Monday, March 31, 2008

The Pursuit of Happiness - Temporary or Eternal

Well I hope you had a great weekend.

If you were there on Sunday morning you'll have heard the start of our four week series on The Pursuit of Happiness, and how we're fooled into living in the reverse of the kingdom as God originally intended it, where we believe that it's the temporary things in life which will bring us happiness. Thus we pursue careers, money, gadgets, physical fitness and fashion believing that those things will bring us true happiness. However, in the kingdom as God originally intended it, and as it will be restored when Jesus returns, then it's the eternal things such as our relationship with God, other people, feeding our own souls and doing Gods will which are the true route to happiness.

One aspect of living with this eternal perspective which I didn't mention on Sunday morning is prayer. With our eyes on what is temporary then prayer makes no sense, with our eyes on the eternal then prayer makes every sense. In the light of that there are a couple of situations I'd encourage us to pray about.

The first is the elections in Zimbabwe. We've seen recently how even a relatively stable country like Kenya can quickly descend into chaos over a disputed election. How much more true is that of Zimbabwe which in recent years has seen incredible hardship as a result of the policies of Robert Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party. But we've also seen in Kenya the incredible impact both the local church and prayer can have, so let's be praying for the same in Zimbabwe. Why not decide every time you see Zimbabwe and the elections there featured on the news to pray for the peacemakers and ask God to intervene. Let's also be looking to support and stand alongside those in the Kerith family who are from Zimbabwe and still have friends and family living there.

Secondly we have a meeting this Wednesday evening at The Kerith Centre where we're inviting local community leaders (councillors, schools representatives, leaders of local charities and business leaders) to let them know about the Hope08 week of social action at the end of August and to start a dialogue about how we could work with them. We're jointly doing this with our friends from Warfield and Easthampstead Baptist. Please pray that it will go well and that it will open even more doors for us into the local community.

I'm feeling the strongest I have all year so a huge thank you to everyone who has been praying for me - I so appreciate it. I'm on my (hopefully ) final course of antibiotics now which finishes in four weeks time which will be great.

More blog entries later this week hopefully - only 4 more and we'll be up to 100 since it started!

Simon.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Fish and Chip Alpha Supper

I just got back from tonights excellent Alpha supper. Nick Battle told his amazing personal story of an alcoholic mother, friendships with Cliff Richard and Simon Cowell and losing his first wife to cancer and how in the midst of it all God was with him on the journey. There were about 80 people there, Cat Kent sang beautifully, Pete Moon organised it brilliantly and as always there was a fantastic team of servers to make it all happen.

A number of people signed up for the next course and one guy made a first time commitment so we'll be ringing the bell next week. Very exciting.

Hope to see you on Sunday.

Simon.

The Pursuit of Happiness

Thomas Jefferson wrote in the American Declaration of Independence "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness".

Martin Luther King Jr. quoted those words in his famous "I Have a Dream" speech delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, focusing on all men being created equal. Well this Sunday morning we're going to be starting a four week series looking not at us being created equal but at the Pursuit of Happiness and what Jesus had to say about that based on what are called The Beatitudes. This is going to be the start of a number of series working our way through the Jesus words in the sermon on the mount (from the Gospel of Matthew chapter 5-7) and their relevance to us today.

Then Sunday night we're going to take a moment to stop and reflect back on all that God has being doing in us over the last few weeks. I wrote a couple of weeks back that we move on so quickly and I've been struck since how when God did significant things in the history of Israel they left behind markers to remind them of what God had done. Well on Sunday night I want to give us a bit of space to put down some markers and reflect back on Mothers Day, the HIV/AIDS conference, Patricia Sawo speaking on the Sunday, the baptisms last Sunday and a whole load of other stuff that has been going on before we move on to the next thing. We'll also have communion in a non religious but meaningful sort of way!

Still time to come to the Alpha Supper tonight if you can make it or have a guest in mind you could invite right now and bring along. Just phone reception (01344 862699) so we can order extra Fish & Chips (although if you just turn up I'm sure we'll find you some!).

Have a great weekend,

Simon.

ps We rang the bell again yesterday - another CAP client - so exciting!!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Sunday story you may not have heard

After posting the last blog entry I remembered there was a story from Sunday morning which I meant to mention but forgot.

After the meeting finished on Sunday morning and lots of people had gone home a young guy came back in and spoke to me. He'd driven away from the meeting with his fiancee and when she asked him why he was so quiet he said that he'd wanted to respond to the call to be baptised but didn't have the courage to come down from the balcony (seems strange when he also told me he was in the army and had fought in Iraq!). So having come back and heard from him that he became a Christ follower exactly a year ago we baptised him there and then with about 50 of us stood around the baptistry (we would have done it in the evening but he was flying back to Germany that evening).

Jacqui Webber-Gant did film it so we might post the video on the internet at some point.

I'd like to believe that baptising 33 people in a day will become the norm for us - the reality is that if as we pray "God daily added to our number those who were being saved" we'd be baptising that many people every month. How would it be if at the next baptisms in July every LifeGroup had someone from their group being baptised - perhaps we could have LifeGroup leaders baptising people from their groups!

Let's pray and believe God for that many people being baptised every month.

Simon.

AVIS - Allowing Visitors Incredible Sundays

Well those of you who were there will know we had another quite an amazing Sunday last weekend. Thirty three people baptised, possibly our biggest ever morning and evening attendances for a 'normal' Sunday and a real buzz around the place, our first attempt at team preaching in the evening with Lee and I speaking and Ben doing the appeal and an incredible number of visitors.

But perhaps one of the most exciting aspects for me was how everyone responded to the request for people to park in the AVIS car park in order to make space in The Kerith Centre car parks for visitors. I must admit that I wasn't filled with hope as I walked up to church on Sunday morning in the cold and the snow (top Easter weather!) but the feedback has been that people reacted brilliantly. Rather than hear it from me I thought I'd let you all see an email Irene Mooney who oversees all our car parking sent me on Monday. As we grow we always want to have spaces in our car parks for visitors and to have achieved that on a weekend like the one we've just had is brilliant. Thank you if you were one of the ones who parked in AVIS - I'm proud of you!

Simon.

-----------------------------------------------

From: irene mooney
To: penny lander
Cc: simon benham
Sent: Sunday, March 23, 2008 11:30 PM
Subject: Parking on Sunday


hey guys....thought i would email you re the first sunday of car parking with new guidelines. and as i am still "high" after the amazing 2 meetings forgive me if i waffle on......

well...you can be justifiably proud of this body of Christ.!!!!

when i arrived for duty this morning at 8.45 ....amidst sub zero temps and snow....the kerith centre car park was completely empty......K2 was empty and only 3 cars were on the road....the docs surgery had 4 cars in it.....

it looked fab.....i know i am a sad woman to get sooooo excited about an empty car park...but i felt completely elated...esp when i came into the building and realised there were already so many folk in there serving and it was obvious that 99% of them had parked at Avis

at the end of my duty at 10.45...apart from being absolutely frozen... i entered the building knowing that we had parked EVERY visitor...everyone who was disabled /unable to walk from Avis and /or elderly and we still had 6 spaces at K2...the kerith centre had one space left and the surgery had 5 left.....and this was without double parking anyone

the evening meeting was much the same ...i think that 99% of the cars that were parked in kerith centre itself were ALL visitors......this meant that we were able to give them all a really personal welcome and time to chat with almost all of them and .....it was a real thrill to see carload after carload of visitors...and again we still had 1 space in kerith centre......
6 spaces at k2 and 1 space in docs surgery..

the two guys down at Avis said they hadnt ever seen so many cars there before...and many people parked at Avis for evening meeting too....

if i could i would ....give each and every one of those who were so generous in their spirit a heartfelt "thank you".... i do believe this was ONE of the keys to releasing the Holy Spirit to move in the way we witnessed at both our meetings today

and finally.....after tonights meeting i chatted to my life group leader and she captured how we feel ....she said..."after todays meetings if God wanted me to move on He will need to drag me away from this church..."...i wholeheartedly agree....in the words of a corny old song...."there is nowhere else i would rather be"

may God bless you guys.....love...irene m.

ps...i am aware that this is only the beginning of this car parking journey and much prayer and work will continue to be needed as the period of grace continues...but a great start...i am a happy woman.....albeit still frozen to the core.!!!!

so....you can be soooo proud of the way in which the folk who serve have taken it on board and walked in vicious weather esp those with little children

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

We move on so quickly - Reflections on the Positive Conference

One of the things that never ceases to amaze me about church life is that we do something which seems quite amazing but then so quickly just move on to the next thing, and never really find time to reflect on what we've just done. In my other job at BlueArc, where I design computer chips, we work on projects that last at least a couple of years and then have plenty of time once a new product is released to have a launch party, read the reviews and think about what we've achieved before there is too much pressure to deliver the next thing. By contrast I got into the Kerith office on Tuesday after a couple of comments on the weekend we were straight into a series of meetings planning the Easter Sunday Baptisms.

Well I'd like to take at least a moment here to record some of my thoughts on what we did last weekend.

For those not there on Saturday we had the Positive HIV/AIDS conference which we hosted in partnership with Tearfund. The main speaker was Kay Warren, wife of Rick Warren of "The Purpose Driven Life" fame and a leading US HIV/AIDS advocate. We had about 350 people attending which was excellent. According to one delegate who works for the United Nations AIDS initiative, and who had flown in from Geneva just to come the conference, it was the largest ever church based HIV/AIDS conference in the UK which is sort of exciting but quite worrying as well. She and all the other delegates I've had personal feedback from (and there have been quite a number) were overwhelmingly positive about how well the conference was run (I was so proud of all that our people did, from the car parking, registration and toilet cleaning to the quality of the worship), the speakers and what they brought in terms of the mix of stories, information on HIV/AIDS and practical ways to get involved and the overwhelming sense of the church waking up to the fact that we can't just ignore the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Very exciting.

On Sunday morning one of the other conference speakers, Patricia Sawo, spoke at our meeting. When you're in charge you always wonder how a visiting speaker will be received, especially when they're HIV positive and the church in our nation hasn't always responded well to people live with HIV. Well I was moved to tears when Patricia went to leave the platform at the end of her message the church pretty much stood as one to applaud her. Again I've had great feedback (check out the comments here and here).

Finally Sunday evening I did an interview with Patrica and Lindsey Reece-Smith of Tearfund unpacking some of the practical questions around what is HIV/AIDS, how do you get it and how can we begin to make a practical response. Again people seemed to find that very useful and a number of people admitted to me how ignorant they were of even the basic facts around HIV - that was certainly where I was six months ago so don't feel bad if that was you too! We'll hopefully make the DVD of the evening, along with the DVDs and CDs of the conference, available as a resource for us to use in the future.

So what do we do next? We're already working on our global response with the research project we are running with Tearfund in Zambia - I hope to have more to report on that in the next couple of months. However, I felt the real challenge of the weekend for us was to consider our local response. At the first level that means us breaking down some of the ignorance and stigma associated with HIV, and to make the Kerith family a place where someone who is HIV positive could be open about their status without fear of being shunned or discriminated against. I feel this weekend has been a big step along that road, although I suspect we've still got a long way to go. However, I also feel we need to start exploring what the support needs are in our community and to find if there are any ways we could practically get involved. I know that Catriona Mitchell and others are beginning to explore that so talk to Catriona if you would like to be involved in that discussion.

So all in all I think it was a very important weekend for us. Another step on our way to becoming an increasingly "come as you are" community of people.

But next weekend is still coming and I'm so excited about what God is going to do on Sunday. I'm praying for many people to make first time commitments and / or decide to get baptised both morning and evening so come full of expectancy. Just don't forget the weekend just gone quite yet!!

Have a great day and be reading the Easter story ready for Sunday.

Simon.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Watch More Television (at least for this week)

Normally I'd recommend that people watch less TV, but for this week only I thought I'd highlight a couple of programmes which may well be worth watching.

The first is "The Passion" which is on BBC1 all this week - Episode 2 is tonight (Monday 17th) at 8.30. It's had very good reviews from a number of people, has an all star cast and is supposedly very true to the gospel accounts so should be good. I heard an interview with the guy who produced it saying that when he started out on the project he wasn't sure where his faith was but by the end would identify himself as a Christian. If like me you missed Episode 1 then you can catch it on the BBC iPlayer.

The second programme is Rageh Omaar: The Iraq War By Numbers which is of particular interest to us as it features our very good friend Canon Andrew White - The Vicar of Baghdad. It's on ITV1 tonight from 10.35. I've no idea what it will be like but I'm sure Andrew will bring his own unique take on what is happening in Iraq. Thanks to Miriam Barker for pointing this one out to me.

Also for those of a nervous disposition you could watch the Birmingham v Newcastle game on Setanta at 8.00. Fortunately I've got a meeting to talk about some ideas for extending The Kerith Centre (Kerith Coffee here we come!) so won't be able to watch it!

I'll comment on the weekend just gone later on in the week. Suffice it to say for now that for me it felt like a defining point for us as we continue to work out how we engage with all the issued surrounding HIV/AIDS and look to make a real difference both locally and globally.

Hope you have a fantastic week and that you can make it to our Easter Baptism Celebrations next Sunday morning and evening - they're going to be great.

Simon.

Friday, March 14, 2008

How's Your Weekend Looking?

Just a reminder of what's coming up this weekend.

First of all the Positive Conference on Saturday. You can pay on the door so if you haven't already registered so just turn up - whatever you don't miss this chance to be in at the start of our HIV/AIDS response as a church.

On Sunday morning Patricia Sawo, one of the main speakers for the conference, is going to be speaking. Those from Tearfund who have heard her before say she isn't to be missed. We're also going to be welcoming over 20 people into membership - that in itself must be something of a record.

Then Sunday evening I'm going to interview Patricia, along with Lindsey Reece-Smith from Tearfund. That's after our fantastic youth band Ethos have lead us in worship.

Finally to let you know we 'rang the bell' twice this week, which is something we do every time somebody makes a first time commitment to Christ. One day we'll get to God daily adding to our number, for now two a week will do me!

Hope to catch you over the weekend. It's going to be a great one :-)

Simon.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Update On My Health

A number of people were kind enough to ask about my health at the weekend, so in case anyone else is interested I thought I'd post an update here.

I had my cystoscopy last Thursday, and suffice to say it was one of the most painful things I've ever been through! The outcome is that everything seems OK, although the consultant has put me on antibiotics for another 6 weeks (that will be my 5th course of antibiotics since the start of the year) and then in 3 months time wants to do another cystoscopy just to be sure (oh joy!).

I'm still getting really tired if I do too much (which apparently is to be expected) which is interesting when with the wedding of Gary and Anita last weekend and the Positive conference next Saturday I'm due to be working 19 days in a row! I'm doing my very best to rest and Catrina, Lydia and the rest of the staff team are trying to make sure I don't do too much.

Finally I thought you might enjoy this media which Allison Inwards sent me a link to last week. Very inspiring. Let's leave that car park free for our visitors!

Simon.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Kenya Update

First of all I hope everyone who was there enjoyed our Mothers Day celebration. For just one of the many positive comments I've had on the morning check out Nina's comments here. Two people made first time commitments at the end of the meeting which is very exciting.

I thought you might be interested in an update on the situation in Kenya. I deliberately haven't been bombarding Edward Buria with update requests as I know he's very busy dealing with the situation itself, so this update comes via David Stroud who leads Newfrontiers in the UK.

You will be aware that Kenya has been in turmoil over the last two months following the post Christmas elections. There has been widespread tribal conflict resulting in over 1000 dead and 350,000 Internally Displaced People (IDPs) in camps, people who have had to flee their homes, often when they had been destroyed by neighbours from another tribe. Prices of food and other commodities having risen by three times or more caused by fuel shortages due to insecurity of travel.We rejoice at the recent deal that has been signed between the President and Leader of the opposition party and pray that this will be the start of a return to normality. However, there is inevitably a long path to secure peace and much rebuilding to be done both of relationships and of property. Within minutes of the signing the following text message was received from Edward Buria who leads the Newfrontiers churches in Kenya:

'At last Kibaki and Raila have signed an agreement deal which means that is a MAJOR breakthrough. We all the same have a major hurdle to jump i.e. how to translate that agreement to grass root where tribalism and violence took place. Thanking all that have been praying around the prayer points that I gave. All other humanitarian efforts remain in force with major challenges as we try our best to assist. Thanks and all blessings. Edward'

Since the conflict erupted Edward and his team from well over 100 Newfrontiers churches have been doing an amazing job travelling widely to help with food (21 tonnes of Unimix, 1412 sacks of maize, 300 sacks of beans, 400 kg of cooking oil, 50 sacks of sugar), blankets, mosquito nets, medical assistance and transport for people who wished to return to their tribal villages for safety. They targeted about 3000 people, many from our own churches, although, due to the extended family culture which pervades in Africa, this has in fact affected about 9000.

Further, the choir from Edward's base, Kambakia Christian Centre, has composed a Swahili song titled "Kenya Itasimama" (meaning 'Kenya will stand'), that has been broadcast, and has been termed by national leaders and politicians a National Anthem for Kenya at such a time as this. They have also held peace crusades in many rural markets where Edward has been able to address thousands of people with peace messages.

I'll
add more updates here as I either get them via Newfrontiers or directly from Edward.

This weekend we should be able to announce the total gift day offerings for Kenya and for Andrew White including the Gift Aid. I'm just thrilled by how generous you have all been.

Finally for those of you tracking my health I was supposed to go and see the consultant tonight for a Cystoscopy (don't ask!) but it has had to be put back to Thursday because his wife was ill. I'm very glad he didn't get to examine me whilst he might have been otherwise distracted but frustrated to have to wait a bit longer - especially when I'd spent all day mentally preparing myself for it :-)

Hope you're doing well and that I'll get to catch you at the weekend - don't forget the Church Vision Night on Sunday night.

Simon.