Rob's message for January

Rob's message for January

Happy New Year to all of you! After a year which seems to have been full of darkness, with you I am hoping and praying that 2021 will be full of colour and light.

You might have read last month as I wrote about how hard it is to see colour in the dark – about the difference between painting when it is light and when it isn’t. It got me thinking about the difficulty that some of us have with colours even when we can see them.

While we talk about “colour blindness”, it’s not usual that someone can’t tell the difference between any colours at all. Normally it is shades of red, yellow and green that are the problem. (Presumably the traffic light joke goes without saying.) I knew that it was more common in men than women, but apparently as many as 1 in 12 men have this trouble. I expect most of them realise before too long.

This New Year, starting on 14th January as you can see from our website here, or the big banner at the Church Hall, we will be running our first online Alpha course. We’ve done lots before in the churches, but always in person. By doing it online we know we will be safe from Covid-19 complications like changing tier restrictions, quite apart from any risk of infection. But it also means that if you might normally struggle to get out in the evening for any reason, as long as you have the internet you can still join in with us. Perhaps watching something on a screen and chatting about it online afterwards is an easier way to explore faith than with a physical group of people you haven’t met before?

So while doing Alpha online is safer for us in a mixture of ways, there is still a risk that you will end up seeing things very differently. You can take my word for this, because about 20 years ago now I did the Alpha course. Through Alpha I came to realise that until then I had believed in Jesus, but I hadn’t really thought it was very important. I found out that he had given everything for me, and from then on he meant everything to me as well. It made me want to live for him. This year hasn’t been easy for any of us, including all of us who follow Jesus, and being a Christian for me has never been about finding an easy way, but following Jesus brings life and joy and peace: eternal life and joy and peace.

When I discovered all of that, it was like suddenly looking at things in a different way. It was as though I was seeing the world in colours I had never noticed before – had almost been blind to. Everything shone. I could see things in a whole new way.

That’s my story of coming to see who Jesus is, but you could have one this year too. Maybe our Alpha course could be the start of you discovering something wonderful in 2021, and it might really be that better year that we have all been hoping for.

 

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Prayer meetings in December

Prayer meetings in December

Hello everyone

We thought you'd like to hear about our plans for our morning prayer meetings from 1st December - we are going to have some readings and reflections based on Michael and Rosemary Green's Advent book In Touch with God, focusing on wonderful prayers from the Bible. Do get yourself a copy - it's available in lots of places online, including very cheaply for Kindle via Amazon. And come and join us, every weekday morning at 9am, and Saturdays at 10am. You can join all our meetings here https://us02web.zoom.us/j/385426921 except for Wednesday 2nd December, when we will be sharing a communion service on our Youtube channel "Venta group of churches." (We hope lockdown isn't extended, but if it is we will do one or two more of these as well.)

(After Christmas, we will be holding morning prayer meetings at 10am on 27th, 29th, 31st December, and 2nd Jan, before the usual pattern resumes on 4th January.)

 

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Rob's message for November

Rob's message for November

This week I have given a surprising amount of thought to a Youtube video I saw of a Japanese game show called Slippery Stairs. As far as I can make out (and I don’t know any Japanese) it is a pretty simple idea, but an outrageously difficult challenge. Six or seven contestants in different coloured bodysuits have to climb to the top of a set of stairs made of ice, down which water is being poured constantly from two enormous taps. It looks almost impossible.

But hard as it is, they still take it on. Again and again they come, our plucky band of hapless Power Rangers, climbing and slipping and sliding and climbing and slipping and sliding. The video I watched was a 9-minute rollercoaster of emotion as time after time you thought one of them was about to get to the top, only for them to slip on the last step, or one of the others to grab them and pull them back to the bottom. And throughout an audience cheers them on, places bets, and laughs at their misfortunes. It is very, very odd.

So what was it that attracted my attention – apart from the jumpsuits? Well actually it was the strange and brilliant way the video illustrated everything that the Christian faith isn’t. Let me explain.

There’s an idea about following Jesus that it is about climbing to the top of such a slippery set of steps. The odds are stacked against us from the beginning, and we will fall down over and over, with only the slightest chance of getting to the top. We will exhaust ourselves thinking that if we could only just outdo the people around us, only somehow get there first, we will win the prize. But chances are, we’ll just fall down to the bottom again. And there will be people there to laugh themselves silly at our every mistake. God will be watching on, from the top, impassive, even absent.

As much, and as often as it might seem that way, it is not like that at all. Faith in Jesus isn’t about getting everything right, and slipping back to the bottom if we get it wrong. It isn’t about scrabbling to the top to get close to the prize. It isn’t about competing with someone else, because maybe there isn’t enough grace to go around. Instead, it’s recognising someone who is not absent, but who comes to meet us in our sin and mess and brokenness; someone who will pick us up every time we fall, whose love and generosity are more than enough for anyone who ever asks for them. God is not impassive because the word itself is connected with not feeling suffering. But we know that God knows what suffering is like, because Jesus stumbled and fell for us, Jesus endured people’s scorn and shame for us. Without Jesus, faith would ultimately be as difficult as this strangest of games, but we can hold on to the promise that with him, God makes all of this possible for people like you and me.

 

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Rob's message for October

Rob's message for October

A couple of weeks ago I unexpectedly found myself posting on Facebook about the way that lots of people like me, who are involved in church life, and especially leadership, would be beginning this week to feel our way back into things after some kind of summer break. Most years August is a different time for us, but perhaps less so this year where so little has been the same as before.

It struck me that we were not really feeling our way 'back'. Instead, we were looking forward and conscious of facing enormous uncertainty about what the church will look like in the months and years to come. It feels like a huge moment of opportunity and possibility, as we ask questions about what it means to be church in this culture and generation that we should have addressed a long time ago. But often there is an equal and opposite amount of fear and anxiety, because so many things that seemed certain in February feel so far away now.

There are lots of ways we could react to this, but one that I choose quite often is to be overwhelmed by the enormity of the task instead of hearing what God is saying to me. I should hear him cheering me on, but often the voice in my head sounds more like "Rob, this depends on you," and, "You're not up to this." You'll notice they are not a brilliant combination.

They are not true because first of all, all sorts of great people around me do all sorts of great things every day. Some of you will have had time off work over the summer, and surprise, surprise, your school or business or office or whatever was still there when you got back. People managed. It doesn't really depend on you.

I am also learning to embrace the not-being-up-to-this. You're almost certainly better at your job, or looking after your family, than I am, but you can’t do everything. The amazing thing for me in following Jesus is that I know he is one person who is up to it - the all-sufficient one - and he is with us. And if we follow Jesus, then we can hang on to his amazing promises, like “In this world we will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world.”

Having said all that, what might very well happen is that I forget it tomorrow, or later on this evening. Do stop me if you see me about, and ask me if I’m trying to do everything myself, or not feeling up to it, or both at once. It might help me. But there is a chance I’ll ask you as well.

 

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Rob's message for September

Rob's message for September

Recently I have been wondering how much we doubt whether God truly accepts us. We certainly doubt whether people accept us, don’t we – and sometimes with good reason. Think about the Black Lives Matter movement, which is very much to do with someone being equally accepted and valued no matter what they look like. Think about how so much on social media is to do with being accepted: I write or post things that I think will please a certain group of people out there, and I will be accepted by them. I do the right thing, I say the right thing? Notice that the first one of those is about simply being accepted for who I am, and that the second one is about doing something in order to be accepted.

But what about God? Does God accept me? Can I know that? And does he simply accept me for who I am, or is it about me doing something in order to be accepted? In the book of Acts, Peter and Paul, two of the earliest and most influential followers of Jesus, are trying to work out what it means to be accepted by God.

We are sure that these Jews on the one hand, Jesus’s own people group, are accepted by God, but on the other hand are what the bible calls the Gentiles. That is everyone else, that is me, and probably you. It was always God’s intention that the Jews should be his way of blessing the whole of humanity, but now the plan expands and says that the gospel is for everyone, and the gospel is going to work through everyone.

But other people start to push back. The acceptance of God is too radical. The grace of God is too free, and people start to say, “You have to be circumcised to be saved.” You have to do the right thing, you have to look the right way. I.. errm… hopefully no-one was checking, but you know what I mean. People are keen on measuring acceptance by whether others do the right thing, or look the right way. But God hasn’t opened a door of obedience, or appearance; he has opened a door of faith.

The demand is repeated: “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.” For those people, acceptance is not about faith; it is about obedience, and appearance.

But gloriously Peter will not have this. He says that far from looking out the outside, at appearance, “God sees the heart.” It is a consistent message of the Scriptures. God sees the heart.

For Peter and for Paul there is no difference between people: we are all equally in need of the saving grace of Jesus. There is no question of their acceptance being earned, because it is through the grace of Jesus. So you can know that God accepts you. You can know because God looks at the heart that is looking to him, looks for faith rather than only obedience or appearance. You can know because God does not discriminate against anyone, and does not demand anyone more than he does of anyone else.

 

 

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Rob's message for August

Rob's message for August

This lockdown time has been an interesting one, hasn’t it? As far as I’m aware, there has never been such a long period of restriction on our freedoms, combined with the worry for our own health and for our friends and families.  Now that we’re beginning to come out the other side of it, I’ve been reflecting on how it has affected different people, and what has made it so challenging to so many of us. There have been some positives for most of us, though - getting to know neighbours better, appreciating the quieter roads during daily walks, noticing the wildlife in our gardens that we might have busily rushed past in more normal times... We have worked together to gather up crates and crates of supplies for the food bank, and people in our community have helped each other with shopping, prescriptions and so much more.

But still the overriding experience has been a tricky one, and I wonder if one of the main reasons is that coronavirus has shown us that we can’t always be in control of our lives. It has felt like a problem too serious to manage, an “enemy” too big to stand up against, and that has made a lot of us feel small and powerless.

It has reminded me of the story of David and Goliath in the Bible, which some of you might be familiar with. God’s people, the Israelites, were used to fighting against other armies, as they moved through contested land. But they weren’t used to being faced off by someone so much taller and stronger than any of their own soldiers that they felt doomed to failure! They ended up trapped for days as Goliath stood in their path, not knowing what to do for the best.

You might think that the solution would have been to find the very strongest Israelite soldier to attempt to overpower Goliath. Or to come up with a plan to outwit him, meeting brute force with superior intellect... But it turned out that God’s plan was for the smallest and least impressive of all of them to defeat the giant. The shepherd boy David stepped forward with a slingshot and some pebbles, and that was that.

David knew that he was tiny and vulnerable compared to Goliath, but he chose to trust God. He found the strength to do something terrifying, by realising that God was bigger than anyone or anything, giant-like or otherwise. During this time of uncertainty and worry, we have all struggled with having our choices taken away and feeling afraid in different ways. But we can ask God to help us trust him, even if we never have before.

In our house we have been listening to a new children's song about this story, which includes the line “when all I’ve got is a slingshot, you’re the power in me... when I feel little like little David, you’re the power in me”. If you have felt a bit dwarfed by coronavirus and its effect on our lives, why not ask God to help you trust him and rely on his strength - just like David did.

 

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