Rob's message for April
Posted: Wed, 25 Mar, 2020 (2 weeks ago) by Rob
It was wonderful to gather together as church on 22nd March, even though we had to meet online rather than in our buildings. About 45 of us appeared on screen to celebrate Mothering Sunday, and to think together about some things that Paul says to us about God in the bible which can really help us at this difficult time. If you have access to the internet, I have put a video of this on Facebook and Youtube, which you can find by searching for “Venta group of churches.” It was filmed in Stoke church shortly before we were asked to lock the building.
I sent people looking for things in their houses, starting with something with their name on it. For most of us our name says something about the family we belong to. Mothering Sunday is a day to celebrate the human family big or small, but we also thought about what it means to be part of God’s big family, who all have the name of Jesus in common. We are adopted into it, born again into it, through faith in Jesus, and it is bigger than any place or event: it is about what the Holy Spirit has done in our hearts.
In terms of God’s family, we belong together because we share the same Father. In Ephesians 3 Paul connects the idea of having God as our Father with prayer. At this time we have to pray, and we can pray. God is an amazing Father who loves to hear us pray about anything – and he really does hear.
Then we went looking for plants in our house. Most of us could find one of these. Paul talks about us being rooted and established in love. Lots of you know from your own experience or have seen elsewhere what it is like when a family root each other in love. It is a place where we thrive. A plant needs roots that go down deep to draw in all the good stuff that it needs, and keep it firm and secure. That’s what we can do with God. We can put our roots deep down in him, we can draw on all the goodness he has to offer us, we can trust that he will hold us firm in the storm we find ourselves in.
Last, we found a measuring device of some kind – a ruler, a tape, a jug, and so on. We remembered Paul’s encouragement to us that God can do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. We measure and count so many things all the time. You will have heard lots of numbers about coronavirus. Some of them are helpful to us. Others could make us a bit scared. Paul says that there is something we cannot measure – and that is what God can do. No person, however much they might like to, can do the immeasurable amount that God can. I can understand if, at the moment, you feel like God can only do a very little, if at all. The good news for you is that he can do immeasurably more. Some of you, on the other hand, will be thinking, God can do the most amazing things! The good news for you, is he can do even more. He can do more than any of us can imagine!
And with this in mind, we keep on praying. There are resources on our website to help us pray. We are meeting as churches every day to pray, and you can join us online or on the phone, if you have no access to the internet. Just give me a ring on one of the numbers on the front of the magazine. And take care, stay well, and God bless all of you.
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Rob's message for January
Posted: Thu, 16 Jan, 2020 (3 months ago) by Rob
It’s a funny thing, when you think about it, that one of the things that definitely isn't new about the New Year, is doing new things. Doing new things has become a bit of a tradition, hasn’t it?
With that in mind, I thought you might not mind if I spent a while talking about something new which we have been doing in our churches over the last few months.
Everyone knows about foodbanks now. These centres, many of them run by the Trussell Trust, are working to end hunger and poverty across the UK. In this country more than 14 million people are living in poverty, including 4.5 million children, and there are 1200 foodbank centres providing emergency food to people referred in crisis. The Norwich foodbank is working hard to do this too – the other week they supplied 3 days’ worth of food to 84 people in just one afternoon. You might have donated to them at our local Tesco’s or through school, or even at one of our carol services.
We have been collecting food with the hope of being able to support the Norwich foodbank, and as I write a little before Christmas the boxes are filling up ahead of going over there soon. But that isn't really the main reason we are doing it. Part of our vision as churches is to transform community for good, and we would really like to provide for everyone who is in need in our local area, as well as resourcing a vital project in Norwich and beyond.
And the good news is that it is going really well. Loads of people are being really generous, and putting items of food in our boxes at the churches, the Church Hall, and in the school. It has been a brilliant and encouraging thing to see. But we are only halfway there.
It is a hope of mine that our churches would play a part in eliminating need in the villages. Of course this takes many forms, but one kind of need is hunger. People in our villages are hungry. We know the statistics, so we know they must be, but we don’t hear about it. We can provide for people, and meet their need, but we are not sure who they are.
So maybe you can help us. If you are hungry, and in need, we would like to provide with some support to help you get back on track. Can you get in touch with me and let me know who you are? Or maybe you have a friend or neighbour who could do with help, and you could nudge them in our direction. It would be great for us if you did, because we would feel that our new thing was really bearing the fruit that we had hoped for. You can find my contact details at the bottom of this page. Please get in touch.
Happy New Year!
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Rob's message for Christmas
Posted: Fri, 6 Dec, 2019 (4 months ago) by Rob
As I write this, I am sitting in the house of a nice youth worker, pretending not to overhear the sound of my son and his friends trying to make a film about the true meaning of Christmas. At some point in the next hour, apparently he is going to throw a turkey against the wall. I don’t even know if it is close enough to Christmas for someone to have found an actual turkey anywhere.
Turkey is not actually my favourite thing about Christmas. Perhaps there is one of the Christmas traditions that you would happily swap for something else. Christmas pudding? Cake? Mince pies? Let’s not even mention Brussels Sprouts, shall we?
Christmas carols are like this too. Perhaps you have a favourite, but perhaps there is another which can’t you stand! I probably shouldn’t be drawn on the one I like the least, but I think my favourite is probably O Little Town of Bethlehem. Part of that is the tune, I think. I used to like Hark the Herald Angels Sing best, but it is so high at the end I am not sure I can sing it any more.
It is the words I like best. First of all there is the image of the light of Christ shining in the night of Bethlehem, catching the words of John’s gospel: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot get hold of it.” Then there is the sense that this is what everyone has been waiting for, whether they think it is good news or not: “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
It gets better and better, as Brooks picks up on the image of light in the darkness and reworks it, talking about how Jesus is being born into a world of sin, but ready to enter into anyone who will receive him. It’s John’s gospel again: “to everyone who believes in his name he gives the right to become children of God.” He knows he’s hit on a really powerful image here, and he repeats it a couple of times in his prayer in the last verse, which is as close to perfect as anything in any hymn book anywhere:
O holy child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin, and enter in
Be born in us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel
I suppose I love it so much because it reflects a lot of how the Christmas story became my story. It was realising that God was not far away, as I had always feared, but was closer than I dared hope. It was knowing, no matter what I’d done, that God’s light could drive out the darkness in me. It was the promise of a new birth, a new start, with Jesus dwelling at the heart of me.
“Why do you think we celebrate Christmas?” I can hear my son asking his fictional mum. I know why I do. It’s because Jesus has come close to me, has forgiven me, has given me new life, has come to live in me. What about you? Hopefully, at the very least, it’s about more than just the turkey.
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Rob's message for November
Posted: Fri, 6 Dec, 2019 (4 months ago) by Rob
Do you know any good lightbulb jokes? They go something like “How many Donald Trumps does it take to change a lightbulb?” “One – he just has to hold it still while everything else revolves around him.” They are all the same, really. They all have the same structure, and most of them are not really that funny.
I have to admit to having a problem with lightbulbs. I don’t mean I eat them or anything, but you know, they blow up, and then I have to go to a shop and buy some more, except there isn’t a shop, and I will probably be going to Tesco tomorrow but I will forget them then, so really when I do remember I should buy loads at once, except that since they made them all snazzy they got really expensive and I don’t want to spend £15 on lightbulbs, so anyway now I have one missing in my living room, because I had one missing on the landing already and then the other one went so I had to swap one of them over. We are about 3 lightbulbs away from total darkness at the moment. I can’t change lightbulbs. I can’t change the way I manage lightbulbs. Maybe I should try and change someone else. Maybe I should put my wife in charge of lightbulbs, and make her understand that it is her responsibility to change our circumstances. Maybe there is a way my children are switching the switches on and off that is making the bulbs go.
Why was I talking about lightbulbs? Oh, yes. Change. I have been reading a lot of bible passages recently about how God changes people, and getting really excited by them. One of them is about a meeting between Peter and Cornelius. Peter is a man who has spent years being changed by Jesus, from the first time Jesus called him and his brother and their friends from their fishing boats to be the first disciples. But Jesus never stops changing him. The fact that Peter preached in such a powerful way on the day of Pentecost that 3000 people decided to follow Jesus doesn’t mean he is the finished article. Because now, Jesus wants Peter to understand that the good news of Jesus is not just for Jewish people like him, but anyone, and so he shows Peter an amazing vision to help him understand that he is not to call anything (or anyone) unclean any more.
At the same time, Cornelius, a Roman solider, a man who knows about God, and gives to the poor, and prays, and does lots of good things, is going to be changed. God appears to him as well, and gets him to send for Peter. Peter, now convinced he can enter anyone’s house, and meet with anyone, and eat with anyone, does as God asks, and goes with Cornelius’s servant back to his home. The two of them tell their stories of how God appeared to them, and Peter shares the good news of Jesus, and immediately the Holy Spirit is poured out on Cornelius’s household. They are all changed in a moment as they believe in Jesus, and Peter and his Jewish friends are changed as they realise, for the first time, that the good news truly is for anyone.
Peter is changed yet again, and Cornelius and his household perhaps for the first time. But that’s what Jesus is like. It makes no difference to him if we have followed him, and allowed him to change us, for years, or we are just starting out now, just coming to believe in the good news of eternal life that he offers us. And we can start today. A little prayer, asking for God’s help and forgiveness, is all it takes. But it makes all the difference. I know something that small can make all the difference, from my own experience of following Jesus, and because the other day, I finally bought some lightbulbs.
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