3 December 2023 - Baptisms and Testimonies
In place of the usual Letter from the Rector, we have some exciting news from Abbotsbury Church!
Last Sunday baptisms were conducted at Abbotsbury Church. Below are testimonies from three of the people involved.
My faith journey began in childhood when I was introduced to God by my family.
However, when I moved to Devon 35 years ago, I lost those people who had encouraged me. Disaster struck when two of my children and I suffered a horrific ordeal. During this experience, I prayed, crying out for help get through it the horrendous times that followed. I had a vision and an overwhelming warmth. Peace passed through me. I felt guidance, peace, and a silent voice of wisdom. I knew it had to be from Jesus.
Last Christmas I was handed a leaflet about ‘Hope explored’. I took it home and I kept being drawn towards it - then I decided it was something I needed to do. I had so many questions I wanted to ask, things I wanted to learn. I attended these classes, and it was brilliant. I have learnt things I never knew about the Bible and answers to questions which puzzled me. It is because of the ‘Hope explored’, that I have now chosen to be reaffirm my baptism and give myself to Jesus. My jigsaw is now fully complete.
I grew up in a non-Christian household, but I always felt like there was something else. At school, I developed a close bond with our resident Vicar and our chats kick-started my faith.
I was baptized at the age of 9. The next few years were extremely difficult with serious health issues, multiple operations, and long stays in hospital. I was then diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes and then more recently with another auto immune condition. I lost my faith as I could not believe that God could put me through this pain, and I felt abandoned by him. Due to my health conditions, when my husband, Keith, and I were discussing growing our family, we were met with negative comments from medical professionals. However, we wanted to try and 1 month later I was pregnant. My miracle, God’s plan! This restarted my faith journey. I soon arranged to meet with Ben and Gareth to discuss getting Lucas baptized. And here I am to welcome Jesus back into my life and this reaffirmation today marks the beginning of my trust in Jesus moving forward.
Although I was baptised when I was 8 years old, I fell far from faith in my teenage years. I turned away from God and found drugs, alcohol, and reckless behaviour to numb my pain. In early recovery my AA sponsor gently encouraged me to volunteer at St.Mags in Torquay. The unconditional love felt so good and I wanted to find out more about this loving God. I did the Alpha course and felt a deep sense of being exactly where I needed to be. Through my journey of returning to faith, I am no longer alone, I am loved, supported, encouraged, guided, strengthened, and cleansed. Through God’s Mercy and Grace, I feel I am finally healing and growing. I now know that God loves me. I have been able, through His forgiveness, to forgive those who have hurt me.
Next week I will be 6 years sober and this feels like the perfect time to reaffirm my baptism and my love of God. I’m so grateful to have experienced the love and warmth of St.Mags and to now be experiencing the love and warmth at Abbotsbury.
26 November 2023
FROM OUR RECTOR
Rather than a reflection, this week I’m writing a brief Update from our PCC.
On Monday evening our PCC gathered for its final meeting of the year.
We began with worship and a reflection on Article 5 of the 39 Articles. Along with the historic creeds and the Book of Common Prayer, the 39 Articles form the basis of Anglican belief. This article states that the Holy Spirit, proceeding from the Father and the Son, is of one substance, majesty and glory with the Father and the Son, very and eternal God. Some people imagine that the Holy Spirit is simply a kind of Star Wars-esque force, but this article reminds us of the full divinity and personhood of the Spirit.
After receiving a report from me about our activities over the last 2 months, we spent some time reviewing the current pattern of services across the parish. As a result, from January 2024, St Bartholomew’s Ogwell and All Saints Highweek will revert back to having services of Holy Communion each Sunday. All other churches will remain the same.
We then heard a wonderfully encouraging report from Victoria about the growing children’s work at Abbotsbury, where there are now often over 20 children on a Sunday, ranging from age 1 to 14. Gareth then spoke about a course he’ll be undertaking next year to help us develop effective youth work within the Parish. The course is fully funded by the Diocese and we commended him to this work.
After receiving reports from the Church Wardens about the work and ministry in each worshipping community, we had a Safeguarding Report from our Safeguarding Lead, Rob Palmer. Rob’s contact details should now be displayed in every church, along with our safeguarding Policy. Please contact him if you have any safeguarding questions and concerns. As reported previously, Jonathan Hooker is supporting Rob by overseeing all the DBS check processes, and Bernice Hitchcock is keeping an eye on our training records to make sure we are always up to date.
We then came to our Treasurer’s report, and Clare brought us up to date with our financial position to the end of October. There isn’t time here to go into details, but we are once again running at a substantial deficit and although we aim to pay our Parish Share to the Diocese by the end of February, we are currently 2 months (or almost £15,000) behind. We then moved onto our budget for 2024 which was agreed by the PCC. We have increased our income by raising the rent for our church halls and car park, and have had cut our spending in some areas to help us balance our budget. I’ll write more about our financial position in the new year.
After 2 short briefings about the last Deanery Synod and recent events at General Synod, and some discussions about pastoral reorganisation in the Deanery, we looked ahead to our Christmas services, post-Christmas Hope Explored courses and our Lent Course, which will follow Alistair Begg’s book, ‘A Christian Manifesto.’ We hope that many of you will want to join in and study this engaging and challenging book about Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain from Luke’s gospel. The meeting ended by saying the grace together.
If you want more details, please do speak to your PCC reps.
Grace and peace,
19 November 2023
BIG QUESTIONS: Where Can We Find Lasting Pleasure?
Over the last few days, we’re been holding times of Remembrance to recall those who gave their lives in the service of their country either in the 2 World Wars, or in conflicts since then. By many accounts, the 20 th century was the bloodiest of all, and although (thank the Lord!) we haven’t seen a conflict on that scale since then, there hasn’t been a year where some conflict hasn’t been raging somewhere on the globe. The war to end all wars didn’t; and despite the formation of the United Nations, we’ve been failing to find a lasting peace ever since.
That sobering fact ties in very well with our big question this week. Where can we find lasting pleasure? Because if our pleasure is to last, then it surely involves an absence of those things that might ruin or end our pleasure. War definitely falls into that category, but so does all physical suffering, whether caused by accident, or deliberate act, or illness, or even by aging and infirmity.
A promising sporting career can be cut short by a car accident. The prospect of having a family can be taken away by cancer. The most fantastic holiday can be ruined by a bout of Covid, and the best planned-for retirement can be marred by a stroke, or wiped out by an untimely death. If pleasure is to last, we need it to be resilient to all of these things. And of course, sometimes, we mess things up ourselves! How many ‘perfect moments’ have been marred by saying something stupid, or forgetting something vital? Sometimes I am my own worst enemy, I’m sure there are times when you are too!
So, if pleasure is to last, we need there to be an absence of anything that might reduce or rob us of joy; we need other people to be perfect and permanent, and we need to be utterly reliable ourselves! Given those things, it’s a wonder that we find real pleasure anywhere, but of course we do! We all experience times of joy and happiness, the trouble is, they don’t last.
A meal is finished. A concert ends. Clouds cover the sun. Money runs out. A relationship turns sour. Something breaks, someone gets hurt, someone gets too old, somebody dies. All good things come to an end, people say. And of course, that is true, in this world. In this world, nothing lasts forever. So whatever pleasure we seek, wherever we place our hopes, and however long it does last, there will come a time when the curtain falls.
That’s true in this world, but not in the next world.
In the eternal kingdom of King Jesus, Revelation 21 tells us, ‘There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ What will cause that to happen? After the final judgment, God will create a new Heaven and new Earth where
1 the stain and effect of sin will be gone for good. (Rev 22:3) And in that kingdom, ‘the dwelling of God will be with his people, and… He will wipe every tear from their eyes.’
If we are looking for love that will last for ever, for joy that will last forever, for life that will last forever, we need to be looking to eternity, and to the kingdom of our glorious and eternal God.
Does that mean that we should not look for pleasure now? No. God has created a good world, and all of us receive good gifts at his hands that we are supposed to enjoy. When they come, let’s be thankful and enjoy them. But let’s not fall into the trap of expecting everything to last or for the next gadget or car or house or holiday or husband (or wife) to bring us perfect, lasting happiness. They won’t. They can’t. But Jesus can. And if we place our lives into his hands, and receive the free gift he offers, then one day we will know a joy that will never fade and a life that will never end. And wonderfully, we get to enjoy some of that now: a peace that the world cannot give, the presence of God who will never leave us, freedom from the mistakes of the past, a purpose in the present and a glorious hope for the future.
Where can we find lasting pleasure? Only in Jesus. Let’s not look anywhere else.
Grace and peace,
12 November 2023
BIG QUESTIONS: Do all religions lead to God? Part 3- The Apostles, the early church and us?
Last we saw how Jesus is both unashamedly exclusive- “no one comes to the Father but through me!” and wonderful inclusive – “whoever believes in me will have eternal life.” Today we’re turning our minds to the apostles and the early church, before thinking through what this might mean for us.
The Book of the Acts of the Apostles answers our questions about the mission and ministry of the early church, and even from the Day of Pentecost, it’s clear that they preached a message of salvation through faith in Jesus alone, whilst at the same time opening the doors of salvation to all who would come.
In his Pentecost Day sermon, Peter quoted from Joel 2 “and everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” before making it clear that Jesus has now been “exalted to the right hand of God” (v33) and made “Lord and Christ.” Those are titles of honour and power, so that it is “in the name of Jesus Christ”- and that name alone that Peter offers the forgiveness of sins to all who would come.
At this point, Peter is preaching to Jews from across the world who have gathered in Jerusalem, and 3000 turned to Christ that day. But whilst there was no need for them to turn their back on their Jewish heritage (Jesus was the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies after all), the apostles were soon explaining that keeping the Law did not make a person righteous and acceptable to God. Only faith in Jesus did that. (see Romans 2:28-29 and the letter to the Hebrews!) Jewish identity wasn’t enough. Salvation came only through faith in Jesus.
And what about the message preached to the Gentiles through Peter, Paul and the other Apostles? Again, it was that forgiveness of sins and salvation is available only through the name of Jesus. (See Acts 10:34-43 and Acts 16:25-34.) That is why the gospel must be preached to the gentiles, and why Paul was distressed to see that Athens was a city full of idols. His response wasn’t to admire their religious diversity, but to preach forgiveness of sins through Jesus, the resurrected One who will judge the world. And when Paul wrote to the Romans, he made his confidence in the gospel of Jesus clear again: For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. (Romans 1:16)
1 This claim that salvation is found in no-one else but through Jesus has been accepted throughout Church history, and we find it today in the Church of England’s 39 Articles. Article 18 ‘Of obtaining eternal Salvation only by the Name of Christ’ condemns the idea that there are many ways to God and declares that ‘Holy Scripture doth set out unto us only the Name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved.’
So how should we respond to this truth? Let me suggest 4 ways:
1: With confidence. Jesus did live, die and was raised. He is God. Let’s not doubt him nor his power to save.
2: With boldness. The gospel is good news for all people and all people can be saved. Let’s not keep it to ourselves!
3: With urgency. Time is short and life is precarious. If we care about people’s eternal future we will pray for, and seek to take, opportunities to speak about our hope in Jesus.
4: With kindness and respect. Looking through the accounts of Paul speaking about Jesus in Athens, Ephesus, before Felix, Festus and King Agrippa, I’m struck by how gentle Paul is, and how respectful he treats those who don’t yet know Jesus. There is no mocking or ridicule. He simply seeks to share the good news of Jesus with them in a way they might understand and want to hear more. That’s surely a good model for us to follow as well.
Without that confidence, boldness, urgency and respect, the good news of Jesus would not have been taken to the ends of the earth and we ourselves would never have heard. Today, our town is filled with people who need to hear of Jesus, so let’s pray for that same confidence, boldness and urgency, and with an humble, loving and respectful tone, let’s tell of Jesus that many more may hear and believe and be saved.
Grace and peace,
5 November 2023
BIG QUESTIONS: Do all religions lead to God? Part 2- What does Jesus say?
I ended my article last week by saying that when it comes to this question, we somehow need to be both confident in our convictions and humble towards others who follow other faiths. Confidence and humility. I know I struggle with that combination, but Jesus didn’t.
Jesus was the model of humility. How does Philippians 2 put it? Although “being in very nature God, he did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage, rather he made himself nothing by taking on the very nature of a servant…even to death on the cross.” But it’s also clear that Jesus has no doubt about his true identity, nor of the uniqueness of his mission. Here are just 5 verses from John’s Gospel that make that point.
John 10:30: ‘I and the Father are one.’
John 6:35: ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’
John 11: 25-26: ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.’
John 14:6: ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’
John 10:7-9: ‘Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.’
Firstly, Jesus claims full divinity, then he claims that he is the source of true and eternal life, stating that belief in him will mean resurrection from the dead. Those are huge claims, aren’t they. Of course, if Jesus is God, then we would expect that kind of power to flow from him.
But then Jesus goes on to say that eternal life with God is only found in him. ‘No one comes to the Father except through me,’ he says. That is a clear exclusive claim, no wonder then that in that final verse, Jesus is willing to say that all other ‘messiah/shepherds’ who came before him declaring other ways to reach God (and by implication that includes prophets or teachers who come after him too) were ‘thieves and robbers,’ leading people astray.
Our humble, gracious, loving, suffering saviour, the friend of sinners and tax-collectors, hasn’t minced his words, has he. Very clearly, Jesus has set himself above and against every other ‘gospel’ or religion by declaring that salvation is found in him and through him alone. So do all religions lead to God and eternal life? Not according to Jesus. He claims that he alone is the way, the truth, the life, the gate, the one true light and the only way to God.
But whilst being very exclusive, wonderfully Jesus’ invitation is open to all people everywhere. No one can come to the Father except through faith in him- yet all people can come to him. ‘The one who believes in me’ in John 11:25 means anyone. There are no barriers of age, race, gender, wealth, education, language or previous life-style or faith-background that prevent anyone from coming to Christ. All are welcome to come to God through repentance and faith in Jesus. That’s not just me saying that. Those are the words of Jesus Christ himself.
Next week we’ll look at how the Apostles took this teaching out to the multi-faith world in which they lived, and consider how we should respond in our day and culture. But however uncomfortable this makes us feel, if we believe Jesus to be fully divine, then we must hold his words to be fully reliable. And if we have taken him as our Lord, then we have no option but to believe him, and to seek to live in the light of them.
May God grant us the faith and the grace to do just that.
Grace and peace,
29 October 2023 BIG QUESTIONS: Do all religions lead to God? Part 1
Growing up in rural Bedfordshire, I didn’t know anyone who followed another religion. Almost everyone in our small town would have ticked Christian on the census form- or at least that’s what it looked like!
How different our country is now to the early 1970’s. All of us will know people who follow Islam or Buddhism, and evangelists for Jehovah Witnesses and Mormonism are often at work in our town centre. Even here in Devon we now clearly live in a multi-cultural country, where people freely follow different faiths without fear of persecution.
Recently, a number of authors, not least Glen Scrivenor in his excellent book ‘The Air We Breathe’, have made the case that such freedom flows directly from Christian values about the worth of the individual, and the importance of being freely able to make choices for yourself about which God, if any, you believe in. But does that freedom mean that all of these choices are equally worthy? Does giving people the freedom to practise their own religion mean that we must also agree that each of those religions teaches the truth? Or to come back to our question today, do all religions lead to God?
Many would answer yes. Even on my clergy selection conference a prospective vicar no less spoke about how “all religions are just different paths up the same mountain.” I’ve heard similar versions of that arguments on many occasions. Perhaps you subscribe to that view yourself. Perhaps it even makes you angry when people suggest that Jesus is the only way to God. Perhaps it just seems arrogant to claim that our faith alone is the right one.
Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll think more about this question. We’ll look at the teaching of Jesus and see what he has to say, and we’ll think about life in the early church and the preaching of the Apostles who were all working in a far more caried multi-faith environment than anywhere in the UK today.
For now, I’ll leave you with a parable and a few short comments. It’s a parable often used to justify the ‘arrogant’ tag for those who hold to the exclusivity of Jesus- or of other faiths. It goes like this:
3 blind men came across an elephant for the first time. Starting at different places on the elephant, they all described the animal in different ways. The first took hold of its ear and said the elephant was like a wide sheet, thin and tough. The second man held onto a leg and described the creature as a tree. The third placed his hands on its tail, and said the elephant was really like a snake. In the same way (so the parable goes) people who follow different religions only know some of the truth about God. They are all right - but not exclusively so.
Now even St Paul said that we know only in part, so there is some truth here. All the books in all the world could not define God’s glory and magnificence completely, so we’d surely agree that there is far more to know about God than all He has revealed to us about himself in the scriptures and through Jesus. But what happens when truth claims contradict each other - which certainly happens when it comes to the identity and mission of Jesus, or the nature of God, or our hope for eternity? Must we hold conflicting opinions to be true? I don’t think so.
Secondly, ask yourself who is the truly arrogant one in the parable. Isn’t it the one telling the parable? For such a person claims to be able to see everything about the elephant, and looking down over all the blind people following different religions is bold enough to tell not just some of them, but all of them, that they are all wrong! That isn’t humility. That’s arrogance in a league of its own.
Lastly, doesn’t the source of the problem lie in the fact that the 3 men are blind? They can’t see the elephant so are groping in the dark to figure things out for themselves. What they needed was someone to tell them the truth, and the whole truth. And that, of course, what Jesus and the Bible claim to do about God.
Arrogance is generally unattractive, so somehow, we need to be confident in our faith and humble towards others who may take a different view. As we wrestle with this big question, may the Holy Spirit equip in both ways.
Grace and peace,
22 October 2023 Does God care about justice?
FROM OUR TEAM VICAR
When I look at the world and see conflicts, poverty, and many other inequalities, it is easy to cry out, 'Where is the justice?' I believe this is a significant question that both Christians and non-Christians ponder alike. It appears to be one of those problems where finding an answer could lead to peace.
This text does not provide a deep dive into God's justice but serves as a framework or toolkit for understanding what God's justice looks like and where it comes from. Several key principles and beliefs underpin this framework:
God as the Source of Justice: Christians believe that God is the ultimate source of justice. The Bible often describes God as a just and righteous deity. For example, the Book of Psalms proclaims, 'For the Lord is righteous; He loves justice' (Psalm 11:7). This underscores the idea that justice is not merely a human construct but a divine attribute. It provides us with a moral compass for determining what is just, rather than leaving it solely to human interpretation.
Biblical Foundations: Christians place a strong emphasis on the Bible as the authoritative and inspired word of God. Both the Old and New Testaments contain numerous references to justice, advocating for the fair treatment of others, especially the marginalized and oppressed. For instance, the book of Micah 6:8 states, 'He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.'
God's Justice and Salvation: God's justice is closely intertwined with the message of salvation. Jesus' death on the cross is seen as the means by which God's justice is satisfied, offering forgiveness to sinful humanity. The Bible teaches us that through faith in Christ, individuals can find both forgiveness and God's justice.
Human Responsibility: While the previous paragraphs might suggest that individuals are not responsible, it is important to stress that believers have a responsibility to act justly in their lives. This includes advocating for the rights and welfare of others, seeking to address social injustices, and caring for the vulnerable in society. It is seen as a way to reflect God's character in the world.
End-Times Justice: The ultimate place where justice is believed to occur is in the future. Christians believe in the ultimate return of Christ and a future judgment. This belief underscores the idea that God will ultimately bring about justice in the world, where all wrongs will
1 be made right. This aspect of our toolkit brings a sense of peace, as it suggests that if justice is not visible in the present, it will come in the future.
In summary, it is firmly believed that God cares deeply about justice. This belief is rooted in the understanding of God's character as just and righteous, as revealed in the Bible. Christians should see their faith as not only a personal relationship with God but also a call to seek justice in the world and anticipate God's final act of justice at the end of times.
I'd like to recommend the book 'Generous Justice: How God's Grace Makes Us Just' by Timothy Keller. Timothy Keller, a prominent evangelical pastor and author, explores the biblical foundation for justice and the Christian's role in seeking it. He argues that God's grace leads to a life of generous justice."
15 October 2023 Do I need to go to Church to be a Christian?
FROM OUR CURATE
When I was in primary school, some of my classmates would make various shapes with their hands and say the rhyme, ‘Here’s the church and here’s the steeple, open the doors and here’s all the people.’ When I went home and showed this “clever” new routine to my dad, he was quick to inform me that the church is not a building, but the people of God.
In saying this, my dad was (probably unknowingly) drawing attention to passages like 1 Corinthians 1:2 and the Greek word ekklesia which is translated as ‘church’ in our English Bibles.
"To the church (ekklesia) of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours."
Here and elsewhere in the New Testament when this word is used it has little to do with the Sunday gatherings or the particular building in which the people of God meet to worship. Instead, it refers to all people who submit to King Jesus as their Lord.
However, our English word ‘church’ does not find its origin in ekklesia, but rather in the German word kirche, which, in turn, finds its root in two Greek words meaning ‘House of the Lord.’ This concept of church gave rise to the idea of going to a physical building in order to worship and this has become the more popular understanding of church.
In view of this, if our definition of church stems from the word ekklesia then we would have to say ‘YES!’ To be a Christian is to be a part of the church, because as soon as someone repents and follows Jesus they are transferred into the church.
On the other hand, if when talking about church we have in mind kirche, which has come to mean the slot on a Sunday morning when we gather to worship, we would have to say ‘NO, you don’t need to go to the church to be a Christian.’ There are lots of reason why someone might not be able to make it to that particular gathering but that does not impact their membership in the ekklesia. The Bible is very clear that we are saved by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (see Ephesians 2:8-9) and not through any religious observance.
Having said this, the Bible does have lots to says about Christians living in community together, and there seems to be an expectation that when someone comes to faith in King Jesus, they will want to be a part of a local congregation.
1 Colossians 3:12-14 speaks of the beautiful community in which followers of Christ can participate. A community characterised by compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. One which has forgiveness at its centre and love covering over all. This is not something we can achieve on our own but it is something we are called to work at together as we follow Christ.
Can I encourage you to see this vision of church, which is far more than a Sunday morning, as a priority? As it says in Hebrews 10:25 ‘Let us not neglect meeting together, as some have made a habit, but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.’
25 September 2023 BIG QUESTIONS: Global warming - should Christians be worried?
A close runner-up in our recent poll was this question, and it’s not hard to see why. Hardly a week goes by without a new report either on the effects of global warming or bringing new evidence of the rising global temperatures.
Now I don’t know where you stand on this issue. You may be utterly convinced by the arguments and the evidence, and wonder whether there will be much of a planet left for your grandchildren or great-grandchildren to enjoy. You may be a global warming sceptic, doubtful whether scientists really know what is going on and have little or no confidence in their doom-laden predictions. Or, you may simply not know what to think. I suspect we have people in all 3 categories in our congregations.
There is, however, plenty of evidence that young people in particular are fearful for their future. They may not all be protesting like Greta Thunberg, but the rise of anxiety the young is at least partly attributable to constant warnings about the future if the world does not radically change its way of life.
What should Christians make of these things?
In this short article I certainly don’t have time to examine all the scientific evidence, nor am I qualified to do so, but we cannot bury our heads in the sand. God has created a beautiful world in which we live, and human beings have been given responsibility to care for the planet, ruling over creation, caring for it and shepherding the world’s resources as tenant rulers under the ultimate kingship of Jesus. That means we have a responsibility to God, to creation and to one another, and especially to the poor.
Jesus reminds us in the Parable of the Good Samaritan that we must show practical love to those in need who come across our path, whoever they may be. And whilst we primarily live that out in our families, streets, towns and churches, in a global and interconnected world, we can all play our part in caring for the planet, because to do so helps those who share the Earth with us.
So if we believe that cutting our CO2 emissions, recycling more, consuming less, eating locally produced food, etc etc is the right thing to do, then we should do those things. Sin is not just doing the wrong thing; it is failing to do the right thing. And we should all be good neighbours.
But we should not give in to worry or fear.
I haven’t counted them, but apparently there are 366 places in the Bible which tell us not to worry or fear. That’s one for every day, including a leap year! Not fearing or worrying about the future does not mean we can sit back and do nothing and leave everything to God. It does mean that when fears or worries rise, we are to admit them and then cast them onto God. 1 Peter 5 verse 7 says “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” The word castthere is a strong, powerful action – like refuge collectors throwing rubbish bags into a skip. In that way we must cast our cares and fears on God.
Why can we do that? Because God is good and loves us. Because God is sovereign and in control. Because history works to his timescale and not ours. Because, as the chorus puts it, he’s got the whole world in his hands. If we really believe those things to be true, then whatever happens in our personal lives, whatever scientific reports claim, whatever disasters fill our TV screens from around the globe, we can rest confidently that God is in control. And that one day, when Jesus returns, he will put everything right.
So let’s be active in playing our part as good citizens of the world, caring for the beautiful creation God has made. But let’s make sure we do not give in to fear. For our God is in control.
Grace and peace,
20 September 2023 BIG QUESTIONS
A huge thank you to everyone who completed one of our short surveys about the BIG QUESTIONS you’d like us to answer in our next sermon series. The results are now in and the top 4 questions in were as follows:
• Are Science and Christianity enemies or friends?
• Why do good people suffer?
• Could God forgive someone like Lucy Letby?
• Can we really trust the Bible?
We’ll be answering these questions Sunday by Sunday once our current series in Colossians has been completed.
We also asked for other suggestions, and a question that came up a few times was this:
Considering the amount of suffering in the world through natural disasters, how can God possibly be both all-loving and all-powerful?
That question is related to the one about good people suffering, but is a slightly different question - so we’re going to answer that as well, and make it a two-week special on the whole area of suffering in a broken world.
Whilst we may run a similar series in years to come, over the coming few weeks we’re also going to answer some of the other questions in this column, with Ben and Gareth getting in on the act. In such a short column it will be impossible to go into great depth, but our hope is that we’ll at least be able to give the beginning of an answer, and that we’ll be able to point you to places where you might be able to read and think more deeply.
As always, our answers will flow from God’s self-revelation of himself in the Bible and in the person of Jesus. After all, Jesus is the one ‘in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.’ [Colossians 2:3] Jesus and the gospel message may be ‘foolishness’ to the world [I Corinthians 1] but to those who are being saved, it is the very power and wisdom of God.
You may think that rather naive. After all, don’t we know better now than to seek all our answers from the Bible? But that’s not what we are saying. The scriptures don’t give us answers to every question, and we are truly foolish if we try to twist God’s words so that they say what they were never intended to say. But in the Scripture God has revealed everything about himself we need to know to be saved and in order to live holy lives.
But more than that: through his written word and incarnate Word he has given a way of seeing the world, and to show us how to be truly wise. CS Lewis put it this way: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it, I see everything else.”
May God give us grace and wisdom to see the world in all its beauty and complexities and problems through the light of God and his truth.
Grace and peace,
14 September 2023 A Bible Journey!
FROM THE VICAR!
I'm curious – what's your favourite series of books, TV shows, or films? Personally, I have a few favourites, ranging from my love for Marvel superhero films to diving into Bernard Cornwell's Richard Sharpe series, which delves into the Napoleonic Wars. Have you ever tried joining a series in the middle of its story? It can be a bit perplexing. While you can grasp the main storyline and the problems the protagonist is trying to solve, it's often challenging to understand instant feelings of love or hatred, the significance of certain locations, or why a character suddenly gains a deep understanding of a situation. Starting from the beginning, unravelling the web of characters and their connections can add significant depth to our overall enjoyment and experience.
Now, let's think about the Bible. If we break it down, we find that it's a library consisting of 66 books, each contributing to a grand narrative that spans thousands of years, featuring a multitude of people (some more prominent than others) and locations stretching from the Middle East to central Europe. Have you ever pondered why Samaritans are considered in a negative light, which Joseph is being referred to (the one with the coat, Jesus' earthly father, or the one who provided Jesus with his tomb), or where Canaan is located today?
So, how do we truly understand the Bible? If we only dip in and out, jumping between books, chapters, and verses, we risk missing the intricate connections, the richness, and the profound depth of the entire Bible. This could leave us struggling to grasp, trust, and connect with the library of books that God has provided.
I'd like to extend an invitation for you to join me on a Bible course where we'll embark on a journey together from Genesis to Revelation. We'll connect the stories, explore various genres, and make new discoveries. The creators of this course describe it as follows:
"The Bible Course is an accessible way for anyone to explore the world's bestseller. The Bible is a vast book, and it can be daunting to know where to begin. That's where the Bible Course comes in – it provides a big-picture view, illustrating how all the events, books, and characters come together to form an incredible story. Whether you're new to the Christian faith or just eager to learn more, the Bible Course is designed for you. It consists of eight interactive sessions, covering the entire Bible story, from the very first book, Genesis, to the last, Revelation. Each session combines video teachings, group discussions, personal
1 reflections, and daily readings. By running the Bible Course in your setting, you can bring God's Word to life."
Our course will kick off on September 27th at Abbotsbury Church, running from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. for eight weeks.
5 September 2023 Learning to Lament
You may have seen the recent articles in the press that followed a survey of Anglican clergy done by the Times. Laying aside the many questions about methodology and the ambiguity of many of the questions, (You can watch a video about that here:“Britain is no longer a Christian country”: Rev Dr Ian Paul responds to some research in The Times. - YouTube) the headline about clergy believing that we no longer live in a Christian nation was both stark and bleak. In some ways it simply summed up what is clear to all of us involved in our churches, that nationally, the Church of England is at a low ebb, getting older and shrinking; that those on the fringe of the church who attend once in a while have decreased in number; and that it is harder to gain a hearing for the gospel. For those of us who have spent many years in the church, and remember the days when our churches were full and we had thriving children’s work, it’s a sad reality. One certainly worth lamenting.
We’re hearing words of lament in our Sunday services over the next few weeks as, alongside our readings from Colossians, we’re hearing from the Book of Lamentations. Lamentations is a hard book to read. Full of sadness and sorrow, grief and pain, the writer- almost certainly Jeremiah- was reflecting on the demise of Jerusalem, the destruction of the temple and the deportation of the Jews into exile in Babylon. It’s hard not to hear Jeremiah’s tears and feel the pain in his heart as you read.
But Lamentations is not a book devoid of hope. Lamentations 3:22-23 speak of God’s love and compassion which never fail, and which are renewed every morning. Those verses end with a reminder that God’s faithfulness to his people never ends. And although the rest of the book is almost entirely a lament about how bad things are and how great the pain and suffering, it’s these divine qualities that not only allow Jeremiah to pour out his heart as he does, but that allow him to have hope for the future despite the suffering of the present. Jeremiah’s suffering drives him deeper into the arms of God, not further away.
We need to learn to lament like that. Whether it’s over the state of the church, or the state of our personal lives, when things are bad and dark; when our pain is almost more than we can bear, we need to have the same kind of confidence in God’s love and faithfulness. Only then will we be able to pour out our hearts to the LORD with brutal, heart-wrenching honesty, and know that we are driving ourselves – and that he is drawing us - deeper into his arms as we do. That is godly, Christian lamenting. It is honest, blunt and bleak, yet ultimately hopeful. Not because we can see an easy fix, or we expect a miracle: but because God is good, and his love endures for ever.
So by all means lament the state of the church, and feel able to lament and mourn over the grief and brokenness in your own lives if you need to. But keep in mind that Jesus said that he would build his church and that the gates of Hell would not overcome it. And remember that we have a God who also knows what it is like to suffer and grieve and die, and that one day, though it may be a long way off, all of those things will pass away, and that we, his children, will be with the LORD forever.
Jeremiah lamented, yet he did so with a firm, unshakeable hope and trust in our unchanging, all-powerful and eternal God. Let’s learn to lament like him.
Grace and peace,
29 August Big Questions - what's yours?
If you could ask God one question, and you knew you’d get an answer, what would it be?
This Sunday we’re beginning a new series from the book of Colossians which will take us through to our Harvest Festival services on 15th October. (Although Highweek will be celebrating harvest the previous week) It’s a fantastic letter, full of deep and glorious truths but also real challenges for us as we seek to live out lives as disciples of Jesus. I hope and pray that it will stir our hearts to praise and obedience in equal measure as we hear what God has to say to us.
But from 22nd October to the start of Advent, our series will be set by YOU, as we’ll seek to answer some of the BIG QUESTIONS you may have. On 19th November, we’re having visiting speakers from Christians Against Poverty who will help us think through the question: Does God care about the poor? But that leaves 5 big questions up for grabs, with the most popular ones being answered.
So, if you could ask God one question, what would it be?
Perhaps it would be about suffering, or why the wicked seem to flourish?
Perhaps it would be able whether we really can trust the Bible?
Perhaps you’d like to ask if Science and Christianity are friends or enemies?
Or perhaps you’d like to ask whether God could ever forgive someone like Lucy Letby?
In church over the next 3 Sundays you’ll find a short survey form so you can vote on which questions we’ll answer. The form will suggest 10 possible questions and you’ll be asked to tick no more than 3. If none of those questions float your boat, you can also add extra questions on the back.
If you can’t wait that long, you can also make your response by filling in this very short online survey- see the link https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/7QLKT67: Again, simply tick the boxes beside your 3 top questions, or add extra ones in the final box.
All responses need to be in by 9am on Monday 18th September, after which we’ll let you know the questions we’ll be looking at.
In the meantime, this might be a question you could ask your non-Christian friends and neighbours. And if their question matches up with one of the questions we’ll be looking at, why not invite them along to hear the answer.
In the meantime, I hope you will enjoy this song. Having questions about the world or our faith isn’t a problem. Unlike God, we are finite, limited and sinful creatures, so none of us have all the answers. But we do have a God who does. The question then becomes, will we trust him with our questions, even if he chooses not to give us a clear answer, or if he gives us an answer we don’t like?
Grace and peace,
21 August Precious Words… episode 5
After a beautiful traditional hymn last week, now, as they say, for something completely different! One of the things that I’m sure concerns all of us is the lack of children and teenagers in our churches. Wonderfully, at Abbotsbury, and to a far lesser extent at St Paul’s, we are now seeing more families with children coming along, but there is still much to do. But even in churches full of children, the challenge is how to make sure they continue to walk in the way of Christ all the days of their lives.
This isn’t just a modern challenge. The fact that in Deuteronomy 11 God spoke to Moses about how parents were to teach their children about him shows that this is an age old problem. But the answer then is the same as the answer now. Teach them God’s Word; Plant his truth deep in their hearts; and show them by the way we live that following Jesus is the most important thing of all. As with adults, a few minutes of Bible teaching on a Sunday isn’t enough to grow to maturity in faith. That’s one of the reasons we give copies of the Jesus Storybook Bible to parents of children who come for baptism, so they can read stories about Jesus to their children every day. That, along with teaching them how to pray and letting our children and grandchildren see us reading the Bible and hearing us speak of Jesus, goes a long way to teaching them the truth of the gospel. Listening to Bible-soaked songs is a wonderful companion to this. How many of us can remember the songs we learned as children: Wide, wide as the ocean; Jesus loves me this I know; Zaccheus was a very little man… etc., etc..
In recent years, my grandchildren have introduced me to the songs of Colin Buchannan. He’s an Aussie, so some of his lyrics about koalas and gum trees are a little odd, but he also writes plenty of songs which set Bible verses to music. The song here is a terrific example, and we’ll be singing it at Abbotsbury this coming Sunday as we consider Psalm 23. The words, apart from the Baa Baas obviously, are straight from the Bible. I guarantee that having heard it a couple of times, the words from Isaiah 53 verse 6 will be fixed in your minds. So however old you are, do take a listen.
(NB: If you feel you need something quieter afterwards, there’s a version of Psalm 23 underneath!)
But what a great verse Isaiah 53:6 is! Written some 600 years or so before Jesus, it speaks about our sinfulness and Jesus’ death on the cross in our place. Read around the verse and you’ll see details that point clearly to Jesus. It was this passage that the Ethiopean eunuch was reading when he met Philip on the road, and through these verses he came to faith in Jesus and was baptised by the roadside. So the verse not only reminds us of the core truths of our faith, but it’s a great place to start when explaining the good news of Jesus to others as well. May the LORD write this verse, and many, many more, on our hearts in these coming days.
Colin Buchanan - Isaiah 53:6 ORIGINAL CLASSIC CLIP - YouTube
Psalm 23 (Live from the Sing! Conference) - Stuart Townend - YouTube
Grace and peace,
"We all, like sheep, have gone astray.
Baa. Baa. Do-baa-baa.
Each of us has turned, to his own way.
Baa. Baa. Do-baa-baa.
But the LORD has laid on Him,
the iniquity of us all. Sing
Baa. Baa. Do-baa-baa.
Isaiah 53:6. Uh!"
15 August 2023 Precious Words… episode 4
This week’s precious words were chosen by John and Jill B. Jill wrote the following:
At our marriage on Saturday 14th March 1959 at St Bartholomews Church, Lostwithiel one of our chosen Hymns was “Oh Perfect Love”. John and I have been very Blessed in our 64 years of married life together and this is one of my favourite Hymns. On our Golden Wedding Day in 2009, Rev Russell Chamberlain took a repeat Service of our wedding and vows at St Mary’s Wolborough attended by our three children, ten grandchildren and many parishioners and friends from St Mary’s, St Paul’s, and Highweek. This was followed by drinks and canapés at the back of the Church. A memorable and very beautiful occasion. Our three children have also had “Oh Perfect Love” at their weddings - Juliet and Susan at St Mary’s and David at a Roman Catholic Church in Rotherham.
The song is a prayer for God’s blessing upon the couple getting married, and we’ve certainly known his hand upon us. Even the way we met we feel was planned. John was from London, me a true ‘Cornish maid’, yet as we met for the first time at the tennis club in Truro, looking up to the Cathedral, we’ve been inseparable. The two lines that stand out to us especially are these: “that theirs may be the love that knows no ending, whom thou for evermore dost join in one.”
Wonderfully, 64 years on, the prayer that John and Jill and their friends and family sung on their wedding day is still being answered! Of course, the love and faithfulness shown in their marriage, as in all good marriages, is not just a gift OF God’s grace, but a signpost TO God’s grace and love shown by Jesus to his church, his precious bride. In our relationships at home, and in our churches, may we prove to be as loving and faithful to each other and to the LORD, as Jesus is to us.
O Perfect Love
O perfect Love, all human thought transcending
Lowly we kneel, in prayer before thy throne
That theirs may be, the love that knows no ending
Whom thou for evermore dost join in one
O perfect Life, be thou their full assurance
Of tender charity, and steadfast faith
Of patient hope and quiet brave endurance
With childlike trust that fears nor pain nor death
Grant them the joy that brightens earthly sorrow
Grant them the peace which calms all earthly strife
And to life's day the glorious unknown morrow
That dawns upon eternal love and life.
You can listen to a recording of the song here: O Perfect Love - YouTube
Grace and peace,
PS: If you’d like to write something about a hymn or song that means a lot to you, please do get in touch or drop me a draft!
12 August 2023 Precious Words… episode 3
Faithful One so unchanging
Ageless One, You're my Rock of peace
Lord of all, I depend on You
I call out to You, again and again
I call out to You again and again
You are my Rock in times of trouble
You lift me up when I fall down
All through the storm Your love is the anchor
My hope is in You alone
CCLI Song # 465840: Brian Doerksen © 1989 Mercy / Vineyard Publishing (Admin. by Integrity Music Ltd) Vineyard Songs Canada (Admin. by Integrity Music Ltd)
If you are married, I wonder if you can remember the songs and hymns you sang at your wedding. Or perhaps at the wedding or funeral of a dearly loved friend or member of your family? At times like these we choose our songs carefully, sometimes because the words mean so much to us, or because they meant such a lot to someone else. I suspect that’s why the same songs are repeated at family weddings and family. That was true for me.
In the spring of 1996, my mother developed acute leukaemia, and needed a bone marrow transplant to have any chance of survival. Fortunately, her sister was a match, and so my mum started chemo-therapy to prepare for the transplant. Tragically, in the early autumn she picked up an infection, just at the time when her resistance was at its lowest. Without any natural immunity not ability to defend herself, the infection spread quickly, and despite the best efforts of the medical teams, she went into a coma from which she would never recover.
The call came to me whilst I was teaching in Peterborough, and I travelled down to Eastbourne, hoping and frantically praying for a miracle. The next few days passed in a blur, and in the midst of my turmoil and constant prayer, the song that kept coming into my mind was this one, Faithful One. I must have sung it to myself dozens of times over those few days. Perhaps you can see why.
The imagery in the song comes straight from the Psalms, speaking of God’s faithfulness, his unchanging nature, and the certainty of his care and love. As my world was falling apart, it was this hope, these truths, and the glorious God and Saviour the song speaks about who held me firm and gave me hope, even as my mum was passing into eternity.
But even in the face of death, the song speaks a message of hope; for what is death, if not the fiercest storm we ever have to face? Yet even there, God is good and faithful, promising eternal life to all who come to him through faith in Jesus. I trusted those promises, and knew my mum trusted them too. And since God is always faithful to his promises, I knew with absolute certainty that I would see her again.
It was that same confidence in the promises of God, in his goodness and faithfulness, that led Judy and I to choose the same song at our wedding. We’ve sung the song at church a few times, but if you don’t know it, (or you’d like to hear it again) you can find it here.
Grace and peace,
PS: If you’d like to write something about a hymn or song that means a lot to you, please do get in touch or drop me a draft!
2 August 2023 Precious Words… episode 2
Back in the days of the early church, teaching new converts the truths of the Christian faith was a major and vital part of preparation for baptism. Some early writers describe how catechumens (new Christians) were taught separately from the main body of believers for up to a year before coming to baptism, such was the importance of insuring that they understood and believed ‘the faith that was once and for all entrusted to the saints.’ Jude verse 3. Only in this was could the church preserve and confidently present the unchanging, wondrous and glorious gospel of Jesus.
My own baptism preparation in my mid-teens was far less rigorous, and although our baptism preparation course for parents is now deeper and longer (just 3 weeks) than in previous years, it is still falls far short of what used to be the case. Our aim is to ensure that no parent or godparent makes vows or declarations that they don’t understand or mean, but our hope is that by presenting them with the clear and wonderful gospel of Jesus, that they might begin to walk with him, and so see their baptism vows fulfilled in themselves and their children!
Sadly, in both the church and the world, our post-modern age now struggles with the idea of revealed and unchanging truth. Perhaps that’s why one of the recent trends in new songs are those which sing creeds or statements of faith. One of my favourites, and one we sang at the Church Weekend at Home is this one: Christ Our Hope in Life and Death.
Through a series of questions, likes those used in a number of ancient catechisms, the song reminds us of our hope and our confidence in Christ; the character of God and his trustworthiness in all circumstances; and the ultimate eternal destiny of the Christian- when Christ is ours for evermore!
Life is often challenging. Doubts do arise from time to time. What will we do when those times come? Songs like these encourage us to turn back to what we know and trust of God and his promises, and to the finished work of Jesus upon the cross. Therein lies our hope and our strong foundation. There we find a faith that can withstand all the ravages of life in this fallen world, and still come out singing Hallelujah! Our Hope springs eternal!
This song- and others like it- have acted as great reminders and encouragements to me. I pray they will to you also. You can listen to it here… Christ our Hope in Life and Death
Christ Our Hope in Life and Death.
What is our hope, in life and death?
Christ alone, Christ alone.
What is our only confidence?
That our souls to Him belong.
Who holds our days within His hand?
What comes apart from His command?
And what will keep us to the end?
The love of Christ in which we stand!
O sing hallelujah!
Our hope springs eternal.
O sing hallelujah!
Now and ever we confess,
Christ our hope in life and death.
What truth can calm the troubled soul?
God is good, God is good.
Where is His grace and goodness known?
In our great Redeemer's blood!
Who holds our faith when fears arise?
Who stands above the stormy trial?
Who sends the waves that bring us nigh?
Unto the shore, the rock of Christ?
Unto the grave what will we sing?
Christ He lives! Christ He lives!
And what reward will heaven bring?
Everlasting life with Him.
There we will rise to meet the Lord,
Then sin and death will be destroyed,
And we will feast in endless joy,
When Christ is ours forevermore!
CCLI Licence No. 595791
26 July 2023 Precious Word… episode 1
One of the joys of gathering together on Sundays is our sung worship, and we work hard to choose songs which are both singable and full of great gospel truths to help build our faith and praise our Heavenly Father. Sometimes a hymn or song that fits that category has an extra meaning for us, perhaps because of how it relates to our lives or a special time when we sang in. That’s true for me with the great hymn, Guide me, O Thou Great Jehovah.
|GUIDE ME, O THOU GREAT JEHOVAH, Pilgrim through this barren land.
I am weak, but Thou art mighty; Hold me with Thy powerful hand.
Bread of Heaven, Bread of Heaven, Feed me now and ever more; Feed me now and ever more.
Open now the crystal fountain, Whence the healing stream doth flow; Let the fire and cloudy pillar Lead me all my journey through. Strong Deliverer, strong Deliverer, Be Thou still my Strength and Shield; Be Thou still my Strength and Shield.
When I tread the verge of Jordan, Bid my anxious fears subside; Death of death, and hell’s destruction, Land me safe on Canaan’s side. Songs of praises, songs of praises, I will ever give to Thee; I will ever give to Thee.
Judy and I were married 26 years ago this week, and at our wedding, the Rector- Rev John Battman – spoke about our calling to be pilgrims, following Christ wherever he would lead. That proved prophetic! Over the first 8 years of married life, we lived in 10 different houses, in 7 different towns or villages- so it seemed as if we’d taken it literally! But of course, our call to be pilgrims went deeper than that.
It meant that we obeyed God’s call to serve him in the churches we belonged to. It meant that we obeyed his call to enter training for full-time Christian ministry. It meant that we followed his lead to serve in Sidmouth, Stevenage and now Newton Abbot. And in has meant that we’ve sought to follow God’s lead in all the ordinary parts of life too; being hospitable, generous, loving; being good neighbours, willing servants, and above all, faithful followers of Jesus.
Sometimes it has been abundantly clear where God has called us; at other times the way has seemed uncertain. We’ve sadly taken some wrong turns at times, but God has been faithful and led us on despite our failings- just as he led his Old Testament people by means of the fire and cloudy pillar.
There have been times when we’ve experienced God meeting our needs in amazing ways, and other times when we’ve had to trust and wait. But God has always proven faithful and he’s fed us and kept us, not with manna from heaven, but through gifts and encouragement and acts of kindness.
We have been fearful at times. We’ve mourned the loss of loved ones, parents, friends, colleagues, and known times of suffering and ill health ourselves. And of course, as we’ve grown older, it has become more and more apparent that we too are fast approaching ‘the verge of Jordan’. But as we’ve brought those and other fears to the LORD, we’ve been reminded of Jesus’ glorious victory over sin and death and hell, and so our solid confidence in God has been strengthened and renewed.
As pilgrims following King Jesus, we know that the one who has led us this far, will see us safely over to ‘Canaan’s side.’ I hope you can testify to that certainty as well. All along that pilgrimage, this hymn has been a great help and encouragement. Wherever you are on your own pilgrimage of faith, may these words also help and inspire you.
Grace and peace,
12 July Key Value 5: ACTIVE
ACTIVE: We are committed to being active in word and deed, making a positive difference in our communities, and proclaiming the gospel to each generation.
There’s a story told about St Francis of Assisi who is rumoured to have said “preach the gospel, use words if necessary.” It’s a phrase often championed by people who believe that acts of love are far more important than words about Jesus, sin, repentance, faith and salvation. There are just three problems: It is unlikely that St Francis said these words; good deeds by themselves have never worked as an evangelistic strategy; and Jesus said something quite the opposite. He commanded his disciples to go into the world as his witnesses, to teach and baptise and make disciples. And all of those things require speech.
I quite enjoy the TV series Silent Witness where forensic investigators discover long dead bodies and find evidence to convict the murderers. In the same way, there should be physical evidence of our faith that people can see in our lives- acts of love, kindness and honesty in our words, mercy, generosity and service. But there are many people of other faiths and none who live like this, so although acts of loving service are important (we said that last week), they will never be enough to tell someone about Jesus, show them their need of a saviour or help them grow in their faith. We may find it embarrassing, challenging, even terrifying: but the fact remains, to see people come to faith we need to speak of Jesus.
I’ve occasionally heard people argue that this is a special gift which they don’t have, and evangelists are listed amongst the Spirit-given ministries in the church. However, this does not get us off the hook. Writing to the whole church scattered across the world, the Apostle said this: “In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” 1 Peter 3: 15-16.
Set apart Christ as Lord. If Jesus truly is your Lord, your saviour, your God- then he should have the highest place in your affections. We won’t want to hide him away; we’ll want others to know about our wonderful saviour. We may not speak about him in every conversation, but when asked, his name and his truth will flow from our lips. We won’t be able to help ourselves. So is Christ your Lord? If so, you will want to speak of him.
1 Be prepared. But what might we say? After all, there is so much we could say it’s perhaps hard to know where to start! Peter’s advice is to be prepared. He means for us to think things through before we get the question, as we would for an exam of interview. So to get yourself ready, you might want to write answers to these questions and learn them off by heart: What is a Christian? Why are you a Christian? How can you trust God in such a messed-up world? There are plenty of books and tracts which would help you get ready, if you’re willing to spend some time preparing to give the reason for your faith. Are you?
Do this with gentleness and respect. I’ve never met a literal Bible-basher, but I know what people mean by the phrase. They mean someone who wants to quote verse after verses after verse and who won’t listen or draw breath! That isn’t sharing the good news of God with gentleness! Be can be confident in the gospel, we should be confident when we are explaining the gospel, but gentleness and respect demand that we listen well, speak kindly and treat the one we are speaking to with the respect they deserve as one made in God’s own image. One really helpful book on this is Questioning Evangelism by Randy Newman. He noticed that Jesus often responded to questions with questions, giving others the floor, helping them to think things through, rather than bashing them over the head with truth after truth.
And if all this seems a little individualistic, when this is supposed to be a ‘whole church’ aim, then you’re right. Guilty as charged. There may be times when we hold special events evangelistic events, and we’re also going to continue to offer termly enquirer’s courses for those seeking to discover (or re-discover) the Christian faith. But the only church growth strategy that has ever really worked, is when individual Christians set apart Christ as Lord, get prepared, and then take the opportunities that come to gently and respectfully tell people of Jesus and invite them to church to find out more. So that is our parish strategy. It lies in equipping all of us to be confident in our faith and able to share our faith. For when we do that gently and prayerfully, God’s word goes out into the world and people find Jesus.
So, are you ready to play your part in the Great Commission?
Grace and peace,
5 July 2023 Key Value 4: Varied
VARIED: We seek to be a prayerful community offering a rich variety of worship styles across our churches to ensure that there is a home for everyone.
When we were putting our 5 key values together, this was the one we struggled with most of all. Not because we weren’t convinced of its importance - we were unanimous in seeing the value and importance of having different styles of worship across our benefice. Our struggle was with the word varied! It wasn’t strong or exciting enough to convey what we wanted to get across. We tried other words, but they all came with unhelpful cultural baggage - so we stuck with varied, and hoped that people would read on and want to explore the rich variety of worship styles our parish offers.
Because we do now offer a rich variety in worship styles. Across our 5 churches we cover everything from a village choral tradition at Ogwell and Highweek, through Book of Common Prayer services at St Mary’s Wolborough, a relaxed and informal liturgical style at St Paul’s to contemporary services at Abbotsbury. Add to that the Anglo Catholic worship offered weekly at St Luke’s, and we have covered almost all the bases. This is something unique in Devon, and I would imagine that it is also pretty rare across the country.
Why is this variety important? Because people are different- we each enjoy different styles of music and appreciate different styles of service - and if we want to reach our town and villages for Christ, then, to use the Bishop of Exeter’s illustration from my induction, we can’t simply be offering one flavour of ice cream! Our varied church styles give us a huge opportunity to invite all kinds of people to come along, knowing that across our 6 churches, there will almost certainly be a style of church which suits their personality, likes and situation.
Of course, a number of things need to go along with this, not least a culture of invitation where we actively look for opportunities to invite people along. And where people say yes, we also need to be willing to take people to the church where THEY are likely to be most comfortable. That may be the church where we worship regularly, or it may be somewhere else. Would we be willing to do that, I wonder? Or are we so focussed on the church where we worship regularly, that the thought would never enter our head? It should. It must, if we are to grow as a Parish and a Benefice.
The apostle Paul spoke into this situation when he said that ‘to win the Jew he became like a Jew. To win those under the law I became like one under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.’ 1 Corinthians 9:20-22. And our prayer is that in some small way, our varied styles of worship might help us in our mission to win people for Christ.
Of course, St Paul never compromised on the good news of Jesus. He may have preached his message in different ways, in different contexts, but he never failed to proclaim Christ crucified, even though it was foolishness to some. We have one gospel, one hope, one faith, as we have one Lord. But let us rejoice that our faith can be expressed in so many different ways across our benefice, and pray that through this variety, the Lord would draw to himself all kinds of people, who will each find a home somewhere amongst us.
Grace and peace,
28 June 2023 Key Value 3: Faithful!
FAITHFUL: We believe God’s Word is revealed through the Bible and we value preaching and teaching that encourage us to grow as disciples of Christ.
How do we know what God is like? How do we know how we should live? How do we know what is true, and what is false? To some extent those questions can be answered by looking at creation - after all, ‘The Heaven’s declare the glory of God!’ And certainly, when we look at the wonders of the universe, our minds should perceive the hand of an almighty, and all-powerful creator. In the same way, having been made in the image of God, all human beings have a sense of right and wrong. We may not all agree on the details, and sadly, too many people are willing to act against their consciences, but those concepts of right and wrong even exist in the most evil of people.
The problem, of course, is what to do when people disagree. Do we go with our hearts, which the Bible says are ‘deceitful above all things’? Do we go with the popular consensus, even though societal morals change over time? And how do we know the truth about who God is and what he expects of us, when there are so many others religions, each proclaiming a different message?
The Christian response, and the 3rd of our 5 core values, points us to God’s self-revelation of himself in and through the scriptures. It is in the Bible that we find God’s commands for living a righteous life, and in the Bible that we find the truth about God, as he reveals himself through the prophets, through his actions in history, and most perfectly of all, through the incarnation of his Son, Jesus.
It follows therefore, that if we want to get to know God better, the best place to start and to stay is in the scriptures. In the Bible, God has given us 66 books, all divinely inspired, all with wonderful truths about God, about ourselves and about how we are to live in God’s world. Some of those books are harder to understand than others, I freely admit that. But that should make us want to strive all the more to discover the wonderful truths in God’s law. The Bereans in Acts chapter 17 are the example to us here, because they ‘eagerly examined the scriptures’ to know the truth about God. (Acts 17:11) Their faith grew as a result, as will ours if we do the same.
And since, ‘All scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.’ 2 Tim 3:16, we do need to have a varied diet from both Old and New Testaments, narrative, poetry, epistles and gospels. That’s one of the main reasons we no longer follow the lectionary, so that Sunday by Sunday, we might explore a far wider range of Biblical texts in a systematic way. It’s also the reason that sermons are longer than they use to be, why we encourage all those able to do so, to join a home group, and why we’ve partnered with www.10ofthose.com to encourage everyone to read good Christian books. As Jesus himself said, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, ‘men and women do not live on bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ (Matthew 4:4)
So if you are keen to know God more, to grow in your faith, and walk more in God’s ways, then may I encourage you again to read, learn and inwardly digest more of God’s Word. Keep your Bibles open during the talks on Sundays, so you can see where the teaching is coming from. Read the Bible daily, perhaps with some Bible notes to help you know God’s word. Join a home group and read good Christians books so you grow in your understanding of God’s word.
As the writer of Hebrews tells us, in the past ‘God has spoken to the through the prophets, at many times and in various ways, and in these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.’ (See Hebrews 1:1-2) God has spoken. Let’s make sure we are listening.
Grace and peace,
21 June Key Value 2: Loving!
LOVING: We are dedicated to loving, serving and encouraging each other, following the pattern of Jesus, bearing with one another with grace and kindness.
The Bible says a lot about love, but everything it says flows from the wonderful truth of God’s love for us. The Jesus storybook Bible describes God’s love beautifully: it is his Never-Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love. Isn’t that a fantastic way of putting it! Because God loves us like that, those of us who have received God’s love in Jesus are called to respond by loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, seeking his glory and obeying his commands. And one of those commands, of course, is to love our neighbours as ourselves.
Whilst Jesus defines our neighbour as anyone in need who comes across our path, whether enemy or friend, the New Testament is also clear that our love for other Christians should be wholehearted, practical and visible. So much so that in John 13:35, Jesus says that ‘everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’
The question is, do we actually love one another like that? And if that is not the case right now, what might that kind of love look like?
Undoubtedly there are many loving people in our congregations. I see that in the many practical ways some people care for others, and I’m sure you see that too. A lift to or from church; listening to someone share their concerns; helping with shopping; calling them on the telephone or popping round; offering to pray; bringing flowers to show they care. Love gets shown in many ways, and many of those things go unnoticed.
I’ve also seen it at our Sunday night LLF gatherings, as people with widely differing views have listened well and shared their own thoughts gently, graciously, and without anger. Like any family we have many differences, but being willing to listen well, speak kindly and keep loving despite those differences is a great witness.
So how might we get even better at loving like this?
1: Love God more: As we love God and draw close to him, so his love fills our hearts and overflows. If we want to be more loving to people, it needs to start with loving God more.
1 2: Pray more: Especially for those you find it difficult to like or who you disagree with. When we are praying for God’s blessings on someone, it’s hard to stay angry or aloof. Love follows our prayers.
3: Engage more: We can’t show love to those we don’t know. So be intentional. Speak to those you don’t know well; cross the room, make a first move, sit somewhere different in church and get to know people better. Be the one to ask them questions and listen well.
4: Share more: Share your time and your table, your resources and your wisdom. Invite people to come to you, share a walk, a cup of tea, a Sunday lunch. Listen to their needs, and if you have the God-given resources to meet them, then do.
5: Keep Jesus central: We will all know many deeply loving people who have no faith or who follow a different God. But as Christians, we have something, or rather someone, greater with us, guiding us, changing us, equipping us. So keep Jesus central. Love for him and through him and talk about him. For only in and through Jesus can we ever truly love others as he first loved us.
Grace and peace,
14th June, 2023 Key Value 1: WELCOMING
Key Values 1: WELCOMING: We offer a warm welcome and rich hospitality to people of all ages and backgrounds, wherever they are on their journey of faith.
What does it mean to be welcoming to people of all ages and backgrounds? What does rich hospitality look like? And why does it matter?
The last question is perhaps the easiest to answer: we are to welcome all, and show hospitality to all, whoever they are, whatever their background…
- Because all people are made in the image of God with God-given worth and dignity:
- Because both Old and New Testaments command us to be hospitable, kind and generous:
- Because that is how God has behaved towards us! If it was whilst we were still sinners, that Christ died for us, (Romans 3: 23) then as his children, we must behave like him. How can we do otherwise?
- And because as Christ’s Ambassadors, we surely want people not just to settle in our churches, but to settle in our churches so they can come to a living faith in Jesus Christ.
What might that look like in our churches?
It will have some implications for our buildings: Are they accessible to all with flat floors, good sound systems, accessible toilets, good catering facilities and mingling spaces? Are they at least relatively comfortable: warm, bright, dry and safe? There will also be some implications for our publicity and information, both outside and inside our buildings and on line, but unless our welcome at the door extends beyond initial pleasantries to longer conversations and a willingness to share our lives and our faith, then our welcome will be lukewarm at best.
How might we move in that direction? Here are 7 tips, you might want to add your own:
- Smiles, handshakes and hellos cost us nothing- so let’s give generously.
- Welcoming is everyone’s job- not just those people on the door.
- Everyone should receive the same warmth of welcome- whatever age, whatever their appearance.
- Newcomers are more important than friends, so be willing to give up time with people you do know to chat with people you don’t know.
- Ask questions and listen well: Tell me your name? Is it your first time? What brought you to church today? How did you find our service? Is there anything you’d like to know?
- Introduce someone you’ve just met to someone else, that way they know at least 2 people the next time they come!
- Write down their name, pray for them over the coming weeks, and look out for them again.
These are just some of the ways we can be more welcoming. What will be the first step you take this weekend?
Grace and peace,
8 June Playing our part
At our Annual Parochial Church Meeting, I announced the 5 Key Values that will form the basis for the Mission Action Plan (MAP) the PCC will be working on at its coming meetings. These are shown below. They’ve been written to both describe our parish as it is now, and to describe what we hope it will increasingly become. These 5 statements will also shape the more detailed planning to come and so direct our efforts to grow and strengthen God’s Kingdom here in Newton Abbot and Ogwell.
WELCOMING: We offer a warm welcome and rich hospitality to people of all ages and backgrounds, where ever they are on their journey of faith.
LOVING: We are dedicated to loving, serving and encouraging each other, following the pattern of Jesus, bearing with one another with grace and kindness.
FAITHFUL: We believe God’s Word is revealed through the Bible and we value preaching and teaching that encourage us to grow as disciples of Christ.
VARIED: We seek to be a prayerful community offering a rich variety of worship styles across our churches to ensure that there is a home for everyone.
ACTIVE: We are committed to being active in word and deed, making a positive difference in our communities, and proclaiming the gospel to each generation.
At some point there will be posters in each of our churches to embed these values amongst us, but to get the ball rolling, over the 5 coming weeks I’ll write a little about what these values might look like in practice.
Why is this relevant to those not on the PCC, you may ask? Because once the PCC have agreed the broad targets that flow from these 5 values, there will be conversations involving people from each church about what that might look like in each of our worshipping communities. Those ideas will be fed back to the PCC who will shape and prioritise them, (we don’t want to bite off more than we can chew at any one time), then make sure there are sufficient resources to achieve them.
As I said 2 weeks ago, all of us have a part to play in building God’s church. In previous centuries church was seen as a spectator sport, with the minister and a select band of others doing everything whilst the vast majority of people watched. Thankfully, those days are over. So let me encourage you to be praying for the LORD to reveal your part in his plans for our parish and in making these 5 values a lived experience for all who visit our churches or make their home with us.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear from more of you who’d like to be part of one of these 3 groups:
- Pastoral visiting team (visiting the sick, housebound, lonely and grieving)
- Evangelism and discipleship group (being actively engaged with sharing the Christian faith in various ways, and helping new Christians to grow in their faith)
- Maintenance crew (spending a couple of hours a week doing simple odd jobs around our 5 churches such as changing light bulbs, cleaning low level gutters, fixing locks, odd bits of redecorating)
If the LORD is prompting you to serve in one of these ways, do please get in touch. Grace and peace,
31 May 2023 Rejoice in the Trinity!
This coming Sunday is Trinity Sunday. The Trinity is one of those parts of Christian doctrine which leaves most Christians scratching their heads, speaking about it being a ‘mystery’ and reaching for analogies of clover leaves or water before trying to quickly change the subject!
I can understand that. The fact that one God is One God in Three Persons, each person being both fully divine AND fully distinct in their own personhood IS a vast mystery that we cannot fully grasp. Somebody has helpfully come up with this diagram to make those facts clear, but perhaps it leaves you wondering why it matters. Can’t we just say that God is Trinity and leave it there? I don’t think so. We will never fully grasp what God is like - we’d need to BE God to do that. But since the doctrine of the Trinity is a core part of Christian belief, we should at least know why it matters. So in good trinitarian fashion, let me suggest 3 reasons why.
1: It is the way the Bible describes God. The scriptures contain God’s self-revelation of himself to us, it’s where he tells us what he is like. And although the word Trinity doesn’t appear in the Bible, the tri-unity of God (God being three distinct persons but one God) is the only way of making sense of God’s oneness AND that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are all described as being fully divine.
2: It is the only reason we can worship Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and feel confident in their actions and attitudes towards us. Think about it: If the Father is NOT God- then there must be a greater being somewhere, and so his commands for us to worship him alone are a wicked delusion. If Jesus is not God, then we are still lost in sin (only a perfect substitute would do) and lost in ignorance, because Jesus could not have truthfully revealed God to us. And if the Holy Spirit is not fully God, then who is it living in us??
3: It is the reason we know that God is love. Love always needs an object; someone or something to love. If God had ever been a solitary being, then he would only have been able to love after he had created someone or something to love. In that case, love would not have been core to God’s identity. But we believe in a trinitarian God, a divine family, where love has always been present and poured out between them. One writer puts it this way: Forever the Father has loved the Son in the joy of the Holy Spirit.
So don’t file the doctrine of the Trinity away on a shelf somewhere; mull it over and rejoice in it!
If you want to read further on this subject, let me suggest The Good God (Paperback) - Michael Reeves - 10ofThose.com This is a fabulous book about the sheer goodness of God and his abundant, joyful love - love that starts between Father, Son and Spirit and overflows to us and all creation. It is a delightful book, that not only help clarify our thinking about the nature of the God we worship and how he is utterly different to all other gods, but also stirs the heart to worship.
Grace and peace,
26 May 2023 Your turn to serve
As you may well know, the football season is reaching its climax. For some of you this may be a huge relief – either because your team has had a terrible season, or because you really don’t like football! For others, the tension is still growing because there is still much to be decided – not least whether Luton Town will make it into the Premier league! (Let the reader understand!)
The end of season also brings award ceremonies for Player of the Year, Manager of the Season, Best Newcomer, and that kind of thing. But whilst individual awards can celebrate those who have made a particular contribution to their team, the fact is that football, like church life, is very much a team affair. In a team, everyone has a part to play, a role to fulfil, a contribution to make. Likewise in church, all of God’s people are expected to be involved in its mission and ministry, putting to good use the gifts, time and talents God has given us.
At our APCM I mentioned 3 needs; 3 areas where we are looking for people to serve.
1: Safeguarding. This is an urgent need. We are looking to appoint a new safeguarding officer to oversee the work of the church in this crucial area. It requires good administrative skills, an attention to detail, and being able to handle confidential and sometimes sensitive information with integrity and grace. Full training is provided – much of it online- and there is plenty of support from the Diocese. It would be possible to split the role between 2 or 3 different people.
2: Pastoral visiting team. We want to strengthen our pastoral care and feel the best way to do this is to establish team of people willing to share the responsibility for pastoral visiting with our clergy and readers. Ideally, we are hoping to find 2 or 3 people from each church who have gentle spirits and a heart for the sick, lonely, suffering and housebound. Might this be you? Are you kind, a good listener, encouraging and compassionate? Might you be willing to call or visit people within our church family, also bringing them some gentle spiritual encouragement by sharing a few verses of the Bible and prayer with them before you leave? All those on the pastoral visiting team will need to complete safeguarding checks, but this new team gives us a wonderful way to care for one another, and there will be lots of support available.
3: Evangelism and Discipleship team. One of our 5 core values as a parish is that we want to be truly welcoming community of churches (more on that next week). But our welcome must go much further than a smile and handshake to those who just happen to walk by; it must also involve going out with the invitation to come in. So we want to establish team of people who are committed to going out with the good news of Jesus. This might involve door-to-door visiting or activities in the town centre. It might involve planning special events, or helping the rest of us get better at sharing our faith. It might involve running enquiries courses, discipleship groups or reading the Bible one-to-one with someone to help them get to know Jesus better.
If you are interested in serving in any of these ways, please do get in touch with me, or Gareth, or Ben. In the meantime, let’s all make sure that we are playing our part, whether on the field, on the touchlines, or in the back rooms and training grounds. Our season doesn’t end until the Lord blows the final whistle, so let’s keep serving until then.
Grace and peace,
17 May 2023 Holy Communion - What is happening?
Over the last two weeks, we have explored the breadth of understanding that the Church of England has, both in name and how often we should receive the eucharist. As a denomination, the Church of England (as I’m sure it will not surprise you) encompasses a range of theological perspectives and understandings regarding the sacrament of Holy Communion. This week we delve into some of the different understandings and approaches to Holy Communion within the Church of England, highlighting the richness and diversity within its tradition.
As you read through these descriptions, it is likely that you will find resonance with one or more of them, while others may appear unfamiliar or have been overlooked for some time. Our hope is that this exploration will not only deepen your own spiritual connection but also provide an understanding of how fellow parishioners connect with God around the communion table.
Sacramental Presence: One understanding of Holy Communion within the Church of England emphasises the sacramental presence of Christ. This view, often associated with the High Church or Anglo-Catholic tradition, stresses the real presence of Christ in the bread and wine. It holds that through the act of consecration by an ordained priest, the elements become the body and blood of Christ while retaining their outward form. Adherents to this perspective believe in the mystical union with Christ through the sacrament, and the elements are treated with reverence and awe.
Memorial and Symbolic: Another understanding, commonly associated with the Low Church or Evangelical tradition, is a memorial or symbolic view of Holy Communion. Followers to this perspective focus on the symbolic meaning of the bread and wine, considering them as representations of Christ's sacrifice on the cross. This view places greater emphasis on the act of remembering and commemorating Christ's death and resurrection, rather than emphasising a literal transformation of the elements.
Dynamic Encounter: A third understanding, found across various theological streams within the Church of England, is the concept of a dynamic encounter with Christ in Holy Communion. This perspective recognises that while the bread and wine do not physically change, the sacrament is a powerful means of encountering Christ spiritually. It emphasises the role of faith, personal reflection, and active participation in the sacrament, fostering a transformative experience for individuals as they engage in communion with Christ and one another.
One of the central questions about communion is who can and can’t receive. The Church of England has an understanding of Holy Communion as an expression of hospitality. The sacrament is seen as a celebration of unity, inviting all baptised Christians to partake, regardless of their denomination or background. This perspective recognises that the sacrament is a unifying force that transcends theological differences, emphasising the shared identity of all believers in Christ.
The Church of England encompasses a broad range of understandings and approaches to Holy Communion, reflecting its diverse theological landscape. While these perspectives may differ in their theological nuances, they all share a common focus on the significance of Holy Communion in the life of the Church. Whether highlighting the sacramental presence, the memorial symbolism, the dynamic encounter, the Church of England seeks to create meaningful encounters with Christ through the celebration of the Eucharist. By embracing this diversity, the Church fosters an environment where individuals can engage with the sacrament in a way that resonates with their own faith journey and understanding of God's presence.
It is this wide theological perspective that motivates us to expand our styles of worship, ensuring that as many people as possible can experience a full and vibrant relationship with God, while simultaneously appreciating and celebrating the differences of others.
11 May 2023 Holy Communion - How often makes sense?
Today we continue looking at the subject of Holy Communion. Having thought about its variety of names and the idea that it is a sacrament, the next questions that came to my mind were how often should we receive communion, and what happens if we don’t achieve this?
The frequency of the Christian sacrament of Holy Communion has varied throughout the last 2000 years, reflecting changes in the historical and theological contexts of different Christian denominations. In the early Christian Church, Holy Communion was often celebrated during Sunday liturgy and daily worship, but the frequency of the sacrament was not strictly defined.
During the medieval period, the Roman Catholic Church developed a more formalized approach to the celebration of Holy Communion, which led to less frequent reception of the sacrament. Confession before communion became a requirement, and many people only partook once or twice a year.
In the Protestant Reformation, the frequency of Holy Communion became a point of contention between different denominations. Martin Luther advocated for frequent communion, and the Lutheran Church generally celebrates the sacrament weekly or more. Other Protestant denominations, such as the Calvinists, tended to celebrate communion less frequently, often only a few times a year.
In modern times, many Christian denominations have returned to more frequent celebrations of Holy Communion, with weekly or bi-weekly communion becoming more common. However, the frequency of the sacrament can still vary widely depending on the denomination and individual church practices. Ultimately, the frequency of Holy Communion reflects each denomination's theological understanding and traditions.
For the Church of England, our tradition starts after we separate from the Roman Catholic church. During the medieval period, the celebration of Holy Communion in the Roman Catholic Church was often accompanied by complex rituals and ceremonies that could make it difficult for lay people to understand or participate in the sacrament. This led to the development of the practice of receiving communion in one kind only (i.e. only the bread or the wine), which was intended to make the sacrament more accessible.
When the Church of England broke away from the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century, it retained the practice of Holy Communion but made some significant changes to the way it was celebrated. The Book of Common Prayer, which was first published in 1549, set out a new liturgy for the celebration of Holy Communion that was intended to be more accessible and understandable for the laity.
In practice, the frequency of Holy Communion in the Church of England during the 1600s varied widely. Some churches may have celebrated Holy Communion more frequently, while others may have only celebrated it a few times a year. In some cases, access to Holy Communion was restricted based on social status or moral character, and only certain members of the congregation were allowed to receive the sacrament. It wasn't until the 19th century that more regular and frequent celebrations of Holy Communion became more common in the Church of England.
Since the 1980’s the Church of England has revised and updated its liturgies for the celebration of Holy Communion, incorporating new prayers and hymns, and making changes to the wording and structure of the service. However, the essential elements of the sacrament have remained the same: the bread and wine are consecrated by the priest, who then invites the congregation to receive them as the body and blood of Christ.
Today, the Church of England celebrates Holy Communion in a variety of styles and formats, ranging from traditional high church services with elaborate vestments and incense, to more informal services with contemporary music and minimal liturgy. The frequency of Holy Communion also varies between different parishes and congregations, with some celebrating the sacrament every week and others only a few times a year.
I wonder if you notice that, throughout history, the sacrament is a gift to us by God and therefore God does not judge us on how often or not, we receive, only encourages us to do so. Our Church of England history gives us the ability and joy to receive Holy Communion in a variety of ways, from the formal highly choreographed Anglo-Catholic splendour to a minimalist, relaxed low church service.
I know that the power I have to define the right way to do something can be quite powerful. However, I would encourage you to think about your sense of what is normal, natural, and neutral. Then find your place in this wonderful mystery.
Having looked at the naming and frequency, next time I am going to try and find a way in a few hundred words to give voice to what might be happening when we receive communion.
4 May 2023 Let's gather around the table, let’s talk and eat! Letter from Rev'd Gareth Regan
Why talk about Holy Communion?
One of the parts of worship that both join us together across the Christian family and is unique to our faith, is how we remember Jesus and what he achieved. Yet it can be one of the parts of the service that is most diverse in words and practice. It made me think about how you (if you ever have had to) describe that part of the service.
I have deliberately avoided even naming this part of the service, because the moment I do, somebody will say it should be called “insert your preferred name” with all the reasons why it should. So let us start with understanding what the names are and why we use them. This might then start us thinking about what the meal might mean to us and to others.
In the early church the name most often used was “agape feast.” Agape is a Greek word, and one of the many that means love, and would make a better name for the early church experience “love feast.” This language helps focus on the celebration of God’s love and our shared love of each other.
Another Greek word we use is “eucharisto” this word means “to thank” which has changed slightly to Eucharist. When we use this word, we mean that we are thankful and our sharing in bread and wine becomes an expression of our gratitude for what Jesus did for us.
The meal can also be called “Holy Communion.” These two words talk about how the act is set apart from the normal and is of God, “Holy.” It is also a shared experience, “Communion”, not just between God and the recipient but also those around us.
Some might use the “Lord’s Supper”, referencing the last supper on the Thursday of easter. This focuses on remembering that night, with the echoes of the traditional Passover meal, and what Jesus was going to do and now has done.
I wonder if the name we use doesn’t somehow reflect our theology? But the one golden thread that joins all of the above is that it is from God and a gift. I now must pick one to use for the rest of the article!
People might also refer to the Lord’s Supper as a sacrament. This word has a broader theological meaning but helps to summarise what is happening at the point we enter into the Lord’s Supper. The dictionary definition for sacrament is “a religious ceremony or ritual regarded as imparting divine grace,” or as I learned in vicar school, “an outward sign of invisible grace” (from Augustine). This means that this word is not exclusive to the Lord’s Supper but can also be used for rites like baptism. However, it shows us something of the nature of what God is doing.
In the next few weeks, we will look at some other parts that make up the Lord’s Supper, such as what are the elements? What do the parts of the service mean and why are some very important and others less? How often should we receive to be Christian? So, come and journey with me as we head to easter and the last supper. So gather around the table with me, and let’s talk and eat.
26 Apr 2023 Work - in step with God
When we met for our early morning prayer meeting on Monday, we began by reading Psalm 127. It begins like this: “Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labour in vain.” As we enter the week of our APCM, a time of looking back and looking ahead, we need to keep this in mind.
This isn’t saying that we can sit back and let God do all the work. Quite the opposite in fact. As God’s people, we are all to be labouring in building the church. Not all in the same way. Not all with the same talents or intensity. But if God’s Kingdom is to grow and flourish in our Parish, then it is all hands on deck. The APCM will see some people lay down a particular kind of work, with others taking up those roles. Serving on the PCC may not interest you in the slightest, but make no mistake, if you are part of the church in this parish, God is calling you to active service!
The clear warning here, however, is that however hard we work, however busy we become, however full a programme of events and services we aim to provide; unless God is at work amongst us, we will end up accomplishing nothing, except growing increasingly weary! No, the church will only grow if the LORD builds it. That means that all our efforts must involve building to God’s design, not ours; sharing his Gospel message, not ours; and building according to God’s methods, character, and standards, not ours. That makes the process of ‘church building’ a spiritual task that demands prayer and faithfulness, love and divine wisdom, taking an eternal view of things, not a short-term, worldly view.
So as we prepare for the APCM at St Paul’s at 7pm on Wednesday evening, can I encourage you to pray. Pray for those taking up new posts, and those stepping down, that God will guide and bless all our efforts with his wisdom and grace, that we might become the people and the church he wants us to be. For if we work in step with God, then we will be building something that cannot be shaken, though the earth itself give way!
Grace and peace,
19 Apr 2023 Jesus - with us- forever!
The readings both last Sunday and this coming Sunday focussed on meetings with the risen Jesus. If you had to choose, for which one would you most like to have been present?
Perhaps you’d like to have been with Mary, as she saw the Risen Lord by the empty tomb?
Perhaps you’d love to have joined the 2 disciples on the walk to Emmaus, and heard Jesus leading an extended Bible study from the Old Testament?
Perhaps you wish that you had been there in the upper room, as Jesus stood amongst his disciples for the first time?
Perhaps you’d love to have seen the look on Thomas’ face as Jesus appeared before him, offering his nail-pierced hands to be touched, and you’d have joined Thomas in declaring ‘My Lord and my God!’
Or perhaps it’s the barbecue on the beach that sets your spiritual heart beating most. And it would have been incredible, wouldn’t it, to have shared a meal with the Lord there, and seen him deal ever so gently with Peter.
Which ever one you would choose, it’s worth reading these passages again and again, meditating on these scenes and letting the truth of the physical resurrection of Jesus strengthen our faith and warm our hearts afresh. For Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!
It may be that thinking about such encounters leaves you feeling jealous, wishing you had such an encounter yourself, thinking that your faith would be so much stronger if you had. The latter might well be true, but we need to be clear that we are not left without evidence. We may not have seen the risen Christ, but others did, and their testimonies have been written for us so that we may also believe. As John writes towards the end of his gospel:
“Jesus performed many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples that are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing, you may have life in his name.” John 20:30-31.
So don’t fret about the evidence you don’t have! Revel in the truth of the gospel accounts and trust in the evidence that you do!
So as you walk the walk of faith, rejoice in the truth that as a believer in Jesus, you have the Spirit of Jesus with you now. As Jesus promised, he did not leave his disciples comfortless, but he came by the Holy Spirit to dwell in, and among, his people forever. That’s true when we are on our own, and true in an even greater way as we gather together as God’s people, when Jesus is with us by his Spirit.
And rejoice too, that one day we also will see Jesus in the flesh. For the eternal kingdom of Jesus is a physical kingdom, on a renewed and perfected earth, where God will dwell with his people forever. That will give us all plenty of opportunities to walk and talk and eat with our risen Lord in a way and a place even more glorious than enjoyed by the first disciples! This too is well worth our prayerful meditation.
Grace and peace,
12 Apr 2023 Glorious truths for God's resurrection people!
We began our Easter services with the traditional Easter greeting: Hallelujah! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah! And since Easter continues for a few more weeks, let me wish you all a very happy Easter!
For Christians of course, whilst the liturgical season of Easter ends at Pentecost, we remain Easter people, resurrection people, every day of the year throughout our whole lives. What difference does this make? Let me suggest 3 things for you to mull over and rejoice in this week: The resurrection of Jesus gives us hope in the face of death, hope before the judgment seat of God, and true confidence in Jesus’ identity.
Without the resurrection, we have no hope in the face of death, for only in Jesus’ resurrection is the power of death defeated and the hope of eternal life made certain for those who trust in Jesus. Without the resurrection the grave remains an exit-less box, funerals a final goodbye, and this life a meaningless journey from birth to death. But because of his resurrection, those in Christ can face death without fear and with supreme confidence, knowing that the One who defeated death himself can and will also take them through the darkest valley and into eternal life.
Without the resurrection, we have no hope before the judgment seat of God, because it’s only at the cross that the price was paid for our sin, and it’s only through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead that we can be sure that Jesus did, in fact, secure our full, and free pardon there. As St Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:17-18: If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins, and those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. But because Jesus rose, we can trust the promises of God that forgiveness of sins ‘and all other benefits of his passion’ are available to everyone who comes to Jesus in repentance and faith.
And without the resurrection, we have no certainty about the true identity of Jesus. If there had been any doubt as to the claims of Jesus to be the Messiah, the King of Israel, God’s Son, then surely the cross dashed them all. Hanging on the cross, bloodied, bruised, battered and naked, Jesus looked anything but a king. Yet by his resurrection, Jesus was declared to be God’s only Son, our Lord, who sits at the right hand of the Father and who shall come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.
One hymn writer, mulling over the power of the resurrection of Jesus and our confidence in Christ puts it this way:
No guilt in life, no fear in death, this is the power of Christ in me; From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny. No power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from His hand: Till He returns or calls me home, here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.
As God’s resurrection people, may you revel in these glorious truths this week.
Grace and peace,
9 Apr 2023 Easter Reflection
How has your journey through Lent been? Have you kept up your reading programme or stayed true to the commitment you made to fast in some way? Or have you become distracted?
Getting distracted is very easy. Life is busy. The pulls of family, jobs, hobbies, homes and gardens are strong enough in themselves, but add in the weakness of the flesh, and it’s all too easy to waiver, falter or fall away. And that’s as true in Lent as it is the rest of the year. But wonderfully, on his walk to Jerusalem, Jesus did none of those.
For some months Jesus had Jerusalem in his sights, and despite knowing just what would await him there, Jesus had walked steadily towards the city and his death. Luke 18:31: “Jesus took the 12 aside and told them: “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him. They will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.” Verse 34 goes on to say that the disciples did not understand what any of this meant, but whilst they were in the dark, Jesus knew all too well.
So why did he walk that road? Why was he willing to take up his cross? Let me suggest 3 reasons:
1: It was why he had come. Jesus came ‘to seek and save the lost’. To ‘give his life as a sacrifice for many.’ Even at his birth, the gift of myrrh and the words of Simeon to Mary
1 pointed to this truth. And whilst the disciples didn’t understand it when Jesus told them, he knew how his mission would end. Jesus came to die.
2: There was no other way. The whole of the Old Testament teaches us that God works to provide forgiveness for guilty sinners by the death of an innocent substitute, dying in the place of the guilty. The Passover points to that, as did the sacrifices in the temple. But they were merely signposts pointing to the One Sacrifice that would properly atone for sin, once and for all. The righteous must die for the unrighteous. For us to be forgiven and brought back into fellowship with God the Father, God himself needed to bear our sins. And this he did, in Jesus.
3: Out of love for sinners like us. But why did God bother? Why not treat us as our sins deserve? The answer here is love. ‘For God SO LOVED the world that he gave his only son.’ God’s love is ‘so amazing, so divine!’ This divine love is wide enough to reach around the world to include all who would repent and believe. It is deep enough to cover even the sins of the foulest sinner. It is strong enough to withstand our failings and wanderings and falterings. And it powerful enough to last for eternity.
As we walk through this Holy Week, may we reflect more deeply on our desperate need for God’s love, mercy and grace, and gaze in fresh wonder at the means God used to bring it to us: the death of his precious Son, Jesus Christ.
May God bless us all in this endeavour, that our celebrations on Easter Day might be all the sweeter for it.
Grace and peace,
29 Mar 2023 There is no fence!
As you will know, this coming Sunday is Palm Sunday. Palm crosses have been organised, we’ll have the reading from Luke chapter 28, and although we won’t have a donkey, we will sing some wonderful Palm Sunday hymns and songs. To me, it’s a Sunday which is always full of an extra layer of joy, as we join our praises and welcome to that of the great crowds who lined the streets as Jesus made his entrance into Jerusalem.
But of course, Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem doesn’t please everyone, and the religious leaders demand that Jesus silence the crowds. The crowds’ proclamation that Jesus is God’s long-promised, Messiah-King who comes in the name of the Lord, both disturbs and frightens them. It frightens them because it looks as if Jesus has won over the people. It disturbs them, because Jesus’ kingship threatens their own authority and independence. In Israel, as in our own lives, there can really only be one King.
Of course, we know how the events develop.
Over the days between Palm Sunday and Good Friday, Jesus continued to teach and preach and challenge. And although it looked as if Jesus was unstoppable, when push came to shove, the religious leaders still had enough clout to stir up a large crowd to call for Jesus’ death. Crowds, and people, can be pretty fickle, can’t they.
Sometimes we can get caught up in a crowd going one way, and the collective fervour and the emotions of the moment get us cheering along to songs we don’t know and for a cause we’re not sure we believe in. At other times, a very different crowd can draw us in and lead us in the entirely opposite direction.
Between Palm Sunday and Good Friday, the crowds moved wildly between two opposite opinions: From lauding Jesus to hating him. Strange as it may seem to us, ultimately that is our only choice. We will either accept Jesus on his own terms, taking him as our Lord and Saviour, following him, serving him, living for him; or we will end up rejecting him entirely. A polite refusal to accept Jesus’ as Lord may not look like hatred. A polite acceptance of some of his teaching or a recognition of his place in history may even appear to be a polite nod in his direction. But this is no politician or earthly ruler we are seeking to side-line. This is Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God; begotten of his Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten not made…
Perhaps right now we may feel more like an interested bystander than either a fervent follower or fierce opponent of Jesus. Perhaps we are still looking on, considering what we make of this man who claimed to be King and God. That’s a reasonable place to be, as long as we are thinking things through. But ultimately, we do all need to choose. In the final reckoning there is no fence.
CS Lewis famously put this choice in these words: “You must make your choice: either (Jesus) was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
As we prepare to celebrate Palm Sunday, may our hearts be ready to receive Jesus on his terms; as Lord and Saviour and Divine King over the world, over his church, and over us.
Grace and peace,
25 Mar 2023 The Lord’s Prayer - a Prayerful Meditation
An example of prayerful meditation on the Lord’s Prayer
Sometimes familiar words can trip off the tongue without engaging the mind or stirring our hearts to praise and worship. The Lord’s Prayer can certainly be like that. But as I hope you’ve seen over the past few weeks, there are deep rivers of truth and great riches of joy to be enjoyed when we take a closer look at these wonderful words. But how might we do that in prayer? By taking our time, pondering each word, and stepping off those familiar paths and letting our hearts wander freely into other Biblical truths we know so well. Here is just one example starting with the first 4 words.
OUR FATHER IN HEAVEN…
I see from Jesus’ prayer, Heavenly Father, that you are not just MY Father, but OUR Father, the true father of all those who belong to Jesus. Thank you for bringing me into this vast family of people old and young, rich and poor, of so many colours and cultures and languages. Thank you that I have brothers and sisters in every country around the world, and that we share the same Father and same elder brother, the Lord Jesus Christ…
(At this point, you could pray for the church around the world and here in our Parishes, that our belonging to God might mean that we truly care for each other…
1 Or you could start to praise God for Jesus, through whose death and resurrection we can be adopted into God’s family…)
But I do thank you that you are also my FATHER. You are not just a distant deity, cold, unfeeling, disconnected from the world, unconcerned about your people, but you are a FATHER, and a father to me! I know that many people have fathers who let them down, but you are a perfect Father, whose love is constant, whose provision is generous, whose care and protection are unending and ever-sure...
(At this point, you could start to thank God for his love for you, his provision to you, his care and protection over you.
OR you might also use this as a chance to pray for those who need to experience and know their Father’s tender care, which IS there, even when we don’t feel it.
OR you might also pause to pray for those without earthly fathers, or those with abusive fathers, that they may know God as their true Father…)
And I praise you, Heavenly Father, that you reign over all; you are our Father IN HEAVEN. All authority and power are yours, O LORD, over earth and heaven, over those who know you as their King, and those who don’t. You made the world, the universe by your powerful word, and filled it with life. You sustain it by that same Word, and steer history to your chosen ends. You raise up rulers and authorities, and bring them down. You promise to build your church, and say that the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it!
(At this point you might want to continue to praise God for his sovereign rule over all things, which means we do not need to give in to fears or panic about the future, either on a worldwide scale or in our own lives...
OR you might want to pray for certain leaders and political situations at home or abroad…
OR you might want to thank God that although he is Our Father In Heaven, he is not distant, but present with us by His Holy Spirit, and reflect on the joy of that wonderful truth…)
The Lord’s Prayer is a storehouse of wonderful truths, a framework for endless prayer and praise, and worth meditating on word by word, phrase by phrase, year by year.
Grace and peace,
15 Mar 2023 For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory!
For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever, Amen!
A look at the footnotes in Matthew chapter 6 reveals that the words with which we close the Lord’s Prayer are only found in some late manuscripts. It seems likely then, that these words weren’t spoken by Jesus. So why do we say them every time we say the Lord’s Prayer?
Two reasons, I think. Firstly, because they are a very early addition to the prayer. They are found in a book called the Didache-The Teaching of the Lord Through the Twelve Apostles to the Gentiles, which some scholars have dated to the end of the first century or early 2nd century. This make it very probable that this final doxology (or hymn of praise) was added to the words recorded for us in Matthew and Luke’s gospels very early in Christian history, perhaps by the apostles themselves.
And secondly, because they help us end our prayer with praise! These great final words close the Lord’s Prayer in the same way that a composer might end a great piece of music: with a nod to the major themes in the rest of the prayer and a great flourish!
Can you spot the major themes referred to in this ending?
We recall God’s kingdom, which we have prayed will come.
We note God’s power- by which his will is done on earth, and in Heaven.
And we speak of God’s glory- which is glimpsed when God’s name is truly hallowed.
And these three, God’s kingdom, power and glory, are eternal. They will never, ever end. That is why this prayer has been prayed by Christians across the world for the last 2000 years. And it’s why this prayer will continue to be prayed until Jesus comes again and we finally see God’s Kingdom come in all its fulness, his power demonstrated as the earth and heavens are made new, and his glory shine like the sun. And then, if the one true God we have been praying to truly is OUR Father in Heaven, we will get to enjoy him forever and ever. Amen!
The Amen at the ends our prayers confidence. In these days of word processors, it’s an underline or making bold or using CAPITAL LETTERS to make a point. It’s that final cry of ‘So be it!’ Or ‘Let it be done!’ It’s a fist in the air cry of ‘Yes! Do it Lord! Hear our prayer! We trust you to answer!’
And wonderfully, we can be supremely confident that He will. Not always in ways we expect. Nor always in ways of which we might approve. But his name will be hallowed, his kingdom will come and his perfect will will finally be seen to be done. And one day all our prayers to be kept from temptation will be answered as the evil one will be thrown into the lake of Fire and will trouble God’s children no more.
If you don’t routinely pray this prayer, might I suggest you give it a go. But say it slowly. Think about every word. And let your prayers wander from these well-worn paths into less-trodden byways. Next week I’ll share one such meditation to give you a start. Until then, let’s pray with Jesus, as he taught us, and for His and his Father’s glory.
Grace and peace,
8 Mar 2023 Lead us not into temptation ...
Back to the Lord’s Prayer this week: And lead us not into temptation... but deliver us from evil.
Given that James chapter 1 verses 13 and 14 tell us that God does not tempt anyone, we might think this is a rather redundant phrase. After all, God is a promise-keeping God, who cannot and will not act outside of his nature. He does not tempt us, so why would we pray that he would not lead us into temptation? But the sense of the prayer here is that God would prevent us from being led into temptations that might overpower us, causing us to sin.
We all know what temptation feels like. We all have our weak points. That person who pushes our buttons. That topic of conversation which sets us off. That situation we struggle to walk away from. That desire we struggle to resist. That sin that so easily entangles. I know where I am weak, so in those situations it’s vital that I pray that the LORD would be good to his word and not let me be tempted beyond that which I can resist.
Wonderfully, we have a Biblical warrant elsewhere for a confident prayer in this regard, because 1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us that “And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” That’s good to know isn’t it. Of course, having a way out doesn’t always mean that we take it. Just as knowing the right thing to do doesn’t always mean that we do it. And when we fall into sin, when we fail to resist temptation, the enemy is quick to condemn, to call us failures, to whisper the lie that God will never accept us again, that his forgiveness has a limit, that we are unloved. If we listen to his voice, our sin can drive us away from God. And if that is the result, then evil would have won the day. In 1 Peter 5:8 the apostle warns us that “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” And he will, if we let him. But we can, with God’s help, resist him. We can stand firm. We can resist temptation.
Three things help us. Firstly, knowing God’s commands and keeping his laws in our hearts will mean that we know where we need to say no and walk away. Secondly, knowing ourselves better. Just as a former alcoholic will avoid visiting bars, and a gambling addict avoids casinos and bookmakers, so when we have fallen once we will know our weaknesses, and can take sensible steps to avoid the temptation ourselves. Thirdly, constant prayer. Praying the Lord’s Prayer is a great model. In it we come to God our Father, seeking to live for his glory, asking for his help - and are reminded that when we sin, He promises to forgive all who ask. But there’s more. The writer to the Hebrews tells us that in Jesus we have a saviour who has been tempted in every way, and perhaps even far worse than we are, and yet was without sin. Because of that, we can “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4: 16.
But we must not imagine that God is somehow cruel by allowing us to be tested. Instead, the LORD uses tests and trials as means to prove and grow our faith. It’s like that in the gym; as I work hard and lift weights or ride that bike further, so my strength grows. In the same way, as I stand firm in the face of trials and temptation, so my faith is proved and strengthened, and I know with greater certainty that the LORD is God and good and sufficient for all my needs.
Times of trial and testing will come, so let’s pray that the LORD will plant his word in our hearts, guide our footsteps, and hear our prayer, that we might stand firm and sure in our faith.
Grace and peace,
2 Mar 2023 Response to General Synod proposals
We’re going to pause from working through the phrases of the Lord’s Prayer for a week so I can bring you up to date with some important decisions made recently at the Church of England’s General Synod. This body is made up of Bishops and elected clergy and lay people from every diocese across England. As well as discussing the CofE’s response to various matters, it makes decisions on national budgets and mission priorities, as well as on liturgy and doctrine, and 3 weeks ago it narrowly voted to approve the Bishops’ plans to, amongst other things, provide liturgy and prayers that would enable clergy who choose to do so, to bless same-sex marriages or civil partnerships.
This news has been received with shock and disappointment by large parts of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and as a result, some provinces have already broken fellowship with the Church of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Across the Church of England, people on both sides of this debate are also unhappy with the outcome. For many it is not nearly enough progress towards equal marriage. For many others, it is a huge step too far. Here in our parish, Gareth, Ben and I are united in our belief that these proposals mark a substantial move away from the historic and Biblically orthodox teachings of the Church to which we hold. As well as going against the CofE’s own canons around liturgy, we feel the move is pastorally damaging, a hindrance to our mission, and that instead of ending the debate it will cause far greater division. There isn’t space in this column to outline our reasons, but I have written in more detail to the PCC about this and I’m happy for them to share that letter with you. But we are agreed that we will not preside at such blessings when they are available for use.
I realise that some of you may be hugely disappointed or hurt by our stance. Others of you may be in full agreement with us. Still others may not have given this topic much thought. To enable us to consider things thoroughly, we will be holding a series of gatherings after Easter to look together at the scriptures and discuss the complex issues raised by these proposals. This is of vital importance to the future of the Church of England, so wherever you stand, I hope you will take the time to come along. If you need to chat before then, all three of us would be happy to sit and discuss this topic with you.
In the meantime, we assure you of our prayers, and ask you to join us in praying for our Churches, the Church of England and the Anglican Communion around the world.
What happens now?
Right now nothing has changed and no one can use these proposed prayers and liturgies. Before the July Synod, the House of Bishops are aiming to refine their draft liturgy, produce clear pastoral guidance for clergy on how these measures will work, and write new guidelines to replace ‘Issues in Human Sexuality.’ This latter document describes what sexual conduct is acceptable for Anglican clergy, and all clergy must agree to uphold these standards when they join the Church of England. The bishops have a huge task, and there is every possibility of a much longer delay. However, whilst General Synod will discuss the revised liturgy and other documents, the fact that they have already been approved in principle means that unless the bishops have a change of heart, they are almost certainly going to be approved for use. In fact, since the bishops have argued that their proposals does not mark a change of doctrine, they will not be subject to synodical approval, and could simply be issued with the bishops’ commendation.
Whilst we wait for developments and our own discussions, let me suggest a few books that might be helpful in allowing you to think through this complex and highly-charged issue. The first 2 are autobiographies written by same-sex attracted Christians who were once opposed to the Church’s teaching, but who are now seeking to live a celibate life. The latter books should be self-explanatory. You might also find the resources at www.livingout.org and https://anglican.ink engaging.
Gay Girl: Good God – Jackie Hill Perry
A War of Loves – David Bennett
Is God Anti-Gay? - Sam Allberry
What does the Bible really teach about Homosexuality? - Kevin DeYoung
A Better Story – Glyn Harrison
Same-sex Relationships – John Stott
Grace and peace,
22 Feb 2023 Forgive willingly, freely, completely!
As we forgive those who sin against us.
Forgiving those who hurt us, or someone we love, is one of the hardest things we are called to do as Christians. Yet it is a command of Jesus, and one embedded in the Lord’s Prayer no less.
Following hot on the heels of our request that the LORD might forgive us, it’s impossible to miss the significance of that link. We are to forgive others as God forgives us. That means that we are to forgive willingly, freely, completely- how ever large or painful the hurt. Whatever cost there may be, we are to bear it, as Jesus bore the cost of our forgiveness.
To stress the importance of this, Jesus told a parable about 2 servants. One was forgiven a huge debt, but he refused to forgive the debt of a fellow servant who owed him just a pittance. (You can read about it in Matthew 18:21-35.) At the end of the parable, Jesus warns us what to expect from God if we refuse to forgive.
You may feel that this is beyond you. That the wounds you have received and the hurt you have been dealt is simply too much. That is not fair of God to demand so much of you. That you simply cannot do it.
You may be right. To forgive truly from the heart is, in some case, not humanly possible, hence the fact that Jesus tells us to pray about it. Forgiveness is God’s work, and unless God gives us the strength, we may find ourselves unable to do it. Yet when we pray for strength to forgive, He does hear us and answer.
Corrie Ten Boom spent several years in a Nazi concentration camp for hiding Jews. Like everyone else she endured terrible treatment in appalling conditions. Despite knowing the LORD’s strength and peace during this time, she also saw her sister die at the hands of cruel guards. After the war, Corrie began to tell her story about God’s love and provision. On one occasion, a former guard came to hear her, and at the end of the meeting he approached Corrie to shake her hand. She had just been speaking about the grace and love of God to her, yet here was this man who had shown her terrible cruelty and had been at least partly responsible for her sister’s death. A battle raged in her mind for a few moments, until Corrie heard God’s voice reminding her of all that Jesus had suffered to win her forgiveness. Then she knew what she must do. In view of God’s mercy to her, how could she now deny mercy and forgiveness to this man? Corrie’s story is not unique. You may have heard of other Christians who have also reacted like this. As they have done, then so should we.
Of course, we need to want to forgive. It’s possible to hold on to hurts and offences from the past and simply refuse, thinking that we are in the right, that they shouldn’t get away with it. But that isn’t the way of Jesus and that can’t be the way of His disciples.
If that’s where you are right now, then can I suggest 3 things. Start by praying that God would remind you of the depth of your own sin and the wonder of your forgiveness. Then, start praying for that person, that God would bless them and change them more into the likeness of Jesus. It’s hard to hate a person you are praying for. Then, ask for his help to forgive and say the words. You may need to repeat this step over and over again. But eventually, the LORD will change your heart.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean you need to trust the person again, or be best friends. If a crime has been committed, it’s also possible to forgive the hurt to yourself AND to seek justice under the law. Forgiveness is about our attitude to a person, a person for whom Jesus also died. And if God stands willing to forgive all who sin against him, then so should we.
Grace and peace,
15 Feb 2023 And forgive us our sins…
Whether you prefer to say sins, trespasses or debts, this line in the Lord’s prayer reminds us that we owe God a debt of some kind, and that we are utterly reliant on God’s grace and mercy to have those debts or sins cancelled. We can think about this debt in a number of ways.
Firstly, a debt of love. When Jesus summarised the Law, he told us that we must love the Lord our God with ALL our heart, mind, soul and strength. None of us do this, so there is a debt of love owed to God.
Secondly, a debt of obedience. Jesus said that we would show that we loved him by keeping his commandments. So love isn’t just an internal emotion, but an outward practice. None of us live as we should, none of us keep God’s commandments all the time. So we owe God a debt of obedience.
Thirdly, a debt for damages. This is God’s world, and the people around us have all been made in God’s image, yet very often we have behaved as if we ourselves were God, that this world is ours to do with as we like, that other people count for nothing. We share the responsibility for the mess of this world, so we owe God debt for damages. Fourthly, a debt of honour. The creation account in Genesis tells us that human beings were created in God’s likeness, to bear his image and to represent him within creation. As Christians we have a double responsibility in this regard. Having also been redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus we might even say that we belong to God twice over. And yet so often our lives do not reflect God’s perfect character, so God’s honour is shamed and the truthfulness of his word is doubted by a watching world.
All of those things and more are wrapped up in this plea for God to forgive us.
Notice that there is nothing offered in return. No bargain is made. Jesus does not encourage us to list our good points, our strengths, our achievements or our progress. We are simply to come to God and ask for his forgiveness.
How then can we be sure that he will do what we ask? After all, many of us have had the experience of not being forgiven by someone we have hurt or offended against, or of having withheld forgiveness from someone who asked that of us - (more on that next week!) We can be completely confident that God will answer this prayer because that it is in his nature (see Micah 7:18 Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance?) and it is what he has promised to do for those who ask (See 1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.).
Such forgiveness was foreshadowed in the Old Testament sacrificial system and modelled by Jesus over and over again. It is costly- it required the shedding of Jesus’ blood (see Ephesians 1:7 In Jesus we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.) – and it is complete. Psalm 103:12 tells us that as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
God will forgive us when we ask, whatever we have done, and however many times we have done it, but his forgiveness depends on true repentance. Admitting that we have sinned and done wrong, and a desire and commitment to turn away from that sinful behaviour again. This is true repentance. And when we come to God with a humble and contrite heart, God will not turn us away.
Do you need to confess something to God now? Then you can – confident in his grace and mercy for you.
Grace and peace,
9 Feb 2023 Give us each day our daily bread
I remember walking around a supermarket with one of my grandsons one hot summer’s day when he spotted something he just HAD to have. It was a Lightning McQueen hot water bottle. For those of you who have never heard of Lightning McQueen, he’s the hero from the Disney film Cars and although it was a hot day, in the middle of summer, my grandson not only wanted it, he needed it! Now to be fair to him, he was only 5 or 6 at the time, and at that age it’s very easy to become obsessed with cartoon characters, and it’s hard to distinguish between those things and the things we need. But if I’m honest, I’m not sure many adults do much better.
When it comes to our prayer life, it’s easy to be drawn into the mindset that changes God into little more than a divine vending machine who gives us what we want. We put in a request, and he delivers. But that certainly isn’t what Jesus meant when he told us to pray “give us each day our daily bread.” So what did he mean?
Firstly, the prayer is an acknowledgement that all we have comes God. We may buy our food from the supermarket, we may earn the money to buy it, and someone else may cook it for us – but it all ultimately comes from God. By asking God for our daily provisions, we are acknowledging that God is the source of everything and that we are utterly dependent on Him for everything we have. Unless God gives, we will not receive.
So secondly, it’s a plea for God to provide what we need. Throughout history, bread has been a staple diet, especially for the poor. Hence Jesus teaches us to ask God to give us what we need to live. God answered this prayer for the Israelites during their desert wanderings, providing manna – bread from Heaven- every day for 40 years. Jesus echoed that mighty miracle with his own, turning a few loaves and small fish into enough food to feed vast crowds on at least 2 occasions. By asking God for what we need, we show that we are trusting him to provide for us. Will we, I wonder?
Thirdly, it’s an opportunity to be the answer to someone else’s prayer. God is a generous giver, and we often end up with far more than we really need. When that happens, we can receive his generosity with thankfulness and enjoy his bounty. But with that bounty God has also given us the opportunity to be generous and to provide someone else’s daily bread. There are lots of ways we can do that; through food banks, child sponsorship, or sharing hospitality. Can you do that this week?
Finally, it’s a reminder that we should seek God for what we do actually need: Bread from Heaven that meets our deepest, spiritual needs. Jesus said that he was the bread of life, and for us to thrive as God’s children we need him far more than we need physical bread. If we feed on him, Jesus said, we will live forever. Today as you enjoy the food on your plate, the ‘bread’ that God has graciously given to sustain you physically, will you also be feeding spiritually on Jesus to sustain your soul? We don’t only feed on Christ when we receive bread and wine at communion, but every time we read and meditate on the scriptures. For just as Jesus is the bread of life, so he is also the Word made flesh. And in the Bible, the Lord has provided a rich feast for us. Will we enjoy that feast, I wonder?
Grace and peace
2 Feb 2023 Your Kingdom Come!
Over the last 2 weeks we’ve looked at WHY we should pray, and touched on HOW we should pray. There’s a huge amount more to say on these subjects of course. So, before we get into the first of a few columns on WHAT we should pray, let me recommend 4 great books on the subject that have helped and inspired me in my prayer life.
Pray Big by Alistair Begg, Prayer by Timothy Keller, A Praying Life by Paul E Miller, The Valley of Vision by Arthur Bennett. They are all available through our online book store https://www.10ofthose.com/uk/affiliates/NAB, Choice Words, and, of course, other booksellers.
The final one, rather than being about prayer, is a collection of Puritan prayers. I particularly love how their deep theology and passion flows through their wonderful language. I can’t pray like this… but I have benefited greatly from reading the prayers of those who can. I’m sure you will too.
When his disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, he famously taught them what we call The Lord’s Prayer. We say this prayer almost every time we meet together, and it’s a wonderful way to sum up our prayers. But more than being a prayer to pray by rote, I suspect that Jesus actually wanted to teach his disciples a pattern of prayer. Hence Jesus begins by teaching his disciples that their prayers should start with God.
Our Father in Heaven, hallowed by your name.
Your kingdom come; your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.
In this section of the Lord’s Prayer, we remind ourselves that God is in charge. He’s the one in Heaven, He’s the one on the throne; He’s the one with the power and authority. In prayer we are come to our Lord God and creator as his creatures, and it’s only right we acknowledge that. Of course, as Christians, this God of all glory and power is also our Father. We should still approach God with humility, but this fact should give us great confidence that God will hear us. Indeed, Jesus tells us that He will and that he longs to!
The second line is an invitation to join with the angels and archangels who stand before the throne in Heaven and declare God’s holiness and glory. But do we spend time praising God for who he is? Do we meditate on his character and become ‘lost in wonder love and praise’? These same words are also a prayer for the rest of creation to join in that same song. When we pray, hallowed be your name, we’re praying that other people might also come to see God as true and righteous and holy, and join in the heavenly anthem. It may not feel it, but we’re praying for people to become Christians.
The last 2 lines take that prayer further. We could see this as the longing for Jesus to return, like the cry of ‘Maranatha!’ In Revelation 22, and there are times when I feel like that! But it’s also a prayer that God’s kingdom and influence would grow in us, in the church, and out in the world. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see greater peace in society, people being patient and kind, more generous and willing to serve, valuing each other and treating each other with respect? Wouldn’t it be great to see more of those things in the church! Of course it would! And this change comes as God’s word is heard, believed, lived out and shared. In this way, the prayer for God’s kingdom to come starts with you and me.
So how does the Kingdom of God need to break through into your life, your family, your work and friendships? Ask Him, pray this prayer, and watch what happens as you obey his call.
Grace and peace,
25 Jan 2023
Humbly, confidently, individually and collectively! How to PRAY!
Last week I wrote about the reasons WHY we should pray: It’s a command of Jesus, a privilege for God’s children and because God is almighty, good and faithful, and answers the prayers of his people. But if those are 3 reasons why, what about HOW we should pray? Once again, we turn to the scriptures for some answers to this question.
We are to pray humbly. Jesus was scathing about those who loved to stand on street corners and pray so that everyone would hear them, Matthew 6:5. They were really concerned about their own reputation, and were praying to be seen and heard by other people and rather than by God. This is a danger of praying out loud, and if we are likely to fall into that trap, it would be wise for us to pray in secret rather than in public (see Matthew 6:6). Humility should also mark our prayers in 2 more ways. Firstly, in the words we use- we are not to keep on babbling like pagans, thinking God will hear us because of our many words, (Matthew 6:7). Prayers can be short and to the point. Our Father in Heaven knows what we need and he knows what is on our hearts, so we don’t need to butter him up with long, flowery prayers! And secondly, we should pray with humility in that we pray for God’s kingdom to come and His will to be done, not ours, (Matthew 6:10). Jesus himself gave us a wonderful example of this when he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. Can we pray humbly like this?
We are to pray confidently. Sometimes we can become reticent to pray because we feel it isn’t our place to ask God for anything. I’ve lost count of the times people have mentioned their needs before adding, “but of course there are people who are in a far worse situation than me,” as a way of downplaying their own need. But we are to be confident in God’s love for us, as well as for others. And confident of His interest in our lives, as well as theirs. What a sad family it would be if we felt that our parents were only interested in our siblings, and not us! So let’s be confident when we make our requests because we come to a Father who loves us deeply, and who longs for us to pray to him with all kinds of requests, petitions and thanksgiving (see Philippians 4:6). Finally on this point, let’s be confident in God’s power to act and to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). Alistair Begg recently wrote an excellent book entitled Pray Big! (Available at Choice Words or here: Pray Big (Paperback) - Alistair Begg 10ofThose.com) In it he makes the point that Christians are sometimes reluctant to pray because we have a small view of God’s power. Let’s pray confidently because God can do all things!
1 We are to pray individually and collectively. I’ve already made the point that Jesus commends personal private prayer, and wonderfully, we can pray on our own wherever we are! This can be silently or out loud- since the Lord also knows the cries of our hearts. We’re even told that when we can’t find the words to pray, ‘the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.’ Romans 8:23.
But the most frequent pattern in the New Testament is that Christian believers prayed together when they met. And whilst many of these prayers may well have been silent, it’s clear that many were out loud. See Acts 1:24, Acts 4:24, Acts 6:6, Acts 9:17, Acts 16:25, amongst many others. Not everyone gathered would have prayed aloud, yet many did, hence the reason we know what they prayed, and I’m sure that all those there were strengthened by hearing the prayers of other Christians and were able to join in a hearty AMEN!
This final point is another encouragement to come and join in our new corporate prayer times. The next one is Monday 30th January at 7:45pm in the church hall at St Paul’s. We’ll start with some sung worship, read some scripture together and start praying. If the only word you say all evening is AMEN, we’d love to have you with us!
Next week we’ll start to work our way through the Lord’s Prayer and consider WHAT we should pray, but for now, remember to pray humbly, confidently and both individually and collectively!
Grace and peace,
24 Jan 2023 Why pray?
With our new cycle of weekly prayer gatherings beginning next week – see below – I thought it might be good to spend a few weeks thinking through some basics about prayer, starting with the question WHY? Why should we pray? I wonder how you would answer that question? I’d like to suggest 3 answers.
Firstly, we should pray because Jesus tells us to pray. Prayer is a command.
Just before introducing the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew chapter 6, Jesus tells his disciples that when they pray, they are not to be like the hypocrites. Notice that word when. It isn’t if you pray. But when you pray. And if we are disciples of Jesus, then we need to take his commands to heart and obey them. We should pray because Jesus commands us to pray.
Secondly, we should pray because we are allowed to pray. Prayer is a privilege.
In prayer, you and I get to speak directly to the King of Kings and to the Lord of lords. No mediator is necessary – Jesus has finished that work! No special qualifications are required, as precious daughters and sons of the King of Kings, and brothers and sisters of the Lord Jesus, it is our privilege and right to bring our requests, our concerns, our praises and all times and in all places, straight to the God of all power and the God of all comfort. To not pray, or to not pray much, is to demonstrate that we do not value this privilege, perhaps even that we do not value or trust or love the Lord. Many people spend an awful of time trying to get access to those in positions of power and authority of this world. Some try to bribe their way in. Some try to ingratiate themselves to the one they want to reach. Some will do crazy things simply to get noticed. You and I are invited to speak to God. What a privilege that is! We should pray because we can!
Thirdly, we should pray because God answers prayers. Prayer is powerful.
Towards the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells his disciples to ask, seek and knock because, Matthew 7:11, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask!” James picks up the implications for prayer in the 4 th chapter of his letter when he tells his readers that often they do not receive things from God because they do not ask. Prayer is powerful! We have a God who hears and answers our prayers!
Now of course we have to be careful here. God is not a divine vending machine, giving us everything we ask for. Just as no good parent ever gives their children everything they ask
1 for, because some of those things would be harmful. But God does always answer in a way that works for our good and his glory. One writer put it this way: “God always gives us what we would have asked for in prayer, if we had known everything that he knows.” And whilst it’s also true that God doesn’t strictly need us to pray before he acts in the world, God has ordained prayer as his chosen means of working his purposes out. So we should pray because prayer is powerful!
Prayer is a command. Prayer is a privilege. Prayer is powerful. Three great reasons why we should pray. Why not choose at least one of these dates and times below and join us as we pray together.
Monday 23 rd January
Monday 30 th January
Monday 6 th February
Monday 13 th February 7am-8am On Zoom - contact the church office for the link
7:45pm-9pm In person at St Paul’s Church- just turn up.
9:15am-10am On Zoom - contact the church office
1:15pm-2pm In person at St Paul’s Church- just turn up.
Grace and peace
11 Jan 2023 Join a Home Group! Letter from Rev'd Gareth Regan
We would like to introduce Home groups to the whole of the parish. For some of you this makes complete sense. For others this will be a new idea - you might want some help in understanding what they are, why they exist and how you can get involved. Let’s start at the beginning, with what the first Christians did, and we get some idea of how the first Christians (those who came to faith after Pentecost) spent their time. This passage from Acts gives us some clues. Have a look at it and think about what stands out for you.
The fellowship of the believers
"They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." Acts 2:42-47
For me there are a few things. I love the encouragement that the Lord was adding to their number daily and that they were filled with awe at the wonders and signs that were happening. I like these parts because they are parts of God’s Kingdom that I would love to see more in our parish.
Back to some of the questions from the first paragraph. ‘What are Home groups and why do they exist?’ At their best they are small groups of people meeting regularly to share life together (All the believers were together and had everything in common). This means that you can find a place where you can be supported and support others; and it helps you to enjoy life together. (They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people.)
They are also a great place to discover more about God and his Kingdom. (They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship). I often think that on a Sunday morning, you might want to know something about the passage you have just heard but we don’t talk about it, and there is a lot to talk of afterwards; a home group is a great place to do that.
How do I get involved? We have a number of groups that we will be planning to start after the 23rd of January, these will be in various locations and times of the day. If you want to join, please email me email@example.com or call me 01626 201237, letting me know any specific time of the week you are not available and then I can suggest a group for you to join.
4 Jan 2023 Finding True Happiness 1: Bible and Prayer
Let me begin by wishing you all a very Happy New Year! And since true happiness and joy flows from God, “may God fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every good way.” Colossians 1:10a
Wouldn’t it be amazing if that prayer might be answered for all of us over 2023! What a difference that would make to our own lives, our churches lives, the life of our benefice, town and villages! And wonderfully, the means of God answering that prayer have been given to us by our gracious heavenly Father! All it takes is his people, you and me, being diligent in using those means of grace.
And what are they? Regular fellowship with other Christians; reading, believing and obeying God’s Word; and prayer. I say a little more about regular fellowship with other Christians, particularly as that links to home Bible study groups next week. Today I want to make brief comments on the other 2 elements.
I don’t expect that many of us would be content with only eating one meal a week. Frankly, I find it hard not to eat between my 3 main meals of the day, let alone waiting 7 days for another plateful. But so many Christians try to live by only hearing and reading God’s Word on a Sunday. And that is nowhere near enough.
So over the 1st few weeks of January we will have a small bookstall in our churches, provided by Choice Words Christian book shop with a range of Bible reading notes from quarterly publications to annual plans. Can I encourage you to take a look and to consider buying one? If the best way to get to know somebody is to spend time with them, then one of the best ways to get to know God better is to spend time with him in his Word, the Bible. So do take a look. If you’d rather have something on your mobile device, then there are many apps available. Why not take a look at Truth for Life, UCB Word for Today or Daily Spurgeon. Explored and Daily Bread notes are also available on line, and the Church of England also does a version of Daily Prayer.
Prayer is also a vital part of getting to know God better. And like studying God’s Word, it’s something we can do on our own, and together. I suspect that all of the Bible reading notes above will give pointers for prayer, but I want to encourage us to pray more together. Over the last 3 months I’ve spoken a number of times about the huge spiritual needs of our parish. In the face of such needs, we may feel weak and ill-equipped, but God isn’t weak. His power has not diminished, his desire to save the lost has not waned, and he longs for us to come to him and ask for his help. In fact, every powerful move of God in history has been preceded by God’s people crying out to him in prayer. So how can we do that?
From mid-January will be holding weekly prayer gatherings on a four-week rota.
This will start with a zoom prayer meeting from 7am to 8am on Monday 23rd January.
The following week Monday 30th January will be an in-person prayer gathering at St Paul’s from 7:45pm to 9pm.
The 3rd opportunity to pray will be back on Zoom – this time from 9:15am to 10am – on Monday 6th February.
We’ll complete the rotation with a lunchtime prayer gathering at St Paul’s from 1pm -1:45 pm on Monday 13th February, and in time, we’ll move the physical gatherings across the parish.
Whilst it would be wonderful to have huge numbers for each prayer meeting, for now my hope is that we might each commit ourselves to coming to just one of these meetings and joining together in prayer for God to move in us and in our parish.
If the idea of praying out loud frightens you, please don’t worry. No one will be forced to pray out loud, but there will be plenty of help and encouragement as we grow together in prayer.
So this year, you commit yourself to get to know God better? Will you commit yourself to read his word more and join with his people in prayer? It is how we grow in our faith, and how God moves through his church. May it be so with us in 2023.
Grace and peace to you all,
21 Dec 2022 Overflowing Joy in Jesus!
Last week I reflected a little on the life transforming peace that comes as we turn to Jesus and walk with him. This week, rather appropriately for this Christmas edition, we are thinking about Christian JOY.
The birth of a baby always brings joy, and how much more so the birth of Jesus! In fact, the joy at Jesus’ birth started before he’d been born as we see in the songs of Mary and Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. But at that first Christmas, the joy flowed in full measure. The shepherds heard a message of good news of great joy, and when they had gone down into Bethlehem and seen Jesus for themselves, they went home ‘glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen!’ The magi too, were filled of joy. Seeing the star showing them where Jesus could be found ‘they were overjoyed!’ And they went in and worshipped him. And as for Simeon and Anna in the temple, their joy knew no bounds! Like uber-proud grandparents they couldn’t help tell everyone about the child they had just seen and held in their arms.
If all this joy came at Jesus’ birth because of all He was going to do, how much more should our joy overflow when we contemplate all that he accomplished by his life, death and resurrection! So here’s my Christmas countdown of 10 things that should bring us great joy in Jesus.
- Knowing that in Jesus, God revealed himself in history in human flesh.
- Knowing that through Jesus incarnation, God understands our weaknesses.
- Knowing that God loved us so much that Jesus went to the cross.
- Knowing that Jesus’ heart towards sinners and sufferers like us is gentle, lowly and kind.
- Knowing that through Jesus our sins can be utterly forgiven.
- Knowing that through Jesus we are adopted into God’s family as his beloved children.
- Knowing that Jesus is with us always by God’s Holy Spirit.
- Knowing that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is ours in Christ Jesus.
- Knowing that Jesus is praying for us now.
- Knowing that Jesus will come again as king and judge and renew all things.
- Knowing that we will live forever with Jesus in God’s perfect and eternal kingdom.
Each phrase is worth meditating on, it’s deeper truths and implications drawn out, for as we do that, the joy of Jesus will well up and overflow. That was the experience of the shepherds, the wise men, of Mary and Joseph, or the disciples and all who heard and believed the gospel. And because it is something rooted in history and grounded in the character of God who always keeps his promises, it is a joy we can know whatever our circumstances.
And that’s my prayer for us all this Christmas and into 2023, that ‘the God of hope would fill us all with joy and peace as we trust him so that we may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.’ (Romans 15:13)
As we settle in for our first Christmas back in Devon, Judy and I send you all our love and best wishes. May God bless you and your families with this God’s joy, peace and hope this Christmas!
Grace and peace,
And here are 3 Christmas songs to increase that joy! Enjoy! (1) Keith & Kristyn Getty, Matt Boswell, Matt Papa - Sing We the Song of Emmanuel (Official Lyric Video) - YouTube and (1) Happy Happy Day ~ Colin Buchannan ~ lyric video - YouTube and (1) Glorious Light with Lyrics - YouTube
14 Dec 202 Jesus - Prince of Peace
Last week I reflected a little on the height, depth, length and breadth of God’s love for us. This week, I want to say a little about the peace of God which should fill the heart and mind of Christians.
Peace is something we all want in one way or another. Peace and quiet, peace from worries, peace from war and strife. Everyone wants to find peace. And in Jesus we have the Prince of Peace; the one who promised his disciples a peace that the world cannot give. But what does that mean, exactly? Let me suggest 4 things.
1: Peace with God. This is St Paul’s theme in Romans 5 as he explains how through faith in Jesus, we can know peace with God. Before we come to Christ we stand as God’s enemies (5v10), excluded from his presence, standing under his wrath. But through the death of Jesus, we can, by faith, gain access into the grace of God (5v1), and know that we have been reconciled to the Father through the death of his Son. Everything else that follows flows out of this stunning act of mercy. The wonder of the gospel is that this peace is available to all who ask.
2: Peace with ourselves. Once we know peace with God, and realise just how loved and secure we are in him, we can also have peace with ourselves. No one knows our own failures and weaknesses better than we do. No one knows those dark secrets that haunt our minds, but us. But God does! Yet as we saw last week, his love for his children knows no bounds, it has no limits, it never comes to an end. So I no longer need to judge myself or hate myself for the kind of person I am or the things I’ve done in the past. I can bring those things to God and rest in his verdict on me, that I have been ransomed, healed, restored and forgiven. In Jesus, I can find peace with myself.
3: Peace with others. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the moment we become a Christian, that all our relationships become perfect! Sadly, that isn’t the case, because outside of Jesus there are no perfect people. But we can, as far as it depends on us, find peace with others, even those we might think of as adversaries or enemies. How might this happen? Knowing that we, with all our weaknesses and sins, are loved by God, should make it easier to love and accept others. Knowing we have been forgiven by God should make it easier to forgive others. Knowing that our ultimate treasure is in Heaven, should make it easier not to be threatened by others. As followers of the Prince of Peace, it’s our duty to be those who love peace and make peace, and having peace with God helps us do that.
4: Peace in the present and for the future. This overlaps hugely with the hope I spoke of 2 weeks ago, but knowing that we belong to God, that nothing can snatch us out of his hands, and the nothing happens to us in life without his say so, should give us a tremendous peace, even in the midst of life’s worst storms. As the disciples found on that literal storm on the lake, fixing our eyes on Jesus isn’t always easy, but with the Lord, the Good Shepherd, by our side, we need not fear, even in death’s darkest valley. Ultimately, the future belongs to Jesus and we belong to him.
All this, and more, is wrapped up in the promise of Jesus to give us his peace. Which of those different aspects of God’s peace for the Christian do you need to receive more of today? As you think on that question, you might like to listen to these 2 songs. (1) It is Well with My Soul • T4G Live [Official Lyric Video] - YouTube (1) Jesus, Strong and Kind (feat. Colin Buchanan) - YouTube May they bless you and encourage you to rest in the peace of God.
2 notices to end with.
CAROLS AND MULLED WINE at the Rectory on Friday 16th December from 7pm. We’ve still room so do let Judy or I know if you’d like to come.
FINANCE RESPONSE FORMS. If you haven’t yet received, read or responded to the letter regarding our Parish finances, please try to make the time to do that over the next 2 weeks or so. Each church has a stack of letters and copies can be collected from the Parish Office. If you’d like one emailed to you- do ask.
Grace and peace,
11 Dec 202 God's unchanging, unending, glorious love
Before I reflect a little on the love of God which is poured into our hearts as we await the return of Jesus, I want to mention 2 things about life in our parish churches.
Firstly, if you were in church on Sunday you would have picked up an important if lengthy letter about the state of our Parish finances. In summary, the letter explains that our reserves are almost entirely exhausted, we are relying on rental income and the gifts of Christians from previous generations to survive, and we urgently need to raise the level of congregational giving. If you haven’t yet received a letter, there will be some in each church on Sunday, or you can email the office on firstname.lastname@example.org or pop in and collect a paper copy. Please don’t forget to complete the response slip and return it to your church or the church office.
Secondly, at the PCC meeting last month, we agreed to purchase new Bibles and service books, (all now in use), and also to change the pattern of services for the coming year, reviewing the changes in autumn 2023. From January then, the pattern of services will be as follows, with 5th Sundays still being Benefice gatherings:
The ‘Service of the Word’ will be similar to the current service of Holy Communion, but without the Eucharist. We will try to ensure that any baptisms take place in these services, but the extra time will also allow time for periods of refection, extra songs, interviews etc. Do chat with me, Gareth or Ben if you have any questions.
The aim for all these changes, as well as the work the PCC are doing forming a Mission Action Plan, is that we grow in our faith, get better at sharing that faith with others, and offer a welcoming and varied range of Sunday worship where people can hear of and experience the love of God for themselves.
What is that love like? It is eternal, for even before the creation of the world, the Father was loving the Son in the joy of the Holy Spirit. This love is high enough to reach from the stable in Bethlehem to the heights of Heaven. It is deep enough to reach to the worst sinner in the lowest pit of sin and shame, wide enough to include people from every race, language, culture, background and class, and long enough to last from eternity past into eternity future. It was this love that led the Father to send Jesus to be our Saviour. It was this love that took Jesus to the cross in our place. It is this love that is showered on us through Jesus. It is a love that cannot be taken away, used up or worn out. As the Jesus storybook Bible puts it: God’s love is a never-giving-up, always and forever love.
Human love often runs out, as those of us who have been deserted by a partner or friend will know. Human love has a time limit, for death separates us from those we love. Human love is often conditional- we receive love when we do well, but receive hatred or are ignored when we fail. But God’s love is unconditional and never ends. He loved us even whilst we were unforgiven sinners and wanted nothing to do with him, and when we come to Jesus in repentance and faith, the Father adopts us as his beloved children and lavishes his love upon us more and more and promises to never, ever let us go. What amazing love this is!
And this love isn’t just something to know about, but something we can and should experience, for as we live with Jesus as our Lord, as we draw close to God in prayer, as we read and meditate on God’s Word, and gather with his people in worship, so God himself draws close to us and pours his love into our hearts.
Is this your experience, I wonder? Do you know the height, depth, length and breadth of God’s love for you? Is this love your comfort and your joy, both in good times and in bad? It can be. It should be. For it is how our Heavenly Father feels about his children. Of course, like all relationships, we can distance ourselves from God through disobedience, lack of prayer and Bible reading and public worship, and when we do our relationship with God grows cold. But God’s love for us will not have changed. That is always the same. Only our experience of his love will alter. And he stands ready to welcome us home and embrace us again, as the prodigal son was embraced by his father.
If you feel unloved by God, then start to walk back to him again. Fix your eyes on the cross where the love of God is revealed to be in glorious, heart-filling technicolour, and rest in his unchanging, unending, glorious love.
Grace and peace,
PS: Here are 2 of my favourite songs about God’s love. One a traditional hymn, one a great song for adults and kids! (1) Here is love, vast as the ocean - Robin Mark - YouTube (1) Your Love Will Last Forever | All-Age Worship from All Souls - YouTube
And if you’d like to come and sing of God’s love at Christmas, don’t forget the invite to carols and mulled wine at the Rectory on Friday 16th December from 7pm. Do let Judy or I know if you’d like to come.
Grace and peace
30 Nov 2022 Infused with HOPE!
Firstly, let me start with an apology for the error in my column last week which was entirely my fault. The ‘Coffee and Apocalypse’ discussions following on from our Advent Sunday sermons will still be at the Rectory, but on Wednesday afternoons from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. This week, however, I will also be available after the Wednesday morning communion service at St Paul’s to chat through any questions. Apology over – back to our Christian hope and what we are saved FOR.
Last week I spoke very briefly on the huge and exciting topic that we are saved for a perfect eternal communion with God. I also made the point that although we won’t fully experience that closeness and wonder until eternity, we do start to enjoy the blessings of eternal life now. Enjoying a new life in the midst of the old, if I can put it that way.
How does that show itself? Firstly, through infusing us with HOPE.
Over the last few decades there have been a few times when hope and optimism have been the mood of the country. Think of Tony Blair’s election to the soundtrack of “things can only get better.” Yet hope seems to be in short supply these days. Economists are predicting a gloomy future. Prices are going up. Wages – in real terms – going down. There is war in Europe, unrest around the world, global warming on the horizon, fear of another more potent Covid variant and nobody really expects any world government to be able to do anything about any of these things. Hence the lack of hope, a lack of hope, incidentally that is even more profound amongst the young.
But the Christian faith is very much about hope. And not just a vague kind of wishful thinking about the future, but a certain expectation for the future, based on real events in the past that changes everything about the present.
Our hope for the future, for eternity is based on the fact that Jesus died and rose again, and his promise that all those who trust in him will also be raised. That means that however bad life gets now, and however bad things look, our ultimate future is glorious. That no matter how powerful governments or multinational companies become, they will not have the last word. Our Christian hope is that through faith in Jesus I am promised an eternity in the new creation where there is no more pain or suffering, sickness or disease, loneliness, hunger, fear or death.
That is our Advent hope.
That is the hope of the Christian.
Some time ago I read of a rather dubious experiment conducted on prisoners who were in prison for the same kind of crime. Some were told the date of their future release whereas others were kept in the dark. Both were scheduled to be released around the same time, but some of them didn’t know it, and so they lived without any hope of release. This lack of hope impacted on their behaviour, and their physical and mental health, because hope is vital to true flourishing.
When we come to Jesus we have a glorious hope for the future - you’ll hear more of that in Advent weeks 3 and 4. What’s more, we have the promise that ‘In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purposes.’ Romans 8:28. So just like Joseph sold into slavery by his brothers, Paul in prison, Jesus on the cross, or us in our own struggles, God has the power and authority to use our suffering, struggles and pain, even our persecution, for our good and for his greater glory. What a great consolation that is for us as we walk through this world. What a glorious hope we have in Jesus!
Grace and peace
p.s. If you’d like to listen to a song about our eternal hope… try this one which we sang at the CTiNA service on Sunday night.
23 Nov 2022 Know God and enjoy him forever - starting now!
Over the last 2 weeks we’ve considered what we are saved FROM and how the thought of hell and judgment should spur us on in our evangelism. That’s the good news of salvation we need to share.
But the Christian Gospel is good news not just because of what we are saved FROM, but because of what we are saved FOR: eternal life, with God, in God’s perfect new creation where we will be with the Lord forever. What’s more - whilst our experience of this new life won’t be fully ours until Jesus returns, we do get to experience this new life in part now. Right now, in this broken and frustrating world, we have divine hope, and God’s love and peace and joy are ours. And that is true because by his Holy Spirit, God is with us.
You see, when we come to Jesus for forgiveness and cleansing, God doesn’t just wash us clean and send us on our merry way to live slightly better lives. No! He saves us for himself, to be with him, to know him and enjoy him forever, starting now!
The most stunning thing in the Garden of Eden wasn’t the unspoilt creation or perfect human relationships, it was the fact that God and the people he made enjoyed unbroken and unspoilt fellowship. The Lord God walked with them in the Garden in the cool of the day, as Genesis 3:8 puts it. Here is the pinnacle of human existence- what we were made for: intimate fellowship with God. Human relationships are a joy, friendships are precious, but nothing can compare to a relationship with the God who made us and who made us to know and enjoy him forever. As one of the books on my shelves puts it: God is the Gospel. That is, he isn’t only the one who saves us; he himself is the goal of our salvation. We are saved to know him and enjoy him forever.
Think on that for a moment or two. Through Jesus’ death on the cross in our place, you and I, lost sinners, can be washed clean and brought into a deep and personal relationship with the God who made and sustains the world and everything in it. The God of all comfort is our comfort. The God of all grace showers his grace on us. The God who is love, lavishes his love upon us, his beloved children. That is what we are saved FOR. But how do we experience that closeness?
Most obviously by the presence of Holy Spirit with us, in us, alongside us - as Jesus promised to all his disciples. One day we will see God face to face in all his glory, but the Holy Spirit is God with us now, our constant companion and guide, strengthening us, assuring us of God’s love and mercy, reminding us of God’s commands and God’s promises, equipping us to live for the glory of God. Through the Spirit’s presence with us we get to walk through life with God, never alone and never deserted, no matter what season of life we are in.
Of course, our relationship with God can ebb and flow. We can distance ourselves from God by sin and disobedience, and by ignoring the means of God’s Grace. But the opposite is true too. We can deepen that relationship, growing closer to God by obedience and enjoying the means of grace God gives. Through daily prayer and meditation upon God’s Word, by joining with others for regular worship and gathering around the Lord’s Table; through obedience, seeking to submit our wills to His and through repentance when we fail; and by serving him in the world and the church. These means and more help us to draw closer to God who promises to draw close to us.
In Heaven we will enjoy God’s presence in its fullest extent, but that is also our privilege right now, if only in part. May that be our experience more and more each and day!
Grace and peace,
16 Nov 2022 Life in all its fulness!
For the last 2 weeks we’ve looked at the imperative for sharing our faith, the reality of judgment, of Hell and that there is no other name under heaven by which we may be saved than Jesus. We are the watchmen on the city walls, to use Ezekiel’s analogy, warning people to escape God’s wrath. It’s not a popular idea these days, but it was one Jesus spoke of time and time again, and the message the apostles carried as they took the gospel out across the nations. So likewise, we need to find clear, yet sensitive, ways of telling people that Jesus is the saviour they need.
But we are not just saved from hell through faith in Jesus, we are saved for a life with God that starts now and continues into eternity. This is the life we were made to enjoy, a life of peace, joy, and purpose with the God who made us, loves us and who gave himself for us. So over the next few weeks I’ll be picking up various aspects of the life in all it’s fulness that Jesus came to give us, and that we, as Jesus’ disciples, get to invite others to experience for themselves.
But before we get to my musings, let me ask you to think through that topic for yourself. How is your life better for being a Christian? What is it that makes you want to keep following Jesus? In 1 Peter 3:15, Peter tells his readers that they should ‘always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.’ If you got asked today, what would you say? If you’re struggling for the right words, I hope the past few columns and the following weeks will help you frame an answer. But there are other ways to grow in our faith too, so that we are ready to pass on the good news of Jesus that we have received.
Growing in our faith.
In the new year we’ll be (re) launching a number of HOME GROUPS. These will meet fortnightly in homes around the parish and will be open to all. They’ll be a mix of Bible study, prayer and fellowship; places where we can grow in our own faith and encourage others to grow in theirs. If you’d be interested in attending, or hosting a group, do chat with Dave, Gareth or Ben. In the meantime, we’ll be running 4 APOCALYPSE AND COFFEE discussions on the 4 Wednesdays in Advent: 30 th November, and 7th, 14th and 21st December, all from 3pm - 4.30pm at the Rectory, 5 Coach Place. During Advent the sermon series will work through the last 4 chapters of the book of Revelation, and over coffee, we’ll chat through the passage and have a chance to wrestle with any questions the Sunday sermons raised. If you’d like to come along, please get in touch with Dave or Judy.
As a clergy team, we also want to encourage you to READ GOOD CHRISTIAN BOOKS and we’re delighted to have links to our local Christian book shop, Choice Words and a new link to 10ofthose.com, an online bookstore and publisher. Staff in Choice Words would be very happy to offer suggestions, and as well as new books, they have a huge collection of second-hand titles. Why not pop in and speak to them? We now also have our own page of recommendations through 10ofthose.com, which can be accessed here: Newton Abbot benefice - 10ofThose.com.
Both of these links can be found on our website under the Christian Belief ? Explore Faith, tab on our website. Christian Belief | Newton Abbot Parishes. And the more we know, understand and experience of God for ourselves, the more we will have to talk about!
Grace and peace,
9 Nov 2022 Judgement, hell and a good God?
After a week of grandchildren during half term, Judy and I have had a week off. We’d planned to do some decorating, golfing and some nice walks. Sadly, as many of you know, Judy broke her foot during a fall at St Luke’s Milber a week or so ago, and then I picked up a nasty eye infection. It wasn’t the quiet break we’d hoped for!
When times of difficultly and suffering come, many people, even some Christians, can doubt God’s goodness. If God is good, they say, how can he let this happen? It’s the same question people ask when hell and judgment get mentioned. Perhaps that question crossed your mind after my last column. How can there be a hell if God is good? Let me suggest 4 ways to start to answer that question.
1: Without a belief in hell and judgment, any talk of God being good and just is meaningless.
Those who oppose the doctrine of a final judgment and eternal punishment for the wicked, imagine God pardoning everyone, so that everyone gets eternal life. But how can that be just? And how can a God who does that, be called good? To pardon all people would require God to be unmoved by murder, rape, torture and every other hideous crime, and to count the suffering of every victim as nothing. Even to say that lies and cruel words don’t matter, would be to diminish the dignity and worth of those lied to and spoken against, and for God himself to say that truth is unimportant. No. For God to be holy, good and just, sin must be punished, and sinners must be held to account.
2: Without the doctrines of hell and judgment, we would never understand the seriousness of our sin.
Sometimes only a clear understanding of the consequences of our decisions is enough to make us change course. It’s why there are graphic warnings on cigarette packets and ad campaigns about drink driving. In the same way, the Bible’s warnings are there to wake us from our slumber and send us to the mercy seat to seek God’s forgiveness. You see for the most part we are blasé about our sin. We can see the seriousness of the wrong things others do, but we are all too good at making light of our own sins. But the Bible won’t let us sleep-walk into eternity. Through parables and direct teaching, God shows us the consequences of our sin so that we might wake up and seek his grace and forgiveness while we have the chance.
3: Without the doctrines of hell and judgment, the cross makes no sense.
If God could simply pardon sinners, why did Jesus have to die? As an example? Surely there were better ways of showing that! To show his power over death? Then why did his death have to be so dreadful? No, the cross only makes sense when we see it in the terms the Bible uses- with Jesus, the Lamb of God, dying for our sin, in our place, as our substitute, to save us from an agony the likes of which Jesus himself suffered on the cross. The cross only makes sense if sin is serious and hell a reality.
4: Without the cross we would never understand the depth of God’s love for us. Jesus had to endure death on the cross because there was no other way to pay the price of sin. But he was willing to endure it because of his deep, wide, strong, eternal, magnificent love for sinners and sufferers like me and you. At the cross we see, more clearly than anywhere else, how great is the love God has lavished upon us, and how amazing is his grace. More on this topic next week!
So, it turns out that holding to the Bible’s teaching about hell and judgment actually points us more clearly to God’s goodness and justice, the seriousness of our sin, the wonder of the cross, and the depth, height and length of the love of God. Talk of hell and judgment isn’t the kind of thing that will get you invited to more parties, but the Christian faith doesn’t make sense without it.
Grace and peace.
2 Nov 2022 - Hell, hope and a reason to tell people of Jesus!
Hell, hope and a reason to tell people of Jesus.
Almost everyone I meet believes, however vaguely, in some kind of life after death. Even those who never darken the doors of the church and who would never call themselves Christian. Often their ideas owe more to Disney movies and popular culture than any serious thought, but it is a hope they cling to, especially when a loved one dies.
The belief goes like this. There is a hell, but that’s for bad people, REALLY bad people, rapists, murderers, war criminals and the like. Everyone else is welcomed in to Heaven, which is pretty much like life now, only nicer.
The problem is that the only person to ever come back from the dead – Jesus Christ teaches otherwise. He said that hell is real and terrible, and that unless we repent of our sin and rebellion and turn to him, then Hell and not Heaven will be our eternal fate.
Surely though, this is just an exaggeration! Isn’t it?
I sometimes ask people to tell me who they think is the best and worst person who ever lived, and then to place themselves somewhere on that moral ladder. Many people give Mother Theresa or Nelson Mandela as the greatest examples, and Hitler and Stalin as the worst. And as for themselves, they usually put themselves somewhere in the middle. Not perfect, but definitely not evil. Perhaps you’d describe yourself like that; just a normal decent person.
The problem is that compared to God’s standard we aren’t decent people. God’s standard of goodness isn’t at the Mother Theresa level, which some wonderful people might attain. It’s holy, divine perfection in thought, word and deed, and according to the Bible, we don’t miss that by a bit, but by miles. Even our righteous acts are as dirty rags (Isaiah 64:6). What’s worse, our failure isn’t just in the things we do and say and think, it’s deeper than that. Our moral compass isn’t set to true holy north so we don’t know what is right, and our hearts are self-centred rather than God-centred so we naturally rebel against our creator and his commands. The worst of us are sinners, on that we agree. But the best of us are sinners too. And according to God, we are far more sinful than we ever imagined.
And this sin is serious. Our sinfulness corrupts our world, damages our relationships and distances us from God, and the wages (the end result) of our sin, the Bible says, is death. It was the sin of Adam and Eve that brought death into the world in the Garden of Eden. And it is our own sin that inevitably will take us to Hell.
Unless we find a saviour.
Fortunately, mercifully, one is available.
He needed to be one of us, and he was. He needed to be perfect, and he was. And he needed to be willing to take the punishment our sins deserved instead of us. Wonderfully, Jesus was. And he out of his great love he did all that was required. “But while we still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8. “The righteous (died) for the unrighteous, to bring us to God.” 1 Peter 3:18.
If you had recovered from a deadly serious disease through a new treatment, and someone you loved fell ill with the same condition, would you tell them about it? Of course you would. Anyone would!
According to the Bible we are all infected with the sin virus, a virus that will lead to eternal death. But we know the cure, and more wonderfully, we know that the treatment has been provided free by someone else and there’s no waiting list! So whilst we may be more sinful than we ever imagined, it turns out that we are also more loved than we ever dreamed.
If that isn’t a reason to speak about Jesus, I’m not sure what is!
Grace and peace.
30 October 2022 Facing a Task Unfinished
Last week I left us with a question: why would Jesus command that his disciples (and by this he meant all Christians across the ages!) ‘Go into the world and make disciples of all nations, baptising them… and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.’ (Matthew 28:19-20)? Doesn’t this seem like religious imperialism, Christians seeking to impose their beliefs on others? Why can’t we just do our own thing and let others do theirs?
Firstly, Jesus isn’t advocating forcing anyone to do anything. We are called to go and tell, to invite, to call, to give a reason for the hope we have etc, etc. People can respond to the message as they choose but we are never to force or bully anyone.
Secondly, we can’t simply keep silent about our faith and let people do their own thing because the gospel message is too important and the stakes too high. To live without Jesus as Lord is to miss out on life as it meant to be lived. And to live without trusting in
Jesus as saviour is to miss out on eternal life. Jesus alone offers living water and true, living bread. Only Jesus offers life in all its fulness. And if we fail to speak up, we are failing to offer our friends and family an experience of life as it is meant to be. A life of joy, purpose, peace, contentment and meaning with the God who made us for himself and who gave himself for us. I’ll say more about this in the coming weeks.
And only Jesus is able to deal with our sin and save us from an eternity away from God in a place the Bible calls Hell. There. I’ve said it. Just like Jesus and the writers of the Bible, I believe in the reality of a final judgment, the fallenness of all people, the seriousness of our sin, and the inevitability of a terrible eternal future if we fail to turn from our sin and turn to Jesus Christ. We’ll look briefly at what the Bible says about these issues over the next 2 weeks, but whatever you think about these issues yourself, can you see why holding such a view should stir us to action? If we keep silent, if we don’t give a warning and point people to the one true lifeboat, many people will go down with the ship and face a lost eternity.
It was these two factors that have propelled the church across the ages to go out with the good news of the gospel. That God is good and his ways lead to true human flourishing.
And that a failure to turn to Christ has terrible eternal consequences. It’s why together as a parish and as individual Christians, we need to make sure we are doing all we can to make disciples across our town and villages. Being welcoming, preaching the truth, going out with the gospel and making sure that our Sunday gatherings provide a home for all
kinds of people.
Over the coming months, the PCC will be putting together a Mission Action Plan towards fulfilling our part in Jesus’ great commission. There will be some things we’ll do together, like shared evangelistic courses, kids holiday clubs and prayer groups. There will be some things each church will do individually as each church seeks to reach out with the good news of the gospel to their locality and in their own style. Some of these things will be practical - improving the hospitality offered in our buildings, upgrading heating systems and a spot of redecoration. Others will be acts of kindness and mercy whilst others will be straightforward proclamation of the good news. Some may not look it, but everything we do will help us to fulfil Jesus’ command to go and tell and make disciples.
To kick-start that process I’ve been talking with the church wardens and others about 6 changes we need to make over the coming weeks.
1: Establishing a weekly prayer gathering, because we can’t do God’s work without his help.
2: Purchasing Lectern Bibles and pew Bibles for each church, because knowing the scriptures is vital.
3: Moving away from lectionary readings so we have teaching from across both Old and New Testaments, because ‘all scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking,correcting and training in righteousness.’
4: Starting a stewardship campaign, because the level of our current giving is far too low to support growth.
5: Providing each church with new and different service books to add variety to our Sunday worship.
6: Becoming less “vanilla” and more “Neapolitan” by changing service patterns in some churches, so there is a broad spectrum of church worship styles across the parish, and far more people can find a true spiritual home.
What will this final step look like
Abbotsbury will continue to offer a contemporary style of worship.
St Mary’s Wolborough will become a base for Prayer Book worship, with a service of Matins and a Book of Common Prayer communion service each month.
St Bartholomew Ogwell and All Saints Highweek will continue to offer a sung service of Holy Communion on most Sundays, with one service in 3 at each church being a non-Eucharistic Service of the Word. This liturgical ‘Service of the Word’ will include hymns, readings and a sermon and also a creed, a confession and said prayers.
St Paul’s Devon Square will alternate between a non-sung service of Holy Communion and a Service of the Word, and ministers will not be robed.
With St Luke’s Milber already offering an Anglo Catholic Eucharist every Sunday, we will almost offer a complete range of Anglican worship across the mission community.
As I said at St Paul’s on Sunday, change is often hard to cope with, especially when it touches something as important as how we worship God. So if you are feeling worried or concerned by any of this, please do come and talk to me. I’ll be taking the 10am Wednesday service of Holy Communion at St Paul’s, why not come and chat to me afterwards. I’ll also be popping in to the coffee mornings at Ogwell on Friday and St Paul’s on Saturday morning - so come and speak to me then. But as we seek to become a parish where each church and each believer is actively engaging with the Great Commission, let’s remember who we are serving and why it is so important. And please do pray for me and the PCC as we discuss these plans at our meeting in mid-November, that God will direct and equip us to see many new people becoming disciples of Jesus over the coming years.
And if you need some inspiration, why not have a listen to this song we sang at my induction, a song that reminds us of the task ahead. (1) Keith & Kristyn Getty - Facing ATask Unfinished (We Go To All The World) (Live) - YouTube
Grace and peace.
23 Oct 2022 Good News to share!
By the time you read this, Judy and I will have welcomed around 80 people to our home for tea, coffee, drinks, cake, nibbles and conversation. (If you weren’t able to come, we’ll find another couple of dates later in the year.) As well as getting to know each other a little better, I took the opportunity to explain a little of my vision for the 5 churches in our parish, and stressed the need for us to be far more focused on reaching out with the good news of Jesus.
But why should we bother? Why go to all that trouble? After all, evangelism isn’t easy, is it! Many of us are nervous about talking about church, let alone Jesus. And when it comes to explaining why we are Christians, and sharing the hope we have through Christ, our anxiety levels can go through the roof. So why bother? Why can’t we keep doing what we are doing, Sunday by Sunday, and wait for people to come to us?
There are a number of ways to answer this question.
There’s the pragmatic answer: If we don’t the church will die. If we don’t reach new people, then in 10-15 years the church will be dead and more of our buildings will become solicitor’s offices, museums or, God-forbid – Jehovah Witness meeting rooms! This is a reality of the Anglican church up and down the country. But reaching out simply to keep the church alive as an active organisation surely isn’t motivation enough. Clubs and groups start and fade all the time. Our motivation must be stronger than this!
What about the obedient answer? We are to reach out with the good news of Jesus, because that’s what Jesus has commanded us to do. ‘Therefore, go into the world and make disciples of all nations, baptising them… and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.’ (Matthew 28:19-20)
We’re on stronger ground here aren’t we. Our LORD and Saviour gave this command to his first disciples, and told them to make sure that taught every new disciple of Jesus to obeyed it too. This command to make new disciples wasn’t just a command for the 12, or the early church, or only for ordained or licenced clergy. This was a command to all disciples of Jesus, in every age, of every age and temperament, in every place. All of us who claim to follow Jesus should be seeking to obey everything he taught and commanded (and all that the scriptures teach us!) including the command to go and tell the good news and make new disciples. Being an evangelist- someone who passes on the evangel, the gospel, the good news of Jesus - isn’t an optional extra or something just for the super keen. It’s a task for all of us who claim to be following Jesus. Me, and you.
Of course, some people have special gifts in this area and will find it easier to do. But ifyou are able to speak, or write, or use sign language... in fact, if you are able to communicate in any way, the work of evangelism is one you need to be engaged in. And if you find it hard, then get help! Talk to someone who does it well and ask for advice. Read a good book on the subject or get yourself trained! Over the coming year we’ll be running some short courses that will help us get better at sharing our faith, so if you find this difficult, make sure you come along!
It used to be said that polite people don’t talk about money, politics and religion. Well, everyone talks about politics these days, and chatting about money is no longer really taboo. But the fact that so many Christians haven’t often spoken about their faith is one of the reasons that so many churches are almost empty. We have kept silent about Jesus, we haven’t shared our faith with our family, neighbours and friends, and so the church has grown smaller and older. In this, we have failed to be obedient to the command of our LORD.
Next time we’ll consider why Jesus gave this command in the first place, but today, let me leave you with these two questions: When was the last time you shared your faith with someone not connected with the church? And if someone gave you 2 minutes to explainwhy you are a Christian, what would you say?
May we all be ready to give a reason for the hope we have in Jesus, that may we all become disciple-making-disciples in obedience to His command.
Grace and peace.
PS. If you are looking for a good book to start thinking about this, why not track down a copy of Know and Tell the Gospel by John Chapman or Questioning Evangelism by Randy Newman.
16 Oct 2022 Welcome all!
From next week I’ll be using a few of these columns to talk about the urgent need for our churches to be actively reaching out with the good news of Jesus. But all of that good work of building relationships, offering invitations and bringing people along can be swiftly undone if the welcome visitors receive is less than warm.
I spoke a few weeks ago about the warm welcome I’d received at my induction and afterwards, but as I’ve been talking to people within and outside our churches, I’m sad to say that hasn’t always been the case for everyone else. In some of those conversations, people have told me about being left unnoticed in their pews as people from the regular congregation greeted one another warmly. Of being left behind in church as the regulars all left for refreshments without a word of invitation. Others have spoken about tuts and complaints being made to parents whose children have been making a noise, doors being closed in people’s faces and such like. Some of these visitors have been resilient and kept coming. Some have settled in a different church in our parish. Others have never returned. How dreadfully sad that is. We cannot, we must not, let that be the experience of anyone else. To do so is to deny the gospel and potentially turn someone away not just from church, but from Jesus.
So how about we all try and adopt this approach next time we are in church.
1: Exercise grace. NEVER grumble if people are in ‘your’ seat- none of the seats belong to you. Treat visitors and their children with special courtesy, and if children or adults are noisy… don’t tut or complain- imagine they are special guests of Jesus and seek to love them. They may never have been in church before.
2: New people and those on their own are a priority. So go over and say hello, invite them to sit with you, or offer take them to coffee afterwards.
3: Introduce a newcomer to someone else. If you do get into a conversation, be thinking about who else you can introduce them to. This way they get to meet twice the amount of people, and will feel more at home the next time they come.
4: Friends can wait. They’ll be there next Sunday and you can call them during the week. So every Sunday, make it a priority to speak to someone you don’t know. Relationships are built over time, but first impressions count. And that’s especially true when it comes to church. So let’s have a joint commitment to draw a line under our past mistakes, and start afresh when it comes to offering visitors and newcomers a warm and friendly welcome. We can’t change the past, but we can start to build a new culture where all are welcomed, whoever they are, wherever they are from, whatever they look like and however old they may.
That kind of warm hospitality was modelled by Jesus, exemplified by the early church and has been the mark of Christian communities across the ages. May it also be said of us in the months and years to come.
Grace and peace.
9 Oct 2022 Church - what's it all about?!
Things that Judy and I enjoyed while we were living near to London included occasional trips to the theatre and concerts. We’d dress up, head into Town - getting there early enough to enjoy a pre-performance drink or a meal, and then sit back and wait to be thrilled and entertained.
That kind of attitude is fine for the theatre or concert hall. It’s even ok for sporting events (although if it’s your team playing there’s surely an obligation to cheer them on!). But that must never be the attitude we bring with us into church. We may be contributing financially, as we all must. We may be hopeful of receiving a good sermon and enjoying good fellowship and music. But our attitude cannot be one of simply coming to receive; of coming to be blessed, or, perish the thought, of simply coming to be entertained. Coming to church is not like visiting a theatre or a concert hall! For, as well as coming to receive from the Lord, our attitude must also be one of coming to give and serve. Let me explain.
We rightly come to receive the Word of God, faithfully taught, explained and applied, but we must give our ears to listen, our minds to concentrate, and having heard, we must give our wills and be willing to obey.
We come to enjoy the hymns, songs, and liturgy and to be encouraged by the words and singing of others, but we must also lift our own voices in word and song, bringing our own worship to God who is ever worthy of praise. That is pleasing to God and an encouragement to others.
We come to enjoy fellowship and welcome, and look forward to warm handshakes and conversation with friends, but we must also be those who offer that same welcome to others - especially to those coming for the first time or standing alone.
We come to be encouraged in our walk with Jesus, to be built up and strengthened in our faith, but we must also look for ways to encourage others, looking out for the weary and burdened, that they may also be lifted up. We come to receive bread and wine, tangible reminders of Jesus’ death on the cross in our place, but we only truly receive as we give ourselves afresh to Him that we might ‘live and work for His praise and glory.’
We come and are blessed by the service of others as they welcome us, lead us, teach us, play and read for us, feed and water us, and clear up after us… but we must offer our thanks and encouragement to them, and be willing to take our turn in serving others.
Arriving with the attitude of coming to church to both give and receive, to be encouraged and encourage others, to be blessed and to be a blessing, to be served and to also serve, may be a new mindset for us. But there are ways we can change. Reading the Bible passage before you come to church will set your mind on God’s word. Praying for the preacher and for your own heart to be soft will help you be ready to listen. Arriving early, to sit quietly and pray will help take your mind off the cares of the day and lift your focus to the Lord. And keeping your eyes and ears open to the needs of others will make you more ready to respond.
What is truly certain, is that the more we each give in song, obedience, prayer, service, encouragement and love, the more we will ourselves be blessed and built up in our faith, and the more the church family will grow up into the likeness of Jesus Christ, who came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Which of these might you try to put into practice this coming Sunday?
Grace and peace.
2 Oct 2022 Getting to Know You
As we put a new Mission Action Plan together, one of the questions I’ll be asking the wardens and PCC to consider over the coming months is: What kind of church should we be? What will define us as a mission community, and how will each individual church family reflect that within their own part of our parish? We won’t be short of answers, not least because the scriptures will be our guide, and they have a lot to say on the subject!
One of the joys of being a Christian is that we become part of a new family of believers, known by their love for one another. That has both an inward focus - in knowing, loving and serving each other - and an outward focus, in welcoming new people in and indeed, going out in love and mission to bring others in. I’ll say a lot more about the latter in the coming weeks, but if we are to grow as a family of believers, we need to spend time with one another. The early church was known for its hospitality and the way they shared their lives, and as followers of Jesus we must do that too. Take a look at these commands from Paul, Peter and John! Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality. Romans 12:13 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 1 Peter 4:9 We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth. 3 John 1:8 .
Many of you will know each other well and have good friends within the church family. That’s wonderful - and I hope and pray those friendships will deepen further in the coming years. But, however good those friendships, we need to make sure we are getting to know other people well too. How else can we know how to pray for each other, or what needs they have that we, or the wider church family, might be able to meet?
Judy and I are at a huge disadvantage here of course. Although we’ve met many of you, we have yet to visit 4 of our churches, and it will take a long time to get to know you all and learn all your names! So to help that along, we’d like to invite you to join us at the Rectory, 5 Coach Place, Newton Abbot, for either morning coffee, afternoon tea, or drinks and nibbles. The dates are below. Just work out when you’d like to come and either call us on 01626 335862, or email us at email@example.com. We hope it will help us to get to know you, and give you a little time to get to know us. There’s parking by the house, and on Coach Road near the entrance to the pay and display car park, from where you can walk up a little slope to our house. The dates are:
Friday 7 th October Monday 10 th October Wednesday 12 th October Friday 14 th October Monday 17 th October Wednesday 19 th October
7:30pm-9:30pm 3pm-4:30pm 10:30am-12noon 7:30pm-9:30pm 3pm-4:30pm 10:30am-12noon
Drinks and nibbles Afternoon tea Morning coffee Drinks and nibbles Afternoon tea Morning coffee
Of course, we can all start to develop our gifts of hospitality. On Sundays we could enjoy our post-church coffee with someone different, ensure we look out for the newcomer and stranger, and invite them to join us. Also, during the week - why not invite someone for a coffee, meet them in town, or arrange to go for a walk together.
Jesus said that people would know that we belong to him because of our love for one another. That starts with spending time together. So, please book in and come and join Judy and me on one of the dates above, and think how you can be more hospitable this week.
Grace and peace.
25 Sept 2022
It was wonderful to see so many of you last evening for my induction as Team Rector. Thank you for your warm welcome, and for the many prayers I know have risen to heaven over the last few months. Judy and I are excited to be here and eager to see what the LORD will do amongst us over the coming years. In some ways it’s a perfect time to begin a new ministry. The funeral service for the Queen on Monday marked the end of an era, but also launched us into a fresh epoch under King Charles III. Much will stay the same, but there will, of course, be changes. Every new monarch leads their country in their own way, just as each new minister brings their own ways and ideas to their new parish or benefice. So don’t be surprised if there are some subtle differences over the coming weeks.
What I can promise you, however, are at least 3 things.
Firstly, I will do my best week by week to faithfully open up the Scriptures so that we can all grow in our understanding of our glorious Triune God, and better understand how we are to live as his people, in his world. I believe that the Bible is God’s revealed word, and that it is good and true and utterly reliable. As we hear it, understand it, believe it and obey it, we grow more like Jesus and come to know more of the peace and joy that is our birth-right as children of God. Will you commit yourself afresh to dive more deeply into God’s word?
Secondly, as I promised on Tuesday night, I will be committed to praying for you all individually and collectively. I know my own weaknesses, and I’m sure you will notice them over the coming months and years, but through prayer we have access to the strength, the wisdom, the goodness, the boldness, the love and grace and mercy of God. He is the one who changes lives, who rescues runaways, who heals the sick, and calms the storm, and we are foolish if we ignore our rights as children of God to come into his presence in prayer to seek his help. Will you commit yourself afresh to prayer for God to work amongst us?
And thirdly, I will be doing my best to get to know you and the churches and communities amongst whom I’m now ministering. That will take time, and do forgive me if I forget your names – but I do hope you will find me warm, friendly and approachable. To help that along, in a few weeks time, Judy and I will be inviting all of you to come and share some food and conversation with us at the Rectory. That won’t be all together- the Rectory isn’t that big! - But do watch out for those dates and signup and come along.
In the meantime, can I ask for your continued prayers as Judy and I settle in to our new home. We have left family and many good friends a long way behind, but we did that because we are certain that God called us here, to serve him amongst you. Our prayer is that we would be a blessing to the churches and wider communities as we share the good news of Jesus together.
Grace and peace. Dave