Thursday, August 10, 2017

Three Pillars

“I know where you live – where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city – where Satan lives.”

(Revelation 2:13 NIVUK)

In the last few months our church community has lost three people who have, in many ways, been pillars of our church. Val Cottee, Mo Davies and then most recently Michael Ross-Watson have all passed away, and it has left people feeling not only a deep sense of sadness that they are no longer with us, but also a sense that their passing has created a large void in the life of our church. Val brought to our church a huge pastoral heart, being a spiritual mum to so many different people in our community, along with a deep love for the Bible and an ability to communicate it to others. Mo had an enduring love for some of the most hurting people in our society, those with special needs, those dying of cancer, those not know where their next meal was coming from, as well as a deeply rooted but quietly expressed faith and confidence in God. And Michael had such an enormous father heart, a willingness to do sometimes outrageous things in support of those in need, and a unique ability to communicate God's heart through his preaching. Each one represents a huge loss to our community.

So how do we respond? With sadness undoubtedly. But beyond that is it time for us to be worried, to be anxious, to be fearful, or is God asking for a different response from us?

Well as we've been going through Jesus letters to the seven churches in the book of Revelation, I've been struck in particular about one encouragement from Jesus to the church in a place called Pergamum. It relates to a guy called Antipas who has been martyred there for his faith, and the way the church has responded. We don't know too much about Antipas, although one church tradition holds that he was the bishop of Pergamum and was burnt alive in a bull shaped altar for casting demons out of people! What we do know is that Jesus commends the church for the way they have responded to his death.

As I've prayed and reflected on this it's reminded me that we don't get to choose what happens to us in life, but we do get to choose how we respond. It makes me think of God telling Joshua not to be terrified or discouraged, but to choose to be strong and courageous (Joshua 1:9). Joshua had to make a choice as to how he was going to respond to the challenges he faced, as did the church in Pergamum as they faced up to the death of Antipas. The same is true of us as we respond to the loss of these three. As I've prayed I've felt a couple of ways God has been encouraging us to respond.

The first is that along with our sadness and grief, God would want us carry an even greater sense of thankfulness and gratitude that we ever got to know Val, Mo and Michael. It is quite possible to imagine a world where we never got to meet any of them. Let's make time to stop and thank God that we did get to meet them, to recognise the impact they had on us, and the legacy that they've left in our lives. God commands us to "give thanks in all circumstances" so let's do that. Val, Mo and Michael were an incredible gift to so many of us. Let's be thankful for the life God breathed into each of them, for the time and energy they invested in many of us, for the love and the gifts God gave them, for their generosity, their courage and whatever else God brings to mind as you think about them.

Secondly God would encourage each one of us to begin to step into the void which Val, Mo and Michael have left. Somebody wrote to me this week to say what a father figure Michael had been to him. I wrote back encouraging him to take that legacy, and rather than mourning the loss of that input into his life begin to think about how he can now begin to be a father to those around him. The natural progression of life is that sons and daughters grow up to become fathers and mothers. That's what God wants from those of us who have benefitted from Val, Mo and Michael being spiritual mothers and fathers to us. We now need to be those who step into the gap they have left. We'll each do that in our own unique way based on who we are and how God has gifted us. God isn't looking from clones of Val, Mo or Michael but for people willing to be who God has created them to be. As we do that the church will flourish and grow into the next generation.

And for those of you who didn't know any of these three, there will be people in your world who have been spiritual mothers and fathers to you too. Please take time to thank God for them, and to think about how God wants you to be to others what they have been to you.

I hope that's helped somebody.

Much love,

Simon.

 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Michael Ross-Watson

Earlier today I got a message from Esther Ross-Watson to let us know that at 6.28am this morning Singapore time her husband Michael had passed away. Although Michael has been battling cancer for some time now, the recent news about how his treatement was progressing had been positive, so I know that this will be a shock to many of us.

I will always count having known Michael as one of the greatest privileges in my life. I know when I first met Michael I struggled to believe some of the stories he told of God's provision and the ways God had used him, simply because they sounded so amazing. However, the longer I knew him the more I got to know that not only were all the stories he told me absolutely true, but they were only the tip of the iceberg in terms of all he had experienced in God. I've rarely met anyone with such a strong pastoral heart, with such faith for incredible acts of generosity, with so many stories of God repaying him and Esther for their generosity, and with such faith and joy in the face of adversity. I will treasure my coffees and lunches with him and the times he both encouraged and challenged me. I will never forget his acts of generosity, both the small ones such as when he bought blankets for all the academy students because he'd heard they were getting cold in the classroom, to giving away thousands of pounds when he had no idea where the money was coming from. He was one of a kind, and we will deeply miss him.

From what Esther has told me the wake and funeral will be held in Singapore over the next few days to allow all their Singaporean, Indonesian and Australian friends to attend. I fully expect that once Esther is back in the UK there will be a thanksgiving service where we can all come together to thank God for Michael and what he meant to so many of us. I'll let you all know once we have those details.

As I heard the news of Michael I was reminded of the words of Job "The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised." (Job 1:21). Let us praise God as we reflect on the gift Michael was to so many of us, and let us continue to praise God as we process our grief over him no longer being with us.

Please be praying for Esther, for their children Angie and Tim, and for all of us around the globe who will be mourning the loss of this amazing man of God.

Much love,

Simon.

 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Opening of the Serenje Special Needs Classroom

I got an amazing reminder of just a small part of the legacy of Mo Davies when I received an email this week about the opening of a classroom for children with special needs in Serenje, Zambia.

A number of years ago Mo travelled to visit the HIV/AIDS project we as a church supported in partnership with Tearfund in Serenje. Whilst there she was introduced to the deputy headmistress of one of the local schools who mentioned her dream to have a classroom specifically for special needs children. At that time for most children with special needs in Serenje there was no provision whatsoever, and for those who did get help it meant them moving to a specialist school hundreds of miles away from Serenje.

Mo felt God saying “you can help" so she began fundraising, until she was diagnosed with Myeloma. At this point her husband Ben took up the challenge, and at the age of 76 he undertook a 1,130 km bike ride across Europe to raise money. Between them they raised an amazing £11,907 which was enough to both build and equip the classroom.

The pictures show the handover of the special needs classroom to the government through the District Commisioner, as well as some of the children who will benefit from the provision.

Jesus taught us not to store up treasure on earth which is temporal, but to store up treasure in heaven which is eternal. God's treasure is people, and Ben and Mo (and all those who supported them) have made an incredibly wise eternal investment in these children and their education. Let them be an inspiration to all of us.

Simon

 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Mo Davies

It was with great sadness that I heard the news this morning that Mo Davies passed away at 9.25pm last night (Tuesday 18th July). I spoke with Ben this morning and he said they'd had a quite remarkable last few hours together with their children Naomi, Caradog and Rebekah and some close family and friends singing hymns and praying together with Mo.

However, mixed in with that sadness is also a deep confidence and assurance that Mo has gone to a better place. A place with no cancer, no suffering, no pain, no sadness and no tears. It is really is true that for Mo, as for all who trust in Jesus for their salvation, that to live is Christ and to die is gain.

I spent some time a while ago reflecting on Mo and the lasting impact she's had on my life. These were a few of the things I wrote that I appreciated and admired about her:

  • Her enduring love for Jesus, and her desire for Him to always be at the centre of her life
  • Her devotion to Ben, and the example that their commitment to one another was to so many of us
  • Her deep love for her children and grandchildren
  • Standing alongside Ben in giving sacrificially to the building of the Kerith Centre
  • Her regular prayer and fasting - particularly for her children
  • Her willingness to serve the weak and vulnerable:
  • - As a Marie Curie nurse, caring for people in their final days
  • - In Foodbank - Mo was serving there the Friday before she was told she only had days to live
  • - In our Konnections Respite ministry, caring for children with special needs and providing a much needed break for their families
  • - In helping so many individuals, both inside and outside the church, who needed a dose of Mo's wisdom, love, practical support or correction
  • Raising money to build a classroom for children with special needs in Serenje, Zambia
  • Her acceptance of and support for me taking over leading Kerith from Ben
  • Her dislike of the limelight, even though whenever she spoke in public the power of God moved through her
  • Her kindness to everyone she met
  • Her faith for lives being changed through our midweek Encounter meeting, as well as her commitment to making sure that everyone was well fed
  • Her fierce love of Wales, and her refusal to let Ben wear an England rugby shirt when he was asked to wear one at a Christmas Day meeting
  • Her trust in God throughout her life, and especially since being diagnosed with cancer
  • Her commitment to being in church as an utter priority, even if her favourite place was the second row from the back
  • Her smile and the twinkle she always had in her eye

I'm going to miss Mo hugely, as I know so many of us will. Please be praying for Ben in this new season of life that now lies ahead of him. Be praying for their children Naomi, Caradog and Rebekah as they come to terms with the loss of their mum. Be praying for their partners Howard, Anja and Simon, and for all the grandchildren who are mourning the loss of their 'nanna'. And be praying for all Mo's close friends, that God will be comforting and strengthening them as they grieve.

Let's also pray for God's kingdom to come at this time. For friends of Mo who didn't know Jesus to come to know Him. For Mo's legacy to be both a deeper love for Jesus and trust in Him for every one of us, and for each one of us to partner with Jesus in bringing His love and compassion to our lost and broken world.

I know that there will be many of us wanting to come together to thank God for Mo's life and to celebrate what she meant to so many of us. Once we have a date for the service of thanksgiving we'll make sure to let everyone know when it is. In the meantime I know many of you will want to write tributes to Mo. You can obviously send them directly to the family, but we'll collect together all the tributes which get left in both response to this blog and on the Kerith facebook page and make sure they get passed on to Ben and the family too.

Much love,

Simon

 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Elsie White and Gillian Guest

I wanted to let you know about the funeral arrangements for two people who have been linked with Kerith over the years, as I know that some of you will want to take the opportunity to pay your respects and stand with the families in their time of grief.

The first is for Elsie White who was part of Kerith a number of years ago. There will be a service of committal for Elsie at Easthampstead Park Crematorium on Friday 21st July at 1.30pm.

The second person is Gillian Guest, who has been part of our community much more recently. There will be a service of committal for Gillian at Easthampstead Park Crematorium on Monday 24th July at 1.30pm, followed by an opportunity to celebrate and thank God for Gill's life at 3pm in the K2 Hall.

Please be praying for both families as they mourn their loss.

Simon.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Going deeper in Revelation

We all need to turn up the volume of the word of God in our lives, because we all need a bigger revelation of Jesus. The more we know and experience of Jesus the more we'll experience the abundant life he promises us, and the more we'll reflect Jesus to our broken and hurting world.

Perhaps no book in the Bible presents a bigger or more unique view of Jesus than the book of Revelation, the last book in the Bible. I'm therefore really excited that we've started a new series looking at the first three chapters of Revelation.

I want to encourage all of us to use the next few weeks to go deeper in this book. In order to do that I'm recommending a couple of books which will help us.

The first is Tom Wright's commentary on Revelation. Tom Wright (or NT Wright as he seems to call himself in his more academic books) is one of the world's foremost theologians. He has that rare combination of a deep understanding of his subject and an ability to express that knowledge in a way that ordinary people like you and me can understand! He's written commentaries on all the books of the New Testament. Each of them follows a similar format in that he gives his own translation of a section of scripture, then unpacks it in a very accessible and engaging way. For a couple of years now I've been using them for my personal devotions. I encourage everyone to get a copy of this book and to start working your way through it - you won't regret it.

The second book is by a friend of mine, Phil Moore. Phil leads a vibrant, growing church in London called Everyday Church. He's not only an inspiring church leader but is also a gifted theologian. He's written books on a number of books in the Bible. They're not commentaries in that they don't cover the whole of the text, but instead take short sections of scripture and gives highly engaging and insightful thoughts on those verses, including lots of very useful background information.

Both books are available from all the usual places. Please take a look and get hold of one of them in order to turn up that volume!

Simon.

 

Friday, July 7, 2017

Letters to the Seven Churches

On Sunday we start a new series looking at the first three chapters of the last book in the Bible, the book of Revelation. For the first week I'm going to give an overview of chapter one, then we'll spend a week looking at each of the letters written to seven different churches contained in chapters 2 and 3 (skipping the 23rd July which is our Academy Graduation day).

Revelation is a very unusual book, full of strange images and goings on. However, it's also a book with a vital message for us which I'll hope to start to unpack on Sunday. If you would like some homework I'd encourage you to read Daniel chapter 7, chapter 10 and Revelation chapter 1 before Sunday. Please also bring a pen and a notebook as we'll be covering a lot of ground which you'll hopefully want to go back to after Sunday.

Hope to see you there :)

Simon.