant generation.  The slower pace of a hundred years ago would probably drive us mad!  If we’re to say anything useful about breaking through in prayer, what we say must make sense in this context.

How we spend our time tells us something about our priorities.  We don’t have time to do everything, but we find time for what’s important to us.  Golfers make time to play golf.  Gardeners find time for gardening. So, if we find it difficult to make time for prayer it may be that other things are squeezing it out.  We want to spend more time in prayer, we want to know the Lord better; the spirit is willing.  But, we’re too rushed in the morning to find fifteen minutes to be alone with God; and, when it comes to the end of the day the problem’s the same.  There’s always the ironing or the late evening news to catch up on.

If this sounds like you, be encouraged.  You’re not alone!  There are thousands of Christians who’d love to take their daily Bible reading more seriously and get closer to the Lord. But, if it’s true that we live by our priorities, if it’s true that joggers find time to go jogging, it’s also true that there are thousands of Christians who make time to be alone with the Lord each day.

There are two requirements.  The first is to love the Lord more.  It may be that our faith has grown a bit cold and formal.  If so, we need to rediscover our initial enthusiasm.  Do you remember when you wanted to go to all the meetings?  When you didn’t want to miss anything?

Just as a couple’s love can be alive, real and committed years after they first met, the same can be true for a Christian’s relationship with the Lord.  But, it’s also true that a couple’s can become a bit formal; there can be less interaction.  And, just the same is true for our relationship with the Lord. If this is you, tell the Lord.  Tell him that, once again, you want to be bowled over by his love and forgiveness, his truth and graciousness.  And, tell a Christian friend you want to get back to how things where; you want your initial love and enthusiasm restored.

Those who’ve been Christians for some time need to ask ourselves:  Have things slipped?  Are things as they were?  Do we need to ask the Lord to fill us afresh with his Holy Spirit, so that today, this week, our relationship with Him will be alive, real and intimate? Those who are in love make time to talk and listen, and to do things together.  If our love for the Lord is dynamic and personal, we’ll make time to be in his presence.  We’ll find the time to take prayer seriously.

That’s the first thing.  The second is this: If we aren’t spending enough time with the Lord we need to give something up to make some space.  Rush is the death of prayer.  We’re always being offered quick-fix solutions; How to be slim in a fortnight;  how to be fit on five minutes’ exercise a day.  That’s the logic of our instant-result culture.  But, rush really is the death of prayer!  So, if we’re serious about our relationship with the Lord and we’re spending less than fifteen minutes each morning and evening with Him then something needs to change.

We need to give something up; play one round of golf a week, not two.  Watch one DVD a week, not two.  Jog twice a week, not three times.  For the wonderful truth is this: If we take the Lord seriously and make time for Him we’ll find he’s telling us and showing us things.  He’ll put particular people and situations into our mind.  And we’ll have that marvellous sense of hearing his voice, knowing his mind, doing his will.  These things come with an in-depth relationship with the Lord that’s developed as we invest time in prayer.

Golfers practise their putting, gardeners listen to Gardeners’ Question Time.  And just as they become more proficient, so do those who pray.  We grow in our praying and get to know the Lord better.  We listen more carefully and accurately to Him. The Lord communicates with us more than we realise but because we don’t put in the time to see the full picture we don’t see part of it.  Because we’re not quite on the right wavelength we don’t get the whole message.

Perhaps each of us should give up something of second importance so we can have that invaluable relationship with the Lord that’s real, close and personal.

Let’s be encouraged as we give this a go – and break through in prayer!

Martyn

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