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Videos of Talks
Video recording of Sunday morning talks can be found at https://www.youtube.com/channe
The Process of joining together Surbiton Community Church and Doxa Deo London to form Doxa Deo Community Church is well underway. There is a new leadership team, details to be announced on 5 February at the official launch, and other teams are being formed and beginning to meet. The trustees of both precursor churches are working through the necessary due diligence with the aim of forming a new CIO.
Meetings of the new church start on Sunday 8 January with meetings at 10am for 10.30am in The Assembly Rooms, Surbiton and meetings at 6pm in St Andrew's Church, Wimbledon.
I am excited with the way God has joined the hearts of the leaders of the churches together and sense an acceleration in the work of the Spirit of God in and around this new church.
We all need to be open to what God is doing and find our part in it to the glory of Jesus.
A Celebration for all the family on Sunday 18 December. Stating at 3.30pm with crafts for the children and refreshments for all. Then at 4pm we sing carols with drama for the children followed at 4.45pm with food and refreshments.
Please come and join us.
Youth and Children's Worker & Church Leader
When It’s 'All About Jesus' But That’s Hard
One of the phrases used a lot by Christians, and especially those in Christian ministry and leadership is about how what they do is “all about Jesus”. Their goal and focus is to share God’s love that others might come to know who He is and want to follow Him too. It’s a good phrase. We sing about it and talk about it…but sometimes…we want some acknowledgement too!!
After moving on from a previous job, one of the elders there wrote a book of the history of the church going right up to date. My dad was given a copy when he was down there to help with something and passed it on to me. I skim read parts of it – jumping to the bit where I came in. There I read about the things I had been involved with at the church. Parts of reports I had written were included in it too. But the thing was, my name had been taken out. I was referred to as “she” “her” and similar. It hurt. I journeyed for a while with it – what was it that bothered me about it. Because, if it’s all about Jesus, then surely it wouldn’t matter that my name wasn’t in it?
The reality is that all of us as humans like to be acknowledged, appreciated and loved. The Apostle Paul writes to the church and tells them to build each other up and encourage one another in faith.
At Soul Survivor this summer we had a precious time with our young people as we sat in a circle, in the dark and they all shared about what was happening for them – some shared testimonies of a journey to faith and others shared about experiences of God’s presence and taking steps of faith. It was an amazing time. They all knew that I was leaving – and so were two of the others there on team with me. I talked with them about how their faith and relationship with God needed to be about them and God and nothing to do with their youth leaders, and that things we had done were done with the hope and desire of facilitating them to know more of God and equipping them to journey as a disciple.
Recently, I have asked some of those who I have worked with to help me out with something I am trying to do by either sending me a message/quote/picture or a video message to say about the impact youth work has had on their life. I’ve been so touched by all of their responses so far. To rejoice over lives impacted – and to step back and let it be all about Jesus is hard, but so worth it.
I’ve been listening to the song below a lot recently after it came up on my Facebook feed through friends sharing it. I think the lyrics reflect where I am with stuff at the moment of seeking God again. Because if it is all about Jesus then I need to be closer to Jesus to make it and keep it that way.
Youth and Children's Worker & Church Leader
Head, Hands and Heart
One of my most used apps on my phone is 'Words With Friends'. I love being able to play with friends and family all over the country. The thing is - and this I'm sure will come as a surprise to many of you - I'm actually a little bit competitive...and I don't like losing. I know, shocking.
Sometimes I enjoy the games - especially when I'm hundreds of points in front of my opponent. I also enjoy it when it's close. I'm not so happy about the opposition being in front, and I really hate it when they are winning and I have a line of letters that are useless and aren't going to get me anywhere.
But you can only use the letters you've been given.
As I've been reflecting recently, and talking about why I'm moving on, the recurring conversation has been sharing about how there are less people available to help with things. My church has many amazing people who all give in so many different ways. So many faithful people. But as people have moved on and situations have changed, the volunteers for the youth and children's work have declined too. And this isn't just something that's been a struggle for me as I know others in different settings are all facing the same issues.
In Words With Friends you can only use the letters available to you - and it's the same in ministry. You can only use gifts that you actually have and make team with those available. I've met with some youthworkers who try to do what they've seen done well in another place...and sometimes that's great, a bit of idea sharing goes a long way. But sometimes they are trying to make things fit and it's not going to come together as they hope.
I remember someone talking at church before about thinking through what motivates you - what's in your head (what do you think about, dream about and aspire to), what's in your hands (what are you good at and what resources are available to you) and finally, what's in your heart (what do you really, really care about - what gets you excited or passionate or what moves you to grieve over it).
It's great to take time to think over these things - and to not settle. Seasons change and sometimes the things in your head, hands and heart do too.
Over the break I've got lined up, I hoping to make sure I take time to ponder these things for myself. Especially before I apply for jobs or take on anything new.
Sometimes in Words With Friends I sit and play about with the letters I have, positioning the high scoring letter on the triple point square and then rearranging others to try and make up words. Sometimes I get lucky and other times I end up having to make a different word somewhere else. Sometimes it might surprise us about what's actually in our head/heart/hands...and we need to take time to reposition and try things out to make a new - and better - move.
What's in your head/hands/heart today?
“"This is what the Lord says, he who made the earth, the Lord who formed it and established it—the Lord is his name: ‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.’”
Jeremiah 33:2-3 (NIV)
Youth and Children's Worker & Church Leader
Let It Go
For the past few years I've joined in with the 'word for the year' challenge - rather than making resolutions that have normally been broken after the first week of January, the idea is that the word is something you reflect on over the year, questioning situations you find yourself in and praying the word over them. To be honest, I haven't done too well in the past few years (except 2013 where my word for the year was 'fun' - it was a fun year...!)
This year instead of a word the phrase that kept coming back to me was 'let it go'. I'm not sure if it was slightly based upon my niece and nephew still being into Frozen and signing the song loudly over Christmas, but anytime I tried to think of something else I kept coming back to that.
Let it go.
It's been a pretty fitting phrase for the year...!! There's been many a situation where I've needed to take a deep breath and let it go. Wedding preparations, moving around a lot, resigning from my job - there have been many situations where when I felt myself getting tired or frustrated, I just had to take a breath and let it go.
Sometimes that was whilst I still moaned about something in my head. Sometimes it led to me stopping and crying. Sometimes it was to pause and pray and ask God to help me.
The thing is that often we would all like things to always go our own way! For the puzzle and rhythms of life to gently knock into place while we hit cruise control and enjoy the ride. But the reality is life is a bit more like a rollercoaster sometimes going full throttle and sometimes randomly stopping with things coming at you along the way, twists and turns you don't expect, leaving you breathless and sometimes a little confused!
Each day, in every circumstance we face we have a choice about how we live it and what we do. We can wallow and keep hold of hurts and frustrations or we can take a deep breath and let it go, believing that - in the words of D:Ream- 'things can only get better'.
In John 10:10 we see Jesus telling His friends that the thief comes to steal, kill and destroy, but He had come that we might have life in all it's fullness.
Sometimes to have that life we need to let things go. To not hold on to the negative things; to not take on guilt or feelings of inadequacy but to choose to strive to be the best that we can be, knowing that God is for us so who can stand against us?
As someone who is a bit of a control freak with some things, it's not always easy! But my year of 'let it go' is helping me.
Maybe it might help you too?
Youth and Children's Worker & Church Leader
Seeing the Potential / Being an Encourager
I first met John at my interview for The Community Church. His name was one I knew but I didn’t know why till he told me he worked for Youthwork magazine (it was only later I realised I owned one of his books too!!) John was in with the younger youth group who I had to lead a session for as part of the interview. I remember the day really well. John’s youngest son was there with him at the set up. He was rocking a West Ham shirt which was good as I knew we could be friends. Not because of his choice in team, but because I knew I could talk football with someone!! At my last church not many of the young people had been too bothered by football, so it was nice to see a young person who might care about it as much as I did…reality was he cared more – a lot more…! (I later met John’s older son who found making up questions and throwing out on the spot challenges like “Do an impression – NOW” hilarious…thanks Ads…) Anyways, following church, I found out that John was then coming with me in my car into Surbiton and then onto the church office. Nightmare. I’d driven up from Bournemouth that morning and the passenger seat of my car was covered in ‘food that’s easy to eat whilst driving’…as well as the rubbish accumulated from the journey up. Also in my car was about a thousand random items any youthworker might have in their car. Fortunately John seemed unfazed!! I knew that the job description said that it was desirable that the applicant could drive. I panicked on the drive to the office as John – who was directing me – suddenly said “If you could just do a three point turn and go back the way we came…” I freaked thinking he was testing my driving! He actually had just gone wrong with the directions – phew!
When I got back down to Bournemouth that evening after a whole day interview, I received a text from John that was incredibly encouraging. It’s actually probably the reason I took the job. Over the last seven years John and Alice have been so incredibly supportive and encouraging to me, it’s been such a blessing and helped me so much.
Little did I know, that a few months previous to my interview, John had seen the potential in a young, quiet guy in the church and asked him if he would like to come and help with the youth on Sunday mornings. He had said yes and enjoyed it – he had then been asked to get involved with Tribe – a midweek group for young people that the new youthworker (me!) would later be leading. Seven years down the line, he’s worked for the church, relaunched the church website, helped run many weekends away, led youth sessions, run games, planned activities, written scripts, run a drama group, been gunged, led meetings, played football, spoken at church, coordinated life groups and been a support to those who lead them, joined the church leadership team – and of course married the youth worker.
Imagine if John hadn’t been an encourager or seen the potential in someone?
So, my challenge to all who are reading this is to think about who you see potential in and who could you be an encourager to today? I bet John never thought that things he said or did would have the impact that they have had since…
Maybe you want to join Cath Sales' month of #OctoberYayMail (https://hopeoverflowing.wordpress.com/2016/09/24/the-october-yay-mail-project/) and post out some encouragement to others over the next month!?
Or maybe just think of someone you could drop a text to right now…
Youth and Children's Worker & Church Leader
Looking Back and Moving On…
Yesterday in church we looked at Psalm 23. I shared about how in the summer of 2009, (just before I moved to work for The Community Church), I was visiting on a Sunday morning and people were sharing words of encouragement for others. Gordon Brook and Carol Clack came and shared words with me. Gordon said about there being ‘more than the beach’ – about casting a big vision and Carol shared Psalm 23 – specifically ‘I shall not be in want’ and how she felt to encourage me that God would provide for all that I needed.
This September I have done ten years in full time ministry. I can honestly say that ‘I shall not be in want’ has been something of the provision of God I have experienced throughout these ten years. Sometimes things might have been tight and I couldn’t perhaps have all that I wanted, but I’ve always had all that I need.
Moving on can be quite a hard thing – my husband and I look like we have gone a bit nuts. Both leaving jobs, moving away, not yet sure what is going to happen next, where we will live for the long term, what we will do for new jobs…everything. But we believe God’s in this and it is time to move on and into a new season. James and I are looking to have a break over the next few months – that as we look for new jobs we might find time to ‘lay down in green pastures’ and ‘restore our souls’. We shall not be in want because God is the same God and He has never failed in providing for us. We have been overwhelmed by people’s generosity to us over the past few months – amazing wedding gifts, offers of dinners and food, places to live… we have been so blessed.
For me, I’ve been at the church for 7 years and came for a job. For James, he’s leaving the church he has been a part of for over 25 years. He has grown up in the church and been given many opportunities to step into different areas of ministry and leadership. We are sad to be saying goodbye, but know that friendships are not based on being near to others – especially not with the ease of communication in social media and the like. It’s hard to walk away from things we have been involved with and leading. But we know we can trust people and projects into God’s hands and pray for His will to be done in them. We look back and give thanks, and we move on knowing God’s got this…
“Surely your goodness and love will follow me
A Promise is a Promise
When I was leading the meeting on Sunday, I showed a short video clip based on the beginning of Ecclesiastes 3:
1 For everything there is a season,
A time for every activity under heaven.
2 A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
3 A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
4 A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
5 A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
6 A time to search and a time to quit searching.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
7 A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
8 A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace.
At the end of it I said I wanted to us to focus on ‘A time to plant’ and I shared a story – but I didn’t say all that God had put on my heart, so here’s the full version…
When Zhiqiang and I moved to our current house it was a ‘project’. The previous owners had obviously had all the maintenance work done by Bodge-it & Bodge-it and we knew it would take some years before we would get everything put right. Bearing that in mind, I suggested that we should focus on the garden as one of our first tasks. If the inside of the house was going to take time then the outside could be sorted and at least we’d have somewhere nice to sit while the garden started to mature.
One of the main tasks in the back garden was sorting out the patio. We had three of them and they were all at different levels and in differing states of disrepair, so we flattened the lot and made one big patio and created a trough along the front edge both to give it character and to stop anyone falling off (there’s a drop to the next level). Zhiqiang and I are not especially enthusiastic in our garden but we salvaged some of the existing plants and set about buying some new ones. Neither of us has ever bothered to check the soil type, and in those early days we didn’t think too hard about how the plants would grow – we just knew that we had a south(ish) facing garden and anything growing in the patio trough needed to be able to withstand some sunshine. So – amongst other plants – we bought two variegated yuccas. We didn’t really check too much about the size they would grow to, or read up about how to look after them – we just dug them in and watched.
After several years, the yuccas had grown pretty well, but then one day, without warning, a spike appeared in the centre of one of them. It was actually quite alarming because it literally, suddenly, appeared. Neither of us knew what it was. Neither of us knew if it was normal. Neither of us bothered to do any research about it – we just watched and waited. In fact we were so disconcerted that we wondered if we should cut it down? Then one day, the spike opened up and revealed a massive array of magnificent creamy white flowers. It was still rather unnerving because when we bought the plants in the first place there hadn’t been any mention of any flowers, so when we saw one at a National Trust property which was displaying the same glorious blooms, we finally started to relax!
Once the flowers had gone over, were left with a dilemma. Should we cut the stalk down or not? Again – without any research – (pretty stupid, now that I’m thinking and writing about it) we chopped the woody stalk down and sat back and watched. After another few years, it became apparent that the space where we had planted the yuccas was woefully inadequate. They had spread beyond all reason and because they didn’t have enough room for growth they were getting in a bad state. It was time for some more action. Earlier this year we took the momentous decision to dig them out. Well I say ‘we’ but it was down to Zhiqiang because the roots had gone in so far that it was a herculean task to get them out. We discovered that instead of being one plant, they had mushroomed into several plants each, and we decided not to throw them away but to put them in the front garden where it needed some more plants and there was far more room for growth. We duly dug holes and planted the yuccas in batches, and then left them alone.
After a couple of months it became apparent that not all the plants had taken. Some were clearly in distress. Zhiqiang, who is not a gardener (but is great at mowing, digging and hacking), was all for pulling them out saying ‘we haven’t planted them in deep enough’. I disagreed, and being the more green-fingered of the two of us told him not to be so impatient and to watch and wait. Actually we were both right. Some of the plants have clearly died, but some of them have survived the move and are now beginning to flourish, and I remain hopeful that eventually they’ll look like decent plants again.
So, what is the point of my story?
Ecclesiastes 3 is usually associated with different seasons, but it’s also about us being different from each other and experiencing different times in our lives even though we’re all here together. Just recently we bought two more replacement plants for the patio trough and this time we were very careful to look to see how tall they would grow and what spread they would achieve. Although they were planted at the same time, one of them has achieved its full height already but the other one is getting there much more slowly. They’re both in the same trough, both receiving exactly the same sunshine and watering, but they’re each growing at their own rate, in their own time. I think we’re rather like that too. We can receive the same teaching, be living almost parallel lives with each other, and yet some of us reach our full potential very quickly and others take longer to get there. Neither way is better than the other – we’re just different…
Our yucca plants were in the right position (sunny, well-drained soil) but the space was too small for them. They grew to their maximum in the space we’d given them, but actually they needed much more, and because we didn’t recognise their need for more space they out-grew the patio trough and actually started to wither because they were constrained. I’m hoping that although the move to the front garden has been traumatic for them, that eventually they’ll recover to the point of being able to achieve their true full potential. Again, I think we can be like that too. Sometimes we have flourished in one space, but over time we need to up-root ourselves from particular situations which are now constraining us. Although it might be painful and even distressing, the long-term benefits far outweigh the present discomfort.
Sometimes we also need a helping hand to make it happen. If we can see that someone is struggling in a particular situation, maybe we should be brave enough to talk to them about it and maybe help them to make that transition? When we bought our yuccas, we didn’t have any idea of their full potential. If we’d lost our nerve when the ugly stalk appeared, we might have chopped it down – but it then turned into a magnificent display of flowers. The same can be true when we nurture someone who is a part of our church family. Be prepared for the unexpected. What you’ve been expecting from them might just turn out to be something very different and much more impressive than you ever thought they were capable of. But while it’s happening, be patient and supportive – the stalk on our yucca wasn’t terribly attractive until it bloomed!
Some plants need thoroughly cutting back to bring on renewed growth but others need to be left alone. The fact is, all plants are different. Some grow to a huge height and some grow to a great width and depth. Some are evergreen, some are deciduous. Some sprout flowers, some sprout fruit, some just have lovely foliage. Some need pruning. For some, cutting them back too much is a disaster. Some grow in the winter, some grow in the summer. Some are only destined to be around for a limited period of time but some have been with us for what seems like an eternity.
The same is true for us. We’re all different and we’re all at different stages in our lives. For some of us, we may be going through a time of prosperity, but for others it may be a time of austerity. For some it’s a time of joy, and for some it’s a time of sadness. Some of us are going through conflict while others are experiencing peace. For some we need to keep our own counsel, but for others it’s a time to speak out. Whatever stage we’re at, we need to be respectful of each other and supportive towards each other because we are one body – the Body of Christ. And the one constant for all of us is the love of God. Our Father in heaven knows each one of us far better than we know ourselves and HE KEEPS HIS PROMISES.
I shared in the meeting on Sunday that one of my favourite books of the Bible is Joshua because chapter 1 verse 9 is my baptismal verse. In Joshua, the Israelites are told to look out for the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant and then to follow it. The Ark contained the presence of God on earth, so in effect the Israelites were ‘following God’. But when Jesus died on the cross, the curtain in the temple which separated us from the Holy of Holies was torn apart; a symbol of our new covenant with God where we can come into His presence ourselves.
As we approach each new day we’re all going to be experiencing different things. The week ahead may look great for some but bleak for others – a walk in the park or facing a mountain to climb. So it’s vitally important that we remember to put God before us, no matter what. I have mentioned Proverbs 3:5 in one of my earlier blogs because it’s a favourite:
5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.
But my prayer for every one of us is that we will remember each of God’s promises and for me in particular, Joshua 1:9
9Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
By Barbara Zhang.
IN-sane or OUT-side the Box?
I was thinking about Isaiah and Jeremiah today and how radical they were!
In both of their times – and at very real risk to themselves – they stood firmly by aims for God’s people which would have been intensely unpopular and seemed so absurd as to put their listeners into utter bafflement.
Isaiah’s aim was one of a Kingdom of Judah which had lost practically all of it’s lands except the city of Jerusalem itself: a complete non-entity in the whole of the known world with such inconsequential influence on it that it’s only remaining focus was to reform the puny one-god worship of one little nowhere land amid a vast sea of gods and kings!
Jeremiah’s aim was of an equally small Kingdom of Judah surrendering to the Babylonians and allowing around 30,000 of its most useful people to be uprooted and re-settled in Babylonian land without struggle: urging a couple of generations to be happy with the situation and even work the Babylonian’s land for them with smiles on their faces!
It’s important to remember that, being prophets, they didn’t keep their crazy thoughts to themselves. When much-welcomed assistance came to Judah from Egypt, Isaiah was in attendance at the court mocking the Egyptian envoys to their faces with a piece of comic theatre. Jeremiah also employed visual aids as he party pooped the courageous spirit of Zedekiah’s court ready to give the approaching Babylonians a fight: effectively saying “look, we’re going to lose anyway, let’s surrender to stop people getting killed in the process.” Times of adversity require certain attitudes don’t they? Practicality and bravery seem appropriate enough. Not only were these two prophets at odds with common decency, they must have been intensely annoying: major killjoys.
Not only do I doubt that I would have had the guts to do as God had instructed Isaiah and Jeremiah to do, I seriously doubt that I would have recognised the instructions as being from God at all. A powerful, expansive and revered Kingdom of Judah just seems such a safe and sensible assumption doesn’t it?
It made me wonder about what assumptions I was making without really examining them, and I realised that I had been doing just that when weighing up an upcoming decision: a big one – whether I should vote for the United Kingdom to remain in the European Union or break from the Union to become an independent European state.
Now let me first reassure you that I am not going to try to convince you which decision to make! I take a very dim view of appropriating scripture in that way and I haven’t made my mind up yet anyway. The point is that I realised that I had a fixed assumption about what we should want and that I have been attempting to settle on a decision with that assumption at the centre of it.
What we want is to be the best off personally and as a nation the most powerful we can be. Neither side disagrees about what we want only about which of the two available decisions is the best way to get it, i.e. to have the most and be the most powerful. Other issues are ultimately means to this end. Security, for instance, is thought to be important because if it is good, it reinforces being well off and powerful but if it is bad it compromises them. Again the notion of its importance is shared, but opinion about where the greatest risk of compromise is found differs: some say it is reduced sovereignty, some say upsetting the financial status quo and others say the physical security of our borders. These priorities, we are led to believe, affiliate with either a “Leave” or “Stay” decision.
My question is this:
Have we assumed rightly? Are we correct to want to be the best off and most powerful that we can be?
It’s certainly very conventional wisdom and makes a lot of sense but when we as nation, Church and individuals have most been in this position was that definitely always confirmation that this was when God was getting His way the most?
Britain was once “great,” and Britain was once a Christian country, are two popular nostalgic assertions that we are all familiar with. The marker for measuring the greatness is linked to power: to an Empire that once encompassed a third of the planet. The assertion about Britain once being a Christian country indicates a peak in history when Christian “values” and the way Britain was governed were seen to be the most synchronised. This is about power too: the state of people’s hearts was irrelevant, the point is that Christianity’s reach was at its furthest over the workings of the state apparatus.
How about Church? Have we ever caught ourselves assuming that the best times of our churches have been when they were at their largest? When the highest percentage of our congregants is happy can we definitely assume that we are therefore the closest to God’s purposes?
In our own lives? If God and myself were put in two soundproof booths and asked to compile a playlist of my greatest hits would both lists turn out to be identical?
Of course, we need to be able to measure things and the units of measurement used in the examples above are very understandable and sensible. But our two prophets are a real spanner in the works. We know that where they got it right is that they didn’t make assumptions: they sought God. We can develop a good sense of what God is likely to say but He is always saying something here and now about here and now and we are challenged to seek Him for it.
I’ve got a lot of sympathy for the false prophets in the books of the prophets. For instance the one recorded in 2 Kings 10 who confirmed to King Jehu that God approved of him seizing the throne of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in a coup, massacring all the remnants of the dynasty he had overthrown [2 Kings:10]. We know that God did not approve of this, however, because He indicated the contrary very strongly through His prophet Hosea [Hosea 1:4].
But let’s be fair and remember that Jehu’s prophet was:
(a) Just doing his job – he was a false prophet because he was saying God had said things he hadn’t, not because he was masquerading as a prophet. He was legitimately employed as a prophet but he was just a bit of a “yes man.” Validating the will of the king by crow barring God into it was his job and, give him his dues, he was doing it.
(b) Just observing the way things were going – the coup was a very popular move with most people
(c) Trying his best to be in line with a previous prophet of God – God had, through Elijah, brought His disapproval of Ahab’s marriage to Jezebel, which had brought the worship of the Phoenician Baal into Israel. Many saw the slaughter of Ahab’s line as a righteous act [1 Kings 18].
Then there was Hananiah who Jeremiah laid into. Hananiah was wrong to say that the exiled Jews would not stay long in Babylon. What he said was an abuse of his position but it was optimistic. Just like Jehu’s prophet, Hananiah may have assessed God’s previous track record and assumed a spirit of resistance was far more likely to be of God than a spirit of surrender. It was wrong for both false prophets to assume, we know this, but as assumptions go they were pretty sound ones: far less outrageous than the truth turned out to be [Jeremiah 28].
God is unchanging and His policy is always the same
I am the Lord your God…you shall have no gods before me
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul and all your strength [active trust, active sacrifice]…
[Ex 20:2; Deut 5:6; Lev 26: 13 (and frequently throughout Leviticus) Deut 6: 4-9; Matt 22: 36-40; Mark 12: 30-31.]
…although, evidently, the politics may change, because in Isaiah’s case it was “fight on no matter what and do not submit to outsiders in order to do it” but with Jeremiah it was “don’t bother fighting, submit to the outsiders.”
Judah in the time of Isaiah’s prophetic drama was a tributary state of the Assyrian Empire. The Assyrians were aiming to expand further by launching a campaign against Ashdod (a coastal city under Philistine control at this time.) The Egyptians, who were concerned about the expanding Assyrian Empire (particularly with an open sea route so close to Egypt) tried to rally local lands, including Judah, to Ashdod to revolt against the Assyrian king, Sargon. The revolt would have the leadership and strength of the world’s greatest army: the Egyptians. There were pro-Assyrians in the court who said let’s not rock the boat and make things worse and pro-Egyptians who, with good reason, thought being on the wrong side of the Egyptians would make things worse. Isaiah was neither. He said trust in Yahweh alone. He dressed as a captive and acted out the procession of a captive in front of the Egyptian envoys predicting the failure and humiliation of the Egyptian king…completely accurately. [Isaiah 20]
Judah did not go down with Egypt, as it would have done if involved with the revolt. It did lose lots of land under the next Assyrian king, which encouraged Judah’s king Hezekiah to take stock spiritually. He destroyed the high places where local religions had been liberally practiced and began a programme of reform centred around Yahweh alone. The aim expressed by Isaiah had come true. Judah was a nowhere place in the world – just a tributary to the Assyrians – but it was beginning to solidify its identity under its one God [2 Kings 18].
By Jeremiah’s time the Assyrian heartland itself had been overthrown and subsumed into a Neo-Babylonian Empire. The Babylonians did not properly conquer Judah for a few years though due to stretched resources elsewhere. King Jehoakim of Judah had even led a successful revolt for a short time. For years Judah only saw guerrilla bands made up of conquered local peoples, not the Babylonians themselves, and no doubt grew in confidence over this time. When Jehoakim’s brother (in law?) Zedekiah took the throne, Babylon continued to him to seem beatable, if Judah was organised, even despite some Judeans already having been exiled. It was in this time that Jeremiah wore a wooden yoke before Zedekiah and told him that the yoke of Babylon would be on the people’s shoulders and that it would be God’s will. [Jeremiah 28]
As well as seeming very contradictory to God’s assumed will, this would have come across as unnecessarily negative under the circumstances: perhaps laughably dramatic. Hananiah counters Jeremiah’s prophecy with an even more visually effective and infinitely more popular one. He breaks the yoke and promises the exiles will be back in two years. Jeremiah’s response is to return with an iron yoke and wipe the smiles off of all the faces by telling them that the exiles and many more will remain in Babylon for many years. He also writes a letter to the exiled Jews to behave as people who are staying: a deliberate stance of submission. [Jeremiah 29]
The Babylonian Exile was a disaster. God had promised their patriarch Abraham as many descendants as the grains of sand and their patriarch Moses that He would establish their borders from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean and from the desert to the Euphrates River. What they had was a land smaller than Greater London, which they had not genuinely ruled for some time. Just when they thought things had reached their worst they lost their city walls and their temple had been trashed and looted. Worse still, they were not even allowed to live there any more. Enough Jews were left to maintain Judah agriculturally but a huge 30,000 of its people were forcibly relocated to lands hundreds of miles away in and around Babylon. Jeremiah knew he was right but he was not happy about it. He is known as “the weeping prophet” and required reassurance from God in order to carry the message He had given him. [Jeremiah 31]
It is not accurate to refer to the Exile as “captivity” as it sometimes is – the exiles lived a free sort of a life and certainly prospered – but it was far from a good state of affairs. The psalmist of Psalm 137 quotes his favourite Boney M song saying by the rivers of Babylon they wept as they remembered Jerusalem, adding “Happy is the one who seizes your [Babylon’s] infants and dashes them against the rocks.” Pretty strong stuff! It indicates that prosperity and freedom were no longer all things to them: that their exile was an assault on their self-hood and identity.
Well actually it is during this period that that selfhood is truly galvanised. This is the historical period where the disparate group of Canaanites from Judah who we call the Israelites first became properly monotheistic. We know this from archaeological and contemporary record and from the scriptures themselves. The temple had been a shambles: like a bric-a-brac shop on the inside with statues of deities tucked into every available corner and rival priests like market traders shouting down the competition in an atmosphere of stressed and intimidating worship. The rare practices that were still considered taboo even in this time such as animal worship went on in little secret rooms. Infant sacrifice still happened in the surrounds of the city and ritual prostitution in the temple itself: we know this because Hezekiah had to throw them out. He also had to destroy the bronze snake that God had instructed Moses to make to scare off snakes in the wilderness because this had since been named a god and worshipped by a Judean cult. [2 Kings 18]
When the people were banned from their holy land, however, something clicked with the exiles about what that holiness meant and how it made them who they were, that they had been perpetually blind to when they dwelt within that land. Also important was how much wealthier they became in those two generations through exposure to trade on a cosmopolitan scale and through absorbing new lucrative practices. This was how they were able to pay for the new temple when they returned. It was only after this disaster, and through it, that a people, now centred around one true God, had developed the means and the will to worship Him. So, yes, it had been God’s will. The crazy unpopular killjoy had been right.
I think it’s important to clarify that the stories of Isaiah and Jeremiah don’t work as a metaphor for our current situation. The Egyptian envoys don’t represent a federal Europe and Isaiah’s little Judah doesn’t represent a small proud independent nation making Isaiah a de-facto Leave campaigner. You could equally interpret that Jeremiah’s message of surrender made him a Remain campaigner if that was the outcome you wanted. Of course the reality was that while there were opposing camps at the time Isaiah and Jeremiah were in neither, which, like today, would have generally been deemed unacceptable and invalid positions to hold. I suppose the nearest equivalent would be those idealists that people find so frustrating who lack the sophistication to read the times and see that this is not the time for ideals. Everyone else had turned their thoughts from on high to “what’s the best we can hope for?” Then as now, the best fulfilment of Isaiah’s “good news for the poor” would probably look something like “hey poor people, great news! If rich people get richer there will be a ‘trickle down effect’ and some of it will trickle down to you.” [Isaiah 61] Isaiah refused to limit the future to what Man puts on the table and held out for the “flow out effect” that was eventually to come.
Then the angel showed me a river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb, down the middle of the main street of the city. On either side of the river stood a tree of life, producing twelve kinds of fruit and yielding a fresh crop for each month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. [Revelation 22:1-2]
The only way that Isaiah and Jeremiah would have been seen as IN or OUT in their respective situations would have been perhaps as IN-sane or OUT-side the box.
This blog post hasn’t really been about answering any questions so much as acknowledging the questions that Isaiah and Jeremiah’s accounts raise:
Despite mostly raising questions the truths that the accounts of these two prophets re-affirm are comforting ones. That God is always sovereign: Man’s plans don’t get in the way of His. You may be like me on the 23rd, casting a vote because you believe voting is important but with no real surety of which of the two decisions is best. Well the pressure is off! The fate of all mankind and all our futures is not laid on your shoulders. Even if worst-case scenarios are ahead, the One who has always ruled rules still and His purposes could be powerfully achieved through them. Man in his arrogance probably struts up to God Himself with his two options but God just ignores him and I’m glad about that.
You can also feel comfort if you sometimes have the craziest thoughts imaginable or thoughts that no one else seems to have had. You might be on to something!
By Gareth Brown.
Golden, Jonathan M, Ancient Canaan & Israel: An Introduction. Oxford University Press (2004)
Wheeler-Robinson, H, The History of Israel: Its Facts and Factors. London: Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd (1960)
It's Time to Look Up
I love looking at architecture, especially the buildings that are above our usual eye line of the shop fronts, but some years ago I was badly affected by a virus, contracted vertigo, and ever since then my balance has been a bit dodgy. Where I used to be able to look up freely while I was walking along, nowadays I can hardly even look from side to side. In order to keep my balance, I have to focus completely on where I’m going with little chance of seeing anything other than the pavement. So, when I get the chance, one of my favourite things to do is to sit at the front on the upper deck of a double-decker bus because being so high up you can really enjoy the view.
Just recently, the song by Rend Collective - "Come On My Soul" – has become a bit of an anthem for me, and we sang it again on Sunday. As we were singing, my thoughts led me to Psalm 48, a passage of Scripture which for some will also call to mind another song…
1 Great is the Lord, and most worthy of praise,
in the city of our God, his holy mountain.
2 Beautiful in its loftiness,
the joy of the whole earth,
like the heights of Zaphon is Mount Zion,
the city of the Great King.
The Psalm talks about the beauty of God’s kingdom, “… the joy of the whole earth” and it goes on to reflect that God is our strength and it talks about Him being our fortress – so much so, that even the armies which have joined forces together are afraid to attack.
In verses 3-8, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this isn’t really a Psalm to calm the soul, but it goes on to talk about the benefits and security of having God as a living part of our lives:
9 Within your temple, O God,
we meditate on your unfailing love.
10 Like your name, O God,
your praise reaches to the ends of the earth;
your right hand is filled with righteousness.
11 Mount Zion rejoices,
the villages of Judah are glad
because of your judgments.
And then - we are told to look up - to acknowledge the fortress - to consider what we are looking at…
12 Walk about Zion, go around her,
count her towers,
13 consider well her ramparts,
view her citadels,
that you may tell of them
to the next generation.
Finally, we are reminded that this is OUR God, who, if we’ll let Him, will be our guide to the ends of time:
14 For this God is our God for ever and ever;
He will be our guide even to the end.
Through all of this, I was thinking about what happens when we look up and I was reminded that there is a very big difference between our earthly walk and our spiritual walk with God. With our earthly walk we’re usually looking at the ground watching where we put our feet, or making sure we don’t bump into other people, or just too pre-occupied with whatever we’re thinking about to enjoy the view. For me personally, I rarely get to enjoy a view while I’m walking along these days.
But with God I can walk in complete freedom – with no vertigo-induced issues. When we walk with Him, He acts as our protector, our guide so we’re free to walk along unencumbered, looking up and around and enjoying the view, and He delights in showing us the beauty of His kingdom, “… the joy of the whole earth”. So that’s why I keep singing the song…
Come on my soul, Come on my soul,
Come on, come on, come on, come on
By Barbara Zhang.
My New Year's Resolution
Sometimes, I like to ‘zone out’ of what’s happening in a church meeting and take a few moments to myself to sit and listen to what God is saying. More often than not I end up writing something down which I feel is significant and I want to remember. (It’s also good to take time out and look back at my previous scribbles – they reveal and remind me a lot about my journey with God over the years.)
This Sunday – our first meeting of 2016 - it was suggested that we go and share the peace blessing with each other. As I prayed with Beryl I asked the Father to be with both of us throughout 2016, giving us His guidance, His protection, His love, His peace, His grace, His comfort, His healing. I said I wanted to be standing with Beryl at the same time next year bearing witness to a year that was led by God, walking in His shadow.
When I sat down I started writing all this in my notebook, and it reminded me of something in my past. When I was younger, I used to want to follow my dad around wherever he went. As a result I was given the nickname ‘shadow’. Even his friends knew it was my name. Sadly my dad died when I was in my early twenties but he remains a constant influence in my life and I often reflect on what he would have done in certain circumstances.
So, back to Sunday… You know when it’s a really bright day and it’s so bright you have to shield your eyes in order to be able to make sense of what you’re looking at? Well I could see God’s light on Sunday, shining ahead of us all, showing us the way for 2016 – except His light is beyond anything we can imagine – even the intensity of staring into the sun (not to be recommended!). And His light is SO bright, you really can’t see a thing unless you’re standing in His shadow – from which vantage point you can see as much as you need to.
So, today (and every day this year) I am choosing to remain beside God and I am resurrecting the nickname ‘shadow’, except this time it’s my heavenly Father I’m planning to follow around.
That’s my New Year’s Resolution. What’s yours?
By Barbara Zhang.
To Plan or Not to Plan...
… That is the question. And I can say with all truthfulness I have spent a fair proportion of this last week in a dilemma.
For those of you who were at the meeting on Remembrance Sunday, you’ll know that I made my debut as a guest leader. Our life group (the one I co-lead with Stephanie) had been asked to lead the meeting with the dual themes of Remembrance and Paul Pickhaver was speaking about the gifts given by God.
I’m not normally fazed by public speaking or leading a meeting – I’ve had a fair amount of practice in the outside world of business. But this was different. I knew that we had a fixed point in the meeting on Sunday – 2 minutes of silence at 11.00am – and it was important to honour that moment of reflection. However, when you plan a Sunday meeting (and this one was planned to within an inch of its life) it feels like a contradiction. You need to know what’s happening and who’s doing what, but you also need to make room for the unexpected and my biggest worry was that God would decide to throw a spanner in the works, take over the meeting, and all the planning would amount to nothing and I’d be left steering a ship with very little idea where we were going.
You see, as much as I wanted the meeting to go smoothly (who wouldn’t?) I also wanted to honour God and give Him room to do whatever He wanted – and even though I was pretty scared by the thoughts of it, I was prepared to let Him take over if that was what He intended to do.
As it happened, I needn’t have worried. Some weeks ago Stephanie and I had met with Peter and Jean to discuss how the meeting might take shape, and while we were praying I heard from God about how we might tie up to the two themes of Remembrance and gifts of the Spirit. As a result, Jean felt that it was important that I should bring that word to the meeting myself – which is how I ended up leading (plus the fact that no-one else was terribly keen to do it!). So really, I shouldn’t have been all that concerned. Why would He so clearly give me a word if He didn’t already know what it was He had in mind for the day?
So back to Sunday - if you had seen the timings for the meeting you’d had thought there was no room for God at all, and yet I was amazed by how peaceful it all was and how smoothly it all fell into place. He was definitely there – guiding the whole thing – and I felt surprisingly secure and relaxed.
And as Stephanie pointed out, I stood up at dead on 12.20pm (in accordance with our scheduling) to draw the meeting to a close which, frankly, was amazing… So next time you’re facing a dilemma – especially if it involves some sort of planning, remember Proverbs 3:5-6:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.
By Barbara Zhang.
Call to Me and I Will Answer You
In 2014, several blood tests showed that my calcium level was too high and needed to be reduced. My G.P. referred me to a consultant to investigate further before any treatment. In February I had a parathyroid scan, in March a CT neck scan, in April a bone density X-ray and finally a follow-up appointment with the senior consultant in May.
The results showed that my thyroid gland was very overactive and was not distributing calcium properly. Instead, it was directing it mainly to my bones which would cause problems later. I never expected this as I was feeling fine. I then thought he would suggest medication or some change in my diet. However, in a gentle voice he said there was nothing for it but surgery to remove my thyroid gland- and within the next 6 months! He promised to see me again before the operation and suggested I had another blood test before leaving the hospital.
I left his office in a daze and found myself praying (the Jesus prayer), “Father, everything is possible for You, so take this cup away from me.” I kept praying this as I waited for the blood test, adding “.. Yet, not my will but Your perfect will be done.”
I marshalled my sisters to pray and had friends from church praying for me also. Later that night I kept thinking of ‘the 6 months’ given to me. I was then reminded of the story of Daniel when he was commanded to eat the King’s food and drink along with the other captives (in Daniel 1). He refused and asked to have only vegetables and water. He was shown favour by the chief and was given 10 days to try this new diet, which worked, causing him to look healthier than the others. No, I was not going to try this diet. However, I found an ‘extra’ addition to my prayer. Daniel was given time for a change – 10 days, I was given 6 months! “Father God, You can do anything in 6 months. Please take this cup away from me, yet not my will, but Your will be done.” The prayers continued during the following months.
On Monday 6th July I visited St John’s Hampton Wick, where members from Bethel Church (in America) were leading a healing meeting. Joel Sales spotted me and prayed for me; he prayed that my thyroid gland would come into line with God’s will, not being overactive or underactive.
On the Tuesday evening I received a call from the consultant himself at the hospital. He said they had discussed my calcium investigations that day and he thought I would be pleased to know that they had decided not go forward with surgery at the present time and he would discuss this more fully at my next appointment! I could not contain my joy and blurted out that ever since I left his office I had been praying and hoping that I would not need the operation…and he laughed!
What a mighty God and Father we have. Yes, He who keeps us will neither slumber nor sleep. He is always working on our behalf because He cares for us affectionately, watchfully and hears us when we call. Grateful thanks to all who prayed for me. God heard all your prayers and as 2 Corinthians 1:11 says, “While you also co-operate by your prayers… the lips of many persons turned towards God will eventually give thanks for the grace (the blessing of deliverance) granted at the request of the many who prayed.” So, please give God thanks and praise with me, for He is AMAZING!
By Yvonne Pugh.
Tuning in to Jesus
We all know that certain birthdays are considered milestones – but when it was my 30th birthday, it was also a very significant time in my walk with Jesus. The present I received from my Mum was a new NIV Disciple’s Study Bible. I have really cherished this gift – I made several visits to a Christian bookshop to make my choice and I’ve never regretted it. One of the (many) reasons I chose this particular Bible was that any words spoken directly by Jesus are printed in red ink and over the years this has been a useful feature.
During those particular years – my early 30s – I yearned to be able to hear Jesus’s voice. I used to say that if He didn’t write in letters 6 feet tall on a brick wall in front of me I couldn’t work out what He was saying. I believed that for a very long time, but then gradually I attuned my ear and I was able to discern His quiet voice from all the noise around me and the need for giant graffiti disappeared. Even so, there are times when my ‘Jesus radar’ is less tuned in than at other times and that can be frustrating.
Just recently, we’ve been doing a study in our Life Group focusing on John 14-17. In my Bible, these four chapters are predominantly red. Jesus is speaking directly to the disciples in the few hours before His imminent death and what He is saying to them is so profound that He knows they won’t be able to take it all in. He promises that once He is gone, the Counsellor – the Spirit of Truth (John 14:16-17) will come and He will remind them of all Jesus has said to them (John 14:26).
As part of the teaching session, I read the whole of John 14 out loud to the group. What followed was a lively and inspiring discussion where we all learned new things about those final hours with Jesus. Having prepared the study, someone in the group asked me what I had learned myself and I realised that the most significant thing was having access to Jesus’ own words. Speaking them out brought me a new revelation of what Jesus was saying – not just to the disciples in the upper room but for generations to come – and it was a real privilege.
Periodically I hear people saying that they don’t hear from Jesus. I know what that feels like and it can make you feel inadequate – like you haven’t quite made it as a bone fide Christian. Even when you’ve been a Christian for a long time, hearing from Jesus is a thing to be cherished and we can all do with a fresh insight into what He has to say to us.
So if you’re one of those people who doesn’t feel like they they’re in tune with Jesus, or you just need to experience Him in a fresh new way, let me encourage you to do a simple exercise. Find a passage in the Bible which is printed in red and don’t just read the words in your head – SPEAK THEM OUT LOUD!
Jesus promised us that the Holy Spirit would come and teach us and reveal to us what His words meant. That still holds true today. It’s taken me almost 22 years to fully appreciate what my 30th birthday gift can really offer me (yes, by all means, do the maths…). Finding and reading out loud the red passages can give you a totally new insight in to what Jesus is saying. And before you all start protesting, no one is asking you to do this in front of anyone else – you can do it totally in private. The Spirit of Truth can take His/your spoken words and help you to understand what He is/you are saying in a totally fresh and new way so that you can really hear Jesus and understand His heart.
If you don’t believe me, just try it…!
By Barbara Zhang.
Why Be Baptised?
There is an opportunity to be baptised on Sunday 5th July when the church goes to Littlehampton for the day.
I and the Father Are One
"At first glance it seemed like any other painting of the crucifixion, until you looked more closely. Then you can see that there's a vast and shadowy figure behind the figure of Jesus. The nail that pierces the hands of Jesus goes through to the hands of God. The spear thrust into the side of Jesus goes through into God's also. Certainly the FATHER felt the pain of the cross just as much as the SON. It is not enough to say God the Father required the penalty for sin - but to declare that God, in Christ Jesus paid it."
By Yvonne Pugh.
Reluctant Spectator or Willing Participant?
You know when you take on a role in church and then you begin to wonder if you’ve bitten off more than you can chew? Or you get a heavy heart because you think it’s going to be more of a commitment than you first imagined?
Earlier this year I stopped being ‘just a member’ of our Life Group and stepped into a joint leadership role - which means I got the opportunity go to the Pioneers Leaders Conference for the first time – and now I attend the Life Group Leaders Meetings which are held periodically on a Saturday morning.
The Pioneer Leaders Conference was a real eye-opener. I’ve been to conferences before where you hear a good talk from a decent speaker, but essentially you’re there as a spectator and it’s up to you if you choose to fully engage. This was a totally different experience. I knew from the opening session that I wasn’t there as a spectator - I was there as a participant – and being a ‘leader’ means responsibility is part of the job. I have to say it was pretty daunting, and I suddenly wondered if I’m really cut out for this role, or if I even want it?
Anyway – fast forward to this morning – it’s Saturday, by the way, and according to my diary it’s the date of the next Life Group Leaders Meeting… I arrived at the church office feeling reasonably cheerful but not really expecting that much. But when we prayed at the beginning, Gordon prayed that we might experience something unexpected as we shared together. I don’t know what I thought the rest of the meeting would be like but as we all shared it became apparent that God is doing some amazing things in our Life Groups. Prayers are being answered, people are being changed, the Spirit of God is moving…
We reflected on last Sunday and the words brought to us by Allan and Lizzie Cox. We rejoiced in the knowledge that unlike Lizzie’s experience with the Queen, we can enter God’s Palace in the assurance that he won’t just greet us with a polite smile – he knows us personally and delights at us being in His presence. We also talked about the words that Allan spoke. Lizzie had already talked about us having earned the right to speak truth into situations but Allan followed this up by saying something along the lines of “Who do I think I am? Who am I in Christ? What can I offer others? Through Christ I can speak words of authority into others’ lives.”
Following on from this we talked about the importance of prophecy – speaking into each other’s lives - how it can be scary and makes you nervous. Most people are scared in the beginning – what if I don’t hear from God – what if I say something stupid – how will people react to what I say?
But we did a very simple exercise and every one of us present was able to share something about what we’d just heard from God, and it wasn’t scary at all!
Then we did another exercise involving the prophetic picture that the Church Leaders had at their weekend away last year. Amazingly, again, we were all able to share something of what we felt God was saying to us about the picture – and it was all really good!
So, back to my comment about wondering if I’m really cut out for this role, or if I really want it? Am I here to be a reluctant spectator or willing participant?
Well, when I woke up this morning I was mildly cheesed off that I was giving up a Saturday morning for yet another meeting – but then I met God in a really unexpected way, just as Gordon had prayed, and I was filled with a passion for what’s happening in Life Groups and what that can mean for everyone in our church and beyond. And this isn’t just for me – it’s for ALL of us – God is doing spectacular things all around us and we can ALL be a part of it – we just have to choose to want it…!
“For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV). So I’m opting in. God is taking me on a journey. He’s given me a new challenge and provided I do my part - turning up and being a willing participant - he’s doing the rest… How about you?
By Barbara Zhang.
An 'Aha!' Moment
Before reading my daily notes recently, I was thinking, 'Who knows what lies ahead for us in 2015?'. I then turned to the reading which highlighted Hebrews 12:2: "Looking away [from all that will distract] to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith…"
That’s the key- Jesus! Suddenly the song popped into my head, so vividly that I had to sing it:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace
Aha, the question was answered!
By Yvonne Pugh.
Our Prophetic Picture
As a hedgehog awakes from his sleep of hibernation, unrolls and stretches, so God is saying it is time for his church to wake up. It’s time to see with his eyes and emerge from the darkness of winter into the light of his Kingdom.
Scriptures: Romans 13:11, Isaiah 60:1, Luke 9:32, Revelation 3:1-4, Psalm 57:8
Prickles gone!! People vulnerable.
God wants us to know that he is building his church. He’s putting fresh mortar between the bricks and cracks, putting stones into place building up the walls in front of our eyes, right to the cock on top of the steeple. He wants his church to be a place filled with a caring spirit, full of supernatural giftings and strength allowing his spirit to move freely among us.
Scriptures: Matthew 16:13-20, Ephesians 2:19-22; 4:11-13, 1 Corinthians 3:1, Psalm 127:1. Also Nehemiah and 1 Corinthians 12-14
God wants his people standing together, holding hands, shoulder to shoulder, being encouragers of one another, loving and caring for one another. We need to be united not just in TCC, but with other denominations across the borough. Jesus prayed for his people to be one and he says that these are the days he’s bringing his people together. We are to continue to be a catalyst to other churches and places. The grass may be different shades of green but there is no grass that is greener on the other side when we are in the place God wants us. He will provide all that we need, life, rest, peace as we obey him and walk in his ways. The church of Jesus Christ is his plan not ours.
Scriptures: Galatians 3:26-29, 1 Corinthians 1:10-17, John 17:20-23, Psalm 133, 2 Chronicles 30:12, 1 Peter:8-9, Matthew 16:18
God wants church leaders who are flying free in the power of Holy Spirit. Leaders connected with other leaders who are influencing the area we live in because we are doing life together. God wants leaders expecting the supernatural as normal life and lifting up our eyes to know God’s leading and direction. Challenges will surely come, and opposition in different guises but God wants us as salt and light in the places he is calling us to and which he will show us.
Scriptures: Matthew 14:22-33, John 14:25-27, 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, John 15:4-5, 1 Timothy 3:1-12, Numbers 12:3, James 1:2-5, Matthew 5:13-16
God knows every part of our journey with him and the gifting and talents that are special to each one of us. He knows the circumstances of our lives. His children living in difficulties under grey skies, those facing storms and battles. He knows the ones struggling with hurts and disappointments and he desires to bring healing and restoration and to make broken places whole. He wants to breathe Holy Spirit life into church, which cleans and clears the air. God plans for his glory to come bringing with it an open heaven, his Kingdom coming amongst us with the clouds rolled back and where we will be aware of angels cheering us on.
Scriptures: Jeremiah 29:10-14, Isaiah 41:10, John 16:33, Ecclesiastes 3:1,
Joshua 1:9, Psalm 34:7, Exodus 15:25-27, John 16:12-15, 2 Chronicles 7:1-3, Zechariah 2:3-5, 2 Corinthians 3:17-18, Revelation 5:11, Habakkuk 2:14
Winter over! Blue skies!
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God. Psalm 46; God showed us a picture of a river fed by streams. Part of it was flowing quickly, other parts more slowly but the river represents the movement of God and the flow of the Holy Spirit. People, young and old, were playing in the river, enjoying the water but living life together, fully. There was no end to the river and the grass on the banks was very green. Villages grew up on the banks and they developed because the river was there. How we live in the river of God affects what is happening on the bank and affects the areas we live in.
Scriptures: Psalm 46, Ezekiel 47:1-12, Revelation 22:1-5, John 4:10-14
We have believed God is speaking to us about doing a new thing and he is impatient for it to happen. He wants to draw his people, US, back to him big time. Prodigals will return. He wants no one left out. His banquet is for everybody.
What's Your Word for 2015?
At the start of a new year, many of us decide to come up with goals and resolutions for things we’d like to achieve. We'll eat better and exercise more. We'll ditch that bad habit or learn something new. There's nothing wrong with using a new year as a fresh start, but all too often we quickly become discouraged when the goals we've set ourselves aren't reached and the promises we've made get broken (or we forget what they were in the first place!). How many of your friends and colleagues have already confessed to 'forgetting' their well-intentioned, life-enhancing changes...?!
Youth and Children's Worker & Church Leader
No Place I'd Rather Be
From the sunny shores of Tauranga, New Zealand 18,389 kilometers away, a young Kiwi set off on a mission to England in search of adventure and British babes. But with God by his side it appears he had a different plan, and after a bumpy start I ended up renting a flat directly opposite St Mark's Church (where The Community Church had been congregating).
Apprehensive about joining a church family, I walked in one Sunday morning. I was greeted with beaming grins, firm handshakes and evidently warm-hearted people. After the service I was even asked to join my new pastor and his lovely family for lunch at their home. I left that morning certain that this is a man with a huge heart for his family, church family and the community.
As time has passed I have joined a small group with like minded Christians around my age, enjoyed the wisdom the church elders have to share and been baptised! In short I have the church to have: solid biblical teaching, great fellowship, open acceptance to all and a zeal for Christ they bring with them into the local community. The Community Church: "No place I'd rather be".
By Sam Webster.
On the Youth Front...!
Recently it's been pretty good on the youth front. On the Sunday night we saw the first of our new youth small group and Tuesday saw our usual groups Rock Solid and XLR8 have their second week and after a well attended Rock Solid, XLR8 started and for the first time in a looonnng time, there were more young people at XLR8! This wasn't due to Rock Solid being poorly attended either!
In both sessions, myself and Jenni got to share something about God to 40+ young people. In XLR8 we split into smaller groups where more personal questions could be asked by the young people. I took the new people and they asked how I became a Christian; why I do what I do, and told me how they felt about God. It was a great session and they all said they want to come back next time!
My Work Experience
As soon as I entered my third year of secondary education, I was greeted with the concept of having to do some work experience. It didn't take very long before I was having to get to grips with writing a curriculum vitae, as well as looking into certain jobs and occupations with employers that could take me on board.
Eventually it occurred to me that I could perhaps apply for a position at The Community Church (TCC) - the church where I have grown up - and I finally came to the conclusion that that would be just what I would go for. Of course I could have settled down with something that was a bit more out of my comfort zone, but I wanted to go to a job where I was somewhat familiar with the employees as well as being able to learn about the fundamentals of how our church is run. In spite of the obvious familiarity, it would hardly change the principles of going into the workplace and getting an experience of what is it like once you leave behind your years of education.
What I really didn't expect was how my week working in the church office opened my eyes and let me see more about how the church and any organised events are structured and created. A recurring highlight of my week was being able to see more of the ‘behind the scenes’ aspect of the church. Despite being an active member of TCC for just over a decade, never did it really occur to me how the church is run and what kind of planning has to go into it all. I had taken it all for granted and never questioned once what was really going on. Thanks to my work experience, I have now not only gained a better understanding of what it is like to be in the workplace, but I have also gained more in-depth knowledge about a church that I used to think I knew very well.
My work experience was (perhaps) considerably more varied than what the rest of my school colleagues were doing for their week away from school, but I still found value in the tasks that I was presented with. My ‘employer’ was our Youth and Children’s Worker Jenni Taylor; every day at work she would hand me something new to do.
My first day started off by moving boxes and sorting out equipment in the church office that had been recently used at the Stage Door Holiday Club. I then got the privilege attending two different events that had been organised by the church; the first was an inter-generational event between the youth and older members of the church; then I went to the 18+ group, which gave me an insight into what I might be attending a few years from now. It was a long day – I had started at 11.00am and I didn't finish until 10.30pm. I didn't realise what long days Jenni and Tim work…
On my second day I was in again at 11.00am and I helped Jenni with letters that were to be sent out to other members of the youth of the church by writing out the envelopes for her. I was also allowed to attend a meeting to discuss events that are to be held later this year from now until Christmas. This was a shorter day for me as I was able to finish at 5.00pm but on a normal Tuesday Jenni would carry on with Rock Solid and XLR8 until 9.30pm.
My third day was a day where I could let my imagination fly a bit, as well as having to be a bit more independent. Not only did I have to design a flyer for a quiz night for the youth that will take place in a few weeks’ time, but I was also given the task of planning out a schedule for the Rock Solid group and what they will be doing for this coming term. This included deciding themes for them to focus on, games for them to play and even selecting passages and verses from the bible for them to reflect on. At first, it sounded quite daunting and a lot to be expected from me, but I soon found myself getting to grips with what I was supposed to do and it proved to be nowhere near as tricky as I has originally assumed. I was also able to participate in another discussion concerning the meetings we have at our church on Sundays, where I was able to make so contributions to what some of the next few ones will be about; something I felt very pleased about by the end of it!
On my fourth day I travelled to St. George’s Church in Tolworth and spent my time sorting out the toddlers’ toys for the joint toddlers group, run by St. George’s and TCC. Finally my fifth day involved me attending the joint service between our church and St. Mark’s Church, where I helped James Whymark – a very eccentric but splendid fellow – set up some of the equipment for the service, and helped him run the presentation to display the words on the projection screen. It meant I had to start work at 8.30am which seemed very early for a Sunday morning but I was finished by 10.30am!
Overall, I had a very enjoyable time working at TCC. It may not have necessarily been the most quintessential example of what most places are like (the hours aren't very regular!) and how I would be expected to present myself (jeans and a t-shirt were sufficient most days…), but it still follows the same structure as many other businesses and I gained what is in my opinion, a valuable experience. It was fascinating to see more about what goes on behind the scenes of my church, but also to realise that work in my church never gets stale and old because work is always very different, depending on what time of year it is and what has been planned for the year ahead. This is an occupation that I would definitely consider coming back to later in my life, even if it is not within The Community Church.
I would like to thank Jenni Taylor, Paul Pickhaver, Stephanie Edkins and any others who made my work experience not only possible, but such a valuable and memorable time for me. It has been an important chapter in my life that will help me with my future!
By Myron Zhang.
Come On In
My favourite Christmas present was a bird box. No ordinary bird box however, but a 5 star bird hotel; beautifully handcrafted with a shiny roof and a golden, circular emblem below the door entrance.
Before it could be installed, Trevor from my small group had to hack away masses of tightly clinging ivy that had entwined the branches and the trunk of the cherry tree. He had to use strong, sharp clippers, a saw and a pair of secateurs before finally the job was done. He then carefully positioned the bird-box in place where it could be seen and enjoyed by us and our neighbours also.
To my delight, no sooner had he finished a couple of Blue Tits arrived, flying around it inquiringly. One went inside to inspect and came out again, then the other one did the same all the while making beautiful birdsong together excitedly. As soon as it was available they were ready to move in and make it their home.
Later, as I reflected on this while looking at the cleared trunk and branches of the cherry tree, free from the constricting ivy that had blocked out the sunlight, the wind and the rain, a thought came to mind... Does God want to cut away and free us from all that would entangle us, making room for him, as Trevor did for this tree? Is he ready and waiting to come in, settle down and make his ‘permanent’ home in our hearts? Let us consider his words:
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears and listens to and heeds My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will eat with him and he with Me.” (Revelation 3:20)
By Yvonne Pugh.