Building Church – from the bottom up!

Starting with a blank sheet of paper  
It’s Monday and the sun is out.
I decided literally to start with a blank sheet of paper, sitting in the garden, pondering what to write about.
Well, there’s a few words already!
Actually, what came to mind was: what if we restarted church with a blank piece of paper?
Now, I realise that we don’t start from nowhere – at CCVW we have had a century and a half of evangelical ministry! And more recently, as the think about our slow return to Church, we are not starting from nothing. The complicated questions we wrestle with are: should we do that we did before, and what might we now do differently, all within the constraints of a post-covid world?!
But humour me for a moment, what if we were starting from scratch? After all, with Pentecost Sunday just a few weeks away, that first outpouring of the Holy Spirit created a group of people who came to be known as the Church. Ekklesia (from which we get all words ecclesiastical) just meant “assembly” or “called-out-ones” and didn’t initially refer to Church. But the 114 times the word is used in the New Testament refer to the gathering of Christians for corporate worship, locally, and as a global movement.
 
Building a Church from bottom up
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47).

The key components of this first Church were:

  • Learning – devotion to the apostles teaching. Yes, this implies sermons, but also, Connect groups and all other forms of being nurtured and formed by God’s word.
  • Loving – Christian fellowship is sharing the common life which we have in Christ, and generously meeting the needs of one another in Christian community. There are still some restrictions in place, but we are getting ready to start serving coffee outside, under canopies and marquee as necessary.
  • Worshipping – breaking bread, prayer, in public and in private. We have missed it this past year, but we are now celebrating Holy Communion across all three of our Sunday services (1st Sunday of the month, 08:30; 3rd Sunday, 18:30; Last Sunday: 10:30). Prayer works quite well across zoom – and we might well include this as part of our normal pattern of prayer, but our relaunched Sunday evening service (9th May) will include a time of “open prayer” and “sharing” in the context of a more informal meeting. Singing outside on Easter Sunday was great – maybe we can do a bit more of this?
  • Witnessing – The Lord added daily to their number those who were being saved. I think that there has been a lot of cross fertilisation of churches going on during lockdown! Online church has made it easier for people to drop in on other churches, and I know that we have seen people both leave and arrive during this time. But the key thing for churches is not transfer growth, but new growth. We are eager to prepare well during this year for Passion for Life, the evangelistic endeavours planned for Easter next year. Plus, as lockdown begins to ease, to get into Longcross, visiting house to house, and starting some gatherings in the community hub.

John Stott, in his commentary on Acts, points out that a Spirit filled Church is the most missionary active Church!
The Holy Spirit did come on the Day of Pentecost, and has never left his Church. Our responsibility is to humble ourselves before his sovereign authority, to determine not to quench him, but to allow him his freedom. For then our churches will again manifest those marks of the Spirit’s presence, which many young people are specially looking for, namely biblical teaching, loving fellowship, living worship, and an ongoing, outgoing evangelism.

Addendum

A congregation member rightly asked me whether it should not all begin with the climax of Peter’s sermon: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Acts 2:38 demonstrates that it all starts with an individual responsive faith – repentance, faith, and infilling of the Holy Spirit ….

The focus by the end of chapter 2 is very much on “what did that early church look like – those individuals who have just been filled with the spirit” – hence v42ff. then show the communal life of believers in a primitive church.

The personal and the corporate both belong together.

English Weather as an explanation for a theological chestnut!

A simple response to a complicated question

Here’s a question which I am often asked:
If nobody becomes a Christian without God changing their heart, then what choice do people have in that matter?
And, why should I bother evangelising?
Moreover, if God is ultimately in control over everything, does that mean I am still responsible for my choices?
Is there an answer to the “divine sovereignty” and “human responsibility” question?


Well, yes: in the sense that the Bible teaches that God is absolutely sovereign:

God chose us before the foundation of the world…In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will . . . (Eph 1:4, 11)

The Bible also teaches that humans are accountable and responsible:

Everyone who believes in Him will not be put to shame…. Each of us will give an account before God (Rom 10:11; 14:12)

Here is my simplistic explanation:
What was the weather like over Easter weekend? “It was glorious, in fact, I got sun-burned in the sunshine” is a true statement because we had the warmest Easter weekend for some 50 years.
“It was very cold; there was frost on the ground” is also a true statement because on Easter Monday temperatures dipped considerably.

Either answer is correct, but the fuller answer is that both statements need to be made in order to give a full view of the truth. Easter 2021 was both extremely hot and extremely cold.

Here’s the point: it is not sufficient to say God is absolutely sovereign, nor to say that human beings are totally accountable for their actions. We actually need to say both of these to have a fuller view of God. 
How both those statements may be true is another matter! After Paul has spent 3 chapters on this mind-stretching topic he ends with an exclamation of praise at God’s marvellous and mysterious character:
 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
    How unsearchable his judgments,
    and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
    Or who has been his counsellor?”
“Who has ever given to God,
    that God should repay them?”
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
    To him be the glory forever! Amen.
(Romans 11:33-36)

By the way

  • My illustration is inspired by Charles Simeon’s advice on explaining this theological mystery: The truth is not to be found at one end (God’s sovereignty) or the other end (Human freedom), nor even in the middle between the two; but the truth is found in both extremes.
  • and… This popular phrase explains human effort and absolute dependence upon God rather well: “work as if everything depends upon you; pray as if everything depends upon God”.

The Unmentionable Subject

It used to be said: The Victorians talked a lot about death, but never about sex, and the 21st Century does the opposite. Maybe that has changed.

For the past year we have been used to briefings from the Government reporting daily death tolls from Coronavirus. And we have heard some harrowing stories about the impact of Covid-19, in terms of personal loss, and the terrible scale of the virus.

We might laugh at Woody Allen: “I am not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” However, we humans do fear death.

Christian Death

I watch the neighbour’s cat stalking a sparrow. The bird is literally a claws-length away from a bloody end, flying away at the very last minute. Two seconds later it is back, pecking at the same patch of lawn.

The bird might not be keen on dying, but it does not seem to have that aching fear of death which is part of the human lot.

We fear pain (of course!), and we fear the unknown. But, I think there is more. “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:31). There is a final day of reckoning, where we all will be judged by God.

We don’t like to talk about it; but we do long for a day of justice. And justice cannot happen without judgment.

The Bishop of Kensington, Graham Tomlin in The Times, 6th February 2021, wrote – It’s far too late to think about death when you’re dying — let’s do it now

Christian Hope

“Oh death, death, where is thy sting?” memorable words from Handel’s Messiah. Handel quoted the old translation of the Apostle Paul’s triumphant chapter displaying Christ’s victory over sin and death.

“’Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’The sting of death is sin…” (1 Corinthians 15:55-56)

Paul does not fear death. He mocks death. Without belittling death’s power and its hold upon us, he can triumphantly say that “death has been overcome in Christ”! This is expressed well in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, by CS Lewis:

“Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,

At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,

When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,

And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.”

As we slowly emerge from this pandemic, let us rebuild on the solid foundation of Jesus’ death and triumphant resurrection. He offers hope – not just for this life – but for the life beyond. We would love to help you explore the deep meaning of His great words:

“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24).

This why we MUST talk about death this Easter!

Love Came Down at Easter

Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Day will be with us very shortly. We will be looking at St John’s account of Jesus’ final days, His crucifixion and resurrection.

In this Gospel, Doubting Thomas features heavily. He is often regarded as the Patron Saint of Science. After all, is he not best known for doubting the evidence of Jesus Christ with the words “Unless I see, I won’t believe”?

Are Science and Religion in conflict?

Contrary to popular opinion, science and religion have been happy bedfellows down the centuries. Let me give you three short illustrations.

Albert Einstein himself had a deep faith, and once wrote about the reason why he was a scientist:

“I want to know how God created this world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know His thoughts, and the rest are details.”

Professor John Polkinghorne, an English physicist, and retired Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, has said:

“When you realise the laws of nature must be incredibly finely tuned to produce the universe we see, that conspires to plant the idea that the universe did not just happen, but that there must be a purpose behind it.”

Professor John Lennox of Oxford University, and who recently spoke at Christ Church Virginia Water says:

“Humans alone are rational beings created in the image of God, capable of a relationship with God and given by Him a capacity to understand the universe in which they live.”

If I had told you 18 months ago that there would be a global pandemic which would bring the countries of this world to a near standstill, and that millions of people would be infected with this virus, with over 2 million people dead. Would you believe me? Maybe not.

But now, only a few people disbelieve this fact, and when they do so they are for the most part denying the obvious evidence.

Redeeming Thomas, and answering His doubt

To be honest, I feel a bit sorry for Thomas. He is forever known as the Doubter.

In John 20 He says: “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

The Apostles were eyewitnesses, in the technical sense that they observed and recorded what Jesus said and did, including witnessing his death on the cross and physical resurrection. Thomas was not with the disciples when Jesus first appeared with them.

When Thomas finally did meet with Jesus, and was given living proof, he made the strongest confession of faith, calling Jesus “My Lord and my God”.

Ok, you say, Thomas needed to see Jesus to believe. Why should I believe in Jesus – I can’t see Him!?

  • Explore the evidence

Why not start with John’s Gospel? He gives his own explanation of why he wrote the book:

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)

This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. … Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. (John 21:24-25).

  • Get on board

Yes, it seems like a lifetime ago, but before the pandemic I would make the regular short flight to Jersey to see my family.

To get there, I need to put my trust in a plane and a pilot. If I have confidence in them, I will get on board and let them take me home.

You might be a nervous flier, listening attentively to the announcements, checking the emergency exits, and burying your fingernails into the armrest.

Or, you might be a regular commuter, having made this trip hundreds of times, barely hearing the safety announcements, and completely relaxed for the entire journey.

Whoever you may be, once you are on board, the pilot will take you to your final destination.

Faith is like that. It isn’t a leap in the dark. Faith is about putting your confidence in the evidence.

Did Jesus do what He claimed to do? He predicted He would be put to death (commemorated on Good Friday) and rise on the third Day (Easter Sunday). All the evidence points towards that having happened.

And what’s more, He did it because He loves you. “For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, so that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

We would love to help you put your faith in Him and “get on board”.

Ash Wednesday and Lent

Ash Wednesday in the modern Evangelical Church – Revd Dr Simon Vibert

Do modern Anglican Evangelicals observe Ash Wednesday?

What is the history behind this first day of Lent?

How might it help us in our discipline and walk with the Lord?

Protestant vv Catholic tradition

Some of the caution surrounding Ash Wednesday, at least among Anglican Evangelicals, is the perception that Ash Wednesday is a Catholic practice. Cranmer strongly believed it should not be part of Church of England worship, and the imposition of Ashes was ruled illegal as recently as the 1870s (see Church Association Tract 259).

The origin of this day is unclear, but certainly dates back to the early centuries of the Church.

Modern Catholics recognise the “Imposing the ashes” on Ash Wednesday as part of a penitential service. The priest will mark the head of the worshippers with ash, created by the burnt palm crosses from the previous year.

Unrelated to corporate worship, some have taken this practice onto the streets and marked the foreheads of anyone who wishes to have the imposition of ashes.

The Reformers clearly believed that Ash Wednesday was important, although no reference is made to “ashing”, and they preferred this day to be known as “The First Day of Lent”. The following Collects brilliantly summarise the biblical principles which undergird the observance of Ash Wednesday.

Collect for Ash Wednesday (to be said every day in Lent)

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing that you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: make in us new and contrite hearts so that, lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, we may receive from you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (taken from The English Prayer Book)

This Collect speaks of contrition, penitence, lament, and acknowledgement of wretchedness, in order that we may receive mercy, remission and forgiveness through the Lord Jesus. The Collect reflects the themes found in the Ash Wednesday readings Joel 2: 12-17; Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-21; 2 Corinthians 5: 16-6:

On this first day of Lent, the BCP readings focus on penitence and confession of sin. The symbolism of “ash” is a powerful sign of repentance in Scripture, where putting on “sackcloth and ashes” is an outward symbol of deep contrition and mourning (e.g. Matt 11:21).

Similarly, in Job 42:3-6, Job’s final response to hearing God’s words are also instructive:

You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.

…My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

Collect for 1st Sunday of Lent

Lord Jesus Christ, who for our sake fasted forty days and forty nights, give us grace so to discipline ourselves that we may always obey your will in righteousness and true holiness to the honour and glory of your name; for you live and reign with the Father and Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness, being tempted by the Devil, resisting the Devil and fasting and praying. So, for the 40 Days of Lent (Ash Wednesday – Easter Saturday, Sundays excluded), we examine ourselves, deny ourselves, and repent.

The Commination

The Commination is a detailed confession for Ash Wednesday.

BRETHREN, in the primitive Church there was a godly discipline, that, at the beginning of Lent, such persons as stood convicted of notorious sin were put to open penance, and punished in this world, that their souls might be saved in the day of the Lord; and that others, admonished by their example, might be the more afraid to offend.

The intention is that, having heard God’s words of admonishment and condemnation, we might all the more thoroughly repent, and seek him wholeheartedly

This rarely features in contemporary evangelical churches, perhaps because it spends quite some time on confession and sorrow, with less time on forgiveness and assurance.

Commendation and Caution

Observing Ash Wednesday as a place for self-examination and confession is helpful. It is rare, in the modern Church, to spend this time in deep confession and penitence. And rising from confession to renewed self-discipline, for duration of Lent, and even beyond (!) is surely good.

Jesus is clear in Matthew 6:16–18, that we need to be wary of exercising our spiritual disciplines for recognition and show in this life (should I really wander around town on Ash Wednesday with an Ash Cross on my forehead?). Better, we should ensure that there is a Godward focus on Ash Wednesday and that Jesus is my hope for Lent and beyond.

As with so much of the calendar and liturgical shape of the BCP, Ash Wednesday provides us with an appropriate frame of mind to prepare to “die with Christ” that we might “be raised with Christ”.

2020-2021

FROM HIM GRACE; TO HIM GLORY
                             (2 Peter 3:18)

Dear friends
Well, that was a challenging year, wasn’t it!?

You could say “twenty-twenty won”… or, “I am not staying up to see the New Year in, but to check that 2020 leaves” ….but I am not yet ready to write off the year that’s past. There is much to be thankful for, not least, that what is a surprise to us, is not a surprise to God.

Yet, as the world rejoices at the arrival of several new vaccines, we know that the challenges are not over.

The challenge may still be very real for you: in terms of physical and mental health, finances, social connection, and intimacy – and at a macro level, for front line workers and global economies.

I do want to thank you for all the ways you have served one another, and for the ways in which you have engaged and connected with each other. In particularly, for all the work which went into Christmas events (Carol Singing, Carol and Nativity Services, decorating and maintaining Church and grounds, the wreath making upload, care packages for seniors, keeping us connected to each other through electronic communications etc etc).

I have pasted below links to two articles which I think sum up the positives, despite the challenges, and I commend them to you:
From David Robertson in Christianity Today:

And this from The Times on how Gen Z (youth and young adults) are showing an increasing interest in spiritual matters, particularly as they are more aware of their fragility:

As we gingerly step into 2021 may I commend the pattern of our Lord? Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2)

To summarise: Short-term obstacles and pain; but long-term joy and glory.

This is the pattern of the Christian life which Jesus has set out before us. We take up His cross in this life, in anticipation of the joy that is ahead.

Perhaps this perspective will also put us in good stead for our expectations for 2021?

JANUARY AT CHRIST CHURCH VIRGINIA WATER

We have taken the difficult decision not to have a gathered congregation in Church during January. Whilst in Tier 4 churches are permitted to meet, we have decided that we should not do so at the moment. The levels of infections, hospitalisations, and death, are just too high. Watch this space for updates for February onwards.

This does mean Sundays at 10:30 and 18:30, as well as midweek resources for Connect Groups, will be on our YouTube Channel  (see http://bit.ly/ccvwonline and this for zoom prayer at 18:30  http://bit.ly/ccvwprayer )
10:30 Services will be livestreamed from Church, and a small team will be present to facilitate this.

Please subscribe to the YouTube channel. Plus, do engage in the chat whilst the services are going on, and join us for “zoom coffee” right after the 10:30 services https://bit.ly/ccvw12042020

We are aware that not everyone finds connecting online easy or desirable – and “zoom fatigue” is real.

In addition to alternate week E-News and Vicar’s letter, we will continue: to provide DVDs of the Sunday services for those who are not on the internet (please email Vincent); telephone and written engagement with members of the congregation; meeting via Connect Groups; praying, and visiting as we are able, and so on.

However, please do be in touch with me if there are things I need to know, or people who need our help (simon.vibert@cc-vw.org).

Tier 4 update and Christmas Joy!

The great theologian, Karl Barth, wrote extensively on the importance of the “incarnation” (nothing to do with condensed milk!), rather, that eternal, almighty, God became human flesh and blood. What a wonder! But why? Well, that’s why Christmas is such a great celebration, and why we all feel the grief of not being able to meet physically to worship Him together this year! Barth summarises the “secret of Christmas” so well. It is less about tinsel, trees and presents. But more to do with a life poured out, even to death, so that we might be raised to new life as children of God. What a wonder!

So, whilst we grieve the impact of Coronavirus, let’s wonder afresh at the marvel of Christmas.

A reminder of changes to Church services over the next few days:
https://bit.ly/ccvwyoutube


Christmas Day – 10:30 – “You shall call Him Jesus” – pre-recorded  Christmas Service available on YouTube. (Small in person presence for those who really want to watch the service on the big screen in Church, booking via Church Suite)

27th December – 10:30 – “Christmas unwrapped” – pre-recorded JJohn service on our YouTube channel (no in person meeting).

3rd January – “Life Appeared” – pre-recorded service available on YouTube (no in person meeting)

I know you will pray for the leadership of CCVW as we seek to follow God faithfully, and serve you well, in the light of changes to our pre-planned programmes.

May you know the Christ of Christmas afresh this year, in your homes, in your heart, and in our world

Simon and Carrie

Faith in a Coronavirus World

Faith in a Coronavirus World

Simon Vibert

At the end of 2020 There was a real sense of déjà vu: Here we go again.

We had just entered Lockdown 2, or, lockdown, the “remix”. I wasn’t too keen on the first lockdown, to be honest. The sudden loss of our freedoms, alongside the challenges of dealing with a global pandemic, took us all by surprise. There was some upside. A kind of a blitz spirit swept across the nation. The roads went silent, the skies were free of the streaks of jet streams, creation breathed. Maybe it isn’t just my computer that performs better when it is shut down, unplugged, and rebooted?

Zoom was our new best friend, and hitherto unknown creativity burst onto YouTube.

The weather was kind: for those with gardens, new adventures were found. Other’s excelled in the kitchen. And Joe Wicks did his best to keep us all in shape.

We understood the seriousness of Covid-19. A highly contagious virus meant we had to distance ourselves from each other – “Hands, Face, Space” were the drumbeat of public health messages. We were glad to go on our doorsteps and “clap for the NHS”. Our Doctors and Nurses were on the frontline, and they were taking casualties.

However, even if you were fortunate enough to have a garden, to stay healthy, and to keep well during Lockdown, it was all still very uncertain, unexpected, and unsettling.

I also sense that the mood was different in Lockdown 2. It was winter, after all. Plus, we were more aware of the mental toll which lockdown takes, not to mention the deep impact on macro and micro finances.

At the beginning of 2021, hopes are running high that the vaccine will be effective, and we can begin to return to a degree of normality. But hugging, singing, and all manner of socialising, is going to be much slower to return.

And, when the world is “rebooted” and the church too is allowed to gather again, to what do we wish to return? Have we learned anything? What do we leave behind, and what do we embrace with enthusiasm?

The impact of Covid-19 is likely to be long lasting. This short book helps you to explore some of the key challenges which the virus raised, yes, personally, but also for God’s Church and his plans for time and eternity.

Stuck in the spin cycle

Speaking very personally, I have been surprised at how unsettling the whole thing has been, and I suspect I am not on my own. Beneath the surface, emotions which are barely hidden under a coping veneer, were occasionally breaking through. Panic, fear, rootlessness, and nagging doubts.

For me, the testing time is somewhere between 3.00am and 5.00am. I don’t think I am worried, but my brain seems to be stuck in a repeat cycle, like a broken washing machine. Sloshing around my mind are half finished conversations, odd slights and niggles, and unformed projects awaiting attention. I remember a dear saint, now with the Lord, who said that during the day everything in life was clearly ordered and my faith is strong, but in those wee small hours, nothing much makes sense anymore.

There are ways to break the cycle, and we will return to this later. For me, it means remembering that my core identity in Christ has not been lost; my worth is based upon the loving price Christ paid for me; and my confidence is in the everlasting arms which uphold me.

The tricky bit is stopping the whirring and breaking the spin cycle. When worrying or panicking, some friends of my mine slowly say the Lord’s Prayer, or Psalm 23. Others, like me, try to write down those things which need proper attention in daylight hours: a notepad and pen by my bed is good for that, even if reading it in the morning is tricky!

This is not just about sleep of course. Although, sleeplessness can be symptomatic. Coronavirus has raised all kinds of questions, from the mundane to the serious:

  • Why am I so tired?
  • Why do I find it so hard to focus?
  • What about Church?
  • Will I even be able to hug my friends and family again?
  • Will I ever be able to travel and see the world?
  • What is normality, and will it ever return?
  • What is my purpose in life?
  • Who am I?

Remembering my core identity in Christ

Many of these questions have to do with identity. Most of the time we do not meaningfully ask the question: “who am I?”. We get on with life.

Our typical routines have very much have been challenged by the viral illness Covid-19, but, more particularly, by the way it has changed our everyday life. Certain securities and certainties keep us focused each day, these include work, family, routine, health, and so on. When our typical patterns and routines are challenged, we start to ask ourselves, perhaps even for the first time: who am I?

Christians have a very clear, but profound, answer to the identity question.

  1. You are a true child of God

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26) [1]

If you are believer then you are already a child of God. Your right to be in God’s family isn’t something you are working towards or try to achieve by your own effort.

We weren’t born a Christian, although growing up in a Christian family has huge privileges. Rather, God has adopted you into His family. You can sit at the family table, you take on the family name; can call God my father (so 4:6).

Paul says here – whether you are male or female – you have the rights of heirs in God’s kingdom!

I need to be reminded of this day after day.

  1. You are adopted into God’s family

Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir. (Galatians 4:6-7)

Our human nature has not changed, nor, often, have all those emotions which churn in our minds. That is a slow process. What has changed is our status. We are adopted into God’s family. That is a huge privilege!

Jim Packer put it so well:

If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how he much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all. [Adoption] is the highest privilege the gospel offers….That justification–by which we mean God’s forgiveness of the past together with his acceptance of the future–is the primary and fundamental blessing is not in question ….But…adoption is higher, because of the richer relationship with God that it involves.

                                — J.I. Packer, Knowing God, chap 19

This short book primarily has Christians in mind. It is an encouragement to remember who you are in Christ Jesus, and enjoy the privilege of being in God’s family. I am sure, when we ponder deeply on these truths, we will be better equipped to give Faith, Hope and Love to our needy world.

But, if you are anything like me, I need to emerge from Coronavirus with a fresh sense of the privilege of being a Christian even in these challenging days.

The Puritan, Thomas Goodwin put it like this:

A man is walking along the road with his son holding his hand.  The little boy knows that the man is his father, and that his father loves him.  But suddenly the Father stops, – picks up the boy, lifts him up into his arms, embraces him and kisses him… the boy is no more a son when he is being embraced than he was before.  The father’s action… has not changed the status of the boy, but oh! The difference in the enjoyment.

Maybe, just maybe, the global pandemic will unearth some key questions, and perhaps, give Christians the chance to regain their confidence in the God who made, and rescues, them? I hope so.

Where next?

Here are five short looking at some of the key questions which Coronavirus has thrown up in recent months (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OpSeSF2qB_8&list=PLWCrsWvXinQ7EtwN4OYsIo2lJr-QwJ75S):

  1. Work and identity How does the Bible answer the question: “Who am I?” And how do I understand my identity, and my work? (particularly when these things are deeply challenged by lockdown and my working practices keep changing).
  1. Suffering and death How do I make sense of suffering, and respond appropriately to it? Living in through a global pandemic raises huge questions. How can I help myself and others prepare for death?
  1. Lockdown and rest Despite the changing patterns of work and leisure, finding real rest is tricky. How do I rest, find sabbath rhythm, and worship God faithfully?
  1. Loneliness and friendship We live in a “connected” by not “committed” world. Connections via zoom and social media have never been easier. But people still struggle to find real friends. What is true friendship and how can I be a good friend when socially distanced?
  1. Hope, Faith and Love People hunger for these core needs: hope for the future, confidence in something that is reliable, and a sense of being loved and showing love. How are today’s trials preparing me for my heavenly home, and advancing God’s kingdom now?

As I have interacted with members of my own Church family, these questions have been very real.

My hope is that we can regroup, as a Church, around some core convictions around our identity in Christ Jesus, and strength our confidence in God, knowing that He is utterly reliable, and still on the throne!


[1] Many translations retain “sons of God” for good reason, for only the Son was the heir to all of the Father’s assets, but, “children” gets across most of that sense for our modern, more inclusive ears.

On-line…In-Person…Hybrid Church

Like most Churches from March to July, all our meetings moved to YouTube and Zoom. And, since then, we have adopted a “hybrid” model – livestreaming our Sunday 10:30 service from Church with a small congregation, making it available to those who do not yet feel able to physical meeting.

We are aware of the many benefits:

  • Certainly, initially, we had very large numbers attending our online services, peaking at Easter with possibly four times our usual Sunday attendees logging on;
  • Online meeting enables people to join Christian worship without the big step of stepping over the threshold of a Church building, and I think we all know of people who have attended church “virtually” for the first time during this period;
  • Services felt a bit different: shorter (!), perhaps a bit more intimate, with people speaking direct to camera, rather than distanced (although that has changed a bit with the return to Church for streaming).
  • Many of you have commented on how good it is for whole families to worship together.
  • Courses, connect groups and zoom meetings have worked well, as a substitute for meeting physically (although I know many of you are keen that we find a way to return to physical meeting).

We are also aware of the challenges:

  • We miss the closeness of Christian fellowship: The hubbub of gathering, coffee after Church, Holy Communion, being able to sing and worship, vocally!
  • There is also a degree of anonymity, yes, which means people can easily join and “pop in”, but at the same time, unless you make contact with me (or join the zoom coffee) then I have no idea who is (or is not) attending
  • The casual nature of the worship experience: we’ve joked about watching in our pyjamas, coffee in hand, and being able to mute the preacher! But it is a serious issue: we don’t want to produce “armchair” Christians, nor do we want the hour of gathered worship to be something we catch up with when we have spare time. Plus, we are called to commit ourselves to a local church – not flit between different online offerings. It is sobering to dive into the analytics and note the short average length of watching of those who log on. The big numbers do not tell the full story.

Looks a bit different now?

For me, the key question is: how can we connect deeply and meaningfully, having jumped into the social media world?

I have mentioned before my concern that in our modern world people are “Connected but not Committed”.

This model of shared lives continues to be our goal and aspiration:

Acts 2:42-47 (ESV)

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

“God’s Work, in God’s World, in God’s Way”

So, a few challenges:

  • Please, as you are able, return to physical meeting in Church. Numbers are growing, which is encouraging, but we are not yet at safely distanced capacity (and we hope to add more services when we are able). Obviously, if you are shielding, or vulnerable, we don’’ expect you to put yourself or others at risk. But, please do come if you are able.
    • We are celebrating Holy Communion this Sunday for the first time;
    • We are expecting to have “live” musicians and singers to help our corporate worship experience (even though we cannot yet have congregational singing)
  • Please do pray for wisdom as we try to further the following aspects of ministry:
    • Our desire to reach out into our community – with Christians care, and with the Gospel message;
    • We want to restart physical meeting with children, youth, students and young adults – for wisdom as to how we can do this;
    • How can we grown in our fellowship and love for one another, whilst remaining distant?
    • We are revising our website, and reviewing our use of all social media, and we need wisdom for this.
    • We believe that Jesus keeps his promise: “I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail over it” (Matt 23:9) – the kingdom of God is so much bigger than the local Church: let’s see how we can be sure that we are participating in His work in His world in His way!

True Church

2 biblical pictures of true Church

1. “We are family”.

If you are of a certain age, I would be very surprised if you didn’t finish reading those three words with the rest of the lyrics of the Sister Sledge Song!
“Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters.” Hebrews 13:1
It is true, “you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family”.
Notice the way Jesus describes it: He said: “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:34) Peter objects, “We have left everything to follow you!” “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.  But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Mark 10:28-31) 

There is enormous privilege in being a disciple of Jesus Christ. You find that you have been adopted into a family – the big family of God – which gives you a sense of belonging to brothers and sisters all around the world. Although, this also means taking on the family identity, and being treated as Jesus was treated too. It also challenges the modern view of family life as “mum, dad and 2.2 children”, and should better reflect the extended family that what part of ancient Israel (and continues in many parts of the world outside of the west).

That sense of ownership and commitment to each other lies at the heart of true Christian Fellowship, I think. If your sibling calls you at midnight to say that they need you, you would respond, right? Christians have those kinds of close bonds as adopted children in God’s family, with Jesus as our brother.

Lockdown has challenged these connections and commitments. There is a limit to how much we can connect via zoom! For example I have been concerned about two things as lockdown eases: That we are in danger of producing consumers, not worshippers. Thank God that we have had the technology to join together in corporate worship but beware of a purely passive attendance. Church is not something which we fit into an otherwise packed schedule: it is a place to meet with our family, and it should be our priority. Where we mostly meet “virtually”, I have struggled with the invisibility of it all. I would only know that you are there if you make contact (or I contact you) … who is slipping off the radar? Who is in such a difficult place that they find it hard to reach out? How do we maintain kinship relationship at times like these? Zoom, telephone, distanced meeting, etc all help. It’s time to reconnect with our family! Let’s do what we can to be there for each other.

2. “I have called you friends” (Jesus in John 15:15)

Being a friend is a different type of relationship to being family, and equally, if not more, important.
So many people have few friends. Yes, there are business acquaintances, walking/golf/ tennis partners, and fellow members of whatever club you associate with. These are all important.
But, friends? As I have been pondering this topic for a while, I have deliberately made contact with some friends that I have lost touch with – via text or phone call. It has been encouraging and refreshing to do so. Three brief thoughts on this:

a. Open Up

Friendship requires us to be open and vulnerable – although, not to the same degree with everyone.
Many have noticed that Jesus had different circles or friends:
There was the crowd – fascinated and fickle.
There was the 72 – those sent out on mission.
There was the 12 – an inner circle with whom he shared his plans, food and mission (although one betrayed him, and all denied him).
There was the 3 (Peter, James and John) – they clearly had closer access to Jesus, and he shared his heart with them.
This pattern of friendship would seem to imply that we can’t have the same level of intimacy with everyone. It also shows the importance of meeting together outside of corporate worship on a Sunday – in smaller Home/Zoom groups, and in twos or threes.

b. Go Deep

Although we acknowledge that we cannot have deep friendships with everyone, I wonder whether we have that level of deep sharing, prayer and conversation with one or two people. Of course, we don’t want to create cliques within the Church, and managing our circle of friends is important. But do you have a prayer partner? An accountability partner? Or just, a good friendship, where you feel you can be yourself? Someone who challenges you in your discipleship (without judgement) and can help you be a better you in Christ.

c. Be a good friend

Many lament that they don’t have many close friends, but I wonder sometimes whether it is because we are always waiting for others to make the first move.

Send a text, pick up the phone, arrange for a coffee (or a zoom meet).
As we have started to regather as a Church with a small number meeting in Church, and many more meeting online, how can we be open, go deep and be good friends to each other given the constraints of social distancing?
Clearly there is a more to be said on this important aspect of being Church, but the main challenge is to look out for one another, and ensure that CCVW is a place where lonely people can feel connected with each other, as well as with God their Father.