John Blanchard on Evangelistic Preaching

I have several reasons to be thankful for the life and legacy of John Blanchard.

Although he came from the channel island rival, Guernsey (Jersey is obviously better!), whilst still a teenager i heard he and Derek Cleave speak evangelistically to students in Jersey. His clear apologetics and winsome engagement struck a powerful chord with me.

Many years later we connected again. And the last time i heard him speak was in 1994, at our Fellowship of Word and Spirit Conference. I have replicated my own notes from his talk below, they still speak powerfully of the motivations for evangelism, as set out by the Apostle Paul in Romans 1. This is particularly helpful as we prepare for Passion for Life in 2022.

Talk by John Blanchard. Romans 1:16f – evangelistic preaching. 10th January 1994

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

The average church member has little heart for evangelism.

Effective evangelism needs evangelistically minded congregations.

Can’t hold a biblical view of election and then just trust that better technique will bring results.

Notice Paul’s heart as an evangelist

  • Commitment (Paul is not ashamed)

Paul’s deep focussed involvement with the Gospel.

a. the message (2:16; 5:14) MY Gospel; passion, like a fire cf Jeremiah)

Paul believers preaching is the release of a divine word which has gripped the heart of the preacher.

The Gospel posses HIM.

Are we gripped by the Gospel? The congregation won’t be stirred by an unstirred preacher.

b. The mandate. Jeremiah was sent  by God (see Jer 1:4,6 & Ch 23)

  • Confidence (God’s power for salvation)

“lift the saviour high; lay the sinner low”

a. the plight of man

Today, there is no objection to preaching against “sins”

But to preach man’s depravity is offensive,. Man has no ability to obey/believe.

Our Gospel preaching is usually existential.

The centre of gravity is the other side of the grave.

b. the power of the Gospel

2 Cor 10:4

The success of the Gospel exasperates our enemies and exhilarates the evangelist

  • Content

“My heart was filled with love, my eyes with tears, and my mouth with arguments” – John Wesley

Martyn Lloyd Jones advocated special preparation for evangelism

The whole will of God

The way to bring sinners to Christ is to preach Christ to sinners

  • Context

Paul understood the culture: the Gospel is contemporary as well as eternal.

a. Iniquitous age

Pumping electronic sewerage into our living rooms (cf Rom 1:32ff)

b. Indifferent age

The age of the shrug.

Expose permissiveness

c. Informed age

People are better informed about everything, We must know our age.

John Stott – double listening

Be men of people not men of books

  • Concern (for salvation)

Salvation is Truth – demanding a verdict (cf 1:5)

Sermons must demand a response and resonance. We must engage them, not just inform them.

Pray the Lord to save your hearers, drive home to them, as if you could save them yourself.

Conclusion

a. Use the 2nd person plural in application “You are the man”£ applications leads to conviction

b. Use questions. Questions demand answers.

e.g. Baxter “call to sinners”

Questions back man’s conscience into the corner; they force him to defend himself.

all of this arises from our concern: John Wesley always had heaven and hell in his eyes 

Finding God in the Ordinary

“Mummy, Mummy, is it true that we all end up as dust?”

“Well, yes, the Bible says ‘you come from dust, and to dust you will return’”

“COME QUICKLY – there is someone either coming or going under my bed!”

The child’s sentiment was almost right! Genesis 3:22 talks about God making humanity “out of nothing” and returning us to dust at the end of our short life here on earth…. Not that I necessarily propose this excuse never to do any dusting!

Over the summer I have been reading an interesting book by Andrew Wilson called “God of all things” (Zondervan 2021). He shows how surprising things in this world point to the greatness of God – Earthquakes, Pigs, Sex, Rainbows, Donkeys, Viruses, Clothes, Rain, and yes, Dust… It is a refreshing to see the very earthy way in which God has chosen to reveal himself.

We are made from dust, and yet, in the image of God

“Then the Lord God formed the man out of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Genesis 2:1).

Dust is everywhere. Dust is largely unnoticed. Well, you might say, you’ve never been to my house!

But we get a glimpse of how much dust there is when the sun streams in through the window highlighting tiny particles in the light.

Calling humanity “dust” creates a few powerful reactions

  • Dust is humbling

It is very much an earthy image. The dust of the earth. We come from the stuff of the earth. But, at the same time, we are nothing without a creator, a former, one who breathes life into our lifeless bodies. Psalm 139 is a celebration of that fact: God knitting us together in the womb.

However much we achieve in this life – it is all a gift. A man was once observing the ornate funeral of a very wealthy man. He turned to his neighbour and said: “How much did he leave?” to which his wise friend replied, “Everything”.

This is how the Bible puts it: “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.” (1 Timothy 6:7).

  • Dust shows us just how powerful God is

Some scientists are inclined to mock Christians (although it is remarkable how many present and past scientists DO believe in God). Science can solve all our problems, and evolutionary processes can explain humanity’s ascendancy. Hmm. “The Big Bang”? – what started it? “The Big Leap” – from monkey to human? Where does humanity’s moral compass, creative goodness, and sheer altruism, come from? And why, though capable of great goodness, is there suffering and fallenness in this world?

These are big questions. A starting point is this: God made us, but all too often we just don’t see it, nor live by His ways.

According to the Bible, the making of humanity is the high point of creation. Indeed we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). How precious! And yet, we are made from nothing. How humbling!

Hopefully, next time you see the dust, don’t fret about the cleaning, but marvel at how amazing God has made you!

A few words about September onwards at Christ Church

We are cautiously emerging from lockdown, we are opening up many activities this Autumn.

  • Our Sunday services are continuing (0830 – Liturgical; 1030 – Contemporary; 1830 – Informal and often outside).
  • Children’s, Youth and Student work has returned to mainly physical meeting
  • We are running an Alpha Course, starting Thursday 16th September, 19:30 – come and “Explore the meaning of life”
  • Plus, many other activities are restarting. Please see www.cc-vw.org for more details

“You won’t find God in there..!”

… no one actually said this, but the reaction of some people to spending 27 weeks in our zoom Connect Groups implied it!

This past year, I have encouraged our small groups to study the bible book Exodus with me. I provided a talk of 15-20 minutes and questions for the groups. Then the groups have met together (currently online) and chatted about it. All 27 talks are available on our YouTube channel if you want to check them out http://bit.ly/ccvwonline

But, why would we spend all this time reading and discussing an ancient Bible text? Exodus recounts events that happened more than 1,000 years before Christ. And for many people, it speaks of an outdated and archaic outlook on life, with laws and punishments which are alien to modern culture.

Exodus made famous

And yet, it wasn’t just Charlton Heston who made Exodus famous. More recently there is the film starring Ben Kingsley, “Exodus: Gods and Kings”, and just before lockdown last year, we went to see “The Prince of Egypt” at the Dominion Theatre.

The book of Exodus is the second book of the Bible, commonly attributed to Moses, who first met God at the Burning Bush. It contains Israel’s dramatic escape from captivity in Egypt after God unleashed the plagues of boils, locusts, hail, and so on, culminating in the death of the first born, whilst God “passed over” punishing Israel.

In Exodus we find God’s Top Ten Commandments, and learn of the construction of the tabernacle, which would journey with them for 40 years before they arrive in the land which God promised them.

And all of this, they believed, under the miraculous guiding hand of God, during the day by cloud, and at night, by fire.

So, it would seem, God is everywhere in Exodus!

But, fair point: how can this ancient text speak meaningfully to men and women today?

Let me try, briefly, to answer that question:

  • It’s Story – the events of Exodus are told and retold, because they speak of how God intervened in human experience to bring about a miraculous rescue of His people. From there, the Nation of Israel settled in the land God had promised to provide. In the New Testament, this is taken up as a paradigm of salvation: God redeems his people out of slavery to sin, to new life, and rest in God.
  • It’s History – although there is considerable debate about exactly when it happened. It is popularly thought that the Israelites were slaves under the tyrant Ramesses II, although most scholars dispute this now. But sometime around 1500-1200BC, the Israelite people, living in the lower delta region of Egypt known as Goshen, escaped across the “Sea of Reeds” (probably not the Red Sea, but a small marshy land), and made their way into the land of Canaan. Extreme mass migration which shaped the course of religious and human history!
  • It’s His Story – though this is only one Bible book out of a library of 66 books (39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament), it tells us that God continues to intervene in history, making himself known as YHWH (Yahweh, The LORD), and rescuing His people from captivity, to follow and serve Him. The rest of the Bible is an unpacking of how marvellous and powerful this God is, who ultimately came in the person of Jesus Christ to save his people from Sin.

Well, there you have it!

I do believe that you meet God in Exodus. And, in fact, many people who have just completed this course have said something very similar. Here are a few of their comments:

  • “The unanimous verdict was that despite some initial reservations the study of Exodus was a resounding success, and we were amazed at how relevant it was to us today”
  • “We learned something of the history behind who Jesus is and why He came”
  • “We related to the human experience of wandering and disobedience”
  • “We saw parallels between Exodus from Egypt and our pilgrimage as Christians”
  • “We would definitely recommend to those in doubt!”

Have you ever read Exodus?

Sharing a birthday with the Church!

I had a birthday this week – yes, I know, it comes around every year!
As you get older, birthdays are a bit more routine: gone is the heady excitement of rushing down to open presents, and stuffing your face with cake!
But other things become much more important: celebrations with family and friends, and gratitude for God’s faithfulness for another year.
 
Pentecost is often thought of as the birthday of the Church!
On this day, 40 days after Jesus was raised from the dead, the promised Holy Spirit was poured out (“pentecost” means “50th” and was originally a Jewish celebration 50 days after Passover celebrations).
For sure, we pray for all the heady excitement of the day of Pentecost: audible and visible signs of God’s presence among his people and 3,000 people becoming Christians in one day. Yes please!
But it is also true that over time we grow in appreciation for the privilege of Christian family.
For some, Church is another leisure or social activity which is fitted into an otherwise overfull calendar. But following the day of Pentecost, as I mentioned in a previous letter, the Church was far more than an hour a week in a building : a loving, sharing, witnessing and serving community which has all things in common because we are in Christ.
In 2017 Pope Francis preached a Pentecost sermon with this line in it:
“A poplar adage says: “as long as there is life, there is hope”; and the opposite is true: as long as there is hope, there is life. Mankind needs hope in order to live and needs the Holy Spirit in order to hope.”

So, this Sunday: as the Church celebrates yet another birthday: Let us be people of hope – full of the life, and dynamism that come from the filling of the Holy Spirit Let us value and celebrate with God’s family – thankful that he has brought us together in Christ Let us be expectant – that God is still in the business of saving all who call upon Christ, and sending them and us out into this world as His witnesses. Happy Birthday Church!  Do join us this Sunday to join the celebrations!
 

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).