“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” 1 Thess 5:11
Whether the World Cup, Wimbledon or athletics, there is a scene on television that is the most moving… it is of the crowds cheering and spurring the athletes on. Throughout the New Testament the image of a race is used, not a short sprint, but a marathon. The race is a long one, the race of life. For us to live well, to run well, we all need people to encourage and support us on the journey.
The other day I received an e-mail out of the blue from a church leader in Hong Kong that I had helped to bring to faith 24 years ago. It was so encouraging to be reminded of something that God had done through me. As a church we are reading through the Bible in a whole year and one of the things that strikes me in the New Testament is both the need for and the use of encouragement. In Rom 12:8 there is a reminder of the gift of encouragement. All of us at some level can be encouragers. Maybe this month let’s pause to think of someone who has impacted our lives in the past and send them text or e-mail about it, maybe just think of a way of encouraging one of your friends or family. It maybe a Life Group leader or a ministry leader, or maybe a colleague at work.
Genuine encouragement is powerful, it can help to pick up the broken, heal the weak, and sustain those who are running well. The world is being changed and will be changed by those who encourage and affirm. Let’s be people of encouragement and find an opportunity to pray for and encourage someone this summer.
With my thanks and prayers for you.
God Bless, John.
If you follow me on twitter @hookwayjohn you would have seen this quote at the beginning of Lent. It reflects the hope and purposes of God. At Christmas we remembered that the light has come into the world and the darkness could not overcome it (see John 1:5). Jesus himself became one of us, full of grace and life and truth.
During Lent we get to reflect on who Jesus is and who we are in the light of him. As we look at Jesus, we see someone who brings life, grace, hope, healing, forgiveness and freedom, but we also see someone who entered into life’s sadness and sorrows – its thorns.
We see this acutely as we look at ‘Good Friday’, the one who was innocent (Jesus) taking on the pain and sin of the world. One thing that clearly stands out on Good Friday is the crown of thorns. Why a crown and why of thorns? When everything went wrong as recorded in Genesis 3, one of the results was that there was a distance between God and us, (that death entered the world) as well as the fact that the ground would be cursed and produce thorns and thistles (Gen 3:17/18).
However, because of Jesus’ death, he took the curse on himself (Deut 21:23) and because of his resurrection we too can live. This means that on the cross the curse is reversed, and we see now in Hebrews 2:9, that Jesus is ‘crowned with glory and honour because He suffered death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.‘
As Christians we no longer need to fear death because Jesus has died for us. In Jesus we have eternal life, but the crown of thorns reminds us it goes further. The very ground, the ways of the world, the thistles and the suffering are not just reversed but they are transformed.
What it means is that for us, any situation can be transformed by the power of God. In any situation, even in the midst of sorrow or thorns. God himself will be with us, can hold us, and we can receive his love.
But beyond that, if God is about transforming thorns into glory, then we, as his followers too, should be about transforming thorns into glory. What we see in the crown is God’s Lordship transforming the world to be more like his kingdom. That means for us, the transformation of our world and community.
As we are embarking on the transformation of the physical building of Christ Church, it too points to our role in transforming our community and of God transforming our lives.
May we take time this Easter to reflect on the transforming power of God, and the opportunities for us to partner with Him in transforming our community.
With every blessing John.
‘Peace be with you,’ is at the heart of the Christmas message and the heart of our faith. The angel proclaimed this to Mary in Luke 1:28 and Jesus promised the disciples that He would leave his peace with them, a peace that the world cannot give, in John 14. Throughout the New Testament many of the blessings include ‘peace be with you’.
In today’s age everything can be seemingly growing faster, harder or uncertain. Jesus wants to connect with us again this Christmas and remind us of His peace, that can come to us and live in us.
As we approach Christmas we can both reflect on all that has been great… the church away day, the baptisms, the confirmations, the testimonies, the Bible readings, the people free from debt and the lives changed to mention but a few. We can also pray and prepare, taking time out to connect with Jesus, thinking about how to bless others and preparing our hearts. We can take the time to invite people to the services or for a cup of coffee or mulled wine just for a chat. We could also be praying for the five people on your prayer cards to come to know Jesus and His peace.
And then… we get to celebrate His peace with us, with our families or with our friends, and thank Him for the good things that He has done for us this year.
Then as we reflect again or as Mary did, treasure the good things in her heart, it encourages us to prepare for the next year, in hope expectancy and joy. Where there is sadness we can invite His peace and comfort to come to us, as Emmanuel God with us, into the New Year.
Let us pray for, invite and welcome, our family, friends and community to connect with Jesus who brings His peace to us this Christmas.
With every blessing this Christmas.
Acts 12:5 ‘but the church was earnestly praying to God’. This was part of the text that was read when we opened and prayed in the new offices and renovated hall on the 6th of September. The Church was praying, and it is as a result of your prayers, generosity and the goodness of God that we have completed Phase One of the Development Project.
When you look at Acts 12:1-17, we see that Peter was stuck unjustly in prison, in persecution for his faith. In this hopeless situation, the church was praying to God for him. And the story recounts how an angel, lead Peter out from the prison in a miraculous way, (it’s interesting that he didn’t realise what was happening to him, but enjoy reading the story for yourself). Then when he was out the church didn’t recognise he was at the door of their house v13-16. They were amazed at how God had answered their prayer. ‘But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished.’ At Christ Church we have the privilege of seeing people being changed by the Lord, we have the privilege of seeing people being set free from things that hold them back, and free from Sin that stops them encountering Jesus. The only way that we can truly see this transformation, that we can see the Kingdom come here on Earth as it is in Heaven, is by prayer.
As a church this academic year we are reading through the whole bible together. It is an opportunity to saturate ourselves in the story of God, for as we realise our place in the story of God, it gives us a hunger to pray that reality, to pray the promises of God into our generation and for future generations to come. It is as the Spirit leads us in prayer and as he brings the Word alive that our lives can be changed, our communities changed and the world changed. As we pray we can be amazed just like the early church at what can happen. In the new offices there is also a meeting/ prayer room and Mon-Fri at 9.00 some of the staff, clergy and readers will be meeting to pray for the church, ministries and other wider concerns that are on our hearts. If there is something you would like us to be specifically praying into for you, could you e-mail or phone the office and we would be delighted to be praying specifically for that as well. Please do also feel free to join us at any of the prayer meetings we have, full details are in the church notice sheet or website.
Thank you too for the generosity in realising Phase One of the development and may we pray in Phase Two, reordering the church interior, that we can continue to be a blessing to this community and beyond.
With my prayers for you all.
When God spoke to Abraham, he said ‘I will bless you’, he then goes on to say that he will be a blessing. In fact, God says ‘all the nations of the world will be blessed through you’.
As Christians, from the promises in Zachariah, to the work of Jesus and the ministry of the Holy Spirit, that is true for us.
God, because he loves us, chooses to bless us, to give us peace, strength, grace, hope and joy, to enable us to be faithful and fruitful in uncertain times.
Now, having passed my 6th anniversary as Vicar here, I see and am grateful for how God has been so faithful in Christ Church and how his people have born faithful witness to Him throughout the generations, for the blessing that they have received and that we now enjoy.
As we have been looking at the book of Nehemiah we see that we are at another time of receiving His favour, with the faculty now granted to renovate, renew and re-equip the church buildings. It gives us an opportunity of giving thanks for all that has gone before and passing on that blessing to the next generation and the generations yet to be born. Ps78. You will see further details later on in the magazine.
As well as buildings we also have had a number of people coming to and exploring their faith and on Nov 5th in the evening we have another opportunity for people to celebrate their faith to be baptised and/or confirmed. Do contact Caz or Christian if you are interested.
Do save the date of the 14th of October as we all gather together for our church awayday with our guest speaker Chris Fox. Further details will follow. In September we also have Jessie Dipper arriving as our worship intern to help resource our worship, alongside so many that faithfully serve in so many ways.
As followers of Jesus and as the church together, we need to continue to be open to receive God’s blessing. We need to give thanks and enjoy it when we receive it and we need always to be willing to pass it on, so that this community and nation, even to the ends of the earth might be transformed.
With my prayers for you all.
Lent is a time of waiting, of change, a time of refinement. It follows winter when all seems to have died but in spring there starts to be the hint of something new, a bud here or there, a bulb starting to poke through. In John 7:33 Jesus said that he was here for a short while later but he promised that when he went to heaven he would leave his Spirit.
John 7:37-38: ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’
He told us that his death, like winter, had to come, but then his resurrection welcomed in a new season, just like spring. In fact, he said that streams of living water would come up from within you. Not just something that touched the outside but something that brought inward transformation, life and flourishing. He said stop, come to him and drink deeply.
One of things that is always so noticeable about spring is the warmth of the sun on your face. In one of the earliest blessings, it is about the Lord shining on us.
Numbers 6:24-26 ‘The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face towards you and give you peace.’
In a world that is fast, let us take moments to stop, on the train, as we walk, as we pray, to allow the Lord to shine on us. To receive from him and be transformed by him. As we see the bud of a flower, as we see the days lengthening, as we feel the sun on our face. As we see spring coming let’s recognise that the night is over and the day lies open before us. As we travel through Good Friday, let us remember what it cost Jesus for us to be able to know forgiveness, no more guilt and shame, and as we see remember the resurrection let us see the smile and experience the hope and joy that the Lord gives. May we always be expectant for his living water of the Holy Spirit, to flow through us transforming us from the inside out, bringing new buds, in our lives, in the church and world around us. If you wish for more of the Lord, just ask Him!
Let us always give thanks for the buds that the Lord is bringing and that we are seeing.
With our prayers for you.
‘Joy To The World, the Lord has come’, is a line from the famous carol. It is also the declaration of the angels at Jesus birth (Luke 10:2) ‘I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people’.
It is a theme that runs through the Christmas season in the hearts and minds of many. There are many moments that can bring us Joy, yet in the rush of Christmas we can easily miss them. Moments that cause us to stop, to pause, to smile and laugh. Different things bring Joy for different people. Maybe it’s the warmth of an open fire, the laughter of a child, our team winning the match or a crisp bright winter’s day. Maybe the company of family or the children’s Christmas performance, or the connection with a long lost friend. Sometimes the joy is in remembering a Christmas past, or the anticipation of this Christmas.
Throughout Scripture God is a God of Joy. Joy is a gift that He wishes to give us and it’s contagious. It is a gift that comes from the inside and is so often connected with peace eg. in the song of the angels at Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:14). When we look at the life of Jesus we see His Joy, in His parties, in His humour, in His friends and above all the relationship with His heavenly Father.
When the shepherds heard of this Joy they hurried to Bethlehem to see what it was about. When they encountered Jesus, they were full of Joy, wonder and amazement. This Christmas, let us find times to celebrate with Joy, in parties, gifts and friends. But let us also take the time to look up, to worship and to see the one from whom all Joy comes, the giver of eternal life, our Lord Jesus Christ. May He be born in our hearts this Christmas and may His Joy be contagious in and from us.
With our prayers for you this season.
What marks out the church as having a distinctive place in society? It is both the Gospel and the Presence of God. In a time of change and uncertainty, what really helps bring hope and transformation? It is a God who is present with us, bringing hope, healing, freedom, forgiveness and a new start. In world that is saying ‘Does faith work?’ it is the testimonies of His work in our lives and our community that speak.
In Exodus 33:14 The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Also in Romans 1:16 we are reminded that the gospel, …is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.
It is amazing to see how God’s presence with us is bringing the good news of the gospel to life. As you ask around the church, you get to hear the stories of what God is doing; of healing, freedom from debt, freedom from past hurt or shame, stories of comfort, grace and of hope. You get to see how God is at work through so many ministries and in our community and school, from Wave to Toddlers, from Oasis to CAP, Loveware+liveware to our Youth Ministry, (to name but a few), supporting people and making a difference. If you have a story of what God is doing in your life, we’d love to hear from you. Let us continue to pray for God’s blessing upon us, upon this town and beyond. When we hear those stories around the church, let us celebrate and give thanks to the one who changes lives, our Lord Jesus Christ.
With my prayers for you all.
In Mark Chapter 4 we have the parable of the sower, and the growth that can come. We have both something that is constant, and something that is different, held before us. The Seed is the constant, ‘the gospel’, but the ground is different, some hard, some full of weeds, some with little depth and then some with fertile soil that produces 60, 80, 100 fold harvest. The seed has the power to grow and to change, to be fruitful. Currently it is the time of year that many of us will be out in our gardens, particularly if the sun does come out! It may well be that we are breaking up the soil, clearing the weeds or removing the stones. I wonder though, how we are at preparing the soil of our lives and the places where God has given us to live and work. Continue reading
As we have been looking at the book of Isaiah during Lent, we have seen the hope that God offers for his people in exile, and the hope that he offers for us in Jesus. In the midst of Darkness, hope is rising, a new light is shining. Rivers are bursting forth in deserts, and comfort in the midst of distress is experienced. Isaiah 42:3 ‘A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;’
Sometimes we can ask where is God? Isaiah reminds us, that he is with us, and he is for us. I wonder if the disciples asked the same question on Good Friday evening, or Easter Saturday while Jesus was buried in the tomb. But I also wonder at what point they realised the truth of these verses, John 12:23 Jesus replied, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.’ That just as a seed must die to bring a new plant, so must Jesus die to bring us new life. The resurrection means that we have a God who brings hope in darkness, who transforms and brings life out of death. It doesn’t mean that we will always have it easy but he promises to be with us, changing renewing and transforming.
One of the Pastors in Syria reminded me that although many nation’s ambassadors leave that country, the Christians stay. Why? Because the ambassadors of Christ never leave 2 Corinthians 5:20. They are Jesus’ light, hope and presence in the darkness.
The images of a seed remind us to look at the small, and see the hints of God’s hope and light. No matter where we feel we are today, in light or needing comfort, or hope in darkness. The reality is that the resurrection changes everything. Death has been defeated, prisons that held us have been broken, freedom in Christ is possible, it is now for us to trust and walk into His hope by the power of His Holy Spirit. Wherever you are this Easter, may you celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection and I pray that you will have His comfort, strength and Joy to walk into it.
With my prayers for you all.
As autumn is fading and winter is starting, there is almost a sense of waiting.
A waiting for spring and the new life to come. On cold, clear, snowy days we are aware that the world is pregnant with promise.
Throughout scripture there are many times of waiting, before life springs or God speaks. Creation, before God spoke it into being. The waiting of Habakkuk, or of the Israelites in Egypt or Babylon. The waiting of Zachariah, of Elizabeth, of Joseph, of Mary, or of Simeon and Anna. Of shepherds and wise men.
Many of us find ourselves in times of waiting, or in times of winter. What do we do in those times?
Spiritually there are three things we can do. We can pray (asking, seeking God’s voice, resting in his presence). We can prune, in the same way that we prune fruit trees. We can partner with God in His pruning of us to be the most fruitful version of ourselves. We can wait. Sometimes we so often long to rush on, but in winter we can stop to listen, to savour that truth, to read that story, to share that testimony, to sing songs of Joy. We can wait to hear God’s response, allowing us to be dependent upon him, to be restored, to be ready before the next spring growth.
There are two gifts we can receive during this time:
– Firstly on a clear winter’s day we see things for what they are. In winter we often see what truly matters and who we truly are. It is a gift no other season gives in such clarity.
– The second gift is a longing for things unseen. We know this is not all there is. We know there are the leaves in summer, the fruit, the flowers. Winter points to spring. Life points, to a new heaven and earth. Our season of advent, points to the seconding coming of Jesus. But in winter there is also playing to be done. Skiing, sledging, and building snowmen can only be done in winter. There are sights of ice to reflect upon, and contrasts of colours that no other season brings. And there is a celebration of all our hopes; that God himself came in Jesus, to bring us back to life with Him both now and forever. The celebration of Christmas – when the first waiting was fulfilled. May you enjoy the waiting and the celebration.
Having just returned from my sabbatical, this is firstly a great opportunity to say thank you to all of you who have covered many of my responsibilities, who have prayed and partnered with God, enabling his kingdom to grow here in Ware. In both Ps 1:3 and Jer 17:8 there is an image of a person as a tree, planted by a stream. It is the image of someone being rested and resourced. Jesus said, Come to me and you will find rest for your souls, Matt 11:29 and in Jer 6:16 it speaks of finding rest as we walk in his way.
Jesus regularly spent time re-connecting with his father, and I would encourage each of us to daily be re-connecting with God and with each other. During the sabbatical it was a great opportunity for me to re-connect with God and with others. It was also a great opportunity to see something new that God was doing. I had never been to Africa before, and in going to Soroti the poorest district of Uganda, I was able to see how God was changing lives, churches and communities through a discipleship process called PEP. In doing a series of Bible studies, groups were able to see God’s heart and plan for them. They and the local church were able to be empowered and engaged in transforming the community and working together to lift them out of poverty. Continue reading