They’re arriving on our shores. In small boats and dinghies immigrants have been crossing the English channel in recent weeks and arriving in the UK; many of them started their journey in Iran. On the final leg of their journey, some are picked up by French and British immigration forces who are working hard to stop the flow, but perhaps others lose their lives in the attempt. What makes them undertake such a long and dangerous journey across land and sea? What encourages them to often spend all that they possess into order to escape their homeland to come to this country? Is it the lure of a British accent, cricket and warm beer? I think not. I imagine it must take much heart-searching and unbearable pressures in their place they once called home in order to leave it all behind.
I think they must be desperate for something better.
As we commence Advent, the season leading up to Christmas, we should be aware that we will encounter many desperate immigrants longing not to be sent home, but to be welcomed to a new home. I speak not of people from other countries (though they may be) but more probably your family, friends and neighbours who are fleeing the pressures of the world looking for something better. We who know Jesus have that something better, a loving Saviour, an eternal home, that welcoming Father. If we are not prepared to seek out the seekers and the travellers then we are just like immigration forces whose mission is to stop these journeys, or to send them back where they came from.
And let us also remember that Jesus, Mary and Joseph were also once immigrants. They had to flee their homeland heading into Egypt because their lives were in danger. It was an angel who conveyed the news to Joseph saying in a dream
‘Get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’ (Matthew ch2 v13)
Jesus and his earthly family were fleeing the risk of death, seeking the welcome of strangers, reliving the history of God’s people. Imagine if they had been turned away at the border and sent home – it could have all turned out so differently.
So let us take every opportunity in this Christmas season, with all the special services and events to invite the immigrants from the world hoping that they may escape the challenges of a life far from God and instead find the one they are looking for.
For my sabbatical I spent two weeks with my family at a ski resort in France. Being summer it had a very different feel to its winter atmosphere but in our chalet, half way up the valley, we had a wonderful view of village life and an excellent base for family activities. One of the activities taking place in the village was the upgrade of the ski lifts. Apparently, an old four-person chairlift was being replaced by an eight-person gondola (presumably to enhance the ski season trade). Over the days I observed the activities taking place on the building site. A gang of workers were onsite, the foundations had been laid and while I was there I saw that and some drove the diggers and machinery, one man operated the small crane, while others grafted and pieced together the pre-formed concrete panels and metalwork into place. I have know how good they were at their job and while the final product will probably give a clue the lives of all those who ride the gondola will be at stake. There must have been plans for the job, but I never viewed them, there was surely an architect but I never met her. Yet slowly and surely the undertaking grew and (presumably) would be finished by winter time. I reflected on the similarities with my sabbatical. I was experiencing a new work in my life over a three month period, building on a firm foundation as new understanding and new thoughts were coming to me as I read the bible and other books, watched online talks and chatted to friends and colleagues over the period of three months. My heavenly Father had a plan and he was the architect overseeing progress. But the builders were many and varied: Luther, Augustine, Keller, Mohler, Chalke, Brown, Redfern, my family, my church, my friends and of course, Holy Spirit. Each were adding something of their skill and expertise to the construction and development of my understanding. Some of them may not be the best in their field or trade, but each were contributing to the work in progress in my life. Only the finished result will tell - but that end date will not be the day I come back to work but the day I stand before my creator and judge.
Now a similar work can take place in every believer. They need not have a sabbatical to accomplish that, and they certainly don’t have to be a leader or have a specific role in the church. They simply need to be open to the work of God’s Spirit to teach them. The apostle Paul has an encouraging word for everyone in the church, which is this
we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ (Ephesians chapter 4 verse 15)
You and I were not made to stay the same, but to grow more mature with every passing day, aided by our situation, others who can influence us, and God’s Holy Spirit. Better, still, we have a promise that we will be the perfect, finished article when we stand before our heavenly Father. So let’s partner with Him and assist in that progress and seek to be transformed.
Pastors Patch May 2018
In May 1940, there was a significant turning point in the war against Nazi Germany. France and Belgium had been unable to withstand the advance of German forces, and 400,000 soldiers were forced back to the beaches of Dunkirk.
Seeing the desperate situation, King George VI called for a National Day of Prayer on Sunday 26th May. Such was the response that in Westminster Abbey alone, that people were actually queuing to go in for prayer. This was to be the greatest plan of all.
For after that prayerful day Hitler inexplicably halted the advance of his armoured divisions, even overruling his own generals. This was perhaps the first miracle.
Next, on Tuesday 28th May there was a violent storm over Flanders, that grounded the German Lufwaffe planes, which undoubtedly enabled the British troops chance to gain ground in their retreat: a second miracle.
Then an armada of ships and boats of all sizes had set out from Britain, at just the same time as a great and unusual calm settled on the English Channel. This third miracle enabled perhaps as many as 335,000 troops to be rescued and returned to English soil. In his report of events to Parliament on 4th June, Churchill (like many others) described it as “a miracle of deliverance’.
There were surely countless other miracles on a smaller scale, including the personal bravery and sacrifice of so many individuals, that the whole event is often called “The Miracle of Dunkirk”. But this is the power of prayer.
Imagine if nearly 80 years on there was a united turning to God in prayer for a miracle of deliverance not for soldiers on the beaches but for souls in Britain: would it bring about change? Imagine the if we as a church, with others were to mobilise and together seek the Lord’s face for a move of His Spirit in our homes, our communities and our workplaces: surely we would see God do great things.
Beginning this month we will launch a new series of Sunday sermons at The Beacon entitled “Your Kingdom Come”, which will also overlap with a prayer initiative in the Church of England and other denominations. Over several Sundays we will turn to the pages of the bible to see what we can learn about prayer, to see how we can be inspired in our intercession, and most importantly to engage in the joy and power of prayer.
As it says in the letter of James
The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective
(James chapter 5 verse 16)
If we have given our lives to Jesus, then we have already been made righteous, and therefore we can expect our prayers to be powerful and effective. So let’s begin to pray as one people and one nation under God.
“I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise, here I stand, may God help me, Amen”
(Martin Luther, 1521)
There could be no more fitting way to end our Mission Month than by remembering that 31st Oct is billed as the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. Generally linked to the 95 theses (or statements) that Martin Luther nailed to a church door in Wittenburg. You may also be surprised to learn that Playmobile (who make model figures for children) say that their most popular figure in the history of their company is the one of Martin Luther, of which it has sold over 1 million.
It is said this one act changed the world (the theses, not the toy!), and it certainly challenged the established Church of the day.
However, truth be told, it was a whole range of people who contributed to this change, and ultimately it was the Word of God that was behind it all. The Word of God, the bible, a library of books written centuries ago by a whole host of authors, the best-selling book of all time, the book translated into more languages than any other, the book that is the freely available to us today.
If the Reformation had not taken place, the bible could have remained unknown to a waiting world. If the Reformation had not taken place, we would not be here as a congregation, for the Reformation fanned the embers for the creation of the Baptists.
If the Reformation had not taken place we would not be celebrating Mission Month, for the Church five hundred years ago had lost its way and was no longer a missionary movement of God.
If the Reformation has not taken place, we would not be followers of Jesus, standing firm on the Word of God.
So in some senses we are just another person in the Reformation that began with Jesus, and continues to this day. The Reformation may continue through you if, like Luther, you stand on the truth of God.
The apostle Paul loved to use the phrase “stand firm”, notably saying towards the end of Ephesians
Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled round your waist
(Ephesians chapter 6 verse 14)
Whether we keep God’s Word, by our bed, in our hand on Sunday morning, in our bag at school or work, downloaded on our phone or tablet, or treasured in our heart and memorized in our head, let us never depart from it, for it began a reformation that continues in our heart for the glory of God.
Pastor’s Patch – December 2017
WAITING Traditionally in Church History, Advent is the season of preparing and waiting for 24 days. Christmas itself is then celebrated for 12 days. Modern society, by contrast, seems to have got very muddled in its approach – for the preparation and waiting for Christmas seems to commence in the shops selling their wares somewhere in September, and Christmas itself is pretty much over by lunchtime when people go online to buy more “stuff”.
As Christians, it is so easy to get sucked up into this way of thinking and living. If that’s the case, where did we go so wrong? It could well be that we have lost the art of waiting. Advent concentrates the waiting, Christmas prolongs the celebrating. I confess that I am easily swayed by the rush of our culture; I too have little patience for waiting.
This was highlighted when I attended a two-day prayer retreat in November organized by the Order for Baptist Ministers; the theme was “waiting”. As we reflected together that waiting is so undervalued in modern life and yet how it is so valuable in spiritual growth. Waiting is not only necessary, it is beneficial. God’s Word seems to concur with this. The psalmist encourages us to
Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord (Psalm 27 v14) - And again
We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield (Psalm 33 v20) And if God’s people tell us to wait, then surely the Lord has sent that message through them, so they are His words, it is His encouragement to us.
So let us this December reset the clock. May we as a congregation consider the value, even the beauty of waiting. Even a cursory glance through scripture reveals many periods of waiting. Abraham waited 25 years for a promised son to be born to his wife Sarah. The Israelites waited for their release from slavery, and then waited for their wilderness wanderings to lead them to the promised land. Later in their history they needed to wait for seventy years in exile before they could return. And Jesus was waited and expected not just for decades, but for centuries.
Whilst on the retreat I imagined, and crudely drew this picture. On the key is written the word “waiting”. The key is being offered up to a dark-filled keyhole. I sensed that for me, waiting was actually a key for me to progress through the next stage in life. Thus, I am aiming to learn to be better at waiting, especially this Advent.
As a couple of practical prompts to remind me of this, I’m trying to walk slowly wherever I go and celebrate the journey as well as the destination. I’m also chewing my food more times than normal, savouring the taste rather than rushing to finish the meal. You may smirk at my ideas, but they are helpful for me.
If you find it hard to wait, why not develop a couple of ways to help you wait and see what benefits arise? You will need to discern what works for you, but it could be well worth it. We’ll just have to wait and see though, won’t we?
Young children have many questions. Often they come out of nowhere, suddenly sprung upon the unsuspecting adult.
Why do I have to go to school?
How do birds fly?
Where do babies come from? (which as every father knows, has the answer “ask your mother”)
But I have some questions too.
How much deeper would the ocean be without the sponges?
What happens if you get scared half to death, twice?
Why do psychics have to ask you your name?
Why is dyslexia so hard to spell?
Questions reveal that we are thinking creatures, naturally inquisitive about the world around us, with a capacity to wonder and ponder. But God made us that way, and he wants us to be constantly seeing the benefit of questions.
Sometimes we will be asked questions. In the bible, Peter says.
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect (1 Peter chapter 3 verse 15)
Sometimes we should ask questions, but we fail to do so.
You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God (James chapter 4 verse 2)
So here’s a question for you, a very personal and pertinent one. It’s a question you will see on posters around the Beacon at the moment. If you could ask God one question, what would it be?
Can I challenge you to think about your answer to that question?
Can I then challenge you to ask God that question?
And as you do so, remember the bible promise
God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us (Ephesians chapter 3 verse 20)
And maybe, after all that, why not ask a friend or a neighbour if they could ask God one question, what that would be? You may be surprised where that leads in a conversation.
Some time ago my wife and I received an invite to a wedding; but this was no ordinary invitation. Resembling a brochure from a high-end services company, there was a printed folder with 5 pull-out cards detailing the invitation, the order of the day, the meal choices, the gift list and the website to respond with replies and choices. I was gobsmacked to subsequently learn that the couple were spending £23,000 on the wedding celebrations. This is not a wealthy couple, but this is a couple who are following the current trend to spend increasing amounts on a single wedding day. Nevertheless, my wife and I adjusted our plans to attend the wedding just to support the couple as they began their new life together.
However, my wife and I have also been invited to another, very different, wedding. It has been a long time in the planning, and will make the above-mentioned wedding reception look like a stale sandwich in a greasy-spoon roadside café. It will have all the joy and celebration of a wedding, but it will be never-ending joy and celabration. We have been invited to “the wedding of the Lamb”. Anyone wanting to attend will need to adjust their plans in life in order to attend, but it will be well worth it.
We read about this wedding invite in the bible
Let us rejoice and be glad…The wedding of the Lamb has come
and his bride has made herself ready
(Revelation chapter 19 verse 7)
Bible Commentator Phil Moore notes that “World history will not end with a funeral, but with a wedding.” This wedding is a picture of how Jesus will be enjoined to his Church forever, this bride that declared she would “forsake all others”, this groom who promises “all that I am I share with you, all that I have I give to you”.
Thankfully, everyone who is invited to this wedding is encouraged to “bring a guest”. So you too are invited. Feel free to adjust your plans in life, and ensure you don’t miss out on the wedding of the century, in fact, the wedding of all time!
At The Beacon on Wednesday we had an amazing concert. Sally Cranham proved that she is a singer/songwriter with a pure voice, an accomplished guitarist and some thoughtful lyrics. Jané Allam gave a masterclass in cooking a wonderful curry. Being from India, he should know, and he shared skills learned from his mother. But the two of them also interwove stories about the Compassion Child Sponsorship programme. Jané grew up in a poverty-ridden community in a single room dwelling with his family and he was the first child there to get sponsorship in the area. Being provided education, a meal a day, and other gifts from the local church benefitted him and his whole family. He began to thrive as a person, and an early joy was for him to teach his own parents how to write their name so they could sign for their own wages rather than use a thumbprint: a simple act that brought dignity.
Jané demonstrated he was actually bright, regularly coming top in his year at school. He did so well that his sponsor encouraged him to apply for University, and Jané secured a place at Manchester for a BA in Business Studies, followed by an MA. He now works for Compassion and heads a programme to bring even more help to his community and country.
If no-one had ever sponsored Jané it may have been so different. But as their strapline says “ Compassion is changing the world “one child at a time”. As a Compassion sponsor myself, I see how just a few pounds a week is making a difference to another young life who may one day be making a difference like Jané. Why not consider if you could sponsor a child? Go to www.compassionuk.org for more information