Friday, 14 April 2017

Good Friday in Redhill

An estimated 300 members of various Redhill Churches joined in our annual open-air Good Friday service this morning. 

We came from all directions carrying crosses from our own churches to gather at the steps of the Harlequin Theatre. 

It was Holy Trinity's turn to lead this service, and so:

  • I welcomed the crowd and led us through the service
  • Sarah Alexander spoke from the Bible (of which more, below...)
  • Paul Taylor led us in prayers for the world, for Redhill and for those in need
  • A member of HT gave a moving account of how her faith in Christ and the support of her church family has brought her through a hugely difficult time.
  • Others spoke about why the cross of Christ is so important to them

Sarah's text was Romans 5:6-8, and was illustrated with imaginative use of road-signs...  You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

It was a great event, gathering together Christians from numerous churches and denominations as well as a few curious passers by around the cross. 
We ended with an anticipation of Easter Sunday as we sang 
'Thine be the glory, risen, conquering Son; endless is the vict'ry thou o'er death hast won!'

Thank you to those who worked behind the scenes to make the event possible, not least of all Robert Burch for the sound equip't, the Churches Together Orchestra for the musical lead, Paul Puzey from Churches Together, Redhill Methodist Church for the hot cross buns (!), the staff and management of the Harlequin Theatre, and the very willing co-operation of Reigate and Banstead Council in clearing the area of building works.

A few more shots...

Sarah and Hayley

Ian and David

Jenny and a bun

Chris and his cross

Hayley and me

Stainer's Crucifixion at HT

The choir of Holy Trinity led us last night in Stainer's Crucifixion. 

Rev W.J.Sparrow-Simpson, who wrote all the words to The Crucifixion (his Tim Rice to Stainer's Andrew Lloyd-Webber), followed the reading of Jesus' cry from the cross - 'Father, forgive them, they know not what they do' - with these wonderful words as the opening verse of a hymn: 

Jesus the Crucified, pleads for me,
while He is nailed to the shameful tree,
Scorned and forsaken, derided and curst,
See how His enemies do their worst!
Yet, in the midst of the torture and shame,
Jesus, the Crucified, breathes my name!
Wonder of wonders, oh! how can it be?
Jesus, the Crucified, pleads for me.

It was a reminder of the staggering truth that Jesus,
as he hung on the cross prayed for those who crucified and mocked him.

The writer to the Hebrews teaches us (at the end of a rather complex few verses about Melchizedek the priest in the Old Testament), that Jesus, now raised from death and at the right hand of the Father, continues to pray for his people. On the basis of his own sacrifice in the place of those who look to him, Jesus intercedes / appeals to the Father for our salvation. 

'because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Hebrews 7:24, 25

It is a truth that brings great assurance and peace: God the Father is constantly reminded of the fact that Jesus died for me.

Jesus, the Crucified, breathes my name!
Wonder of wonders, oh! how can it be?
Jesus, the Crucified, pleads for me.

That is just one of many good reasons for calling it Good Friday!

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Congratulations to Chika and Charles!

Holy Trinity Church Centre was, last night, the venue for an evening of ceremony and celebration as Chika Okeke and Charles Adijahun were married in a Nigerian ceremony that will shortly be followed by a church ceremony. 

It was a uniting of two families, one from east Nigeria and the other from the west, and was conducted in two languages - some of the ceremony had to be spoken in the Igbo language, and the remainder (inc my prayers...) in English. 

Music, dancing, several changes of clothes for the bride and groom, a magnificent 'set' that transformed the church centre, food and much laughter made it a spectacular and memorable event. At the heart of it was praise and thanksgiving to God for his goodness to the families: 'God is good, all the time - all the time, God is good' was a regular, spontaneous response led by the MC (yes, there were 2 MCs, one from each family), and the 'most important gift' (among many!) that the groom's family brought was a bible.

There was an extended period of waiting as senior members of both families went out to a separate room to negotiate the 'Bride Price' - but it seemed to go well and they all returned smiling.

It was delight to see the Okeke family celebrating in this way, and a personal privilege to be invited to be part of it. May God continue to bless these 2 families with his goodness, and may Chika and Charles' marriage bring many more occasions for celebration.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Happy Birthday FoJ!

The Friends of Jesus is Holy Trinity's group for adults with learning difficulties - and today they celebrated their 15th birthday as a group! 

True to form, the group celebrated their birthday by hearing about 'The Most Important Story Of All' - the Easter Story (this was their Easter meeting, after all!).

It was a joyful, interactive event - with members and leaders taking part in Bible readings, prayers, singing and a quiz. Guests were made welcome - including family members - and we were reminded that Friends of Jesus are part of God's big, worldwide family.

Sadly (for me...) I had to leave before the 'eating' part of the afternoon kicked off - it looks as though I missed a treat. Thank you to everyone who made this 15th Birthday Party such a great event - and thank too to those who volunteer month by month on a Tuesday evening with FoJ and make it such a special group to belong to.

Here are some of the original members of FoJ.


Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Changing Hearts in Derbyshire

An overnight visit to Swanwick Conference Centre in North Derbyshire for the Biblical Counselling UK Conference.

It was publicised as 'A focussed 24 hour introduction to Biblical Counselling in the local church' and 'especially suitable for busy pastors'...

It was a packed 24 hrs, with excellent sessions on how, through preaching, small groups, evangelism and others ways we apply  'the riches of scripture to the realities of life', and see God at work changing our hearts to make us more into the likeness of Christ. Particularly memorable was the evening session by Tim Chester on 'Biblical Counselling and Preaching', but any one of the sessions would have been worth the trip.

We looked at a new 6 week course - Real Change' - which aims to teach how the gospel changes us from the inside out.

I come home with plenty of material to read and to reflect on, and excited at the prospect of putting some of it into practice. Chat with me if you'd like to know more - or to Stuart Cookson who came with me. There is a 2nd part to the conference which continues through to Thursday, and a couple of HT members (Nicci Durant and Rachel Hart) arrived just as we left, to attend that. 

A busy 24 hrs, but managed a bit of time to sit in the sun and admire the Derbyshire scenery!

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Abundance or scarcity?

‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full’  John 10 v.10

This time of year speaks (shouts, even) of life - everything in our gardens drinks in the rain, soaks up the sun and reaches up to heaven.  'Creation sings the Father’s song', and it is a song of abundance and overflowing generosity.
In his Lent Book for 2017 ‘Dethroning Mammon’ Justin Welby has contrasted a world-view of scarcity with one of abundance.

If we see the world in terms of scarcity, then we will believe that there is ‘not enough to go around’ – a mindset that will apply not just to material things but to love, forgiveness and grace; we will know fear, which in the end will shape our lives and control us. This is personified by Jesus as ‘Mammon’ (Matthew 6:24) –  a master who in the end will demand our worship to the exclusion of the worship of God.
The biblical picture is one of abundance, and God is the Creator who has poured out his love and abundance in Creation and in Salvation. In Genesis we see God repeatedly saying ‘Let there be’, and the earth and heavens are filled and teem with abundant life; the experience of God’s people time and again in the Old Testament is of a God who provides in plenty for his people as they look to him in trust. Justin Welby contrasts ‘Mammon’ with ‘Manna’; pointing us to the God who provided abundantly for his wilderness people each day. The God of Creation is the God of abundance, not of scarcity.

This Easter we will celebrate again the God of our salvation, and the greatest revelation of God’s abundance – in his overflowing love, grace and forgiveness as Jesus gives up his life (not grasping but giving up), so that we can look to him and discover new life,  ‘life in all its abundance’.

We’re called to be transformed by our experience of God’s generosity in Christ – to be those whose lives speak (shout, even) of our confidence in his abundance. Will we let go of a scarcity mindset, and risk living generously in and for Christ, for the sake of the world that is in the grip of Mammon?

The world we long for

"He who was seated on the throne said: 'I am making all things new'."
Last evening we met for the 4th session in our Lent series 'Have you read this...?'. It was the end of a day where the news had been dark.
The passage in question was a great reminder of how how the revelation of Jesus Christ shines light into a world in darkness, speaks truth and peace into a world where false ideas of 'god' are shouted with violence , and offers hope into a world where people are willing to accept it.
The Bible begins in Genesis with a world make good: 'very good', the Creator calls it. God is seen 'walking in the cool of the day' in an unhindered, unspoiled friendship with humankind.
The voice of the serpent, the 'father of lies' whispers subtle untruth about the God who is Creator and Father to the man and woman, and they listen...and doubt God...and act on the lie...and then live in fear of God because of their guilt. They are banished from the garden and from that unspoiled relationship with God. The rest of the story is history - literally.
Yesterday saw the worst and the best of humanity: a twisted, perverse understanding of 'god' that leads to one man believing that he is doing right (and will be eternally rewarded) by killing and maiming as many as he can; contrasted with those who serve and risk their lives by rushing to the aid of those injured, and by doing so reflect something of the compassion and image of their Creator (whether they know it or not) who has stepped into the world to bring salvation and hope.
The Bible ends - in Revelation - with a promise of a new, restored creation:
'Look! God's dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying for the old order of things has passed away'
It's a picture of order and relationships restored - its a picture of a world that we were made for and long for. Everything that mankind longs for is a longing after this (whether we know it or not).
And the person at the centre of it, the one who has made it possible and will bring it about is Jesus. Jesus who has come to live as man, to die to take away our guilt and to rise so that we may live once again with God.
'He who was seated on the throne said: 'I am making everything new. Write this down for these words are trustworthy and true.'
As I think about yesterday, the light and beauty and truth of Jesus Christ shines in the darkness, horror and twisted thinking of that act of terrorism in Westminster: One man bent on bringing about carnage and terror and on fuelling hatred. Another man who is called the prince of peace, who comes 'not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many', who prays for those who are crucifying him, and who in last night's verses from Revelation offers hope of reconciliation and a world made new.
To those troubled and afraid by acts of violence such as yesterday, Jesus speaks words of comfort and invitation:
'Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me...Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.'
Today I am grateful for Jesus Christ, 'the way, the truth and the life' - the one who is making, and will finally make, all things new. He issues each of us an invitation to come to him to find life in him.